"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
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord."—Zechariah 4:6
In approaching the throne of grace, the Christian should ever bear in mind that there can be no true, acceptable prayer, without the help of the Holy Spirit. Words may be uttered, but they will be words without meaning—petitions may be presented, but they will be unaccompanied with the inward desire, "Lord, grant me what I am now praying for;"—the solemn exercise may be gone through with all the outward appearance of devotion, but there will be no real, heartfelt communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What wonder that gloom and disappointment should continue to rest upon the soul!—that there should be no realizing sense of comfort, peace, hope, and joy in God!
Reader! are we guiltless in this matter? Have we never bent the knee, without an earnest prayer, for the help of the Holy Spirit? Alas! if we look backward, we will have too much cause for self-condemnation. How cold and dull have our prayers often been! How marred with ignorance and imperfection! What wanderings of thought! What unreal petitions! What unfelt confessions! What indistinct desires! How has faith been mingled with unbelief—and confidence been weakened by the hesitations and promptings of doubt! The petitions of a single day may well humble us to the dust, and constrain us to add another prayer to the rest, entreating God to forgive even the sins of the prayers in which we have sought forgiveness. The wonder and mystery of grace is, not that God seems to answer so few of our prayers, but, when we consider what they are, that He should answer them at all.
Trusting in ourselves, and neglecting to entreat the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, we have failed to realize the blessedness of heavenly communion. We have been slow to believe that He, and He alone, can lead the soul to an acquaintance with its real needs—that He, and He alone, can detect the waning grace—the feeble pulse—the spiritual decay—and can awaken sensibility—godly sorrow—and draw out the heart in penitent confession.
Without Him, the soul will remain in darkness and ignorance—sleep will fasten on every faculty, as if induced by a necromantic spell which nothing can break—the sense of adoption, and pardon, and acceptance will be lost—and the graces of faith, and hope, and humility will become enfeebled, until, through this fearful process of declension, there is but a step between the soul and death. But the blessed Spirit at length discovers to the soul, the loss it has sustained—convinces it of its departure—makes known its real condition—and leads it to the throne of grace.
Even thus is the office of the Holy Spirit described in the Word of God. "Likewise," says Paul, "the Spirit also helps our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." "For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." "Pray at all times and on every occasion in the
power of the Holy Spirit." "But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit." And our dear Lord encouraged His disciples, in view of their approaching persecutions, with the same truth—"It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you."
It is the office of the blessed Spirit to win souls for Christ—to apply to the hearts and consciences of men, in every age, and under every circumstance, the benefits which the Savior died to purchase.
It is the office of the blessed Spirit to take of the things of Christ, and to show them to the soul—to reveal to us the precious benefits of redemption, and the riches of Divine grace—and to present them to us in such a transforming, and convincing, and penetrating form, as that they shall not only become sources of abiding comfort to the heart—but active, operating, influential principles of the life.
It is the office of the blessed Spirit to be the comforter of the children of God. Yes, wherever a believer is afflicted—wherever he sheds a sorrowful tear—is pained by some heart-rending grief, or bowed beneath some oppressive burden—there is the Comforter to cheer, to solace, to sustain—pointing from the wound to its balm—from the grief to its ultimate cure—from present suffering to eternal rest at God's right hand.
It is the office of the blessed Spirit to abide with the children of God—to be in them, a dweller in their hearts—"bearing witness with their spirits, that they are the children of God—and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Not more faithfully did the pillar cloud and column of fire of old precede Israel, until the last murmuring ripple of Jordan fell on their ears on the shores of Canaan, than does the presence and love of the Spirit abide with believers. What says Jesus?—"He dwells with you, and shall be in you." He is not a traveler to sojourn for a season, but He is a friend to abide and dwell with you—a spiritual mentor to be always near—to guide you in all seasons of perplexity—to strengthen you in all times of weakness—when you are discouraged, to uphold you—when you are wandering, to lead you back—when you are nearly overcome in your spiritual conflict, to bring you more of the strength and grace of heaven.
Reader! seek to cherish high views of the work of the Spirit. Implore His aid continually; and, while with earnestness you pray to God—"Cast me not away from your presence"—do not forget also to entreat—"Take not your Holy Spirit from me."
See! what great need we have, and what encouragement is given, to ask such help. "We know not what we should pray for." We are weak, ignorant, and short-sighted—utterly unable to comprehend the full range of consequence—in time and eternity—which may follow from our prayers, if all were answered. How little can we measure the full effect of what we desire, both for ourselves and others! Left to our own choice, we would have a lifetime without a sorrow—a path without a thorn—a cup without bitterness—in a word, we would have one prosperous gale to waft us—and the sea of life without a ripple or a cloud. But for this ignorance, we would often find, that our prayers were like the conflict of opposing purposes—that sorrow not joy, misery not rest, would be the outcome—were our wishes to become realities—and that it would assuredly be "evil," and not "good," for us, to secure the fulfillment of all we desire. Yes, the boon which one asks, would prove his heaviest trial, the trial from which another seeks to be delivered, is perhaps for him God's best and choicest boon. We know not, indeed, what we should pray for. We need guidance and help, and, God be praised—they are offered!
"The Spirit helps our infirmities." He shows us our real needs—reveals our sin—our weakness—the fullness of Christ Jesus—all-abundance of grace—and instructs us in the great purposes of God, and the principles on which He acts towards us—or, if these are still left obscure—He bids us trust a Father's wisdom and a Father's care—yes, in all things to lie passive in His hands, and know no will but His.
Reader! not only do we not know what to pray for, but even if we did, no, even when we do, we know not how to pray for it, "as we ought." We need a clearer vision—a truer faith—a deeper repentance—a more intense fervor—and these the Holy Spirit imparts. He teaches the believer to plead the atoning blood of Christ—to come to the Throne of Grace with this great and prevailing argument. He unfolds Jesus to the soul, as being all that it needs—to give full, and free, and near access to God. He enlarges the range of spiritual sight—enabling it to look beyond the momentary present to the immense and far-reaching future—and awakens the desire that the glory of God and the great interests of His kingdom, may overrule and absorb every personal wish that may harbor in the heart.
No—His help goes further still—in inspiring us oftentimes with the words in which to express our needs and feelings—with the arguments we may use—with the promises we may plead—and the way in which to plead them—so that God, "who searches the heart," can understand those desires and yearnings which are too fervid for utterance. Prayer, ascending from a heart thus inhabited by God's Holy Spirit, rises, like the incense cloud, before the Throne of the Eternal—blended with the fragrant incense of heaven. It will assuredly return, freighted with the richest blessings of the everlasting covenant, "even the sure mercies of David."
Christian! do you desire that your prayers should thus ascend, like fragrant incense, to the Throne of Grace? Oh! then seek for the Spirit to mold and shape the desire which He has awakened. The Friend is ever near whose help you require, and the prayer indited by Him—though its language be as the simple utterances of a child—will have an eloquence and a power of its own, and be clothed with a preciousness in the sight of God, infinitely greater than those eloquent petitions which come from the lips untouched by the heavenly fire. That must, indeed, be full of fragrance to God, which is the breathing of His own divine Spirit in the heart.
"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit." Reader, if you would have "joy and peace"—pray for the Holy Spirit. If you would "abound in hope"—pray for the Spirit. If you would become more pure and holy—pray for the Spirit. If you would be strong for duty—for danger—and for trial—pray for the Spirit. He will enlighten your mind more and more in the knowledge of Christ. He will impart those gracious dispositions and affections, in which true religion mainly consists. He will carry on His own work in your heart, notwithstanding all the changes and vicissitudes of life, and you will find—in the day of sickness and in the hour of death—"that peace of God which passes all understanding," and that "joy in the Holy Spirit which no man takes from you," sustaining and gladdening your soul, and proving to you sweet foretastes of the joys which are at God's right hand, and of those pleasures which are for evermore.
Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves before You, confessing that we are not worthy of the least of Your mercies. We adore You as the Father of Lights, from whom comes down every good and 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.
Oh! pour out upon us, we beseech You, Your Holy Spirit, whereby we may be led into all truth. May He enlighten, quicken, comfort, strengthen us—and mold us in gradual conformity to Your divine will.
Pardon, O God, wherein we have offended You by grieving or resisting Your Holy Spirit. Allow us not to do despite unto Him, lest He should cease to strive with us any more. Cast us not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from us. But grant that He may abide with us continually, that amid the manifold changes and trials and sorrows of this life, we may be strengthened, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and patience with joyfulness.
Grant, O God, that we may thus abound more and more in faith and love and godliness; in all holy desires, in all good purposes, in all kind and brotherly affections; in all meek, patient, humble, pure, and peaceable dispositions; that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in us, and we in Him, according to the grace which through Him You have bestowed upon us. May our whole spirit, and soul, and body, be established in holiness before You, and preserved blameless, unto the coming of our Lord and Savior with all His saints. We humbly entreat You to hear and answer us, for the sake of Your beloved Son, our strength, and our Redeemer. Amen.