John Hall (1633-1710): A prayer for Saturday morning

John Hall_Bp_of_Bristol

 

A prayer for Saturday morning, by the bishop of Bristol and master of Pembroke College, Oxford, John Hall (1633-1710), to be found in his Jacob’s Ladder: Or, The Devout Soul’s Ascension to Heaven (1676), p. 30-32:

O merciful Father, for Jesus Christ his sake, I beseech thee, forgive me all my known and secret sins, which in thought, word, or deed, I have committed against thy Divine Majesty; and deliver me from all those judgments which are due unto me for them, and sanctifie my heart with thy Holy Spirit, that I may henceforth lead a more godly, and religious life. And here, O Lord, I praise thy Holy Name, for that thou hast refreshed me this night with moderate sleep and rest: And I beseech thee, to defend me this day from all perils, and dangers of body and soul; and to this end I commend myself, and all my actions, unto thy blessed protection and government, beseeching thee, that whether I live or die, I may live and die to thy glory, and the salvation of my poor soul, which thou hast bought with thy precious blood: Blesse me, O Lord, in my going out, and coming in; and grant, that whatsoever I shall think, speak, or take in hand this day, may tend to the glory of thy Name, the good of others, and the comfort of my own conscience, when I shall come to make up my last accounts before thee. O my God, help thy servant, that I do no evil to any man this day; and let it be thy blessed will, not to suffer the Devil, nor any of his wicked angels, nor any of his evil members, to have power to do me any hurt or violence; but let the eye of thy holy providence watch over me for good, and not for evil; and command thy holy angels to pitch their tents round about me, for my defence and safety in my going out, and coming in, as thou hast promised they shall do about them that fear thy name; Grant this O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ thy son’s sake, in whose blessed name I give thee glory, and beg at thy hands, all other graces which thou seest to be needful, for me this day and ever, in that prayer which Christ himself hath taught me, saying.

Our Father, &c.

Advertisements

John Reading (1587/8-1667): Praying for the supreme end (God’s glory) and the means necessary to it

St Marys Dover

 

John Reading (1587/8-1667) was a Reformed conforming churchman. He studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, graduating BA in 1607 and MA in 1610. After his ordination he ministered in Dover, and became a royal chaplain to King Charles I. In the picture above, St Mary’s Church, where Reading ministered, can be seen with Dover Castle in the background on the left, and the white cliffs of Dover on the right. In 1643 and 1644 Reading took the livings of Chartham and Cheriton, Kent, and was chosen as one of 9 divines to write annotations on the New Testament, in what became commonly known as the Westminster Annotations.

While fervently Reformed in his theological convictions, Reading was at the same time a conformist and Royalist, and, despite agreeing doctrinally with the Puritans, did not support the Parliamentarian cause, instead preaching against rebellion and calling for loyalty to the king. His royalist sympathies would cost him his ecclesiastical livings and, after the discovery of a royalist plot to seize Dover Castle in early 1645, Reading ended up imprisoned in Leeds Castle in Kent, where he wrote A Guide to the Holy City (1651). He was released in 1647, and was restored to his Dover living in 1660, shortly before the Restoration. In fact, on 25 May 1660, when Charles II landed at Dover to reclaim the English throne, Reading presented to the king a large bible with gold clasps, in the name of the corporation of Dover, and made a short speech. After the Restoration he retook his former livings of Chartham and Cheriton, and became a prebendary of Canterbury.

At the beginning of his A Guide to the Holy City (p. 3-4) is found a wonderful prayer rounding off a meditation on “the necessity of a Christian’s aiming at a right end in all his actions”. In typically Reformed manner, Reading identifies God’s glory as the supreme end of all things, and the blessedness of the elect in the fruition (i.e. enjoyment) of God as inseparable but subordinate to this. Reading’s prayer follows the same pattern, in which he prays for this end and the means necessary to it:

Most gratious and most holy Lord God, who dwelling in unaccessible light of Majestie and glory, hast yet been pleased to manifest thy infinite power and unsearchable wisdome in all thy creatures, especially those who thou hast created to thine own image, to praise and glorifie thee in their eternall participation of thy divine blessednesse: Give us true wisdome to consider the end for which thou hast made us, make us truely understand that thy glory is incomparably better then all the creatures, and our salvation then all the world: Lord open our eyes that we sleep not in death: let not the transitory dreames of this present life beguile us: let not the malitious temper so prevaile upon our infirmities, as to cause us securely to run on in the easie way to destruction: but gratious Lord, as thou hast appointed the end, our eternall life, so be pleased to dispose the meanes which may lead us thereto: Thou canst as easily make us holy, as command us to be so: Lord therefore make us such as thou hast commanded us to be: make us faithfull to beleeve in thee, and obedient to serve and please thee, as thou hast in thy great and tender mercy given thy holy word to be a light and true guid unto us, so blessed Lord, give us of the same spirit, by which it was endited, which may lead us into all truth and holinesse, and (these daies of sinne being ended) into that holy and blessed inheritance, which thou hast prepared for all those whom thou hast elected to eternall life and salvation, through JESUS CHRIST our onely Saviour and Redeemer, to whom with thee and the holy Ghost be all honour and glory ascribed in heaven and earth henceforth and for ever, AMEN.

Samuel Hieron (bap. 1572-1617): A pastor’s prayer for himself and his ministry

Modbury

 

The following prayer of a pastor for himself and his ministry is attributed to Samuel Hieron (bap. 1572-1617), fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and afterwards vicar of Modbury, Devon (parish church of St George, Modbury, pictured):

Holy, O Lord, and honourable is that service, to which it hath been thy gracious pleasure to depute me. The matter I am chiefly to be busied in, is thine own counsel; they be thy oracles, and the seals of righteousness, the dispensation whereof thou hast committed to me. Thou hast made me an overseer of a part of that flock, which thou didst purchase with thine own most precious blood; thou hast called me to be a messenger, and an interpreter, to declare unto men thy righteousness, to watch for their souls, among them to declare thy secrets, and to pray them even in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled unto thee.

What man among all the sons of Adam, is worthy of this honour? And who is sufficient for these things? When as, oh most merciful Father, I think upon the weight of that charge which thou hast put upon me, and consider again mine own weakness and insufficiency, who am a man of polluted lips, and even as a child unable to speak the secret of thy Gospel as becometh me; methinks I may well cry out with the prophet, Woe is me, I am even undone; how shall I stand upright under such a burden?

But when I look back into my own conscience, and find there a comfortable witness, that I have not thrust in myself for a pastor, and remember also what is registered in the Word, how thou makest thy power perfect in weakness, and choosest the feeble things of the world for weighty purposes, it is a kind of enlivening to my spirits, and refreshing to my discouraged and drooping thoughts, I am thereby emboldened to press nearer to thy throne of grace.

Oh thou who both callest whom thou pleasest, and makest those able whom thou callest; be merciful unto me (even with the strength and intention of my desires I most humbly pray thee) make my heart a very treasury of saving knowledge, fill it with soundness of judgment and a large measure of spiritual understanding, that my whole drift may be to fulfil that ministry which I have received. Let my lips preserve knowledge, that many may be fed thereby, and give me a door of utterance, that I may open my mouth boldly, as I ought to speak, and both shew thy people their sins, and be able to minister a word in due season to him that is weary.

In my preaching vouchsafe me both diligence and humility. Diligence; that I may still be instant, never fainting in my mind for the small success of my labours, or for those storms which Satan raiseth up against the faithful in dispensing of thy truth: and humility, that I may not seek mine own glory and applause with men, but the bringing in sheaves into thy garner, and the gathering of saints into thy fold. And for this cause teach me to take heed of the affectation of words, and of seeking to abound with the enticing speech of man’s wisdom, choosing rather by the plain evidence of the Spirit to approve myself to men’s consciences in thy sight, than by a vain blast of words to gain an opinion of eloquence and learning before men.

And for the better furtherance of this great work, make me careful to know the state of my flock, and to hearken after their courses, to observe their carriage and opinions, and to find their especial sins, that so my speeches may be as words in season, even like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

Make me wise in judging, skilful in separating the precious from the vile; bold, but yet pitiful and compassionate: in reproving resolute, especially in those things which are fit to be urged; and far from yielding in the smallest things which may strengthen them in evil, and be a stop in their speedy reformation.

Let it be even my whole business to seek that which is lost, and to study how to bring those out of the snares of the Devil which are taken by him at his will.

Make my face strong, and my forehead as the adamant against their faces which shall either scorn or withstand thy truth; let me make ready my back for the smiters, and not hide my face from shame and spitting; no nor to account even of life itself, so that I may finish my course with joy; and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of thy grace.

Frame me to diligence and painfulness in my private employments, in reading, in study, in meditation and prayer, that I may be a workman not needing to be ashamed, and that men may see how I go on, and profit in my calling.

Let my life be a pattern of holiness to my flock; let there be no fighting betwixt my behavior and my doctrine, but that my very course and carriage, and ordinary speeches may savour of grace, that so I may give no offence, either to those that depend upon me, or to those who desire to have some occasion and matter of reproach.

Make me circumspect in my family, overseeing the ways of my household, knowing how many eyes are upon me and mine; and how soon by Satan’s teaching men will make the worst of every little trespass. And because, oh Lord, the businesses of this world are a great withdrawment, and the pretence of caring for posterity, doth kill the zeal of many, and lead them into doolish and noisome lusts; therefore, I beseech thee, suppress within me all earthly-mindedness; keep me from entangling myself with the affairs of this world; let it be enough for me that I have a nail in the holy place, and a room among the servitours of thy Church.

As for those which belong unto me, let me neither be without care; for that were worse than infidelity, nor yet so taken up, that I should forget my chiefest business; but let me assure myself, that thou wilt be my God, and the God of my seed, and wilt not leave them destitute of earthly blessings, for whom thou hast provided an eternal inheritance. With this hope make me to go on with cheerfulness; doing that whereto thou hast called me, and leaving thee to provide and care for the rest. Thou oh Lord knowest the desires of my soul, thou best understandest what things are fittest for me, in respect of that great calling to which thou hast ordained me, and what I most stand in need of: Supply me I beseech thee out of thy fulness, and crown my labours in the ministry with the conversion of such souls as are ordained unto life; and that for the Son’s sake, who is the chief Shepherd, to whom let my soul and spirit give honour, glory, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

Peter du Moulin (1601-1684): a soliloquy and prayer of thankfulness

Peter du Moulin

 

Peter du Moulin (1601-1684), son of the distinguished French Huguenot theologian Pierre du Moulin (1568-1658), was a Reformed divine of the Church of England, rector of Adisham, Kent, and a prebendary of Canterbury. In an interesting family setup, Peter was a royalist and conformist, while his brother Lewis (1606-1680) was a dissenter and opponent of episcopacy, and another brother, Cyrus (1628-1699), was minister of the Huguenot church in Châteaudun and for a time ministered to the French church in Canterbury.

Peter du Moulin wrote a devotional work titled A Week of Soliloquies and Prayers (first edition 1657), with prayers for each day of the week in preparation for Holy Communion on Sunday. As a sample, seeing that today is Thursday, the soliloquy and prayer for Thursday is reproduced below, with the consistent theme of gratitude to the Lord:

Psalm 116:12. What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?

Soliloquy.

It is the querulous and ungrateful humour of man to keep an exact reckoning of his afflictions, most of which are but imaginarie, and to murmur against God, but to forget his benefits, and take no notice of them, no not when he fills himself with them. Although there is none so afflicted upon earth, but hath more reason to thank God than to complain, though he had nothing but life and the way open for repentance.

To praise God for his graces is the highest dutie of the Christian, and together his highest felicitie. It is the everlasting imployment of glorious soules in heaven to praise God for his salvation, crying with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God which sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb. To which the armies of angels answer, Amen, blessing and glorie and wisdome and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

Let us now, my soul, joyne with that consort of heavenly praises. Let us anticipate the date of our felicitie, singing our part already in the musique of angels. And what have I else to render unto God for his benefits, but to employ for his praise the gift he made to me of a soul capable and desirous to know him, to love him, and to praise him?

But when I come to think on that numerous universalitie of all Gods benefits upon me, I feel my meditation swallowed up in a bottomless gulf. Nature, providence, and grace call me all three together to admiration and thankfulness.

Nature as the nearest presents me to myself, and shewing me my body made with such divine art and symmetrie, teacheth me to say with David, I will praise the Lord for I am wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). In that bodie God hath lodged a soul stamped with his own image, endowed with reason, and inabled with intellectual faculties. To comprehend what I owe to God for my bodie only, I should value every piece one by one, and think what I would refuse to part with them. What would I take for one of my arms? Not millions. What for an eye? Not a whole world. What then for both? What for health and life? I must account that I possess as much treasure as I would refuse, rather than be deprived of every one, and of any one of these natural goods; and upon that account I must estimate my obligation, and the greatness of my debt to my great benefactor.

How much then do I owe unto God for my soul, which is the breath and the living image of God, in comparison of which this bodie which we so much value is of no value. To understand my obligation to God for my soul I should know her nature and her work. That knowledge is too wonderful for me. But as darkness teacheth us to value the light, I learn to admire the value of a soul in her right sense, when I see one out of it, a man become a beast. It strikes me with horrour, and makes me exclaim, how much am I indebted to God, for giving and preserving unto me a reasonable soul?

And when from within I look without, what a numberless multitude of benefits of God are crowding about me! The earth that bears me, the aire which I breath, the heaven that shines upon me, the plentie of nature that feeds me, her varietie that delights me, the several creatures that serve me. What readiness, what utilitie, what dutiful attendance of so many good things which God made for me!

And all these goods of nature are managed by his providence for my use. To providence I owe the goodness of my Father, the tenderness of my mother, that loving care whereby I was brought up from the cradle, supported in the infirmitie of mine infancie, and conducted in the simplicitie of my youth. To the provident care of my heavenly Father I owe the sucking, next after my nurse’s milk, of the principles of pietie and honestie, which to me since have been preservatives against those mischiefs which I have seen others run into for want of good breeding. When I see so many persons disfigured with sickness, their limbs broken, their bodie spoiled by sad accidents; others groaning under the lash of ill renown, perhaps wrongfully, some miserable out of want, some out of plentie, some opprest by wicked neighbours, some by their own melancholy, I cannot but think myself well used, notwithstanding all the infirmities within and difficulties without, which I must wrestle with. And I must exalt the bountie of God, who so carefully preserveth my person, my peace, and my reputation.

What private helps did God send me in the publick ruines! What wayes did he open to me where there was no way! How graciously, how miraculously did he make manna fall before me when bread failed, and wrought for me a subsistence out of the hardest natures and businesses, as it were fetching water out of the rock! How loving are his very chastenings, denying me the things that I desired, to give me better than I desired; and sending me the things that I feared, to make them occasions of blessings!

I should never have done numbring the benefits of his providence; but here his grace interrupteth the reckoning ascribing to herself all the blessings both of providence and nature. For it is out of that love before all times in his beloved son, that he feedeth me and furnisheth me with all the goods of nature, and assigneth his angels for my keepers which carry me in their hands.

But what are all these great benefits but small productions of the inestimable treasures of that grace whereby I enter upon all the rights of Gods children? Oh that I could once apprehend what a high grace it is to have God for my father, Christ for my brother, his kingdome for mine inheritance, yea, God himself for my portion forever? How gracious is his redemption! How free is his pardon! How precious is his loving kindeness! What fulness of joy is at his right hand! What eternal pleasures in the contemplation of his face! And in that expectation, how comfortable is the presence of his good Spirit in my heart, giving me eares to hear his word, and a sincere desire to keep it, strengthening me in my troubles, raising me in my falls, wounding my soul with contrition for my sins, and then healing it with faith in his promises! O pretious guest! O blessed company! O Paradise upon earth! O beginning of the kingdome of heaven! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holie name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits (Ps. 103:1).

Prayer

Most merciful Father, when I compare mine indignitie with the greatness of thy benefits, I feel in my heart a compound of humble repentance and heartie thankfulness. For what am I by nature but a child of wrath, conceived in iniquitie, which original corruption I have since increased with innumerable actual transgressions? And yet, Lord, where sin abounded thy grace hath abounded much more, and thine infinite love hath prevented me when I was thine enemie. Lord who am I, that thou great maker and Soveraign of heaven and earth, possest with infinite glorie, and dwelling in a light not to be approacht unto, wouldest grace me so much as to make me one of thy children, and inrich me with the inheritance of thy kingdome? That thou wouldest give me thy beloved Son for the price of my redemption, which I may present unto thee by faith? That thou wouldest give me thy good Spirit to seal my adoption, and work my regeneration, and say to my soul, soul, I am thy Salvation.

With what wonders of mercy was that salvation purchased for me? Thine only Son in whom thou art well pleased must put on an infirm flesh like unto mine, to make me like unto him by his good Spirit. He must make himself a servant to make me free. He must suffer death to give me life. He must crie, my God my God why hast thou forsaken me, to bring me back to my God whom I had forsaken. He must overcome death to intitle me to his victorie. He must ascend into heaven, and there sit at the right hand of his Father, that I might be blest with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3).

O Father of mercies, the great, the good, the wonderful, be pleased to adde to these thy mercies one more, even the thankfulness of my heart, answerable, as far as man’s capacitie can reach, to the greatness of the obligation. O that thou wouldest grant me according to the riches of thy glorie to be strengthened with might by thy Spirit in the inner man. That Christ may dwell in my heart by faith, that I being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that I may be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:16).

Most gracious God I expect from the riches of thy glorie to be filled in heaven with all thy fulness, by the blessed contemplation of thy face. But even in this present weak condition of mine, be pleased to poure into me some drops of that fulness, enough to fill this small frail vessel with thy love, and a feeling resentment of thy bountie. And as all things about me speak to me of thy love, so let all things help me to be thankful, and to acknowledge and love him that loved me so much in Jesus Christ.

‘Tis true, Lord, that even thine enemies enjoy out of thy bountie the light and heat of the sun, and the fertilitie of the earth, and in thee live and move and have their being. But I enjoy all these benefits with a better title and relish in the very bread which I eate, and in the aire which I breath, thine eternal love in thy beloved Son. For since thou hast elected me in him, and redeemed me by him, it is by him also and for his sake, that thou preservest my bodie and soul which he hath redeemed, and makest me to injoy the promises of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:8).

What shall I render unto thee Lord for all thy benefits towards me? With what fatherly care hast thou fed, preserved, and defended me? What help of thy providence didst thou make me finde in the whole course of my life? With what vigilance and wisdome hast thou made me a way through a thousand dangers that beset me? With what compassion hast thou held me up when I was falling, and guided me when I went astray? How graciously hast thou moved me to repentance by thy word, by thy Spirit, by thy gifts, by thy rods, sometimes pulling me with fear as plucking me out of the fire, sometimes drawing me with love by temporal comforts, and by the sweetness of thy promises? How quick and powerful are the comforts of thy spirit, assuring me of thy reconciliation with me, and giving me a foretaste of eternal life?

Among thy many blessings I reckon it for a mercie, Lord, that thou didst not leave me without discipline, but hast exercised me with thy chastenings to awake my faith, warm my zeal, and make me to have recourse to the shelter of that very hand that smote me. I praise thee for not giving me all my desires in this world, that my heart might be weaned from it. O Soveraign Physician, in thy hand even poisons are remedies; and thou never didst send me affliction but in the end turned into a blessing, by thy wonderful wayes which fetch light out of darkness. Thus Lord, which way soever I look, whether to prosperitie or adversitie, whether to the goods of this world, or those of a better, whether to my desires frustrated, or to thy liberalitie in thy Son which passeth all my desires, I finde myself in all things obliged to glorifie thee.

What then shall I render unto thee for so many benefits? Lord I have nothing but thine. Then all that is thine I will render unto thee. I will consecrate unto thee this body and soul which thou hast made and redeemed, and so carefully preserved. I will employ mine understanding to meditate on thee, my heart to love thee, my mouth to praise thee, all my faculties to obey and please thee. And because my goodness extendeth not to thee, I will endeavour to make it extend to the saints here in the earth (Ps. 16:2) according to the measure of my abilitie; and to feed and cloath my Saviour Jesus in his members, as he hath fed me with the bread of life, and clothed me with the cloak of his righteousness, besides his care of me for the temporal. My God give me holy resolutions which may be attended with holy actions. My God grant that my life may be a continual thanksgiving in affections, in words, and in works. My soul doth magnifie the Lord and my spirit rejoyceth in God my Saviour, for he hath regarded the lowliness of his servant. Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glorie and dominion forever. Amen.

John Hall (1633-1710): A mother’s prayer for her newborn child

John Hall_Bp_of_Bristol

 

John Hall (1633-1710) was a Reformed conforming divine, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Master of Pembroke College, Oxford for a staggering 45 years, and Bishop of Bristol. Hall’s magnum opus is a devotional prayer book titled Jacob’s Ladder: Or, The Devout Soul’s Ascension to Heaven, which by 1728 had undergone 16 editions.  Among the various prayers suited for all occasions is a beautiful one titled “A Prayer of a Woman after her delivery”:

O Merciful God and heavenly Father, who hast now most especially made known unto me that thou art able to do more exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think; make me thankfully to rejoyce in the works of thy love and thy tender mercy, thy favours are great and wonderful in sparing the life of my self and mine infant, and freeing me from my pangs, and it from the darkness of the silent womb.

Thine, O Lord, is thy power, by which I am delivered; thine is the mercy, by which I am safely returned into my bed; thine is the work of the frame and fashion of this my babe; thine therefore shall be likewise thy glory for ever and ever; Grant blessed Father, that I may never forget thy goodness, but may express my thankfulness, in new obedience, Make me careful to perform what service I promised thee, in the extremity of mine anguish: As thou hast given me the fruit of my body to the joy of my heart, so give me the fruit of righteousness sown in peace. Give me the wisdom which is from above, that is full of good works, without hypocrisy. Lord make me thy servant by grace, and make this child, thy child by adoption & mercy; give me comfort in its life, for the sorrows which I endured at his birth. Give thy blessing on the meanes for the nourishment of this Child: Give it strength, that it may live to receive the seal of thy mercy, in the laver of baptism; and do thou be present with thy blessing, when the sign shall be administred. O let it live, if it be thy blessed will, and grow up in wisdome, and in stature, and in grace, both with thee and with men; that so I may magnifie thy name, for making me an instrument to propagate the number of thine elect. Take pity upon all that suffer afflictions, especially on those women who are in labour with children: Give them comfort in the time of their miseries, ease from their torments, joy in their desired issue, and thankfulness for thy blessings; Lord grant that both I and they, may sing praises to thy Name, for the greatness of our deliverance, and express our thanks, in our godly lives; that when this painful life shall have end, we may sing triumphantly in eternal glory, through Jesus Christ our only Lord and Saviour; in whose most blessed Name and words, I conclude my imperfect prayers, saying, as he himself hath taught me,

Our Father, &c.

John Calvin (1509-1564) on the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

220px-John_Calvin_2

 

Tonight in our Bible study/prayer group, as part of a series on prayer, we discussed Christ’s Parable of the Persistent Widow, also known as the Parable of the Unjust Judge. I was eager when I got home to read the comments of John Calvin (1509-1564) on this passage, and found them very edifying. Below is the biblical text (taken from the KJV), followed by Calvin’s comments:

Luke 18:1-8

1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

Calvin comments:

“We know that perseverance in prayer is a rare and difficult attainment; and it is a manifestation of our unbelief that, when our first prayers are not successful, we immediately throw away not only hope, but all the ardor of prayer. But it is an undoubted evidence of our Faith, if we are disappointed of our wish, and yet do not lose courage. Most properly, therefore, does Christ recommend to his disciples to persevere in praying.

The parable which he employs, though apparently harsh, was admirably fitted to instruct his disciples, that they ought to be importunate in their prayers to God the Father, till they at length draw from him what He would otherwise appear to be unwilling to give. Not that by our prayers we gain a victory over God, and bend him slowly and reluctantly to compassion, but because the actual facts do not all at once make it evident that he graciously listens to our prayers. In the parable Christ describes to us a widow, who obtained what she wanted from an unjust and cruel judge, because she did not cease to make earnest demands. The leading truth conveyed is, that God does not all at once grant assistance to his people, because he chooses to be, as it were, wearied out by prayers; and that, however wretched and despicable may be the condition of those who pray to him, yet if they do not desist from the uninterrupted exercise of prayer, he will at length regard them and relieve their necessities.

The parties between whom the comparison is drawn are, indeed, by no means equal; for there is a wide difference between a wicked and cruel man and God, who is naturally inclined to mercy. But Christ intended to assure believers that they have no reason to fear lest their persevering entreaties to the Father of mercy should be refused, since by importunate supplication they prevail on men who are given to cruelty. The wicked and iron-hearted judge could not avoid yielding at length, though reluctantly, to the earnest solicitations of the widow: how then shall the prayers of believers, when perseveringly maintained, be without effect? If exhaustion and weakness are felt by us when we give way after a slight exertion, or if the ardor of prayer languishes because God appears to lend a deaf ear, let us rest assured of our ultimate success, though it may not be immediately apparent. Entertaining this conviction, let us contend against our impatience, so that the long delay may not induce us to discontinue our prayers.

7. And shall not God avenge his elect?That judge, whom Christ has described to us as altogether desperate, as not only hardened against the contemplation of God, but so entirely devoid of shame, that he had no anxiety about his reputation, at length opened his eyes to the distresses of the widow. We have no reason to doubt that believers will derive, at least, equal advantage from their prayers, provided they do not cease to plead earnestly with God. Yet it must be observed that, while Christ applies the parable to his subject, he does not make God to resemble a wicked and cruel judge, but points out a very different reason why those who believe in him are kept long in suspense, and why he does not actually and at once stretch out his hand to them: it is because he forbears. If at any time God winks at the injuries done to us longer than we would wish, let us know that this is done with a fatherly intention—to train us to patience. A temporary overlooking of crimes is very different from allowing them to remain for ever unpunished. The promise which he makes, that God will speedily avenge them, must be referred to his providence; for our hasty tempers and carnal apprehension lead us to conclude that he does not come quickly enough to grant relief. But if we could penetrate into his design, we would learn that his assistance is always ready and seasonable, as the case demands, and is not delayed for a single moment, but comes at the exact time.

But it is asked, How does Christ instruct his disciples to seek vengeance, while he exhorts them on another occasion, pray for those who injure and persecute you, (Matthew 5:44). I reply: what Christ says here about vengeance does not at all interfere with his former doctrine. God declares that he will avenge believers, not for the purpose of giving a loose rein to their carnal affections, but in order to convince them that their salvation is dear and precious in his sight, and in this manner to induce them to rely on his protection. If, laying aside hatred, pure and free from every wicked desire of revenge, and influenced by proper and well-regulated dispositions, they implore divine assistance, it will be a lawful and holy wish, and God himself will listen to it. But as nothing is more difficult than to divest ourselves of sinful affections, if we would offer pure and sincere prayers, we must ask the Lord to guide and direct our hearts by his Spirit. Then shall we lawfully call on God to be our avenger, and he will answer our prayers.

8. When the Son of man shall come.By these words Christ informs us that there will be no reason to wonder if men shall afterwards sink under their calamities: it will be because they neglect the true remedy. He intended to obviate an offense which we are daily apt to take, when we see all things in shameful confusion. Treachery, cruelty, imposture, deceit, and violence, abound on every hand; there is no regard to justice, and no shame; the poor groan under their oppressors; the innocent are abused or insulted; while God appears to be asleep in heaven. This is the reason why the flesh imagines that the government of fortune is blind. But Christ here reminds us that men are justly deprived of heavenly aid, on which they have neither knowledge nor inclination to place reliance. They who do nothing but murmur against the Lord in their hearts, and who allow no place for his providence, cannot reasonably expect that the Lord will assist them.

Shall he find faith on the earth? Christ expressly foretells that, from his ascension to heaven till his return, unbelievers will abound; meaning by these words that, if the Redeemer does not so speedily appear, the blame of the delay will attach to men, because there will be almost none to look for him. Would that we did not behold so manifest a fulfilment of this prediction! But experience proves that though the world is oppressed and overwhelmed by a huge mass of calamities, there are few indeed in whom the least spark of faith can be discerned. Others understand the word faith to denote uprightness, but the former meaning is more agreeable to the context.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on the great comfort to be found in Christ’s Gethsemane prayer

220px-jonathan_edwards

 

“The godly may take great comfort in this, that Christ has as their high priest offered up such strong cries to God. You that have good evidence of your being believers in Christ, and his true followers and servants, may comfort yourselves in this, that Christ Jesus is your high priest, that that blood, which Christ shed in his agony, fell down to the ground for you, and that those earnest cries were sent up to God for you, for the success of his labours and sufferings in all that good you stood in need of in this world, and in your everlasting happiness in the world to come. This may be a comfort to you in all losses, and under all difficulties, that you may encourage your faith, and strengthen your hope, and cause you greatly to rejoice. If you were under any remarkable difficulties, it would be a great comfort to you to have the prayers of some man that you looked upon to be a man of eminent piety, and one that had a great interest at the throne of grace, and especially if you knew that he was very earnest and greatly engaged in prayer for you. But how much more may you be comforted in it, that you have an interest in the prayers and cries of the only-begotten and infinitely worthy Son of God, and that he was so earnest in his prayers for you, as you have heard!”

– Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Christ’s Agony (Sermon on Luke 22:44)