TO PRAY EFFECTUALLY
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth
our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but
the Spirit Himself 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. --Romans 8:26, 27
There are two kinds of means
requisite to promote a revival of religion; the one to influence men, the
other to influence God. The truth is employed to influence men, and
prayer to move God.
When I speak of moving God, I do
not mean that God's mind is changed by prayer, or that His disposition or
character is changed. But prayer produces such a change in us, as renders
it consistent for God to do what is would not be consistent for Him to do
When a sinner repents, that state
of feeling makes it proper for God to forgive him. So when Christians,
with the aid of the Holy Spirit, offer effectual prayer, their state of
feeling render it proper for God to answer them. He was never unwilling
to bestow the blessing on the condition that they felt right, and offered
the right kind of prayer.
Prayer is an essential link in the
chain of causes that lead to a revival; as much so as truth is. Some have
zealously used truth to convert men, and laid very little stress on
prayer. They have preached, and talked, and distributed tracts with great
zeal, and then wondered that they had so little success. The reason was
that they forgot to use the other branch of means--effectual prayer. They
overlooked the fact, that truth by itself, will never produce the
necessary effect without the Spirit of God.
Sometimes it happens that those
who are the most engaged in employing truth are not the most engaged in
prayer. This is unfortunate, for unless they--or some others--have the
spirit of prayer, the truth, by itself, will do nothing but harden men in
impenitence. Probably in the day of judgment it will be found that
nothing is ever done by the truth, used ever so zealously, unless there
is a spirit of prayer somewhere in connection with the presentation of
Others err on the other side. Not
that they lay too much stress on prayer, but they overlook the fact that
prayer might be offered forever, by itself, and nothing would be done.
Because sinners are not converted by direct contact with the Holy Ghost,
but by the truth, employed as a means. To expect the conversion of
sinners by prayer alone, without the employment of truth, is to tempt
I. WHAT SPIRIT IS SPOKEN OF IN THE
Some have supposed that the Spirit
spoken of in the text means our own spirit; our own mind. But a little
attention to the text will show plainly that this is not the meaning.
"The Spirit helpeth our infirmities" would then read: "Our
own spirit helpeth the infirmities of our spirit," and "Our own
spirit maketh intercession for our own spirit." You see you can make
no sense of it on that supposition.
It is evident from the manner in
which the text is introduced, that the Spirit referred to is the Holy
Ghost. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye
through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For
as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye
have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have
received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The Spirit
Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of
God." Rom. 8:13-16. And the text is plainly speaking of the same
II. WHAT THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES.
He intercedes for the saints.
"He maketh intercession for us," and "helpeth our infirmities."
When "we know not what to pray for as we ought," He helps us to
pray "according to the will of God," or for the things that God
desires us to pray for.
III. WHY IS THE HOLY SPIRIT THUS
Because we know not what we should
pray for as we ought. We are so ignorant both of the will of God revealed
in the Bible, and of His unrevealed will which we ought to learn from His
Providence. Mankind are vastly ignorant both of the promises and prophecies
of the Bible, and blind to the Providence of God; and they are still more
in the dark about those things of which God has said nothing but by the
teachings of His Spirit. When all other means fail of leading us to the
knowledge of what we ought to pray for, the Holy Spirit does it.
IV. HOW DOES HE MAKE INTERCESSION
FOR THE SAINTS?
1. Not by superseding the use of
our faculties. It is not by praying for us, while we do nothing. He prays
for us by exciting our own faculties. Not that He immediately suggests
the words to pray, or guides our language; but He enlightens our minds,
and makes the truth take hold of our souls. He leads us to consider the
state of the Church and the condition of sinners around us.
The manner in which He brings the
truth before the mind, and keeps it there until it produces its effect,
we cannot tell. But we can know as much as this--that He leads us to a
deep consideration of the state of things; and the natural result of this
is deep feeling. When the Spirit brings the truth before a man's mind,
there is only one way in which he can keep from feeling deeply, and that
is by turning away his thoughts, and leading his mind to think of other
Sinners, when the Spirit of God
brings the truth before them, must feel deeply. They feel wrong as long
as they remain impenitent. So, if a man is a Christian, and the Holy
Spirit brings these subjects into warm contact with his heart, it is just
as impossible he should not feel deeply, as it is that your hand should
not feel if you put it into the fire. If the Spirit of God leads a
Christian to dwell on things calculated to excite warm and overpowering
feelings, and he if not affected by them, it proves that he has no love
for souls, has nothing of the love of Christ, and knows nothing about
2. The Spirit makes Christians
feel the value of souls, and the guilt and danger of sinners in their
present condition. It is amazing how dark and stupid Christians often are
about this. Even Christian parents let their children go right down to
hell before their eyes, and scarcely seem to have a single feeling, or
put forth an effort to save them. And why? Because they are so blind to
what hell is, so unbelieving about the Bible, so ignorant of the precious
promises which God has made to faithful parents. They grieve the Spirit
of God away, and it is vain to make them pray for their children, while
the Spirit of God is away from them.
3. He leads Christians to
understand and apply the promises of the Bible. It is wonderful that in no
age have Christians been able fully to apply the promises of Scriptures
to the events of life, as they go along. This is not because the promises
themselves are obscure. The promises are plain enough. But there has
always been a disposition to overlook the Scriptures as a source of light
respecting the passing events of life.
How astonished the Apostles were
at Christ's application of so many prophecies of Himself! They seemed
continually ready to exclaim, "Astonishing! Can it be so? We never
understood it before." Who that has read the manner in which the
Apostles, influenced and inspired by the Holy Ghost, applied passages of
the Old Testament to New Testament times, has not been amazed at the
richness of meaning which they found in the Scriptures? So it has been
with many a Christian; while deeply engaged in prayer, he has seen that
passages of Scriptures are appropriate which he never thought of before
as having any such application.
I once knew an individual who was
in great spiritual darkness. He had retired for prayer, resolving that he
would not desist until he had got right with God. He kneeled down and
tried to pray; but all was dark and he could not pray. He then arose from
his knees and stood for a time; but he could not give up, for he had promised
that he would not let the sun go down before he had given himself to God.
He knelt again; but all was dark,
and his heart was as hard as before. He was nearly in despair, and said
in agony, "I have grieved the Spirit of God away, and there is no
promise for me. I am shut out of the presence of God." But his
resolution was formed not to give up, and again he knelt down. He had
said but a few words when this passage came into his mind, as fresh as if
he had just read it, "Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall
search for Me with all your heart." Jer. 29:13. He saw that though
this promise was in the Old Testament, and addressed to the Jews, it was
still as applicable to him as to them. It broke his heart like the hammer
of the Lord, in a moment. Then he prayed freely and rose up happy in God.
Thus it often happens when
professors of religion are praying for their children. Sometimes they
pray, and are in darkness and doubt, feeling as if there were no
foundation for faith, and no special promise for the children of
believers. But while they have been pleading, God has shown them the full
meaning of some promise, and their soul has rested on it as on the mighty
arm of God.
I once heard of a widow who was
greatly exercised about her children, until this passage was brought
powerfully to her mind: "Thy fatherless children, I will preserve
them alive; and let thy widows trust in Me." Jer. 49:11. She saw it
had an extended meaning, and she was enabled to lay hold on it; and then
she prevailed in prayer, and her children were converted.
The Holy Spirit was sent into the
world by the Saviour, to guide His people and instruct them, and bring
things to their remembrance, as well as to convince the world of sin.
4. The Holy Spirit leads
Christians to desire and pray for things of which nothing is specifically
said in the Word of God. Take the case of an individual. That God is
willing to save is a general truth. So it is a general truth that He is
willing to answer prayer. But how shall I find the will of God respecting
that individual, whether I can pray in faith according to the will of God
for the conversion and salvation of that individual, or not?
Here the agency of the Holy Spirit
comes in, to lead the minds of God's people to pray for those
individuals, and at those times, when God is prepared to bless them. When
we know not what to pray for, the Holy Spirit leads the mind to dwell on
some object, to consider its situation, to realize its value, and to feel
for it, and to pray and travail in birth, until the person is converted.
This sort of experience, I know, is less common in cities than it is in
some parts of the country, because of the infinite number of things in
cities to divert the attention, and grieve the Holy Spirit. I have had
much opportunity to know how it has been in some places.
I was acquainted with an
individual who used to keep a list of persons that he was especially
concerned for; and I have had the opportunity to know a multitude of
persons for whom he became thus interested, and who were immediately
converted. I have seen him pray for persons on his list, when he was
literally in an agony for them; and have sometimes known him call on some
other person to help him pray in such a case. I have known his mind to
fasten thus on an individual of hardened, abandoned character, and who
could not be reached in any ordinary way.
In a town in a northern part of
this state, where there was a revival, there was a certain individual who
was a most violent and outrageous opposer. He kept a tavern, and used to
delight in swearing at a desperate rate whenever there were Christians
within hearing, on purpose to hurt their feelings. He was so bad, that
one man said he believed that he would have to sell his place, or give it
away, and move out of town, for he could not live near a man who swore
This good man that I was speaking
of, was passing through the town one day, and heard of the case, and was
very much grieved and distressed for the individual. He took him on his
prayer list. The case weighed on his mind when he was asleep and when he
was awake. He kept thinking about him and praying for him for days. And
the first we knew of it, this ungodly man came into a meeting, and got up
and confessed his sins, and poured out his soul to God. His bar-room immediately
became the place where they held prayer meetings.
In this manner the Spirit of God
leads individual Christians to pray for things which they would not pray
for, unless they were led by Him. And thus they pray for things,
"according to the will of God." If God leads a man to pray for
an individual, the inference from the Bible is, that God designs to save
that person. If we find by comparing our state of mind with the Bible,
that we are led by the Spirit to pray for an individual, we have good evidence
to believe that God is prepared to bless him.
5. By giving to Christians a
spiritual discernment respecting the movements and developments of
Providence. Devoted, praying Christians, often see these things so
clearly, and look so far ahead, as greatly to stumble others. They
sometimes almost seem to prophesy.
No doubt, persons may be deluded,
and sometimes are, by leaning to their own understanding when they think
they are led by the Spirit. But there is no doubt that a Christian may be
made to see and discern clearly the signs of the times, so as to
understand by providence, what to expect, and thus to pray for it in
faith, when no one else can see the least sign of it. Thus they are often
led to expect a revival, and pray for it in faith, and later events
proved that they were truly led by the Spirit of God.
There was a woman in New Jersey,
in a place where there had been a revival. She was very positive that
there was going to be another. She insisted upon it that they had had the
former rain and were now going to have the latter rain. She wanted to
have special meetings appointed. But the minister and elders saw nothing
to encourage it, and would do nothing. She saw that they were blind and
so she went forward, and got a carpenter to make seats for her, for she
said she would have meetings in her own house, for there was certainly
going to be a revival.
She had scarcely opened her doors
for meetings, before the Spirit of God came down in great power. Then
those sleepy church members found themselves surrounded all at once with
convicted sinners. And they could only say, "The Lord is in this
place, and we knew it not."
The reason why such persons
understand the indications of Providence, is not because of the superior
wisdom that is in them, but because the Spirit of God leads them to see
the signs of the times. And this, not by revelation, but they are led to
see that converging of providences to a single point, which produces in
them a confident expectation of a certain result.
V. TO WHAT DEGREE MAY WE EXPECT
THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO INFLUENCE THE MINDS OF CHRISTIANS?
The text says, "The Spirit
maketh intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered." The
meaning of this I understand to be, that the Spirit excites desires too
great to be expressed except by groans. Something that language cannot
utter--making the soul too full to utter its feelings by words, where the
person can only groan them out to God, who understands the language of the
VI. HOW WE CAN KNOW THE SPIRIT'S
1. Not by feeling that some
external influence or agency is applied to us. We are not to expect to
feel our minds in direct physical contact with God. If such a thing can
be, we know of no way in which it can be made sensible. We know that we
exercise our minds freely, and that our thoughts are exercised on
something that excites our feelings. But we are not to expect a miracle
to be wrought, as if we were led by the hand, sensibly, or like something
whispered in our ear, or any miraculous manifestation of the will of God.
Christians often grieve the Spirit
away, because they do not honour Him and cherish His influences. Sinners
often do this ignorantly. They suppose that if they were under conviction
of sin by the Spirit, they would have such and such a mysterious feeling;
that a shock would come upon them which they could not mistake. Many
Christians are so ignorant of the Spirit's influences and have thought so
little about having His assistance in prayer, that when they have His
influences they do not know it, and so do not cherish and yield to them,
and preserve them.
We are sensible of nothing, when
we pray in the Spirit, only the movement of our own minds. There is
nothing else that can be felt. We are merely sensible that our thoughts
are intensely employed on a certain subject.
Christians are often unnecessarily
misled and distressed on this point, for fear they have not the Spirit of
God. They feel intensely, but they do not know what makes them feel so.
They are distressed about sinners; but should they not be distressed,
when they think of their condition? They keep thinking about them all the
time, and how can they avoid being distressed?
Now, the truth is, the very fact
that you are thinking upon them is evidence that the Spirit of God is
influencing you. Do you know that the greater part of the time these
things do not affect you so? The greater part of the time you do not
think much about the case of sinners. You know their salvation is always
equally important. But at other times, even when you are quite at
leisure, your mind is entirely dark, and vacant of any feeling for them.
But now, although you may be busy
about other things, you think, you pray, and feel intensely for them,
even while you are about business that at other times would occupy all
your thoughts. Now almost every thought you have is, "God have mercy
upon them." Why is this? Why, their case is placed in such a strong
light before your mind. Do you ask what it is that leads your mind to
exercise these benevolent feelings for sinners, and to agonize in prayer
for them? It is the Spirit of God. There are no devils that would lead
you so. If your feelings are truly benevolent, you are to consider it as
the Holy Spirit leading you to pray for things according to the will of
2. Try the spirits by the Bible.
People are sometimes led away by strange fantasies and crazy impulses. If
you compare them faithfully with the Bible, you need never be led astray.
You can always know whether your feelings are produced by the Spirit's
influences, by comparing your desires with the spirit and temper of the
Bible. The Bible commands you to try the spirits whether they be of God.
VII. HOW TO OBTAIN THE INFLUENCES
OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
1. They must be sought by fervent
believing prayer. Jesus said, "If ye then, being evil, know how to
give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly
Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" Luke 11:13. Does
any one say, "I have prayed for His influences, and they do not
come"? It is because you do not pray aright. "Ye ask, and
receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your
lusts." James 4:3. You do not pray from right motives.
A professor of religion, and a
principal member in a church, once asked a minister what he thought of
his case; he had been praying week after week for the Holy Spirit, and
had not found any benefit. The minister asked what his motive was in
praying. He said he wanted to be happy, as he knew those who had the
Spirit were happy. The minister showed him that the devil himself might
pray so. That it was mere selfishness. The man turned away in anger. He
saw that he had never known what it was to pray. He was convinced that he
was a hypocrite, and that his prayers were all selfish, dictated only by
a desire for his own happiness.
David prayed that God would uphold
him by His free Spirit, that he might teach transgressors, and turn
sinners to God. A Christian should pray for the Holy Spirit, that he may
be more useful and glorify God more; not that he himself may be more
happy. This man saw clearly where he had been in error, and he was
converted. You ought to examine and see if your prayers are not tinctured
2. Use the means adapted to stir
up your minds on this subject, and to keep your attention fixed there. If
a man prays for the Holy Spirit and then diverts his mind to other
objects, he tempts God; he swings loose from his object, and it would be
a miracle if he should get what he prays for.
How is a sinner convicted? Why, by
thinking of his sins. That is the way for a Christian to obtain deep
feeling; by thinking on the appropriate object. God is not going to pour
these things on you, without any effort on your own. You must cherish the
Take the Bible, and go over the
passages that show the condition and prospects of the world. Look at the
world, look at your children, and your neighbours, and see their
condition while they remain in sin, and persevere in prayer and effort
until you obtain the blessing of the Spirit of God to dwell in you. This
was the way, doubtless, that Dr. Watts came to have the feelings which he
described in the words of the hymn: --
My thoughts on awful subjects
Damnation and the dead;
What horrors seize the guilty soul
Upon a dying bed!
Look, at it were, through a
telescope that will bring these objects up near to you; look into hell,
and hear them groan; then turn the glass upward and look into heaven, and
see the saints there, in their white robes, with their harps in their
hands, and hear them singing the song of redeeming love; and ask
yourself--Is it possible, that I should prevail with God to elevate the
sinner there? Do this, and if you are not a wicked man, and a stranger to
God, you will soon have as much of the spirit of prayer as your body can
3. You must watch unto prayer. You
must keep a look out, and see if God grants the blessing when you ask
Him. People sometimes pray and never look to see if the prayer is
answered. Be careful also, not to grieve the Spirit of God. Confess and
forsake your sins. God will never lead you as one of His chosen ones, and
let you into His secrets, unless you confess and forsake your sins. Do
not be always confessing and never forsaking your sins; but confess and
forsake too. Make redress wherever you have committed an injury. You
cannot expect to get the spirit of prayer first, and then see to these
matters after. You cannot fight in through so. Professors of religion,
who are proud and unyielding, and who justify themselves, will never
force God to dwell with them. They must yield to God's terms.
4. Aim to obey perfectly the law
of God. In others words, have no fellowship with sin. Aim at living
entirely above the world; "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your
Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matt. 5:48. If you ever sin
at all, let it be your daily grief. The man who does not aim at this,
means to live in sin. Such a man need not expect God's blessing, for he
is not sincere in desiring to keep all His commandments.
5. Pray in the name of Jesus. You
cannot come to God in your own name. You cannot plead your own merits.
But you can come in a Name that is always acceptable. You know what it is
to use the name of a man. If you should go to the bank with a draft or
note, endorsed by a millionaire, that would be giving you his name, and
you know you could get the money from the bank just as well as he could
himself. Now, Jesus gives you the use of His name, and when you pray in
the name of Jesus the meaning of it is, that you can prevail just as well
as He could Himself, if He were to pray for the same things.
VIII. FOR WHOM DOES THE SPIRIT
"He maketh intercession for
the saints," for all saints, for any who are saints.
Why is it that so little stress is
laid on the influences of the Holy Spirit in prayer? Many lay great
stress on the Spirit's influence in converting sinners. But how little is
said, how little is printed, about His influences in prayer! How little
complaining that people do not make enough of the Spirit's influences in
leading Christians to pray according to the will of God!
Let it never be forgotten that no
Christian ever prays aright, unless he is led by the Spirit. He has
natural power to pray, and so far as the will of God is revealed, he is
able to do it; but he never does so effectually, unless the Spirit of God
influences him. Just as sinners are able to repent, but never do, unless
influenced by the Spirit.
This subject lays open the
foundation of the difficulty felt by many persons on the subject of the
Prayer of Faith. They object to the idea that faith in prayer is a belief
that we shall receive the very thing for which we ask; and insist that
there can be no foundation or evidence upon which to rest such a belief.
In a sermon published a few years ago on this subject, the writer brings
forward this difficulty.
"I have," says he,
"no evidence that the thing prayed for will be granted, until I have
prayed in faith; because, praying in faith is the condition upon which it
is promised. And, of course, I cannot claim the promise until I have
fulfilled the condition.
Now, if the condition is, that I
am to believe I shall receive the very blessing for which I ask, it is
evident that the promise is given upon the performance of an impossible
condition, and is of course, a mere nullity. The promise would amount to
just this: You shall have whatsoever you ask, upon the condition that you
first believe that you shall receive it. Now, I must fulfill the
condition before I can claim the promise. But I can have no evidence that
I shall receive it, until I believed that I shall receive it. This
reduces me to the necessity of believing that I shall receive it, before
I have any evidence that I shall receive it--which is impossible."
The whole force of this objection
arises out of the fact, that the Spirit's influences are entirely
overlooked, which He exerts in leading an individual to the exercise of
faith; and that faith which is produced only by the operation of God, is
also left out of the question. The fact is, that the Spirit of God can
give evidence, on which to believe that any particular blessing will be
granted. He can lead the mind to a firm reliance upon God, and trust that
the blessings sought will be obtained.
The influences of the Holy Spirit
are not miraculous. Praying is the same thing whether you pray for the
conversion of a soul, or for a miracle. Faith is the same thing in the
once case as in the other; it only terminates on a different object; in
the one case on the conversion of a soul, and in the other on the
performance of a miracle.
Nor is faith exercised in the one
more than in the other, without reference to a promise. A general promise
may with the same propriety, be applied to the conversion of a soul, as
to the performance of a miracle. And it is equally true in the one case
as in the other, that no man ever prays in faith without being influenced
by the Spirit of God. If the Spirit could lead the mind of an apostle to
exercise faith in regard to a miracle, He can lead the mind of a
Christian to exercise faith in regard to receiving any other blessing, by
a reference to the same general promise.
Should anyone ask, "When are
we under obligation to believe that we shall receive the blessing for
which we ask?" I answer: --
(a) When there is a particular
promise specifying the particular blessing: as when we pray for the Holy
Spirit. He is particularly named in the promise, Luke 11:13, and here we
have evidence and are bound to believe, whether we have any Divine
influence or not: just as sinners are bound to repent whether the Spirit
strives with them or not. Their obligation rests not upon the Spirit's
influences, but upon their ability to do their duty. And while it is true
that not one of them ever will repent without the influences of the
Spirit, still they have the power to do so, and are under obligation to
do so, whether the Spirit strives with them or not. So with the
Christian, he is bound to believe where he has evidence. And although he
never does believe, even where he has an express promise, without the aid
of the Spirit of God, yet this obligation to do so rests upon his
ability, and not upon the Divine influence.
(b) Where God makes a revelation
by His Providence, we are bound to believe in proportion to the clearness
of the providential indication.
(c) Where there is a prophecy, we
are also bound to believe. But in neither of these cases do we, in fact,
believe, without the Spirit of God.
But where there is neither
promise, providence, nor prophecy, on which we can repose our faith, we
are under no obligation to believe, unless, as I have shown in this
discourse, the Spirit gives us evidence, by creating desires, and by
leading us to pray for a particular object.
In the case of those promises of a
general nature, where we are honestly at a loss to know in what
particular cases to apply them, it may be considered rather as our
privilege than as our duty, in many instances, to apply them to
particular cases; but whenever the Spirit of God leads us to apply them
to a particular object, then it becomes our duty to apply them. In this
case, God explains His own promise, and shows how He designed it should
be applied. Then our obligation to make this application, and to believe
in reference to this particular object, remains in full force.
Some have supposed that Paul
prayed in faith for the removal of the "thorn in the flesh,"
and that it was not granted. But they cannot prove that Paul prayed in
faith. He had neither promise, nor prophecy, nor providence, nor the
Spirit of God, to lead him to believe. The Spirit of God would not lead
him to pray for that which was not according to the will of God.
I have dwelt the more upon this
subject, because I want to have it made so plain, that you will all be
careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit. I want you to have high ideas of
Him, and to feel that no good will be done without His influences. That
no praying or preaching will be of any avail without Him. Even if Jesus
were to come down here and preach to sinners, not one would be converted
without the influences of the Holy Spirit. Be careful then not to grieve
Him away, by slighting or neglecting His heavenly influences when He
invites you to pray.
In praying for an object, it is
necessary to persevere until you obtain it. Oh, with what eagerness
Christians sometimes pursue a sinner in their prayers, when the Spirit of
God has fixed their desires upon him! No miser pursues his gold with so
fixed a determination.
The fear of being led by
influences and impulses has done great injury, because it has not been
duly considered. A person's mind may be led by an evil influence; but we
do wrong, if we let the fear of impulses lead us to resist the good
impulses of the Holy Ghost. No wonder Christians have not the spirit of
prayer if they are unwilling to take the trouble to distinguish between
the holy influences of the Spirit of God, and selfish or evil impulses.
A great deal has been said about
fanaticism that is very unguarded, and that has caused many minds to
reject the leadings of the Spirit of God. "As many as are led by the
Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Rom. 8:14. And it is our
duty to "try the spirits whether they are of God." 1 John 4:1.
We should insist on a close scrutiny, and an accurate discrimination.
There must be such a thing as being led by the Holy Spirit. And when we
are convinced that we are being led of God, we should be sure to follow with
full confidence that He will not lead us wrong.
We see from this subject the
absurdity of using forms of prayer. The very idea of using a form
rejects, of course, the leadings of the Spirit. Nothing is more
calculated to destroy the spirit of prayer, and entirely to darken and
confuse the mind, as to what constitutes prayer, than to use set forms.
Forms of prayer are not only absurd in themselves, but they are the very
devise of the devil to destroy the spirit and break the power of prayer.
It is of no use to say the form is
a good one. Prayer does not consist in words; and it matters not what the
words are, if the heart is not led by the Spirit of God. If the desire is
not kindled, the thoughts directed, and the whole current of feeling
produced and led by the Spirit of God, it is not prayer. And set forms
are, of all things, best calculated to keep an individual from praying as
This subject furnishes a test of
character. The Spirit maketh intercession for whom? For the saints. Those
who are saints are thus exercised. If you are saints you know by
experience what it is to be thus exercised, or if not it is because you
have grieved the Spirit of God, so that He will not lead you. You live in
such a manner that this Holy Comforter will not dwell with you, nor give
you the spirit of prayer.
If this is so, you must repent.
Whether you are a Christian or not, do not stop to settle that, but
repent, as if you never had repented. Do your first works. Do not take it
for granted that you are a Christian, but go, like a humble sinner, and
pour out your heart unto the Lord. You can never have the spirit of
prayer in any other way.
It is important to understand the
subject of prayer:
(a) In order to be useful. Without
the spirit of prayer there can be no such sympathy between you and God,
that you can either walk with God or work with God. You need to have a
strong beating of your heart with His, or you cannot expect to be greatly
(b) As important to your
sanctification. Without such a spirit you will not be sanctified, you
will not understand the Bible, you will not know how to apply it in your
case. I want you to feel the importance of having God with you all the
time. If you live as you ought, He says He will come unto you, and make
His abode with you, and sup with you, and you with Him.
If people know not the spirit of
prayer, they are very apt to be unbelieving in regard to the results of
prayer. They do not see what takes place, or do not see the connection,
or do not see the evidence. They are not expecting spiritual blessings.
When sinners are convicted, they think they are only frightened by such
terrible preaching. And when people are converted, they feel no
confidence, and only say, "We will see how they turn out."
Those who have the spirit of
prayer know when the blessing comes. It was just so when Christ appeared.
Those ungodly doctors of the law did not know Him. Why? Because they were
not praying for the redemption of Israel. But Simeon and Anna knew Him.
How was that? Mark what they said, how they prayed, and how they lived.
They were praying in faith, and so they were not surprised when He came.
So it is with such Christians. If sinners are convicted and converted,
they are not surprised at it. They are expecting just such things. They
know God when He comes, because they are looking out for His visits.
There are three classes of persons
in the Church who are liable to error, or have left the truth out of
view, on the subject.
(a) Those who place great reliance
on prayer in seeking to promote a revival, and use no other means. They
are alarmed at any special means of spreading the Gospel, and talk about
your "getting up a revival."
(b) Over against these there are
those who use means, and pray, but never think about the influences of
the Spirit in prayer. They talk about prayer for the Spirit, and feel the
importance of the influences of the Spirit in the conversion of sinners,
but do not realize the importance of the Spirit in prayer. Their prayers
are all cold talk, nothing that anybody can feel, or that can take hold
(c) Those who have certain strange
notions about the sovereignty of God, and who are waiting for God to
convert the world without prayer or the preaching of the Gospel.
There must be in the Church a
deeper sense of the need of the spirit of prayer. The fact is, that,
generally, those who use means most assiduously, and make the most
strenuous efforts for the salvation of men, and who have the most correct
notions of the manner in which means should be used for converting
sinners, also pray most for the Spirit of God and wrestle most with God
for His blessing. And what is the result? Let facts speak, and say
whether these persons do or do not pray, and whether the Spirit of God
does not testify to their prayers, and follow their labours with His
A spirit very different from the
spirit of prayer appears to prevail in the majority of the churches.
Nothing will produce an excitement and opposition so quickly as the
spirit of prayer. If any person should feel burdened with the case of
sinners, in prayer, so as to groan in his prayer, why, the women are
nervous, and he is visited at once with rebuke and opposition.
From my soul I abhor all
affectation of feeling where there is none, and all attempts to work
one's self up into feeling by groans. But I feel bound to defend the
position, that there is such a thing as being in a state of mind in which
there is but one way to keep from groaning, and that is by resisting the
I was once present when this subject
was discussed. It was said that groaning ought to be discountenanced. The
question was asked whether God could produce such a state of feeling in a
Christian, that to abstain from groaning would be impossible. And the
answer was, "Yes, but He never does." If that be true the
Apostle Paul was greatly deceived when he wrote about groanings that
cannot be uttered: Jonathan Edwards was deceived when he wrote his book
on revivals, and revivals are all in the dark.
Now, no man who reviews the
history of the Church will adopt such a sentiment. I do not like this
attempt to shut out, or stifle, or keep down, or limit, the spirit of
prayer. I would sooner cut off my right hand than rebuke the spirit of
prayer, as I have heard of its being done by saying, "Don't let me
hear any more groaning."
I should like to discuss this
subject for a month, until the whole Church could understand it, so as to
pray the prayer of faith. Beloved, I want to ask you, will you give
yourselves up to prayer and live so as to have the spirit of prayer, and
have the Holy Spirit with you all the time? Oh, for a praying church!
I once knew a minister who had a
revival fourteen winters in succession. I did not know how to account for
it, until I saw one of his church members get up in a prayer meeting and
make a confession. "Brethren," said he, "I have been long
in the habit of praying every Saturday night until after midnight, for
the descent of the Holy Ghost among us. And now, brethren," and he
began to weep, "I confess that I have neglected for two or three
weeks." The secret was out: that minister had a praying church.
Brethren, in my present state of
health, I find it impossible to pray as much as I have been in the habit
of doing, and at the same time continue to preach. It overcomes my strength.
Now, shall I give myself up to pray and stop preaching? That will not do.
Now, will not you, who are in health, throw yourselves into this work,
and bear this burden, and lay yourselves out in prayer, until God will
pour out His blessing upon us?
POWER FROM ON HIGH
I. WHAT IS IT
The apostles and brethren on the
Day of Pentecost received a powerful baptism of the Holy Ghost, a vast
increase of divine illumination. This baptism imparted a great diversity
of gifts that were used for the accomplishment of their work. It included
the following things. The power of a holy life. The power of a
self-sacrificing life. The power of a cross-bearing life. The power of
great meekness. The power of a loving enthusiasm in proclaiming the
Gospel. The power of teaching. The power of a loving and living faith.
The gift of tongues. An increasing of power to work miracles. The gift of
inspiration, or the revelation of many truths before unrecognized by
them. The power of moral courage to proclaim the Gospel and do the
bidding of Christ, whatever it cost them.
In their circumstances all these
enduements were essential to their success; but neither separately nor
all together did they constitute that power from on high which Christ
promised, and which they manifestly received. That which they manifestly
received as the supreme, crowning, and all important means of success,
was the power to prevail with both God and man, the power to fasten
SAVING IMPRESSIONS upon the minds of men.
This last was doubtless the thing
which they understood Christ to promise. He had commissioned the Church
to evangelize the world. All that I have named above were only means,
which could never secure the end, unless they were vitalized and made
effectual by the power of God.
The apostles, doubtless,
understood this; and, laying themselves and their all upon the altar,
they besieged the Throne of Grace in the spirit of entire consecration of
They did in fact receive the gifts
above mentioned; but supremely and principally this power to savingly
impress men. It was manifested upon the spot. They began to address the
multitude; and wonderful to tell, three thousand were converted the same
hour. But, observe, there was no new power manifested by them upon this
occasion, save the gifts of tongues. They wrought no miracle at that
time, and used these tongues simply as the means of making themselves
Let it be noted that they had not
had time to exhibit any other gifts of the Spirit which have been above
named. They had not at that time the advantage of exhibiting a holy life,
or any of the powerful graces and gifts of the Spirit. What was said on
the occasion, as recorded in the book of Acts, could not have made the
impression that it did, had it not been uttered by them with a new power
to make a saving impression upon the people.
This power was not the power of
inspiration, for they only declared certain facts of their own knowledge.
It was not the power of human learning and culture, for they had but
little. It was not the power of human eloquence, for there appears to
have been but little of it. It was God speaking in and through them. It
was a power from on high--God in them making a saving impression upon
those to whom they spoke.
This power to savingly impress,
abode with and upon them. It was, doubtless, the great and main thing
promised by Christ, and received by the apostles and early Christians. It
has existed to a greater or less extent, in the Church ever since. It is
a mysterious fact, often manifested in a most surprising manner.
Sometimes a single sentence, a word, a gesture, or even a look, will
convey this power in an overcoming manner.
To the honour of God alone I will
relate a little of my own experience in this matter. I was powerfully
converted on the morning of the 10th of October, 1821. In the evening of
the same day, and on the morning of the following day, I received
overwhelming baptisms of the Holy Ghost, that went through me, as it
seemed to me, body and soul. I immediately found myself endued with such
power from on high that a few words dropped here and there to
individuals, were the means of their immediate conversion. My words
seemed to fasten like barbed arrows in the souls of men. They cut like a
sword. They broke the heart like a hammer. Multitudes can attest to this.
Sometimes I would find myself, in
a great measure, empty of this power. I would go out and visit, and find
that I had made no saving impression. I would exhort and pray with the
same result. I would then set apart a day for private fasting and prayer,
fearing that this power had departed from me, and would enquire anxiously
after the reason of this apparent emptiness. After humbling myself, and
crying out for help, the power would return upon me with all its
freshness. This has been the experience of my life.
I could fill a volume with the
history of my own experience and observation with respect to this power
from on high. It is a fact of consciousness and observation, but a great
mystery. I have said that sometimes a look has in it the power of God. I
have often witnessed this.
I once preached for the first time
in a manufacturing village. The next morning I went into a manufacturing
establishment to view its operations. As I passed into the weaving
department I beheld a great company of young women, some of whom, I
observed were looking at me, and then at each other, in a manner that
indicated a trifling spirit, and that they knew me. I, however, knew none
of them. As I approached nearer to those who had recognized me they
seemed to increase in their manifestations of lightness of mind.
Their levity made a peculiar
impression upon me; I felt it to my very heart. I stopped short and
looked at them, I know not how, as my whole mind was absorbed with the
sense of their guilt and danger. As I settled my countenance upon them I
observed that one of them became very agitated. A thread broke. She
attempted to mend it; but her hands trembled in such a manner that she
could not do it. I immediately observed that the sensation was spreading,
and had become universal among that class of triflers. I looked steadily
at them until one after another gave up and paid no more attention to
their looms. They fell on their knees, and the influence spread through
the whole room. I had not spoken a word; and the noise of the looms would
have prevented my being heard if I had. In a few minutes all work was
abandoned, and tears and lamentations filled the room.
At this moment the owner of the
factory, who was himself an unconverted man, came in, accompanied, I
believe, by the superintendent, who was a professed Christians. When the
owner saw the state of things he said to the superintendent, "Stop
the mill." What he saw seemed to pierce him to the heart. "It
is more important," he hurriedly remarked, "that these souls
should be saved, than that this mill should run."
As soon as the noise of the
machinery had ceased, we had a marvelous meeting. I prayed with them, and
gave them such instructions as at the time they could bear. The Word was
with power. Many expressed hope that day; and within a few days as I was
informed, nearly every hand in that great establishment, together with
the owner, had hope in Christ.
This power is a great marvel. I
have many times seen people unable to endure the Word. The most simple
and ordinary statements would cut men off from their seats like a sword,
would take away their bodily strength, and render them almost as helpless
as dead men. Several times it has been true in my experience that I could
not raise my voice, or say anything in prayer or exhortation except in
the mildest manner, without wholly overcoming those who were present.
This was not because I was preaching terror to the people; the sweetest
sound of the Gospel would overcome them.
This power seems to pervade the
atmosphere of one who is highly charged with it. Many times great numbers
of persons in a community will be clothed with this power, when the very
atmosphere of the whole place seems to be charged with the life of God.
Strangers coming into it, and passing through the place, will be
instantly struck with conviction of sin, and in many instances converted
When Christians humble themselves,
and consecrate their all afresh to Christ, and ask for this power, they
will often receive such a baptism that they will be instrumental in
converting more souls in one day, than in all their lifetime before.
While Christians remain humble enough to retain this power, the work of
conversion will go on, until whole communities and regions of country are
converted to Christ.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF RECEIVING
Let us borrow a little light from
the Scriptures. Before Pentecost the disciples had already been converted
to Christ. But conversion to Christ is not to be confounded with
consecration to the great work of the world's conversion. When Christ had
dispelled their great bewilderment resulting from His crucification, and
confirmed their faith by repeated interviews with them, He gave them
their great commission to win all nations to Himself. But He admonished
them to tarry at Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high,
which He said they should receive not many days hence.
Now observe what they did. They
assembled, the men and women, for prayer. They accepted the commission,
and doubtless, came to an understanding of the nature of the commission,
and the necessity of the spiritual enduement which Christ had promised.
They must have renounced utterly the idea of living to themselves in any
form, and devoted themselves with all their powers to the work set before
them. This consecration of themselves to the work, this
self-renunciation, this dying to all that the world could offer them,
must, in the order of nature, have preceded their intelligent seeking of
the promised enduement of power from on high.
How did they wait? Not in
listlessness and inactivity; not in making preparation by study and
otherwise to get along without it. They understood that it was to be a
baptism of the Holy Ghost. They prayed in faith. They held on until the
We, as Christians, have the same
commission to fulfill. We have the same promise that they had. They were
Christians and had a measure of the Spirit to lead them in prayer and
consecration. So have we. Let us, then, not grieve or resist Him; but
accept the commission, fully consecrate ourselves, with all we have, to
the saving of souls as our great and only life-work. Let us get on the
altar with all we have and are, and persist in prayer until we receive
the enduement of power.
It is of the utmost importance
that all Christians should understand that this commission to convert the
world is given to them by Christ individually. Every one has the great
responsibility devolved upon him or her, to win as many souls as possible
for Christ. There are a great many departments in this work, but in every
department we may or ought to possess this power, that, whether we
preach, or pray, or write, or print, or travel, take care of children, or
administer the government of the state, or whatever we do, our whole life
and influence should be permeated with this power. Jesus said, "He
that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living
The reception of this enduement of
power is instantaneous. I do not mean to assert that in every instance
the recipient was aware of the precise time at which the power commenced
to work mightily within him. It may have commenced like the dew and
increased to a shower.
The want of an enduement of power
from on high should be deemed a disqualification for a pastor, a deacon
or elder, a Sunday School superintendent, a professor in a Christian
College, and especially for a professor in a theological seminary. The
churches should inform themselves, and look to those seminaries which
furnish, not merely the best educated, but the most unctuous and
spiritually powerful ministers.
From the time of the apostles to
the present day it has been seen that men of very little human culture,
but endued with this power, have been highly successful in winning souls
to Christ; whilst men of the greatest learning, with all that the schools
have done for them, have been powerless so far as the proper work of the
ministry is concerned.
THE HOLY SPIRIT'S TEACHING
When He the Spirit of truth is
come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of
himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will
show you things to come. John 16:13
The doctrine of the necessity of
Divine teaching, to enlighten and sanctify the minds of men, is
abundantly taught in the Bible, and is generally maintained, as a matter
of opinion at least, in all orthodox churches.
In discoursing on this subject I
I. HOW FAR THE REASON OF MAN,
UNAIDED BY DIVINE ILLUMINATION, IS CAPABLE OF APPREHENDING SPIRITUAL
1. The mind of man is capable of
understanding the historical facts of religion, just as it comprehends
any other historical facts.
2. The mind of man is capable of
understanding the doctrinal propositions of the Gospel; such as the being
and character of God, the divine authority and inspiration of the
Scriptures, and other fundamental doctrines.
For instance, to enter a little
into detail a man by his reason may understand the law of God. He can
understand that it requires him to exercise perfect love towards God and
all other things.
So likewise, he can see that he is
a sinner, and that he cannot be saved by his own works. He has broken
God's law, so that the law can never justify him. He can see that if he
is ever saved, it will be through mere mercy, by an act of pardon.
II. I WILL SHOW WHEREIN OUR
KNOWLEDGE OF THE THINGS OF RELIGION IS NECESSARILY DEFECTIVE, WITHOUT THE
TEACHING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Knowledge, to avail anything
towards effecting its object, must be such as will influence the mind.
The will must be controlled. And to do this, the mind must have such a
view of things to excite emotion, corresponding to the object in view.
Mere intellectual knowledge will never move the soul to act.
In the case of sinners: to
influence sinners to love God, they must have a degree of light such as
will powerfully excite the mind, and produce strong emotions. The reason
for obedience must be made to appear with great strength and vividness to
their minds, so as to subdue their rebellious hearts and bring them
voluntarily to obey God. This is effectual knowledge of the Gospel. This
men never have, and never can have, without the aid of the Spirit of God.
If men were disposed to do right, I know not how far their knowledge,
attainable by unaided reason, might avail. But, as they are universally
and totally indisposed to obey God, this knowledge will never do it. I
will mention some of the reasons:
1. All the knowledge we can have
of spiritual things, is by analogy or comparison. Our minds are here shut
up in the body, and we derive all our ideas from external objects,
through the senses.
It is easily seen that all the
ideas concerning spiritual things, conveyed to our minds in this way,
must be extremely imperfect, and that we do not, after all, get the true
idea in our minds. The Jewish types were probably the most forcible means
which God could then use, for giving to the Jews a correct idea of the
Yet, it is manifest that the ideas
that were communicated in this way were extremely imperfect; and that,
without divine illumination to make them see the reality more fully than
they could by unaided reason, they never would have got any effectual
knowledge of the plan of redemption in this way.
So, when we find in the Bible
descriptions of heaven and hell, or anything in the invisible world, it
is plain that from words we can get no true ideas at all adequate to the
2. The wickedness of our hearts is
so great, as to pervert our judgment, and shut out from our minds much
that we might understand of the things of religion.
3. Prejudice is a great obstacle
to the reception of correct knowledge concerning religion. The general
truth is this: without divine illumination men can understand from the
Bible enough to convict and condemn them, but not enough to sanctify and
III. THE SPIRIT OF GOD ALONE CAN
GIVE US THIS ILLUMINATION.
Jesus told His apostles, "It
is expedient for you that I go away: for if it go not away, the Comforter
will not come unto you." The word here translated Comforter,
properly means a helper or teacher. "When He is come He will reprove
the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin because
they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and
ye see Me no more; of judgment because the prince of this world is
Again He said, "The Comforter
which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall
teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,
whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:26. Here you see the
office of the Spirit of God is to instruct mankind in regard to the
things of religion.
THE MANNER in which the Spirit of
God does this, is what we can never know in this world. But the fact is
undeniable, that He can reach the mind without the use of words, and can
put our minds in possession of the ideas themselves, of which the types,
or figures, or words of the human teacher, are only the signs or imperfect
What Christian does not know this,
as a matter of fact? What Christian does not know, from his own
experience, that the Spirit of God does lead him instantly to see
something in a passage of Scripture, which all his study, and effort of
mind to know the meaning of, could never have given him.
IV. DIVINE TEACHING MAY BE HAD BY
ALL MEN FREELY UNDER THE GOSPEL.
Jesus said, "Ask, and it
shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened unto you." "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts
to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy
Spirit to them that ask Him?" Luke 11:9, 13. "All things
whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
V. I WILL SHOW THE REASONS WHY
SOME DO NOT HAVE AS MUCH DIVINE ILLUMINATION AS THEY NEED.
1. They do not ask for it in such
a manner or degree as they need it.
2. They ask amiss, or from selfish
motives. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may
consume it upon your lusts." James 4:3
3. They do not use the proper
means to attain what they ask. Suppose a person neglects his Bible, and
yet asks God to give him a deep knowledge of the things of religion: that
is tempting God.
4. Another reason is, that they
DEPEND on the instructions and means, as if they were effectual without
divine influence. How many rely on the instructions they receive from
ministers, or commentaries, or books, or their own powers of enquiry, not
recognizing that all these things, without the Spirit of God, will only
kill, but can never make alive: can only damn, but can never save.
They are blind leaders of the
blind, who attempt to teach the things of religion to others, without
being themselves taught of God.
This is applicable both to
preachers and to teachers in Sabbath Schools and Bible classes. If any of
them attempt to teach the Scriptures without being themselves taught of
God, they are no more fit to teach than the most ignorant person in the
streets is fit to teach astronomy.
I fear that both ministers and
teachers generally, have understood very little of their NEED of this
divine teaching, and have felt very little the necessity of praying over
their sermons and Bible lessons, until they feel confident that the
Spirit of God has possessed their minds with the true idea of the
particular portion of the Word of God. If this were done as it ought to
be, their instructions would be far more effectual than we now see them.
Our Saviour prayed, "Sanctify
them through Thy truth." John 17:17. This grand means of
sanctification must be more richly enjoyed before the Church will know
what entire sanctification means. They do not understand the Bible, and
the reason is: THEY HAVE NOT GONE TO THE AUTHOR or His explanation of it.
Although they may have this blessed privilege every day, of carrying the
book to the Author for His explanation; yet how little do church members
know of the Bible, which they are conscious they have been taught to know
by the Holy Ghost!
Will you do this? Will you lay
your hearts open to God, and not give Him rest, until He has filled you
with divine knowledge? Will you search the Scriptures? I have often been
asked by young converts, and young men preparing for the ministry, what
they should read: READ THE BIBLE! I would give the same answer five
hundred times. Over and above all other things, study the Bible