THE HOLY SPIRIT, An Experimental and Practical View
by Octavius Winslow

"The Believer Drawing near to God"
"The Spirit the Author of Prayer"

Likewise 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. Romans 8:26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. Romans 8:26

That God should have erected in this lower world a throne of grace, a mercy-seat, around which may gather, in clustering and welcome multitudes, the helpless, the burdened, the friendless, the vile, the guilty, the deeply necessitous- that no poor comer, be his poverty ever so great, his burden ever so heavy, or his case ever so desperate, should meet with a refusal of a hearing or a welcome, does greatly develop and magnify the riches of His grace, His wisdom and His love to sinners. What a God our God must be, thus to have appointed a meeting-place, an audience chamber for those upon whom all other doors are closed!
More wonderful still is it that He should have appointed Jesus the door of approach to that throne, should have given His only begotten and well-beloved Son to be the "new and living way" of access; thus removing all obstruction in the way of the soul's coming, both on the part of Himself, and on the part of the sinner, that the door should be a crucified Savior- the wounds of the Son of God- that through blood (and that blood the blood of the incarnate Deity) the guilty should approach. Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth!
Shall we say even more than this? For there is a yet lower depth in this love and condescension of God- His sending of His Spirit into the heart, the Author of prayer, putting the petition into words, breathing in the soul, implanting the desire, convincing of the existing necessity, unfolding the character of God, working faith in the heart and drawing it up to God through Jesus, all of which seems the very perfection of His wisdom, benevolence and grace.
It must be acknowledged by the spiritual mind that all true prayer is of the leading of the Spirit- that He is the Author of all real approach of the soul to God. And yet how perpetually we need to be reminded of this! Prayer is one of the most spiritual employments that can possibly engage the mind. It is that holy act of the soul which brings it immediately in contact with a holy God. It has more directly to do with the "high and lofty One" than any other exercise. It is that state of mind, too, that most deeply acknowledges its dependence on God. Prayer is the expression of need, the desire of destitution, the acknowledgment of poverty, the language of dependence, the breathing of a soul that has nothing in
itself, but hangs on God for all it needs. It must therefore be
a highly spiritual and holy exercise. But this will appear still more so if we consider that true prayer is the breathing of the life of God in the soul of man. It is the Spirit dwelling and breathing in him. It is the new nature pouring out its vital principle, and that into the ear of the God where it came from. It is the cry of the feeble child turning to the Father it loves, and in all its conscious weakness, dependence and need, pouring out the yearnings of its full heart into the bosom where dwells nothing but love. In a word, it is God and the creature meeting and blending in one act of blessed, holy and eternal fellowship.
Now, that on a subject so spiritual and involving so deeply the happiness and the holiness of a child of God, the believer should at times be greatly and seriously harassed and tempted, as much by the weaknesses of his nature as by the influence of Satan, is not to be wondered at. We desire therefore, before going into the consideration of the Spirit's operation in this holy exercise, to glance at some of those peculiar INFIRMITIES which so frequently and so painfully lessen the habit, and weaken the power, and keep back the answer of prayer. May the Spirit now teach us!
There is a state of mind often enfeebling to the exercise of prayer, arising from the difficulty of forming proper views of the spiritual nature of the Divine Object of prayer. Through the weakness of our nature, the spirituality of God has been felt by some to be a stumbling-block in the approach of the soul. "God is a Spirit" is the solemn announcement that meets them at the very threshold, and so completely overawes and abashes the mind as to congeal every current of thought and of feeling, and well-near to crush the soul with its inconceivability. Nor is this surprising. Prayer is the approach of finity to Infinity; and although it is the communing of spirit with Spirit, yet it is the finite communing with the Infinite, and that through the organs of sense. Is it any marvel, then, that at periods a believer should be baffled in his endeavor to form some just conception of the Divine existence, some faint idea of the nature of that God to whom his soul addresses itself; and, failing in the attempt, should turn away in sadness, sorrow and despair? The remedy for this state of mind we believe is at hand. It is simple and scriptural. To enlarge our thoughts with any adequate idea of the nature and the appearance of the Divine Spirit is an utter impossibility. He that attempts it, and thinks he has succeeded, lives in the region of fancy and opposes himself to the revelation of God Himself, which expressly declares, "No man has seen God at any time." "Who alone has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man has seen, nor can see." 1 Tim. 6. 16. This being then admitted, as it must be by all reflective minds, the question arises, "How am I to view God? what idea am I to form of His existence in approaching Him in prayer?" In reply, two things are necessary in getting proper thoughts of God as the Object of prayer. First, that the mind should resign all its attempts to comprehend the mode of the Divine existence, and should concentrate all its powers upon the contemplation of the character of the Divine existence. In what relation God stands to the creature, not in what way he exists in Himself, is the point with which we have to do in approaching Him. Let the mind be wrapped in devout contemplations of His holiness, benevolence, love, truth, wisdom, justice, and there will be no room for vain and fruitless imaginations respecting the fathomless and inconceivable mode of His existence.
The second thing necessary is that the mind should view God in Christ. If it is baffled and perplexed, as it surely will be, in its attempts to unravel the spiritual nature of God, let it seek a resting-place in the "incarnate mystery." This was one part of the gracious design of God in assuming human nature. It was to bring, so to speak, the Infinite in a direct angle with the finite, so that the two lines should not merely run parallel, but that the two extremes of being should meet. It was to embody His essential and surpassing glories in such a way as to present an object which man could contemplate without fear, worship without distraction, and look upon and not die. The Lord Jesus Christ is "the image of the invisible God," "the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person." "He that has seen Me" (His own declaration) "has seen the Father." Wondrous stoop of the great God! In all approach to God, then, in prayer, as in every other kindred exercise, let the eye of faith be fixed upon Him who fills the middle seat upon the throne- the Day's-Man- the Mediator- the incarnate Son of God. How quieting to the mind of a praying soul is this view of God! What a mildness invests the throne of grace, and what an easy access to it presents itself, when the eye of faith can behold "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"! And if the mind be embarrassed in its attempts to conceive an idea of His spiritual nature, it can soothe itself to repose in a believing view of the glorified humanity of Jesus, "God manifest in the flesh." To this resting-place He Himself invites the soul- "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me." And thus too He calmed the fears of His exiled servant who, when the splendor of His glorified humanity broke upon his view, fell prostrate to the earth: "And when I saw him," says John, "I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first, and the last: I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
Another infirmity which often impedes the free course of prayer, is the manifest lack of wisdom that may mark the petition of a child of God. For example, when Paul prayed for the removal of the thorn in the flesh, he asked that of God which betrayed a lack of wisdom in his petition. Who would have suspected this in the apostle of the Gentiles? But the Lord knew best what was for the good of His dear servant, and saw that, on account of the special revelations that were given him in his visit to glory, the discipline of the covenant was needed to keep him low in the dust. When His child petitioned three times for the removal of the thorn in the flesh, he for a moment overlooked, because of the painful nature of the discipline, its needed influence to keep him "walking humbly with God." So that we see even an inspired apostle may ask those things of God which He may see fit to refuse. We may frequently expect some trial, something to keep us low before God, after a season of peculiar nearness to Him or some other manifestation of his loving-kindness to our souls. There is a proneness to rest in self-complacency after close communion with God, and the gentle hand of our Father is needed to shield us from ourselves. It was so with Paul; why may it not be with us? We may be assured of this, however, that in withholding the thing we ask of Him, He will grant us a perfect equivalent. The Lord saw fit to deny the request of the apostle, but He granted him an equivalent, indeed more than an equivalent to that which He denied him He gave him His all-supporting grace. "My grace is sufficient for you." Have you asked many times for the removal of some secret, heavy, painful cross? Perhaps you are still urging your request; and yet the Lord does not seem to answer you. And why? because the request may not be in itself wise. Were he now to remove that cross, He might, in taking away the cross, close up a channel of mercy which you would never cease to regret. O what secret and immense blessing may that painful cross be the means of conveying into your soul! Is it health you have often petitioned for? And is the request denied you? It is wisdom that denies. It is love too, tender unchangeable love to your soul, that refuses a petition which a wise and gracious God knows, if granted, would not be for your real good and His glory. Do you not think that there is love and tenderness enough in the heart of Jesus to grant you what you desire, and ten thousand times more, if He saw that it would promote your true holiness and happiness? Could He resist that request, that desire, that sigh, that tear and that beseeching look, if infinite wisdom did not guide Him in all His dealings with your soul? O no! But He gives you an equivalent to the denied request. He gives you Himself. Can He give you more? His grace sustains you, His arm supports you, His love soothes you, His Spirit comforts you; and your chamber of solitude, though it may not be the scene of health and buoyancy and joyousness, may yet be the secret place where a covenant God and Father pours His grace into your soul, and where Jesus meets you with the choicest unfoldings of His love. Could He not, would He not, heal you in a moment, if it would be for your good? Then ask for a submissive spirit, a will swallowed up in God your Father's. It may be that when the lesson of secret and filial submission has been learned, so that health is only desired as a means of glorifying God, He may put forth His healing power and grant you your request. But do not forget the Lord best knows what will most promote His own glory. You may have thought that health of body would better enable you to glorify Him. He may think that the chamber of solitude and the bed of languishing are most productive of glory to His name. The patience, resignation, meek submission and child-like acquiescence which His blessed Spirit through this means works in your soul, may more glorify Him than all the active graces that ever were brought into exercise.
A believer may urge a request that is in itself wrong. The mother of Zebedee's children did so, when she asked the Lord that her two sons might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on the left, in His kingdom, Matt. 20. 20, 21. Who does not notice the self that appears in this petition? And although it was a mother's love that prompted it, and, as such, presents a beautiful and touching picture, yet it teaches us that a parent, betrayed by his love for his child, may ask that of God which is really wrong in itself. He may ask worldly distinction, honor, influence, wealth for his child (which a godly parent should never do), and this may be a wrong request, which God in His infinite wisdom and love withholds. Such was the petition of the mother, which our Lord saw fit to deny. Her views of the kingdom of Christ were those of earthly glory. To see her children sharing in that glory was her high ambition, which Jesus promptly but gently rebuked. Let a Christian mother ask for spiritual blessings for her children, and whatever else is needful the Lord will grant. Let converting, sanctifying and restraining grace be the constant petition presented at the footstool of mercy, and then she cannot ask too much, or press her suit too frequently or too fervently.
To allude to another illustration of our remark- It was wrong of Job to ask the Lord that he might die. "Oh that I might have my request!" (are his words) "and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand,
and cut me off." Job 6. 8, 9. It was an unwise and sinful petition, which the Lord in great mercy and wisdom denied
him. Truly "we know not what we should pray for as we
ought." What a mercy that there is One who knows!
A child of God may ask for a wise and good thing in a wrong way. There may be no faith in asking. There may be a wrong attitude of mind: no sense of God's freeness in bestowing, no filial approach, no going as a child, as one pardoned and "accepted in the Beloved," as one dear to the heart of God. There may be no honoring of the Father in Himself, no honoring of Him in the Son, no honoring of the blessed Spirit. There may be no resting upon the cross, no pleading of the atoning blood, no washing in the fountain, no humble, grateful recognition of the "new and living way" of access. There may be a lack of humility in the mind, of brokenness in the spirit, of sincerity in the heart, of reverence
in the manner and of sobriety in the words. There may be no confession of sin, no acknowledgment of past mercies and no faith in the promised blessing. Oh, how much there may be in the prayer of a dear child of God that operates as a blight upon his request, that seems to close the ear and the heart of God! But oh, to go to Him with filial confidence, with sweet faith, with love flowing from a broken heart; to go to Him as the people of His choice, dear to Him as the apple of His eye, as those who are viewed each moment in His Son who would, for the love He bears us, undeify Himself, if that would be for our real good, and His own glory. Did He not once empty Himself of His glory, did He not become poor, did He not humble himself, did He not take upon Him human nature- all for the love He bore His people? That was approaching so near, in appearance, the cessation of Deity, that, as we gaze upon the spectacle, we wonder what another step might have produced! We might well think that He could not have gone further without ceasing to be God. Behold the broad basis, then, upon which a child of God may approach Him in prayer. His love, O how immense! it is past finding out!
Yet again, a believer may present a right petition in a right way, and yet he may not wait for the Lord to answer in His own time. The believer may appoint a time, and if the Lord does not answer within that period, he turns away, resigning all expectation of an answer. There is such a thing as waiting for the Lord. "It is good that a man should both hope
and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Lam. 3. 26. And the apostle alludes to, and enjoins the same holy patience, when he speaks to the Ephesians of "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance." A believer may present his request, may have some degree of nearness in urging it, may press it with fervency, and yet, forgetting the hoping, quiet, waiting patience which ought invariably to mark a praying soul, he may lose the blessing he has sought. There is such a thing as "waiting upon the Lord." O how long have we made Him wait for us! For years, it may be, we kept Him knocking and standing and waiting at the door of our hearts, until His own Spirit took the work in His own hands and unlocked the heart and the Savior entered. The Lord would now often have us wait His time in answering prayer. And, if the vision tarry, let us still wait, hope and expect. Let the delay stimulate hope, and increase desire, and exercise faith, and multiply petitions at the mercy-seat. The answer will come when the Lord sees best.
Lastly, a believer may lose the answer to his prayer by dictating to the Lord the mode as well as the time of answering. The Lord has His own mode of blessing His people. We may prescribe the way the Lord should answer, but He may send the blessing to us through an opposite channel, in a way we never thought of and would never have selected. Sovereignty sits ruling upon the throne, and in no aspect is its exercise more manifestly seen than in selecting the way and the means by which the prayers of the saints of God are answered. Do not dictate to the Lord. If you ask a blessing through a certain channel or in a prescribed way, let it be with the deepest humility of mind and with perfect submission of the will to God. Be satisfied to receive the blessing in any way which a good and covenant God may appoint. Be assured that it will be in the way that will most glorify God Himself, and secure to you the greatest amount of blessing.
Many and endearing are the characters or offices ascribed to the Spirit in the Word, but none are found more sweet or appropriate by a child of God than that which He fills as the Intercessor for His saints. We have already remarked that all true prayer is put into words by the Spirit. He is the Author of prayer in the soul. A brief reference to the Divine testimony will clearly substantiate this. "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Rom. 8. 26, 27. "For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." Eph. 2. 18. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Eph. 6. 18. "But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit." Jude 20. 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."
The consideration of two or three points will sufficiently unfold His work as THE AUTHOR OF PRAYER in the believer.
First, it is the Spirit who leads the soul to an acquaintance with its needs. Such is the fallen condition of the soul and such is its poverty, ignorance and infirmity that it does not know its real weakness and deep necessity until taught it by the Holy Spirit. This is even so after conversion. A dear child of God (and it is awfully true, without any qualification, of an unrenewed man) may fall into the state of the Laodicean church, to whom it was said, "Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing: and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Rev. 3. 17. A believer may not know his real condition, his absolute need. There may be a secret declension in his soul, the enfeebling and decay of some spiritual grace, the slow but effective inroad of some spiritual enemy, the cherishing (like Achan) of some forbidden thing, the feeding of some worm at the root of his holiness- and all the while he may remain ignorant of the solemn fact. And how is he to know it unless someone teaches him? And who is that teacher but the Spirit? As He first convicted of sin, so in each successive stage of the believer's experience He convicts of the daily need, the spiritual necessity, the growing infirmity, the increasing power of sin and the deepening poverty. Do not overlook this important part of His work. To go to the throne of grace, we must have something to go for, some errand to take us there, some sin to confess, some guilt to mourn over, some need to supply, some infirmity to make known and (we must not leave this out) some blessing to acknowledge. How is all this to be brought about but by the blessed Spirit? O what an unspeakable mercy to have One who knows us altogether, and who can make us acquainted with ourselves! It is a far advanced step in grace when we know our real undisguised condition. A man may lose a grace, and may travel far and not be aware of his loss. The world has come in and filled up the space. Some carnal joy or pursuit has occupied the mind, engrossed the affections and the thoughts; and the soul has not been conscious of the loss it has sustained. Thus have many lost the sense of adoption, pardon and acceptance. The graces of faith, love and humility have become enfeebled until the description of Ephraim may truly and painfully apply to them- "Ephraim, he has mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knows it not; yes, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knows it not." Hos. 7. 8, 9. But the blessed Spirit at length reveals to the soul its loss, convinces it of its departure, makes known its real condition, and in this way leads it to the throne of grace. Cherish high views of the work of the Spirit. To have one near at hand, indeed in you, as He is; to detect so faithfully and lovingly as He does, the waning grace, the feeble pulse, the spiritual decay; to awaken the conscience, arouse godly sorrow, and draw out the heart in confession, is to possess one of the most valuable blessings. Honor the blessed Spirit, praise Him for his work, extol His faithfulness and love, and treat Him as your tenderest, dearest Friend.
He stirs up the slumbering spirit of prayer. This is either perpetually declining, or exposed to declension in the believer. And it needs as perpetual a supply of grace from the Author of prayer to keep it in vigor, as to restore it when it has declined. "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications." Zech. 12. 10.
He teaches the believer to plead the atoning blood of Christ. He puts this great and prevailing argument in his mouth; and when sin seems a mountain, and unbelief would suppress the aspiration, and a deep consciousness of unworthiness would cause the soul to "stand afar off," He opens to his view this precious encouraging truth- the prevalency of the blood of Jesus with God on behalf of His people. In a moment the mountain is leveled, unbelief is checked, and the soul, unfettered and unrestrained, draws near to God, yes, rushes into the bosom of its Father. What a view does this give us of the love of the Spirit as the Author of prayer! Who has not experienced it, who is not a stranger to the blessed exercise of communion with God? How often has guilt caused the head to hang down, and a sense of utter vileness and worthlessness covered the soul with shame! Even the sense of destitution has kept back the believer, just as the penury, the wretched covering and the loathsomeness of the poor beggar have kept him from the door! Then does the blessed Spirit, in the plenitude of His grace and tenderness, unfold Jesus to the soul as being all that it needs to give it full, free and near access to God. He removes the eye from self, and fixes and fastens it upon the blood that pleads louder for mercy than all his sins can plead for condemnation; He brings, too, the righteousness near, which so clothes and covers the soul as to fit it to appear in the presence of the King of kings, not merely with acceptance but with delight. Beholding him thus washed and clothed, God rests in His love and rejoices over him with singing.
Nor must we overlook the understanding which exists between God the Father and the Spirit. "And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." There is a perfect agreement or understanding between the Father and the interceding Spirit. First, the Father, the Searcher of hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit. He understands the desire and the meaning of the Spirit in the souls of the saints. He understands the "groanings which cannot be uttered." He can interpret their sighs; He can read the meaning of their very desires. And when feeling has been too deep for utterance, and thought too intense for expression, and the soul could but groan out its needs and desires, then has God understood the mind of the Spirit. O the inconceivable preciousness of a throne of grace! To have a God to go to, who knows the mind of the Spirit, a God who can interpret the groan and read the language of desire; to have promise upon promise inviting the soul to draw hear- how precious this is! When from the fulness of the heart the mouth has been dumb, and from the poverty of language thought could not be expressed, then God, who searches the hearts and knows what is the mind of the Spirit, has said, "Never before did you, My child, pray to Me as you did then; never before was your voice so sweet, so powerful, so persuasive; never before were you so eloquent as when My Spirit made intercession for you with groanings which you could not utter." It was, perhaps, your last resource. Refuge failed you, no man cared for your soul. Friends failed you, feelings failed you, all forsook you and fled, and in your extremity you went to God- and He did not fail you. You found the throne of grace accessible; you saw a God of grace upon it, and the sweet incense of the Redeemer's precious merits going up; and you drew near, sighing and groaning and breathing out your needs, and said, "It is good for me to draw near to God." Yes! "He knows the mind of the Spirit." The secret desire for Jesus, the longing for Divine conformity, the hidden mourning over the existence and power of indwelling sin, the feeblest rising of the heart to God, the first sign of the humble and contrite spirit- all are known to God. "He searches the heart, and he knows the mind of the Spirit." O let this encourage you, when you feel you cannot pray by reason of the weakness of the flesh, or the depth of your feeling; if the Spirit is interceding in you, your heavenly Father knows the mind of the Spirit, and not a sigh or a groan can escape His notice.
There is yet another vital principle connected with the perfect agreement of the Father and the Spirit in this important matter of prayer, it is that the Spirit "makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Whatever the Spirit may say, the believer can be assured that it is according to God's will. The worldly desires which sometimes take possession of a child of God must not be included in this. He may sometimes be left to ask God for worldly distinction, influence and wealth, and for places of temporal honor and aggrandizement, as the mother of Zebedee's children did. But who will dare assert that, in presenting such petitions, he is asking for those things which are "according to the will of God"? No believer, if he is in a truly spiritual frame, thirsting for God, crucifying the world, and living as a stranger and a pilgrim here; can go to the throne of grace and plead for these. It would be a carnal petition for carnal things, and there must be a dearth of spirituality in the soul that can urge it.
But, in spiritual things, how vastly different is it! When we draw near to God, and ask for more love, more zeal, an increase of faith, a reviving of God's work within us, more resemblance to Christ, the subjection of some enemy, the mortification of some evil, the subduing of some iniquity, the pardon of some guilt, more of the spirit of adoption, the sprinkling of the atoning blood, the sweet sense of acceptance, we know and are assured that we ask for those things which are according to the will of God, and which it is in the heart of God fully and freely to bestow. There need be no backwardness here, there need be no restraint here, there may be no misgiving here. When the believer is pleading for such blessings and spreading out such needs before the Lord, he may with "boldness enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." He may draw near to God, not standing afar off, but, in the spirit of a child, drawing near to God. He may come with large requests, large desires, hopeful expectation. He may open his mouth wide, because he asks those things which it is glorifying to God to give, which glorify Him when given, and which we know from His own Word it is according to His blessed will to bestow. O the unspeakable encouragement of going to God with a request which we feel assured it is in His heart, and according to His will, freely to grant!
Do not forget that it is the throne of grace to which you come in prayer. It is a THRONE, because God is a Sovereign. He will ever have the suppliant recognize this perfection of His nature. He hears and answers as a Sovereign. He hears whom He will, and answers what and when He will. There must be no dictation to God, no refusing to bow to His sovereignty, no rebelling against His will. If the answer be delayed, or God should seem to withhold it altogether, remember that "He gives no account of any of his matters," and that He has a right to answer or not to answer, as seems good in His sight. Glorious perfection of God, shining from the mercy-seat!
But it is also a throne of GRACE. And why? Because a God of grace sits upon it, and the scepter of grace is held out from it, and all the favors bestowed there are the blessings of grace. God has many thrones. There is the throne of creation, and the throne of providence, and the throne of justice, and the throne of redemption; but this is the throne of grace. Just the throne we need! We are the poor, the needy, the helpless, the vile, the sinful, the unworthy. We have nothing to bring but our deep wretchedness and poverty, nothing but our complaints, our miseries, our crosses, our groanings, our sighs and tears. But it is the throne of grace. For just such is it erected. It is set up in a world of woe, in the midst of the wilderness, in the very land of the enemy, in the valley of tears. It is a God of grace who sits upon it, and all the blessings He dispenses from it are the gifts of grace. Pardon, justification, adoption, peace, comfort, light, direction- all, all is of grace. No worth or worthiness in the creature extracts these blessings; no price he may bring purchases them; no tears or complainings or misery move the heart of God to compassion
- all is of grace. God is so full of compassion, and love, and mercy, He does not need to be moved to pour it forth. It gushes from His heart as from a full and overflowing fountain, and flows into the bosom of the poor, the lowly, the humble and the contrite, enriching, comforting and sanctifying their souls. Therefore whatever your case, you may come. If it is
a throne of grace (as indeed it is) then why not come? Why, stand a long way off? If the poor, the penniless, the disconsolate and the guilty are welcome here, if this throne is crowded by such- why make yourself an exception? Why not come too? What is your case, what is your sorrow, what is your burden? Ah! perhaps you can disclose it to no
earthly ear. You can tell it to God only. Then take it to Him. Let me tell you for your encouragement that God has His secret audience chamber, where He will meet you alone, and where no eye shall see you and no ear shall hear you but
His, where you may open all your heart, and reveal your real case, and pour all your secrets into His ear. Precious encouragement! It comes from those lips into which grace was poured: "You, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret, shall reward you openly." Then, armed with this promise, go to the throne of grace. Whether the need is temporal or spiritual, take it there. God loves your secrets. He delights in your confidence and will honor the soul that thus honors Him.
Remember, the throne of grace is near at hand. You have not to travel far to reach it; there is no lengthy and painful journey, no wearisome and mortifying pilgrimage. It is near at hand. Lying down or rising up, going out or coming in, in the streets or in the house, in public or in private, in the chamber or in the sanctuary, God is everywhere; and where He is, there is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God. In a moment, in the greatest emergency, you may lift up your heart to the Lord, and in a moment your cry shall be heard and your request shall be granted. "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer: and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The righteous cry, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near unto those who are of a broken heart; and saves such as be of a contrite spirit." Psalm. 34. 15, 17, 18. Remember that the throne of grace is everywhere. On the land and on the sea, at home or abroad, in the publicity of business or in the privacy of retirement, "the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry." Wherever a believer goes, he carries about with him the intercession of the Spirit below, and he has the consolation of knowing that he has the intercession of Jesus above.
Do not stay away from the throne of grace because of an unfavorable state of mind. If God is ready to receive you just as you are, if no questions are asked, and no examination is instituted, and no exceptions are made on account of the badness of the state, then count it a great blessing to be able to go to God even when you feel at your worst. To keep
away from the throne of grace because of unfitness and unpreparedness to approach it, is to alter its character from a throne of grace to a throne of merit. If the Lord's ears are only open to the cry of the righteous when they seek Him in a certain good and acceptable state of mind, then He hears them because of their state of mind, and not because He is a God of grace. But He can never alter His character or change the foundation of His throne. It is the mercy-seat; the throne of grace; and not for any attitude either good or bad in the suppliant does He bow His ear, but for His own mercy's sake. Do not yield then to this device of your adversary to keep you from prayer. It is the privilege of a poor soul to go to Jesus at his worst, to go in darkness, to go in weak faith, to go when everything says "stay away," to go in the face of opposition, to hope against hope, to go in the consciousness of having walked at a distance, to press through the crowd to the throne of grace, to take the hard, the cold, the reluctant heart and lay it before the Lord. O what a triumph this is of the power and the grace of the blessed Spirit in a poor believer! What is your state? Are you weak in prayer? Are you tried in prayer? And yet is there anything at all of real need, of real desire in your heart? Is this so? Then draw near to God. Your state of mind will not be more favorable tomorrow than it is today. You will not be more acceptable or welcome at any future period than you are at this moment. Give yourself to prayer. Supposing your state is the worst that can be, your frame of mind the most unfavorable, your cross the heaviest, your corruption the strongest, your heart the hardest; still go to the throne of grace, and opening your case to the Lord with groanings that cannot be uttered, you shall adopt the song of David, who could say in the worst state, and in most pressing times, "But I give myself unto prayer " "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles." Psalm. 34. 3-6.
The throne of grace is for the needy. It is always a time
of need with a child of God. "Without me," says Jesus, "you can do nothing." There is not a moment when, if he knows his real state, he is not in need of something. What a blessing then is the throne of grace! It is for the needy. It is for those who are in need, those to whom all other doors are closed, with whom all other resources have failed, who have nowhere else to look, nowhere else to fly. To such is the throne of grace always open. Is it a time of trial with you? then it is a time of need. Take your trial, whatever it be, simply to God. Do not brood over it. This will not make it sweeter or more easy to be borne, but taking it to Jesus will. The very act of taking it will lighten it, and casting it upon
His tenderness and sympathy will make it sweet. Is it a time of spiritual darkness with you? Then it is a time of need. Take your darkness to the throne of grace, and "in His light " who sits upon it, you "shall see light." Is it a time of
adverse providences? Then it is a time of need. And where can you go for guidance, for direction, for counsel and for light upon the intricacies of the way, but to the God of grace?
Is it a time of temporal distress with you? Then it is a time of need. Take your temporal cares and necessities to the Lord, for He who is the God of grace is also the God of providence. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Thank the Lord for every errand that takes you to the throne of grace. Whatever that be which sends you to prayer, count it one of your choice blessings. It may be a heavy cross, a painful trial, a pressing need; it may be a disappointment, a cold look, an unkind expression; yet, if it leads you to prayer, regard it as a mercy sent from God to your soul. Thank God for an errand to Him. It may be that you have not felt like praying for yourself. You have not been conscious of any special sense of being drawn to the throne for your own soul, but you have gone on behalf of another. The burden, the trial, the affliction or the immediate need of some member of God's family has pressed upon you, and you have taken his case to the Lord; you have borne him in your arms to the throne of grace, and, while interceding for your brother, the Lord has met you, and blessed your own soul. Perhaps you have gone and prayed for the church, for the peace of Jerusalem, for the prosperity of Zion, that the Lord would build up her waste places, and make her a joy and a praise in the whole earth. Perhaps it has been to pray for your minister, that the Lord would teach him more deeply and experimentally, and anoint him more fully with the rich anointing and unction of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it has been to pray for Christian missions and for hard-working and self-denying missionaries, that the Lord would make them eminently successful in spreading the knowledge of a precious Savior, and in calling in His people. And thus, while you have been besieging the throne of grace for others, and pouring out your heart before the Lord, the Lord Himself has drawn near to your own soul and you have been made to experience the blessing that ever goes with and rewards intercessory prayer. Then let every event, every circumstance, every providence be a voice urging you to prayer. If you have no needs, others have; take them to the Lord. If you are borne down by no cross, smitten by no affliction, or suffering from no need, others are; go and plead for them with your heavenly Father, and the petitions you send up to the mercy-seat on their behalf may return into your own soul laden with rich covenant blessings. Turn everything into an occasion for prayer. Whether it is a dark providence or a bright one, let it take you to God. Make the falls, the weaknesses and the declensions of others grounds
for prayer. Thus, and thus only, can you expect to grow in grace, and grace to grow in you.
Above all, cultivate the habit of secret prayer. No other prayer can take its place. There are confessions that can be made, desires that can be expressed, sins that can be lamented, and needs that can be disclosed only in the secret place, shut in with God. He that confines himself to the altar of the sanctuary, the family, or the social circle, will find leanness come into his soul. It must necessarily be (the very nature of the case proves it) that there are states of mind which the believer can unfold to none but God, sins that can only be acknowledged in His presence, and needs that can only be poured into His ear. What a loser, then, is that professing Christian who lives in the daily and habitual neglect of secret prayer! It is the close and secret walk with God that marks the true and advancing believer. It is in that walk, and that only, that fresh grace, strength and love are poured into the soul. It is in secret communion with God that the believer becomes girded for the conflict, strengthened for the hour of trial, and prepared for the joys of heaven.
Let it be remembered that one essential and important part of the Spirit's work as the Author of prayer is to unfold Jesus as the medium of prayer. There is no access to God but through Jesus. If there is no honoring of Christ in His person, blood, righteousness and intercession in prayer, we can expect no answer to prayer. The great encouragement to draw near to God, is Jesus at the right hand of God. Jesus is the door. Coming through Him, the poorest, the vilest and the most abject may approach the throne of grace, and ask what he will. The glorious Advocate is on the throne to present the petition and urge its acceptance, and plead for its answer on the basis of His own infinite and atoning merits. Come then, you who are poor; come, you who are disconsolate; come, you who are tried and afflicted; come, you who are wounded; come, you who are needy; come and be made welcome at the mercy-seat; for Jesus waits to present your petition and plead your cause. Ask nothing in your own name, but ask everything in the name of Jesus; "ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." The Father may reject you, but His Son He cannot reject. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a High priest over the house of God, let us draw near." Draw near, then, seeking soul, with boldness; not the boldness of a presumptuous, self-righteous man, but that of one chosen, called, pardoned and justified. Draw near with the lowly boldness of a child, with the humble confidence of a son. You are dear to your Father. Your voice is sweet to Him. You are precious to Him because you have been accepted in His Beloved. You cannot come too boldly, you cannot come too frequently, you cannot come with too large requests. You are coming to a King; that King is your Father; that Father sees you in His beloved Son. Do not hang back. Do not stand afar off. He now holds out the golden scepter and says, "Come near, what is your request? Come with your temporal need. Come with your spiritual need. Ask what you will, it shall be granted you. I have an open hand and a large heart." Is this your desire- "Lord, I need more grace to glorify You. I need more simplicity of mind, singleness of eye. I need a more holy, upright, honest walk. I need more meekness, patience, lowliness, submission. I want to know more of Jesus, to see more of His glory, to feel more of His preciousness and to live more simply upon His fulness. I want more of the sanctifying, sealing, witnessing and anointing influences of the Spirit?" Blessed, holy desires! It is the Spirit making intercession in you according to the will of God; and as you enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, the Lord will fulfil the desires of your heart.
Watch diligently against the least declension in the spirit of prayer. If there be declension here, there will also be declension in every part and department of the work of the Spirit in your 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 fulness dwell." And Paul's encouragement to the Philippians was, "My God shall supply all your needs, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." But the channel through which all grace comes is prayer- ardent, wrestling, importunate, believing prayer. Allow this channel to be dry, permit any object to narrow or close it up, and the effect will be a withering and a decay of the life of God in the soul. Every plant will droop, every flower will fade and lose its fragrance, and the state of the soul will no longer resemble that of the church thus so beautifully described: "You are like a private garden, my treasure, my bride! You are like a spring that no one else can drink from, a fountain of my own. You are like a lovely orchard bearing precious fruit, with the rarest of perfumes: nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, myrrh and aloes, perfume from every incense tree, and every other lovely spice. You are a garden fountain, a well of living water, as refreshing as the streams from the Lebanon mountains." "Awake, north wind! Come, south wind! Blow on my garden and waft its lovely perfume to my lover. Let him come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits." Song 4:12-16. This is the true and glowing picture of a believing soul in which the spirit of prayer is flourishing and vigorous. Reverse this, and how melancholy would it appear! And yet that would be the exact state of every prayerless professing Christian. Guard, then, against the slightest decline of prayer in the soul. If prayer family prayer, social prayer, most of all, secret prayer is declining with you, no further evidence is needed of your being in a backsliding state of mind. There may not yet have been the outward departure, but you are on the way to it, and nothing but a return to prayer will save you. Oh, what alarm, what fearfulness and trembling, should this thought produce in a child of God, "I am on my way to an awful departure from God! Such is the state of my soul at this moment, such my present state of mind, such the loss of my spirituality, such the hold which the world has upon my affections, there is no length in sin to which I may not now go, there is no iniquity which I may not now commit. The breakers are full in view, and my poor weak vessel is heading for and rapidly nearing them!" What can shield you from the commission of that sin, what can keep you from wounding Jesus afresh, what can preserve you from sinking and making shipwreck of your faith, but an immediate and fervent return to prayer? Prayer is your only safety. Prayer for grace to help in your time of need. Prayer for reviving grace, for quickening, restraining, sanctifying grace. Prayer to be kept from falling- to be held up in the slippery paths. Prayer for the lowly mind, for the contrite spirit, for the broken heart, for the careful, close and humble walk with God.
Do you ask what are some of the symptoms of a decline of the spirit of prayer? We reply that the decay of any one grace of the Spirit in the soul- faith, love, zeal, patience, meekness, temperance, lowliness- marks the low and feeble pulse of prayer in a believer. There may not be a decay of all the graces at once, and because of this the believer
may be greatly deceived. Outward zeal may continue long after other more hidden and spiritual graces have withered; and because this remains, the soul is deceived as to its real state before God. A secret and a fearful process of spiritual declension may be going forward in the soul, while for a time there may be nothing outward to mark it. There are many evidences, known only to the individual himself, by which the declining spirit of prayer may be detected. A distaste for the Word of God, for a spiritual and searching ministry, for communion with spiritual minds, for holy thought and meditation; all, and many more which cannot be unknown to the backsliding soul, indicate a neglected throne of grace.
Are you a prayerless professing Christian? Oh, what is all
your profession worth if you are a prayerless soul? What is your zeal, your church membership, your talking well and loud, your gifts, your reputation as a 'live' Christian, while you are dead to the true spirit and life of prayer, living in awful neglect of family prayer, social prayer and secret prayer? All your profession of godliness: your outward zeal, your splendid gifts, all is but a "fair show in the flesh," an empty name, while you live in neglect of prayer. Prayer is
the breathing of the life of God in the soul. It is the pulse of the renewed man. It is the turning of the soul to God. Where this is missing, the great evidence of the actual existence of life is missing too.
This may catch the eye of someone who has never yet truly prayed; who all his life so far has neglected the throne of grace. What an awful condition! What a sad sight! Your
life, reader, has been a prayerless life. It has been a life devoted to self, to sin, to rebellion against God, to impenitence and unbelief, to hardness of heart, and contempt of God's Word, to a neglect of the great salvation, to a despising of Christ, to a pursuit of happiness in a poor, dying, present evil world. Not a breath of prayer has ever risen from your soul to God. Not one pulse of love has ever beaten in your breast for Jesus. You have lived as a lover of self, a lover of the world, a lover of sin, a lover of wealth, pleasure and ambition, rather than as a lover of God. And why are you at this moment out of hell? You have long been preparing for it. Your character for years has been molding for the society and the sufferings of the lost. Why are you not there now, calling for a drop of water to cool that parched tongue which never once called in earnest supplication upon God? It is of the Lord's mercies that you are not consumed. And because His patience has borne with you so long, you are yet within the region of hope. "What do you mean, O sleeper? arise, and call upon God." The wrath of God here, and its fearful outpouring hereafter, rests upon the soul that does not come to the throne of grace. The hell of an unpraying man is a fearful hell. To go from the means of grace, from the ordinances of religion, from a preached Gospel, from a praying family, to the judgment-seat, an unpraying, unrepenting, unbelieving soul, is to go to a special hell. The untaught, unenlightened and unwarned heathen, does not go to the hell of that soul that dies surrounded by the means of saving grace, rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ, and a stranger to prayer. "Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those," who have heard of the throne of grace only to slight it; of Jesus only to despise him; of the Gospel only to reject it; of God's love, patience and grace only to trample it under his feet? "It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment" than for that soul. "And now about these enemies of mine who didn't want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in my presence." "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." "Depart from
me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." "And I saw a great white throne, and I saw the one who was sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God's throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to the things written in the books, according to what they had done. The sea gave up the dead in it, and death and the grave gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their deeds. And death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire." Rev. 20:11-15. This will be the doom and the portion of an unpraying soul! Remember, reader, that without prayer in your family, your family is cursed; that without prayer in your business, your business is cursed, that without prayer for your own soul, the curse of God rests upon you. If you have not time for prayer, then seek time, find time, make time. You must pray, or be lost! You must pray, or be eternally condemned! You must pray, or sink down over whelmed with the wrath of God forever and forever! Seek time, find time, make time for prayer. Abstract it from business, take it from pleasure, even steal it from sleep. You must pray, or go to an awful, a special hell. A sorer punishment than all others will be yours, if you die a prayerless soul!
Are you conscious of the slightest movement of your heart towards God? Cherish it as your most valuable mercy. It is the first gentle breathing of the blessed Spirit in your soul. It is the first pulse of spiritual life. It may be feeble; it may be only a desire, a misgiving, a solemn thought, a feeling after God; a cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Oh, it is the life-giving Spirit overshadowing you; let it lead you to the mercy-seat. O precious longing after God! O blessed and gentle drawing of the Spirit! Let it lead you at once to the throne of grace. Go there and spread your case before the Lord. Confess your sins, acknowledge your iniquity, humble yourself at His feet, and for Jesus' sake God will receive you graciously, pardon you freely and seal you as His child.
Lastly, pray expectantly, diligently and perseveringly. Expect an answer to your prayer, a promise to your request, a compliance with your suit. Be as much assured that God will answer, as that you have asked or that He has promised. Ask in faith; only believe; watch daily at the gates for the answer; look for it at any moment, and through any providence; do not expect it in your own way, but in the Lord's; do not be astonished if He should answer your prayer in the very opposite way that you had anticipated and (it may be) dictated. With this view, watch every providence, even the smallest. You do not know when the answer may come, at what time, or in what way. Therefore watch. The Lord may answer in a great and strong wind, in an earthquake, in a fire, or in a still small voice; therefore watch every providence to know which will be the voice of God to you. Do not pray as if you asked for or expected a refusal. God delights in your holy fervency, your humble boldness and your persevering importunity. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Pray submissively, expect hopefully, watch vigilantly, and wait patiently.
Behold, then, the throne of grace! Was ever spot so verdant and so sunny? Was ever resting-place so sacred and so
sweet? Could God Himself invest it with a richer or greater attraction? Behold it yet again. It is the throne of grace. There are dispensed all the blessings of sovereign grace- pardon, justification, adoption, sanctification, and all that connects the present state of the believer with eternal glory. There is dispensed grace itself- grace to guide, to support, to comfort and to help in time of need. There sits the God of grace, proclaiming Himself "the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." There is extended the scepter of grace, welcoming the sons and daughters of need, the weary and the heavy laden, the guilty, the broken in heart, the poor, the friendless, the bereaved. There stands Jesus the High priest and Mediator, full of grace and truth, waving to and fro his golden censer, from which pours forth the fragrant incense of His atoning merits, wreathing in one offering as it ascends the name, the needs and the prayer of the lowly worshiper. And there, too, is the Spirit of grace, breathing in the soul, making known the need, putting the petition into words, and making intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Behold, then, the throne of grace, and draw near! You are welcome. Come with your cross, come with your infirmity, come with your guilt, come with your need, come with your wounded spirit, come with your broken heart, come and welcome to the throne of grace! Come without price, come without worthiness, come without preparation, come without fitness, come in a bad state of mind, come with a hard heart, come and welcome to the throne of grace! God, your Father, makes you welcome. Jesus, your Advocate, makes you welcome. The Spirit, the Author of prayer, makes you welcome. All the happy and the blessed who cluster around it make you welcome. The spirits of just men made perfect in glory make you welcome. The ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation make you welcome. All the holy below, and all the holy above, all, all make you, poor trembling soul, welcome, thrice welcome, to the throne of grace!