The Spiritual Preparation of a
HOW TO PRAY EFFECTUALLY
Spirit also helpeth 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 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. --Romans 8:26, 27
There are two
kinds of means requisite to promote a revival of religion; the one to
influence men, the other to influence God. The truth is employed to
influence men, and prayer to move God.
When I speak
of moving God, I do not mean that God's mind is changed by prayer, or
that His disposition or character is changed. But prayer produces such a
change in us, as renders it consistent for God to do what is would not
be consistent for Him to do otherwise.
When a sinner
repents, that state of feeling makes it proper for God to forgive him.
So when Christians, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, offer effectual
prayer, their state of feeling render it proper for God to answer them.
He was never unwilling to bestow the blessing on the condition that they
felt right, and offered the right kind of prayer.
Prayer is an
essential link in the chain of causes that lead to a revival; as much so
as truth is. Some have zealously used truth to convert men, and laid
very little stress on prayer. They have preached, and talked, and
distributed tracts with great zeal, and then wondered that they had so
little success. The reason was that they forgot to use the other branch
of means--effectual prayer. They overlooked the fact, that truth by
itself, will never produce the necessary effect without the Spirit of
happens that those who are the most engaged in employing truth are not
the most engaged in prayer. This is unfortunate, for unless they--or
some others--have the spirit of prayer, the truth, by itself, will do
nothing but harden men in impenitence. Probably in the day of judgment
it will be found that nothing is ever done by the truth, used ever so
zealously, unless there is a spirit of prayer somewhere in connection
with the presentation of truth.
Others err on
the other side. Not that they lay too much stress on prayer, but they
overlook the fact that prayer might be offered forever, by itself, and
nothing would be done. Because sinners are not converted by direct
contact with the Holy Ghost, but by the truth, employed as a means. To
expect the conversion of sinners by prayer alone, without the employment
of truth, is to tempt God.
SPIRIT IS SPOKEN OF IN THE TEXT.
supposed that the Spirit spoken of in the text means our own spirit; our
own mind. But a little attention to the text will show plainly that this
is not the meaning. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities" would then
read: "Our own spirit helpeth the infirmities of our spirit," and "Our
own spirit maketh intercession for our own spirit." You see you can make
no sense of it on that supposition.
It is evident
from the manner in which the text is introduced, that the Spirit
referred to is the Holy Ghost. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall
die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye
shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the
sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to
fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba,
Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are
the children of God." Rom. 8:13-16. And the text is plainly speaking of
the same Spirit.
THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES.
for the saints. "He maketh intercession for us," and "helpeth our
infirmities." When "we know not what to pray for as we ought," He helps
us to pray "according to the will of God," or for the things that God
desires us to pray for.
III. WHY IS
THE HOLY SPIRIT THUS EMPLOYED?
know not what we should pray for as we ought. We are so ignorant both of
the will of God revealed in the Bible, and of His unrevealed will which
we ought to learn from His Providence. Mankind are vastly ignorant both
of the promises and prophecies of the Bible, and blind to the Providence
of God; and they are still more in the dark about those things of which
God has said nothing but by the teachings of His Spirit. When all other
means fail of leading us to the knowledge of what we ought to pray for,
the Holy Spirit does it.
DOES HE MAKE INTERCESSION FOR THE SAINTS?
1. Not by
superseding the use of our faculties. It is not by praying for us, while
we do nothing. He prays for us by exciting our own faculties. Not that
He immediately suggests the words to pray, or guides our language; but
He enlightens our minds, and makes the truth take hold of our souls. He
leads us to consider the state of the Church and the condition of
sinners around us.
The manner in
which He brings the truth before the mind, and keeps it there until it
produces its effect, we cannot tell. But we can know as much as
this--that He leads us to a deep consideration of the state of things;
and the natural result of this is deep feeling. When the Spirit brings
the truth before a man's mind, there is only one way in which he can
keep from feeling deeply, and that is by turning away his thoughts, and
leading his mind to think of other things.
the Spirit of God brings the truth before them, must feel deeply. They
feel wrong as long as they remain impenitent. So, if a man is a
Christian, and the Holy Spirit brings these subjects into warm contact
with his heart, it is just as impossible he should not feel deeply, as
it is that your hand should not feel if you put it into the fire. If the
Spirit of God leads a Christian to dwell on things calculated to excite
warm and overpowering feelings, and he if not affected by them, it
proves that he has no love for souls, has nothing of the love of Christ,
and knows nothing about Christian experience.
2. The Spirit
makes Christians feel the value of souls, and the guilt and danger of
sinners in their present condition. It is amazing how dark and stupid
Christians often are about this. Even Christian parents let their
children go right down to hell before their eyes, and scarcely seem to
have a single feeling, or put forth an effort to save them. And why?
Because they are so blind to what hell is, so unbelieving about the
Bible, so ignorant of the precious promises which God has made to
faithful parents. They grieve the Spirit of God away, and it is vain to
make them pray for their children, while the Spirit of God is away from
3. He leads
Christians to understand and apply the promises of the Bible. It is
wonderful that in no age have Christians been able fully to apply the
promises of Scriptures to the events of life, as they go along. This is
not because the promises themselves are obscure. The promises are plain
enough. But there has always been a disposition to overlook the
Scriptures as a source of light respecting the passing events of life.
the Apostles were at Christ's application of so many prophecies of
Himself! They seemed continually ready to exclaim, "Astonishing! Can it
be so? We never understood it before." Who that has read the manner in
which the Apostles, influenced and inspired by the Holy Ghost, applied
passages of the Old Testament to New Testament times, has not been
amazed at the richness of meaning which they found in the Scriptures? So
it has been with many a Christian; while deeply engaged in prayer, he
has seen that passages of Scriptures are appropriate which he never
thought of before as having any such application.
I once knew an
individual who was in great spiritual darkness. He had retired for
prayer, resolving that he would not desist until he had got right with
God. He kneeled down and tried to pray; but all was dark and he could
not pray. He then arose from his knees and stood for a time; but he
could not give up, for he had promised that he would not let the sun go
down before he had given himself to God.
again; but all was dark, and his heart was as hard as before. He was
nearly in despair, and said in agony, "I have grieved the Spirit of God
away, and there is no promise for me. I am shut out of the presence of
God." But his resolution was formed not to give up, and again he knelt
down. He had said but a few words when this passage came into his mind,
as fresh as if he had just read it, "Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when
ye shall search for Me with all your heart." Jer. 29:13. He saw that
though this promise was in the Old Testament, and addressed to the Jews,
it was still as applicable to him as to them. It broke his heart like
the hammer of the Lord, in a moment. Then he prayed freely and rose up
happy in God.
Thus it often
happens when professors of religion are praying for their children.
Sometimes they pray, and are in darkness and doubt, feeling as if there
were no foundation for faith, and no special promise for the children of
believers. But while they have been pleading, God has shown them the
full meaning of some promise, and their soul has rested on it as on the
mighty arm of God.
I once heard
of a widow who was greatly exercised about her children, until this
passage was brought powerfully to her mind: "Thy fatherless children, I
will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in Me." Jer. 49:11.
She saw it had an extended meaning, and she was enabled to lay hold on
it; and then she prevailed in prayer, and her children were converted.
Spirit was sent into the world by the Saviour, to guide His people and
instruct them, and bring things to their remembrance, as well as to
convince the world of sin.
4. The Holy
Spirit leads Christians to desire and pray for things of which nothing
is specifically said in the Word of God. Take the case of an individual.
That God is willing to save is a general truth. So it is a general truth
that He is willing to answer prayer. But how shall I find the will of
God respecting that individual, whether I can pray in faith according to
the will of God for the conversion and salvation of that individual, or
agency of the Holy Spirit comes in, to lead the minds of God's people to
pray for those individuals, and at those times, when God is prepared to
bless them. When we know not what to pray for, the Holy Spirit leads the
mind to dwell on some object, to consider its situation, to realize its
value, and to feel for it, and to pray and travail in birth, until the
person is converted. This sort of experience, I know, is less common in
cities than it is in some parts of the country, because of the infinite
number of things in cities to divert the attention, and grieve the Holy
Spirit. I have had much opportunity to know how it has been in some
acquainted with an individual who used to keep a list of persons that he
was especially concerned for; and I have had the opportunity to know a
multitude of persons for whom he became thus interested, and who were
immediately converted. I have seen him pray for persons on his list,
when he was literally in an agony for them; and have sometimes known him
call on some other person to help him pray in such a case. I have known
his mind to fasten thus on an individual of hardened, abandoned
character, and who could not be reached in any ordinary way.
In a town in a
northern part of this state, where there was a revival, there was a
certain individual who was a most violent and outrageous opposer. He
kept a tavern, and used to delight in swearing at a desperate rate
whenever there were Christians within hearing, on purpose to hurt their
feelings. He was so bad, that one man said he believed that he would
have to sell his place, or give it away, and move out of town, for he
could not live near a man who swore so.
This good man
that I was speaking of, was passing through the town one day, and heard
of the case, and was very much grieved and distressed for the
individual. He took him on his prayer list. The case weighed on his mind
when he was asleep and when he was awake. He kept thinking about him and
praying for him for days. And the first we knew of it, this ungodly man
came into a meeting, and got up and confessed his sins, and poured out
his soul to God. His bar-room immediately became the place where they
held prayer meetings.
In this manner
the Spirit of God leads individual Christians to pray for things which
they would not pray for, unless they were led by Him. And thus they pray
for things, "according to the will of God." If God leads a man to pray
for an individual, the inference from the Bible is, that God designs to
save that person. If we find by comparing our state of mind with the
Bible, that we are led by the Spirit to pray for an individual, we have
good evidence to believe that God is prepared to bless him.
5. By giving
to Christians a spiritual discernment respecting the movements and
developments of Providence. Devoted, praying Christians, often see these
things so clearly, and look so far ahead, as greatly to stumble others.
They sometimes almost seem to prophesy.
persons may be deluded, and sometimes are, by leaning to their own
understanding when they think they are led by the Spirit. But there is
no doubt that a Christian may be made to see and discern clearly the
signs of the times, so as to understand by providence, what to expect,
and thus to pray for it in faith, when no one else can see the least
sign of it. Thus they are often led to expect a revival, and pray for it
in faith, and later events proved that they were truly led by the Spirit
There was a
woman in New Jersey, in a place where there had been a revival. She was
very positive that there was going to be another. She insisted upon it
that they had had the former rain and were now going to have the latter
rain. She wanted to have special meetings appointed. But the minister
and elders saw nothing to encourage it, and would do nothing. She saw
that they were blind and so she went forward, and got a carpenter to
make seats for her, for she said she would have meetings in her own
house, for there was certainly going to be a revival.
scarcely opened her doors for meetings, before the Spirit of God came
down in great power. Then those sleepy church members found themselves
surrounded all at once with convicted sinners. And they could only say,
"The Lord is in this place, and we knew it not."
The reason why
such persons understand the indications of Providence, is not because of
the superior wisdom that is in them, but because the Spirit of God leads
them to see the signs of the times. And this, not by revelation, but
they are led to see that converging of providences to a single point,
which produces in them a confident expectation of a certain result.
V. TO WHAT
DEGREE MAY WE EXPECT THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO INFLUENCE THE MINDS OF
The text says,
"The Spirit maketh intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered."
The meaning of this I understand to be, that the Spirit excites desires
too great to be expressed except by groans. Something that language
cannot utter--making the soul too full to utter its feelings by words,
where the person can only groan them out to God, who understands the
language of the heart.
VI. HOW WE
CAN KNOW THE SPIRIT'S INFLUENCES.
1. Not by
feeling that some external influence or agency is applied to us. We are
not to expect to feel our minds in direct physical contact with God. If
such a thing can be, we know of no way in which it can be made sensible.
We know that we exercise our minds freely, and that our thoughts are
exercised on something that excites our feelings. But we are not to
expect a miracle to be wrought, as if we were led by the hand, sensibly,
or like something whispered in our ear, or any miraculous manifestation
of the will of God.
often grieve the Spirit away, because they do not honour Him and cherish
His influences. Sinners often do this ignorantly. They suppose that if
they were under conviction of sin by the Spirit, they would have such
and such a mysterious feeling; that a shock would come upon them which
they could not mistake. Many Christians are so ignorant of the Spirit's
influences and have thought so little about having His assistance in
prayer, that when they have His influences they do not know it, and so
do not cherish and yield to them, and preserve them.
sensible of nothing, when we pray in the Spirit, only the movement of
our own minds. There is nothing else that can be felt. We are merely
sensible that our thoughts are intensely employed on a certain subject.
often unnecessarily misled and distressed on this point, for fear they
have not the Spirit of God. They feel intensely, but they do not know
what makes them feel so. They are distressed about sinners; but should
they not be distressed, when they think of their condition? They keep
thinking about them all the time, and how can they avoid being
Now, the truth
is, the very fact that you are thinking upon them is evidence that the
Spirit of God is influencing you. Do you know that the greater part of
the time these things do not affect you so? The greater part of the time
you do not think much about the case of sinners. You know their
salvation is always equally important. But at other times, even when you
are quite at leisure, your mind is entirely dark, and vacant of any
feeling for them.
although you may be busy about other things, you think, you pray, and
feel intensely for them, even while you are about business that at other
times would occupy all your thoughts. Now almost every thought you have
is, "God have mercy upon them." Why is this? Why, their case is placed
in such a strong light before your mind. Do you ask what it is that
leads your mind to exercise these benevolent feelings for sinners, and
to agonize in prayer for them? It is the Spirit of God. There are no
devils that would lead you so. If your feelings are truly benevolent,
you are to consider it as the Holy Spirit leading you to pray for things
according to the will of God.
2. Try the
spirits by the Bible. People are sometimes led away by strange fantasies
and crazy impulses. If you compare them faithfully with the Bible, you
need never be led astray. You can always know whether your feelings are
produced by the Spirit's influences, by comparing your desires with the
spirit and temper of the Bible. The Bible commands you to try the
spirits whether they be of God.
VII. HOW TO
OBTAIN THE INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
1. They must
be sought by fervent believing prayer. Jesus said, "If ye then, being
evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more
shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?"
Luke 11:13. Does any one say, "I have prayed for His influences, and
they do not come"? It is because you do not pray aright. "Ye ask, and
receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your
lusts." James 4:3. You do not pray from right motives.
A professor of
religion, and a principal member in a church, once asked a minister what
he thought of his case; he had been praying week after week for the Holy
Spirit, and had not found any benefit. The minister asked what his
motive was in praying. He said he wanted to be happy, as he knew those
who had the Spirit were happy. The minister showed him that the devil
himself might pray so. That it was mere selfishness. The man turned away
in anger. He saw that he had never known what it was to pray. He was
convinced that he was a hypocrite, and that his prayers were all
selfish, dictated only by a desire for his own happiness.
that God would uphold him by His free Spirit, that he might teach
transgressors, and turn sinners to God. A Christian should pray for the
Holy Spirit, that he may be more useful and glorify God more; not that
he himself may be more happy. This man saw clearly where he had been in
error, and he was converted. You ought to examine and see if your
prayers are not tinctured with selfishness.
2. Use the
means adapted to stir up your minds on this subject, and to keep your
attention fixed there. If a man prays for the Holy Spirit and then
diverts his mind to other objects, he tempts God; he swings loose from
his object, and it would be a miracle if he should get what he prays
How is a
sinner convicted? Why, by thinking of his sins. That is the way for a
Christian to obtain deep feeling; by thinking on the appropriate object.
God is not going to pour these things on you, without any effort on your
own. You must cherish the slightest impressions.
Bible, and go over the passages that show the condition and prospects of
the world. Look at the world, look at your children, and your
neighbours, and see their condition while they remain in sin, and
persevere in prayer and effort until you obtain the blessing of the
Spirit of God to dwell in you. This was the way, doubtless, that Dr.
Watts came to have the feelings which he described in the words of the
My thoughts on
awful subjects dwell,
seize the guilty soul
Upon a dying
Look, at it
were, through a telescope that will bring these objects up near to you;
look into hell, and hear them groan; then turn the glass upward and look
into heaven, and see the saints there, in their white robes, with their
harps in their hands, and hear them singing the song of redeeming love;
and ask yourself--Is it possible, that I should prevail with God to
elevate the sinner there? Do this, and if you are not a wicked man, and
a stranger to God, you will soon have as much of the spirit of prayer as
your body can sustain.
3. You must
watch unto prayer. You must keep a look out, and see if God grants the
blessing when you ask Him. People sometimes pray and never look to see
if the prayer is answered. Be careful also, not to grieve the Spirit of
God. Confess and forsake your sins. God will never lead you as one of
His chosen ones, and let you into His secrets, unless you confess and
forsake your sins. Do not be always confessing and never forsaking your
sins; but confess and forsake too. Make redress wherever you have
committed an injury. You cannot expect to get the spirit of prayer
first, and then see to these matters after. You cannot fight in through
so. Professors of religion, who are proud and unyielding, and who
justify themselves, will never force God to dwell with them. They must
yield to God's terms.
4. Aim to obey
perfectly the law of God. In others words, have no fellowship with sin.
Aim at living entirely above the world; "Be ye therefore perfect, even
as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matt. 5:48. If you ever
sin at all, let it be your daily grief. The man who does not aim at
this, means to live in sin. Such a man need not expect God's blessing,
for he is not sincere in desiring to keep all His commandments.
5. Pray in the
name of Jesus. You cannot come to God in your own name. You cannot plead
your own merits. But you can come in a Name that is always acceptable.
You know what it is to use the name of a man. If you should go to the
bank with a draft or note, endorsed by a millionaire, that would be
giving you his name, and you know you could get the money from the bank
just as well as he could himself. Now, Jesus gives you the use of His
name, and when you pray in the name of Jesus the meaning of it is, that
you can prevail just as well as He could Himself, if He were to pray for
the same things.
WHOM DOES THE SPIRIT INTERCEDE?
intercession for the saints," for all saints, for any who are saints.
Why is it that
so little stress is laid on the influences of the Holy Spirit in prayer?
Many lay great stress on the Spirit's influence in converting sinners.
But how little is said, how little is printed, about His influences in
prayer! How little complaining that people do not make enough of the
Spirit's influences in leading Christians to pray according to the will
Let it never
be forgotten that no Christian ever prays aright, unless he is led by
the Spirit. He has natural power to pray, and so far as the will of God
is revealed, he is able to do it; but he never does so effectually,
unless the Spirit of God influences him. Just as sinners are able to
repent, but never do, unless influenced by the Spirit.
lays open the foundation of the difficulty felt by many persons on the
subject of the Prayer of Faith. They object to the idea that faith in
prayer is a belief that we shall receive the very thing for which we
ask; and insist that there can be no foundation or evidence upon which
to rest such a belief. In a sermon published a few years ago on this
subject, the writer brings forward this difficulty.
"I have," says
he, "no evidence that the thing prayed for will be granted, until I have
prayed in faith; because, praying in faith is the condition upon which
it is promised. And, of course, I cannot claim the promise until I have
fulfilled the condition.
Now, if the
condition is, that I am to believe I shall receive the very blessing for
which I ask, it is evident that the promise is given upon the
performance of an impossible condition, and is of course, a mere
nullity. The promise would amount to just this: You shall have
whatsoever you ask, upon the condition that you first believe that you
shall receive it. Now, I must fulfill the condition before I can claim
the promise. But I can have no evidence that I shall receive it, until I
believed that I shall receive it. This reduces me to the necessity of
believing that I shall receive it, before I have any evidence that I
shall receive it--which is impossible."
force of this objection arises out of the fact, that the Spirit's
influences are entirely overlooked, which He exerts in leading an
individual to the exercise of faith; and that faith which is produced
only by the operation of God, is also left out of the question. The fact
is, that the Spirit of God can give evidence, on which to believe that
any particular blessing will be granted. He can lead the mind to a firm
reliance upon God, and trust that the blessings sought will be obtained.
of the Holy Spirit are not miraculous. Praying is the same thing whether
you pray for the conversion of a soul, or for a miracle. Faith is the
same thing in the once case as in the other; it only terminates on a
different object; in the one case on the conversion of a soul, and in
the other on the performance of a miracle.
Nor is faith
exercised in the one more than in the other, without reference to a
promise. A general promise may with the same propriety, be applied to
the conversion of a soul, as to the performance of a miracle. And it is
equally true in the one case as in the other, that no man ever prays in
faith without being influenced by the Spirit of God. If the Spirit could
lead the mind of an apostle to exercise faith in regard to a miracle, He
can lead the mind of a Christian to exercise faith in regard to
receiving any other blessing, by a reference to the same general
ask, "When are we under obligation to believe that we shall receive the
blessing for which we ask?" I answer: --
(a) When there
is a particular promise specifying the particular blessing: as when we
pray for the Holy Spirit. He is particularly named in the promise, Luke
11:13, and here we have evidence and are bound to believe, whether we
have any Divine influence or not: just as sinners are bound to repent
whether the Spirit strives with them or not. Their obligation rests not
upon the Spirit's influences, but upon their ability to do their duty.
And while it is true that not one of them ever will repent without the
influences of the Spirit, still they have the power to do so, and are
under obligation to do so, whether the Spirit strives with them or not.
So with the Christian, he is bound to believe where he has evidence. And
although he never does believe, even where he has an express promise,
without the aid of the Spirit of God, yet this obligation to do so rests
upon his ability, and not upon the Divine influence.
(b) Where God
makes a revelation by His Providence, we are bound to believe in
proportion to the clearness of the providential indication.
there is a prophecy, we are also bound to believe. But in neither of
these cases do we, in fact, believe, without the Spirit of God.
there is neither promise, providence, nor prophecy, on which we can
repose our faith, we are under no obligation to believe, unless, as I
have shown in this discourse, the Spirit gives us evidence, by creating
desires, and by leading us to pray for a particular object.
In the case of
those promises of a general nature, where we are honestly at a loss to
know in what particular cases to apply them, it may be considered rather
as our privilege than as our duty, in many instances, to apply them to
particular cases; but whenever the Spirit of God leads us to apply them
to a particular object, then it becomes our duty to apply them. In this
case, God explains His own promise, and shows how He designed it should
be applied. Then our obligation to make this application, and to believe
in reference to this particular object, remains in full force.
supposed that Paul prayed in faith for the removal of the "thorn in the
flesh," and that it was not granted. But they cannot prove that Paul
prayed in faith. He had neither promise, nor prophecy, nor providence,
nor the Spirit of God, to lead him to believe. The Spirit of God would
not lead him to pray for that which was not according to the will of
I have dwelt
the more upon this subject, because I want to have it made so plain,
that you will all be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit. I want you
to have high ideas of Him, and to feel that no good will be done without
His influences. That no praying or preaching will be of any avail
without Him. Even if Jesus were to come down here and preach to sinners,
not one would be converted without the influences of the Holy Spirit. Be
careful then not to grieve Him away, by slighting or neglecting His
heavenly influences when He invites you to pray.
In praying for
an object, it is necessary to persevere until you obtain it. Oh, with
what eagerness Christians sometimes pursue a sinner in their prayers,
when the Spirit of God has fixed their desires upon him! No miser
pursues his gold with so fixed a determination.
The fear of
being led by influences and impulses has done great injury, because it
has not been duly considered. A person's mind may be led by an evil
influence; but we do wrong, if we let the fear of impulses lead us to
resist the good impulses of the Holy Ghost. No wonder Christians have
not the spirit of prayer if they are unwilling to take the trouble to
distinguish between the holy influences of the Spirit of God, and
selfish or evil impulses.
A great deal
has been said about fanaticism that is very unguarded, and that has
caused many minds to reject the leadings of the Spirit of God. "As many
as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Rom. 8:14.
And it is our duty to "try the spirits whether they are of God." 1 John
4:1. We should insist on a close scrutiny, and an accurate
discrimination. There must be such a thing as being led by the Holy
Spirit. And when we are convinced that we are being led of God, we
should be sure to follow with full confidence that He will not lead us
We see from
this subject the absurdity of using forms of prayer. The very idea of
using a form rejects, of course, the leadings of the Spirit. Nothing is
more calculated to destroy the spirit of prayer, and entirely to darken
and confuse the mind, as to what constitutes prayer, than to use set
forms. Forms of prayer are not only absurd in themselves, but they are
the very devise of the devil to destroy the spirit and break the power
It is of no
use to say the form is a good one. Prayer does not consist in words; and
it matters not what the words are, if the heart is not led by the Spirit
of God. If the desire is not kindled, the thoughts directed, and the
whole current of feeling produced and led by the Spirit of God, it is
not prayer. And set forms are, of all things, best calculated to keep an
individual from praying as he ought.
furnishes a test of character. The Spirit maketh intercession for whom?
For the saints. Those who are saints are thus exercised. If you are
saints you know by experience what it is to be thus exercised, or if not
it is because you have grieved the Spirit of God, so that He will not
lead you. You live in such a manner that this Holy Comforter will not
dwell with you, nor give you the spirit of prayer.
If this is so,
you must repent. Whether you are a Christian or not, do not stop to
settle that, but repent, as if you never had repented. Do your first
works. Do not take it for granted that you are a Christian, but go, like
a humble sinner, and pour out your heart unto the Lord. You can never
have the spirit of prayer in any other way.
important to understand the subject of prayer:
(a) In order
to be useful. Without the spirit of prayer there can be no such sympathy
between you and God, that you can either walk with God or work with God.
You need to have a strong beating of your heart with His, or you cannot
expect to be greatly useful.
important to your sanctification. Without such a spirit you will not be
sanctified, you will not understand the Bible, you will not know how to
apply it in your case. I want you to feel the importance of having God
with you all the time. If you live as you ought, He says He will come
unto you, and make His abode with you, and sup with you, and you with
If people know
not the spirit of prayer, they are very apt to be unbelieving in regard
to the results of prayer. They do not see what takes place, or do not
see the connection, or do not see the evidence. They are not expecting
spiritual blessings. When sinners are convicted, they think they are
only frightened by such terrible preaching. And when people are
converted, they feel no confidence, and only say, "We will see how they
Those who have
the spirit of prayer know when the blessing comes. It was just so when
Christ appeared. Those ungodly doctors of the law did not know Him. Why?
Because they were not praying for the redemption of Israel. But Simeon
and Anna knew Him. How was that? Mark what they said, how they prayed,
and how they lived. They were praying in faith, and so they were not
surprised when He came. So it is with such Christians. If sinners are
convicted and converted, they are not surprised at it. They are
expecting just such things. They know God when He comes, because they
are looking out for His visits.
three classes of persons in the Church who are liable to error, or have
left the truth out of view, on the subject.
(a) Those who
place great reliance on prayer in seeking to promote a revival, and use
no other means. They are alarmed at any special means of spreading the
Gospel, and talk about your "getting up a revival."
against these there are those who use means, and pray, but never think
about the influences of the Spirit in prayer. They talk about prayer for
the Spirit, and feel the importance of the influences of the Spirit in
the conversion of sinners, but do not realize the importance of the
Spirit in prayer. Their prayers are all cold talk, nothing that anybody
can feel, or that can take hold of God.
(c) Those who
have certain strange notions about the sovereignty of God, and who are
waiting for God to convert the world without prayer or the preaching of
There must be
in the Church a deeper sense of the need of the spirit of prayer. The
fact is, that, generally, those who use means most assiduously, and make
the most strenuous efforts for the salvation of men, and who have the
most correct notions of the manner in which means should be used for
converting sinners, also pray most for the Spirit of God and wrestle
most with God for His blessing. And what is the result? Let facts speak,
and say whether these persons do or do not pray, and whether the Spirit
of God does not testify to their prayers, and follow their labours with
A spirit very
different from the spirit of prayer appears to prevail in the majority
of the churches. Nothing will produce an excitement and opposition so
quickly as the spirit of prayer. If any person should feel burdened with
the case of sinners, in prayer, so as to groan in his prayer, why, the
women are nervous, and he is visited at once with rebuke and opposition.
From my soul I
abhor all affectation of feeling where there is none, and all attempts
to work one's self up into feeling by groans. But I feel bound to defend
the position, that there is such a thing as being in a state of mind in
which there is but one way to keep from groaning, and that is by
resisting the Holy Ghost.
I was once
present when this subject was discussed. It was said that groaning ought
to be discountenanced. The question was asked whether God could produce
such a state of feeling in a Christian, that to abstain from groaning
would be impossible. And the answer was, "Yes, but He never does." If
that be true the Apostle Paul was greatly deceived when he wrote about
groanings that cannot be uttered: Jonathan Edwards was deceived when he
wrote his book on revivals, and revivals are all in the dark.
Now, no man
who reviews the history of the Church will adopt such a sentiment. I do
not like this attempt to shut out, or stifle, or keep down, or limit,
the spirit of prayer. I would sooner cut off my right hand than rebuke
the spirit of prayer, as I have heard of its being done by saying,
"Don't let me hear any more groaning."
I should like
to discuss this subject for a month, until the whole Church could
understand it, so as to pray the prayer of faith. Beloved, I want to ask
you, will you give yourselves up to prayer and live so as to have the
spirit of prayer, and have the Holy Spirit with you all the time? Oh,
for a praying church!
I once knew a
minister who had a revival fourteen winters in succession. I did not
know how to account for it, until I saw one of his church members get up
in a prayer meeting and make a confession. "Brethren," said he, "I have
been long in the habit of praying every Saturday night until after
midnight, for the descent of the Holy Ghost among us. And now,
brethren," and he began to weep, "I confess that I have neglected for
two or three weeks." The secret was out: that minister had a praying
my present state of health, I find it impossible to pray as much as I
have been in the habit of doing, and at the same time continue to
preach. It overcomes my strength. Now, shall I give myself up to pray
and stop preaching? That will not do. Now, will not you, who are in
health, throw yourselves into this work, and bear this burden, and lay
yourselves out in prayer, until God will pour out His blessing upon us?
I. WHAT IS
and brethren on the Day of Pentecost received a powerful baptism of the
Holy Ghost, a vast increase of divine illumination. This baptism
imparted a great diversity of gifts that were used for the
accomplishment of their work. It included the following things. The
power of a holy life. The power of a self-sacrificing life. The power of
a cross-bearing life. The power of great meekness. The power of a loving
enthusiasm in proclaiming the Gospel. The power of teaching. The power
of a loving and living faith. The gift of tongues. An increasing of
power to work miracles. The gift of inspiration, or the revelation of
many truths before unrecognized by them. The power of moral courage to
proclaim the Gospel and do the bidding of Christ, whatever it cost them.
circumstances all these enduements were essential to their success; but
neither separately nor all together did they constitute that power from
on high which Christ promised, and which they manifestly received. That
which they manifestly received as the supreme, crowning, and all
important means of success, was the power to prevail with both God and
man, the power to fasten SAVING IMPRESSIONS upon the minds of men.
This last was
doubtless the thing which they understood Christ to promise. He had
commissioned the Church to evangelize the world. All that I have named
above were only means, which could never secure the end, unless they
were vitalized and made effectual by the power of God.
doubtless, understood this; and, laying themselves and their all upon
the altar, they besieged the Throne of Grace in the spirit of entire
consecration of their work.
They did in
fact receive the gifts above mentioned; but supremely and principally
this power to savingly impress men. It was manifested upon the spot.
They began to address the multitude; and wonderful to tell, three
thousand were converted the same hour. But, observe, there was no new
power manifested by them upon this occasion, save the gifts of tongues.
They wrought no miracle at that time, and used these tongues simply as
the means of making themselves understood.
Let it be
noted that they had not had time to exhibit any other gifts of the
Spirit which have been above named. They had not at that time the
advantage of exhibiting a holy life, or any of the powerful graces and
gifts of the Spirit. What was said on the occasion, as recorded in the
book of Acts, could not have made the impression that it did, had it not
been uttered by them with a new power to make a saving impression upon
This power was
not the power of inspiration, for they only declared certain facts of
their own knowledge. It was not the power of human learning and culture,
for they had but little. It was not the power of human eloquence, for
there appears to have been but little of it. It was God speaking in and
through them. It was a power from on high--God in them making a saving
impression upon those to whom they spoke.
This power to
savingly impress, abode with and upon them. It was, doubtless, the great
and main thing promised by Christ, and received by the apostles and
early Christians. It has existed to a greater or less extent, in the
Church ever since. It is a mysterious fact, often manifested in a most
surprising manner. Sometimes a single sentence, a word, a gesture, or
even a look, will convey this power in an overcoming manner.
To the honour
of God alone I will relate a little of my own experience in this matter.
I was powerfully converted on the morning of the 10th of October, 1821.
In the evening of the same day, and on the morning of the following day,
I received overwhelming baptisms of the Holy Ghost, that went through
me, as it seemed to me, body and soul. I immediately found myself endued
with such power from on high that a few words dropped here and there to
individuals, were the means of their immediate conversion. My words
seemed to fasten like barbed arrows in the souls of men. They cut like a
sword. They broke the heart like a hammer. Multitudes can attest to
would find myself, in a great measure, empty of this power. I would go
out and visit, and find that I had made no saving impression. I would
exhort and pray with the same result. I would then set apart a day for
private fasting and prayer, fearing that this power had departed from
me, and would enquire anxiously after the reason of this apparent
emptiness. After humbling myself, and crying out for help, the power
would return upon me with all its freshness. This has been the
experience of my life.
I could fill a
volume with the history of my own experience and observation with
respect to this power from on high. It is a fact of consciousness and
observation, but a great mystery. I have said that sometimes a look has
in it the power of God. I have often witnessed this.
preached for the first time in a manufacturing village. The next morning
I went into a manufacturing establishment to view its operations. As I
passed into the weaving department I beheld a great company of young
women, some of whom, I observed were looking at me, and then at each
other, in a manner that indicated a trifling spirit, and that they knew
me. I, however, knew none of them. As I approached nearer to those who
had recognized me they seemed to increase in their manifestations of
lightness of mind.
made a peculiar impression upon me; I felt it to my very heart. I
stopped short and looked at them, I know not how, as my whole mind was
absorbed with the sense of their guilt and danger. As I settled my
countenance upon them I observed that one of them became very agitated.
A thread broke. She attempted to mend it; but her hands trembled in such
a manner that she could not do it. I immediately observed that the
sensation was spreading, and had become universal among that class of
triflers. I looked steadily at them until one after another gave up and
paid no more attention to their looms. They fell on their knees, and the
influence spread through the whole room. I had not spoken a word; and
the noise of the looms would have prevented my being heard if I had. In
a few minutes all work was abandoned, and tears and lamentations filled
At this moment
the owner of the factory, who was himself an unconverted man, came in,
accompanied, I believe, by the superintendent, who was a professed
Christians. When the owner saw the state of things he said to the
superintendent, "Stop the mill." What he saw seemed to pierce him to the
heart. "It is more important," he hurriedly remarked, "that these souls
should be saved, than that this mill should run."
As soon as the
noise of the machinery had ceased, we had a marvelous meeting. I prayed
with them, and gave them such instructions as at the time they could
bear. The Word was with power. Many expressed hope that day; and within
a few days as I was informed, nearly every hand in that great
establishment, together with the owner, had hope in Christ.
This power is
a great marvel. I have many times seen people unable to endure the Word.
The most simple and ordinary statements would cut men off from their
seats like a sword, would take away their bodily strength, and render
them almost as helpless as dead men. Several times it has been true in
my experience that I could not raise my voice, or say anything in prayer
or exhortation except in the mildest manner, without wholly overcoming
those who were present. This was not because I was preaching terror to
the people; the sweetest sound of the Gospel would overcome them.
seems to pervade the atmosphere of one who is highly charged with it.
Many times great numbers of persons in a community will be clothed with
this power, when the very atmosphere of the whole place seems to be
charged with the life of God. Strangers coming into it, and passing
through the place, will be instantly struck with conviction of sin, and
in many instances converted to Christ.
Christians humble themselves, and consecrate their all afresh to Christ,
and ask for this power, they will often receive such a baptism that they
will be instrumental in converting more souls in one day, than in all
their lifetime before. While Christians remain humble enough to retain
this power, the work of conversion will go on, until whole communities
and regions of country are converted to Christ.
CONDITIONS OF RECEIVING THIS POWER
Let us borrow
a little light from the Scriptures. Before Pentecost the disciples had
already been converted to Christ. But conversion to Christ is not to be
confounded with consecration to the great work of the world's
conversion. When Christ had dispelled their great bewilderment resulting
from His crucification, and confirmed their faith by repeated interviews
with them, He gave them their great commission to win all nations to
Himself. But He admonished them to tarry at Jerusalem till they were
endued with power from on high, which He said they should receive not
many days hence.
what they did. They assembled, the men and women, for prayer. They
accepted the commission, and doubtless, came to an understanding of the
nature of the commission, and the necessity of the spiritual enduement
which Christ had promised. They must have renounced utterly the idea of
living to themselves in any form, and devoted themselves with all their
powers to the work set before them. This consecration of themselves to
the work, this self-renunciation, this dying to all that the world could
offer them, must, in the order of nature, have preceded their
intelligent seeking of the promised enduement of power from on high.
How did they
wait? Not in listlessness and inactivity; not in making preparation by
study and otherwise to get along without it. They understood that it was
to be a baptism of the Holy Ghost. They prayed in faith. They held on
until the enduement came.
Christians, have the same commission to fulfill. We have the same
promise that they had. They were Christians and had a measure of the
Spirit to lead them in prayer and consecration. So have we. Let us,
then, not grieve or resist Him; but accept the commission, fully
consecrate ourselves, with all we have, to the saving of souls as our
great and only life-work. Let us get on the altar with all we have and
are, and persist in prayer until we receive the enduement of power.
It is of the
utmost importance that all Christians should understand that this
commission to convert the world is given to them by Christ individually.
Every one has the great responsibility devolved upon him or her, to win
as many souls as possible for Christ. There are a great many departments
in this work, but in every department we may or ought to possess this
power, that, whether we preach, or pray, or write, or print, or travel,
take care of children, or administer the government of the state, or
whatever we do, our whole life and influence should be permeated with
this power. Jesus said, "He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall
flow rivers of living water."
of this enduement of power is instantaneous. I do not mean to assert
that in every instance the recipient was aware of the precise time at
which the power commenced to work mightily within him. It may have
commenced like the dew and increased to a shower.
The want of an
enduement of power from on high should be deemed a disqualification for
a pastor, a deacon or elder, a Sunday School superintendent, a professor
in a Christian College, and especially for a professor in a theological
seminary. The churches should inform themselves, and look to those
seminaries which furnish, not merely the best educated, but the most
unctuous and spiritually powerful ministers.
From the time
of the apostles to the present day it has been seen that men of very
little human culture, but endued with this power, have been highly
successful in winning souls to Christ; whilst men of the greatest
learning, with all that the schools have done for them, have been
powerless so far as the proper work of the ministry is concerned.
When He the
Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall
not speak of himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak:
and He will show you things to come. John 16:13
of the necessity of Divine teaching, to enlighten and sanctify the minds
of men, is abundantly taught in the Bible, and is generally maintained,
as a matter of opinion at least, in all orthodox churches.
on this subject I will show:
I. HOW FAR
THE REASON OF MAN, UNAIDED BY DIVINE ILLUMINATION, IS CAPABLE OF
APPREHENDING SPIRITUAL THINGS.
1. The mind of
man is capable of understanding the historical facts of religion, just
as it comprehends any other historical facts.
2. The mind of
man is capable of understanding the doctrinal propositions of the
Gospel; such as the being and character of God, the divine authority and
inspiration of the Scriptures, and other fundamental doctrines.
to enter a little into detail a man by his reason may understand the law
of God. He can understand that it requires him to exercise perfect love
towards God and all other things.
he can see that he is a sinner, and that he cannot be saved by his own
works. He has broken God's law, so that the law can never justify him.
He can see that if he is ever saved, it will be through mere mercy, by
an act of pardon.
II. I WILL
SHOW WHEREIN OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE THINGS OF RELIGION IS NECESSARILY
DEFECTIVE, WITHOUT THE TEACHING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
avail anything towards effecting its object, must be such as will
influence the mind. The will must be controlled. And to do this, the
mind must have such a view of things to excite emotion, corresponding to
the object in view. Mere intellectual knowledge will never move the soul
In the case of
sinners: to influence sinners to love God, they must have a degree of
light such as will powerfully excite the mind, and produce strong
emotions. The reason for obedience must be made to appear with great
strength and vividness to their minds, so as to subdue their rebellious
hearts and bring them voluntarily to obey God. This is effectual
knowledge of the Gospel. This men never have, and never can have,
without the aid of the Spirit of God. If men were disposed to do right,
I know not how far their knowledge, attainable by unaided reason, might
avail. But, as they are universally and totally indisposed to obey God,
this knowledge will never do it. I will mention some of the reasons:
1. All the
knowledge we can have of spiritual things, is by analogy or comparison.
Our minds are here shut up in the body, and we derive all our ideas from
external objects, through the senses.
It is easily
seen that all the ideas concerning spiritual things, conveyed to our
minds in this way, must be extremely imperfect, and that we do not,
after all, get the true idea in our minds. The Jewish types were
probably the most forcible means which God could then use, for giving to
the Jews a correct idea of the Gospel.
Yet, it is
manifest that the ideas that were communicated in this way were
extremely imperfect; and that, without divine illumination to make them
see the reality more fully than they could by unaided reason, they never
would have got any effectual knowledge of the plan of redemption in this
So, when we
find in the Bible descriptions of heaven and hell, or anything in the
invisible world, it is plain that from words we can get no true ideas at
all adequate to the reality.
wickedness of our hearts is so great, as to pervert our judgment, and
shut out from our minds much that we might understand of the things of
is a great obstacle to the reception of correct knowledge concerning
religion. The general truth is this: without divine illumination men can
understand from the Bible enough to convict and condemn them, but not
enough to sanctify and save them.
SPIRIT OF GOD ALONE CAN GIVE US THIS ILLUMINATION.
Jesus told His
apostles, "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if it go not
away, the Comforter will not come unto you." The word here translated
Comforter, properly means a helper or teacher. "When He is come He will
reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin
because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to My
Father, and ye see Me no more; of judgment because the prince of this
world is judged."
Again He said,
"The Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My
name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your
remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:26. Here you see
the office of the Spirit of God is to instruct mankind in regard to the
things of religion.
THE MANNER in
which the Spirit of God does this, is what we can never know in this
world. But the fact is undeniable, that He can reach the mind without
the use of words, and can put our minds in possession of the ideas
themselves, of which the types, or figures, or words of the human
teacher, are only the signs or imperfect representatives.
does not know this, as a matter of fact? What Christian does not know,
from his own experience, that the Spirit of God does lead him instantly
to see something in a passage of Scripture, which all his study, and
effort of mind to know the meaning of, could never have given him.
TEACHING MAY BE HAD BY ALL MEN FREELY UNDER THE GOSPEL.
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it
shall be opened unto you." "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts
to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy
Spirit to them that ask Him?" Luke 11:9, 13. "All things whatsoever you
shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." Matt. 21:22
V. I WILL
SHOW THE REASONS WHY SOME DO NOT HAVE AS MUCH DIVINE ILLUMINATION AS
1. They do not
ask for it in such a manner or degree as they need it.
2. They ask
amiss, or from selfish motives. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask
amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." James 4:3
3. They do not
use the proper means to attain what they ask. Suppose a person neglects
his Bible, and yet asks God to give him a deep knowledge of the things
of religion: that is tempting God.
reason is, that they DEPEND on the instructions and means, as if they
were effectual without divine influence. How many rely on the
instructions they receive from ministers, or commentaries, or books, or
their own powers of enquiry, not recognizing that all these things,
without the Spirit of God, will only kill, but can never make alive: can
only damn, but can never save.
They are blind
leaders of the blind, who attempt to teach the things of religion to
others, without being themselves taught of God.
applicable both to preachers and to teachers in Sabbath Schools and
Bible classes. If any of them attempt to teach the Scriptures without
being themselves taught of God, they are no more fit to teach than the
most ignorant person in the streets is fit to teach astronomy.
I fear that
both ministers and teachers generally, have understood very little of
their NEED of this divine teaching, and have felt very little the
necessity of praying over their sermons and Bible lessons, until they
feel confident that the Spirit of God has possessed their minds with the
true idea of the particular portion of the Word of God. If this were
done as it ought to be, their instructions would be far more effectual
than we now see them.
prayed, "Sanctify them through Thy truth." John 17:17. This grand means
of sanctification must be more richly enjoyed before the Church will
know what entire sanctification means. They do not understand the Bible,
and the reason is: THEY HAVE NOT GONE TO THE AUTHOR or His explanation
of it. Although they may have this blessed privilege every day, of
carrying the book to the Author for His explanation; yet how little do
church members know of the Bible, which they are conscious they have
been taught to know by the Holy Ghost!
Will you do
this? Will you lay your hearts open to God, and not give Him rest, until
He has filled you with divine knowledge? Will you search the Scriptures?
I have often been asked by young converts, and young men preparing for
the ministry, what they should read: READ THE BIBLE! I would give the
same answer five hundred times. Over and above all other things, study