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verted mass of mankind may be said to wait, as it were, with piteous and touching misery, for the manifestation of the sons of God. But Christians especially, who have an actual and spiritual sense of all the evil around them, who see the full malignity and mischief of sin, and who have already some pledge and earnest of the future deliverance, labour as in strong pangs to accelerate the promised rescue; and, when thus employed, the Holy Spirit prompts their desires and intercedes for them by those sighs and breathings which he excites after the redemption to which he seals them, and for the enjoyment of which they therefore long with intense faith and fervency *.
These unutterable groanings will be better understood, if we consider the general state of difficulty and conflict in which the Christian, in consequence of sin, is involved. For, what are all the infirmities of the sincere Christian, what are all his defects in prayer, what all his trials in this earthly tabernacle, but the effect of that general state of ruin into which man's sin has plunged both himself, and the whole creation, so to speak, with which he stands connected? The aid therefore of the blessed Spirit is seen chiefly in the humble but fervent expression of these painful feelings. The Chris
• See Whitby in loc.
tian in this world is in a state of conflict. Every thing combines to make his devotions partake largely of the language of depression and grief. He has to contend with the corruption of a desperately wicked heart; he has to resist the temptations to unbelief and despair which Satan presents; he has to keep under his body and bring it into subjection. Besides this, he has to perform the duties of his station, to ascend in affection to God, to walk in the love of Christ, to exercise faith in an unseen world, and to aim in all things at the divine glory. He has further to bear with the infirmities of others, to witness the disorder which sin has brought into families and neighbourhoods and kingdoms, to behold the contempt that is put upon the astonishing remedy provided for fallen men in Christ Jesus, and to see his fellow-sinners rush into eternity with heedless and desperate determination. Then his own conscious feebleness and mistakes, bis sense of indwelling sin, his shame and confusion for his small proficiency in the ways of God and duty-all these topics, connected with the thoughts of heaven and of his Saviour's presence there, make him groan being burdened, not for that he would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
And when the Holy Spirit is pleased especially to help his weaknesses in prayer and in
tercede for him, so that he knows what to pray for, and how to pray with somewhat of right affections, he expresses his desire to depart and be with Christ in fervent aspirations which God only can fully understand. Then, with the importunity of the man in our Lord's parable who begged the three loaves, he perseveres in his earnest suit. Then, like the royal Prophet, he follows hard after God. Then, like Jacob, he says with holy boldness, I will not let thee go except thou bless me.
These impassioned sighs and expectations are utterly unknown to the irreligious world; nor can they be fully explained in words. They are regarded however by God who searcheth the heart. A man must be born from above before he can attain' any just conceptions of prayer in general, and much less of these mysterious breathings of the devout penitent. They are not the fruit of impatience or self-will; but they are the humble and yet eager feelings of a soul which breaketh out for the very fervent desire which it hath always unto God's judgments. They do not flow forth so much in copious and fluent expressions, as in broken sentences and detached ejaculations, which imply more than we can find terms to utter. They may not even be framed into words, but conveyed to heaven in the sighs and throbs of a contrite heart. And the penitent is perhaps
ashamed at the incoherence of his devotions, at the very time that the all-seeing God accepts and answers them.
Thus the Holy Ghost relieves and helps the true Christian. He thus supports him under his burdens. He thus assists him in the most important duty of prayer. He thus teaches him what is the right matter, and what the due manner of supplication. And the humble Christian pouring out all his desires before God, confessing unto him all his sins, adoring his perfections, pleading his promises, dedicating himself to his service, and longing for the fruition of his salvation, is kept in humility and faith, in watchfulness and dependence, in holiness and joy; and is at length brought by the mercy of God to that full redemption both of body and soul, after which he has so long and perseveringly sighed.
Before we close this subject, it may be proper,
I. TO MEET THE DIFFICULTY WHICH IT MAY OCCASION TO A TREMBLING CHRISTIAN.
There are, perhaps, many who may be ready to despond under the idea that they have never reached the heights of devotion which have been above described. They have been strangers to these unutterable groanings; and they fear, therefore, that they are strangers also to prayer
and to the intercession of the Holy Spirit. You
infirmities, or you could not thus have sought and found his grace.
But you are further distressed because you conceive the language of the text to imply some sensible influences of grace, some illapses of the Spirit, some positive and distinct impressions which you bave never felt. There cannot be a greater mistake. The agency of the Spirit, mighty as it is, is yet secret and imperceptible; and cannot be directly distinguished from the operations of our minds. It is discerned in its effects. It acts in a manner suited to our rational and accountable nature; and is constantly to be tried by the written word of Holy Scripture, and by no other rule. Even the inexpressible emotions to which we have alluded correspond with the revealed will of God; and lead, not to enthusiasm, but to the fulfilment of that will; not. to visions, and raptures, and voices, and external and audible groanings ;