The Apostle, as he adds note after note in his inspired Song, and specially as the Song advances, seems desirous of proclaiming with deepening cadence the PRIVILEGES which belong to the believer in Christ.

In our last meditation he had described Hope and her sister-spirit Patience, as graces in the Christian's possession--invigorating, quickening influences--the one inspiring the other. He now speaks of a new sustaining power of religion--a superhuman element of strength, consolation, and endurance, enjoyed by "the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." He introduces it by the word "Likewise" ("in addition"--"in the same way"), "also, the Spirit helps our infirmities."

This last word seems indeed, at first, rather to indicate a note of discord. But it is only a passing jar in the divine music, leading, as it does, to the contemplation of the special consolatory agency now to be unfolded. That agency was incidentally brought before us in more than one preceding verse; but it here rises to a climax. If we have for the moment suggested the Harp unstrung, it is only to be immediately assured of restored harmonies.

"And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress (or infirmities). For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will." Romans 8:26-27

"Infirmities"--these are not unfamiliar to us in the preceding portion of this volume. They are, so far at least, an equivalent for "the things of the flesh,"--"the carnal mind,"--"the deeds of the body,"--the outcome of the sin-tainted, unrenewed, unregenerate nature. "Infirmities"--"compassed with infirmities," we have previously seen, is the too truthful description of God's people in all ages--that the very heroes of sacred story bear sad attestation to the evil heart of unbelief--the fickleness of the noblest purposes. We have recorded episodes in their lives, of defeat, and cowardice--temporary, but at the time disastrous and humiliating. The warning bell sounds, in deepening tones, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3;12).

It is one of the most mournful memories of the ancient Christian Church--the age of all others when love and loyalty might be expected to have been strongest--that there was a traitor in the apostolic band, and two convicted liars and perjurers in the earliest membership. If these "pledge-sheaves" of the ripe grain--what are called in a preceding verse "the first fruits of the Spirit," were laid thus mildewed on the newly consecrated altar, can we wonder that in the Church of later times (or, what is truer and sadder, in our own individual souls), there should be the taint and blight of often "infirmity,"--weariness, faint-heartedness--the successful power of besetting sins--worldly fascinations--overmastering temptations--all drags and hindrances in running the pilgrim race--not to speak of overt acts of fouler transgression and wrong-doing, that bring a tear to the eye and a pang to the heart.

Frequently these infirmities are the result of physical causes--the suffering body has its cruel revenge on the depressed soul. But the suffering is on that account none the less real. The prolonged gloom of the sick-chamber induces and aggravates the darkness of the mind--fostering morbid thoughts--injecting "devil-born doubts,"--murmurings at the divine dispensations--impeachments of the divine veracity and love--"If the Lord is with us, why has all this befallen us?" Oh, who is there among us who fails to plead guilty?--Who, confronted with the past--each with his or her own dominant sin and frailty, is not ready to take up the words of Asaph in that Psalm of his, so true to the deeper consciousness of fallen humanity--"This is my infirmity!" (Ps. 73.).

There is a great--a divine Helper here disclosed. THE SPIRIT--the Comforter--the Paraclete--the Heavenly Agent whose coming and "power from on high" is represented by the divine Savior Himself, as more than compensating the Church for His own absence--"If I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send Him unto you." The Gospel age--the age of the Incarnation--was melted and merged into what is familiarly known as "the dispensation of the Spirit." Among the manifold blessings, of which He was to be the dispenser, one was conspicuous--that of being the Bearer of His Church's and His people's infirmities; imparting to burdened souls needed grace; and perfecting strength in weakness.

These infirmities are far beyond catalogue or enumeration. Paul in our present verses selects one, as a sample of the rest--one he knows to be of universal incidence and application--one that has been endorsed and countersigned by every child of God--from the struggle-hour of old by the brook Jabbok--the wrestling of spirit with spirit all through the gloom of that eastern night, until the sun broke on the desert horizon--on to his own times and experience; for, champion as he was, his personal failings and frailties are here included. "OUR infirmities." "WE know not." "Intercession FOR US."

The illustrative instance adduced, is as applicable to the Christendom and Britain of today, as to patriarchal or apostolic age. Who has not felt it?--the weakness--the poverty--shall I call it the Paralysis of Prayer--the aimless wandering of thought, the frigidity of faith--the stammering sentences, the feeble nerveless grasp of the divine promises; the unrealized verities of heaven and the soul, of spiritual and eternal things! Not only so, but baffled and perplexed with the very subjects of prayer; petitions we know not whether they be wise or unwise--the fearfulness of asking what may not be in harmony with the mind of God; the mental reservations, when seeking, or professing, to resolve our wills into His--"The prayers (in accordance with an old writer) that would need to be prayed for; the confessions of sin that would need themselves to be confessed;"--"We know not what we should pray for as we ought."

What a comfort the assurance, that amid these frailties and perplexities there is a great, all-wise, omnipotent Helper at our side, who can enter into our infirmities--participate in them--make allowance for them--extricate us from them. "Helps;" the word literally applies to aiding and assisting one under a burden; taking part in giving support when the burden-bearer is too weak to carry his load alone--while the other expression, rendered here "makes intercession," occurs nowhere else in the Greek Testament. The Romans, to whom the Apostle now wrote, would understand well the reference to the "Advocate" at the Bar or in the Basilica-court--the Instructor of their clients in legal difficulties; making needful suggestions in the conduct of each case. It is indeed a wondrous picture that is here brought before us.

We are familiar with a kindred truth, the intercession of our divine Redeemer and Savior. "He ever lives to make intercession for us." Whether in the sanctuary or the closet, He lets down His censer full of much incense, that therein we may place our polluted and unworthy prayers, to be perfumed with the incense of His adorable merits. No, not only so. There is a peculiarly consolatory feature in His mediation at His Father's right hand; that being Himself the Brother-man, He can enter with tenderness into the frailty and imperfection of our supplications, having been Himself "compassed with infirmity." As if, however, to complete this divine provision, we have here unfolded to us an Intercessor--not on the distant throne--the upper sanctuary of heaven--but "present"--"ever present with us," in the Temple--the Sanctuary of the soul on earth. It is an amazing boon, in accordance with the Savior's own word and promise, "I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another (Advocate), who will abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth" (John 14;16, 17). Whether we kneel at our bedside in the quiet of the chamber--or bow in the midst of "the Great Congregation"--there is an ineffable PRESENCE by us--close to us--dictating or guiding our thoughts, stimulating our desires, inspiring our lips, "helping our infirmities," fetching the live coal from off the heavenly altar--"the Spirit of light and the Spirit of burning." Thus have we--as frail petitioners--needy suppliants, a double advocacy--the Advocate passed into the heavens, and the Advocate in the lower Court of the Church below. Christ interceding above; and the Holy Spirit interceding within.

And note that His presence is here specially promised to His people in their exigencies. He makes intercession for them, when theirs are "groanings which cannot be uttered;" or rather, groanings that are "not uttered." When they are pleading with strong crying and tears--when the lip fails the heart--when all is speechless, inarticulate--then the needed aid is supplied, and He pleads for those who cannot plead for themselves!

The day would come, when at least the children of these Romans would comprehend and appreciate the reality of this supernatural support, in sufferings, which, with the exception of those at the fall of Jerusalem, have had no parallel since the world began. When the cry "to the lions!" would be heard bursting from ten thousand lips in the Amphitheater, a mighty unseen PRESENCE would be given to these hapless victims, and inspire them with heroism not their own. The great painters have introduced angels bending over the Colosseum martyrs with crowns of gold and wreaths of palm. But mightier would be the ministration of strength revealed in the words before us, when with filming eyes uplifted beyond the horrors of the present; to a painless, deathless world, they would be able to testify, "The Spirit helps our infirmities." "Your Spirit, O God, is good; lead us to the land of uprightness!"

But we do not require to go to the arena and its martyrs to know and understand the realities of this divine support and sustaining force. Every subject of severe trial can bear corresponding witness; in the hour of overwhelming affliction, and specially that of lacerating bereavement. At other times, and in the ordinary circumstances of life, much of what we have just said might appear mystical, the devout phantasy of devotees and enthusiasts. We concede that the theme which has engaged us is undoubtedly a deep and mysterious one. It baffles interpretation, transcends comprehension. We cannot fully understand it. We must kneel and adore! But, I repeat, there is one occasion when it becomes a profound reality. It is the season of that deepest of trials when the spirit knows too well what is meant by inarticulate groanings of anguish. When life's dreams of joy have vanished like the flash of summer lightnings, and we are left to brood over a past, the memories of which are all that remain. Was there no mysterious Helper who at that hour, not with the often noisy babble and gush of earthly comforters, but like the quiet dew or gentle rain, in a mystery of divine silence, drew near to us, spoke to us, consoled, relieved us of the burden, sustained, strengthened us; aye, and in accordance with Paul's own word here, interceded for us; curbed despairing thoughts, invested God's promises with new meaning, brightened the future with glorious hope; put prayers and breathings of submission into dumb lips; forcing us to say in the divine human words of the mighty Sympathizer, "Somebody has touched me!" (Luke 8;46).

The Spirit of God has been brooding over us in our chaos of darkness. Oh, it is more than Jacob's vision of Bethel angels. There seems a new beauty and meaning in the utterance of the same patriarch, spoken figuratively in our case, with affliction's stony pillow and the sun of life setting--"This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!"

I can only add, in one sentence, that this "helping of individual infirmities" by the Holy Spirit, has often and again had its wider, more potent and startling illustration, in the Church collectively, from the early outpouring at Pentecost, to the aid, amid manifold infirmities, so conspicuously displayed at the era of the Reformation; when the groanings and travailings of burdened souls had their outcome in "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God." The day of Pentecost presented alike the first and the most signal--an irresistible testimony to this "power of the Holy Spirit," as a Spirit of intercession. We see the effects of that divine influence on the whole company then met "for prayer and supplication." On none more so, than their acknowledged leader. Peter is not the same man after that hour that he was before. His vacillation, timidity, rashness, cowardice are gone. "Out of weakness he has been made strong." And if you ask himself the reason, he will be ready with the reply, "The Spirit also helps our infirmities."

The divine picture we have given is completed by a yet further revelation in the succeeding verse; "And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will." (verse 27). We have thus the divine Trinity in unity encompassing each believer as with a shield. We have spoken of the pleading Son and the interceding Spirit. Here we have the divine Father, the "Searcher of hearts," interpreting through the Spirit the longings and groanings of His praying and afflicted people. It is the Three in One in covenant for our redemption; all securing that the petitions of the human supplicant are accepted and answered, because they are "according to the will of God." Father, Son, and Holy Spirit seem to draw near to every child and every place of prayer saying--"I will be to them a little sanctuary."

O Interceding Spirit! come, in all the plenitude of Your gifts and graces! "Awake, O north wind; and come, O south wind; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my Beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits" (Solomon's Song, 4;16). Breathe upon me and say, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" Strengthen me in feebleness! Endue me with power from on high! Fulfill the promise, "You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire." I feel Your potency in every prayer that ascends from my lips acknowledging the need of the Apostle's counsel and safeguard--"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto" (Eph. 6;18). "It is the Spirit who quickens." By Him I am "chosen to salvation" (1 Thess. 2;13). By Him I am "strengthened with might in the inner man" (Eph. 3;16). By Him my prayers and petitions are assimilated to the divine will. What is averred, by the beloved disciple, of the Second Person in the Trinity may be equally applied to the Third--"And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He hears us" (1 John 5;14).

To recur, in closing, to the thought with which we set out; If, at times, humbled and saddened at the imperfection of our approaches to the throne, be this our comfort, that the great Searcher will make allowance, "because of the infirmity of our flesh," for poverty of language, verbal shortcomings, inarticulate yearnings, sighs and groans. He says to us, as He said to His servant David--"Forasmuch as it was in your heart to build an house for My name, you did well in that it was in your heart" (2 Chron. 6;8). "You understand my thoughts afar off" (Ps. 139;2). "The work," says Archbishop Leighton in his "Exposition of the Lord's Prayer"--"The work of the Spirit is, in exciting the heart at times to prayer, to break forth in ardent desires to God, whatever the words be, whether new or old, yes possibly without words; and then most powerful when words are least, but vents in sighs and groans that cannot be expressed. Our Lord understands the language of these perfectly, and likes it best; He knows and approves the meaning of His own Spirit; He looks not to the outward appearance, the shell of words as men do."

May the gracious indwelling Spirit pardon my frequent infirmities, unseal my closed lips, attune my stammering tongue! My mouth is silent and my heart silent too, without His inspiration. I need His divine teachings in order to have revealed to me the beauties of holiness. A Sonata of Beethoven is unintelligible to the man destitute of the inner ear for music--the sweetest chords of harmony are to him a crash of discords. But You, Inspirer of all good thoughts, You can, You do awaken the soul to these higher, diviner melodies. Yes, if I am myself, through lack of words, speechless at the Mercy-Seat--Come, Dove of Peace! lift my poor petition on the wing of Your mighty intercession, and ensure a response to the Voiceless Prayer,
"My Father! in Your mercy kind,
You have redeemed those moods of mind
Wherein no utterance I can find
To bear my sigh;
For in my heart deep shades there be
Where Your fair form I cannot see,
Nor tell of anything that ails me–
Save by a cry.

Moments there are wherein my soul
Finds nameless billows round it roll,
And sees no power that can control
Their pathless way–
It knows not what to ask; nor whom;
It has no outward cause for gloom;
It holds itself within its tomb;
It cannot pray.

And yet, Your blessed Word doth teach
That even its groanings without speech
Into a Father's heart can reach
And nestle there.
You count my unspoken sighs;
You hear all my wordless cries,
And send Your divine replies--
As answered prayer.

Like Him who in His human years
Poured out with speechless cries and tears
The record of His unnamed fears,
And found release–
Even so, the fainting of my heart
That cannot its request impart,
Has brought me near to where You art,
And promised peace."
"Sacred Songs.")

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