While I’m sure there is much good that has come from people praying a “sinner’s prayer” when an altar call or invitation to receive Christ is given, I also know that our human tendency is to trust in a prayer or trust in what we have done in saying that prayer, rather than truly trusting in what Christ has done to save us. When I hear people share their testimony of salvation, I often hear them say “I prayed the prayer” as a way of describing their experience of salvation, which makes it seem like it rests more on what that person has done to bring about salvation than on what God has done to pour out His mercy on a helpless sinful soul.
So I was intrigued when I was reading through The Pilgrim’s Progress and found that Bunyan (the author) included a “sinner’s prayer” when he depicts Hopeful sharing his testimony with Christian, toward the end of the allegory. But it is quite a different-sounding prayer than what I usually hear spoken by pastors or evangelists. Hopeful says:
“I told him that I didn’t know what to say when I came. Then Faithful told me to say words to this effect: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ. For I see that if His righteousness had not been offered, or if I have no faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that You are a merciful God and have ordained that Your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world. Moreover, You are willing to give Him for a poor sinner like me (and I am a sinner indeed). Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify Your grace in the salvation of my soul, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.'”
This is truly the plea of an undeserving sinner crying out for the mercy of God, recognizing that God alone chooses to save, therefore he cannot demand salvation from God or even expect it, but he must cast himself upon the mercy of God. Oh that I, like Hopeful, would have such a big view of God’s mercy and a (rightfully) small view of myself.