Romans 8:26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.
Inarticulate PrayerS.R. Aldridge Romans 8:26
The Interceding SpiritAlexander MaclarenRomans 8:26
The Privileges and Responsibilities of the Children of GodC.H. Irwin Romans 8:12-30
Salvation in Spite of SufferingR.M. Edgar Romans 8:18-30
Divine Aid in PrayerThomas Horton, D.DRomans 8:26-27
Divine Help for Spiritual InfirmitiesThomas Horton, D.D.Romans 8:26-27
Encouragements to Prayer for the Weak and OppressedEssex Congregational RemembrancerRomans 8:26-27
God's Sympathies with Man's InfirmitiesJ. B. Silcox.Romans 8:26-27
Helping Our InfirmityT.F. Lockyer Romans 8:26, 27
Our Ignorance as to Legitimate Subjects for PrayerArchdeacon Gifford.Romans 8:26-27
Our Infirmities HelpedP. Strutt.Romans 8:26-27
Prayer -- for Help to PrayC. H. Spurgeon.Romans 8:26-27
Prayer Aided by the Divine SpiritThomas Horton, D.D.Romans 8:26-27
Prayer Written in the Heart by the Holy SpiritC. H. Spurgeon.Romans 8:26-27
The Help of the Divine SpiritH. W. Beecher.Romans 8:26-27
The Help of the SpiritW. HarrisRomans 8:26-27
The Holy Spirit an Internal IntercessorW. Knight, M.A.Romans 8:26-27
The Holy Spirit's IntercessionC. H. Spurgeon.Romans 8:26-27
The Intercession of the SpiritRomans 8:26-27
The Intercession of the SpiritA. Gray.Romans 8:26-27
The Intercession of the SpiritA. Mackennal, D.D.Romans 8:26-27
The Intercession of the SpiritT. Chalmers, D.D.Romans 8:26-27
The Intercession of the Spirit in PrayerE. L. Hull, B.A.Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit Helping Our InfirmitiesJ. Bowers.Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit Helping Our InfirmitiesT. Manton, D.D.Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit's Help in PrayerD. Moore, M.A.Romans 8:26-27
The Sympathy of the Divine SpiritH. W. Beecher.Romans 8:26-27
The Transformation of HopeDean Paget.Romans 8:26-27

In the previous verses the twofold "groaning" has been set forth - of nature as subjected to vanity, and of redeemed man as still sharing the heritage of vanity in himself and in his relation to the world around. "We hope for that we see not:" and this hope, though it be of the character of patient waiting, is yet also of the character of intense desire. But are our desires merely vague, unauthorized wishes for some fancied good, which God may not be purposed ever to grant? Nay; for what might be otherwise but the vague wishes of our burdened hearts are intensified and authorized by the spiritual life which is in us - are, indeed, the promptings, the groanings, of that very Spirit of God who is the Author and Sustainer of our spiritual life. And as such they are according to God's will, and, being according to his will, are the sure pledge of their own realization. The general truth here set forth is that, in all our times of weakness in this mortal life, when we are ready to faint, the Spirit sustains us; the special application of the truth is that, when "in praying we cannot express to God what the blessing is which would allay the distress of our heart" (Godet), the Spirit of God inspires us with holy aspirations, which are not indeed to be formulated in human words, seeing that they are touched with something of the infinite, but which react in comfort on the heart, as conveying in themselves an assurance that the almost infinite craving shall be infinitely satisfied.


1. In this life of trial, in which evil is so largely mingled with good, and in which, therefore, as regards our perfect redemption, we have to "hope for that which we see not," we are called to exercise both a passive and an active waiting.

(1) Passively, we are to wait until the day dawn and the shadows free away.

(2) Actively, we are to do God's will in this present world, and by so doing to hasten the advent of that day. But how often we prove our "infirmity"! our strength is weakness. How sometimes the heart is well-nigh crushed beneath the load, and we are tempted to say impatiently, "Would that it were morning!" And how dispirited we are then for the work of the kingdom!

2. And this general infirmity manifests itself specially in our inability to pray aright for the good which we confusedly desire. Oh, who has not proved this? The evils and mysteries of life almost daze our spirits; we strive in vain with our vision to pierce the impenetrable darkness. "Who shall show us any good?" So, coming before God, we do not find our accustomed relief: "we know not how to pray as we ought."


1. Amid all our weakness, however manifesting itself, the Spirit helps us. He gives us the patience to wait, and the strength to bear the burden and to do the work. Yes, that which of all things else is hardest, "to labour and to wait," earnestly to pursue our appointed task in spite of the mystery and distress of life, that is made possible by the good Spirit's help. Nay, even more, an inspiration comes from him which makes us zealous for the extension of his kingdom, and we urge our way with strength renewed; for our way is his way, and it tends to the accomplishment of his perfect will.

2. But especially, as these verses teach us, the Spirit helpeth our infirmity when "we know not how to pray as we ought" Oppressed by the mystery of life, torn by its cruel-seeming evils, knowing that these things ought not so to be, that they will not so be in a perfect state, we yet can scarcely realize our own desires, and cannot pray for the things we need. Then comes the inspiration from on high, and our heart goes forth towards God in aspirations prompted, and therefore warranted, by God. And the very desire, so born, gives rest. We may not know its full meaning; we are but partly conscious of our true need as regards that future for which we sigh. And therefore we may certainly not articulate all our desire in syllables of human speech to God: the groanings "cannot be uttered." But they are heard; they are understood; they shall be answered. For the Spirit that is in us is the Spirit who "searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10); and he therefore "maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Oh, what a pledge is here of our sure fruition of all good! We do not vainly and wrongly sigh for the perfectness of the new world; God himself sighs in us, with us, for this consummation. There is truly a groaning in nature itself for deliverance; there is a groaning in ourselves for "the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body;" and there is a groaning, in and with ours, of God's Spirit likewise, for the doing away of all contradictions such as now are, and the ushering in of the day of God, the perfect day. Here, then, is the law of a spiritual instinct, which, like all true instinct, however vaguely it may be conscious of its exact purport, is yet the pledge of its own realization. Let us, then, not be ashamed to hope, to intensely hope, for that we see not, for the hope is heaven-born. But because of the very divineness of the hope itself, and the consequent certainty of realization, let us with patience wait for it. - T.F.L.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY INFIRMITIES. There is a wide difference between an infirmity and a sin. Sin is the deliberate choice of wrong. A man's failure to comply with a Divine command is not always a sin. The failure may arise from inherent weakness or ignorance.

1. Men and women come into life with physical infirmities. Some are born blind, some deaf, some consumptive, and it is impossible for them to wholly overcome their physical defects. They may do something in this direction, but they will never be the men and women they would have been had they been better born.

2. Some are born with mental infirmities; some with less or poorer brain than others. Go into a public school and look at the heads and faces of the children. It does not follow that the scholar at the foot of the class is less industrious or less ambitious than the one at the head.

3. So people come into life with moral infirmities, and they are no more responsible for being born with these than for being born with physical or mental infirmities. "The creature," Paul says, "was made subject to vanity, not willingly." It is as though we came into life with a protest against our nature and surroundings. There are hereditary moral diseases as well as physical. It is their infirmity, and not their sin. Some are not only badly born, but born under conditions that are not favourable to growth in goodness. Man's physical nature demands certain conditions for its full perfect development. He will never grow to man's stature unless he has appropriate food, warmth, clothing, exercise, etc. As the foot of the Chinese girl is cramped by circumstances over which she has no control, and as the flat-headed Indian's child has its head flattened by the board put on it by its ignorant parents, so the moral nature of millions is dwarfed and starved because they are born and reared under adverse influences. Here is a little one beginning life in a den of vice. By precept and example it is taught the decalogue of the devil. Its first steps in life are on the burning pavement of hell. It grows up through the formative periods of childhood under immoral influences. Thousands are thus born and reared. Is their immorality their sin? I say it is their infirmity. You might as well blame the bruised reed for bending before the hurricane, as to blame these people for falling under the sweeping tides of temptation. There are thousands of fallen men and women who have done what they never intended to do. They were deceived. They were "overtaken in a fault."

II. WHAT ARE THE FEELINGS AND ATTITUDE OF GOD TOWARD THIS INFIRM MASS? There are a multitude of passages which clearly reveal God's sympathies with man's infirmities (Psalm 73:36; 103:13, 14). I would not preach so as to lead men to excuse themselves for their wrong-doing, or lessen their sense of responsibility. The knowledge of the sympathy of the Divine Spirit for you should quicken you to seek a higher, holier, nobler life. There may be much against you. The conditions of your birth, early education, or habits, may be against you. But do not forget that God is for you, And if God be for you, who or what can be against you?

III. WE MUST TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SYMPATHY AND HELP OF GOD TO REMEDY THEIR MORAL DEFECTS AND INFIRMITIES. The fact that a man has been born morally infirm is no excuse for remaining so, any more than being born poor is an excuse for continuing in poverty. Men born with physical defects seek, by the aid of medical science and skill, to remedy these defects. We overcome the obstructions of Nature. We convert the forest into a fruitful field and make even the desert blossom as the rose. What we do in the physical realm we may do in the moral. As a matter of fact, we all begin life at zero. The child in its mother's arms is nothing more than "a little bundle of possibilities." It has no original mathematics, philosophy, poetry, or anything else. It has undeveloped capacities for knowledge, but that is all. They are latent, and must be exercised and trained. So it is with our moral and spiritual faculties. They are there in embryo, and must be developed by exercise. By the grace of God you may overcome all natural inherent weaknesses, and attain unto the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. Moses in his early life was rash, hot-tempered, and violent, but by the grace of God he became the meekest among men. Peter, by nature, was impulsive, vacillating, but by the grace of Christ he developed self-control, and became as steadfast as a rock. The heart of Mary Magdalene was once the home of seven devils, but by the love of Christ it was cleansed, and became the home of the Holy Ghost. Saul of Tarsus was brought up in the narrowest school of the narrowest sect of religionists, but by the grace and truth of Christ he became a leader in liberal Christian theology. Such transformations of character are possible to-day. There is a gospel for all of us in this short text, "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities." There is encouragement for the worst man to go to God for help. The Divine Spirit can enlighten the darkest soul, cleanse the foulest heart, ennoble the lowest life.

(J. B. Silcox.)

1. Everybody loves to see a great nature that devotes itself to those beneath him. We expect that those who are drawn together by affinity will be devoted to each other. We should expect that if one Lord Bacon were in conference with another, they would sit together and commune all through the live-long night. But to see a man whose head is a vital encyclopaedia, take care, not of children that reward his pains, but of children that are dullards — to see him patiently continuing this labour of love from week to week, working the child along, until he succeeds in getting something into him, is divine.

2. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our" — what? Our high aspirations? Our noblest dreams? Our grandest purposes? Yes; but that is not it. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities."

3. What do we understand by infirmity here? Feebleness of the whole economy by which we are to come into knowledge, and through knowledge into virtue, and through virtue into vital godliness — this is the general meaning of infirmity. The attempt to maintain a spiritual life in this world is an attempt against great adversarial powers. It is no small thing for a man borne into a fleshly body, connected with the material world, and beat in upon by ten thousand biasing and sympathising influences which come from the body of human society, to lift himself out from all that is low and carnal into an atmosphere where he can see clearly, and understand, and maintain vigilance, persevering unto the end. And God is not indifferent to the task and tax which one undertakes when, with so many obstacles to contend against, he endeavours to live a life of obedience. He sympathises with the poor and the feeble. Let us specialise some of the spheres of sympathy in which the Spirit of God acts with reference to us.

I. ALL OUR BODILY WEAKNESSES AND SICKNESSES, AND THE INFELICITIES THAT ARISE FROM THEM — men who are in health, are very hard and uncharitable about. Many with whom you have to do disappoint you. Many let fly casual words which irritate you. But if you knew out of what utter weakness these things often come, methinks it would excite in you, as doubtless it does in God, a spirit of pity, rather than of blame. God has sympathy for those who suffer from over-exertion, hunger, thirst, cold, and various wants, or who in despondency are led to do wrong. Society may disregard them, but there is one Heart that never ceases to compassionate them.

II. ALL THE CARES OR TRIALS WHICH ARISE FROM OUR CONDITION OF TEMPORAL LIFE have also the sympathy of the Spirit. Men feel that when they go into business they go away from religion. But God made the secular experiences of life to be a means of grace. God made us merchants, and mechanics, and toilers in every way. To work is not the curse. To drudge is. To work is a part of the blessing of our organisation, and of the organisation of society, Intellectual, social, and moral education inheres in that. And our religion is to go with it, And so all the burdens which make men so tired of life are infirmities. They are a part of that constitution of things which God recognises, and which draws the heart of God continually toward men in all helpfulness.

III. God also sympathises with us in ALL OUR DOMESTIC INFIRMITIES. I have noticed that if two violinists play together, although before they came upon the platform they tuned their instruments, no sooner do they get ready to strike off than they try their instruments again. And by the time they have played one or two pieces there is such divergence between the instruments that they require to be again tuned. But the violin of the musician has not one-fifth as many strings as the human violin has, and it is not half as sensitive to the changes of the weather, and does not need to be screwed up or down half so often. And you cannot keep this little mechanical instrument in tune except with great pains. And do you suppose you can take two instruments, each having fifty strings, more susceptible even than those of a violin, and have them in tune one with another, in the midst of the many and powerful influences which are constantly tending to produce discord between them? A man that knows how to take his mind with all its sensibilities, and bring it into tune with Divine love, and who knows how to carry it harmoniously through all the hours of the day, so that it shall all the time be in tune with other minds, has very little to learn before it goes to heaven. Now, our business in life is to try to keep this fiddle of ours so that it shall be at peace, first with its own self, and then with others. The hardest thing for us to do is first to live right within ourselves, and then to live right with each other. Now, in this great conflict, where is so much rasping, it is a comfort to me to hear God say, by His brooding Spirit, "I help in those respects your infirmities."


1. There are a great many poetic natures who are subject to extreme variations; who are all flush and hopeful in one hour, and all drooping and empty in another. God sympathises with our moods, with the ever-shifting shades of transient and poetic feeling — which are said to be "imaginary," as if the imagination were not a fact as much as any other fact in life.

2. Then there are those who are living in a perpetual discontent of this life. They cannot cease to take an interest in it. But there are times when there comes to them such a sense of its littleness that they seem to be as so many ants or worms. The whole economy of life oftentimes seems to be one of such vanity and vexation of spirit that a man is almost willing to lay down his burden. One is tempted, under such circumstances, to doubt himself, to doubt his friends, to doubt everybody and everything. And where this feeling of contempt for one's fellow-men is accompanied by a sense of one's own worthlessness, the whole world is good for nothing. In such moods a man is ashamed of himself. Nevertheless, there is a Spirit that helps our infirmity; and that by love brings us back to reason, and to charity, and to peace.

3. Then there are moods in which annihilation reigns. There are times when men of a sensitive nature seem to lose their hold on life. They fall off from the interest of the human race, and from everything. And these arid, desert experiences God understands, pities, and helps.

4. Then there are those moments of intense yearning which turn all common feelings pale — those fears lest truth shall have been a fable — those hours of unspeakable anguish in which men seem to be letting go of all that is most sacred in the past. They are afraid to express their doubts, because there is nothing less sympathised with than doubt; but they may be in a state in which God is preparing them, by suffering, to lead men out of their troubles. God broods over them still. So do not let go of faith and trust. Keep the avenue open between you and God.Conclusion: In view of the truths thus opened, I remark —

1. That the administrative power of the moral world is love — not power, and not penalty.

2. That cases of the longest delayed repentance are not without hope. The man that has been the worst in life has encouragement to repent and turn to God.

3. That this sympathy of God is not given as a reward of man's own well-doing or of his victory in the struggles which he has been called to wage. There is an impression that Christ is a premium giver, and that He says, "If you will work and acquire a capital, then I will help you." No; there is given you a capital to begin with. "Work out your own salvation... for it is God which worketh in you."

(H. W. Beecher.)

1. There is none in heaven or earth nearer to us than the Holy Spirit; yet there is none whose presence is more deeply hidden. Most mysterious is the manner of His Eternal Being. Fatherhood and Sonship we may in some measure realise; but no earthly relation symbolises the procession of the Holy Ghost. And not less inscrutable is the manner of His presence and work in the human soul. Unseen because He is so near, unrecognised for very intimacy, there is no depth of personality whither He will not come; and even the soul which He purifies and strengthens may only discern Him in its own new purity and strength. The bodily eye can never see in its simplicity the light whereby it sees all else; and the Spirit of Truth is Himself hidden from the soul which owes its sight to His illumination.

2. But though He be hidden, though we cannot tell whence He cometh and whither He goeth, we may watch and forward and pray for His work, in others and in ourselves; we may discover and estimate the unearthly impulses and attractions which He exercises, as astronomers can be sure of the presence and influence of some unseen star, by the new force which breaks in on the order of the heavens.

3. Already the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. Yet this is but the beginning — it doth not yet appear what we shall be. For if we be children, then are we heirs: heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, with whom we shall be also glorified together. On this consummation the apostle's gaze is now fixed; and from this there streams back a light which changes the whole aspect of the present life. How shall we direct the course whose end we cannot see? What shall we long for, when we see nothing which can satisfy us? "We know not what we should pray for as we ought." We know not, for it doth not yet appear what we shall be. Not from the blunders of men, but from the inconceivable height of their destiny does the apostle learn how hard it is to pray aright; and his solution of the difficulty is proportionally different. There is a grace which takes the place of knowledge, and brings the will and the aspirations of men into a mysterious harmony with the unseen: a grace which lifts the desires of the human heart above all that this fragment of the universe can offer, and orders its impulses according to a truly universal law; a grace which leads us on when knowledge falters, and will lead when knowledge shall vanish away; a grace which is His gift alone — the grace of hope.

4. By hope we were saved; and prayer is the voice of hope. That same Spirit whose presence disturbs the completeness of this life by the revelation and earnest of eternity, is ever ready to guide the vague craving of our hearts towards His home and ours. Prisoners we must be for a while; but by His help we may be prisoners of hope. He, who comes from the very heart of heaven, He who brings that flush and warmth of Divine joy which can make even the summer of this world seem faint and poor, He can take our restless, bewildered hearts back along the path which He has traversed, to His throne, who made us for Himself, in whom alone we can rest. Not by timid hints of prudent caution, but by the unflagging impulse of an insatiable hope does" He teach us what we should pray for as we ought. Then only are we in true accord with the world around us, when we, like it, are pressing towards an unseen end, chafing in hope under the bondage of corruption, judging the present and the visible in the light of the glory which shall be revealed. Then only are we living with the whole energy of our manhood when we rise in obedience to the hope that is in us, and trust the guidance of our prayers to the mind of the Spirit. There is a melody in our life, but we shall never catch its rhythm, or enter into its subtle harmonies, till we learn to listen for those higher notes which are: the complement of its imperfection, the resolution of its discords.

5. Therefore let us ever glorify Him who came to help our infirmities by raising our weary and uncertain desires to the only source and end of hope. And let us pray Him never to leave us, but evermore to point our gaze and guide our prayers towards the glory of our unseen goal. May He help us to pray for the world, that through all its changes and losses and strife it may be brought to the attainment of its earnest expectation, the fulfilment of His purpose who created it in love: for the Church, that when all hope is fulfilled by the glorious appearing of her Saviour Christ, she may be arrayed in the righteousness of saints, and the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And lastly, let us watch and strive and pray for ourselves, that no deceitfulness of sin, disappointment, failure, dulness, may break the courage which God gives us, or drag down to earth the effort which His Holy Spirit stirs and guides. In proportion to the saving power of hope are the forces which assail it. Every year we live, the grasp of custom grows firmer upon us, and we find it harder to move with freedom among the thickening hindrances of social life; every year we are tempted afresh to take the ordinary expectation of our fellow-men as the guide of our aspirations, and to think that we may wisely rest when we have found a pleasant background for a life not painfully laborious. There is none in whom the grace of hope is not beset by the easy hopelessness of self-satisfaction. But to some there come fiercer trials than these: the open invitation of sin which is, common enough to call itself general; the lying whispers of temptation. These are antagonists of hope from which only the strength of the Holy Ghost can rescue our hindered souls. He can, He will so rescue and sustain all who seek His presence and listen for His voice; and none can utterly faint who look for the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living; for if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

(Dean Paget.)

First, the patient with his disease, and that is Christians under infirmities. Secondly, the physician with his care, and that is, the Spirit helping these infirmities. First, to speak of the former, here's the patient with his disease: St. Paul and the rest of believers lying under infirmities. The best Christians have their infirmities and weaknesses. This is true according to a double sense and notion of the word, whether we take it in a moral sense, or a physical. Now, in both of these considerations are the best of Christians subject to infirmities. First, for spiritual or moral infirmities; the infirmities of sin and of soul, God's children they have their infirmities here. First, in matter of judgment; a great deal of weakness here. The best of God's servants, they have been sometimes under great mistakes, and fallen into strange kind of errors and fond conceits. There's hardly any great wit, but it hath some kind of extravagancy with it. Secondly, in point of affection. A great deal of weakness here also; weakness of mind in strength of passion, and that in all the kinds and varieties of it. Thirdly, in point of practice and daily converse. A great deal of weakness and infirmity is there here also, discovering of itself in them upon several occasions, invincible infirmities, and such as they do not easily quit or free themselves from. Infirmities of age and sickness; infirmities of sex and condition; infirmities of temper and natural constitution; infirmities of custom and use, and the like. First, whence it is so for the thing itself. And here there is this brief account which may be given of it: First, the general corruption of nature, which is in part remaining still even in the servants of God themselves. Infirmities are nothing else but branches of the first sin that was committed in the world. Secondly, as from the corruption of nature, so likewise from the imperfection of grace. Thirdly, the assaults of Satan; conflicts with them. To which we may justly add, sometimes Christians own neglect of themselves. Now further, secondly, for the ground of it on God's part, as to His permission of it, we may take it thus: First, hereby to humble them and to keep down pride in them, to show them what they are of themselves, and what need they have of continual succour and supply from Him, and to be dependant upon His free grace. Secondly, as to prevent pride in themselves, so to prevent also in others an over-willing opinion of them, at least that they may not idolise them and set too high a price upon them, and so have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ in respect of persons. Thirdly, God suffers infirmities in His children for the greater manifestation of His own power and strength in those infirmities. Lastly, God orders these His infirmities to His servants as matters of trial and exercise to them in their Christian course. The consideration of this point may be variously improved by us. First, as a very good direction for the regulating of our Christian converse and communion with one another in the world. Namely, with a great deal of tenderness and condescension and meekness of spirit. Secondly, it teaches us also to take heed of addicting ourselves absolutely to any men's practice or example. But yet thirdly, this is no ground of excuse to any persons in their wilful miscarriages. First, they are much distinguished in the matter and nature of them for the things themselves. Iniquities, they are grosser abominations, whereas infirmities are lighter miscarriages. Secondly, they are distinguished from the person and principle from whence they proceed. The former, they are the results of the strength of corruption; the latter, they are the effects only of the weakness and imperfection of grace. Thirdly, they are distinguished from the carriage of them, and manner of acting. Infirmities, they proceed with much reluctancy and opposition against them. The second is, as they may be taken physically for the infirmities of mind and body together, and referring to affliction. Their bodies are houses of clay, and their spirits they have a vanity upon them, and therefore it cannot be strange that themselves should be weak and infirm. And then again, as they have frail bodies for the matter of them, so they have sinful souls for the demerit. And it is these which do deserve and occasion these evils to them. The weakness of corruption will breed the weakness of affliction, and sinful bodies will be diseased. This should teach us not to be offended when these things fall out so to be, nor to be dismayed at them. And so now I have done with the first branch of this proposition before us: and that is, the patient, together with the disease, Christians under infirmities, our infirmities. The second is the physician together with the cure, and that is the Spirit helping our infirmities. The spirit may be taken two manner of ways, as it is elsewhere in Scripture; either first, for our own spirit, the spirit of man. Or secondly, for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Now it is true in some sense of either, that it does help our infirmities. First, it is true in some sense of our own spirit, according to that of Solomon, "The spirit of man will sustain his infirmities" (Proverbs 18:14). "A merry heart does good like a medicine" (Proverbs 17:22). And a man's reason, it does sometimes help his passion. But secondly, not to trouble you with impertinencies. This is not that which is to be understood here in this place. The Spirit here in the text is not our own spirit, but the Spirit of God, who is here by a special emphasis called the Spirit. The word here also which is translated "help" is likewise very emphatical, which is an expression taken from two persons or more, which are to lift up some heavy burden and do mutually help one another by standing at each end of the burden, one over against the other. Or if ye will, from nurses which, attending sick persons, do stay them and lift them up in their beds, being ready of themselves to fail and faint away. Even thus does the Spirit of God with His servants in their manifold infirmities; He does co-operate and concur with them, and sustain them, and hold them up. Whilst it is said here in this place that the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, we are to take those infirmities in the full latitude and extent of them. First, we may take it of moral and sinful infirmities. The Spirit of God helps us here, not to them — take heed of that — but in them, and from them, and about them, and in reference to them. And so His help to this purpose may be ranked into two sorts: First, that help which He gives us against corruptions, for the avoiding of them. First, the Spirit helps our infirmities; that is, He overawes our temptations and removes our corruptions from us. Grace, it corrects nature and takes away the distempers of it. The Spirit of God, wherever He comes, He makes a change in that soul and fits it for His own residence and abode in it. The consideration hereof should teach us to give up ourselves to His gracious guidance and governance of us, and influence upon us. Secondly, He helps us also in our infirmities by giving us strength unto duty. So that the Spirit helps our infirmities so far forth as He assists our prayers. First, by His gracious acceptance. The Spirit helps our infirmities thus by bearing with us in what is done by us, notwithstanding the infirmities which are in us. Acceptance of endeavour is a great help of infirmity. As David says of himself, "The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will accept my prayer" (Psalm 6:9). Thus does He help our infirmities in reference to His gracious acceptance. Secondly, by His gracious assistance. He helps them here also. "When I am weak, then am I strong," (2 Corinthians 12:10). "And I can do all things through Christ that strengthens us" (Philippians 4:10). There's a double weakness or infirmity upon us which is considerable in us in point of duty. First, in our indispositions to duty, by provoking us and exciting us hereunto, and putting us upon it. But secondly, in our insufficiency in duty, the Spirit helps our infirmities here likewise; where we flag and are apt to fail in the performance, He does there strengthen us in it. This, for the use of it, serves first of all as a matter of great comfort and encouragement to the servants of God in those duties which are undertaken by them, that they have so strong and able as helper as this to go along with them. In great difficulties men love to have great assistance. Secondly, it serves by way of direction. The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, that is, it is His work and office to do it, though for such a particular time and season He may suspend the actual performance, which is to be inquired into by us. And we are to be humbled in ourselves for His occasional withdrawings from us. Thirdly, it teaches us not to go forth in our own strength in any duty which we take in hand, but to fetch strength and power from the Spirit, and to depend upon Him for His assistance. Lastly, in all our performances where we find ourselves to be at any time anything more enlarged than other, let us acknowledge this work of the Spirit in His assistance of us, and be thankful to Him for it. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name we give the praise." Now, secondly, it holds good also as to the infirmities of trouble and affliction. The Spirit of God does help the children of God even in those infirmities likewise. Thus Psalm 94:17, 18. Now the Spirit of God is active in us to this purpose, upon a various account. First, by virtue of His office, and that work which does more properly and peculiarly belong unto Him (John 14:26; 2 Corinthians 7:6; Romans 15:5). Secondly, His promise, by virtue of that also, Thirdly, from His nature, He helps us because He pities us. Lastly, taking this Spirit more particularly for the Spirit of Christ, from the similitude and likeness of condition. He helps our infirmities as having taken our infirmities upon Him. Now, if it shall be further demanded by what ways and in what manner this is done, we may take it briefly in these following particulars. First, by His counsel, directing us what to do and how to carry ourselves in such conditions. Secondly, as the Spirit helps by His counsel, so also by His comfort. Thirdly, the Spirit helps by His assistance and particular relief in our particular condition. Lastly, the Spirit helps our infirmities by His intercession which He makes in our hearts, as it is here expressed in the text. First, seeing the Spirit helps our infirmities, it concerns us therefore to be very careful how we carry ourselves towards this Spirit, and in a special manner to take heed of grieving of Him. Secondly, where we are at any time enabled, or see any others enabled before us, to endure any afflictions whatsoever without fainting and sinking under it. Let us see here to whom to acknowledge it and to give the glory of it; and that is to the Spirit of God alone, who alone is herein helpful to us. Thirdly, we see here the advantage and privilege of the servants of God in all the infirmities which are incident to them, whether moral or natural.

(Thomas Horton, D.D.)

We begin with the first of these parts, viz., the defect or infirmity — "We know not what to pray for," etc. Now, there is a threefold impotency or defect. First, in reference to the very performance itself. God's people are sometimes in that condition, as they cannot set themselves seriously to such a duty as this is, but are very indisposed hereunto. And there are divers causes of this obstruction to them. As, first, distempers of body, and the infirmities which arise from that. When the body is out of frame, it puts the soul out of frame also, and indisposes it to that which is good. Secondly, from distraction of mind and perplexity of spirit. This does likewise very much disturb them in this particular. Thirdly, from some special corruption and inordinate passion which surprises them. This does very much hinder them likewise. Lastly, too much interest and involution in worldly affairs. This, if it be not the better heeded and more carefully looked into, it will very much take off the mind from such a business as this is. It will take up the time as to the undertaking of the performance, and it will take off the heart as to the managing of it. If Christians were more careful to pray when they might, they would be more able to pray when they should; but when they willingly or carelessly withdraw from it, they are sometimes unwillingly and against their minds obstructed in it. Secondly, where it is at any time thus with us, we should accordingly be affected in it. First, to be humbled for it. Secondly, to inquire into the cause and occasion of it, and to examine from whence it proceeds. Thirdly, not to lie down under them, but to strive to overcome them all we can. As we are required sometimes to eat against stomach, for the better strengthening of nature, so we are required to pray against stomach also, for the strengthening of grace. The second is of ignorance, in reference to the matter of it. "We know not what we should pray for." First, in asking things which are absolutely sinful and unlawful. They know not what they should pray for in this. Secondly, in asking things which are unseasonable. There is a miscarriage in this also. There are some things which do well at one time which do not so well at another. Everything is beneficial at its season. Thirdly, in asking things which are unsuitable and inconvenient for us; at least which are very uncertain and under very much hazard. We know not oftentimes what to ask, because we know not many times what it is which is worth the asking. For that which we may judge to be very desirable, it may in conclusion prove the quite contrary. The consideration of this point may be thus far useful to us. First, as from hence to satisfy us in the denial of those petitions which are sometimes made by us. Secondly, forasmuch as of ourselves, we know not what to pray for, we should therefore beg of God to direct us, and to suggest such things unto us as are fittest to be prayed for by us. It is a great matter to know what to pray for, and that which is exceeding profitable and beneficial to us. Thirdly, this teaches us to ask nothing absolutely, but with submission to the will of God. Forasmuch as we may mistake. The third is in the manner or carriage of it; how, and as we ought. This is another thing which Christians are sometimes apt to fail in. And so now I have done with the first part of the text, which is the defect or infirmity itself here mentioned in these words, "For we know not what we should pray for as we ought." The second is the happy supply of this defect in these words, "But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered." First, for the assistance itself. "The Spirit maketh intercession for us." There is a two-fold intercession for us which we read of in Scripture. The one is the intercession of Christ Himself; and the other is the intercession of the Spirit of Christ. The former of these we read of in ver. 34, speaking of Christ, who also maketh intercession for us. The latter we have here in this verse which we have now in hand. The one is an intercession for us, as it is a speaking in our behalf; and the other is an intercession in us, as it is an enabling of us to speak ourselves. The Holy Ghost Himself makes intercession for us, so far forth as He helps us to pray (Matthew 10:20; Zechariah 12:10; Galatians 4:6). In these and the like places of Scripture, is the Holy Ghost set forth unto us as the helper and promoter of our prayers, and as one that makes intercession for us. Now, this we may conceive Him to do by divers operations. First, by sanctifying of our persons and putting us into such a capacity, as from whence we may with boldness draw nigh to the throne of grace. The wise man tells us, "That the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, and that the prayer of the upright [only] is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8). Secondly, by putting our hearts into a praying and begging frame. For though a man may be a true child of God, yet he may not be always in a praying temper. Therefore the Holy Ghost prepares the heart for this performance (Psalm 10:17). Thirdly, by suggesting to us what at any time we shall pray for. Fourthly, by stirring up such graces in us as are requisite to the performance of prayer in a right and holy manner. This may serve to teach us how to make our addresses to God in prayer upon all occasions, namely, so as desiring the help of His Spirit in those performances. "Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," as it is in Ephesians 6:18. And again, "Praying in the Holy Ghost," as it is in the Epistle of Jude and ver. 20. And so much may suffice to have spoken of the first particular in this passage, which is the help or assistance itself, which is here vouchsafed, "The Spirit itself making intercession for us." The second is the conveyances of it to us, or the manner wherein it is effected. And that is in these words, "With groanings which cannot be uttered." By groanings, here in this place, we are not only, as I conceive, to understand secret complaints which do proceed from bitterness of Spirit in us, although these principally and especially; but by groanings we are here as well to understand any other secret workings of the heart towards God in converse and communion with Him. That which we may observe from hence is this, that there may be prayer sometimes, there where yet there is not speech or vocal expression. A man may cry mightily to God even there where sometimes he utters, as to the outward hearing of it, never a word. This, for the use of it, is first of all a very great comfort to all the true children of God as concerns their communion with Him, where they are hindered or at any time denied the opportunity of outward expression. First, it is very satisfactory m a weakness and defect of parts, and such and such gifts. Secondly, it is also comfortable in all afflictions and distresses. Last of all, in the multitude of business and variety of occasions in the day, which take men up, that still they may have converse with the Lord in these frequent ejaculations towards Him. But yet this must also be warily and cautiously taken by us. That we abuse not such a point as this is to sluggishness and neglect. Though this working of the heart in groans and sighs in some cases may be prayer, yet we are not to content ourselves with this alone where we have further ability and opportunity afforded unto us. Prayer is another kind of business than the world thinks it, or takes it to he. It is one thing to talk to God, and it is another thing to pray to Him, which is here in the text expressed by "groaning which cannot be uttered." Where again we must further take heed that we be not mistaken neither. There is a double groaning or sighing which a man is capable of in prayer; the one as a work of nature, and the other as a work of grace.

(Thomas Horton, D.D.)

I. THE PREDOMINANT CHARACTERISTIC OF THE CHRISTIAN IS PRAYER. This is clear from the preceding context, and from the nature of the ease. What is past is for rest and praise — not for prayer and on-reaching.

1. All true believers are praying men. This is and must be a universal characteristic.

2. Prayer must be essentially our own. Another man's hunger is not my hunger, even when both of us are hungry alike. And so another man's prayer or yearning are not mine.

II. THE SUCCESS OF PRAYER IS HINDERED BY OUR INFIRMITIES. Everything that deadens hope or that makes us contented to be as we are, will hinder prayer.

1. Infirmities of flesh. "The spirit indeed is wilting, but the flesh is weak."

2. Infirmities of our faith. "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Psalm 77:10).

3. Infirmities of conscience. These arise from the spirit of bondage and lead to timidity and superstition.

4. Infirmities of judgment. The judgments we form of Divine truth will exert a considerable influence over our character. And it is here that our weakness often appears.

5. Infirmities of temper. We all know how irascibility interferes with the calmness of prayer and spoils our devotion.


1. Our longings are often of a vague and indefinite character. Our religious feelings are often earnest and real, yet shapeless and indeterminate; and so our prayers, which are but our endeavours to utter what we feel, are often nothing better than a groan. We want clear light. Is not this the case supposed in our text?

2. There is One concerned in this endeavour of ours. In this wordless and unutterable longing of the soul there is One who is helping us.

3. Though we do not understand, yet He that searcheth the heart does. We ask for what, if suddenly given, would surprise us, but the Spirit means all that. When I ask "to be what God would have me be," should I become so at once, how wonderful would be the reality — beyond what I thought when I prayed! And so "Thy kingdom come." Truly I mean it; but have I a conception of its meaning and compass? The Spirit means it, and "he that," etc.

(P. Strutt.)

I. THE CHRISTIAN INFIRMITIES IN PRAYER. The word means weakness, sickness, and intimates debility in our moral constitution. The diseases of our nature once produced moral death. In the process of regeneration our recovery commences; but the condition of the patient is that of great infirmity; this is seen especially in the duty of prayer. His spirit is faint, his desires are languid, his efforts are feeble. This infirmity appears —

1. In our ignorance of the proper subject of prayer. "We know not what to pray for." "Lord, teach us to pray." This appears in our supplication —(1) For the blessings of providence. We are mercifully permitted to make these the subject of prayer (Philippians 4:6). But who knoweth what is good for man? The events of Providence form a system of moral discipline by which God would train us for His service on earth, and prepare us for the enjoyment of His presence in heaven. Now in what danger are we, by our prayers, of interfering with God's plans, and of asking what may be injurious to us, and deprecating what may be good to us. God gave Israel their desire, but He sent leanness into their souls. St. Paul, smarting under the anguish of the thorn in the flesh, prayed thrice that it might depart from him; but God knew better than His servant did what was good for him.(2) Spiritual blessings. The Word of God presents us with an almost infinite variety of topics for prayer. But how often none of these are present to the mind; how often the thoughts are distracted!

2. Our want of the proper spirit of prayer. "We know not what to pray for as we ought." We ought to pray —(1) With the profoundest reverence, But how often we come under the influence of feelings, light, careless, undevout!(2) With the deepest humility. But how often do we pray with a heart cold — aye, proud, impenitent, insensible.(3) With the greatest importunity; for the blessings we seek are of great magnitude — the evils we deprecate are of the greatest duration. But how often do our feelings almost expire through our weakness!(4) In faith, for "he that cometh to God must believe that He is," etc., and in the power of, and in reliance on, Christ. But how often do we question these, and thus expect but seldom the blessings we supplicate!(5) With infinite perseverance, knowing that it will come, though the blessing be delayed. But how often do we grow weary and faint in our minds!

II. THE GRACIOUS SUCCOURS, WHICH, IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THIS DUTY, THE CHRISTIAN DERIVES FROM THE AGENCY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. He "helpeth our infirmities," He bears them with us. He does not intend to supersede human agency, but to excite, invigorate, encourage. He will not work without you, you cannot work without Him; but you are to be co-workers. He "maketh intercession for us," by helping us to make intercession for ourselves (ver. 15; cf. Galatians 4:6). The Spirit helpeth our infirmities by —

1. Exciting us to prayer. Subduing our natural repugnance, convincing us of the advantages and efficacy of prayer, and implanting within us those affections which dispose us to pray.

2. Impressing us in prayer with an affecting consciousness of our wants. Our fervour will be in proportion to our sense of want. It is part of the Spirit's office to produce an urgent conviction of want. If evils are concealed, the Spirit shows man to himself, and places before him attractive in array those blessings adapted to the supply of his wants.

3. Imparting to us importunity in prayer "with groanings which cannot be uttered." It was thus that the cruelties endured by the Israelites could not be told in words, but it is said their groanings reached the ears and pierced the heart of God. It was thus that David said, "Lord... my groaning is not hid from Thee," and that Christ "groaned in spirit, and was troubled." So the whole creation is represented as groaning. And Christians "groan within themselves, groan being burdened," till mortality is swallowed up of life. The Christian's life is a conflict; and often his sorrows and desires are too big for utterance; there is a feeling, deep, complicated, unutterable, which God only can understand. And He understandeth it, because He knoweth the mind of that Spirit, which maketh intercession for the saints with groanings which cannot be uttered.

4. Presenting to the mind encouraging views of the mediation of Christ in prayer. He helps our infirmities by enabling us to plead the blood, and to rely on the sacrifice of the Son of God.

5. Inspiring us with confidence in the Divine promises.

6. Making the duty exceedingly delightful to us. When we pray without the Spirit our prayers are formal, lifeless, insipid, a drudgery. But if we pray under His direction, we engage in the most delightful exercise. The scene of prayer becomes the gate of heaven.

7. Securing the success of our prayers. There is an inseparable oneness between the mind of the Spirit and the will of the Father. If you pray for things which are not according to the will of God, the Holy Spirit does not authorise it, because God cannot deny Himself. But if you are under His agency, you are sure to attain what you pray for.

(J. Bowers.)


1. It is a great infirmity if a Christian should faint in the day of trouble (Proverbs 24:10). Partly because there is so little reason for a Christian's fainting. Who should be more undisturbed than he who hath God for his God, Christ for his Saviour, and the Spirit for his Comforter, and heaven for his portion? Partly because there is so much help from God (Psalm 138:3) and partly because of the mischiefs which follow this fainting. There is a twofold fainting.(1) That which causeth great trouble and dejection of spirit (Hebrews 12:3). Now this is a great evil in a child of God; for the spirit of a man, or natural courage, will go far as to the sustaining of foreign evils (Proverbs 18:14). Therefore a Christian, with all his faith and hope, should strive against it (Psalm 77:7-10).(2) That which causeth dejection and falling off from God. This worse becometh the children of God (Revelation 2:3; Galatians 6:9).

2. In this weakness, if we are left to ourselves, we cannot support ourselves. This appeareth partly because they that have but a light tincture of the Spirit give up at the first assault (Matthew 13:21), and partly because the most resolved, if not duly possessed with a sense of their own weakness, soon miscarry, if not in whole, yet in part; witness Peter (Matthew 26:33-35).

3. When we cannot support ourselves through our weakness, the Spirit helpeth us (Ephesians 3:16; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

4. They that rouse themselves, and use all means, are in a nearer capacity to receive influences from the Spirit than others (Psalm 27:14; Psalm 31:24).


1. Troubles are sent, not to drive us from God, but to draw us to Him (Psalm 50:15).

2. Prayer is a special means to ease the heart of our burdensome cares and fears (Philippians 4:6).

3. It is a special means of acknowledging God —

(1)As the fountain of our strength and support (1 Peter 5:10).

(2)As the author of our deliverance (2 Timothy 4:18).


1. The manner in which the Spirit concurreth to the prayers of the faithful. First, there is the spirit of a man, for the Holy Ghost makes use of our understandings for the actuating of our will and affections; He bloweth up the fire, though it be our hearts that burn within us. Secondly, the new nature in a Christian is more immediately and vigorously operative in prayer than in most other duties; and the exercise of faith, love, and hope in prayer doth flow from the renewed soul as the proper inward and vital principle of these actions; so that we, and not the Spirit of God, are said to repent, believe, and pray. More distinctly the Holy Ghost —(1) Directs and orders our requests so as they may suit with our great end, which is the enjoyment of God.(2) He quickens our desires in prayers.

(3)He encourages us to come to God as a Father (chap. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

(a)Childlike confidence (Luke 11:13.

(b)Childlike reverence (Malachi 1:6; 1 Peter 1:17).

2. The necessity of this help.(1) The order and economy of the Divine persons showeth it. God is our reconciled God and Father, to whom we come; Christ the Mediator, through whom we come, and the Spirit our Guide, by whom we come (Ephesians 2:18).(2) That prayer may carry proportion with other duties.(3) Because of our impotency (Corinthians 12:3).(4) With respect to acceptance (ver. 27).

3. Cautions against some abuses and mistakes in prayer.(1) This is not so to be understood as if the matter of prayer were immediately to be inspired by the Holy Ghost.(2) Nor as if we should never pray till the Spirit moveth us.(3) Nor as if because we have not such freedom of words as may give vent to spiritual affections, we have not the spirit of prayer. There may be a great extravagance of words, without faith, or feeling, or spiritual affections.(4) Nor as if all that pray graciously had the Spirit in a like measure, or the same persons always in the same measure (John 3:7).(5) Gifts are more necessary when we join with others, and are their mouth to God; but the spirit of prayer is of most use when we are alone.

(T. Manton, D.D.)

Whatever of good is found in us is the result of a Divine influence. So our Bibles teach us; but the same truth has been affirmed by men who never saw the Bible. "Never did man attain to true greatness," writes Cicero, in one place, "without being the subject of a Divine inspiration," whilst another of the ancient philosophers says, "There is a holy Spirit which dwelleth within us — as we treat Him, so He treateth us, and He it is from whom every good man receiveth both honourable and upright purposes." How these heathens came by this knowledge, except as part of some traditional and half-preserved revelation, it seems hard to explain. Consider —

I. THE INFIRMITIES WHICH THE TEXT SPEAKS OF AS BEING SO GREAT A HINDRANCE TO PRAYER. The word describes a sickness or positive disease in the moral system, incapacitating us for the employments which, in a healthy frame of spirit, would be our privilege and delight.

1. Ignorance, unskilledness in not knowing how to order our prayer before God, or to bring our spirit to an adequate appreciation of the work in which we are about to engage. The Divine Being must be felt to be present as an actual personal subsistence — a power willing to be sought, inclined to hearken, able to relieve, mighty to save. The formalist is at no effort to conceive of the presence of such a being while he is praying. The terminating object of his prayer is the prayer itself, and he does not look behind it. But the moment feelings of needed help and desired peace enter into our prayer, those perfunctory performances no longer satisfy us, we must be brought into near converse with God. That this difficulty discourages many in their first attempt at prayer will be readily admitted. "Teach us what we shall say unto God," says Elihu, "for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness." Whilst Job himself exclaims, "O that I knew where I might find Him," etc. Indeed, we may not hesitate to include a regard to this form of infirmity as being among the contemplated ends of our Divine Lord's incarnation.

2. Mistaken desires, hurtful and unwise choices in regard to what will make for our true happiness. Sometimes we pray for things positively hurtful to us, as when the Israelites prayed for meat in the wilderness; sometimes for things not wrong in themselves, but yet wrong because in an unsubmissive spirit, as when Rebecca said, "God, give me children, or else I die." We ask for medicines to be taken away which are working heaven's kindest cures, and we desire change in our outward lot which can only encompass us with new dangers and snares.

3. Unfixed and unworthy thoughts. The apostle prayed for the Corinthians — "That we may attend on the Lord without distraction," which describes a mind divided and rent by a multitude of contending thoughts, each demanding our fixed and earnest heed, all attended to in turn, but none appeased. And the apostle's prayer is, that God's footstool may never be made the place of such unseemly strife, but in that awful presence the heart may be at unity in itself, having one care to absorb, one errand to fulfil, one presence to realise, one voice to hear.


1. He "helpeth," an expression which describes the joint bearing with the person helped, of a burden pressing upon both. The burden is not taken off, but there is a sustaining hand underneath which lightens the grievance of the pressure. The text therefore promises not a removed burden, but an ability to bear; not the supersession of your own exertions and means, but a gracious throwing in of the Holy Spirit's succours to make those means effectual.

2. He "maketh intercession for us." He is said to do that which He enables us to do. He is the source, and strength, and food of our whole devotional life. He moulds us into the praying frame; He suggests to us praying thoughts; He forms in us the praying habit.

3. He "maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

(D. Moore, M.A.)

I. AN EQUALITY OF IGNORANCE. "We know not." There are many questions that bring people to this equality. A child may ask a question that a philosopher cannot answer. So Paul was sometimes as ignorant of the will of God concerning him as the weakest disciple.

II. AN EQUALITY OF HELP. Our infirmities. Literally, the Spirit lifts "with" us, not for us; our weak effort is made available by His might. A boy is trying to row a heavy boat: he is powerless to lift the oars, his father comes behind, and lays one hand on each oar, and rows with him.

III. A COMMON MEDIUM by which our desires are put in harmony with the will of God. "Groanings which cannot be uttered." The cry of the infant is interpreted by its mother, the sigh of the sick man is as good as words to the nurse, so the groaning (Psalm 102:5) and the weeping (Psalm 6:8) are voices in the ear of God.

(W. Harris).

forbade his disciples to pray for themselves, because they knew not what was expedient. Socrates more wisely taught his disciples to pray simply for good things, the gods knowing best what sort of things are good. But better illustrations are found in Paul's own expression (Philippians 1:22, 3); and in that of our Lord (John 12:27, 28).

(Archdeacon Gifford.)

In Dr. Ryland's memoir of Andrew Fuller is the following anecdote. At a conference at Soham, a friend of slender abilities being asked to pray, knelt down, and Mr. Fuller and the company with him, when he found himself so embarrassed:, that, whispering to Mr. Fuller, he said, "I do not know how to go on." Mr. Fuller replied in a whisper, "Tell the Lord so." The rest of the company did not hear what passed between them, but the man, taking Mr. Fuller's advice, began to confess his not knowing how to pray as he ought to pray, begging to be taught to pray, and so proceeded in prayer to the satisfaction of all the company.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I go into the studio of my friend the artist, and he makes the outline. I recognise the likeness to some extent as my friend's, but it is not perfect. He takes his pencil, and, as he gazes upon the countenance he wishes to express, he applies the pencil, and by degrees, by touch after touch, the likeness comes out, until at last, when finished, it is perfected so far as it may be perfected, and I say it is the perfect likeness of my friend. So the Holy Spirit has been sitting on your hearts, and, I humbly trust, on mine. There is Jesus, the great example. Here is my heart. The rude outlines have been already formed. I have been adopted into the family. I bear a family likeness; I can be recognised as something like the blessed Saviour, be it ever so little, but the Holy Spirit is changing, transforming, touching this part and that, making me a little more loving and more meek, more self-denying, more active, until by and by I shall be brought into His likeness; it shall be said: "It is enough"; and then, released from mortality, I shall mount up as on wings of eagles; I shall see Him in glory.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Essex Congregational Remembrancer.
Consider —

I. THE DISCOURAGEMENTS THAT WEAK BELIEVERS EXPERIENCE IN THEIR ATTEMPTS TO PRAY. We do not now refer to the many external discouragements. A devotional spirit may be restrained and destroyed from worldly associations, a multiplicity of engagements, but the apostle calls on us to notice those internal discouragements that arise from "our infirmities." Even the apostles were not exempt from the infirmities which are found —

1. In the matter of our prayers. "We know not what to pray for." This arises —

(1)From ignorance.

(2)From a moral destitution.

(3)From a want of suitable dispositions of mind.

2. In the manner of our prayers. We know not how to pray as we ought. So confused, unconnected, and incoherent, are our prayers. If our petitions are not immediately answered, we are unwilling to wait any longer. "We knock at mercy's door and run away." There is oftentimes much pride and selfishness mixed with our prayers. Sometimes the desire of a present indulgence makes us forgetful of duties, an attention to which would yield us more solid and lasting enjoyment. Sometimes the dread of a present evil leads to the use of arguments and expressions unsuited to our true character and condition.

II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT WE HAVE TO SEEK DIVINE ASSISTANCE IN THIS IMPORTANT DUTY. In reference to this promise of the Spirit's intercession and help. Observe —

1. That it does not render the exercise of the mind unnecessary (1 Corinthians 14:15). We are not dealt with as automatons in religion.

2. Neither does it render nugatory the intercession of Christ (ver. 34). Both are necessary. There is a material difference in their intercession. Christ pleads and procures our reconciliation and pardon, without us; the Spirit co-operates to the same end by His gracious influences within us. Christ by His all-sufficient merits intercedes for His people now in heaven; the Spirit is engaged in applying the benefits of His death to our hearts here on earth.

3. But the promise is designed to teach us that the agency of the Spirit in prayer is indispensable. It is called the Spirit of grace and supplication, and we are exhorted to pray in the Holy Ghost. And our Saviour shows that we cannot rightly perform the duty without it (Luke 11:10-13).


1. To quicken the indolent.

2. To encourage the timid.

3. To alarm the presumptuous.

(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)

But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered
"We know not." This ignorance is twofold —

1. Of the gifts to be asked for.(1) If we knew what we needed our great necessity for prayer would pass away. How many of our prayers are produced by a consciousness of deadness of emotion in which we are tempted to feel that we are "rich: . . and have need of nothing." And because we know this to be a delusion we are driven to cry to God to show us our poverty.(2) Our ignorance of our souls is sufficient proof of our ignorance of the gifts to be sought from God. For before we ask absolutely for any temporal gift we should know what influence as a new temptation it would have on us. What appear the safest requests have a peril of their own. Like Agur we may ask for neither poverty nor riches, but the blessing asked for contains a temptation to fancy oneself free from the sins of both states. Who has not sometimes found it to be a great blessing that his prayers have remained unanswered?(3) The awful fact of human influence seems, when realised, to be an effective barrier to absolute praying. Who, not knowing What result it might produce, dare ask for one gift, seeing that if he fails, he may drag a brother down with him in his fall.(4) Pass on to petitions for spiritual blessings. It may be said that we can rightly ask for such; and so we can when God's Spirit teaches us, but not till then. The strange responses which our prayers often receive seem to indicate that. We cry for faith, and are met with darker doubt; for peace, and are called upon to maintain a fiercer conflict; for happiness, and meet with sorrow.

2. Of the way to ask for them. To ask rightly —(1) We must realise the solemnity of asking. Many prayers are offered from a sense of duty, or force of habit, to some Being, we scarcely dare ask who. Hence we fail to "take hold on God." But when touched by the Divine Spirit we rouse all the powers of being to realise the Divine presence as an overwhelming reality — we feel the solemnity of asking. And if we further realise that by His Spirit He is specially near the praying soul — that the Divine breath is quickening the prayer, while the Great Spirit waits to catch the voice — that prayer is the prayer of His child, and the Father amid the grandeur of His universe, listens to its call. Under such circumstances mechanical or formal prayer is impossible.(2) We must be in the right state of mind. We must be free from the distractions of passion. The wild impulses of the heart beat back the upsoaring of the spirit. Who but the Spirit of God can calm the turmoils of the earthly temper?(3) We must ask with persevering earnestness. We ought always to pray and not faint.

II. THE MANNER OF THE SPIRIT'S INTERCESSION. The awakening of an inexpressible emotion. All deep feelings are too large for language. In the profoundest sense when the soul is touched by the Spirit emotions are awakened which break out in unutterable aspiration.

III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE DIVINE RESPONSE (ver. 27). There are two kinds of prayer — that of the Baal worshipper hoping to avert his wrath and change his purpose; and that of a Christian crying for the Spirit which is in harmony with God's will. Note the beautiful thought — the strong Eternal Spirit breathing through the frail child of time for His own fuller descent. On the rock of God's truthfulness prayer stands firm and sure. Our ignorance and feebleness becomes wise and bold. We dare not ask absolutely for any particular blessing, but the Spirit inspires the cry "Thy will be done"; and the right blessings are given.

(E. L. Hull, B.A.)


1. Negatively.(1) Not praying aright in a legal sense, without any imperfection in the eye of the law. The best prayers of the best saints have always been attended with blemishes (Isaiah 64:6).(2) Not praying aright in a moral sense, wherein the most rigid hearer can discern nothing contrary to the precepts of morality. A prayer may be so far right as no unlawful thing may be prayed for in it, and yet may be naught (Luke 18:11). The matter may be very good where the manner of praying spoils all.(3) Not praying aright in a rhetorical sense. Words, voice and gesture are of little moment before God (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Corinthians 2:4). It may be a right prayer where the sentences are broken (Psalm 6:3), and where there is not a wrong word there may not be one right affection.

2. Positively, it is praying aright in an evangelical sense. This implies —(1) Sincerity in prayer 2 Chronicles 29:17), in opposition to formality and hypocrisy (2 Timothy 3:5; Psalm 17:1).(2) A perfection of parts in prayer, though not of degrees, i,e,(a) Praying for things agreeable to God's will revealed in His word of command of promise (1 John 5:14).(b) Praying in a right manner (Jeremiah 39:13). Hereunto are required praying graces and affections in exercise, as faith, fervency, humility, reverence, and the like. Where these are wanting the duty will be reckoned but bodily exercise (1 Timothy 4:8). Such praying is right in so far as it is acceptable in the sight of God, i.e., capable of being accepted according to the rule of the gospel. It is a sacrifice fit to be laid on God's altar, a prayer which may be put in the Mediator's hand, that through His intercession it may be actually accepted.

II. ALL OUR PRAYING ARIGHT IS DONE BY THE HELP OF THE SPIRIT. It is done by the help of the Spirit dwelling in us and actually influencing us (Galatians 4:6). This is clear —

1. From Scripture testimony. The Spirit is the Author of our whole sanctification, whereof praying aright is a part (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Philippians 3:3). It is by Him we have access to God in worship (Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 6:18).

2. We are spiritually dead without the Spirit indwelling, and spiritually asleep without the Spirit influencing (Ephesians 2:1; Song of Solomon 5:2). Neither a dead man nor a sleeping man is fit to present a supplication to the king.

3. There is no praying aright without sanctifying grace, nor without that grace in exercise (John 9:31; Song of Solomon 3:1). Where grace is not in exercise there is incense indeed, but no pillar of smoke ascending from it to heaven; spikenard indeed, but no smell thereof.

4. To praying aright is required a light of the mind and warmth of affections, the former for the matter, the latter for the manner. And it is a false light and warmth that makes some natural men think that sometimes they pray aright (Isaiah 58:2). But all genuine light and vital warmth comes from the Spirit (Ephesians 1:17, 18; 2 Timothy 1:7).


1. All that is right in our prayers is from the Spirit, and all that is wrong in them from ourselves (1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Peter 1:22; with 2 Corinthians 3:5). In the incense of our prayers there is smoke that goes up towards heaven, ashes that remain behind on the earth. It is the fire from the altar that sends up the smoke; it is the earthly nature of the incense that occasions the ashes.

2. None pray aright but as they are members of Christ and children of God (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15; John 15:5). Now it is the Holy Spirit of the Head that dwells in and actuates all the members acting as members (1 Corinthians 12:11, 12).

3. The Spirit is the principal cause of our praying aright; we are but the instrumental causes of it (James 5:16). As the sound of the horn ceases as soon as one ceases to wind it, so does our praying aright on the withdrawing of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:5).

4. All our praying graces, as all others, are in their exercise the product of the Spirit and His work in us (Galatians 5:22, 23). In prayer these are brought forth into exercise — the man acts faith, love, etc. — and therein the soul of prayer lies; but look on them as they are so brought forth from the stock, and they are the fruit of the Spirit, though the believer is the tree they hang on (Isaiah 44:3, 4).


1. The difference betwixt Christ's intercession and the Spirit's.(1) Christ intercedes for us in heaven at the Father's right hand (ver. 34); the Spirit intercedes in our hearts upon earth (Galatians 4:6).(2) Christ's is a mediatory intercession between God and us (1 Timothy 2:5), but the Spirit's is an auxiliary intercession to us, whereby He helps us to go to God.(3) The Spirit's intercession is the fruit of Christ's, and what is done by the sinner through the Spirit's intercession is accepted of God through the intercession of Christ. In a word, the difference is such as is between one who draws a poor man's petition for him, and another who presents it to the king and gets it granted.

2. The help of the Spirit in prayer.(1) More generally. He acts in it —(a) As a teaching Spirit (John 14:26). It is our infirmity that "we know not what we should pray for as we ought." He helps our ignorance (1 John 2:27).(b) As a quickening Spirit (Psalm 80:18). "He maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered," setting the gracious heart working towards God with the utmost earnestness.(2) More particularly.(a) He excites us to pray (ver. 15) He impresses our spirits with a sense of a Divine call to it, and so binds it on our consciences as duty to God; then He inclines us to the duty, that we willingly comply with it (Psalm 27:8).(b) He gives us a view of God as a gracious and merciful Father in Christ (Galatians 4:6); and hereby He works in us a holy reverence in God (Hebrews 12:28), and a holy confidence in Him (Ephesians 3:12). This confidence respects both His ability and willingness to help us (Matthew 7:11). Without this there can be no acceptable prayer (Hebrews 11:6; James 1:6), This is it that makes prayer an case to a troubled heart. Hence the soul, though not presently eased, draws these conclusions, Its designs my good by all the hardships I am under (ver. 28); He pities me under them (Psalm 103:13); He knows the best time for removing them, and will do it when that comes (1 Samuel 2:3).(c) He gives us a view of ourselves in our own sinfulness anti unworthiness (John 16:8; Isaiah 6:5). Hereby He works in us — humiliation of heart before the Lord (Genesis 18:27; Luke 18:13; Ezekiel 36:31); cordial confession (Psalm 62:8); hearty thanksgiving for mercies received (Psalm 116:11, 12); a high value for the Mediator and His righteousness (Philippians 3:9).(d) He gives us a view of our wants and the need we have of the supply of them (Luke 15:17). This may be seen, comparing the Pharisee's and publican's prayers (Luke 18:11-13). Here He acts as an enlightener, opening the eyes of the mind to discern the wants and needs we are compassed with (Ephesians 1:17, 18); as a remembrancer (John 14:26); as a forewarner of what we may need (John 16:13)(e) He gives us a view of the grace and promises of the covenant (Psalm 25:14; John 14:26). And here the Spirit brings to remembrance the grace and promises suited to our case (Genesis 32:11, 12), and unfolds that grace and these promises, causing to understand them in a spiritual and saving manner (1 Corinthians 2:12). Hereby the Spirit teaches what to pray for, according to the will of God, and in what terms to pray for it, the terms of the promise agreeable to the grace of the covenant. Hereby, too, He fills our mouths with arguments, helping us to plead and pray (Job 23. 3, 4), and stirs up in us a faith of particular confidence as to the thing prayed for, so that we are helped to pray believingly (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:6; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:13), and works in us a holy boldness in prayer (Ephesians 3:12).(f) He raiseth in us holy desires for the supply of our wants, "groanings which cannot be uttered." Thus we are made to pray fervently (James 5:16; Romans 12:11).(g) He gives us a view of the merit and intercession of the Mediator (Ephesians 1:17). Hereby He points us to the only way of acceptance of our prayers (John 14:6), lays before us a firm foundation of confidence before the Lord (1 John 2:1; Ephesians 3:12), and furnishes us with an answer to all objections that an unbelieving heart and a subtle devil can muster up against us, in prayer (vers. 33, 34).(h) He manages the heart and spirit in prayer, which every serious soul will own to be a hard task (Jeremiah 10:23); He composes it for prayer (Psalm 86:11); He fixes it in prayer, that it wander not away in the duty (Ezekiel 36:27); and reduces it from its wanderings (Psalm 23:3).(i) The Spirit causes us to continue in prayer from time to time till we obtain a gracious answer, and so makes us pray perseveringly (Ephesians 6:18), by accounting for the delay of our answer in a way consistent with God's honour and our good, and so satisfying us in that point (Psalm 22:2, 3); by strengthening faith and hope, which have the battle to fight in this ease (Ephesians 3:16); and by continuing and reviving on our spirits the sense of our need, which, pinching us anew, obliges to renew our suit for relief until the time we get it (2 Corinthians 12:8).

(T. Boston, D.D.)

The text speaks of —

I. CERTAIN INFIRMITIES INCIDENT TO CHRISTIAN BELIEVERS. These infirmities are immediately connected with the exercise of spiritual prayer, and they are —

1. Ignorance as to matter. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought." That there are times when believers are so beset with temptations, or so greatly harassed by the internal conflict, as not to know what they most need.

2. But, again, the infirmities of which the apostle makes mention, include inefficiency as to the manner of prayer. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought." The soul's groanings indicate infirmity. Were there no infirmity there would be no groaning; all would then be liberty and satisfaction. He who knows not what to ask for as he ought, is restrained in expressing himself.

II. THE ASSISTANCE WHICH BELIEVERS ARE PRIVILEGED TO RECEIVE FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT, IN CONNECTION WITH THEIR INFIRMITIES IS PRAYER. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities. "The Spirit maketh intercession for us." Observe here, the Spirit is not said to supersede our infirmities, but only to help them, and His help comes in the form of intercession. The infirmity remains, and is sanctified by the influence which reaches it. The groanings are not hushed, but they are made a vehicle into which the Comforter throws His interceding voice in its passage to the skies.

III. THE BLESSED CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING THE ASSISTANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AS AN INTERNAL INTERCESSOR. We are told, in effect, that the Spirit's pleading, although it be embodied in unutterable groanings, cannot fail to draw down upon the contrite soul the blessings of covenanted grace. The Holy Spirit, the Son, and the Father are the contracting parties in the scheme of human redemption; and each party must needs take cognizance of every branch of the work appropriated by the other parties. Here, however, it must be remembered that blessings imparted are not always blessings apprehended. The showers of heaven are not the less fertilising because they fall at midnight; neither are the communications of grace the less real or the less beneficial in their results because they reach the soul during seasons of spiritual gloom. He may continue to groan. The visitation itself may be unperceived by him, while it is working its blessed effects in the hidden recesses of a disconsolate heart. In God's time, however, its results will be made manifest. It is in consistency with the analogy of the Divine proceedings to connect great blessings with severe trials.


1. First, in the way of caution, I would say, Beware of judging of the excellency or of the efficacy of prayer by the medium through which it passes. It is the spirit that prompts, not the language that embodies, to which the Holy One gives heed. The true beauty of prayer, whether as to import or expression, is simplicity.

2. This passage furnishes some salutary hints and some important inferences as to the variations which characterise the Christian experience. The clearest stream may be muddled by an incidental disturbance, and the brightest sky may be overshadowed by a passing cloud. Therefore draw no wrong conclusions respecting your spiritual state from the mere circumstance of your enjoyments being at times interrupted or suspended.

3. The text gives great encouragement to those Christians, whatever may be their standing in the church of the regenerate, or whatever may be the peculiar cast or character of their experience, who want language in which to embody their feelings at the throne of the heavenly grace.

(W. Knight, M.A.)

I. THE HELP WHICH THE HOLY GHOST GIVES. If in time of trouble a man can pray, his burden loses its weight. But sometimes we are in such confusion of mind that we know not what we should pray for as we ought. We see the disease, but the name of the medicine is not known to us. When we know the matter of prayer, we yet fail to pray in a right manner. Coming to our aid in our bewilderment —

1. He instructs us. "He shall teach you all things." He instructs us as to our need, and as to the promises of God which refer to that need.

2. He often directs the mind to the special subject of prayer. We sometimes find our minds carried as by a strong under-current into a particular line of prayer for some one definite object. It is not merely that our judgment leads us in that direction, though usually the Spirit of God acts upon us by enlightening our judgment, but we often feel an unaccountable and irresistible desire rising again and again within our heart.

3. He Himself "maketh intercession for us"; not that He ever groans or personally prays, but He excites intense desire and unutterable groanings in us, and these are ascribed to Him; even as Solomon built the temple because he superintended and ordained all.

4. He strengthens the faith of believers. That faith is at first of His creating, and afterwards it is of His sustaining and increasing.

5. In this whole matter the Spirit acts —

(1)As a prompter to a reciter.

(2)As an advocate to one in peril at law.

(3)As a father aiding his boy.

II. THE PRAYER WHICH THE HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRES. The prayers which are indited in us by the Spirit of God are —

1. Those which arise from our inmost soul. A man's heart is moved when he groans.

2. Such prayers will rise within us when the mind is far too troubled to let us speak. We know not what we should pray for as we ought, and then it is that we groan. Hezekiah said, "Like a crane or a swallow did I chatter." The Psalmist said, "I am so troubled that I cannot speak."

3. They sometimes concern such great things that they cannot be spoken. If it were some little thing, my narrow capacity could comprehend and describe it, but I need all covenant blessings. But it may be that we groan because we are conscious of the littleness of our desire and the narrowness of our faith. The trial, too, may seem too mean to pray about.

4. They are prayers of knowledge. Notice, our difficulty is that we know not what we should pray for; but the Holy Spirit does know, and therefore He helps us by enabling us to pray intelligently, knowing what we are asking for. The text speaks of the "mind of the Spirit." What a mind that must be! And it is seen in our intercessions when under His sacred influence we order our case before the Lord, and plead with holy wisdom for things convenient and necessary.

5. They are prayers offered in a proper manner. The Spirit works in us humility, earnestness, intensity, importunity, faith, and resignation, and all else that is acceptable to God in our supplications. We know not how to mingle these sacred spices in the incense of prayer. If left to ourselves, we get too much of one ingredient or another and spoil the sacred compound, but the Holy Spirit's intercessions have in them such a blessed blending of all that is good that they come up as a sweet perfume before the Lord.

6. They are only in the saints.


1. There is a meaning in them which God reads and approves. When the Spirit of God writes a prayer upon a man's heart, the man himself may be in such a state of mind that he does not altogether know what it is. His interpretation of it is a groan, and that is all. Yet our heavenly Father, who looks immediately upon the heart, reads what the Spirit of God has indited there. "He knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit." Did not Jesus say, "Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of these things before you ask them"?

2. They are "the mind of the Spirit." God is one, and therefore it cannot be conceived without profanity, that anything could be the mind of the Holy Spirit and not be the mind of the Father and of the Son. If, therefore, the Holy Spirit move you to any desire, then His mind is in your prayer, and it is not possible that the eternal Father should reject your petitions.

3. They are according to the will or mind of God, for He never maketh intercession in us other than is consistent with the Divine will.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

First the Person mentioned — God — He searcheth the heart. The Lord knoweth the heart in all the turnings and windings of it. And this is a point which the Scripture does abundantly make good to us in sundry places (thus Jeremiah 17:10; Acts 1:24; 1 Chronicles 28:9). This must needs be so upon a various account. First, in regard of His omniscience. He knows all things, therefore amongst the rest He must know the heart of man (John 21:17; Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13). Secondly, the Lord must needs know the heart, because it is He only that made it. Who does know any piece of workmanship better than He that is the artificer of it (Psalm 94:9, 10)? Thirdly, it is the Lord which does guide it and order it, and has the disposing of it. Lastly, the Lord must needs know the heart, because He shall judge every one, and that according to his heart, as Christ tells the Church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:23). This is the property of the Almighty: to be the searcher of the heart, not only simply, but exclusively, making it to be such a description of the Divine Majesty, as wherein none but Himself is included. First, it is true of God originally. He searches and knows the heart alone by the power of His own nature, and an immediate excellency which is in Himself, though others may in some sense also know it by participation and derivation from Him. The prophets, as Samuel to Saul, "I will tell thee all that is in thine heart" (1 Samuel 9:9). So Elisha likewise to Gehazi, "Went not my heart with thee," etc. The apostles, as Peter of Ananias (Acts 5:3). Secondly, it is true of God universally. The Lord He so knows the heart as that He knows all the windings and turnings of it; man knows only some particulars (Psalm 139:4). Thirdly, it is true of God infallibly, whereas men — yea, even devils themselves — they know it but conjecturally, and so, indeed, do not properly know it. The consideration of this point is useful to us, first, in a way of counsel. Those who think they shall at any time be searched, they are commonly more careful of themselves; and so it should be with us in this particular, and that in divers respects. First, in matter of duty, that our heart be right here. The Lord observes not only men's actions, but likewise their affections. Thus, for hearing of the Word He observes what it is which brings men to such places. And so as for the manner of duty, so likewise for the undertaking of it. It is useful to us here, to put us upon it, and to keep us from shifting it off upon pretence of want of ability or opportunity for it. Secondly, in matter of sin and that which is forbidden to us. It is very useful here also, seeing the Lord searches the heart, we should therefore make conscience of our thoughts and such sins as go no further than them. Seeing the heart is deceitful above all things, therefore above all things go to Him who is the searcher and discerner of the heart. Now further, secondly, it is improvable also in a way of comfort, and that in divers particulars. First, in a way of opportunity for the doing of that good which we desire. The Lord knows their hearts and minds in it (2 Chronicles 6:8; 2 Corinthians 8:12). Secondly, as this is a comfort to God's children in the straitness of their own opportunities, so likewise in the censures and misconstructions of other men (1 Corinthians 4:3-5); to light the hidden things of darkness, and manifest the counsels of the heart. And so Job, "My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high"(chap. Romans 16:19). This is a comfort in secret goodness, and such as the world takes no notice of. That it shall not be altogether unrewarded by God, who searches the very heart, and the secrets and recesses of it. Again, in the temptations of Satan, who is called the accuser of the brethren, and is said to accuse them before our God day and night (Revelation 12:10). What a great comfort is it that God searcheth the heart! And so for ourselves, when we do not always so clearly discern our own estate and condition in grace; yet to say, "Lord, Thou seest how it is with me," as Peter sometimes to Christ. God sometimes sees that good in His children which they at present do not discern in themselves. The second is the action attributed unto this Person in these words: "Knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints, according," etc.; wherein, again, we have two branches more. First, to speak of the action itself, "Knoweth," etc. And this again it may be taken two ways. First, take it notionally and by way of apprehension. The Lord, who is the searcher of hearts, knoweth — that is, understandeth — what is the mind and meaning of the Spirit in those imperfect sighs and groans which do at any time come from us. And this is very fitly brought in by way of opposition to that which went before in the former verse. "We know not," says the apostle, "what we should pray for as we ought" in such and such conditions. Secondly, take it affectionately and by way of approbation. The Lord knows — that is, approves — of the graces and good affections of His people in the midst of those manifold weaknesses and imperfections which are mingled withal in them. He knows them so as to accept them. But here a question may be made what Spirit it is which is here meant when it is said that "God knoweth the mind of the Spirit," whether our own spirit or the Spirit of God. We are hereby to understand directly the Spirit of God, yet with reference also to our own spirit, which is involved in it and with it. God knows what is spirit and grace in us, distinct from what is flesh and corruption, in those prayers which we put up unto Him. This is a point which may be laid forth to us according to sundry instances and explications of it, as — First, in difficulty of utterance, and restraint of words, and outward expressions. The saints and servants of God may not have that gift and faculty of so freely expressing themselves in speech and language. Now what does the Lord in this case — reject their prayer for this defect which is in them? No; He knows the mind of the Spirit notwithstanding. Secondly, as in difficulty of utterance, so also in distraction of spirit, which is mainly here intended in this Scripture. But God is still a gracious God in the meantime, and knows the mind of the Spirit in His children. Thirdly, in case of forgetfulness, where somewhat is left out of the prayer which was intended to be put into it. The Lord knows the mind of the Spirit in this respect also. Fourthly and lastly, in the mistake of our prayers, for the subject and matter of them, and the things which we desire in them. God knows the mind of the Spirit in this sense also. This is another piece of that comfort and encouragement which does belong to God's children: that the Lord passes over that which is flesh in them, and looks only at that which is spirit. And so much may suffice to have spoken of the first particular in this second general, to wit, the action itself in these words: "Knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit." The second is the reason or object which this action is conversant about, and that is in these words, because, or that He makes intercession for the saints, etc. We begin with the first, viz., the qualification of the persons — the saints. The apostle in the verse before had said, "for us"; now he adds, "for the saints," that so he might show under what motion and upon what account the intercession mentioned becomes available to us. And it affords us this observation which arises out of it: that none can pray truly and effectually but only the saints (thus Psalm 32:6; Proverbs 15:8; Psalm 145:19). And there is this ground for it: First, because such as these only are accepted and beloved of God. The granting of requests and petitions is a matter of special favour to those to whom it is vouchsafed; every one is not fit to obtain it. Secondly, as such only are accepted, so such only are fit subjects and instruments for the Holy Spirit to work in to this purpose. Thirdly, none but saints have an interest in the blood of Christ, as more particularly applied unto them, and His intercession working for them. The consideration of this point should therefore teach us to prize holiness both in ourselves and in others. This should further teach the saints to improve that interest which they have in God upon all occasions. Again, from this passage here before us we may collect the true nature of prayer, which lies not so much in gifts as in graces, and is a work of the Spirit in the sanctifying operations of it. The second is the manner of the performance, according to God, which we translate, according to His will. This point, from hence, is this: that then, and then alone, are our prayers likely to be successful, when they are made according to God. This praying according to the will of God does include divers things in it. First, the matter of our prayers, that it be of such things as are lawful and warrantable. Secondly, for the manner of them, that they be carried with that spirit and affection which He does allow of, and especially in the Name and confidence of Christ the Mediator (John 16:23). Thirdly, for the end of them, and that which we propound to ourselves in them, which is the glory of God (James 4:3). Thus it first of all cashiers all such prayers as do swerve from this will of God. Secondly, seeing those prayers alone are acceptable which are made according to the will of God, it does from hence nearly concern us to be well instructed in this will, and to know what it is (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:17). Thirdly, this gives us an account of it, whence our prayers sometimes are not heard, because not according to this will.

(Thomas Horton, D.D).

I. THE FACT OF THIS INTERCESSION. The word translated "Comforter," which occurs in John 14-16 means "Advocate" (1 John 2:1). We have two advocates, one of them in heaven and the other on earth — one of them being always with us, and the other being always at the Father's right hand.

II. ITS NATURE. There are two things which an advocate does or may do for his client — he speaks for him and he tells him what to say. There are stages sometimes in the course of a trial when the voice of the advocate is not enough, and when the client himself must break silence. The advocate's function, then, is to instruct his client to speak in the way that will be best for his interests. Where there is but one advocate both functions must devolve upon him; but where there are two, the functions may be divided. So Christ speaks for us, and the Spirit tells us what to say. The intercessions of Christ are in Christ's own prayers; the intercessions of the Spirit are in the prayers of believers. All of true prayer is the result of the working of the Spirit within us (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20).

1. The Spirit enlightens the mind, and gives the necessary knowledge. It is a function of the Spirit's office to teach. He teaches through the Word, which was given by His inspiration; and through the capacity which He restores to the soul for conceiving of the things of God. He is the Spirit of truth, because He inspired the penmen of Holy Writ; He is the Spirit of knowledge, because His influence disposes and enables the soul to apprehend Divine truth. By the knowledge which the Spirit imparts we learn —(1) What to ask for. "We know not what we should pray for." In this respect "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities." Through Him we discover —(a) Our need. If we do not know what we need we do not know what to ask for. He shows us our need of wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.(b) God and His grace, Christ and His salvation; and these discoveries are gladsome.(2) What plea to use when we pray. In prayer there should be arguments as well as petitions. Our requests may be all right, but more is necessary. The text says, not only that we know not what to pray for, but "as we ought." The knowledge of this is supplied by the Spirit. In glorifying Christ, He shows us the excellency and power of Christ's name, and that name comprehends arguments that are sure to prevail.

2. The Spirit excites holy, spiritual desire. Mere knowledge will not suffice for the production of prayer. There may be knowledge without prayer. There must be desire to possess the blessings, as well as knowledge of what the blessings are. Now, it is the work of the Holy Ghost to kindle within us the necessary desire. He takes away the stony heart, which is incapable of this desire, and He gives us the heart of flesh, which quivers with Divine emotions. Through His quickenings we hunger and thirst after righteousness, and we not only know, but have an urgent sense of, our need of grace and strength.

3. He gives us faith in the promises in which God engages to be a Father to us, and to keep us as His children. He gives us faith in Christ's name, and helps us to rely upon it. There may be knowledge, and there may be strong desire; but, without faith, the voice of prayer will sink into the waft of despondency, and die away! Faith inspires us with the confidence of children; and then the winged words go upwards, Abba, Father! and our prayers ascend along with them!

III. ITS EXCELLENCY. A first-rate pleader will signalise himself by the matter and the manner of his addresses. The matter will be judicious, and to the point. The manner will be earnest, affecting, eloquent and powerful.

1. With respect to the matter of His intercession, it is "according to the will of God." It is impossible for our cause to be mismanaged from unacquaintance, on His part, with God's will. He never asks what God is not ready to grant, or fails to ask what God is willing to bestow; and He always urges those arguments and considerations to which God is sure to pay regard.

2. As to the manner it is characterised by earnestness and power — "with groanings that cannot be uttered." Much of the Spirit's intercession is unspoken. Much of it consists in feelings that cannot be expressed. But the intercession of the Spirit is not the less powerful for these things. The groanings are proofs of its energy, and God understands them right well. "He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit."

IV. ITS SUCCESS. We have an advocate above, as well as an advocate below. Were there any disagreement between the two it would frustrate everything. But between these two advocates there can be no discord, The Spirit's intercession is an effect of Christ's, and flows out of it. Christ deputes the Spirit to intercede on earth, while He Himself intercedes in heaven. Our text says, "He that searcheth the hearts knoweth," etc. It is not mere knowledge that is affirmed, but knowledge carrying approval along with it — the approval being founded on the statement that the Spirit's intercession is according to the will of God.

(A. Gray.)

I. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE INTERCESSION OF THE SPIRIT AND THAT OF CHRIST is that the latter is a fact revealed to faith; the former a fact known by experience. Indeed, Christ Himself is God revealed to us; the Spirit is God revealed in us. "We are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus"; but by the Spirit of adoption we cry, "Abba, Father." "Remission of sins in Christ's name" is "preached among all nations"; "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free," consciously free, "from the law of sin and death." One or two illustrations will set before us the twofold intercession.

1. An elder sister will, in two ways, intercede on behalf of an undutiful little one. She will plead with her parents for his forgiveness; but she will also plead with the disobedient child himself, and bringing him repentant will reconcile child and parents once more. The intercession of Christians for one another is of this twofold character. James tells us to "pray one for another," and to "confess our faults one to another." Now humanity, in all its sinfulness, has an advocate with God in Christ; the Holy Ghost within us awakens the desire for forgiveness, moves us to penitence, prompts us to confession, and so makes intercession here.

2. The intercession for pardon is an illustration of our text. So, too, is the intercession for grace. Christ is touched with a feeling of our infirmities and pleads, "Father, Thy children are weak and trembling; succour them." The Holy Spirit teaches us our infirmities, and leads us to cry, "Father, we are weak and trembling; succour us."

II. WE MUST CONNECT THE GROANINGS OF THE TEXT WITH THOSE OF VERS. 22, 23. Paul tells us that there is the same unutterable feeling, the same vague quenchless yearning in "ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit."

1. We have all been conscious of a deep feeling of something wrong in us that no words can express. We feel more than we know about the ruin of our sinfulness; we hope for a blessedness that we see not and cannot utter. If, then, we have tried to pray as we have been feeling, we must have struggled as men oppressed with infirmity, "we know not what to pray for as we ought." But yet, in going thus to God, we have been helped; we have been calmed as our spirits have mutely breathed towards God.

2. The longing for communion with God is often unutterable. There is a power in prayer when we offer definite petitions; when love prompts supplication for a particular person, or penitence draws nigh to confess some remembered fault. But there is a yet mightier energy of prayer when we are led to God, not to ask for any special blessing, but only that we may call Him Father. We want God Himself: "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." We ask for no blessing, for we are fully blessed; but "our soul breaketh for the longing" it hath unto God. In silence we look up to Him, peaceful in His presence.

3. The longing for submission to God is also at times unutterable. It may be so because of a conflict of feeling. Some of you know what it is to say with Christ, "Father, save me from this hour"; to kneel with Him in Gethsemane. But against the pleading weakness of the flesh the spirit utters its protest; you know the conflict, the "agony" of prayer. As yet you cannot say, "For this cause came I unto this hour," etc.; "Not my will, but Thine be done." This is what the inner spirit longs for; but the longing to submit can only show itself in "groanings which cannot be uttered."

4. Or it may be that we may have very definite desires, and yet not know what to pray for "as we ought." We may be asking for the removal of a chastisement from a family or a nation; and yet so strong is our conviction of the righteousness and wisdom of God that we dare not ask its removal with absolute and importunate supplication. There are times when, if feelings alone prompted our prayers, we would wrestle with God; but knowing our ignorance, we fear that the answer to our petitions may be more a curse than a blessing. Desire is strong, but faith in the unknown will of God is stronger. We can but bow and trust "with groanings which cannot be uttered."

III. Let me now call your attention to THE DOCTRINE WHICH THE TEXT UNFOLDS. Note —

1. The reality of the prayer which consists only of unutterable longings. Some may be inclined to treat all this as mere transcendentalism and mystic dreaming. Now, I might remind you that in ordinary life, feeling is often truer, as well as deeper, than thought, and that our profoundest, most powerful feelings cannot be uttered. Friends may find an intense joy in each other's society without word being spoken: the members of a united family often yearn over one another with inexpressible love and longing. The aspirations of an ardent heart, the desires of a youth for distinction and service, often so vaguely, blindly put; but we expect far more from such than from one who can most clearly tell us all that is in his heart. But I content myself with saying that this is part of the Christian revelation. Paul knew of what he was speaking, and was sure the Romans would know it too. It was for no circle of enthusiasts he was writing here; but the busy, active society of Rome is bidden mark the care God takes to help the infirmities, and educate the spirit of His children. In feeling and desire, as well as in thought and purpose, God can recognise the spirit of the worshipper.

2. Its Divine origin. As there are some who, never having known feelings too deep for words, would treat an unspeakable prayer with scorn; so there may be others who, being conscious of such desires, seek to suppress them as the offspring of a diseased fancy. Consider the solemn blessedness of these words, "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities." Perhaps we never feel our infirmity more than when in prayer. We cannot apprehend what prayer is; that the gift might be to us ruin, or eternal blessedness; that God takes note of the defects of our supplication; without feeling that we hold tremendous issues in our hands. Such a thought would check prayer altogether had we not the assurance of being helped to pray. We need not only the assurance of a higher wisdom, a fidelity that can withhold as well as grant, and an affectionate sympathy that can read the spirit rather than the letter of our requests; but also that our spirits be brought into fellowship with God's Spirit, that our wills be made accordant with His. We must be enabled to pray aright, if we are to continue to pray at all.

3. Its intelligibility to God. Often what to cold bystanders seem merely odd antics, to the sympathising father are full of deep and beautiful significance. The boisterousness of a boy just back from school, which a stranger might wish to suppress, the parent sees to be the expression of a gladness in his home too full to be kept down. In the moody restlessness of a girl, who sees her parents burdened by an anxiety she cannot understand, they recognise a desire to share the burden. The blundering efforts of a child in a busy household, which often only increase confusion, are more than mere blunders; they show that the little one desires to help, and the loving wish is gratefully perceived by the parental spirit. So does our heavenly Father search our hearts. In the heavy meanings of the spirit, that even after forgiveness is dissatisfied with itself, He sees the longing to be "delivered from the bondage of corruption," etc. In the unutterable cry for God, He reads a desire for communion with Him fuller than has yet been satisfied. In the struggle of the soul that knows not "what to pray for as we ought," He recognises the passion for submission, however hard it may be to submit. Our text, moreover, speaks of "the mind," or intent "of the Spirit." There is a purpose in these apparently purposeless "groanings," an end after which this dim feeling is groping. God sees a meaning in that which to us has as yet no meaning. He sees the petitions to which the Spirit is prompting, although to us as yet they have not taken the form of petitions. Let us not say there is no reality in feelings too deep for us to set out in language; they are to God full of reality; these are the prayers which are surest of response. "He that searcheth the hearts," etc.

(A. Mackennal, D.D.)

The feeblest prayer, if it be sincere, is written by the Holy Spirit upon the heart, and God will always own the handwriting of the Holy Spirit. Frequently certain kind friends from Scotland send me for the Orphanage some portions of what one of them called the other day "filthy lucre," — namely, dirty £1 notes. Now these £1 notes certainly look as if they were of small value. Still, they bear the proper signature, and they pass well enough, and I am very grateful for them. Many a prayer that is written on the heart by the Holy Spirit seems written with faint ink, and, moreover, it appears to be blotted and defiled by our imperfection; but the Holy Spirit can always read His own handwriting. He knows His own notes, and when He has issued a prayer He will not disown it. Therefore, the breathing which the Holy Ghost works in us will be acceptable with God.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

When the Spirit maketh intercession for use it is not by any direct supplication from Himself to God; but it is by becoming the Spirit of grace and supplication in us. The man whom He prays for is the organ of His prayer. The prayer passes, as it were, from the Spirit through Him who is the object of it. Those groanings of the Spirit which cannot be uttered, are those desires wherewith the heart of a seeker after Zion is charged; and which, in defect of language, and even clear conceptions, can only find vent in the ardent but unspeakable breathings. Now these are called hero the groanings of the Spirit, because it is He who hath awakened them in the spirit of man. It is not that there is any want either of light or of utterance about Him; but He doeth His work gradually upon us, and often infuses a desirousness into our hearts before He reveals the truth with distinctness to our understandings. He walketh by progressive footsteps, in accomplishing the creation of a new moral world — even as He did when employed in the creation of the old. He then moved upon the face of the waters, before He said, "Let there be light." The dark and muddy element was first put into agitation, and the very turbulence into which it was thrown may have just thickened at the first that very chaos out of which it was emerging; and so it often is when the Spirit begins to move upon the soul. There is labour without light — a busy fermentation of shadowy and floating desires and indistinct feelings, whether of a present misery or a future and somehow attainable enlargement. There is perfect light and liberty with Him. But when He comes into contact, and especially at the first, with a soul before dead in trespasses and sins — when, instead of doing the work separately and by Himself, He does it through the opaque medium of a corrupt human soul — we should not marvel, though the prayers that even He hath originated, be tinged with the obscurity of that dull and distorted medium through which they have to pass. We know that to the sun in the firmament we should ascribe not merely the splendour of the risen day, but even the faintest streaks of twilight. It is because of the gross and intervening earth that, though something be seen at the earliest dawn, it is yet seen so dimly, and the eye is still bewildered among visionary and unsettled forms, while it wanders over the landscape. And, in like manner, it is the Spirit to whom we shall owe at last the effulgence of a complete manifestation; and to whom also we owe at present even the misty and troubled light that hath excited us to seek, but is scarcely able to guide us in our inquiries. And this imperfection is not because of Himself, in whom there is perfect and unclouded splendour. It is only because of the gross and terrestrial mind upon which He operates. There is the conflict of two ingredients, even the light that is in Him and the darkness that is in us; and the result of the conflict is prayer, but prayer mixed with much remaining ignorance. It is the mixture of His intercession with our unutterable groanings — an obscure day that precedes the daylight of the soul — a lustre that cometh from Him, but tarnished with the soil and broken with the turbulence of our own nature. And, therefore, to comfort all who are labouring among the disquietudes of such a condition, we affirm that the heavenly visitant may have made His entrance, and have begun the process of a glorious transformation on the materials of their inward chaos. The spiritual twilight may now be breaking out as the harbinger of a coming glory, as the dim flickerings of that light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. There is an example remarkably analogous to this in the old prophets. They spake only as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; and though He, of course, knew the meaning of all that He had inspired Himself, yet they knew but little or nothing of the sense that lay under them. And, accordingly, they are described as prying into the sense of their own prophecies (1 Peter 1:10-12). So holy men of the present day, and more especially at the outset of their holiness, might feel the inspiration of a strong desirousness from above, and yet be ignorant of the whole force and meaning of their own prayers. But this state of darkness is not a desirable one to be persisted in. One would not choose to live always in twilight. Labour after distinct and satisfying apprehensions of the truth as it is in Jesus. Seek to know your disease; and seek to know the powers and the properties of that medicine which is set forth in the gospel. Study and search with diligence, and by a careful perusal of Holy Writ, in the economy of a man's restoration. Even in this work, too, you must have the Spirit to help your infirmities. For He is the Spirit of wisdom, as well as of prayer, and gives you revelation in the knowledge of Christ. You increase by Him in acquaintance with God; and though at the beginning of His work, and perhaps for some time afterwards, there may be a sore conflict of doubts and desires and difficulties — yet such is the process of this work, that you will at length come to experience that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is light — where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

(T. Chalmers, D.D.)

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