You know so little of God, my reader, because you live at such a distance from God. You have so little communion with Him, so little confession of sin, so little searching of your own conscience, so little probing of your own heart, so little transaction with Him in the little things of life. You deal with God in great matters. You take great trials to God, great perplexities, great needs; but in the minutiae of each day’s history, in what are called the little things of life — you have no dealings with God whatever — and consequently you know so little of the love, so little of the wisdom, so little of the glory, of your resplendent covenant God and reconciled Father.
“Neither will I hide my face any more from them; for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.” Ezekiel 39:29
In a more enlarged communication of the Holy Spirit’s gracious influence lies the grand source and secret of all true, spiritual, believing, persevering, and prevailing prayer; it is the lack of this that is the cause of the dullness, and formality, and reluctance, that so frequently mark the exercise. The saints of God honor not sufficiently the Spirit in this important part of His work; they too much lose sight of the truth, that of all true prayer He is the Author and the Sustainer, and the consequence is, and ever will be, self-sufficiency and cold formality in the discharge, and ultimate neglect of the duty altogether.
But let the promise be pleaded, “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication;” let the Holy Spirit be acknowledged as the Author, and constantly sought as the Sustainer, of this holy exercise; let the saint of God feel that he knows not what he should pray for as he ought, that the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, and that God knows the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints according to His will; and what an impulse will this give to prayer! what new life will it impart! what mighty energy, what unction, and what power with God!
Seek, then, with all your blessings, this, the richest, and the pledge of all, the baptism of the Spirit; rest not short of it. You are nothing as a professing man without it; your religion is lifeless, your devotion is formal, your spirit is unctionless; you have no moral power with God, or with man, apart from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Seek it, wrestle for it, agonize for it, as transcendently more precious than every other mercy. Submerged in His quickening and reviving influences, what a different Christian will you be! How differently will you pray, how differently will you live, and how differently will you die! Is the spirit of prayer languishing? is its exercise becoming irksome? is closet-devotion abandoned? is the duty in any form becoming a task? Oh, rouse you to the seeking of the baptism of the Spirit! This alone will revive the true spirit of prayer within you, and this will give to its exercise sweetness, pleasantness, and power. God has promised the bestowment of the blessing, and He will never disappoint the soul that seeks it.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
It must be admitted that the believer requires constant exhortation to the sweet and precious privilege of communion with his heavenly Father—that he needs to be urged by the strongest arguments and the most persuasive motives to avail himself of the most costly and glorious privilege this side of glory. Does it not seem like pleading with a man to live?—reminding him that he must breath, if he would maintain life? Without the exercise of prayer, we tell a child of God, he cannot live; that this is the drawing in of the Divine life, and the breathing of it forth again; that the spiritual nature requires constant supplies of spiritual nourishment; and that the only evidence of its healthy existence is its constant rising towards God. We tell him, Cease to pray, and your grace withers, your vigor decays, and your comfort dies.
Observe how prayer, as a duty, is enjoined in God’s word—”Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” As though the Lord had said, “Call upon me when all is dark, when all is against you. I speak not now of the day of prosperity, of the sunny hour, when your soul prospers, when all things go smooth with you, and the sky above you is cloudless, and the sea beneath you is unruffled; but call upon me in the day of trouble, the day of want, the day of adversity, the day of disappointment and of rebuke, the day when friends forsake, and the world frowns upon you, the day of broken cisterns and withered gourds—call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you.” Observe, too, how our dear Lord enjoined this precious duty upon His disciples—”You, when you pray, enter into your closet, and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret.”
And observe how He also encouraged it—”Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatever you shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you.” In harmony with this, is the sweet exhortation of the apostle—”Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And what a striking unfolding of the true nature of prayer does the same writer give us in another passage—”Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” The apostle James bears the same testimony—”If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not, and it shall be given him.”
But we take higher ground than this; we urge the exercise of prayer, not merely as a solemn duty to be observed, but also as a precious privilege to be enjoyed. Happy is that believer, when duties come to be viewed as privileges. What! is it no privilege to have a door of access ever open to God? is it no privilege when the burden crushes to cast it upon One who has promised to sustain? When the corruptions of an unsanctified nature are strong, and temptations thicken, is prayer no privilege then? And when perplexed to know the path of duty, and longing to walk complete in all the will of God, and, as a child, fearing to offend a loving Father, is it then no privilege to have a throne of grace, an open door of hope? When the world is slowly stealing upon the heart, or when that heart is wounded through the unkindness of friends, or is bleeding under severe bereavement, is it then no privilege to go and tell Jesus? Say, you poor, you needy, you tried, you tempted souls! say, if prayer is not the most precious and costly privilege this side heaven.
“Save me, O God, by your name, and judge me by your strength. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah. Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with those who uphold my soul.” Psalm 54:1-4
WHERE was David now? “In the wilderness of Ziph, in a wood.” With not a follower or companion, this favorite of the nation was a homeless wanderer, hunted like a partridge upon the mountain by the bloodthirsty king. But oh, the deep teaching of which he would now be the subject! The nothingness of earthly glory—the emptiness of human applause—the poverty of the creature—the treachery of his own heart—in a word, the vapid nature and utter insufficiency of all earthly good, would be among the many holy and costly lessons he would now learn.
Nor this alone. Driven from man, he would now be more exclusively and entirely shut in with God. In his happy experience, that wilderness would be as a peopled world, and that wood as a blooming paradise. From the profound depths of its solitude and stillness, there would ascend the voice of prayer and the melody of praise. The wilderness of Ziph would be another Patmos, all radiant with the glorious and precious presence of Him, who laid his right hand upon the exiled Evangelist, and said, “Fear not, I am He that lives.”
See we no fore-shadowing of Jesus here? Oh yes; much, we think. Nor is this strange, since David was preeminently a personal type of Christ. There were periods in our Lord’s brief and humiliating history on earth, when, indeed, He seemed for awhile to ride upon the topmost wave of popular favor. After some stupendous prodigy of His power, or some splendid outgushing of His benevolence, sending its electric thrill through the gazing and admiring populace, He would often become the envy and the dread of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
Jealous of His widening fame and growing power, they would seek to tarnish the one by detraction, and to arrest the other by His death. Escaping from their fury, He would betake Himself to the fastnesses of the rock, and to the solitude of the desert—but, alas! with no human sympathy to strengthen His hands in God. Oh, how strangely has Jesus trodden the path, along which He is leading His saints to glory!
Is there nothing analogous to this in the experience of the faithful? Who can witness for the Lord Jesus—conceive some new idea of doing good—occupy some prominent post of responsibility and power—or prove successful in some enterprise of Christian benevolence—and while thus winning the admiration and applause of the many, not find himself an object of the unholy envy and vituperation of a few? “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!” Thus may an active, zealous, successful Christian be crucified between human idolatry on the one hand, and creature jealousy on the other. Well, be it so, if self be slain, and God is glorified.
The great secret, however, to learn here is, entire deadness to both. Going forward in the work of the Lord, as judgment dictates, as conscience approves, and as Providence guides—dead to human applause, and indifferent to human censure; ever taking the low place, aiming at the Lord’s glory, and seeking the honor that comes from God only—this is happiness. Oh, to live and labor, to give and to suffer, in the meek simplicity of Christ, and with eternity full in view! The Lord grant us grace so to live, and so to die!
“For before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Heb. 11:5
BEHOLD the character of those with whom God is pleased. They are a spiritual people, and God, who is a Spirit, must love and delight in that which harmonizes with His own nature. Faith may be feeble, grace may be limited, and knowledge may be defective; yet, if there be just that strength of faith that travels to, and leans upon, the sacrifice of Jesus, and just that measure of love that constrains to a sincere, though imperfect, obedience, with just that extent of knowledge that discerns Christ to be the Savior of a poor lost sinner, then, there is one who is pleasing to God.
They are also an accepted people, and therefore their people are pleasing to Him. The delight of the Father in the person of His Son reveals to us the great secret of His marvelous delight in us. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Blessed truth to those who see enough defilement and imperfection in their best doings, to cover them with eternal confusion and shame!—who, after the most spiritual performances, are constrained to repair in penitence and confession to Him, who bears the iniquity of His people’s holy things. Sweet truth to fall back upon in all the failures and flaws we are perpetually discerning in our works, in our motives, and our ends—blots not appearing upon the surface, but visible to the microscopic eye of faith, which sees material for self-condemnation, where others, in their fond and blind affection, approve and applaud. If God, my Father, is well pleased in His Son, then is it a truth, strictly inferential, that He is well pleased in me whom He beholds in His Son. But not their people only, their offerings also are equally pleasing to God. “I will accept you” (the person first), “with your sweet savor” (the offering next). Their preceptive walk likewise pleases Him. Is the obedience of the child, springing from love, a pleasing and acceptable offering to a parent’s heart? Ah! how imperfectly are we aware of the beauty and fragrance there are to God in a single act of filial, holy obedience, the fruit and offering of a divine and deathless affection!
How great and exalted the heavenly calling of the Christian! Aim to walk worthy of it. Debase it not by allying it with a carnal mind. Impair not your spiritual life by enchaining it to spiritual death. Let the friendships which you cultivate, and the relationships of life which you form, be heavenly in their nature, and eternal in their duration. Seek to please God in all things. Rest not where you are, even though you may have attained beyond your fellows. Let your standard of heavenly-mindedness do not be that of the saints, but of Christ. Study not a copy, but the original. High aims will secure high attainments. He is the most heavenly, and the happiest, who the most closely resembles his Divine Master.
Be much in your closet. There is no progress in spiritual-mindedness apart from much prayer: prayer is its aliment, and its element. But leave not your religion there; let it accompany you into the world. While careful not to carry your business into your religion—thus secularizing and degrading it—be careful to carry your religion into your business—high integrity, holy principle, godly fear—thus imparting an elevation and its concerns. Be the man of God wherever you are. Let these solemn words be held in vivid remembrance—”I have created you for my glory. I have formed you for my praise. You are my witnesses, says the Lord.”
“The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” Psalm 112:6
HOW great the power and charm of a holy life! The world is replete with beauty. There is beauty in nature, beauty in art, beauty in countless forms; but there is no beauty like “the beauty of holiness.” The brightness which gleams through a good man’s life outshines the sun in its meridian splendor.
The world, too, is mighty in its forces. There is the power of intellect, of learning, and of genius, the power of wealth, of influence, and of rank; but there is no power so commanding and so effective as the power of holiness. The power it wields is omnipotent for the achievement of good. And a more precious and enduring legacy parental affluence and affection cannot bequeath to posterity, than the record of a life traced by the sanctifying influence of faith, the achievements of prayer, and the endowments of holiness. Such a life is a living demonstration of the Divinity of the Bible, and does more to confirm its veracity, and spread its truths through the world, than all that has ever been spoken or written on the evidences of Christianity.
How measureless the loss of such saints of God! To their family and friends, to the Church of Christ and the world, the withdrawal forever from earth of their living piety, fervent prayers, holy conversation, and consistent example, is a serious and far-reaching calamity. And yet they still live among us, not in our hearts and memories only, but in the undying influence of a holy life. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” The grave hides them from sight, but not from memory. Neither the green turf nor the salt wave can bury the still surviving and still molding recollections of the holy dead.
In the embalmed remembrance of their graces, their prayers, and their actions, they still live to guide, stimulate, and cheer us in our homeward march. Nor do we cease to live with them. They remember and love us still. Bearing their friendships with them to the skies, purified, sublimated, and enlarged, they yet think of us, yearn over us, and pant to have us with them there, with a tenderness of interest, and an intensity of affection, such as they never felt on earth. For anything that we know, they still hover around our people, encompassing our path to the abodes of bliss. Angels are ministering agents to the heirs of salvation; and may we not suppose that many of the glorified spirits of “just men made perfect” are gifted with a like embassy? “They serve Him day and night in His temple;” and who will say that it may not enter essentially into that service for the Lord, to administer in some unknown way to their former companions in tribulation, and the expectant sharers of their glory?
But until we rejoin them in the home of the Father, we should think of them but to follow their holy example, to gather encouragement from their faith and patience, to learn lessons from their failings, and to take up and carry forward the work of the Lord, which dropped from their dying hands; until we, too, are summoned to rest from our labors, and receive our reward.
“Behold, he prays.” Acts 9:11
WHAT a precious fruit of the renewed heart is true prayer! If there is a single exercise of the soul that places the fact of its regeneracy beyond a doubt, it is this. Prayer, that comes as holy fire from God, and that rises as holy incense to God—prayer, that takes me, with every want and infirmity, with every sin and sorrow, to the bosom of the Father, through the smitten bosom of the Son—prayer, that sweetens my solitude, that calms my perturbed spirit, that weakens the power of sin, that nourishes the desire for holiness, and that transports the soul, by anticipation, beyond the region of winds, and storms, and tempests, into the presence of God, where all is sunshine and peace—oh what a wondrous privilege is this!
That there is much of awful mystery yet to be unraveled, in relation to this holy exercise of the soul, we readily admit. How prayer operates upon God, we know not. That it can effect any alteration in His purpose, or change His will, or afford Him information, no one for a moment supposes. And yet, that it should be an ordained medium by which finite weakness seems to overcome Infinite strength, a human will seems to turn the Divine will, and man’s shallow mind seems to pour knowledge into the fathomless mind of God—that it should arrest a threatened judgment, remove an existing evil, or supply a present want—is a marvel in which, like all others of Divine revelation, I submit my reason to my faith, receiving and adoring what my reason cannot, unless I were God, perfectly comprehend.
The only solution which we have of this mystery of prayer is contained in these words: “He that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God;” the Holy Spirit thus inditing just that petition which is in harmony with the purpose, will, and love of Him who is emphatically the hearer and the answerer of prayer. What a volume might be composed on the subject of prayer, and yet the half would not be told! A compilation of its achievements would of itself be the work of the longest life. Blessed are they who can enter into the spirit of these words—”I give myself unto prayer.” “It is good for me to draw near unto God.” “Pray without ceasing.” “Praying always with all prayer.” “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us; and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”
Have you, reader, this fruit? Then restrain not prayer before God.
Who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:34
THE exaltation of Jesus in heaven is associated with the dearest interests of His people on earth. Joseph was forgotten when Pharaoh lifted up the head of the chief butler. But our Lord, amid the honors and splendors to which God has highly exalted him, still remembers his brethren in bonds, and makes intercession for them. How expressive is the type of our Lord’s present engagement on behalf of His people. “And he (Aaron) shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from of the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony.”
The passing of Aaron into the holy of holies was the shadowing forth of our Lord’s entrance into heaven. The blood sprinkled at the mercy-seat was the presentation of the great Atonement within the veil. And the incense overshadowing with its fragrant cloud the mercy-seat, thus touched with blood, was the figure of the ceaseless intercession of our great High Priest in the holiest. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true: but into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
It is an individual, an anticipative, and a present intercession. It embraces all the personal needs of each believer, it precedes each temptation and each trial, and at the moment that the sympathy and the prayers of the Savior are the most called for, and are felt to be the most soothing, it bears the saint and his sorrow on its bosom before the throne. Just at a crisis of his history, at a juncture, perhaps, the most critical in his history, the heart, oppressed with its emotions, cannot breathe a prayer—Jesus is remembering him, sympathizing with him, and interceding for him. Oh, who can fully describe the blessings that flow through the intercession of the Son of God? The love, the sympathy, the forethought, the carefulness, the minute interest in all our concerns, are blessings beyond description.
Tried, tempted believer! Jesus makes intercession for you, Your case is not unknown to Him. Your sorrow is not hidden from Him. Your name is on His heart; your burden is on His shoulder; and because He not only has prayed for you, but prays for you now, your faith shall not fail. Your great accuser may stand at your right hand to condemn you, but your great Advocate is at the right hand of God to plead for you. And greater is He that is for you, than all that are against you.
The mediatorial work of Christ shuts every mouth, meets every accusation, and ignores every indictment that can be brought against those for whom He died, rose again, ascended up on high, and makes intercession.
Why let those who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator. 1 Peter 4:19
THE God who is now dealing with you is love, all love—a God in Christ—your covenant God—your reconciled Father. All His thoughts towards you, peace; all His feelings, love; and all His dealings, mercy.
Soon will you be in His heavenly presence, and behold His unveiled glory as it beams forth from the eternal throne. Soon will you be with Jesus, shall see Him, be like Him, and dwell with Him forever. Darkness, and conflict, and sickness, and death shall cease, because sin shall cease. Then, in your blessed experience, will be realized the beatific vision—”And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”
Let this prospect reconcile you patiently to wait all the days of your appointed time, until your change come. God is faithful. Christ, in whom you believe, is able to keep that which you have committed unto Him against that glorious day. He will perfect that which concerns you. Nothing shall be consumed in your present fiery trial, but the tin and dross. The precious and imperishable gold shall be “found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
Not more safe were Noah and his family, when they sailed in the ark through the storm, than is that soul who is shut up in Christ. If you have come out of yourself, have left all, and have fled to Jesus, this is your encouragement—not a soul ever perished whom the Father gave in covenant to his Son—whom the Son redeemed—whom the Spirit has regenerated, and in whom He dwells. A threefold cord keeps that precious saint—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “Kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.”
Oh, precious declaration! Press it with a stronger faith to your heart; for if God be for you, who can be against you? In your present state of suffering you find it difficult to think or to pray. But He, who formed you, knows your frame, “He remembers that we are dust.” There is One who thinks and prays for you. It is Jesus, your Elder Brother; the “brother born for adversity;” the great High Priest, wearing your nature, who has passed within the veil, “now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Jesus intercedes for you moment by moment.
Your faith shall not fail, your grace shall not decline, your hope shall not make ashamed; for He who came down to earth, and was wounded for your transgression, and was bruised for your iniquities, rose again from the dead, and ascended on high, now to appear in the presence of God for you. Christ prays for you, and that, when by reason of confusion of mind and weakness of body you cannot pray for yourself. Precious Jesus! You are that gentle Shepherd, who over-drives not Your little ones. When they cannot run, You do permit them to walk; and when, through feebleness, they cannot walk, You do carry them. You are He of whom it is said, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.”
Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2
THIS passage presents the Christian to our view in his holiest and most solemn posture—drawing near to God, and presenting before the altar of His grace the incense of prayer. The typical reference to this is strikingly beautiful. “You shall make an altar to burn incense upon . . . . . And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning; when he dresses the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.” That this incense was typical of prayer would appear from Luke 1:10, “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.” And David, though dwelling in the more shadowy age of the church, thus correctly and beautifully interprets this type: “Let my prayer be set before you as incense.”
But from where arises the incense of prayer ascending to the throne of the Eternal? Oh, it is from the heart. The believer’s renewed, sanctified heart is the censer from where the fragrant cloud ascends. True prayer is the incense of a heart broken for sin, humbled for its iniquity, mourning over its plague, and touched, and healed, and comforted with the atoning blood of God’s great sacrifice. This is the true censer; this it is at which God looks. “For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Precious censer! molded, fashioned, beautified by God.
There exists not upon earth a more vile and unlovely thing, in the self-searching view of the true believer, than his own heart. And yet —oh wondrous grace!—God, by his renewing Spirit, has made of that heart a beautiful, costly, and precious censer, the cloud of whose incense ascends and fills all heaven with its fragrance.
With all its indwelling evil and self-loathing, God sees its struggles, watches its conflict, and marks its sincerity. Not a feeling thrills it, not an emotion agitates it, not a sorrow shades it, not a sin wounds it, not a thought passes through it, of which He is not cognizant. Believer! Jesus loves that heart of your. He purchased it with his own heart’s blood, agonies, and tears—and He loves it. It is His temple, His home, His censer, and never can it approach Him in prayer, but He is prepared to accept both the censer and incense with a complacency and delight which finds its best expression in the language of His own word, “I will accept you with your sweet savor.” And what shall we say of the fragrance of this incense?
Oh, how much have we yet to learn of the intrinsic sweetness of real prayer! We can but imperfectly conceive the fragrance there must be to God in the breathing of the Divine Spirit in the heart of a poor sinner. It is perhaps but a groan—a sigh—a tear—a look—but it is the utterance of the heart; and God can hear the voice of our weeping, and interpret the language of our desires, when the lips utter not a word; so fragrant to Him is the incense of prayer. “Lord, all my desire is before You, and my groaning is not hid from You.”