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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Calvinism: The Theology of the Praying Man

I find it interesting that when the most strident anti-Calvinists pray, they pray like Calvinists.
I have been reading a work by a Russian Orthodox monk, Archimandrite Sophrony. He wrote a few pieces on prayer and the one I'm reading is, "His Life is Mine." In this book he makes his pointed jabs against predestination (though he doesn't define what he means by it), and against God "coercing" or "compelling" any person. Yet in chapter 6 of his book he printed a prayer he prayed daily. Interestingly, I do believe any good Calvinist could pray this prayer. Maybe this puts the truth to the assertion J.I Packer once made, that a Christian on his knees prays like a Calvinist ("Evangelism and the Soverienty of God"). Or maybe to say it another way will help, Calvinism is the theology of the praying man. Here is the prayer:

Prayer at Daybreak
"O Lord Eternal and Creator of all things,
Who of Your inscrutable goodness did call me to this life;
Who did bestow on me the grace of Baptism
and the Seal of the Holy Spirit;
Who has imbued me with the desire to seek You;
the one true God: hear my prayer.

I have no life, no light, no joy or wisdom;
no strength except through You, O God.
Because of my unrighteousness I dare not raise my eyes to You.
But You did say to Your disciples,
'Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive'
and 'Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do'.
Wherefore I dare to invoke You.
Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit.
Teach me to pray aright.

Bless this day which You do give unto me,
Your unworthy servant. By the power of Your blessing
enable me at all times to speak and act to Your glory
with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love,
gentleness, peace, courage and wisdom:
aware always of Your presence.

Of Your immense goodness, O Lord God, shew me the path of Your will,
and grant me to walk in Your sight without sin.

O Lord, unto Whom all hearts are open,
You know what things I have need of.
You are acquainted with my blindness and my ignorance,
You know my infirmity and my soul's corruption;
but neither are my pain and anguish hid from You.

Wherefore I beseech You, hear my prayer
and by Your Holy Spirit teach me the way wherein I should walk;
and when my perverted will would lead me down other paths
spare me not, O Lord, but force me back to You
.
By the power of Your love, grant me to hold fast to that which is good.
Preserve me from every word or deed that corrupts the soul;
from every impulse unpleasing in Your sight and hurtful to my brother-man.
Teach me what I should say and how I should speak.
If it be Your will that I make no answer,
inspire me to keep silent in a spirit of peace
that causes neither sorrow nor hurt to my fellow.
Establish me in the path of Your commandments
and to my last breath let me not stray from the light of Your ordinances,
that Your commandments may become the sole law of my being
on this earth and in all eternity.

Yes, Lord, I pray, have pity on me.
Spare me in mine affliction and my misery
and hide not the way of salvation from me.

In my foolishness, O God, I plead with You for many and great things.
Yet am I ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness.
Have mercy on me.
Cast me not away from Your presence because of my presumption.
Do You rather increase in me this presumption,
and grant unto me, the worst of men,
to love You as You have commanded,
with all my heart, and with all my soul,
and with all my mind, and with my strength:
with my whole being.

Yes, O Lord, by Your Holy Spirit,
teach me good judgment and knowledge.
Grant me to know Your truth before I go down into the grave.
Maintain my life in this world until I may offer unto You worthy repentance.
Take me not away in the midst of my days,
nor while my mind is still blind.
When You shall be pleased to bring my life to an end,
forewarn me that I may prepare my soul to come before You.
Be with me, O Lord, at that dread hour
and grant me the joy of salvation.
Cleanse me from secret faults,
from all iniquity that is hid in me;
and give me a right answer before Your judgment-seat.

Yes, Lord, of Your great mercy
and immeasurable love for mankind,

Hear my prayer" (p.52-4 Emphasis mine-MWP).

You may ask, "What's so Calvinistic about this prayer?" Allow me to list six of them in very short points:

1. Submissiveness before God. The whole prayer is a humble, contrite prayer of a man who is bowed before God. That is a Calvinistic mainstay!

2. Warm-hearted desire for God, which is the goal of the whole prayer. And this is the goal of any genuine Calvinist! No doubt, it's the goal of any other Christian. Even so, warm-hearted desire for God is the central piece of Calvinism. I'm simply pointing out something that may shock a reader or two.

3. Straightforward acknowledgment of my twisted inner motivations and inabilities when faced with God in His majestic holiness (look back up at the emphasized phrases above). In fact the "my perverted will" line sounds oddly like what we mean by total depravity.

4. Confidence in the soveriegn grace of God seen in the emphasized phrases above (as well as in several places I didn't highlight), especially (1) being imbued by God with the very desire to seek God; (2) confessing that I have no life, light, wisdom and so forth except through God; and (3) the "force me back to you" talk (which goes against the numerous statements Sophrony himself makes in the book about God not being "coercive").

5. Recognition that my salvation is dependent on God's own action of preserving me.

6. Finally (at least for this post), Sophrony's desire to be so heavenly minded that he's finally some earthly good (the paragraph about "my brother-man"). Most of the prayer deals with the First and great commandment - to love God whole hog; and this portion of the prayer specifically focuses on the second, love your neighbor as yourself. This too is a constant Calvinist desire, at least for genuine Calvinism.

My point in this little exercise is simply to point out, or to make a case for my central thesis: Calvinism is the theology of the praying man. Even though Archimandrite Sophrony would be repulsed by any connection between himself and Calvinism, nevertheless, when he prayed, his praying theology exposes a Calvinist theology/faith. Truly lex orandi, lex credendi est (the language of prayer is the language of faith)!

Mike

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