Romans 8: 26-27.—Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Here we have the teaching of God regarding the help the Holy Spirit will give us in prayer. The first half of this chapter is of much importance in connection with the teaching of God's word regarding the Spirit. In Romans vi. we read about being dead to sin and alive to God, and in Romans vii., about being dead to the law and married to Christ, and also about the impotency of the unregenerate man to do God's will. This is only a preparation to show us how helpless we are; and then in the eighth chapter comes the blessed work of the Spirit, expressed chiefly in the following words: “The Spirit hath made us free from the law of sin and death.” The Spirit makes us free from the power of sin, and teaches and leads us so that we walk after the Spirit. In our inner disposition we may become spiritually minded, and enabled to mortify the deeds of the body. The Holy Spirit helps our infirmities. Prayer is the most necessary thing in the spiritual life. Yet we do not know how to pray nor what to pray for as we ought. The Spirit, Paul tells us, prays with groanings unutterable. And again he tells us that we ourselves often do not know what the Spirit is doing within us, but there is one, God, who searches the hearts. Words often reveal my thought and my wishes, but not what is deep in my heart, and God comes and searches my heart, and deep down, hidden, what I can not see and what was to me an unutterable longing, God finds.
Powerful prayer! The confession of ignorance! Ah, friends, I am often afraid for myself as a minister that I pray too easily. I have been praying for these forty or fifty years and it becomes, as far as man is concerned, an easy thing to pray. We all have been taught to pray, and when we are called upon we can pray, but it gets far too easy, and I am afraid we think we are praying often when there is little real prayer. Now if we are to have the praying of the Holy Ghost in us one thing is needed; we must begin by feeling, “I can not pray.” When a man breaks down and can not pray, and there is a fire burning in his heart, and a burden resting upon him, there is something drawing him to God. “I know not what to pray,”—oh, blessed ignorance! We are not ignorant enough. Abraham went out not knowing whither he went; in that was an element of ignorance and also an element of faith. Jesus said to His disciples when they came with their prayer for the throne, “You know not what you ask.” Paul says, “No man knoweth the things of God but the Spirit of God.” You say, “If I am not to pray the old prayers I learned from my mother or from my professor in college or from my experience yesterday and the day before, what am I to pray?” I answer, pray new prayers, rise higher into the riches of God. You must begin to feel your ignorance. You know what we think of a student who goes to college fancying he knows everything. He will not learn much. Sir Isaac Newton said, “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” When I see a man who can not pray glibly and smoothly and readily, I say that is a mark of the Holy Spirit. When he begins in his prayers to say, “Oh, God, I want more, I want to be led deeper in. I have prayed for the heathen, but I want to feel the burden of the heathen in a new way,” it is an indication of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I tell you, beloved, if you will take time and let God lay the burden of the heathen heavier upon you until you begin to feel, “I have never prayed,” it will be the most blessed thing in your life. And so with regard to the church: We want to take up our position as members of the church of Christ in this land; and as belonging to that great body, to say, “Lord God, is there nothing that can be done to bless the church of this land and to revive it and bring it out of its worldliness and out of its feebleness?” We may confer together and conclude faithlessly, “No, we do not know what is to be done; we have no influence and power over all these ministers and their churches.” But on the other hand, how blessed to come to God and say, “Lord, we know not what to ask. Thou knowest what to grant.” The Holy Spirit could pray a hundred fold more in us if we were only conscious of our ignorance, because we would then feel our dependence upon Him. May God teach us our ignorance in prayer and our impotence, and may God bring us to say, “Lord, we can not pray; we do not know what prayer is.” Of course some of us do know in a measure what prayer is, many of us, and we thank God for what he has been to us in answer to prayer, but oh, it is only a little beginning compared to what the Holy Spirit of God teaches.
There is the first thought: our ignorance. “We know not what we should pray for as we ought;” but “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” We often hear about the work of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in working out and completing the great redemption, and we know that when God worked in the creation of the world, He was not weary, and yet we read that wonderful expression in the book of Exodus about the Sabbath day, “God rested and was refreshed.” He was refreshed, the Sabbath day was a refreshment to Him. God had to work and Christ had to work, and now the Holy Spirit works, and His secret working place, the place where all work must begin, is in the heart where He comes to teach a man how to pray. When a man begins to get an insight into that which is needed and that which is promised and that which God waits to perform, he feels it to be beyond his conception; then is the time he will be ready to say, “I can not limit the holy one of Israel by my thoughts; I give myself up in the faith that the Holy Spirit can be praying for me with groanings, with longings, that can not be expressed.” Apply that to your prayers.
There are different phases of prayer. There is worship, when a man just bows down to adore the great God. We do not take time to worship. We need to worship in secret, just to get ourselves face to face with the everlasting God, that He may overshadow us and cover us and fill us with His love and His glory. It is the Holy Spirit that can work in us such a yearning that we will give up our pleasures and even part of our business, that we may the oftener meet our God.
The next phase of prayer is fellowship. In prayer there is not only the worship of a king, but fellowship as of a child with God. Christians take far too little time in fellowship. They think prayer is just coming with their petitions. If Christ is to make me what I am to be, I must tarry in fellowship with God. If God is to let his love enter in and shine and burn through my heart, I must take time to be with Him. The smith puts his rod of iron into the fire. If he leaves it there but a short time it does not become red hot. He may take it out to do something with it and after a time put it back again for a few minutes, but this time it does not become red hot. In the course of the day he may put the rod into the fire a great many times and leave it there two or three minutes each time, but it never becomes thoroughly heated. If he takes time and leaves the rod ten or fifteen minutes in the fire the whole iron will become red hot with the heat that is in the fire. So if we are to get the fire of God's holiness and love and power we must take more time with God in fellowship. That was what gave men like Abraham and Moses their strength. They were men who were separated to a fellowship with God, and the living God made them strong. Oh, if we did but realize what prayer can do!
Another, and a most important phase of prayer is intercession. What a work God has set open for those who are His priests—intercessors! We find a wonderful expression in the prophecy of Isaiah; God says, “Let him take hold of me;” and again, “There is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.” In other passages God refers to the intercessors for Israel. Have you ever taken hold of God? Thank God, some of us have; but oh, friends, representatives of the church of Christ in the United States, if God were to show us how much there is of intense prayer for a revival through the church, how much of sincere confession of the sins of the church, how much of pleading with God and giving Him no rest till He make Jerusalem a glory in the earth, I think we should all be ashamed. We need to give up our hearts to the Holy Spirit, that He may pray for us and in us with groanings that can not be uttered.
What am I to do if I am to have this Holy Spirit within me? The Spirit wants time and room in the heart; He wants the whole being. He wants all my interest and influence going out for the honor and the glory of God; He wants me to give myself up. Beloved friend, you do not know what you could do if you would give yourself up to intercession. It is a work that a sick one lying on a bed year by year may do in power. It is a work that a poor one who has hardly a penny to give to a missionary society can do day by day. It is a work that a young girl who is in her father's house and has to help in the housekeeping can do by the Holy Spirit. People often ask: What does the Church of our day do to reach the masses? They ask, though they ask it tremblingly, for they feel so helpless: What can we do against the materialism and infidelity in places like London and Berlin and New York and Paris? We have given it up as hopeless. Ah, if men and women could be called out to band themselves together to take hold upon God! I am not speaking of any prayer union or any prayer time statedly set apart, but if the Spirit could find men and women who would give up their lives to cry to God, the Spirit would most surely come. It is not selfishness and it is not mere happiness that we seek when we talk about the peace and the rest and the blessing Christ can give. God wants us, Christ wants us, because He has to do a work; the work of Calvary is to be done in our hearts, we are to sacrifice our lives to pleading with God for men. Oh, let us yield ourselves day by day and ask God that it may please Him to let His Holy Spirit work in us.
Then comes the last thought, that God Himself comes to look with complacency upon the attitude of His child. Perhaps that poor man does not know that he is praying; perhaps he is ashamed of his prayers. So much the better. Perhaps he feels burdened and restless, but God hears, God discovers what is the mind of the Spirit, and will answer. Oh, think of this wonderful mystery, God the Father on the throne ready to grant unto us His blessings according to the riches of His glory; Christ the almighty high priest pleading day and night. His whole person is one intercession, and there goes up from Him without ceasing the pleading to the Father, “Bless thy church,” and the answer comes from the Father to the Son, and from the Son down to the church, and if it does not reach us, it is because our hearts are closed. Let us open and enlarge our hearts and say to God, “Oh that I might be a priest, to enter God's presence continually and to take hold of God and to bring down a blessing to my perishing fellowmen!” God longs to find the intercession of Jesus reflected in the hearts of His children, and where He finds it, it is a delight. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth the mind of the Spirit, because he prayeth for the saints, according to the will of God. Some one has spoken of that word, “for the saints,” as meaning the spirit of praise in the believer for the saints throughout the world. God's word continually comes to us to pray for all not to be content with ourselves. Think upon the hundreds of church members in this land, multitudes unconverted, multitudes just converted, but yet worldly and careless. Think of the thousands of nominal Christians—Christians in name, but robbing God! and can we be happy? If we bear the burden of souls, can we have this peace and joy? God gives you peace and joy with no other object than that you should be strong to bear the burden of souls in the joy of Christ's salvation.
We do not wish to say, “I am trying to be as holy as I can; what have I to do with those worldly people about me?” If there is a terrible disease in my hand, my body can not say, “I have nothing to do with it.” When the people had sinned Ezra rent his garments and bowed in the dust and made confession. He repented on the part of the people. And Nehemiah, when the nation sinned, made confession, and cast himself before God, deploring their disobedience to the God of their fathers. Daniel did the very same. And think you that we as believers have not a great work to do? Suppose we were each, persons without a single sin; just suppose it; could we then make confession? Look at Christ, without sin! He went down into the waters of baptism with sinners; He made Himself one with them. God has spoken to us to ask us if we realize what we are. He now asks us whether we belong to the church of this land, whether we have borne the burden of sin around us. Let us go to God and may He by the Holy Spirit fill our hearts with unutterable sorrow at the state of the church, and may God give us grace to mourn before Him. And when we begin to confess the sins of the church, we will begin to feel our own sins as never before. In five of the epistles to the seven churches in Asia the keynote was “Repent;” there was to be no idea of overcoming and getting a blessing unless they repented. Let us on behalf of the church of Christ repent, and God will give us courage to feel that He will revive His work.