The one thing that really matters is this: to have a religion that will bring us safe at last to the new heavens and the new earth. To have that “little that a righteous man has,” to have faith that is lodged in Jesus Christ even if our trust seems as fine as a spider’s thread. To believe in your heart and to say with your mouth, “I know my Redeemer lives.”
Read the words of the Apostles to the early church: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). This Apostolic commitment gave the church of the new covenant the priorities of a twofold vocation: it was to be characterized by prayer to the Father in the name of His Son and by the preaching of the Bible. Let me seek to open up something fresh about both of these marks.
Recently, I began to read a book that I found interesting in its concept, purpose, and accomplishment. A woman named Berenice Aguilera discovered a copy of John Calvin’s commentaries and realized that the original transcriber of his sermons—more than four hundred years ago in St. Peters, Geneva—also transcribed and printed his closing prayers. These brief living intercessions are printed in most of Calvin’s books of sermons. Berenice was so moved in reading them that she proceeded to gather them together, and she seems to have published them herself in England—because there is no name of a publisher to be found anywhere in a 255-page book that she has titled Praying through the Prophets. Publishing the book herself would have required not only cash but a strong conviction that there was something very valuable in listening to John Calvin speaking to God after he had spoken to the people in his congregation. This one book contains more than three thousand prayers of the Genevan Reformer at the close of each of his sermons on the Major and Minor Prophets from Jeremiah to Malachi.
I initially dipped into these prayers and found them refreshing. In daily readings, I am in the latter chapters of the prophet Jeremiah and Lamentations, so I have begun, at the end of the verses apportioned for each day, to read the prayers of Calvin on that chapter. These latter chapters of Jeremiah contain both a relentless declaration of the forthcoming destruction of mighty Babylon and also words of encouragement to the Lord’s people in captivity there. Let me give an example of a portion of Jeremiah as he seeks to encourage the people of God in their long exile from Jerusalem, and then the prayer of John Calvin when he finished preaching on them:
“You who have escaped from the sword, go, do not stand still! Remember the LORD from far away, and let Jerusalem come into your mind: ‘We are put to shame, for we have heard reproach; dishonor has covered our face, for foreigners have come into the holy places of the LORD’s house.’ Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will execute judgment upon her images, and through all her land the wounded shall groan. Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify her strong height, yet destroyers would come from me against her, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 51:50–53)
This is the prayer of John Calvin after he has preached on these verses:
Grant, Almighty God, that when you hide at this day your face from us, that the miserable despair that is ours may not overwhelm our faith, nor obscure our view of your goodness and grace, but that in the thickest darkness your power may ever appear to us, which can raise us above the world, so that we may courageously fight to the end and never doubt that you will at length be the defender of the church which now seems to be oppressed, until we shall enjoy our perfect happiness in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
What simplicity, theocentricity (God-centeredness), humility, and submissive yearning that expresses the oneness of the redeemed. That spirit is what we long to experience when we are hearing public prayer. Christians meet at the mercy seat. When we all bow there in the presence of our Lord in prayer, we are never closer together. There are Christians who will refuse to read anything that was written by John Calvin. They are missing so much. He was a man of prayer. You will never understand or appreciate the Genevan Reformer or realize his impact in the world until you grasp how there was a part of his life lived at the throne of grace. I often heard Ernest Reisinger say, “It is a sin to preach and not to pray.”
When one visits the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust website, one discovers that five examples of the congregational praying of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones are recorded there. They are most moving, comprehensive, and deeply reverent as spoken by one addressing the almighty Creator of the cosmos through what His Son Jesus Christ has achieved. The first recorded prayer was prayed on the opening Sunday of a new year, and so it is the longest—fifteen minutes and thirty-eight seconds. The others average between ten and eleven minutes, but all are so gripping and relevant that the last thing one thinks of is their length. Little wonder people looking back sometimes said that when they went to Westminster Chapel for the first time, it was the praying of the Doctor that moved them more than the preaching. Only a man who knows the Scriptures, prays privately, and who walks in the Spirit could pray for that length, gripping and lifting a congregation of 1,400 into the presence of the Holy One. John Owen said, “If the word does not dwell with power in us then it will not pass with power from us.”
There are also four different versions of some of the pulpit prayers of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, prayed on Sunday mornings in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The most accessible is published by the Banner of Truth. It has been said about Spurgeon’s praying: