The Content of Prayer


John Calvin teaches that prayer grows out of faith and that prayer consists of asking God for what God has already promised us and given us in Christ:

"It remains for us to seek 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.

"What we have learned is there" refers to all that Christ has given us in the wonderful exchange of his blessing for our curse. That is to say, everything that we know we have in Christ, we are to ask for from Christ. That is what prayer is. Just as faith is not "believing what we know ain't so," but is instead precisely a special kind of knowledge, so also is prayer not a blind grasping but a knowledgeable beseeching.

Or again, we do not pray in the hope of making God merciful. Instead, we pray only because we already know that God is merciful. That makes all the difference in the world.

"It is by the benefit of prayer that we have an entrance into the riches we have in God. . . . God does not tell us anything which we are to hope from Him, without likewise commanding us to ask for it in prayer. . . . By prayer we seek and find the treasures which our faith is shown in the gospel." (p. 459)

Again, it is not the purpose of prayer to convince God to give to us what he is otherwise unwilling to give to us. Instead, it is the purpose of prayer to open ourselves to the gifts of God which he has already promised us.

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