Written by: Edward Bickersteth
Published in: 1839
Edited for thought and sense.
Our Lord intercedes in heaven, separate and apart from us, by himself, at the throne of glory. The Holy Spirit intercedes in, and with our hearts, at the throne of grace. The gift and intercession of the Holy Spirit is the fruit and effect of the intercession of Christ, who, when he ascended up on high led captivity captive,and received this gift for men, yea, even for the rebellious.
Christians have then the intercession, and the additional interposition of the Holy Spirit, like a powerful and able advocate, who takes up our sinking cause, urges our necessities and our pleas, with power, earnestness, and perseverance, and places them with strong and irresistible effect in such a light,that it is evident the suit is obtained and the request granted. Thus the Spirit makes intercession for us, suggesting to us, and offering up in us, those desires, arguments, and pleas, which would otherwise never have risen in our minds.
“The Holy’ Spirit,” says one of the Reformers, “excites within us confidence, desires, and sighs, to the conception of which our native powers were altogether inadequate.” There are pious persons of very poor attainments in other respects, without learning or human acquirements, in the very lowest stations of life,who, asking for the aid of the Holy Spirit, can, with the greatest propriety of expression, the deepest reverence, and an uninterrupted fluency of words, pour out their souls to God, and edify their families and their neighbors. Indeed, have not those who entirely decry the assistance of the Holy Spirit, as given to believers in our days, reason to fear lest they should be guilty, in some measure, of the sin of blasphemy against him?
There is a distinction, not improperly made, between the gift and the grace of prayer, though perhaps the more just distinction would be between the talent of elocution and the spirit of prayer. Some have a natural or acquired power of a great command of words, and a full flow of language, which enables them to pray with facility,and so far it is very desirable ; and I hesitate not to say with Dr. Watts, that “there is the ordinary assistance of the Spirit required, even to the attainment of this holy skill, or ability to pray.” But men may have this talent, and yet have none of those real feelings of want, desire, resignation, peace, hope, joy, etc., which form the essence of true prayer, and without which the best expressions are of little worth. The right spirit of prayer is not merely to be able to press God with the most proper words and urgent vehemence: this is talent and elocution.
True prayer is a higher thing, the special gift of the Holy Ghost; not so much a matter of the lips, as of the heart.
He has the most of this gift, who ” has the most enlightened apprehension of the God to whom he speaks: the deepest sense of his own wants: the most eager longings after grace, the most fervent desires of supplies from heaven; and, in a word, whose heart sends up the strongest cries to the Father of Mercies.” Hence many may have much of the spirit of prayer, who have but a small degree of the power of utterance.
Much, indeed, of the work of the Spirit is secret. We know not various particulars connected with it. We know it rather by its effects, than by its mode of operation. The wind blows where it will,and thou hears the sound thereof, hut canst not tell whence it Comes, and whither it goes; so is every one that is born of the Spirit. We experience its power, and that is sufficient. The Christian knows that he has often knelt down averse to prayer, dead, dull, stupid; almost without desiring the blessings for which he ought to ask. And yet with all his weakness, after looking for the aid of the Spirit,after praying as did David, Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise, (Psalm 2:15) and persevering in asking, seeking, and knocking, (Matt. 7:7) he has in such a remarkable way experienced the presence of God, as to fill him with joy unspeakable, and a hope full of glory. He has in these cases sometimes found an unction, an enlargement of expression far beyond anything that he had previously calculated on, or could expect, accompanied by such lively and vehement desires and thirstings after God and holiness and glory, as satisfactorily and evidently to his mind, marked the agency and assistance of a divine power which makes intercession for us.
But farther, he makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.
I am sensible that I am here bringing a subject forward which must be in a great measure unintelligible (and may therefore appear absurd) to those who have never experienced it: but since the sacred writings have plainly stated it, we should neither conceal it, nor keep it back. And conceive the case of a mind truly and fully awakened to see the shortness of time, the vanity of worldly things, the unutterable glory of the blessed, the never-ending anguish of the condemned, the boundless ages of eternity,the uncertainty of every moment, and the inseparable connection between obtaining grace in this life,and glory in the next.
Conceive the mind open to just views of the loving-kindness and glory of the great God, and our privilege to have fellowship with him. If we realize this state of mind, we may easily imagine that there are such ardent thirstings wrought in the immortal soul, after pardon, grace, Christ, heaven and God’s glory, as no words are great or strong enough to express. The Psalms of David often manifest this state of mind “My soul fainteth, he says, for thy salvation. O Lord, how long! I am weary with my groaning.” Here we may observe some of the groanings of him in whom the Spirit intercedes; but yet this intercession is with such importunity of desires, such holy pleading and wrestling with God, such ardor of spirit, such inward laboring and working of the heart toward God, as cannot be expressed by words.