Calvin on Prayer – “Our sins ought to spur us on to pray”


Calvin has been aruing that faith in the benevolence and kindness of God should lead us confidently and boldly to pray. Calvin continues stating the perseverence of faith in prayer:

… faith, by no means fails [even] though accompanied with a recognition of our wretcchedness, poverty, and pollution. How much soever believers may feel that they are oppressed by a heavy load of iniquity, and are not only devoid of every thing which can procure the favour of God for them, but justly burdened with many sins which make him an object of dread, yet they cease not to present themselves, this feeling not deterring them from appearing in his presence, because there is no other access to him. Genuine prayer is not that by which we arrogantly extol ourselves before God, or set a great value on any thing of our own, but that by which, while confessing our guilt, we utter our sorrows before God, just as children familiarly lay their complaints before their parents. Nay, the immense accumulation of our sins should rather spur us on and incite us to prayer. Of this the Psalmist gives us an example, “Heal my soul: for I have sinned against thee,” (Ps. xli. 4.) I confess, indeed, that these stings would prove mortal darts, did not God give succour; but our heavenly Father has, in ineffable kindness, added a remedy, by which, calming all perturbation, soothing our cares, and dispelling our fears he condescendingly allures us to himself; nay, removing all doubts, not to say obstacles, makes the way smooth before us.

It’s a strange thing that the very thing that can only be cured by God instead drives us from him. Our sins often tell us that we are unworthy to approach him. Our sins tell us that God has cast us off and he refuses to listen to us until we have brought to him our goodness. Prayer becomes the most loathed activity in the Christian life because it is the one thing that we have direct access to speak to God, yet the very one whom we would speak to appears filled with indignation and wrath and empty of love and compassion. Though it is true that God hates and is angry at our sinning, he does not then tell us to go away from him. The one who seems so ready to destroy us and leave us to wallow in our misery is instead the only one who offers to truly help and rescue us from the destruction we bring upon ourselves.

As Calvin says, our sins ought to “spur us on and incite us to pray”. Our sins should not stand before us as reasons why we should run from God, but instead ought to be goads in our sides that show us how desperately we need God’s help in forgiving and renewing our hearts and minds. We ought not let our sins condemn us and turn us from praying to the Lord for his help and provision. Instead, our sins ought to be a source of humility, leading us deeper into prayer, seeing the depth of our need for God’s gracious provision, and seeing the immensity of his grace that reaches even beyond those sins that laden our minds with guilt.

We ought to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:22-23). If God is our only hope, how poor a state our souls must be in if we refuse the only one who has promised to come to our aid.

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