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John Knox on prayer

March 2019 | by Timothy Cross

When John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, was laid to rest in his grave, the Regent of Scotland said of him ‘There lies he who never feared the face of man’. This reminds us of the paraphrase of Psalm 34:9, which reads:

Fear Him (that is, God) ye saints and you will then

Have nothing else to fear;

Make you His service your delight,

Your wants shall be His care.

I came across the following gem of a quote from John Knox. It concerns John Knox’s view of prayer. John Knox defined true prayer as: ‘An earnest and familiar talking with God, to whom we declare our miseries, whose support and help we implore and desire in our adversities, and whom we laud and praise for our benefits received’ (cited in the Evangelical Times book review of August 2015).

Let us ponder and unpack this definition a little further. Prayer is ‘An earnest and familiar talking with God …’ said Knox. If that is true, it is indescribably wonderful and astonishing.

If relatively few of us are granted the privilege of an audience with the Queen or the Prime Minister, how on earth can we ever get the ear of almighty God — He who is the highest, unsurpassed and unsurpassable authority of all?

The Bible’s answer is that we can ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ — specifically ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received our reconciliation’ (Romans 5:11).

Jesus, by his death on the cross for our sins has reconciled all who believe in him to God himself. He has dealt with the enmity and alienation which separated us, namely our sin. ‘He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24).

Amazingly, ‘through him we … have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2:18). Perhaps even more amazingly, through Christ, we are able to know and address God as ‘Father’. ‘Adoption’ is one of the Bible’s many synonyms for Christian salvation.

Adoption is an act of God’s free grace whereby we are received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God (Shorter Catechism).

One of the Christian’s ‘adoptive privileges’ is being able to talk to God in prayer, coming to him confident in his love, just as an earthly child comes to its father.

Prayer then is, as Knox said ‘an earnest and familiar talking with God’. Christians know him as ‘Father’. The word ‘Father’ connotes authority, and the word ‘Father’ also connotes dependence, intimacy, affection and love. The God of the Bible is never reluctant to hear his children’s prayers!

Secondly, according to Knox, in prayer ‘we declare our miseries’ to God and ‘implore and desire his support and help in our adversities’. John Knox himself certainly lived through difficult — even perilous — times and circumstances.

But he turned to God in his difficulties and knew his help, support and mercy in and through them. Every Christian will also know difficulty and experience troubles. Ease is guaranteed in the next life, but not this life! It is ‘through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22).

Yet in all our difficulties and troubles, we have a God to whom we can turn for help and support. His wonderful invitation still prevails: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me’ (Psalm 50:15).

Our God and Father is more than able to deliver us from whatever ails us. If though, in his superior wisdom, he sees fit not to do so, he will surely give us grace to live within the boundaries of the providence he has ordained for us.

He has promised ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Prayer is a chief means of ‘tapping in’ to the all-sufficient sustaining grace of God.

Finally, according to Knox, true prayer is also a matter of giving praise and thanks to God. When Knox states that prayer entails ‘lauding and praising God for our benefits received’ he was reiterating the teaching and exhortation of Scripture.

The psalmist wrote ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits’ (Psalm 103:1,2).

If we were to write down on paper all the benefits which almighty God, the ‘fount of every blessing’ bestows on us, we would be in danger of clearing the world of trees!

Our God has given us life. Our God has sustained our lives to the present moment. He has fed us, clothed us, protected us and led us. He has bestowed on us infinite earthly blessings — and if we are Christians, we know that he has bestowed on us eternal blessings: the ‘solid joys and lasting treasures which none but Zion’s children know.’

We refer here to ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:8) — the benefits which accrue to us by the death of Christ at Calvary: the forgiveness of sins, his imputed righteousness, peace with God, the sure hope of eternal life, etc!

God himself is the one ‘whom we laud and praise for our benefits received’. And when we numerate our blessings, we realise that we have just cause for doing so.

John Knox then knew a thing or two about prayer. His definition is not the final word on prayer, but it is well worth weighing and pondering. Let us have it in full again.

True prayer is, he said, ‘An earnest and familiar talking with God, to whom we declare our miseries, whose support and help we implore and desire in our adversities, and whom we laud and praise for our benefits received’.

Timothy Cross is an author of many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC