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this is talent and elocution. True prayer is a higher thing, the special gift of the Holy Ghost; not so much a matter of the lips, as of the heart. He has the most of this gift, who has "the most enlightened apprehension of the God to whom he speaks; the deepest sense of his own wants; the most eager longings after grace, the most fervent desires of supplies from heaven; and, in a word, whose heart sends up the strongest cries to the Father of Mercies." Hence many may have much of the spirit of prayer who have but a small degree of the power of utterance.
Much, indeed, of the work of the Spirit, is secret. We know not various particulars connected with it. We know it rather by its effects, than by its mode of operation. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." We experience its power, and that is sufficient. The Christian knows that he has often knelt down averse to prayer, dead, dull, stupid; almost without desiring the blessings for which he ought to ask. And yet, with all his weakness, after looking for the aid of the Spirit, after praying as did David, "Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise." (Ps. li, 15.) and persevering in asking, seeking, and knocking, (Matt. viii, 7.) he has, in such a remarkable way, experienced the presence of God, as to fill him with joy unspeakable, and a hope full of glory. He has, in these cases, sometimes found an unction, an enlargement of expression, so far beyond any thing that he had previously calculated on, or could expect, accompanied by such lively and vehement desires and thirstings after God, and holiness, and glory, as convincingly and evidently to his mind, marked the agency and
assistance of a divine power, which maketh intercession for us.
But farther, he maketh intercession, with groanings which cannot be uttered. I am sensible that I am here bringing a subject forward which must be in a great measure unintelligible (and may therefore appear absurd) to those who have never experienced it; but since the sacred writings have plainly stated it, we should neither conceal it, nor keep it back. And conceive the case of a mind truly and fully awakened to see the shortness of time, the vanity of wordly things, the unutterable glory of the blessed, the never-ending anguish of the condemned, the boundless ages of eternity, the uncertainty of every moment, and the inseparable connection between obtaining grace in this life, and glory in the next. If we realize this state of mind we may easily imagine that there are such ardent thirstings wrought in the immortal soul, after pardon, grace, Christ, heaven, and glory, as no words are great or strong enough to express. The Psalms of David often manifest this state of mind. My soul fainteth, he says, for thy salvation. O Lord, how long! I am weary with my groaning. Here we may observe some of the groanings of him in whom the spirit intercedes; but yet this intercession is with such importunity of desire, such holy pleading, and wrestling with God, such ardour of spirit, such inward labouring and working of the heart towards God, as cannot be expressed by words.
It may be proper, for preventing mistakes, to add, that it is not meant that we may now receive, or expect, those extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the early Christians to pray in a foreign tongue, or suggested every particular word or expression. Our prayers are not so entirely under the influence of the
Spirit, as, like those of David, to be properly the work of inspiration: so much of our weakness mingles with them, that we cannot say of any sentence, this is the perfect work of the Spirit. Every feeling, and desire, must also be tried by the sacred touchstone, the word of God, that we may know whence it comes. But the Holy Spirit does give those graces of love, fear, hope, and joy, that are suited to this duty; does excite holy desires, raise holy expectations, and work holy affections in us; does, we are persuaded, often secretly incline our minds to pray, and help us in praying, giving us clear perceptions, a ready utterance, and a humble confidence; and this aid is totally distinct from and superior to that general aid, which the providence of God affords to men in general, in order to their performance of the various actions of their natural life. "The workings of the Spirit, are not indeed," says Watts, "to be easily distinguished by ourselves, or by others, from the rational motions of our own hearts, influenced by moral arguments; but by the whole tendency, and the sanctifying effects, we may know that we had some assistance of the blessed spirit."
Some mistake in another way, supposing that men should never attempt to pray, but when they feel the present impulse of the Holy Spirit. But in reply it may be observed, that we are commanded to pray always. Go forward in the duty, and you may expect difficulties to be removed. Neglect not any proper season of prayer; nor, on the other hand, neglect any duty of your station under the pretence of an impulse to pray. The Holy Spirit draws us to God at fit seasons.
You are not in danger of quenching, or grieving, the Spirit by the humble and diligent use of the means of grace; but there is much danger of losing this heavenly
guest by the indulgence of any sin, and especially of any sensual iniquity. Ps. li, 11. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you." O defile not that temple, provoke not that Spirit ; live in the Spirit, and then you will pray in the Spirit.
Having thus guarded you against some mistakes, let it be remarked, what a comfort it is that there is an express promise that our heavenly Father will give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him. You need not then fear, however dull, or dead, or cold, your heart may be, to set about this duty. Seek, and you may fully expect to obtain, that aid of the Spirit, which will help you, and carry you through all your difficulties. Be diligent in reading the Bible, in coming to the Saviour, and in earnest entreaties for the influence of his Spirit. If you would obtain much of this divine influence, live near to your Lord, who gives it. John xiv, 16, 17.
THE INTERCESSION OF JESUS CHRIST.
YOU have now seen how the Holy Spirit assists us in prayer: his aid and the acceptance of our prayers, are obtained through the intercession of Jesus Christ. While the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is God over all, blessed for ever, it discovers to us also his mediatorial kingdom. It tells us that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Tim. ii, 5. Him has God exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give many blessed gifts to his people.
The first fruit of his ascending up on high, was the gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter shews us that the prophet Joel had foretold that full outpouring of the Holy Spirit which took place on the ascension of Jesus Christ in these words" and it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh." And after describing other effects of this outpouring, he says, "and it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Our Lord also tells his disciples that he will pray for this gift: he says, "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you FOR EVER." John xiv, 16. The gift of the Spirit and the intercession of Christ, are thus connected together in the sacred writings.