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Calvin's Catechism Part 3 - Prayer

Creeds and Confessions of the Church

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A reformulation of the Genevan Catechism written by John Calvin.

A Dialogue between the Minister and the child.
by John Calvin

III. Prayer

233. Since we have spoken sufficiently of the service of God, which is the second part of His worship, let us now speak of the third part.
We said it was the invocation of God in all our needs.

234. Do you think that He alone is to be invoked?
Yes, for He requires this as the worship proper to His Deity.

235. If it is so, in what way is it legitimate for us to ask the aid of men?
There is a great difference between these two things. For we call upon God to protest that we expect no good but from Him, and that we have no refuge elsewhere, and yet we ask the assistance of men, as far as He permits, and has given them the power and means of helping us.

236. You mean that when we seek the succour of men, there is nothing to prevent our calling upon God alone, seeing that we do not put our reliance on them, and do not seek their aid except in so far as God has ordained them to be ministers and dispensers of His blessings, in order to assist us.
That is true. And indeed, every benefit that comes to us we should take as coming from God Himself, as in truth it is He who sends it to us by their hands.

237. Nevertheless, should we not give thanks to men for the kindness which they do to us?
Certainly, if only for the reason that God honours them by communicating His blessings to us through their hands, for in this way He lays us under obligation to Him, and wishes us to be mindful of them.

238. Can we not conclude from this that it is wrong to invoke angels, and saints who have departed from this world?
Yes, indeed; for God has not assigned to saints this office of aiding and assisting us. And in regard to angels, though He employs their ministry for our salvation, nevertheless He does not wish us to invoke them, nor to address ourselves to them.

239. You say, then, that all that conflicts with the order instituted by the Lord, contravenes His will?
Yes, for it is a sure sign of infidelity if we are not contented with what the Lord gives to us. Moreover, if instead of having a refuge in God alone, in obedience to His command, we have recourse to them, putting something of our reliance on them, we fall into idolatry, seeing we transfer to them that which God has reserved for Himself.

240. Let us now speak of the way of prayer to God. Is it sufficient to pray with the tongue, or does prayer require also the spirit and the heart?
The tongue is not always necessary, but there must be understanding and affection.

241. How will you prove that?
Since God is Spirit, He always requires the heart, and especially in prayer, in which we enter into communication with Him, wherefore He promises to be near to those only who call upon Him in truth (Ps. 145:18). On the other hand, He curses all who pray to Him in hypocrisy, and without affection (Isa. 29:13, 14).

242. All prayers, then, made only with the mouth are vain?
Not only vain, but also displeasing to God.

243. What kind of affection should we have in prayer?
First, that we feel our misery and poverty, and that this feeling should beget sorrow and anguish in us. Secondly, that we have an earnest desire to obtain grace from God. This desire will also kindle our hearts, and engender in us an ardent longing to pray.

244. Does this derive from our nature, or from the grace of God?
Here God must come to our aid, for we are too dull, but the Spirit of God helps us with groanings that cannot be uttered, and forms in our hearts the affection and zeal that God requires, as Paul says (Rom. 8:26; Gal. 4:6).

245. Does this mean that we have not to incite and urge ourselves to pray?
By no means. On the contrary, when we do not feel such a disposition within us we should beseech the Lord to put it into us, so as to make us capable and fit to pray as we ought.

246. You do not, however, mean that the tongue is quite useless in prayer?
Not at all, for sometimes it helps the mind, sustaining and keeping it from being drawn away from God so easily. Besides, since more than all the other members it was formed to the glory of God, it is very reasonable that it should be employed by all means for this purpose. Moreover, the zeal of the heart by its own ardour and vehemence often constrains the tongue to speak quite spontaneously.

247. If so, what about prayer in an unknown tongue?
It is a mockery of God, and a perverse hypocrisy (1 Cor. 14:14).

248. But when we pray to God, is it a venture in which we do not know whether we will succeed or not? Or ought we to be certain that our praying will be heard?
The ground of our prayers should always be, that they will received by God, and that we shall obtain what we request as far is it is expedient for us. And therefore St. Paul says that true prayer comes from faith (Rom. 10:14). For if we have no reliance upon the goodness of God, it will be impossible for us to call upon Him in truth.

249. And what of those who doubt, not knowing if God hears or not?
Their prayers are utterly void, since they have no promise, for He says that whatever we ask, believing, we shall receive (Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24).

250. It remains to learn how and in whose name we can have the boldness to present ourselves before God, seeing that we are so unworthy in ourselves.
First we have promises on which we must rest, without considering our worthiness (Ps. 50:15; 91:3; 145:18; Isa. 30:15; 65:24; Jer. 29:12; Joel 3:5). Secondly, if we are children of God, He induces and urges us by His Holy Spirit to betake ourselves to Him familiarly, as to our Father (Matt. 9:2, 22; etc.). And lest we, who are poor worms of the earth, and miserable sinners, should be afraid to appear before His glorious majesty, He gives us our Lord Jesus Christ as a Mediator (I Tim. 2:5; Heb. 4:16; I John 2:1), that through Him we may have access and have no doubt of finding grace.

251. Do you understand that we are to call upon God only, in the Name of Jesus Christ?
I understand so, for we have an express commandment about this. And in it we are promised that by His intercession our requests will be heard (John 14:13).

252. It is not, then, temerity or foolish presumption on our part, if we presume to address God personally, seeing that we have Jesus Christ for our Advocate, and if we set Him before us, that God may for His sake be gracious to us and accept us?
No, for we pray as it were by His mouth, since He gives us entrance and audience, and intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34).

253. Let us now speak of the substance of our prayers. Can we ask for all that comes into our mind, or is there a certain rule to be observed about it?
If we followed our fantasy, our prayers would be very badly ordered. We are so ignorant that we cannot judge what it is good to ask: Moreover, all our desires are so intemperate that it is necessary that we should not give them a loose rein.

254. What is to be done, then?
That God Himself should instruct us, according to what He knows to be expedient; that we do nothing but follow Him, as if He were leading us by the hand.

255. What instructions has He given?
He has given us ample instructions throughout Scripture; but that we may address ourselves the better to a definite end, He has given us a form in which He has briefly comprehended everything that is legitimate and expedient for us to pray for.

256. Repeat it.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, being asked by His Disciples to teach them how to pray, answered that they should pray thus (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4): “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

257. To make it easier to understand, tell me how many sentences it contains.
Six, of which the first three concern the glory of God alone, without any reference to ourselves; the other three are for us, and concern our blessing and profit.

258. Are we then to ask God for anything from which no benefit redounds to us?
It is true that God, by His infinite goodness, so arranges and orders things, that nothing tends to the glory of His Name without being also salutary to us. Therefore, when His name is sanctified, He turns it to our sanctification; when His Kingdom comes, we are, in a way, sharers in it. But in desiring and asking all these things, we ought to have regard only for His glory, without thinking of ourselves, or seeking our own profit.

259. According to what you say, the first three of these requests are expedient for us, and yet they ought not to be made with any other intention that of desiring that God may be glorified.
It is so. And similarly, although the last three requests are appointed as prayers for what is expedient to us, yet even in them we ought to seek the glory of God, so that it may be the end of all our desires.

260. Let us come to the exposition. And before we go any further, why is God called our Father, rather than by some other name?
Since it is essential that our consciences have a steadfast assurance, when we pray, our God gives Himself a name. which suggests only gentleness and kindness, in order to take away from us all doubt and anxiety, and to give us boldness in coming to Him personally.

261. Shall we then dare to go to God familiarly, as a child to his father?
Yes, in fact with greater assurance of obtaining what we ask. For if we, being evil, cannot refuse our children bread and meat, when they ask, how much less will our heavenly Father, who is not only good, but sovereign goodness itself (Matt. 7:11).

262. Can we not prove from this very Name, what has been said, viz. that prayer should be grounded on the intercession of Jesus Christ?
Yes, certainly. For God does not acknowledge us as His children, except in so far as we are members of His Son.

263. Why do you not call God your God, but call Him our Father together?
Each believer may indeed call Him his own Father, but in this formula Jesus Christ instructs us to pray together, to remind us that in our prayers we are to exercise charity towards our neighbours, and not only to care for ourselves.

264. What is meant by the clause “who art in heaven”?
It is just the same as if I were to call Him exalted, mighty, incomprehensible.

265. To what end, and for what reason?
That when we call upon Him, we may learn to lift our thoughts on high, and not to have any carnal or earthly thoughts of Him, not to measure Him by our apprehension, nor to subject Him to our will, but to adore His glorious Majesty in humility. It teaches us also to have more reliance on Him, since He is Governor and Master of all.

266. Now expound the first petition.
The Name of God is His renown, with which He is celebrated among men. We pray then that His glory may be exalted above all, and in all things.

267. Do you think that His glory can increase or decrease?
Not in itself. But this means that it may be manifested, as it ought to be, that all the works which God performs may appear glorious, as indeed they are, so that He Himself may be glorified in every way.

268. What do you understand by the Kingdom of God in the second petition?
It consists principally of two things: that He leads His own, and governs them by His Spirit, and on the other hand casts down and confounds the reprobate who refuse to subject themselves to His rule, and so makes it clear that there is no power which can resist His power.

269. In what sense do you pray that this Kingdom may come?
That day by day the Lord may increase the numbers of the faithful, that day by day He may increasingly bestow His graces upon them, until He has filled them completely; moreover, that He cause His truth to shine more and more and manifest His justice, so that Satan and the powers of darkness may be put to confusion, and all iniquity be destroyed and abolished.

270. Is that not taking place today?
Yes indeed—in part, but we pray that it may continually increase and advance, until at last it comes to its perfection in the day of judgment, in which God alone will be exalted, and ever creature will be humbled before His Majesty, and He will be all in all (I Cor. 15:28).

271. What do you mean by asking that the will of God may be done?
That all creatures may be brought under obedience to Him, and so that everything may be done according to His good will.

272. Do you mean that nothing can be done contrary to His will?
We ask not only that He may bring all things to pass, as He has determined in His counsel, but also that, putting down all rebellion, He may bring all wills to conform to His own.

273. In so doing, do we not renounce our own wills?
We do, not only that He may overthrow our desires, which are at variance with His own good will, bringing them all to nought, but also that He may create in us new spirits and new hearts, so that we may will nothing of ourselves, but rather that His Spirit may will in us, and bring us into full agreement with Him.

274. Why do you add “on earth as it is in heaven”?
Since His heavenly creatures or His angels have it as their own object to obey Him, promptly without opposition, we desire that the same thing may be done on earth, that is, that all men may yield themselves in voluntary obedience.

275. Let us come to the second part. What mean you by “the daily bread” you ask for?
In general, everything that we need for our body, not only food and clothing, but all that God knows to be expedient for us, that we may be able to eat our bread in peace.

276. But why do you ask God to give you your food, when He orders us to win it, by working with our hands?
Though He commands us to work for our living, nevertheless it is not our labour, industry, and diligence, that provide us with food, but the blessing of God alone, which makes the labour of our hands to prosper. Moreover we ought to understand that it is not meat that nourishes us, although we have it owing to His command, but the power of the Lord alone who uses it as His instrument (Deut. 8:3, 17).

277. Why do you call it yours, when you ask God to give it to you?
Because of the kindness of God it becomes ours, though it is by no means due to us. We are also reminded by this not to desire the bread of others, but only that which we acquire by legitimate means, according to the ordinance of God.

278. Why do you say “daily” and “this day”?
That we may learn to be content, and not to covet more than our need requires.

279. Since this prayer is common to all, how can the rich, who have an abundance of good things, provide for a long time, ask for bread each day?
The rich, as well as the poor, should understand that none of the things profit them, unless the Lord grant them the use of them, and by His grace make it profitable to them. Thus in having we have nothing, unless He gives it to us.

280. What does the fifth petition contain?
That it pleases God to pardon our sins.

281. Is any man living so righteous, that He does not need to make this petition?
No, for the Lord Jesus gave this form of prayer to His Apostles for His Church. Wherefore he who would exempt himself from this, must renounce the community of Christians. And indeed Scripture testifies to us that even the most perfect man seeking to justify himself before God in a single matter, will be found guilty in a thousand (Job 9:3). Thus the only refuge we may have is in His mercy.

282. How do you think that such remission is granted to us?
As the words of Jesus Christ used declare: because our sins are debts, making us liable to eternal death, we pray that God will pardon us out of His sheer kindness.

283. You mean, them, that it is by the gratuitous goodness of God that we obtain remission of sins?
Yes, for we can offer no satisfaction for the smallest sin we commit, if God does no exercise His sheer kindness toward us in forgiving us them all.

284. What gain and profit do we receive, when God pardons our sins?
We are acceptable to Him, just as if we were righteous and innocent, and our consciences are assured of His paternal love, from which comes salvation and life.

285. When you pray that He may forgive us as we forgive our debtors, do you mean that in pardoning men we merit pardon from God?
By no means, for then pardon would not be by grace, and would not be founded, as it ought to be, on the satisfaction which Jesus Christ made for us in His death. But since by forgetting the injuries done to ourselves, we follow His gentleness and clemency, and so demonstrate that we are His children, God has given us this as a sign in confirmation that we are His children. On the other hand, He indicates to us that we cannot expect anything at His judgment but utter severity and extreme rigour, if we are not ready to pardon and show mercy to others who are guilty toward us.

286. Do you think, then, God refuses to have as His children those who cannot forget the offenses committed against them, so that they cannot hope to be partakers of His grace?
Yes. And He intends that all men may know that with what measure they mete to their neighbours, it shall be measured to them.

287. What follows?
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

288. Do you treat this as one petition?
Yes, for the second part is an explanation of the first part.

289. What is the substance of it?
That God does not allow us to fall to evil, or permit us to be overcome by the devil, and the lustful desires of our flesh, which strive against us (Rom. 7:23), but He gives us strength to resist, sustains us by His hand, takes us into His safe keeping, to defend and lead us.

290. How is this done?
When He governs us by His Spirit, to make us love the good, and hate the evil, follow justice, and flee from sin. By the power of His Spirit, we may overcome the devil, sin and the flesh.

291. Do we stand in need of this?
Yes, for the devil continually watches for us, like a roaring lion ready to devour us (I Peter 5:8). We are so feeble and frail that he would immediately overcome us, if God did not fortify us, that we might be victorious over him.

292. What does the word “temptation” signify?
The wiles and assaults of the devil, which he uses to attack us, seeing that our natural judgment is prone to be deceived and to deceive us, and our will is always ready to addict itself to evil rather than to good.

293. But why do you pray God not to lead you into evil, when this is the proper office of Satan the devil?
As God by His mercy preserves the faithful, and does not permit the devil to seduce them, or sin to overcome them, so those whom He means to punish He not only abandons, and deprives of His grace, but also yields to the devil to be subjected to his tyranny, blinds them and delivers them over to a reprobate mind.

294. What is intended by the addition, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever”?
To remind us again that our prayers are altogether grounded on the power and goodness of God, and not on ourselves, for we are not worthy to open our mouth in prayer; and also that we may learn to close our prayers in His praise.

295. Is it lawful to ask anything else, not mentioned here?
Although we are free to use other words, and another form and manner, yet not prayer will ever please God which does not correspond to this as the only rule of right prayer.

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