John Calvin: You are Commanded to Obtain what you Ask; Otherwise, You are a Rebellious Pervert

From, John Calvin Institutes, from the public domain ccel publicized edition. I have done a medium copy-edit, “modernization” of the English.

I post this because I agree with Calvin’s understanding of Scripture on this doctrine of faith in prayer. I do not call myself an Calvinist, and so have no desire to talk about Calvin. One point to consider, is even if one is a cessationist, yet what Scripture says is available in faith (and Calvin affirms), would give access to all what cessationism denies. As Vincent Cheung says, “Cessationist are pointless.” Yet, pentecostals are in equal condemnation, for they rely too much on the gifts, and negate what is available through basic faith in God’s promise. 

…though Satan works to block up all the paths to prevent us from praying, we may, nevertheless break through. We are firmly persuaded that although not free of all hindrances, our attempts are pleasing to God, and our wishes are approved, provided we are diligent to keep their aim, even if we do not immediately acquire it.

No man is worthy to come forward in His own name and appear in the presence of our heavenly Father and God. However, to ease us instantly from fear and shame, which all feel oppressed by, God has given us His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. God made Him to be our Advocate and Mediator, so that under His guidance we may approach securely. Therefore, we know with all confidence that with Jesus, as our Intercessor, nothing which we ask in His name will be denied to us, for there is nothing which the Father can deny to His Son (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1; see sec. 36, 37).

It is necessary to mention what we have previously taught concerning faith. Here is the big idea: the promise gives us Christ as our Mediator, therefore, unless our hope of obtaining what we ask is founded on Him, it deprives us of the privilege of prayer. If we think of the dread majesty of God, then we are filled with alarm. We know our own unworthiness keeps us far away, until Christ intervenes. He must, therefore, convert a throne of dreadful glory into a throne of grace. And so, the Apostle teaches that we can therefore, “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16). Regarding prayer, this rule has been laid down: a promise has been given that those who pray will be heard. We are explicitly commanded to pray in the name of Christ, for the promise is that we will obtain what we ask in His name. “Whatsoever you shall ask in My name,” says our Savior, “that will I do; that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” & “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full,” (John 14:13; 16:24). Thus, it is indisputably clear that those who pray to God in any other name than that of Christ, are rebellious perverts who falsify His orders. They regard His will as nothing. They have no promise that they shall obtain. For, as Paul says, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us,” (2 Cor. 1:20); that is, they are confirmed and fulfilled in Christ.

…In genuine prayer we do not arrogantly extol ourselves before God. We do not set great value on anything of our own. Instead, while confessing our guilt, we utter our sorrows before God, just as children intimately lay their needs before their parents. Indeed, the immensity of our sins should spur us on and incite us to prayer even more. About this, the Psalmist gives an example, “I said, “Lord, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You,” (Ps. 41:4). I confess, these stings would prove mortal darts to the soul, if God had not given us help.  Our heavenly Father has given us help. By overwhelming kindness, God has added a remedy that calms all our worries, soothes all our cares, and dispels all our fears. Through such kindness, God lowers Himself and allures us to Himself. Yes! By making the obstacles to Him level and making the way smooth before us, our Father removes all our doubts.

By commanding us to pray, God, by the very act of ordering us, condemns us of perverse rebellion if we do not obey. He could not give a more precise command than which is contained in the Psalms: “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” (Ps. 50:15). Because there is no application of holiness more frequently commanded by Scripture, there is no reason to dwell any longer upon it. “Ask,” says our Divine Master, “and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” (Mt. 7:7). In this passage, God adds a promise to the precept; this is necessary, because of our weakness. Even if all confess that we must obey the precept, yet the greater part would ignore the invitation of God, if He did not promise He would listen and be ready to answer. Because these two doctrines are laid down [the command and promise], then undeniably, all who protest this declare themselves as those who do not directly approach God. They are rebellious and disobedient. They are also condemned by their unbelief, because they distrust the promises.

There are more reasons to investigate this doctrine further. You see, these religious fanboys are clothed with false humility and holiness. They proudly despise God’s precept. There is an additional sin as well. These hypocrites deny all credit to the gracious invitation of God. Indeed, this false holiness robs God of a principal part of His worship. Consider that the pinnacle of holiness appeared in sacrifices; however, God rejected and said He did not desire sacrifices. In doing so, God elevated something else as the greatest and chief thing He desires. This holiness, which is precious in God’s sight above all others, is for us to call upon Him in the day of need. And so, this command is God merely demanding which is already His own. He urges us to obey with eagerness. Therefore, doubting in prayer, no matter how good of an excuse it may seem, cannot justify us. Therefore, throughout Scripture, in which we are commanded to pray, there is displayed before our eyes numerous banners, to inspire us with confidence.

If God did not eagerly wait us by His own invitation, then it would be arrogant for us to march before His throne in prayer. He opens the way for us by His own voice, “I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God,” (Zech. 13:9). How obvious it is, that He anticipates His worshippers and desires for them to follow the command. Therefore, we cannot fear that the melody, which He Himself commands, will prove unpleasing. Especially let us call to mind that noble description of the Divine character, knowing we shall easily overcome every obstacle: “O You who hear prayer, To You all flesh will come,” (Ps. 65:2). What can be more lovely or calming, than to see God invested with a title, which assures us that nothing is more proper to His nature than to listen to the prayers of servants? And so, the Psalmist infers, that free access is given, not to a few individuals, but to all men, because God addresses all in these terms, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me,” (Ps. 50:15). Consider David’s appeals to the promise that guarantees that He will obtain what he asks: “For You, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, have revealed this to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer to You,” (2 Sam. 7:27). The logical inference is that David would have been afraid if it where not for the promise that emboldened him. In another passage he fortifies himself with the general doctrine, “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him,” (Ps. 145:19). Some might see in the Psalms that the necessity of our prayer is broken, when a transition is made to the mere power of God, at another to His mere goodness, at another to the mere faithfulness of His promises. It might seem to some that David, by introducing these sentiments, strangely injures his own prayers. However, many believers know by experience, that their zeal grows relaxed unless new fuel is added to their faith. Therefore, to mediate on God’s nature and on His precious truths during prayer, is not unnecessary; rather, is precisely what we ought to do. And so, let us emulate the example of David, and introduce thoughts which resurrect our sluggish minds, with new vigorous of faith.  

How strange it is, for these delightful promises, to bounces off such icy hearts. It seems most men prefer to wander up and down, while forsaking the fountain of living waters set before their face.[1] They dig out to for themselves broken cisterns, rather than embracing the Divine charity that is freely offered to them. “The name of the Lord,” says Solomon, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Joel, after predicting the fearful disaster which was at hand, anchors the following memorable sentence: “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.” This we know properly refers to the Gospel. Scarcely one in a hundred is moved to come into the presence of God, though God Himself exclaims by Isaiah, “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” This honor God elsewhere gives to the whole Church in general, as belonging to all the members of Christ: “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him,” (Ps 91). My intention, is to select some admirable passages as a specimen, showing how kindly God allures us to Himself. Thus, how extreme our ingratitude must be, when such powerful motives are displayed, and our doubts still slow us down. Wherefore, let these words always resound in our ears: “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth,” (Ps. 145:18). Likewise those passages from Isaiah and Joel, declares that God’s ear is open to our prayers. He is delighted with us, as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, when we cast our cares upon Him. We receive the great benefits of these promises, when we are not timid or doubtful. In addition, even though we see God’s great majesty, by trusting His word, we must be bold to call Him Father. Remember, it was God Himself who gave the delightful title of, Our Father, to His name.

Encouraged by such invitations we have sufficient reasons for prayer. Our prayers depend on no merit of our own; rather, all guarantee of success is founded and depend on the promises of God. Our prayers need no other support. They require no further investigation for success. There is a mistake, that needs to be addressed, regarding the value we put on the high sacredness of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. The command to pray, and obtain what we ask for, is not special to them. The command to pray is common to us as well as them, and faith is common. Therefore, if we lean on the Word of God, we are in respect of this privilege, associates of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. For God declares He will listen and be favorable to all.  This encourages the most wretched to hope that they shall obtain what they ask. Therefore, we should exclude none from first to last; only let there be sincerity of heart, true humility, and faith. If we do this, then we will avoid the hypocrisy of a deceitful prayer, and not profane the name of God.

Our most merciful Father will not reject those whom He encourages to come, and even urges in every possible way to approach Him. Therefore David’s method of prayer to which I lately referred: “And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant,” (2 Sam. 7:28). So also, in another passage, “Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, According to Your word to Your servant,” (Psalm 119:76). The Israelites show that because it was God Himself who gave the covenant, that they are not to ask timidly from God. (Gen. 32:13). Take for example the patriarch Jacob, who admitted he was unworthy of the many mercies which the Lord poured into his hand. However, even after this confession, he was encouraged to make still larger requests, because God had promised that he would grant them.

Therefore, even with the stupid excuses that unbelievers give, when they do not flee to God as often as necessity urges, or seek after Him, or ask for His aid, they defraud God of His honor. Such people are no better off, if they were to fabricate for themselves new gods and idols, because both are denying that God is the author of all their blessings. Christians are free from every doubt, by knowing that no obstacle should impede them while they are obeying the command of God, because they know nothing is more delightful to God than obedience. And so, a bold spirit to pray before God is in unity with fear and reverence of God. There is no contradiction when God raises up those who had fallen prostrate before Him, by giving them what they ask for. And so, although believers are persuaded of the paternal love of God and cheerfully rely on his faithfulness, remain humble and reverent before Him.


[1] (see also Jer. 2:13; Prov. 18:10; Joel 2:32; Is. 65:24; Ps. 91:15; 145:18)