The last part of this paper deals with the subject of the believer’s prayer and divine intercession. We must put our prayers – both confession, petition, and praise – into the hand of the Mediator, the great High Priest of our profession, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who ever liveth to make intercession for us”. Preston compares the sin of praying without due regard to Christ to the sin of the old law where, if one offered sacrifices without a priest, he was cut off from the people.
But glorious and mysterious as the appointment of such an Intercessor is, the truth is more wonderful still, for the praying man has not one but two divine Intercessors or Advocates. Charnock says that Christ is an advocate with God for us; the Spirit is an advocate with God in us. Christ is our Advocate pleading for us in His own name, and the Spirit is our Advocate assisting us to plead for ourselves in Christ’s name. Christ is our Advocate to present our petitions to God; the Spirit affects us with our condition, helping us to express our condition.
(1) Prayer and the intercession of the Spirit. Every praying man and woman knows what it is to need the help of the Holy Spirit in this exercise. “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities,” the Apostle wrote to the Romans, “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26). Of ourselves we know not what to ask, nor how to ask; it is the Spirit who must enable us so to know this. It is the Spirit who must convince us of our needs and make us feel the misery of them. It is the Spirit who must blow into a flame the affections suitable to the various parts of prayer: sorrow for sin in confession; love of divine things in praise; true gratitude in giving thanks; a sense of need; faith in the promises, the power and the perfections of God. The Spirit must perform all these things in our souls and indite true prayer in our hearts. The saints have a spark of grace in their souls, but the Spirit must breathe on it to fan it into a flame. All these the Spirit does for His people at the throne of grace.
Again it is the Spirit who gives to His people the disposition of children of God, enabling them to come to the Father as One who is ready and able to help them. Yes, the world may, as convicted criminals, cry unto God as their judge and executioner; but if they are out of Christ, they have no ground for the pardon of their crimes. On the other hand, the Spirit of adoption works in the believer the cry of a child, so that we cry, “Abba Father” (Rom 8:15). As the Spirit of grace and supplication, He first convinces us of our sins. He does this when He applies the truth to our souls as we read the Scriptures. Owen says; “The Spirit in this duty is as the candle of the Lord enabling the soul to search all the inward parts of the belly. He gives a holy, spiritual light unto the mind enabling it to search the deep and dark recesses of the heart to find out the deceitfulness of our sins.” The Spirit of grace and of supplication not only convinces us of our sins, He does more than this. Owen says, “The Holy Spirit represents the promises in their beauty, glory, suitableness and desirableness unto the soul. He makes believers see Christ in them, and all the fruits of His mediation in them, and all the effects of the love and grace of God in them. These quickening benefits the Spirit works in believers in their frequent use of the means.”
(2) Prayer and the intercession of Christ. Watson says that Christ is the angel “having a golden censer; and there was given unto Him much incense, that He should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar” (Rev 8:3). Christ takes the golden censer of His merits, puts our prayers into this censer and, with the incense of His intercession, makes our prayers go up as a sweet perfume to heaven. He prays our prayers over again.
By Him we have access to God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh” (Heb 10:19,20). “By the flesh of Christ”, Mallery says, “I understand the righteousness, satisfaction, reconciliation, grace, peace and glory which Christ procured for us by the obedience He performed to God in that flesh; thus we have access to God in all our worship. We have a friend at court that speaks a good word for us. We may come boldly to the throne of grace; we dishonour Him by not doing so. Every advocate must understand the law of the state and the cause of his client, that he might manage it to the best of his advantage. This advocate has an infinite knowledge as God, and a full and sufficient knowledge as man. . . . He knows our cause better than we do ourselves.”
George Newton, in concluding his commentary on the intercessory prayer of John 17, expressed his soul’s delight in the view therein of God in Christ: “For my own part I must freely . . . profess that I had never known so much of Christ, and of His tender care and love to poor sinners, had I not studied these emanations . . . of His precious soul, had I not seen His breast open in this chapter and the names of the twelve tribes transcribed out of the breastplate of the typical into the heart of the typified High Priest. . . . When I had the happiness to open Christ in this prayer I found the Church engraven deeply in His heart and saw such things as cannot be uttered.”
1. Continued from last month. The earlier parts of this paper, presented at the 1998 Theological Conference, dealt with prayer as (1) an indispensable means of grace and (2) a spiritual and supernatural work. This article concludes the series.