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reduplication of the name :-and the Spirit assists us thus to cry, by exciting gracious affections, such as faith, love, and delight; and by enabling us to exercise those graces and affections in prayer.
This twofold testimony concerning the promise of the Holy Ghost as a spirit of supplication, and the accomplishment of it to believers under the New Testament, sufficiently proves, that there is a peculiar work, or special gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the prayers of God's people, enabling them thereto. We shall now proceed to declare what is the work of the Holy Ghost in them to this end and purpose.
The Work of the Spirit as to the Matter of Prayer.
HE first thing we ascribe to the Spirit herein is, that he supplies the mind with a due comprehension of the matter of prayer, or what ought to be prayed for; without which no man can pray as he ought. The testimony of the apostle is express to this purpose: 'Likewise also the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groans that cannot be uttered.' Rom. viii. 26.
It is true that whatever we ought to pray for, is declared in the Scripture, and summarily comprised in the Lord's Prayer: but it is one thing to have this in the book, another to have it in our heart; without which it cannot be to us the due matter of prayer. Without the assistance of the Spirit we neither know our own wants, nor the supplies of them that are expressed in the promises of God,nor the proper end for which we should seek those supplies.
1. The Spirit of God alone is able to give us an understanding of our WANTS.
(1.) The principal matter of our prayer has respect to faith and unbelief; the apostles prayed, Lord increase our faith;' and the poor man in his distress, "Lord, help thou my unbelief." To this end we must be convinced by the Spirit of the nature and guilt of unbelief, and of the nature and use of faith; for neither conscience nor the law will convince us of the evil of the one, nor instruct us in
the nature of the other; and without both, we know not our greatest wants, nor what to pray for as we ought.'
(2.) The matter of our prayer respects the depravity of our nature, the darkness of our understandings, the perverseness of our wills, their reluctance to spiritual things, and the secret workings of our lusts, which keep the soul from a due conformity to the holiness of God. Believers have a special regard to these things in their confessions and supplications; and their great concerns with God in prayer are for mercy in their pardon, for grace in their removal, and the daily renovation of his image in their souls. Without a sense of these matters, I must profess, I know not how any man can pray; and this knowledge we have not of ourselves. Nature is blind, and cannot see them; it is proud, and will not own them; stupid, and is insensible of them.
(3.) As it is with respect to sin, so it is with respect to God and Christ, grace, holiness, and spiritual privileges. The inward sanctification of all our faculties, with supplies of grace for this purpose, are what we want and pray for: but we have no spiritual conceptions of these things, but what are given us by the Spirit of God; and without these, what are our prayers, or what do they signify? Without these, men may say on to the world's end, without giving any glory to God, or gaining any advantage to their own souls.
(4.) With respect to temporal concerns, we know not of ourselves what to pray for. Whatever our sense may be of them, and our natural desires about them, yet how and when, under what conditions and limitations, with what frame of spirit, what submission to the will of God, they are to be made the matter of our prayers, we know not:
For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life, which he spendeth as a shadow ? -In these, also, we need to be taught of God.'
2. The Spirit of God alone acquaints us with the grace and mercy prepared for our relief in the promise of God. What God has promised, we are to pray for, and nothing else. There is nothing that we can want, but God has promised it and there is nothing that he has promised, which we do not want. It is, therefore, indispensably necessary that we should know what God has promised. He knows our wants infinitely better than we do ourselves;
yea, we know nothing of them but what he is pleased to teach us; and from the promises we may learn them more certainly than by any other means; and this we affirm is by the Spirit of God; for the things of God knoweth no man but by the Spirit of God;' by him alone we know the things that are freely given unto us of God,' namely, the grace, mercy, love, and kindness of the promises.
3. The Spirit of God alone directs believers to pray, or ask for any thing to right or proper ends. Men may lose all the benefit of their prayers by proposing to themselvesimproper ends, as the apostle James affirms of some: ⚫ Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, to consume it on your lusts.' There is nothing so excellent in itself, so useful to us, so acceptable to God in the matter of prayer, but it may be vitiated, corrupted, and rendered vain, by an application of it to false or mistaken ends; and that in this case we are relieved by the Holy Ghost, is plain from the text under consideration; for, helping our infirmities,' and teaching us what to pray for as we ought,' he maketh intercession for us according to the will of God,' verse 27. He doth it in us, and by us; or enables us so to do. He directs and enables us to make supplications according to the mind of God:' and herein God is said to know the mind of the Spirit :' that is, his end and design in the matter of his requests. This God knows ; that is, approves and accepts.
The Spirit of God directs believers not only as to the matter, but as to the end of all their requests. He guides them, therefore, to design, (1.) That all the success of their petitions may have an immediate tendency to the glory of God. Without his special aid, we should aim only at self; our own profit, ease, and satisfaction..
(2.) He keeps them to this also, that the issue of all their supplications may be the improvement of holiness in them, their conformity to God, and nearer access to him. When these ends are not aimed at, the matter of prayer may be good, but our prayers themselves may be an abo mination.
The Work of the Spirit as to the Manner of Prayer, THE
HE Holy Spirit having furnished the mind with the matter of prayer, works also a due sense and valuation
of the things prayed for; for the mind may have light to discern those things, and yet the will and affections be dead unto them, or unconcerned in them. By virtue of a perishing illumination, a man may attain a gift in prayer which may edify others, and yet his own soul remain without benefit or improvement thereby but when the Holy Spirit completes his work in us, as 6 a spirit of grace and supplication,' he works on the will and affections to act obediently towards God in the matter of prayer: he fills believers with mourning and godly sorrow,' to be exercised in their prayers as the matter may require: and this is the fountain of that inexpressible fervency and delight, of those enlarged labourings of mind which they sometimes experience under his extraordinary influences. Hence he is said to MAKE INTERCESSION for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, Rom. viii. 26, 27. The word signifies an additional interposition, like that of an advocate for his client, pleading that in his case which he of himself is unable to do. We ourselves are said to groan, verse 23; that is, humbly, mournfully, and earnestly to desire; and here the Spirit is said to intercede for us with groans,' which can be nothing but his working in us such an inward labouring of heart, such an holy supernatural desire for the things prayed for, as no words can fully express. It is added, He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit;'-that which is thus wrought in the hearts of believers, is previous only to God the searcher of hearts.' This is the frame we ought to aim at in all our supplications, especially in trouble and temptation, when we are usually most sensible of our own infirmities; and if we come short of this, it is from our unbelief or negligence. I acknowledge that there may be, and that there will be more earnestness and intention of mind, and of our natural spirit therein, in this duty, at one time than another, as outward occasions excite them.
So our Sa
viour in his agony prayed more earnestly than usual; not with an higher exercise of grace, but with a greater vehemence in the working of his natural faculties. Thus it may be with us at particular seasons: but yet we are always to endeavour after the same aids of the Spirit, the same actings of grace, in every duty of this kind.
The Holy Spirit also gives the soul a filial, boly delight in God, as the object of prayer; included in that description
of prayer by the apostle, namely, that it is crying Abba, Father:-And this comprehends,
1. A sight of God as on a throne of grace. Under this consideration he is the proper object of all our addresses. 'Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.' It is an allusion to the mercy-seat upon the ark, which was a representation of Jesus Christ. God, therefore, on a 'throne of grace' is God, as in readiness, through Jesus Christ, to dispense grace and mercy to suppliant sinners. Thus the Lord waits that he may be gracious; and thus he is exalted that he may have mercy.' Without this we cannot draw nigh to him with delight, as becometh children, crying Abba, Father:—and it is the Spirit of God alone who thus reveals God unto us, and enables us thus to discern him.
2. A sense of God's relation to us as a Father, is necessary to this delight. We may use other titles and appellations of God; but, as a Father, he is the ultimate object of all evangelical worship, of all our prayers: so it is expressed in that holy and divine description of it, given us by the apostle : Through Christ we have access by the Spirit to the Father. Eph. ii. 18. No tongue can express, no mind can reach the heavenly placidness and soul-satisfying sweetness which are intimated in these words. Without a due apprehension of God in this relation, no man can pray as he ought; and we can have no sense hereof but by the Holy Ghost, who bears witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God.'
3. Boldness in our approach to the throne of grace. 'Having, therefore, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.' Where there is spirit of bondage to fear,' there can be no delight in approaching to God; but this is removed by the spirit of grace and supplication,' who is also the spirit of adoption,' enabling us to cry Abba, Father.' And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;' that is, an enlarged liberty and freedom of speech in prayer-a freedom to speak all that is to be spoken-a confidence that countenances men in a freedom of speech, according to the exigence of their condition or cause. I do not say that believers always have this liberty in exercise, or equally so; it may be impeded by temptations, spiritual indispositions, desertions,