John Knox on Pleading Your Own Righteousness

Selections from “A Declaration of the True Nature and Object of Prayer” in The Works of John Knox, III.87–88, lightly modernized by Sam Caldwell


What Fasting and Alms Deeds are with Prayer

And albeit to fervent prayer be joined fasting, watching, and alms-deeds, yet are none of them the cause that God does accept our prayers, but they are spurs which suffer [allow] us not to vary but make us more able to continue in prayer, which the mercy of God does accept.

But here it may be objected that David prays, “Keep my life, O Lord, for I am holy. O Lord, save my soul, for I am innocent, and suffer [allow] me not to be consumed” [Psalms 33 and 86]. Also Hezekiah, “Remember, Lord, I beseech You, that I have walked righteously before You, and that I have wrought that which is good in Your sight” [2 Kings 20:23].

These words are not spoken of men glorious, neither yet trusting in their own works. But herein they testify themselves to be sons of God, by regeneration, to whom He promises always to be merciful, and at all times to hear their prayers.

The cause of their boldness was Jesus Christ

And so their words sprung from a wanted, constant, and fervent faith, surely believing that as God of His infinite mercy had called them to His knowledge, not allowing them to walk after their own natural wickedness, but partly had taught them to conform themselves to His holy law, and that for the promised Seed’s sake, so might He not leave them destitute of comfort, consolation, and defense in so great and extreme necessity. And so their justice allege they not to glory thereof, or to put trust therein, but to strengthen and confirm them in God’s promises.

And this consolation I would wish all Christians in their prayers: a testimony of a good conscience to assure them of God’s promises. But to obtain what they ask must only depend upon Him, all opinion and thought of our own justice laid aside.

And moreover, David, in the words above, compares himself with King Saul, and with the rest of His enemies, who wrongfully did persecute him, desiring of God that they prevail not against him, as he would say, “Unjustly do they persecute me, and therefore, according to my innocence defend me.” For otherwise he confesses himself most grievously to have offended God, as in the preceding places he clearly testifies.

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