From the Archives: On the Prayer of Faith
to Caspar Schwenckfeld, his beloved friend and brother in the Lord
Good health to you Caspar. Be strong in the Lord. As I readied myself to respond to your wishes and prepared to write to you on the prayer of faith, that request of the Lord’s disciples came to my mind: Lord teach us to pray. The experience led me to seek with them a similar request from the Lord, but I expanded it more fully: Lord teach us, in the first place, to experience what the prayer of faith is which is given by the spirit of faith and secondly, teach us not only to pray, but grant by your kindness that it be done in faith and according to your will. Amen.
The prayer of faith is mentioned in the fifth chapter of James the apostle: And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up . . . . Following the same author we are able to define our subject in the following manner: The prayer of faith occurs when you pray in faith, so that you make no judgements, nor experience anything in your heart other than those things which steadfast and prayerful faith raise in you. It will accomplish its own ends . . . .
From the first epistle of John, the fifth chapter, we are able to say that to pray in faith is to make a request in the confidence which we have before God, that if what we request is according to his will, he will hear us. It is according to the will of the Lord that we seek, and according to his will that we be heard. But why do we not say with the Lord himself? It is prayer in the spirit (from which you have faith) and in truth (through which you pray) which gives you what you request. For the Lord, who often remained through the night in prayer for us and abided in the prayer of faith prescribed what the prayer of faith should be in Matthew 17:21: This kind of devotion, never comes about except through prayer and fasting. Therefore I say this: The prayer of faith is that by which demons are cast out and every power of the adversary is trodden under foot. By true fasting the body of the praying man is chastened so that he prays in his faith for an increment and plenitude of spiritual gifts. From this indeed we learn the power and manner of prayer and, moreover, the nature of faith. Faith prays and faith seeks. Wherefore true prayer is not without faith, nor is faith idle, but it fasts and teaches one to pray.
Moreover in prayer as Christ described and required it, faith everywhere holds the victory palm . . . .
Furthermore it is made clear what the prayer of faith is, namely, believing while praying, knowing and understanding for certain that you will receive what you request. These things indicate as well that every hesitation ought to be absent from our heart in prayer and the certainty present that we shall be heard. In like manner it is pointed out that not every prayer is of faith or in faith nor that prayer in faith is able to be undertaken by everyone, but it is for those in particular who are for the most part mature in the spirit and apprehend more fully the knowledge and truth which is Christ.
For through this prayer whatever God created is made holy (1 Tim. 4:4–5), and in this prayer one must always remain steadfast and succumb (Luke 18:13). Paul urged us to pray constantly. Now someone might note that Paul says that we do not know how to pray as we ought. And this is true, for prayer, unless it be at the instigation of the Holy Spirit, as the following references indicate, will not be powerful enough to be the prayer of faith. Therefore we ought to pray insofar as the spirit of his truth is in us . . . .
I believe it is now manifest that the prayer of faith and the prayer of the Spirit are the same, for Jude in his letter writes: Pray in the Holy Spiritand Revelation 5:8 notes that the prayers of the saints are bowls filled with the best perfume for the spirit which is the most precious and eminent being before God.
. . . Although it is fitting that all are invited to pray and exhorted to persevere in prayer, nevertheless, God alone always knows what is in fact prayer and hears his true worshippers. They are not judged by us but they either pray to the Lord or do not pray to him. Attention must be directed to faith’s beginnings. Just as the first movements of the prayer of faith are none other than increments to that faith and from these initial impulses the spirit leads the pious, insofar as they walk from faith into faith, to perfection, so those who pray are strengthened continually in the prayer of faith.
John taught his disciples to pray, as did Christ the Lord of glory, but! Christ required from his disciples not faith in the first place. At times we found them guilty of unfaithfulness. They were growing in faith until they would pray that perfect prayer of faith, and persevering in it, move others to pray likewise . . . .
From this it is clear that the spirit of God prays in the pious, at times in those beginning, at times in those growing in prayer, at times in fullness of faith and prayer. It prays, supporting our weaknesses, teaching where and when prayer is fitting, raising groans in those who say nothing but who groan and weep in such a way that their minds are not yet moved, their lips are not yet closed nor are their eyes dry and, if they consider other matters, they do not have the spirit of prayer in a false manner. The spirit moves them from these groanings to speak within the heart. After it restores the house of prayer in its tabernacle, it unites to itself the whole mind and those things which are internal in common prayer. In this it adds to the mind, the mouth, tongue, sounds, sighs, clamors. It adds to the clamors so that tears, laments, cries and wails follow. Finally the spirit gives perseverance lest we fall short or tire of bringing our petitions before the throne of grace so that we might receive what we seek and achieve our desires. Yet not content with this it stimulates us to give thanks for those things which occurred either through us or by others in our name. And when it has incited us to give thanks it crowns us with new riches, granting us growth and prayer in faith and making us recipients of heavenly treasure so that we abound even more fully in such wealth.
Thus we are always beggars and always wealthy. We know our wealth because of the magnitude of the goodness and grace of God which he bounteously spreads upon us, yet we are aware of our poverty as well since we are aware of our infirmity and the fact that the sick and the needy are the ones involved in making requests and giving thanks. Moreover, it comes about that we do not seek what pleases us, but rather what pleases him to whom we pray. We do not request those things of which we approve.
However, it is those things which are necessary for us and are worthy for God which take precedent. These gifts far exceed our poverty, which is not in any way able to take in at once the immense power of the riches in the treasury of the Lord and however much one desires that those things for which we pray at once be augmented and fulfilled, we are not able to bring it about. Moreover we are compelled together to look to the Lord who gives and in him, who is able to do all and who controls all, to be wealthy, although he does not always bestow gifts nor offer all things at once . . . .
I shall pray in the spirit and I shall pray in the mind. I shall sing psalms in the spirit and I shall sing psalms in the mind. Prayer is made by the spirit and prayer is made by the mind joined with the spirit. The spirit prays with its own groanings; the spirit also prays having been united with the mind, so that the spirit, which the faithful receive for what is necessary, and at the same time the mind, by whose ministry along with those things which work with it, the building up of the church is served, have fruit, while the whole person may be subservient to those united members of his or her inheritance.
But concerning the prayer of faith which Christ states is far from the many words of the Gentiles—perhaps, by you especially, it is practiced too much. I, as I said before, pray in the first place with the disciples of the Lord that the Lord teach me to pray, in however small and inferior a manner I with my weaknesses of body and mind am able to be compared to them. Yet, I pray that the prayer of faith might follow in spirit and in truth and finally with perseverance and intent constancy which he is worthy to bring about, Amen. I ask, unskilled as I am, that if you have any correction or additional things to add, share them with me and fare well in the name of him who teaches his own to pray.
At Liegnitz, Saturday after the eighth day of the Epiphany, in the year 1529.
Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum, vol. 2,
pp. 432–39. Translation, Peter C. Erb
By Valentine Crautwald
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #21 in 1989]
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