“Praying always with all prayer and
supplication in the Spirit, and
watching thereunto with all
perseverance and supplication
for all saints.”—
In the last place we consider the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
It appears from Scripture, more than has been emphasized, that in the holy act of prayer there is a manifestation of the. Holy Spirit working both in us and with us. And yet this appears clearly from the apostolic word: “Likewise the Spirit helpeth also 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 can not be uttered. And He that knoweth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God”
They already possessed the ancient promise to Zacharias: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of
Hence there can be no doubt that even in our prayers we must acknowledge and honor a work of the Holy Spirit; and the special treatment of this tender subject may bear fruit in the exercise of our own prayers. We do not propose, however, to treat here the entire subject of prayer, which belongs to the explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism on this point; but we wish simply to emphasize the significance of the Holy Spirit’s work for the prayers of the saint.
In the first place, we must discover the silver thread that, in the nature of the case, connects the essence of our prayer with the work of the Holy Spirit.
For all prayer is not equal. There is a great difference between the high-priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus and the prayer of the Holy Spirit with groans that can not be uttered. The supplications of the saints on earth differ from those of the saints in heaven, those who rejoice before the throne and those who cry from under the altar. Even the prayers of the saints of earth are not the same in the various spiritual conditions from which they pray. There are prayers of the Bride, that is, from all the saints on earth as a whole; and prayers of the local assemblies of believers, supplications from the circles of brethren when two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus; and supplications of individual believers poured out in the solitude of the closet. And distinguished in the root from these prayers of the saints are the prayers of the still unconverted, whether
The question is whether the Holy Spirit is active, either in one or in all these prayers. Does He affect our prayers only when, in the rare moments of exalted spiritual life, we have intimate communion with God? Or does He affect only the prayers of the saint, excluding those of the unconverted? Or does He affect all prayer and supplication, whether from saint or sinner?
Before we answer this question, it is necessary accurately to define prayer. For prayer may be taken in a limited sense, as a religious act requesting something of God, in which case it is merely the expression of a desire springing from a conscious want, void, or need which we ask God to supply; an application to the divine power and providence, in poverty to be enriched, in danger to be protected, in temptation to be kept standing. Or it may be taken in a wider sense and include thanksgiving. In the Reformed Church the Service of Prayer always includes the Service of Thanksgiving. In this sense the Heidelberg Catechism treats it, calling prayer the chief part of thankfulness (q. 116). In fact, we can scarcely conceive of prayer, in the higher sense, ascending to the Throne of Grace without thanksgiving.
Moreover, prayer also includes praise and every outpouring of the soul. Prayer without praise and thanksgiving is no prayer. In the supplication of saints, prayer and adoration go together. Oppressed with the multitude of thoughts, the soul may have no definite supplication, or thanksgiving, or hymn of praise, yet frequently feels constrained to pour out those thoughts before the Lord. When, in
And so we find in the high-priestly prayer of Christ
We did not assign a special place to the confession of guilt and sin, because this is included in supplication, to which it leads and of which it is the moving cause; while the confession of the soul’s lost condition and natural liability to condemnation necessarily must lead to the pouring out of the soul.
Therefore, speaking comprehensively, we understand by prayer: every religious act by which we take upon ourselves directly to speak to the Eternal Being.
The only difficulty is in the Hymn of Praise. For it can not be denied that in a number of psalms there is a direct speaking to God in hymns of praise; and thus the distinction between the Prayer and the Hymn of Praise might be lost sight of.
There are four steps in the Hymn of Praise: it may be a singing of the praise of God before one’s own soul; or before the ear of the brethren; or before the world and the demons; or lastly, before the Lord God Himself.
When the flame of holy joy burns freely in the heart of the saint, altho he be alone or in chains in the dungeon, he feels constrained, for his own satisfaction as it were, with a loud voice to sing a psalm to the praise of God. Thus it was that David sang: “I love the Lord because He hath heard my voice and my supplication.” Different is the Hymn of Praise when, with and for the brethren, the saint sings in their company; for then they sing, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they, shall walk in the light of Thy countenance”; or directly addressing the people of God: “O ye seed of Abraham, His servant, ye children of Jacob
But the Hymn of Praise rises highest when it addresses the
Eternal One directly; when the saint thinks not of himself, nor of his
brethren, nor of the demons, but of the Lord God alone. This is praise in its most solemn aspect. In the singing of the opening sentences of
“After Thy loving-kindness, Lord, have mercy upon me,
“Lord, from the depths to Thee I cried,
Then praying and singing are actually become one. In order to pray aloud, the Church must sing, altho more for the sake of the supplication than of the singing.
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