ROMANS, viii: 26, 27. "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 accord ing to the will of God"

VER. 26. '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.'

It would appear from the first clause of this verse, that the great subject of labour and sore anxiety to Christians, and under which they groan inwardly, is their deficiency from holiness; and the, great subject of their hope, is the perfect holiness that awaits them in heaven. But, additionally to this expectation of the future, the apostle also tells us here that there is partly a deliverance at present - a foretaste of that which they are looking forward to; and from the nature of the foretaste, we may infer the nature of the anticipation. Now the benefit that they have in possession is help against their infirmities; and so the benefit which they have in prospect is that these infirmities shall be utterly and conclusively done away. In other words it is a moral enlargement on which the truly renovated Christian hath set his affections and his hopes. They are the glories of perfect virtue after which be aspires. It is the fulness of the image and character of the Godhead, that form the triumph and the rejoicing of the blest in eternity. It is an emancipation from the present carnality; and the present corruptness; and the weight of present low and earthly affections into love and light and liberty, while they gaze directly on the excellence of God and reflect that excellence back again from their own character - This is the true heaven which they have in prospect, and for which they have already set themselves out in busy preparation- - a preparation therefore of holiness, the only preparation that can fit them for joining in the services or the joys of the upper sanctuary, the only one that can make them meet for the inheritance of the saints.

But, meanwhile, they have somewhat more than a future hope - they have a present help; and it is worthy of remark that they are not delivered from their infirmities, they are only helped against them. The burden of them, it would appear, is not lifted off. But strength is afforded that they may be able to bear it. The pressure still exists ; but there is an adequate power of resistance given, by which it is effectually withstood. Nevertheless it is a pressure, a felt and a grievous pressure, under which they groan - even as a strong man might do under a burden, though able with much pain and fatigue to carry it. It is just so with the Christian. He is still weary and heavy laden; and in this respect he differs from a saint in heaven. But his sins, which so weary and so overload him, are not cherished by him as his enjoyments - they arc hated and denied and striven against, as his deadly enemies; and in this respect he differs from an unrenovated man upon earth. His state in fact is a state of composition. His life is a life of conflict. There is war in his soul. The vile body aspires to the mastery by its instigations. The mind seeks to retain the ascendant against it; and God's Spirit is sent to help it in its purposes. There will be repose at length, but not here. The battle will not be terminated on this side of death. But reinforcements of strength will be daily sent to keep up the combat - by sustaining that one party, which, but for them, would have surrendered, So that though the soul is not defeated, it is kept in the busy turmoil of a sore warfare - it is often cast down though not destroyed.

'For we know not what we should pray for as we ought.' We are convinced that many feel a general undirected desire to be right - a kind of vague though vivid earnestness - an indefinite longing after God and goodness - a sort of looking towards Zion and preference for heavenly things - who at the same time are unable to rest upon aught that is specific or satisfying. They have the sense of not being as they should be - an indistinct yet strong impression of helplessness - the assurance, though not a very specific or luminous one, that there is a way of passipg into a state of rest and a state of enlargement, could they only but find it out and practically enter upon it - There is such an obscure, yet upon the whole urgent and habitual tendency, incidental to men at the outset of their religious course; and even abiding with them, as it did with Paul and his disciples in our text, for a long time after they had entered upon it. They know not perfectly or precisely what is the matter with them, or what that is which is correctly suited to the disease or the deficiency under which they labour. They would fain give vent to all this feeling of want and of necessity in prayer; but, hazy and unsettled as their spiritual conceptions are, they know not what to pray for as they ought.
We think that there must be some present, whose inward experieüce responds to the sketch that we now set before you - whose hearts are filled with desirousness, but who, incapable of shaping the expression of it into any distinct or definite prayers, send forth instead the sighs and the aspirations which bespeak little more than a soul in earnest. Amid all these struggles then, between the fervent sincerity of the feelings on the one hand, and the cloudiness of apprehension and intellect on the other, it is somewhat satisfactory to perceive, that even the apostle and his converts, after they had received the fruits of the Spirit, had experience of the very same thing - that before their eye too, there passed such floating uncertainties of yet distant and unrealised attainment as they could not embody - that, under the pressure of yet unsatisfied desire and a still remaining ignorance of what they would be at, they heaved ejaculations rather than prayers; and that because they knew not what to pray for as they ought.

'But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered
.' It is still more satisfactory to be told, as we are in this clause, that, in those general and vague but withal very intense and earnest aspirations of soul which we have now adverted to, there is, not only a resemblance to the habit of Paul himself and of those disciples who had the first-fruits of the Spirit, but that it is the Spirit itself who dictates and inspires them. When the Spirit maketh intercession for us, it is not by any direct supplication from Himself to God the Father in behalf of any one individual; but it is by pouring upon that individual, the Spirit of grace and supplication. The man whom He prays for, is in fact the organ of His prayer. The prayer passes, as it were, from the Spirit through him who is the object of it. Those groanings of the Spirit of God which cannot be uttered, are those unutterable desires wherewith the heart of a seeker after Zion is charged; and which, in defect of language, perhaps even in defect of very clear and definite conceptions, can only find vent in the ardent but unspeakable breathings of one who feels his need and longs to be relieved from it - who hath a strong and general appetency after righteousness, and yet can only sigh it forth in ejaculations of intense earnestness.

Now these are called here the groanings of the Spirit of God, because it is in fact He who hath awakened them in the spirit of man. When He intercedes for a believer, the believer's own heart is the channel through which the intercession finds its way to the throne of grace. It is not that there is any want either of light or of utterance about Him; but He doeth His work gradually upon us, and often infuses a desirousness into our hearts before He reveals the truth with distinctness unto our understandings. He walketh by progressive footsteps, in accomplishing the creation of a new moral world - even as He did when employed in the creation of our present system of materialism. He then moved upon the face of the waters, before He said Let there be light and there was light. The dark and muddy element was first put into agitation, and the very turbulence into which it was thrown may have just thickened at the first that very chaos out of which, it was emerging; and so it often is with him 'who is born of the Spirit, when the Spirit begins to move upon his soul. There is labour without light - there is a strong and general excitement without a clear guidance, either where you are to turn, or on what visible path you are to enter - there is a busy fermentation of shadowy and floating desires and indistinct feelings, whether of a present misery or a future and somehow attainable enlargement - And, these all come forth in the very indications of our text - proceeding originally from God's Spirit, but passing through the inter- medium of man's; and, while struggling there with the darkness and obstinate carnality of nature, giving rise to a vigour and a vehemence of emotion that discharges itself in sighs but not in articulations.

If any here experience such a condition, or make any approximations towards it, let him not despair - for it may be the Spirit that is at work with him; and he may now be labouring in the agonies of his new birth, in the distress of his coming regeneration. That among the first-fruits of the Spirit, there should be the years of deep and desirous earnestness, is in perfect harmony with the order of the administration of grace. It gives important insight into the methods of the divine economy in this world, when we observe that the promises of God are meant not to suspend but to stimulate our prayers. And, accordingly, after that He has declared, He will give the clean heart and the right spirit, He saith, yet for all these things must I be enquired after. Before, in fact, that He poureth those influences upon the soul by which it becometh rich in aH spiritual accomplishments, He poureth upon it a sense of its own barrenness, and a correspondent longing after the right feelings and fertilities of a new creature; and so anterior, to all other supplies from the sanctuary that is above, did He pour on the house of David of the Spirit of grace and supplication. One of His promises is to turn the soul into a well-watered garden - yet, ere this is realised, there must be a felt thirst on the part of the soul; a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, before that it is filled; an appetite that craves to be satisfied, crc the satisfying food is administered; a seeking that precedes the finding And so from the descriptions of prophecy it would appear, that, when the desert is made to flourish, it is by the pouring forth of water upon thirsty ground - upon ground not merely destitute, but that feels as it were and desires to be relieved.

Let us cease to wonder then, that prayer should appear among the foremost indications of the Spirit of God being at work with us; or that it takes the precedency of other blessings; or that it has happened so frequently in the church, that a season of supplication went before the season either of a gracious deliverance or of a gracious revival; or that with individuals too, as well as with communities, ere you can point to any one of them as rejoicing in the hope or as fruitful in all the righteousness of the gospel, you find him earnest in supplication - and perhaps too a supplication that is not spoken, that does not find articulation for its effluxes from the heart, that does not even proceed on any very clear or distinct conception of what the want is or what are the supplies which are expressly suited themunto; but that, in the language of my text, ascends in general and undirected fervency from the soul with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And neither are we to wonder, that, though this be indeed the Spirit's doing, yet, nevertheless, there is a mixture of darkness and distress in the whole operation. There is perfect light and liberty with Him. But when He comes into contact, and especally at the first, with a soul before dead in trespasses and sins - when He has to operate on that mass of carnality, where lie finds nought but one inert and sluggish mass of resistance - when, instead of doing the work separately and by Himself He does it through the opake medium of a corrupt human soul - We should not marvel, though the prayers that even He hath originated, be tinged with the obscurity of that dull and distorted medium through which they have to pass. We know that to the sun in the firmament, we should ascribe not merely the splendour of the risen day, but even the faintest streaks and glimmerings of incipient twilight; and that without him, all would be thick and impenetrable darkness. It is because of the gross and intervening earth, that, though something be seen at the earliest dawn of morn, it is yet seen so dimly, and the eye is still bewildered among visionary and unsettled forms, while it wanders over the landscape.

And, in like manner, it is the Spirit to whom we shall owe at last the effulgence of a complete manifestation; and to whom also we owe at present even the misty and troubled light that hath excited us to seek, but is scarcely able to guide us in our enquiries. And this imperfection is not because of Himself, in whom there is perfect and unclouded splendour. It is only because of the gross and terrestrial mind upon which He operates. There is the conflict of' two ingredients, even the light that is in Him and the darkness that is in us; and the result of the conflict is prayer, but prayer mixed with much remaining ignorance. It is the mixture of His intercession with our unutterable groanings - an obscure day that precedes the daylight of the soul - a lustre that cometh from urn, but tarnished with the soil and broken with the turbulence of our own accursed nature. And let us not think it strange therefore, that, as the compound effect of God's Spirit working with our spirit, and not overbearing our infirmities hut only yet helping these infirmities - let us cease to think it strange, if the effect should only be a certain vehemence or urgency of desire, but still in some measure vague or undirected, because of a still abiding darkness in the soul.

And again therefore, to comfort all who are labouring among the disquietudes of such a condition, we repeat, that, even amid the mazes and uncertainties in which they toil and have as yet had little satisfaction, the Spirit, for aught we know, may even now be at work with them. The heavenly visitant may have made His entrance, and have begun the process of a glorious transformation on the materials of their inward chaos. The spiritual twilight may now be breaking out as the harbinger of a coming glory, as the dim flickerings of that light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. There is an example remarkably analogous to this in the old prophets. They spoke only as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 'They poured forth their predictions only as the Spirit gave them utterance; and though He of course knew the meaning of all that He had inspired Himself, yet they themselves, though the organs for the conveyance of His intimations to the world, knew but little or nothing of the sense that lay under them. And, accordingly, we are informed by the apostle Peter of the very singular attitude in which they stood - as prying into the sense of their own prophecies - as searching and enquiring diligently into the nature of that coming grace, whereof the Holy Ghost had given them certain warnings, which to themselves were unintelligible - as speculating what thing it could be, and what manner of time it was which the Spirit of Christ in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.

It was not in fact unto themselves but unto us that they did minister; and though the resemblance does not hold throughout, yet we may gather from the case that we are now quoting, how in like manner as holy men of old knew not the meaning of those predictions wherewith themselves were inspired - so holy men of the present day, and more especially at the outset of their holiness, might feel the inspiration of a strong desirousness from above, and yet be ignorant of the whole force and meaning of their own prayers. There may be a decided fervour of prayerfulness - an aspiring tendency after better things - yet a most indistinct apprehension of what the things really are of which they most stand in need, and that most suited them. And so at the very time that the Spirit helpeth their infirmities, they know not what to pray for as they ought; and at the very time that the Spirit itself maketh intercession for them, do they send forth groanings from the recesses of their now touched and awakened souls which cannot be uttered.

But, in conclusion, it ought to be remarked that this state of darkness is not a desirable one to be persisted in. One would not choose to live always in twilight; but rather does he press onward, in wish and in expectation, to the coming day. Labour after distinct and satisfying apprehensions of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Seek to know your disease; and seek to know the powers and the properties of that medicine, which is set forth in the gospel. Study and search with diligence, and. by a careful perusal of Holy Writ, into the economy of man's restoration - the blood which atones - the righteousness which justifies - the sanctifying power that maketh holy - the law that before your reconciliation condemns you, and that after your reconciliation becomes the rule by which you are to walk, the compass by which you are to guide your movements towards heaven.

Even in this work too you must have the Spirit to help your infirmities. For He is the Spirit of wisdom, as well as of prayer, and gives you revelation in the knowledge of Christ. You increase by Him in acquaintance with God; and though at the beginning of His work, and perhaps for some time afterwards, there may be a sore conflict of doubts and desires and difficulties - yet such is the process of this work, that you will at length come to experience that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is light - where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But still it ought ever to be kept in mind, that, while we are in this tabernacle, there will to the latest hour of our abode, be a remainder of darkness. There may be a brightening manifestation of divine things, as we proceed onwards. But our outlook towards them, will be through the loopholes of a bedimmed and tainted materialism.

Still we shall see through a glass darkly. It is in fact with the light of the gospel, as it is with its love and its peace and its holiness. It will be compounded with the grossness of an earthly nature. It will be shaded with an incumbent carnality. The realities of faith will be seen, not through a purely ethereal medium, but through a curtain as it were - the transparency whereof shall have much of the soil and the tarnish of nature pervadiüg it. And this transparency, though clarified as we advance, will never be perfect on this side of death. Insomuch that the complaint of our text will be found to suit the Christians of all degrees, the disciples of all stages.

Still we shall not know all the things which we should pray for as we ought. Still will the Spirit be needed to help this infirmity. Still will His illumination have to meet and to struggle with the impediments of a vile body; and the desirousness after more light, still outstripping the actual attainment, will vent itself forth, in some degree as at the first, in aspirations that are yet indefinite - in groanings that are yet unutterable. Let this teach, in all our meditation and study upon things that are sacred, still to proceed on the incapacity of nature for the right apprehension of them - still to recognise the Holy Ghost in His office as a revealer - still, in our perusals of the word, to court the guidance of that Spirit, through whom it is alone that the word shines with clear and convincing lustre upon the soul - still to meet the promise of help to the infirmity of our understanding with a prayer for that help: And thus shall we be enabled, more and more, to order our speech and our argument aright before God - to pray intelligently as well as affectionately - and to body forth those desires which now actuate us in a way so vague and undefinable, to body them forth in words that may be audibly uttered, in conceptions that may be distinctly seized upon.

Ver. 27.
'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.'
You may perhaps not have reflected much on the office of the Spirit as an intercessor - viewing this as more properly the office of the now exalted Saviour. The Saviour intercedes for us in heaven. The Spirit intercedes for us in our own breast. The one intercession is pure and altogether unmixed with the dross of earthliness. The other passes through a corrupt medium, and finds its way among the adverse impediments of an earthly nature; and by the time that it cometh forth in expression, has had to encounter the elements of darkness and of carnality that are within us. And, not from any defect in the power which originates our prayers, but from a defect in the organ by which they are conveyed, do they arise as so many broken and indistinct aspirations to Him who sitteth on the throne. The man from whom they ascend is perhaps conscious of nothing but a deep and determined earnestness - thoroughly intent on being right, yet clouded and confused it may be in his apprehensions as to the way of becoming so - not knowing therefore what he should pray for, yet in virtue of the Spirit's operation pouring out the ejaculations of utmost feeling and utmost fervency.

Now, in like manner as the holy men of old when moved by the Holy Ghost did not understand the predictions that were put into their mouths, so might holy men now though similarly moved not understand their own prayers. All that they are sensible of may be a spirit of prayerfulness venting itself in the breathings that are not articulated, in the groans that cannot be uttered. But though they have no such insight into the workings and expressions of their own heart, God who searcheth the heart discerns them thoroughly. He knows from what quarter they come - whether from His own pure Spirit, or from that corrupt origin whence there issueth nought but that which is abomination in His sight. He can distinguish between the genuine and the counterfeit; and, more especially is He acquainted with the mind of His own Spirit - even as man is acquainted with his own thoughts. If from the former - the prayer that has been suggested, even though it announce nothing to the man himself but the intense desirousness whereby he feels that he is actuated, announces most clearly to God all the characters of truth and rightness and conformity with the whole views and spirit of His government which can recommend it to his acceptance. He will meet with graciousness the supplication that Himself hath awakened. He hath said in another place that if any man ask that which is agreeable to the will of God, He will give it to him. Now what the Spirit suggests though darkly to the man himself, yet clearly to Him who searcheth man's heart and can ascertain the character of every movement that is experienced there - whatever is thus suggested must be agreeable to the will of God, and have the very recommendation upon which God hath pledged Himself to entertain and to answer it.

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