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Chapter XXXVIII.

Seven Helps Or Aids For Our Infirmities In Prayer.

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.Rom. 8:26, 27.

Since our prayers are, alas! very weak and imperfect, let us see what assistance God has given us in his holy word, in order to help us in that duty.

2. The first help is our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 1 John 2:2. He is our advocate, and pleads our cause before God, when we are hardly able to express what we want. He is therefore called the Logos, or the eternal Word of the Father, because God by him has discovered his will to us; as He is also called the Mediator, because He pleads our cause before God. A type of Him we have in Moses, the mediator of the Old Testament; to whom the people, flying from the face of God in Mount Sinai, said, “Speak thou with us” (Exod. 20:19). And when Moses complained that he was slow of speech, and of a slow tongue, when he was commanded to appear before Pharaoh; God tells him, “Aaron, thy brother, can speak well. He shall be to thee instead of a mouth.” Exod. 4:10, 14, 16. So we also, when we should pray, are dull and slow of speech, and therefore we must fly to Christ, our heavenly Aaron, who is to us instead of a mouth. The same thing is expressed to us by the mercy-seat. Exod. 25:17, 21. Therefore Christ commands us to pray in his name (John 16:23), who is our eternal High Priest, having an everlasting priesthood (Heb. 7:16), interceding for us (Rom. 8:34), “in whom we have boldness, and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Eph. 3:12.

3. The second help is God the Holy Ghost. “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace, and of supplication.” Zech. 12:10. This spirit is given us as a testimony of the divine grace, and of our adoption. Hence St. John says, “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” 1 John 4:13. And St. Paul, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Rom. 8:15, 16. He was also typified by the anointing of the priests under the law. Exod. 28:41; 29:7. Thus God has anointed us with the Spirit of Christ (1 John 2:20); that we should offer to him daily the fruit of our lips. Ps. 69:30, 31; Heb. 13:15. This Spirit of God is the author of all those devout aspirations which we meet with, such as: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do.” Dan. 9:19.

4. The third help to strengthen us in prayer, is found in the promises of God. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.” Ps. 50:15. “He shall call upon me, and I will answer 299 him.” Ps. 91:15. See also Ps. 145:19; Luke 11:11, 13, and 18. “Before they call, I will hear.” Isa. 60:24. “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers.” Ps. 34:16. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” Joel 2:32. “Ask, seek, knock.” Matt. 7:7. “The Lord is rich (in mercy, Eph. 2:4) to all that call upon him.” Rom. 10:12. See also Luke 11:11-13; 18:6, 7.

5. The fourth help in prayer, is the remembrance of the saints, whose prayers God has heard. Look at the examples of the ancients, and be strengthened. And, indeed, we must needs be so, when we seasonably call to mind instances of God's providence and divine assistance. Upon this foundation all the prophets of old built their prayers. Thus, when God was angry with Israel for the sin of the golden calf, and said to Moses: “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them” (Ex. 32:10); “then Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,” as the Psalmist expresses it (Ps. 106:23), putting God in mind of his former mercies, saying, “Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt, with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak and say, For mischief did he bring them out to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people, etc. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Exod. 32:11-14.

6. David had recourse to the same remedy in almost all his Psalms; putting God in mind, as it were, of his former mercies, goodness, and faithfulness. So Ps. 25:6, “Remember thy tender mercies.” Ps. 77:5, etc., “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times,” etc. Ps. 85:1-6, “Lord, thou hast been favorable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people; thou hast covered all their sin. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath; thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger. Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. Wilt thou be angry with us forever? Wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again; that thy people may rejoice in thee?”

7. How admirably does the prophet Isaiah use the same form of supplication (chap. 63:10-16), putting God in mind of his former mercies, and opening, as it were, by this key, the immense treasures of his compassion. “Where is he that brought them up out of the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses, with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as a horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name. Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory; where is thy zeal, and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels, and of thy mercies towards me? Are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel 300 acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.”

8. This prayer of the prophet is founded upon these arguments: (1.) Because the love of God is eternal, therefore it will not be withheld from me. (2.) I acknowledge myself to be a sinner but, at the same time, I remember that thy grace has been extended to sinners who repented. “Remember not the sins of my youth.” Ps. 25:7. (3.) My sins have been very great, but let thy mercy also be great. (4.) Remember that I am the work of thine own hands. “Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again? Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” Job 10:9, 12.

9. The fifth comfort in prayer is, the tender love of God to mankind, and his promises to help the afflicted. “Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.” Ps. 25:18. Again, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Ps. 34:6. Thus we are assured that God does not despise the miseries of the distressed, although proud men may do it. For God judges not as corrupt man judges; he has not eyes of flesh, nor doth he see as man seeth. Job 10:4. And as it generally happens among us, that the more need a man has of friends, the fewer he finds; so, on the other hand, God has a more tender and particular regard for him that is destitute and afflicted. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Ps. 34:18. “Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.” Ps. 10:14. And, indeed, such are the proper objects of divine mercy. To enhance the comfort and certainty of these promises, the Psalmist mentions various classes of the afflicted; so that none who are in distress may despair: “The Lord executeth judgment for the oppressed; which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners; the Lord openeth the eyes of the blind; the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down; the Lord loveth the righteous; the Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widows.” Ps. 146:7-9. To this may be referred what the prophet Isaiah says, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.” Isa. 66:2. And “The expectation of the poor shall not perish forever.” Ps. 9:18. And “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” Ps. 102:17.

10. The sixth help is, the consideration of God's unspeakable compassion. He puts a better construction upon our prayers than we intended, and understands our necessities more perfectly than we can express them. He makes merciful allowance for our infirmities in prayer; according to the words of Abraham, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak.” Gen. 18:30. Hence St. Paul says, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation.” 2 Cor. 1:3. Compare this with Ps. 103:8. By virtue of this compassion of God, none of our prayers are in vain. God keeps an exact account of all our sighs and tears (Ps. 56:8), for the sake of those tears which Christ our blessed Saviour shed, who, in the days of his flesh, offered 301 up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears. Heb. 5:7.

11. The seventh help in prayer, is the remembrance of the covenant of grace, which God has made with us. “This shall be the covenant,” etc. Jer. 31:33. And, “The covenant of my peace shall not be removed, saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee.” Isa. 54:10. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come! I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” Isa. 55:1, 3. In this covenant of grace the assurance that our prayers shall be heard is contained. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” Isa. 55:6.

12. What we have said upon this head, is most happily exemplified in the prayer of Daniel. “O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments.—And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day.” (Here is the putting God in mind of his former mercies.) “Hear, O our God, the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake.” (This is pleading the name and merits of Jesus the Messiah.) “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do.” (These are the groans of the Holy Spirit.) “O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations” (in regard of his promise); “because for our sins, and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.” (Here is a confession of sin, and an acknowledgment of misery.) “For we do not present our supplications before thee, for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies” (this is an acknowledgment of man's unworthiness, and of God's mercy, which is followed with a remembrance of the covenant); “For thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” Dan. 9:4, 15, 17, 18, 19, 16.

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