FORTY-FIFTH LORD’S DAY.
Question 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
Answer. Because it is that chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them.
There are many Questions which may be agitated in reference to prayer, the chief and most important of which are the following:
The first and second of these propositions belong to this 116th Question of the Catechism; the third to the 117th; and the fourth to the 118th Question.
Prayer consists in calling upon the true God, and arises from an acknowledgment and sense of our want, and from a desire of sharing in the divine bounty, in true conversion of heart and confidence in the promise of grace for the sake of Christ the mediator, asking at the hands of God such temporal and spiritual blessings as are necessary for us; or in giving thanks to God for the benefits received. The genus or general character of prayer consists in invocation or adoration. Adoration is often used in the sense of the whole worship of God, since we regard him as the true God, whom we worship. Prayer is a species or part of invocation, for to call upon the true God is to ask of him such things as are necessary both for soul and body, and to render thanks to him for benefits received. It is here used in the sense of the general character of pray. There are, therefore, two species or parts comprehended in prayer petition and thanksgiving. Petition is a prayer asking of God those blessings necessary both for the soul and body. Thanksgiving is prayer acknowledging and magnifying the benefits received from God, and binding those who receive these gifts to such gratitude as is pleasing to God. Thankfulness in general consists in acknowledging and professing what and how great is the benefit received, and in binding those who are the recipients thereof to the performance of such duties as are mutual, possible and becoming. It comprehends, therefore, truth and justice.
The apostle Paul, in his first Epistle to Timothy 2:1, enumerates four species of prayer, saying, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.” The first includes prayers against evil things; the second, petitions for good things; the third, intercession for others; and the fourth, thanksgiving for benefits received and evils warded off. This distinction is drawn from the end or design of prayer.
Prayer is also distinguished into public and private prayer, from the circumstances of person and place. Private prayer is the intercourse which a faithful soul has with God, asking, alone and apart from others, certain blessings for himself, or for others; or giving thanks for benefits received. This form of prayer is not restricted to any particular words or places, for oftentimes the heart, when burdened and distressed, gives utterance to nothing more than sighs and groans; and the Apostle commands “that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands.” (1 Tim. 2:8.) Public prayer is that which, by the use of certain words, is offered up to God by the whole church in the congregation, the minister leading, as it is right and proper that he should in the public gatherings of the church. Language, or the use of the tongue, is necessary for this form of prayer. Hence Christ said: When ye pray, say, Our Father, &c. It was also chiefly for this that the tongue was made, that God might be praised and magnified by it; and it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh. Lastly, by this others are also invited to praise and worship God.
The reasons on account of which prayer is necessary for Christians are these:1. The command of God. God has commanded that we call upon him, and desires that we in this way chiefly worship and praise him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee.” “Ask and it shall be given you.* “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven.” (Ps. 50:15. Matt. 7:7. Luke 11:2.) 2. Our necessity and want. We do not obtain the blessings which are necessary for us, except we ask them at the hands of God; for he has promised them to none but such as ask. Prayer is, therefore, just as necessary for us as it is necessary for a beggar to ask alms.
The same thing must be understood respecting the necessity of thanks giving, which is said concerning the necessity of prayer; for without the giving of thanks we lose those things which are given, and do not receive those which are necessary and should be given. And the necessity of both will readily appear, whether we consider the effects or cause of faith, and so also faith itself. Faith is neither kindled nor increased in any one who does not desire or ask it. No one has faith who is not thankful for it; for all those who are possessed of true faith taste the grace of God, and those who have tasted of the grace of God show themselves thankful to God for it, and desire it more and more. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” (Rom. 5:5.) The Holy Ghost is also obtained by prayer; for he is given to none, except those who seek and desire him.
Obj. 1. But the wicked receive many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless do not ask or desire them. Therefore these things are not merely given to such as desire them. Ans. The wicked do indeed receive many gifts; but not such as are principal nor peculiar to the elect, as faith, repentance, conversion, remission of sins and regeneration. And still further, the gifts which they do receive do not contribute to their salvation, but to their destruction. And should any one reply, and say that infants do not desire the Holy Ghost, and yet receive him, so that he must be given to more than those who ask and desire, we answer that the Holy Ghost is not given to any except such as desire him, which is to say, to adults who are capable of asking and seeking him. And yet even infants desire the Holy Ghost after their manner, in that they have in possibility an inclination to seek him just as they according to their manner believe, or have an inclination to faith. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.” (Ps. 8:2.)
Obj. 2. The effect is not prior to its own proper cause. Prayer is the effect of the Holy Ghost, inasmuch as no one who does not possess the Holy Ghost can desire him; and he alone indites prayer within us. Therefore the Holy Ghost is not received by prayer, but is in us before we give utterance to prayer, and is consequently given not merely to such as desire him.
Ans. The effect is not prior to its own cause in order and nature, but in time they both exist together. So the Holy Ghost, and our desiring him, are both in us at the same moment in respect to time, although it is different according to nature. For the Holy Ghost is in us, according to nature, before we give utterance to prayer, inasmuch as we then for the first time begin to desire him, and to ask him of God, when he is given unto us; but according to time he is simultaneous with our prayers. For we begin to desire the presence of the Holy Ghost as soon as he is given unto us, and he also given just as soon as he is desired and sought, or in other words, God effects in us a desire of the Holy Ghost and gives him unto us the very same moment. Yea it may be said that he produces in us a desire of the Holy Ghost by commanding us to pray for him; and in producing this desire he at the same time gives him unto those who ask and desire him. God does not so work in us, therefore, as when a ray of the sun falls upon a vessel; because the Holy Ghost is a gift of such a character, that he is given, received and prayed for at one and the same time. We might also make a distinction between the beginning and increase of the Spirit within us, inasmuch as we do not desire the latter before we have the former. No one desires the Holy Ghost, except he in whom the Spirit dwells. But the first solution or answer which we have given must suffice. For that which Christ says in Luke 11:13, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him,” is not to be understood merely of the increase, but also of the beginning of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.
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