TEXT. --Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our
infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we
ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with
groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the
hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he
maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of
God. - ROMANS viii. 26, 27.
My last lecture but one was on the subject of Effectual
Prayer; in which I observed that one of the most important
attributes of effectual or prevailing prayer is FAITH. This
was so extensive a subject that I reserved it for a separate
discussion. And accordingly, I lectured last Friday evening
on the subject of Faith in Prayer, or, as it is termed, the
Prayer of Faith. It was my intention to discuss the subject
in a single lecture. But as I was under the necessity of
condensing so much on some points, it occurred to me, and
was mentioned by others, that there might be some questions
which people would ask, that ought to be answered more
fully, especially as the subject is one on which there is so
much darkness. One grand design in preaching is to exhibit
the truth in such a way as to answer the questions which
would naturally arise in the minds of those who read the
Bible with attention, and who want to know what it means, so
that they can put it in practice. In explaining the text, I
propose to show,
I. What Spirit is here spoken of, "The Spirit also
helpeth our infirmities."
II. What that Spirit does for us.
III. Why he does what the text declares him to do.
IV. How he accomplishes it.
V. The degree in which he influences the minds of those
who are under his influence.
VI. How his influences are to be distinguished from the
influences of evil spirits, or from the suggestions of our
VII. How we are to obtain this agency of the Holy
VIII. Who have a right to expect to enjoy his influences
in this matter--or for whom the Spirit does the things
spoken of in the text.
I. What Spirit is it that is spoken of in the text?
Some have 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 own spirit,"--and
"Our own spirit likewise 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
itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the
children of God." And the text is plainly speaking of the
II. What the Spirit does.
Answer--He intercedes 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
Christians to pray according to the will of God, or for the
things that God desires them to pray for.
III. Why is the Holy Spirit thus employed?
Because of our ignorance. Because we 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, as we ought to learn it 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 points of which God has
said nothing but by the leadings of his Spirit. You
recollect that I named these four sources of evidence on
which to ground faith in prayer--promises, prophecies,
providences, and the Holy Spirit. When all other means fail
of leading us to the knowledge of what we ought to pray for,
the Spirit does it.
IV. How does he make intercession for the saints? In what
mode does he operate, so as to help our infirmities?
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
to us words, 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 till 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 result of this, the natural and
philosophical result, is, deep feeling. When the Spirit
brings the truth up before a man's mind, there is only one
way in which he can keep from deep feeling. That is, by
turning away his thoughts, and leading his mind to think of
other things. Sinners, when the Spirit of God brings the
truth before them, must feel. They feel wrong, as long as
they remain impenitent. So, if a man is a Christian, and the
Holy Spirit brings a subject into warm contact with his
heart, it is just as impossible he should not feel, as it is
that your hand should not feel if you put it into the fire.
If the Spirit of God leads him to dwell on things calculated
to excite warm and overpowering feelings, and he is not
excited by them, it proves that he has no love for souls,
nothing of the Spirit of Christ, and knows nothing about
2. The Spirit makes the Christian 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 exercise 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 in
vain to try to make them pray for their children, while the
Spirit of God is away from them.
3. He leads Christians to understand and apply the
promises of Scripture. It is wonderful that in no age have
Christians been able fully to apply the promises of
Scripture to the events of life, as they go along. This is
not because the promises themselves are obscure. The
promises themselves are plain enough. But there has always
been a wonderful disposition to overlook the Scriptures, as
a source of light respecting the passing events of life. How
astonished the apostles were at Christ's application of so
many prophecies to himself! They seemed to be continually
ready to exclaim, "Astonishing! Can it be so? We never
understood it before." Who, that has witnessed the manner in
which the apostles, influenced and inspired by the Holy
Ghost, applied passages of the Old Testament to gospel
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 Scripture 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, resolved that he would
not desist till he had found the Lord. He kneeled down and
tried to pray. All was dark, and he could not pray. He rose
from his knees, and stood for a while, but he could not give
it up, for he had promised that he would not let the sun go
down before he had given himself to God. He knelt again, but
it was all dark, and his heart was 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 from the presence of God." But his resolution was
formed not to give over, 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; it seemed as if he had
just been reading the words, "Ye shall seek me, and find me,
when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Jer. xxix.
13. Though this promise was in the Old Testament, and was
addressed to the Jews, it was still as applicable to him as
to them. And it broke his heart, like the hammer of the
Lord, in a moment. And he prayed, 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 was no foundation
for faith, and no special promises for the children of
believers. But while they are 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, till this
passage was brought powerfully to her mind: "Leave thy
fatherless children with me, I will preserve them alive."
She saw it had an extended meaning, and she was enabled to
lay hold on it, as it were, with her hands; and then she
prevailed in prayer, and her children were converted. The
Holy 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 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 know 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 not? Here the agency of the
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 pray, and travail in birth, till the object is
attained. 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 to divert the attention and
grieve the Spirit in cities. I have had much opportunity to
know how it has been in some sections. I was acquainted with
an individual who used to keep a list of persons that he was
specially concerned for; and I have had the opportunity to
know a multitude of persons for whom he became thus
interested, 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 for such a one. I have known
his mind to fasten on an individual of hardened, abandoned
character, and who could not be reached in any ordinary way.
In a town in the north 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 he
should have to sell his place, or give it away, and move out
of town, for he could not live near a man that swore so.
This good man, that I was speaking of, was passing through
the town, and heard of the case, and was very much grieved
and distressed for the individual. He took him on his
praying 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. 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 the Spirit. And thus they pray for
things according to the will of God.
By some, this may be said to be a revelation from God. I
do not doubt that great evil has been done by saying that
this kind of influence amounts to a new revelation. And many
people will be afraid of it if they hear it called a new
revelation, so that they will not stop to inquire what it
means, or whether the Scriptures teach it or not. They
suppose it to be a complete answer to the idea. But the
plain truth of the matter is, that the Spirit leads a man to
pray. And if God leads a man to pray for an individual, the
inference from the Bible is, that God designs to save that
individual. 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.
6. 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 prophecy. No doubt
persons may be deluded, and sometimes are so, 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 to discern clearly the signs of the times, so as
to understand, by providence, what to expect, and thus to
pray for it in faith. Thus they are often led to expect a
revival, and to pray for it in faith, when nobody else can
see the least signs of it.
There was a woman in New Jersey, in a place where there
had been a revival. She was very positive 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 conference meetings appointed. But the
minister and elders saw nothing to encourage it, and would
do nothing. She saw 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. There was certainly
going to be a revival. She had scarcely opened her doors for
meetings, before the Spirit of God came down in great power.
And these sleepy church members found themselves surrounded
all at once with convicted sinners. And they could only say,
"Surely the Lord was in this place, and we knew it not." The
reason why such persons understand the indication of God's
will 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
V. In what degree are we to expect the Spirit of God to
affect the minds of believers? 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 uttered 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
VI. How are we to know whether it is the Spirit of God
that influences our minds or not?
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 the ear,
or any miraculous manifestation of the will of God. People
often grieve the Spirit away, because they do not harbor him
and cherish his influences. Sinners often do this
ignorantly. They suppose that if they were under conviction
by the Spirit, they should have such and such mysterious
feelings, 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 them they do not
know it, and so do not cherish, and yield to them, and
preserve them. We are conscious of nothing in the case, only
the movement of our own minds. There is nothing else that
can be felt. We are merely aware that our thoughts are
intensely employed on a certain subject. Christians are
often unnecessarily misled and distressed on this point, for
fear they have not the Spirit of God. They feel intensely,
but they know what makes them feel. They are distressed
about sinners; but why should they not be distressed, when
they think of their condition? They keep thinking about them
all the time, and why shouldn't they be distressed? Now, the
truth is, that the very fact that you are thinking upon them
is evidence that the Spirit of God is leading you. Do you
not 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. But now, 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 on them."
Why is this? Why, their case is placed in a strong light
before your mind. Do you ask what it is that leads your mind
to exercise benevolence for sinners, and to agonize in
prayer for them? What can it be but 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
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 never need 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 religion as described
in the Bible. The Bible commands you to try the spirits.
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits,
whether they be of God." Observe not only your own feelings
in regard to your fellow-men, but also, and more especially,
the teachings of the Spirit within you respecting our Lord
Jesus Christ. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God. Every
spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the
flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that
Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is
that spirit of Antichrist whereof ye have heart that it
shall come; and even now already it is in the world."
VII. How shall we get this influence of the Spirit of
1. It must be sought by fervent, believing prayer. Christ
says, "If ye then, 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!" Does any one
say, I have prayed for him, and he does 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." 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 Spirit, and had not received him.
The minister asked him what his motive was in praying. He
said he wanted to be happy. He knew those who had the Spirit
were happy, and he wanted to enjoy his mind as they did.
Why, the devil himself might pray so. That is mere
selfishness. The man turned away in anger. He saw that he
had never known what it was to pray. He was convinced he was
a hypocrite, and that his prayers were all selfish, dictated
only by a desire for his own happiness. David prayed 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 Spirit, that he may be the 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. Perhaps many here have been just so. You ought to
examine and see if all your prayers are not selfish.
2. Use the means adapted to stir up your minds on the
subject, and to keep your attention fixed there. If a man
prays for the Spirit, and then diverts his mind to other
objects; uses no other means, but goes right away to worldly
objects; he tempts God, he swings loose from his object, and
it would be a miracle if he should get what he prays for.
How is a sinner to get conviction? Why, by thinking of his
sins. That is the way for a Christian to obtain deep
feeling, by thinking on the object. God is not going to pour
these things on you, without any effort of your own. You
must cherish the slightest impressions. Take the 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 neighbors, and see their condition while they remain in
sin, and persevere in prayer and effort till 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 has described in the second Hymn of the second
Book, which you would do well to read after you go home.
My thoughts on awful subjects roll,
Damnation and the dead:
What horrors seize the guilty soul
Upon a dying bed!
Lingering about these mortal shores,
She makes a long delay,
Till, like a flood, with rapid force
Death sweeps the wretch away.
Then, swift and dreadful, she descends
Down to the fiery coast,
Amongst abominable fiends,
Herself a frighted ghost.
There endless crowds of sinners lie,
And darkness makes their chains;
Tortured with keen despair they cry,
Yet wait for fiercer pains.
Not all their anguish and their blood
For their past guilt atones,
Nor the compassion of a God
Shall hearken to their groans.
Amazing grace, that kept my breath,
Nor bid my soul remove,
Till I had learned my Saviour's death,
And well insured his love!
Look, as it were, through a telescope that will bring it
up near to you; look into hell, and hear them groan; then
turn the glass upwards and look at heaven, and see the
saints there, in their white robes, with their harps in
their hands, and hear them sing 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
granted. Be careful also, not to grieve the Spirit of God.
Confess and forsake your sins. God will never lead you as
one of his hidden ones, and let you into his secrets, unless
you confess and forsake your sins. Not be always confessing
and never forsake, 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 repent. You cannot
fight it through so. Professors of religion, who are proud
and unyielding, and justify themselves, never will force God
to dwell with them.
4. Aim to obey perfectly the written law. In other words,
have no fellowship with sin. Aim at being entirely above the
world; "Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is
perfect." If you 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.
VIII. For whom does the Spirit intercede?
Answer--He maketh intercession for the saints, for all
saints, for any who are saints. "Likewise the Spirit also
helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray
for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession
for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that
searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,
because he maketh intercession for the saints according to
the will of God."--Rom viii. 26,27.
1. Why do you suppose it is, that so little stress is
laid on the influences of the Spirit in prayer, when so much
is said about his influences in conversion? Many people are
amazingly afraid the Spirit's influences will be left out.
They lay great stress on the Spirit's influences in
converting sinners. But how little is said, how little is
printed, about his influence 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 of God! Let it never be forgotten, that no Christian
ever prays aright, unless led by the Spirit. He has natural
power to pray, and so far as the will of God is revealed, is
able to do it; but he never does, unless the Spirit of God
influences him. Just as sinners are able to repent, but
never do, unless influenced by the Spirit.
2. This subject 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 things 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 since, upon this subject, the writer brings
forward this difficulty, and presents it in its full
strength. 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 have 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.
The whole 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.
It has been supposed that the passage in Mark xi. 22 and 24,
with other kindred promises on the subject of the Prayer of
Faith, relate exclusively to miracles. But suppose this were
true. I would ask, What were the apostles to believe, when
they prayed for a miracle? Were they to believe that the
precise miracle would be performed for which they prayed? It
is evident that they were. In the verses just alluded to,
Christ says, "For verily I say unto you, that whosoever
shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou
cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but
SHALL BELIEVE THAT THESE THINGS WHICH HE SAITH SHALL COME TO
PASS, he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say
unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray,
BELIEVE THAT YE RECEIVE THEM, and ye shall have them." Here
it is evident, that the thing to be believed, and which they
were not to doubt in their heart, was, that they should have
the very blessing for which they prayed. Now the objection
above stated, lies in all its force against this kind of
faith, when praying for the performance of a miracle. If it
be impossible to believe this in praying for any other
blessing. it was equally so in praying for a miracle. I
might ask, Could an apostle believe that the miracle would
be wrought, before he had fulfilled the condition? inasmuch
as the condition was, that he should believe that he should
receive that for which he prayed. Either the promise is a
nullity and a deception, or there is a possibility of
performing the condition.
Now, as I have said, the whole difficulty lies in the
fact that the Spirit's influences are entirely overlooked,
and that faith which is of the operation of God, is left out
of the question. If the objection is good against praying
for any object, it is as good against praying in faith for
the performance of a miracle. The fact is, that the Spirit
of God could give evidence, on which to believe that any
particular miracle would be granted; could lead the mind to
a firm reliance upon God, and trust that the blessing sought
would be obtained. And so at the present day he can give the
same assurance, in praying for any blessing that we need.
Neither in the one case or the other, are the influences of
the Spirit 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 one 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; and
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 the other, that no
man ever prays in faith without being influenced by the
Spirit of God. And if the Spirit could lead the mind of an
apostle to exercise faith in regard to a miracle, he can
lead the mind of another Christian to exercise faith in
regard to receiving any other blessing, by a reference to
the same general promise.
Should any one ask, "When are we under an obligation to
believe that we shall receive the blessing for which we ask?
" I answer:
(1.) When there is a particular promise, specifying the
particular blessing: as where we pray for the Holy Spirit.
This blessing is particularly named in the promise, 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
the powers of moral agency which they possess; 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 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 Spirit of God, yet
his obligation to do so rests upon his ability, and not upon
the Divine influence.
(2.) Where God makes a revelation by his providence, we
are bound to believe in proportion to the clearness of the
(3.) So where there is a prophecy, we are bound also to
believe. But in neither of these cases do we, in fact,
believe, without the Spirit of God.
But where there is neither promise, providence, nor
prophecy, on which to 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
so to apply them. In this case, God explains his own
promise, and shows how he designed it should be applied. And
then our obligation to make this application, and to believe
in reference to this particular object, remains in full
3. Some have supposed that Paul prayed in faith for the
removal of the thorn in the flesh, and that is was not
granted. But they cannot prove that Paul prayed in faith.
The presumption is all on the other side, as I have shown in
a former lecture. He had neither promise, nor prophecy, nor
providence, nor the Spirit of God, to lead him to believe.
The whole objection goes on the ground that the apostle
might pray in faith without being led by the Spirit. This is
truly a shorthand method of disposing of the Spirit's
influences in prayer. Certainly, to assume that he prayed in
faith, is to assume either that he prayed in faith without
being led by the Spirit, or that the Spirit of God led him
to pray for that which was not according to the will of
I have dwelt the more on this subject, because I want to
have it made so plain, that you will all be careful not to
grieve the Spirit. I want you to have high ideas of the Holy
Ghost, and to feel that nothing good will be done without
his influences. No praying or preaching will be of any avail
without him. If Jesus Christ were to come down here and
preach to sinners, not one would be converted without the
Spirit. Be careful then not to grieve him away, by slighting
or neglecting his heavenly influences when he invites you to
4. In praying for an object, it is necessary to persevere
till you obtain it. Oh, with what eagerness Christians
sometimes pursue a sinner in their prayers, when the Spirit
of God has fixed their desires on him! No miser pursues his
gold with so fixed a determination.
5. The fear of being led by impulses has done great
injury, by not being duly considered. A person's mind may be
led by an ignis fatuus. 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 do not have the spirit of
prayer, if they are unwilling to take the trouble to
distinguish; and so reject or resist all impulses, and all
leadings of invisible agents. A great deal has been said
about fanaticism, that is very unguarded, and that causes
many minds to reject the leadings of the Spirit of God. "As
many as are the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God."
And it is our duty to try the spirits whether they be of
God. We should insist on a close scrutiny and an accurate
discrimination. There must be such a thing as being led by
the Spirit. And when we are convinced it is of God, we
should be sure to follow--follow on, with full confidence
that he will not lead us wrong.
6. 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
forms. Forms of prayer are not only absurd in themselves,
but they are the very device of the devil to destroy the
spirit and break the power of prayer. 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 enkindled,
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.
7. The subject 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 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 never can
have the spirit of prayer in any other way.
8. The importance of understanding this subject.
(1.) In order to be useful. Without this spirit 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 need not expect to be
(2.) As important as 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 to 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 him.
9. 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'll see how they turn out."
10. Those who have the spirit of prayer know when the
blessing comes. It was just so when Jesus Christ appeared.
These ungodly doctors 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 or converted, they
are not surprised at it. They were expecting just such
things. They know God when he comes, because they were
looking out for his visits.
11. There are three classes of persons in the church who
are liable to error, or have left the truth out of view, on
(1.) Those who place great reliance on prayer, and use no
other means. They are alarmed at any special means, and talk
about your "getting up a revival."
(2.) Over against these 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 Spirit in the conversion of sinners, but
do not realize the importance of the Spirit in prayer. And
their prayers are all cold talk, nothing that any body can
feel, or that can take hold of God.
(3.) Those who have certain strange notions about the
sovereignty of God, and are waiting for God to convert the
world without prayer or means.
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 labors with his
12. A spirit very different from the spirit of prayer
appears to prevail in certain portions of the Presbyterian
church at the present time. Nothing will produce an
excitement and opposition so quick 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
where this subject was discussed. It was said that groaning
ought to be discountenanced. The question was asked, whether
God could not produce such a state of feeling that to
abstain from groaning was impossible? and the answer was,
"Yes, but he never does." Then the apostle Paul was
egregiously deceived when he wrote about groanings that
cannot be uttered. Edwards was deceived when he wrote his
book upon revivals. 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, "Do not
let me hear any more groaning."
But then, I hardly know where to conclude this subject. I
should like to discuss it a month, and till the whole church
could understand it, so as to pray the prayer of faith.
Beloved, I want to ask you if you believe all this? Or do
you wonder that I should talk so? Perhaps some of you have
had some glimpses of these things. Now, will you give
yourselves up to prayer, and live so as to have the spirit
of prayer, and have the spirit with you all the time? 0h,
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, till I saw one of his 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 till 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 it for two or three weeks."
The secret was out. That minister had a praying church.
Brethren, in my present state of health, I find it
impossible to pray as much as I have been in the habit of
doing, and continue to preach. It overcomes my strength.
Now, shall I give myself up to prayer, 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, till God will pour out his
blessing upon us?