"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
"Pray one for another."—James 5:16
One of the most consolatory truths of our holy religion is, the communion of saints. Scripture teaches us, that believers in Christ are bound together in the ties of a holy brotherhood—members of the same household of faith; and that the Holy Spirit, who makes them one body, makes them also one with Christ Jesus, and unites them all together in Him. Hence arises the sacred duty, alas! too seldom remembered—of each believer, evincing a sincere and heartfelt interest in the welfare of those around him, and of his bearing them on his heart, and pleading in their behalf at a throne of grace.
How precious, and how comforting, such prayers are to the children of God, we may, learn from passages like these—"Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying for us." "Pray for us…I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner." "In God we trust, that He will yet deliver us; you also helping together by prayer for us." "I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you."
And, if Paul thus anxiously desired, to be remembered at a throne of grace by Christ's believing people, he was equally earnest in offering up petitions in their behalf. "I make mention of you always in my prayers." "I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers." "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of you in my prayers night and day." "Therefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power."
Christian! to deepen your interest in the members of that family to which you belong, to excite your sympathy and your prayers in their behalf, reflect for a little on the glorious privileges you enjoy in common, and on the closeness of that union, which exists between all who have been truly admitted into Christ's Church. And, by Christ's Church we mean, not any particular communion, not any visible church singly, but the collective body of all true believers, "the blessed company of all faithful people;" all who, in every country and in every climate, have been adopted into God's family, been made the sons of God, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and are partakers of the Holy Spirit—who have the same glorious "hope of their calling," that "when Christ, who is their life, shall appear, then they also shall appear with Him in glory."
What, then, are some of the peculiarprivileges—what is the condition of the members of this Church?
They have union with GOD."Our fellowship," says James, "is with the Father." Now, all communion is reciprocal. God is the Father, believers are His sons. He is the original source of their grace and happiness. He bestows on them the inestimable gift of Christ, and all the grace treasured up in Him for them; and they, receiving that grace, return to Him the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. He imparts to them of His love. He sheds it abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and they love Him in return, and give Him the free-will offering of grateful hearts. They hold communion with Him by prayer at the throne of grace. He grants their petitions and the grace they need, according to His will.
They have union with CHRIST."Our fellowship," says Paul, "is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ." He stands in a similar relation to His people, as the head in the human body, to its several members. In other words, Christ and His people are so identified, that His merits are accounted theirs, and their prospects are bound up with His. He communicates to them of His divine blessing and glory, and they are "made the righteousness of God in Him." Becoming, as it were, a part of Christ, forming, in the words of the apostle, "one body," they appear before the throne, as if, instead of having incurred the divine wrath by their apostasy, they had, with Christ, fulfilled all righteousness, and earned a title to everlasting glory. In Him, His people suffer unto death. In Him, they exhaust the cup of wrath. In Him, they taste the bitter pains which sin deserved. In him, they pay the uttermost farthing into the scales of justice. In Him, they endure until each attribute of God requires no more.
O Christian, what an exalted privilege is this! That even we—who are all vileness by sin—if, only, we are one with Christ by faith, are made "the righteousness of God." To be reckoned righteous were much—to be made divine righteousness is far more. What words can express—what numbers reach the height of such an honor! Christ's worthiness for our unworthiness—His sinlessness for our sinfulness—His beauty for our deformity—His meekness for our pride—His forgiveness for our backslidings—His love for our hate. In a word, His fullness for our emptiness—His glory for our shame—His perfect righteousness for our manifold unrighteousness. Yet "this honor have all the saints."
And they have union with the HOLY SPIRIT."Don't you know," says the apostle, "that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." This communion of the soul with the Holy Spirit, is manifested and cherished on His part, by communicating to it holy desires—by shedding upon it His sanctifying influences—by giving it heavenly light, and knowledge, and hope, and peace, and all spiritual consolation.
And, on the part of the believer, it is sustained by meditation upon the Word—by earnest prayer—by diligent use of all the appointed ordinances of God's Church—and by studying to "walk in all the commandments of the Lord blameless." In the Church of Christ, the same blessed Spirit pervades each separate soul—purifying it from the dross of sin—elevating it above the world, and tracing upon it that faint outline, which shall yet reflect, with ever-brightening effulgence, the Redeemer's glory.
Yes, it is one Spirit that fills Paul and Peter and John with all their ecstacy of bliss—with all their effulgence of holiness, before the eternal throne, and which now works good desires, good counsels, just works, in the feeblest of the saints and of the children of God, here below. It is a spark of the same heavenly fire, which there beams forth in all its unclouded splendor—which there exerts its gracious and illuminating power, and begins "the day-spring from on high," which shall shine on "brighter and brighter to the perfect day," and then progress in everlasting effulgence. The saint on earth and the saint in heaven, are alike in union with, and are moved by, the Spirit of God. And, oh, how precious and comforting is that communion which exists between the spirit of the believer and the Spirit of the living God!
Christian! you are no stranger to this sweet communion. Often, you have knelt at the throne of grace, wearied with care and toil—oppressed in heart, as with a crushing burden; and you have risen from your knees, with the burden gone—refreshed in spirit, revived and comforted in heart. Or, you have taken up the sacred volume, to learn more of the will of God—and as you read page after page—full of words of grace and promises of love—you were enabled to discover and realize your own personal interest in the things spoken of. "That promise speaks to me!"—"That Savior is my Savior!"—"This God is my God forever and ever!"—"He is mine and I am His!"—and your heart burned within you, with ardent love.
Oh! it is thus, in close, endearing communion with the Holy Spirit, that we "grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ"—that we attain more and more of "the mind that was in Christ Jesus"—and that, "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." It is thus that we obtain glimpses of our eternal home—that we see our title to that glorious inheritance, where communion will never more be interrupted, but where—with an holy brotherhood, we shall, through endless ages, unite in celebrating the praises of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Let us, then, seek more and more to abide in close and intimate communion with the blessed Spirit. It is one of the most precious privileges—one of the choicest blessings we can enjoy on earth—it is a cluster of grapes from Eshcol—it is a draught from the river of the water of life—it is a flower from the eternal garden of bliss—it is a ray from the celestial throne—it blends time with eternity—it mingles earth with heaven—it is a glory begun below—it is an oasis in the dreary wilderness, where the soul is invigorated, gladdened, and refreshed.
Believers have union with the whole body of the FAITHFUL.Union with the head, of necessity, ensures union with all the members. The Church of Christ is dispersed throughout the world—it is separated by difference of language—of rank—of age—of circumstance; but, being partakers of one Spirit and one faith, they are of one heart and one mind in the gospel. They are of one heart and one mind with respect to the real object of faith, Christ Jesus, and they unite consequently in one pursuit, namely, the glory of God. There may be much variety of outward form and expression. The minds of men are various—their modes and habits of thought—their original capacities and acquired associations, infinitely diverse; but we do not speak of the lifeless unity of 'mere form'. Biblical unity consists in submission to one single influence and spirit—the living Spirit of God—which animates each soul, and cements all together, by the sacred and eternal bond of love. And this is the privilege of believers. There is an intimacy of union—there is a closeness of endearment, in the family of Christ, which has no parallel in the world.
For, however it may seem to the unbelieving and the skeptical, a mere day-dream and fancy—however, sometimes to the Christian's own heart, saddened and sickened by division, and discord, and rivalry, and strife, and envying, it seems too much like a shadow, rather than a blessed reality—"yet, nevertheless, the foundation of God stands sure," and His true people "have the same love one to another." They are taught of God to love one another; and, meet where they will—whether beneath the hallowed roof of their early home, or amid the wilds of a foreign land—they feel bound by indissoluble ties; they are "all one in Christ Jesus"—they are all zealous for God's glory, and the advancement of the Savior's kingdom—and, in proportion to their faith, and progress in holiness, they are animated with the desire for conformity to Christ, and the steadfast purpose to "lay aside every weight," and to "press forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Such, then, is the communion of saints with the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, and also with each other. Surely, then, the apostle's exhortation is most fit and right, that we should cherish a warm and affectionate interest in our brethren in Christ Jesus—that we should desire their prosperity, and seek to promote their well-being. As mariners in the same vessel have a peculiar claim on each other, from being shipmates—or, as soldiers who have mounted together the same deadly breach, have a peculiar claim on each other, from having shared a common danger; so Christians have a peculiar claim on each other, in virtue of their common relation to Christ and the Church, and because one great object is before them—the honor and glory of the Triune God.
Alas! that differences should ever be permitted to divide or alienate those who are so closely united—who share in common such exalted privileges and blessings. Yet, it is no easy task to free the mind from all sectarian bitterness—to keep the heart clear of religious bigotry—to combine zeal for our own communion, with love to the whole universal Church, "the household of faith." Still, it is the duty set before us as disciples of Christ; and His royal law is not to be set at nothing, because it is hard of performance. A time is coming, when the divisions of Ephraim shall cease, when the rent robe of the Redeemer shall again be seamless, and of one entire piece throughout. Why should not that promised time be antedated even now? Why should not churches of various names, but of "one body and one spirit," move, like yon glorious planets on high—each in its own orbit, yet all in harmony, around the Sun of righteousness? Why should they not, like the tribes of Israel—each bearing its own standard, but all collecting round the ark, move onward—standing together under the cooling shadow of the cloudy pillar, and, reflecting together the brilliant splendors of the fiery symbol, that led the consecrated host through the wilderness?
Christian! be it yours to seek the peace and prosperity of the whole spiritual Zion; and, this you will do most effectually by earnest prayer, and the cultivation of personal religion. The olive branch can never flourish, but in the rich soil of personal piety. Let that soil be impaired, and the bitter weed of contention—the thorn, the bramble, and the brier of angry controversy, will flourish luxuriantly. Man departs from his brother by departing from God, and he comes closer to his brother by coming closer to his God. Oh! if the disciples of Jesus were to pray "one for another" in the true spirit of the Savior's universal love, where would divisions, envy, hatred, pride, and selfishness find a place? Instead of that cold, evanescent thing which men call charity, we would have Christian charity—all-forgiving, brotherly affection, mutual prayers and labors of love, uniting the hearts and the hands of men, so that, once more, it might be said regarding them—"Behold, how they love one another!"
In the Church of Christ there is not one, however humble his position—however limited his sphere of influence—who may not be helpful to some fellow-traveler Zionward—who may not be the honored instrument, of drawing down the divine blessing, on some weary, toil-worn pilgrim—on some bereaved and stricken heart. Look around you, Christian, and, if you are truly one who has realized the preciousness of union with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and, thereby, of union with the faithful in Christ Jesus everywhere—you will soon discover many, for whom it is your duty and your privilege to pray.
You will pray for the members of your own family—that the love of God may be more abundantly shed abroad in their hearts—that they may follow the example of their Savior Christ, and be made like unto him—that they may be refreshed with the dew of His blessing, and may walk in love, as Christ also has loved them. You will pray for your relatives and friends—that they may be kept steadfast in the faith, and zealous in the cause of their God—that the blessed Spirit may, in all things, direct and rule their hearts—and that their path may be as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day. You will pray for those of your acquaintance who are anyway afflicted or distressed in mind, body or estate—that it may please God to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities—giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy outcome out of all their afflictions. You will pray for your ministers—that it may please God to endue them with heavenly gifts—that they may be wise to win souls, and may themselves shine as the brightness of the skies and as the stars, forever and ever. You will pray for the prosperity of Zion and the peace of Jerusalem—that it may please God so to guide and govern it by His good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians, may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of Spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. The sorrow—the affliction—the distress—the anxiety—the misfortune of others—all will be made subjects of prayer by you—and you will entreat the Lord so to sanctify His dealings with them, that they may learn the lessons He designs to teach—and, that the discipline they are called to undergo may conduce towards their advancement in holiness, and growth in grace.
Even thus, by "praying one for another," Christians may greatly help one another. The master may be vastly helped by the godly servant, and the servant may be, in turn, aided by the godly master. The prayers of the one for the other, may draw down the divine blessing—and, that peace, and harmony, and mutual confidence, which prevail in the family and the place of business, may result, from the earnest, importunate, and persevering prayers of the one for the other. So the parent may be greatly helped by his praying child, and the child be strengthened and encouraged by a praying parent. The one, may find his cares removed—his duties rendered more easy—his anxieties fewer—and the other, may be led safely on in honor, truth, and rectitude, and held up in the slippery paths of life—while the secret of all this may be, the mutual prayers of parent and child. So the minister may be vastly helped by his praying people, and the people be helped by the praying minister. They, apparently, have nothing to do with preaching the Gospel, but, it may be in answer to their prayers, that the Gospel is faithfully and successfully preached in a neighborhood. It is thus in the power of the poorest in a congregation, to aid his pastor in his every preparation for the pulpit—to strengthen him for every pastoral visit, and to uphold him in every effort for the spread of Christian knowledge. Silently, yet effectually, he may be acting through every sermon, and through every labor of his minister.
The minister, on the other hand, by his prayers, may be supporting the humble worshiper in all the duties of his daily life—and may have much to do with those upright and straightforward habits, and that conscientious, painstaking industry of the hearer, which are winning the approval and the confidence of his employer. And thus, every relation of life—every station in society—may be sanctified and blessed, through the instrumentality of earnest, believing prayer.
Christian! you may be powerless, by your own efforts, to relieve your friend out of his present difficulty or distress. Pray for him, in the name of Jesus, and a mightier arm than yours will be outstretched in his behalf. You may find your words of consolation all too weak to stem the tide of sorrow, or to calm the tempest of severe and unexpected calamity. Pray for the anguished, stricken one, and the Heavenly Comforter will descend—the soothing "peace, be still," will be uttered, and, from the depths of that troubled heart, will arise the tribute of gratitude and praise. You may have found counsel, warning, and advice, all unavailing to arrest the wayward child—to bring back to honor and virtue, the wandering prodigal. Oh! pray for him, to that loving Savior who came to seek and save the lost—pray until your suit is granted—pray, until, with repentant step, the loved one returns to his Father and his God.
You may have dear and cherished friends in a foreign land—exposed to many perils—beset with countless temptations and, ofttimes, your heart trembles with anxiety and fear, lest they should go astray and forget their duty to their Savior and their God. Pray for them fervently, even as you love them, and that eye which never slumbers nor sleeps, will watch over them and that grace and strength they need so much, will be made sufficient for them. You may have met with coldness and ingratitude, where you expected affection and regard.
You may have suffered from calumny, misrepresentation, and envy. You may have been injured and wronged. Pray for the spirit of forgiveness—pray that the hearts of your enemies may be softened—that they may be led to see and acknowledge their wrong-doing, and that your own heart may be kept free from anger, malice or hatred.
Thus praying in sincerity, you will not only realize a peace and calmness stealing over your own spirit, but they who have been your foes, may be turned into friends—they who have striven to do you wrong may be led to do you justice, and without reservation or hesitancy, you may be able to utter the petition, so frequently uttered rashly and insincerely, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Reader! faint not, neither be discouraged, if your prayers be not immediately answered. Rest assured, God has wise reasons for the delay. Parents! pray on, and, when you are lying in the churchyard, the blessing you longed for, may become the portion of your children. Friends! pray for those whom you love, and, when your voices are forever silent, and your prayers here are exchanged for praises in the upper sanctuary, another and yet another, may, in answer to your petitions, be brought within the Savior's fold. Christians! pray for your ministers, and, long after you have passed away from earth, these servants of God may, through the earnest supplications you made unto God in their behalf, be nerved with tenfold courage for the battle against evil, and may have multitudes of souls given unto them, as their joy and crown of rejoicing. Ministers! pray for your people, and, although, for many years, you may go in heaviness of spirit—seeing no fruit of your labors—the time is coming, when your prayers will be crowned with blessing, and your efforts shall not prove in vain in the Lord.
Oh! then "be instant in prayer," and leave the results with God. "Pray one for another," that you may receive all needful grace in your progress heavenward—working grace for a working hour—striving grace for a striving hour—suffering grace for a suffering hour—dying grace for a dying hour—grace for sunshine and for storm—grace for prosperity and for adversity—grace for the family, the closet, the sanctuary, and the place of daily toil—grace for health, for sickness, and for pain—grace for manhood and for old age. With glory in prospect, and the hope of heaven animating your spirit, be this your feeling with regard to your brethren in Christ—
"One brotherhood we dwell in Him,
O Lord our God, who dwells on high, and are worshiped by unnumbered hosts of glorious spirits, that cease not to render to You pure and perfect homage, look down on us, Your fallen and sinful creatures, from heaven the habitation of Your holiness, and hearken to the voice of our prayers.
We bless You, O God, for the high and holy privilege of communion with You, and with Your well-beloved Son, and with the Holy Spirit the Comforter. Oh! do give us the spirit of adoption, that looking up to You as our Father, we may at all times, place our confidence in You, and in Jesus Christ our Savior and High Priest. Let Your Spirit witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; and through His indwelling in our hearts, may we be sanctified wholly, fitted for Your service, and prepared for inheriting Your glorious kingdom.
We beseech You, O God, to bestow upon us Your heavenly grace, whereby we may increase and abound in love toward our brethren in Christ Jesus, and toward all men. Give us to realize more and more that we are members of the same family, partakers of the same promises and blessings, and heirs of the same glorious inheritance. Make us to be kindly affectioned to our brethren, ready to bear with their errors and infirmities, and to do them good as we have opportunity.
Teach us, in imitation of Your beneficence to be generous and compassionate towards our fellow-men, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, to walk in love as You have loved us, and from the heart to forgive one another, even as you, for Christ's sake, forgive us.
God of all grace, we beseech You to pour Your Holy Spirit upon all flesh, that the wilderness may become a fruitful field, and that the whole earth may be filled with Your glory. Unite all Christians in Christ their only Head, correct all their errors, heal all their divisions, and dispose them to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Bless all in sorrow, and sanctify their trials. Strengthen all who suffer, and give to them Your Spirit of comfort. Provide for the poor—protect the helpless—heal the sick—support and prepare the dying.
Graciously hear us, O God, and accept of us through Jesus Christ our only Mediator. Amen.