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231

CHAPTER XIX

THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER IN THE SAINTS:
THEIR PRESENT AND ETERNAL WELFARE IN THE LOVE OF GOD

Romans viii. 26-39

IN the last paragraph the music of this glorious didactic prophecy passed, in some solemn phrases, into the minor mood. "If we share His sufferings"; "The sufferings of this present season"; "We groan within ourselves"; "In the sense of our hope we were saved." All is well. The deep harmony of the Christian's full experience, if it is full downwards as well as upwards, demands sometimes such tones; and they are all music, for they all express a life in Christ, lived by the power of the Holy Ghost. But now the strain is to ascend again into its largest and most triumphant manner. We are now to hear how our salvation, though its ultimate issues are still things of hope, is itself a thing of eternity—from everlasting to everlasting. We are to be made sure that all things are working now, in concurrent action, for the believer's good; and that his justification is sure; and that his glory is so certain that its future is, from his Lord's point of sight, present; and that nothing, absolutely nothing, shall separate him from the eternal Love.

But first comes one most deep and tender word, the last of its kind in the long argument, about the presence 232 and power of the Holy Ghost. The Apostle has the "groan" of the Christian still in his ear, in his heart; in fact, it is his own. And he has just pointed himself and his fellow believers to the coming glory, as to a wonderful antidote; a prospect which is at once great in itself and unspeakably suggestive of the greatness given to the most suffering and tempted saint by his union with his Lord. As if to say to the pilgrim, in his moment of distress, "Remember, you are more to God than you can possibly know; He has made you such, in Christ, that universal Nature is concerned in the prospect of your glory." But now, as if nothing must suffice but what is directly divine, he bids him remember also the presence in him of the Eternal Spirit, as his mighty but tenderest indwelling Friend. Even as "that blessed Hope," so, "likewise also," this blessed present Person, is the weak one's power. He takes the man in his bewilderment, when troubles from without press him, and fears from within make him groan, and he is in sore need, yet at a loss for the right cry. And He moves in the tired soul, and breathes Himself into its thought, and His mysterious "groan" of divine yearning mingles with our groan of burthen, and the man's longings go out above all things not towards rest but towards God and His will. So the Christian's innermost and ruling desire is both fixed and animated by the blessed Indweller, and he seeks what the Lord will love to grant, even Himself and whatever shall please Him. The man prays aright, as to the essence of the prayer, because (what a divine miracle is put before us in the words!) the Holy Ghost, immanent in him, prays through him.

Thus we venture, in advance, to explain the sentences which now follow. It is true that St Paul does not 233 explicitly say that the Spirit makes intercession in us, as well as for us. But must it not be so? For where is He, from the point of view of Christian life, but in us?

Then, in the same way, the Spirit also—as well as "the hope"—helps, as with a clasping, supporting hand (συναντιλαμβάνεται), our weakness,139139Read ἀσθενείᾳ. our shortness and bewilderment of insight, our feebleness of faith. For what we should pray for as we ought, we do not know; but the Spirit Itself interposes to intercede (ὑπερεντυγχάνει) for us, with groanings unutterable; but (whatever be the utterance or no utterance) the Searcher of our (τὰς) hearts knows what is the mind, the purport, of the Spirit; because God-wise,140140So we venture to render κατὰ Θεόν. with divine insight and sympathy, the Spirit with the Father, He intercedes for saints.

Did He not so intercede for Paul, and in him, fourteen years before these words were written, when (2 Cor. xii. 7-10) the man thrice asked that "the thorn" might be removed, and the Master gave him a better blessing, the victorious overshadowing power? Did He not so intercede for Monnica, and in her, when she sought with prayers and tears to keep her rebellious Augustine by her, and the Lord let him fly from her side—to Italy, to Ambrose, and so to conversion?141141Confessiones, v. 8.

But the strain rises now, finally and fully, into the rest and triumph of faith. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought"; and the blessed Spirit meets this deep need in His own way. And this, with all else that we have in Christ, reminds us of a somewhat 234 that "we know" indeed; namely, that all things, favourable or not in themselves, concur in blessing for the saints. And then he looks backward (or rather, upward) into eternity, and sees the throne, and the King with His sovereign will, and the lines of perfect and infallible plan and provision which stretch from that Centre to infinity. These "saints," who are they? From one view-point, they are simply sinners who have seen themselves, and "fled for refuge to the" one possible "hope"; a "hope set before" every soul that cares to win it. From another view-point, that of the eternal Mind and Order, they are those whom, for reasons infinitely wise and just, but wholly hidden in Himself, the Lord has chosen to be His own for ever, so that His choice takes effect in their conversion, their acceptance, their spiritual transformation, and their glory.

There, as regards this great passage, the thought rests and ceases—in the glorification of the saints. What their Glorifier will do with them, and through them, thus glorified, is another matter. Assuredly He will make use of them in His eternal kingdom. The Church, made most blessed for ever, is yet beatified, ultimately, not for itself but for its Head, and for His Father. It is to be, in its final perfectness, "an habitation of God, in the Spirit" (Eph. ii. 22). Is He not so to possess it that the Universe shall see Him in it, in a manner and degree now unknown and unimaginable? Is not the endless "service" of the elect to be such that all orders of being shall through them behold and adore the glory of the Christ of God? For ever they will be what they here become, the bondservants of their Redeeming Lord, His Bride, His vehicle of power and blessing; "having of their own nothing, in Him all, and all for Him." No self-full 235 exaltations await them in the place of light; or the whole history of sin would begin over again, in a new æon. No celestial Pharisaism will be their spirit; a look downward upon less blessed regions of existence, as from a sanctuary of their own. Who can tell what ministries of boundless love will be the expression of their life of inexpressible and inexhaustible joy? Always, like Gabriel, "in the presence," will they not always also, like him, "be sent" (Luke i. 19) on the messages of their glorious Head, in whom at length, in the "divine event," "all things shall be gathered together"?

But this is not the thought of the passage now in our hands. Here, as we have said, the thought terminates in the final glorification of the saints of God, as the immediate goal of the process of their redemption.

But we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, even for those who, purpose-wise, are His called ones. "We know it," with the cognition of faith; that is to say, because He, absolutely trustworthy, guarantees it by His character, and by His word. Deep, nay insoluble is the mystery, from every other point of view. The lovers of the Lord are indeed unable to explain, to themselves or others, how this concurrence of "all things" works out its infallible issues in them. And the observer from outside cannot understand their certainty that it is so. But the fact is there, given and assured, not by speculation upon events, but by personal knowledge of an Eternal Person. "Love God, and thou shalt know."142142See a noble poem by James Montgomery, The Lot of the Righteous.

They "love God," with a love perfectly unartificial, the genuine affection of human hearts, hearts not the less human because divinely new-created, regenerated from 236 above. Their immediate consciousness is just this; we love Him. Not, we have read the book of life; we have had a glimpse of the eternal purpose in itself; we have heard our names recited in a roll of the chosen; but, we love Him. We have found in Him the eternal Love. In Him we have peace, purity, and that deep, final satisfaction, that view of "the King in His beauty," which is the summum bonum of the creature. It was our fault that we saw it no sooner, that we loved Him no sooner. It is the duty of every soul that He has made to reflect upon its need of Him, and upon the fact that it owes it to Him to love Him in His holy beauty of eternal Love. If we could not it was because we would not. If you cannot it is because, somehow and somewhere, you will not; will not put yourselves without reserve in the way of the sight. "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good"; oh love the eternal Love.

But those who thus simply and genuinely love God are also, on the other side, "purpose-wise, His called ones"; "called," in the sense which we have found above (p. 19) to be consistently traceable in the Epistles; not merely invited, but brought in; not evangelized only, but converted. In each case of the happy company, the man, the woman, came to Christ, came to love God with the freest possible coming of the will, the heart. Yet each, having come, had the Lord to thank for the coming. The human personality had traced its orbit of will and deed, as truly as when it willed to sin and to rebel. But lo, in ways past our finding out, its free track lay along a previous track of the purpose of the Eternal; its free "I will" was the precise and fore-ordered correspondence to His "Thou shalt." It was the act of man; it was the grace of God.

Can we get below such a statement, or above it? 237 If we are right in our reading of the whole teaching of Scripture on the sovereignty of God, our thoughts upon it, practically, must sink down, and must rest, just here. The doctrine of the Choice of God, in its sacred mystery, refuses—so we humbly think—to be explained away so as to mean in effect little but the choice of man. But then the doctrine is "a lamp, not a sun." It is presented to us everywhere, and not least in this Epistle, as a truth not meant to explain everything, but to enforce this thing—that the man who as a fact loves the eternal Love has to thank not himself but that Love that his eyes, guiltily shut, were effectually opened. Not one link in the chain of actual Redemption is of our forging—or the whole would indeed be fragile. It is "of Him" that we, in this great matter, will as we ought to will. I ought to have loved God always. It is of His mere mercy that I love Him now.

With this lesson of uttermost humiliation the truth of the heavenly Choice, and its effectual Call, brings us also that of an encouragement altogether divine. Such a "purpose" is no fluctuating thing, shifting with the currents of time. Such a call to such an embrace means a tenacity, as well as a welcome, worthy of God. "Who shall separate us?" "Neither shall any pluck them out of My Father's hand." And this is the motive of the words in this wonderful context, where everything is made to bear on the safety of the children of God, in the midst of all imaginable dangers.

For whom He knew beforehand, with a foreknowledge which, in this argument, can mean nothing short of foredecision143143See e.g. xi. 2; Acts ii. 23; 1 Pet. i. 2, 20. —no mere foreknowledge of what they would do, but rather of what He would 238 do for them—those He also set apart beforehand, for conformation, deep and genuine, a resemblance due to kindred being,144144Συμμόρφους: μορφὴ is likeness not by accident but of essence. The Greek here is literally, "conformed ones of the image, etc."; as if their similitude made them part of that which they resembled. to the image, the manifested Countenance, of His Son, that He might be Firstborn amongst many brethren, surrounded by the circling host of kindred faces, congenial beings, His Father's children by their union with Himself. So, as ever in the Scriptures, mystery bears full on character. The man is saved that he may be holy. His "predestination"145145Let us banish from the idea of "predestination" all thought of a mechanical pagan destiny, and use it of the sure purpose of the living and loving God. is not merely not to perish, but to be made like Christ, in a spiritual transformation, coming out in the moral features of the family of heaven. And all bears ultimately on the glory of Christ. The gathered saints are an organism, a family, before the Father; and their vital Centre is the Beloved Son, who sees in their true sonship the fruit of "the travail of His soul."

But those whom He thus set apart beforehand, He also called, effectually drew so as truly and freely to choose Christ; and those whom He thus called to Christ, He also justified in Christ, in that great way of propitiation and faith of which the Epistle has so largely spoken; but146146Δέ: the "but" of logic. He is proving the security of the prospect of glory. those whom He thus justified, He also glorified. "Glorified": it is a marvellous past tense. It reminds us that in this passage we are placed, as it were, upon the mountain of the Throne; our finite thought is allowed to speak for once (however little it understands 239 it) the language of eternity, to utter the facts as the Eternal sees them. To Him, the pilgrim is already in the immortal Country; the bondservant is already at his day's end, receiving His Master's "Well done, good and faithful." He to whom time is not as it is to us thus sees His purposes complete, always and for ever. We see through His sight, in hearing His word about it. So for us, in wonderful paradox, our glorification is presented, as truly as our call, in terms of accomplished fact.

Here, in a certain sense, the long golden chain of the doctrine of the Epistle ends—in the hand of the King who thus crowns the sinners whose redemption, faith, acceptance, and holiness, He had, in the Heaven of His own Being, fore-willed and fore-ordered, "before the world began," above all time. What remains of the chapter is the application of the doctrine. But what an application! The Apostle brings his converts out into the open field of trial, and bids them use his doctrine there. Are they thus dear to the Father in the Son? Is their every need thus met? Is their guilt cancelled in Christ's mighty merit? Is their existence filled with Christ's eternal Spirit? Is sin thus cast beneath their feet, and is such a heaven opened above their heads? "Then what have they to fear," before man, or before God? What power in the universe, of whatever order of being, can really hurt them? For what can separate them from their portion in their glorified Lord, and in His Father's love in Him? Again we listen, with Tertius, as the voice goes on:

What therefore shall we say in view of these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He147147Ὅς γε: the particle deeply underlines the pronoun. 240 who did not spare His own true (ἰδίου) Son, but for us all handed Him over to that awful expiatory, propitiatory, darkness and death, so that He was "pleased to bruise Him, to put Him to grief" (Isai. liii. 10), all for His own great glory, but, no whit the less, all for our pure blessing; how (wonderful "how"!) shall He not also with Him, because all is included and involved in Him who is the Father's All, give us also freely all things (τὰ πάντα, "the all things that are")? And do we want to be sure that He will not, after all, find a flaw in our claim, and cast us in His court? Who will lodge a charge against God's chosen ones? Will God—who justifies them?148148Ὁ δικαιῶν: we adopt the interrogative rendering of all the clauses here. It is equally good as grammar, and far more congenial to the glowing context. Who will condemn them, if the charge is lodged? Will Christ—who died, nay rather who rose, who is on the right hand of God, who is actually (καὶ) interceding for us? (Observe this one mention in the whole Epistle of His Ascension, and His action for us above, as He is, by the fact of His Session on the Throne, our sure Channel of eternal blessing, unworthy that we are.) Do we need assurance, amidst "the sufferings of this present time," that through them always the invincible hands of Christ clasp us, with untired love? We "look upon the covenant" of our acceptance and life in Him who died for us, and who lives both for and in us, and we meet the fiercest buffet of these waves in peace. Who shall sunder us from the love of Christ? There rise before him, as he asks, like so many angry personalities,149149Observe the τίς of the question, not τί. the outward woes of the pilgrimage. Tribulation? or Perplexity? or Persecution? or Famine? 241 or Nakedness? or Peril? or Sword? As it stands written, in that deep song of anguish and faith (Psal. xliv.) in which the elder Church, one with us in deep continuity, tells her story of affliction, "For Thy sake we are done to death all the day long; we have been reckoned, estimated, as sheep of slaughter." Even so. But in these things, all of them, we more than conquer; not only do we tread upon our foes; we spoil them, we find them occasions of glorious gain,150150Cp. 1 Cor. iii. 22: "All things are yours, whether life or death." through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, life with its natural allurements or its bewildering toils, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,151151Strong documentary evidence favours the transference of "powers" to a place after "things to come." But surely rhythm, and the affinity of words, look the other way. whatever Orders of being unfriendly to Christ and His saints the vast Unseen contains, nor present things, nor things to come, in all the boundless field of circumstance and contingency, nor height, nor depth, in the illimitable sphere of space, nor any other creature, no thing, no being, under the Uncreated One, shall be able to sunder us, "us" with an emphasis upon the word and thought (ἡμας χωρίσαι), from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord—from the eternal embrace wherein the Father embosoms the Son, and, in the Son, all who are one with Him.

So once more the divine music rolls itself out into the blessed Name. We have heard the previous cadences as they came in their order; "Jesus our Lord, who was delivered because of our offences, and was raised again because of our justification" (iv. 25); "That grace might reign, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 21); "The gift of God is eternal life, in Jesus Christ our Lord" (vi. 23); 242 "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (vii. 25). Like the theme of a fugue it has sounded on, deep and high; still, always, "our Lord Jesus Christ," who is all things, and in all, and for all, to His happy believing members. And now all is gathered up into this. Our "Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption" (1 Cor. i. 33), the golden burthens of the third chapter, and the sixth, and the eighth, are all, in their living ultimate essence, "Jesus Christ our Lord." He makes every truth, every doctrine of peace and holiness, every sure premiss and indissoluble inference, to be life as well as light. He is pardon, and sanctity, and heaven. Here, finally, the Eternal Love is seen not as it were diffused into infinity, but gathered up wholly and for ever in Him. Therefore to be in Him is to be in It. It is to be within the clasp which surrounds the Beloved of the Father.

Some years ago we remember reading this passage, this close of the eighth chapter, under moving circumstances. On a cloudless January night, late arrived in Rome, we stood in the Coliseum, a party of friends from England. Orion, the giant with the sword, glimmered like a spectre, the spectre of persecution, above the huge precinct; for the full moon, high in the heavens, overpowered the stars. By its light we read from a little Testament these words, written so long ago to be read in that same City; written by the man whose dust now sleeps at Tre Fontane, where the executioner dismissed him to be with Christ; written to men and women some of whom at least, in all human likelihood, suffered in that same Amphitheatre, raised only twenty-two years after Paul wrote to the Romans, and soon made the scene of countless martyrdoms. "Do you want a 243 relic?" said a Pope to some eager visitor. "Gather dust from the Coliseum; it is all the martyrs."

We recited the words of the Epistle, and gave thanks to Him who had there triumphed in His saints over life and death, over beasts, and men, and demons. Then we thought of the inmost factors in that great victory; Truth and Life. They "knew whom they had believed"—their Sacrifice, their Head, their King. He whom they had believed lived in them, and they in Him, by the Holy Ghost given to them. Then we thought of ourselves, in our circumstances so totally different on the surface, yet carrying the same needs in their depths. Are we too to overcome, in "the things present" of our modern world, and in face of "the things to come" yet upon the earth? Are we to be "more than conquerors," winning blessing out of all things, and really living "in our own generation" (Acts xiii. 36) as the bondmen of Christ and the sons of God? Then for us also the absolute necessities are—the same Truth, and the same Life. And they are ours, thanks be to the Name of our salvation. Time hath no more dominion over them, because death hath no more dominion over Him. For us too Jesus died. In us too, by the Holy Ghost, He lives.


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