Faith Precedes Prayer


John Calvin teaches that faith precedes prayer. For instance:

"We are taught by faith to know that all the good we need and which we lack in ourselves is in God and in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father has established all the fullness of His blessings and abundance so that we may draw everything from there as from a very full fountain. Now it remains for us to see in Him and, by prayers, ask from Him what we have learned is there."

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, translated by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009), p. 458, emphasis added.

That is to say, in part, that we do not pray for what we do not believe it, but for what we already believe in.

To understand this more fully, let us look what Calvin means by faith:

"Now we have a full definition of faith, if we resolve that it is a firm and certain knowledge of God's good will toward us which, being founded on the promise freely given in Jesus Christ, is revealed to our understanding and sealed in our heart by the Holy Spirit." (p. 179)

Note that faith is a matter of knowledge, a matter of knowing something, not a matter of merely believing what we cannot know. Moreover, faith involves both mind and heart, both understanding and love, not just one or the other, although believing with the heart follows knowing with the mind. So, faith is the knowledge of God's good will toward us. And such faith leads unfailingly to prayer. Without such faith there would be no prayer, at least not as Calvin understands it.

For more information about this edition of Calvin's Institutes, please click on this link and scroll down to Institutes of the Christian Religion:


Dr. James C. Goodloe IV
Grace and Peace,

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
Foundation for Reformed Theology
4103 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230
(804) 678-8352