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THE AID OF THE SPIRIT TO BE SOUGHT AND
PRESERVED BY PRAYER.
ROMANS VII. 24.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from
the body of this death ?
If it be doctrinally true, that man in his ordinary state, in that state, at least, in which great numbers find themselves, is in a deplorable condition, a condition which ought to be a subject to him of great and bitter lamentation, viz.that in which his moral powers are ineffectual for his duty; in which he is able, perhaps, on most occasions, to perceive andapprove of the rule of right; able, perhaps, to will it; able, perhaps, to set on foot unsuccessful, frustrated, and defeated endeavours after that will, but by no means able to pursue or execute it :-if it be also true, that strength and assistance may and can be communicated to this feeble nature, and that it is by the action of the Holy Spirit upon the soul that it is so communicated; that with this aid and assistance sin may be successfully encountered, and such a course of duty maintained as may render us accepted in Christ; and further, that to impart the above described assistance is one of the ends of Christ's coming, and one of the operations of his love towards mankind :-if, I
say, these propositions be doctr rue, then follow from
them these three practical rules: first, that we are to pray sincerely, earnestly, and incessantly for this assistance ; secondly, that by so doing we are to obtain it; thirdly, that being obtained, we are to yield ourselves to its agency, to be obedient to its dictates. .
First ; we are to pray sincerely, earnestly, and incessantly, for this assistance. A fundamental, and, as it seems to me, an unsurmountable text, upon this head, is our Saviour's declaration : Luke xi. 13. “ If ye, 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 ?” This declaration, besides expressing (which was its primary object) God's benignant, prompt, and merciful disposition towards us, which here, as in other places, our Saviour compares with the disposition of a parent towards his children-beside this, the text undoubtedly assumes the fact of there being a Holy Spirit, of its being the gift of God, of its being given to them that ask him; that these things are all realities; a real spiritual assistance, really given, and given to prayer. But let it be well observed, that whensoever the Scripture speaks of prayer, whensoever it uses that term, or other terms equivalent to it, it means prayer, sincere and earnest, in the full and proper sense of these words; prayer proceeding from the heart and soul. It does not mean any particular form of words whatever; it does not mean any service of the lips, any utterance or pronunciation of prayer, merely as such; but supplication actually and truly proceeding from the heart. Prayer may be solemn without being sincere. Every decency, every propriety, every visible mark and token of prayer may be present, yet the heart not engaged. This is the requisite which must make prayer availing :
this is the requisite indeed which must make it that which the Scripture means whenever it speaks of prayer. Every outward act of worship, without this participation of the heart, fails ; not because men do not pray sincerely, but because, in Scripture sense, they do not pray at all.
If these qualities of internal seriousness and impression belong to prayer, whenever prayer is mentioned in Scripture, they seem more peculiarly essential in a case, and for a blessing, purely and strictly spiritual. We must pray with the Spirit, at least when we pray fór spiritual succour.
Furthermore; there is good authority in Scripture, which it would carry us too widely from our subject to state at present, for persevering in prayer, even when long unsuccessful. Perseverance in unsuccessful
prayer is one of the doctrines and of the lessons of the New Testament.
But again : we must pray for the Spirit earnestly; I mean with a degree of earnestness proportioned to the magnitude of the request. The earnestness with which we pray will always be in proportion to our sense, knowledge, and consciousness of the importance of the thing which we ask. This consciousness is the source and principle of earnestness in prayer; and in this, I fear, we are greatly deficient. We do not possess or feel it in the manner in which we ought : and we are deficient upon
the subject of spiritual assistance most particularly. I fear that many understand and reflect little upon
the importance of what they are about, upon the exceedingly great consequence of what they are asking, when they pray to God, as we do in our liturgy, “ to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit;" “ to make clean our hearts within us ;” “not to
take his Holy Spirit from us;" “ to give us increase of grace ;" “ to grant that his Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts."
These are momentous petitions, little as we may perceive, or think, or account of them, at the time. It has been truly said, that we are hardly ever certain of praying aright, except when we pray for the Spirit of God. When we pray for temporal blessings, we do not know, though God does, whether we ask what is really for our good : when we ask for the assistance and sanctification of God's Spirit in the work and warfare of religion, we ask for that which by its very nature is good, and which, without our great fault, will be good to us.
But secondly; we must obtain it. God is propitious. You hear that he has promised it to prayer ; to prayer really and truly such, to prayer, namely, issuing from the heart and soul; for no other is ever meant. We are suppliants to our Maker for various and continual blessings; for health, for ease ; it may be, for prosperity and success. There is, as hath already been observed, some degree of uncertainty in all these cases, whether we ask what is fit and proper to be granted; or even what, if granted, would do us good. There is this, likewise, further to be observed, that they are what, if such be the pleasure of God, we can do without. But how incapable we are of doing without God's Spirit, of proceeding in our spiritual course upon our own strength and our own resources, of finally accomplishing the work of salvation without it, the strong description which is given by Saint Paul may convince us, if our own experience had not convinced us before. Many of us, a large majority of us, either require, or have required, a great change, a moral regeneration. This
is to be effectuated by the aid of God's Spirit. Vitiated hearts will not change themselves; not easily, not frequently, not naturally, perhaps, not possibly. Yet, “ without holiness no man shall see God.” How then are the unholy to become holy? Holiness is a thing of the heart and soul. It is not a few forced, constrained actions, though good as actions, which constitute holiness. It must reside within us: it is a disposition of soul. To acquire, therefore, that which is not yet acquired, to change that which is not yet changed, to go to the root of the malady, to cleanse and purify the inside of the cup, the foulness of our mind, is a work of the Spirit of God within us. Nay more; many, as the Scripture most significantly expresses, are dead in sins and trespasses; not only committing sins and trespasses, but dead in them : that is, as insensible of their condition under them, as a dead man is insensible of his condition. Where this is the case, the sinner must, in the first instance, be roused and quickened to a sense of his condition ; of his danger, his fate : in a word, he must by some means or other be brought to feel a strong compunction. This is also an office of the Spirit of God. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins :" Eph. ii. i.
“ Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light :” Eph. v. 14. Whether, therefore, we be amongst the dead in sin ; or whether we be of the number of those, with whom, according to Saint Paul's description, to will is present, but how to perform that which is good they find not; who, though they approve the law of God, nay, delight in it, after the inward man—that is, in the answers of their conscience-are, nevertheless, brought into captivity to the law of which is in their mem