Calvin’s Prayers: A Model of Scholarly Humility

Calvin prayed at the conclusion of his lectures.  Those prayers are both intriguing reading and profound spiritual instruction.  For example, at the conclusion of the 38th lecture on the Minor Prophets, he prays

Oil painting of a young John Calvin.

Grant, Almighty God, that as almost the whole world give such loose reins to their licentiousness, that they hesitate not either to despise or to regard as of no value thy sacred word,—Grant, O Lord, that we may always retain such reverence as is justly due to it and to thy holy oracles, and be so moved, whenever thou deignest to address us, that being truly humbled, we may be raised up by faith to heaven, and by hope gradually attain that glory which is as yet hid from us. And may we at the same time so submissively restrain ourselves, as to make it our whole wisdom to obey thee and to do thee service, until thou gatherest us into thy kingdom, where we shall be partakers of thy glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.  [Calvin, J., Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Joe 1:1–4)].

Noteworthy here is the focus of Calvin’s prayer:

1- that his hearers value Scripture; 2- that they reverence God’s speech; 3- that they be humbled by the fact that God stoops to speak to them; 4- and finally, that they heed it to the point of real active obedience.

The background to this prayer is the remarkable claim of Calvin that

The Prophet reproves the Jews for being so stupid as not to consider that they were chastised by the hand of God, though this was quite evident. Hence they pervert, in my judgment, the meaning of the Prophet, who think that punishments are here denounced which were as yet suspended; for they transfer all these things to a future time. But I distinguish between this reproof and the denunciations which afterwards follow. Here then the Prophet reproaches the Jews, that having been so severely smitten, they did not gain wisdom; and yet even fools, when the rod is applied to their backs, know that they are punished. Since then the Jews were so stupid, that when even chastised they did not understand that they had to do with God, the Prophet justly reproves this madness. Hear, he says, ye old men; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land, and declare this to your children. But the consideration of this passage I shall put off till tomorrow.

Calvin’s rather gruff remarks – set in balance with the prayer he uttered moments afterward- indicate that for Calvin there was a terrible danger in refusing to respect God’s address.  Such refusal was, in his terminology, ‘stupid’.  As those who refused to hear Amos were ‘stupid’ so too, Calvin would argue, are those who refuse to hear God today (in Calvin’s day).

Calvin was absolutely convinced that God must be heard.  Surely Christians today would assert the same (albeit without such free use of the word ‘stupid’).

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One Response to “Calvin’s Prayers: A Model of Scholarly Humility”

  1. I have to re-publish this on Facebook so even more people can read it! I will post the URL directly in there and may the Lord use it, as He always sovereignly, does, for His Glory!

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