There’s a wonderful story I heard a few weeks ago about some minister somewhere giving a sermon on how Calvinism was wrong and terrible and not at all biblical and that it was all about free will and God gives us all a choice (a truth I fundamentally agree with but it is not the whole truth). He ranted and raved about this for some time and then as he drew his sermon to a close he started to pray and he prayed in particular that God would convict his Calvinist brothers and sisters of the error of their ways and lead them to the truth.
Well, huh, so much for my free will! And it serves to illustrate the point I want to make which is that functionally everyone prays as a Calvinist. As Spurgeon said: “We do not pray because we doubt but because we believe.” And in prayers we cannot help but express a belief in God’s sovereignty over the will of man. Specifically, we cannot help but express a belief that unless God is at work no one will come to Christ, second that if he works no one can resist him and third that he has the power to keep us following Christ to the end.
In saying that I’m going to sideline for a moment and deal with prayers for things other than conversion. When we face difficult conversations, hard situations or the need for something or other then we pray to God to provide, to help us, to deliver us and to bring good from evil. In other words we express our firm belief that nothing can stand against the sovereignty of God. We uphold as an article of faith Proverbs 21v1: “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” We do not pray as though God has no say over the will of man. Have you ever heard a Christian pray: “Lord, I am facing a difficult conversation but as you have let us have free will and are not in control over that then I know I cannot ask you to do anything to help me.”?
Likewise, when we pray for ourselves, that we would grow in holiness, grace and love then we are expressing the belief that God will keep us. We believe, implicitly, that Jesus was speaking truth when he said: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10v28) For we know our weakness, our propensity to stray, how easily we are distracted by the pretty flowers of the Devil and we know that unless Jesus was keeping us then we would soon be lost and give up on the whole Christian thing. Have you ever heard anyone pray: “Father, you have given me free will and will not interfere therefore while I want to pray that you will keep me saved I know you cannot answer that prayer and that I can pluck myself from your hand.”?
When it comes to conversion then it becomes even more obvious that non-calvinists cannot help but pray as Calvinists. For I have heard just about every Christian I know say that without prayer then nothing will happen, that evangelism needs to be backed up by prayer, and in those prayers I have heard requests for God to open hearts, plant seed and bring people to Christ. Yet how can this be? For if we are to prayer consistently with non-Calvinist beliefs then God has no control over conversion. He has given us free will, and if he has no say over that, then how can we pray that he will? Yet this is what we appeal to in our prayers.
And that’s the point: the Bible is so obviously, explicitly, Calvinist that if we are to pray in line with what we are commanded and commended to pray for then we will, whether we want to or not, sound like a Calvinist. For we know that our God is “Mighty to save”(Zephaniah 3v17); we know that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2v9) and that success rests not with us but with God.
These things are resounding Calvinist! After all, logically, if salvation belongs to God and all success rests with him then it boils down to God’s mercy and not man’s will. As Paul writes: “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9v16) And as Christians when we pray we again hold this up in faith. We pray along the lines of Ephesians 2v4: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.” (emphasis mine) Notice that it is God who is the one making us alive. I have heard many prayers yet I have never heard what would be an honest prayer from a self-described non-Calvinist: “Father, I commit my friend to you asking that you would save him but knowing that you cannot for you do not have any say over his free will and the choice he will make.”
Additionally, behind our prayers for the conversion of our friends and family lies not only the recognition that God does save but that no one can resist his saving work. Why else would we preserve in prayer though many years go by and our friends can seem to get further away rather than closer to God? If we really thought that God’s grace could be resisted then surely we would have given up praying about it ages ago for once again success would not be in God’s hands. But no, Christians will always pray as though they had the fourth point of Calvinism, Irresistible Grace, written on their hearts.
As it says in the Bible: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2 v 8.
Functionally, we cannot pray as non-Calvinists for what we want to pray for and what we do pray for is that God would work, that he would save, and that he would keep his people safe to the end. Our prayers are so because we cannot help but be influenced by the Bible and the Bible from beginning to end affirms the sovereignty of God over man. The prayers of the saints recorded for us in Scripture again and again express this idea of the complete and utter sovereignty of God over man in all matters, including, especially, salvation. And we cannot help but pray like that too.
I’m not saying it’s a definite reason Calvinism is true but I am saying that it is a great source of inconsistency for those who deny it. If we carry any belief in God not being sovereign over man’s free will then our prayers should sound different to the ones we actually pray.
I’m going to end with a quote from Spurgeon because he says it better than I:
“You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer—for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free will: there is no room for it. Fancy him praying:
“Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but l do. There are many that will go to hell
as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as l am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.”