The Rules of Prayer


John Calvin, having taught (1) that prayer is based in the wonderful exchange of Christ's blessing for our curse, (2) that faith precedes prayer, (3) that the content of prayer is asking for what God has given us, and (4) that the purpose of prayer is not for God's benefit but for ours, then (5) sets forth four rules for prayer:

"Now the first rule to establish prayer well and appropriately is that we have the attitude and understanding of heart which is suitable for those who enter into conversation with God. This is the case when our mind, being disentangled from all carnal cares and reflections by which it can be turned away or hindered from looking rightly and purely to God, not only completely applies itself to the intention of praying but also as much as possible is lifted above itself. . . . Likewise, the heart must aspire with all its effort to the same goal and follow the same way. As the mind ought to be completely directed to God, so also the affection should wholly delight in Him."

"Next there is a second rule: that we put from us all thought of our own glory, that we strip ourselves of all opinion of our own dignity, that we leave off all confidence in ourselves, giving glory to God in our humility and abasement--lest if we want to ascribe something to ourselves, even the least thing in the world, with our mad arrogance we would be crushed before His face."

"The third rule ought to be that, whenever we ask something which is beneficial for us, we may feel our poverty without pretense and that, considering without pretense what we need, we may ask it with true affection for obtaining our request."

"The fourth rule of praying well is that we be moved to pray with certain hope of obtaining our request."

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, translated by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009), pp. 460-461, 463.

Now that Calvin has mentioned hope, let us turn to see his definition of hope:

"Hope is nothing else than an expectation of the good things which faith has believed are truthfully promised by God. Thus faith believes that God is truthful; hope expects that He will reveal His truth in time. Faith believes that He is our Father; hope expects that He will reveal Himself as such toward us. Faith believes that eternal life is given to us; hope expects that we will one day obtain it. Faith is the foundation on which hope rests; hope nourishes and supports faith." (p. 269)

That is to say, hope is basically faith directed toward the future. As faith is the knowledge of God's current goodness toward us, so hope is the confident expectation of God's continuing goodness in the future.

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