"Let us then approach the throne of grace with
confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our
time of need." Hebrews 4:16
How highly do men prize an invitation to approach the throne of an earthly monarch!—how eagerly is the influence of the great and powerful solicited to secure this honor!—and how ungrudgingly are time and wealth given in preparing for the eventful day! Yet, after all, it is but the invitation of one human being to another—of a worm of earth to its fellow-worm—of a sin-stained child of Adam to its sinful and polluted brother.
Here we have the "High and Holy One"—"the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth"—"the King of kings and Lord of lords," not only permitting but inviting and encouraging the children of men to "draw near" to His throne—to approach His sacred presence, and to make known to Him all their longings and desires. Oh! amazing condescension! Unutterable grace! Divine majesty stooping to utter lowliness—infinite purity to infinite sinfulness—heavenly omnipotence to earthly weakness! Well might the psalmist exclaim, "What is man, O Lord, that you are mindful of him? or the son of man, that you visit him?"
Reader, it is a solemn thing to pray—to "draw near" to Him who "searches the heart, and tries the thoughts of the children of men"—to enter the presence-chamber of the Almighty—to stand as on the gleaming pavement of heaven—the abode of purity, and holiness, and love—to have audience with that God, before whom the angels veil their faces, and at whose foot-stool they prostrate themselves in lowly adoration. O my soul! seek to realize when you pray, that you are on holy ground, that every desire and every word, sent up to the Hearer and Answerer of prayer, are clothed with unutterable importance—that to him the very heart is laid bare—its every secret scanned by His all-penetrating glance. How dreadful a thing in His sight must be any trifling with so great a privilege!—any irreverence of thought or manner in His sacred presence!—any carelessness in spreading at His footstool the anxieties which we feel, or the needs which we would have supplied! With unerring wisdom He can discern the formal worship, from the true worship—He can compare the outward and the inward—the words which are audible, and the beatings of the heart which He alone can perceive. He can and does mark, in the various petitions offered at His footstool, which was the utterance of sincere and fervent desire, and which the thoughtless effusion of unconcerned formality.
Prayer is the nearest approach to God, and the highest enjoyment of Him that we are capable of in this life. We are then in our highest state—we are upon the utmost height of human greatness—not before kings and princes—but in the presence and audience of the King of all worlds—and can be no higher, until death is swallowed up in glory!
Yes, to pray to God is indeed a blessed privilege—how blessed, let that soul tell that is most often before God, wrestling with an undaunted faith and a holy perseverance! Oh! how it lightens the heavy burden! How it raises the affections above the things of the world! How it seems to give new life to the drooping spirit! How it imparts new vigor to faith—new fervor to love—new intensity to zeal—to be much in communion with God! It is the consolation of the sad—the joy of the happy—the food of the soul—the source and safeguard of every benefit. Prayer averts the wrath of God—obtains the pardon of sin—conquers our vices—delivers us from danger, and inflames us with the love of God.
Prayer is the great means appointed by God for preserving the health of the soul. It is to the spiritual part what air and exercise are to the bodily part. Hungry and thirsty, the soul in prayer feeds upon the promises of God—oppressed by the heavy atmosphere of the world, the soul in prayer seems to breathe the fresh, pure air of heaven. Distracted—hindered—filled with earthly things, the soul is enabled to mount upward as on eagle's wing—it ascends to an atmosphere of holiness and joy, far above the earth; finding new employment for all the powers of its regenerate nature—the eye of faith to see—the ear of obedience to hearken—the hand of love to work—the tongue of gratitude to praise.
So great is the privilege—so blessed the employment, that it might appear at first sight strange that such a duty as that of prayer should need enforcement. When poor, weak, sinful creatures, who deserve to be excluded from God's presence, are invited—notwithstanding all their guilt and imperfection—to enter the presence-chamber and approach the very throne of the King of kings, we might imagine that no very pressing argument would be necessary to persuade to such a privilege—we might suppose that even as water by the thirsty, and medicine by the dying—that it would be seized with quick avidity, and drunk with the liveliest gratitude. But, alas! we are corrupt and fallen, and our very corruption makes unpalatable to us the means of its removal—our very fall has made it irksome for us to attempt to rise.
And even with the believer, it too often happens that the weakness of his faith arises from the infrequency and coldness of his prayers; for, assuredly, if there be declension here, there will also be declension in every part of the work of the Spirit in the soul. It is prayer that keeps every grace of the Spirit in active, holy, and healthy exercise. It is the stream, so to speak, that supplies refreshing vigor and nourishment to all the plants of grace. It is true, that the fountain-head of all spiritual life, and "grace to help in time of need," is Christ—for "it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell;" but the channel through which all grace comes, is, prayer—ardent, wrestling, importunate prayer. Allow this channel to be dry—permit any object to narrow or close it up, and the effect will be a withering and decay of the life of God in the soul. Every plant will droop—every flower will fade and lose its fragrance.
O Christian! see to it, then, that you are earnest in prayer. Be not discouraged because it brings no immediate answer, but feeling that without the blessing you desire, you must continue dull and spiritless—that your path will be one of gloom and sorrow—that you will grow daily more and more weak and feeble, let your cry unceasingly ascend, until it shall please the Lord to grant your request, until He sends a renewal of grace and strength, and fills your soul with heavenly blessing.
Remember the assurance, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you;" and if further assurance is needful, listen to the words, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart." "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry." "Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass." "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer you."
Thus will you soon be enabled to realize—as you have done in times past—the efficacy of believing prayer, and, with the psalmist, you will say, "Verily, God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer." "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice; because he has inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him so long as I live."
In approaching the Throne of Grace, we should ever strive to possess awareness of the sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension of the Great Being in whose presence we stand. His spotless purity—unsullied truth—and stainless rectitude—His unalloyed mercy and inflexible justice—claim the adoration and reverence even of the most exalted of the heavenly host—how then should they engage towards Him the deepest awe and lowliest homage of fallen man! We ought ever to remember how the prophet felt, when a revelation was made to him in vision of the majesty and glory of God—when he saw the Lord "sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple, and the seraphim stood, having their faces covered with their wings, crying one to another, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the whole earth is full of his glory."
When we approach the Throne of Grace we should endeavor to realize the same deep emotions of conscious guilt and utter unworthiness which filled Isaiah's mind and led him to say, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!" We should "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice before him with reverence." We should draw near under the heartfelt conviction that we have no claim upon God—no righteousness of our own—that our only hope is in His mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord—that we are poor and needy—helpless, sinful, and unworthy—and we should earnestly beseech Him freely to pardon all our sins, and so to lift up our thoughts and draw forth our desires towards Him, that we may be enabled to call upon Him from our inmost heart, and to frame our petitions in accordance with His blessed will. Blessed be God! if thus we "draw near" to Him, He has promised to draw near to us—in mercy and loving-kindness.
Christian, hear for your comfort and encouragement these words, "Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord—though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow—though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool."
And there are promises adapted to every possible state in which a believer can be placed—promises of the presence, the power, the grace, and the love of God. Does he ask to be led in paths of safety?—the promise is, "I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." Does he pray, "Leave me not—neither forsake me, O God of my salvation"?—the answer is, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." Does he pray to be delivered from danger?—the assurance is given, "I am with you, to save you and to deliver you, says the Lord." Is the Christian alarmed at the enemies which compass him about?—he receives the promise, "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever." Does he desire spiritual instruction?—the promise is, "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, which leads you by the way you should go." Does he faint because of the toils and perils of the way?—the promise is, "I will give unto him that is thirsty of the fountain of the water of life freely." Does he desire to see God's power and glory in the sanctuary?—the promise is, "I will bring them to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer." Does he need assurance of divine protection?—it is given in the words, "Behold I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go." "I am with you, and no man shall set on you to hurt you." Does he tremble because of his numerous transgressions?—the promise is, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own name's sake, and will not remember your sins."
Does he desire that the Lord should look upon him in mercy?—the promise is, "Thus says the Lord—To this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word." Is he disturbed lest he should be left to battle with his spiritual foes in his own strength?—he receives the encouragement, "Fear not! for I am with you—neither be dismayed; for I am your God—I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." Does he fear that future perils may overwhelm him?—the promise is, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you—when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." "I will not fail you nor forsake you."
In short, for every situation, every circumstance, every event of life—there is promise of grace, mercy, and peace—there is assurance of safety here and glory hereafter—of comfort in every hour of sorrow—relief in every time of peril, and guidance in every season of perplexity. The all-comprehensive assurance is, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Precious encouragement! It comes from a kind and loving Father—from an almighty and gracious Sovereign—from Him "who says and it is done—who commands and it stands fast."
"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." Yes, God is everywhere, and where He is, there is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God. Surrounded with this gracious, loving presence, the Christian may fear no danger. His every petition is heard—his every cry for help enters into the ears of the Lord God of Sabbath. "The Lord is ever near unto those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite spirit." "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."
Christian! be it yours to regard it as your highest and holiest and dearest privilege that you are permitted to "draw near to God." Pray that He would stand by you in every difficulty—that He would draw you by the cords of love and keep you ever near Him, that so you may continually enjoy, in your journey through life, the consciousness of His love—His friendship—His guardian care. Go forth to your life-duties, believing that He is at your right hand, and you shall not be greatly moved. Let thoughts of His goodness—His mercy—His love and faithfulness and watchful care, mingle with all your thoughts, and be thankful for all His benefits.
Cultivate a spirit of earnest devotedness to your Father's will—patiently do and endure whatever He appoints, and rest assured He will give strength according to your day. He will "show you the path of life," and He will at length give you to realize in your blessed experience that "in His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we humble ourselves before You, confessing that we are not worthy of the least of all Your mercies. We adore You as the Father of lights, from whom comes down every good and every perfect gift, and ascribing no worth or excellence to ourselves, we would, as long as we live, render unto You due praise and unceasing thanks for Your unmerited goodness.
Holy Father, we are unworthy to be called Your children, because we have rebelled against You. We confess that we have been unthankful for Your mercies, distrustful of Your promises, and disobedient to Your commandments. We have kept back from You the affection of our hearts, and by our manifold wickedness have provoked You to cast us off from Your fellowship and favor.
O our God, we have cause to be ashamed before You, when we consider how little we have thought upon You—how often we have disregarded or forgotten You—how prone we have been to live without You in the world—how much You have witnessed, in the ungodliness of our hearts and the sinfulness of our lives, that is hateful and offensive to You.
Merciful Father, grant us Your forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in His own body on the cross, and ever lives to make intercession for us. We beseech You to draw near to us in mercy, to bestow upon us Your forgiveness, and make the light of Your countenance to shine upon us.
Give us grace also, whereby we may be enabled more faithfully to live as in Your presence. In every season of danger or of trouble may we look up to You as our very present help. In every hour of trial or temptation, may we stand in awe—lest in anything we offend You, who searches our hearts and tries our inmost being, and understands our thoughts afar off. In all the concerns and occupations of our daily life, help us to endure as seeing You who are invisible. And when our course on earth is finished, grant, O God, that we may be supported and comforted with Your presence in the valley of the shadow of death, and may at last come to the glories of Your heavenly kingdom, and there be made perfectly blessed in seeing, serving, and enjoying You forever!
Give ear, O God, to our humble supplications, and grant unto us an answer of peace, for the Lord Jesus' sake. Amen.
Approach, my soul, the mercy-seat