THE PRECIOUS THINGS OF GOD
by Octavius Winslow, 1859
THE PRECIOUSNESS OF PRAYER
"Golden vials, full of odors, which are the prayers of saints." Rev. 5:8
If there be an argument which establishes beyond all dispute the doctrine of the fall, and the necessity of a restored and regenerated nature, it is the fact, that from it nothing that is holy, spiritual, or good emanates. The moral soil is so utterly degenerate, that even the flowers which adorn it—the natural virtues still clinging to our humanity—are, in the sight of a holy God, but as noxious weeds, destined finally and utterly to perish. Such was the complete wreck, such the entire paralysis of our nature. "In my flesh," says the apostle, dwells no good thing." If, then, in the midst of this utter and universal corruption, there should be found springing any bud, or blossom, or fruit of real holiness—anything truly gracious, spiritual, heavenly—it must be the product of a divine principle, of a new nature implanted within us by God the Holy Spirit. A striking proof and illustration of this is presented in the subject of this chapter. There exists not a more undoubted evidence of a renewed nature than—PRAYER. The absence of it is the unmistakable evidence of—death; its existence a palpable and positive evidence of—life. Prayer is the most vital, spiritual, and pure emanation of the indwelling of the Spirit in the soul. If, in a case of suspended animation, we marked the slightest symptom of life—the gentlest heaving of the heart—the faintest moisture breathed upon the surface of a mirror—we should certainly hail it as proof of the existence of the vital principle. We should not ask for strong spasmodic action, and postpone all efforts to rouse the dormant pulse, before we pronounced the individual alive. We should be satisfied that the spark still glowed, and this would reassure our hope, and animate our labor. Prayer is the spiritual life of the renewed soul. There may be the absence of profound religious knowledge, great depth of Christian experience, fiery zeal and gigantic energy—nevertheless, if of one thus apparently dormant it is said, "Behold he prays!"—if, in the secret walk, all deeply veiled from human eye, there is fellowship with God, communion with the Invisible,—there is life—life divine, life spiritual, life eternal. To change the figure—here is a plant of righteousness growing in a corrupt soil, here is a flower of holiness blooming and exhaling amid sin, corruption, and death! Surely this cannot be indigenous to our fallen humanity, but must be a seedling, a germ, a graft from the paradise of God. Among the most precious things of God is this—the principle and spirit, the power and sweetness of—PRAYER.
We select the idea from a scene in the Apocalyptic drama which passed before the eye of John. In this vision, among other sublime revelations, he beheld "four beasts and four and twenty elders fall down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints." That these elders belonged not to any order of angelic intelligence, is conclusive from the subsequent verse, in which they are represented as acknowledging themselves to be "redeemed to God by the blood of the Lamb." It is clear, then, that they formed a part of the Church redeemed from among men. The whole vision is designed to present the fact, that the Church of God is a praying Church; and that the prayers of the Lord's people ascend before JEHOVAH as precious incense, holy, fragrant, and acceptable, through the infinite and atoning merits of Jesus Christ. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF PRAYER, then, is our theme, and the following is the order in which we propose to present it:—The sacred incense,—the "golden vials," from whence the incense ascends,—and the preciousness and acceptance of the incense to God. "Golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints."
But observe, in the outset, whose prayers are these:—"The prayers of saints." "Odors (or incense), which are the prayers of saints." What saints? Not the glorified saints. The saints in heaven have done with prayer. The service and the employment, which before was to them the most precious and hallowed, has now ceased forever. That which is perfect is come, and that which was but in part is done away. Prayer and supplication, which on earth was the source of their sweetest solace and their richest comfort—the vital atmosphere in which they lived—is exchanged for praise. Adoration, thanksgiving, and worship fill every soul, attune every heart, and employ every tongue, in this world of blessedness. Beloved, there is no prayer in heaven, save that of the Great Interceding High Priest. It is a remarkable fact—and it stands in direct refutation of the dogma held by the idolatrous communion of Rome—that there is recorded in the Bible but a single appeal from creatures on earth to the saints in heaven—but one instance of supplication addressed to the glorified spirits—and that was denied! We refer to the appeal of Dives to Abraham. Thus the Romish idea of the invocation of saints is directly opposed to the Word of God. There is but one recognized Intercessor in heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who "by His own blood entered once into the holy place," and "ever lives to make intercession for us." With such a Mediator before the throne, whom the Father hears aways, why invoke the aid, the sympathy, the prayers of creatures—angel or saint? The Great High Priest is in heaven—will not that suffice? With Him the Father is well pleased—is not this enough? His intercession never fails—what more can you desire? Begirt with His ephod, and wearing His breast-plate, He bears the burdens and participates the sorrows of His Church below. By no avenue but His bleeding heart can they enter,—up no ladder but His cross can they ascend,—and with no name may they entwine their supplications but the one name which transcends every name, the name of—JESUS. Who can fully unfold the blessedness of this truth to the saints of God? Do we not, beloved, rob our souls of the peculiar blessing—the support, the comfort, the grace—bound up in the intercessory work of our Immanuel within the veil? What can be more encouraging and animating than to know that Christ remembers us, prays for us, and upholds us in heaven?—that he thinks of us with a Friend's affection, compassionates us with a Brother's sympathy, prays for and supports us with a Savior's meritorious intercession? See you Him not, by faith, standing before the golden altar in glory, presenting the sacred incense of His merits, the temple all filled with its perfume? Do not think that the Church below has no tokens, unmistakable and precious, of her Great High Priest's intercession within the veil of glory. Has the type of this truth no significance? A part of Aaron's vestment was "a golden bell upon the hem of the robe round about." And the Divine instruction was, "It shall be upon Aaron to minister; and his sound shall be heard when he goes in unto the holy place before the Lord." (Exod. 28:34, 35.) How expressive and how sweet must that sound have been to the waiting congregation without! It was to them an evidence and a token that the priest was within the veil, ministering before the altar, bearing them upon his breast-plate, presenting their sacrifices, and securing by his intercession their acceptance and God's response. Beloved, our Great High Priest has passed within the veil, and appears in the presence of God for us. Hear you not the music of His bells? How entrancing their melody! How precious their significance! Every covenant blessing sent down from God—every gracious answer to prayer returned—every pure beam of love darting into your soul—every spring of joy; and peace, and hope welling up in your heart—every burden sustained—every grief soothed—every temptation broken, is the chiming of these bells upon the robe of Jesus as He ministers before the throne of God in glory. How sweet, how precious, how soothing their melody! Child of God!—
"Lift up your eyes to the heavenly seat,
Where your Redeemer stays;
Kind Intercessor! there He sits,
And loves, and pleads, and prays.
"Petitions now and praise may rise,
And saints their offering bring;
The Priest, with His own sacrifice,
Presents them to the King.
"JESUS alone shall bear my cries
Up to His Father's throne;
He, dearest Lord! perfumes my sighs,
And sweetens every groan."
"The prayers of saints." If prayer be the breathing of the indwelling Spirit in the soul—if the expression of deeply-felt want—if the language of a child—and if the incense of the heart wafted to heaven through faith in Christ, then the saints of God are the only individuals who offer true prayer. Prayer is too holy and spiritual an exercise for any but the holy ones. None prostrate themselves at the mercy-seat but the poor in spirit—the self-abhorring—Christ-desiring! To them this spot is the dearest in the universe. Here is attraction which, find them where it may, irresistibly draws and indissolubly binds them. All may be gloom beyond—all is sunshine here. The saint in audience with JEHOVAH is the most morally sublime spectacle in the universe. Angelic spirits must look down upon it with an emotion of blended awe and delight. Such is the privilege of a—Saint. Let the world deride the name, and trample in the dust him who wears it, yet is it the most honored and sacred appellation God ever conferred upon mortal. "Called to be saints"—what a high calling, beloved, is this! Made lower than angels by sin, we are made higher than angels by grace. Redemption has exalted our humanity above every other nature but the Divine. To be clothed upon with the "righteousness of GOD," is to occupy a position of dignity and glory to which no other creature can aspire. Angels stand in the aphelion, saints in the center, of the Sun of Righteousness. Lord! let the infidel deny the character, and the worldling scorn the name, number me among your saints everlasting, upon whom is conferred the privilege of fellowship and nearness with You here, and glory, honor, and immortality with You hereafter!
But what is the incense?—"the prayers of saints." The emblem is exquisitely beautiful and expressive. It is one of the highest conceptions of poetry, in one of its most sacred forms. Prayer is holy incense. The margin of the passage so renders it, and David so employs the expression in connection with prayer: "Let my prayer come before You as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." We have but glanced at the truth that the saints of God are a praying people—that communion with the Triune Jehovah is an essential characteristic. The thought is so important, we propose in a few pages to amplify it. We have said that devotion is a symptom of life, an evidence of true piety, a characteristic of a saint of God. This remark holds good in its universal application. True prayer is that one vital principle that animates, energizes, and sanctifies the universal family of God. Whatever their differences of ecclesiastical polity, discipline, or worship—whatever their varied gifts, attainments, or position in society, prayer is the moral atmosphere of the one Church of God. "Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among those who call upon His name; they called upon the Lord, and He answered them." No man is a saint of God who is not a praying man; and a praying man, find him where you may, is a saint of God. He may prefer the place and the mode of prayer which his conscience best approves; and whether that place be a cathedral or a barn, and the mode be liturgical or free, is of no essential moment. If, penetrating within the inner and hidden shrine, he waves before its altar the censer of a truly contrite, believing, adoring heart, drawing near to God in the name of Jesus, and holding fellowship with the Invisible, that man is a man of prayer, is a recognized saint of the Most High, and as such we should recognize and commune with him as a Christian brother beloved.
But not only is prayer essential to the character of a saint of God, his whole history implies that he is a man of prayer. Your Christian life, beloved reader, necessitates this walking with God in all its minute detail. If it be a divine precept, as it is a precious privilege, to "acknowledge the Lord in all our ways," then this habit of recognizing the being and government of God, His love and care for us, His providential guidance of our every step, must keep us in constant and close contact with our Father and Friend. And when to this we add the more spiritual part of our history,—the Christian conflict we wage, the constant discoveries of sin we make, the seductions by which we are assailed, the daily trials, sorrows, and disappointments to which we are subjected,—surely PRAYER must be the living, enshrouding atmosphere of a saint of God. Not one moment could we live without it. Prayer—either breathed from the believer's heart on earth, or from the lips of the Great Intercessor in heaven—sustains each moment the life of God in the soul of man. Ah, beloved! where could you go with those burdens, those wants, those chafings, those backslidings, those shortcomings, those sorrows, which compose so large a part of daily life, but to the throne of grace? Where could you resort for mercy, for strength, for fortitude, for patience, for comfort and soothing, but where the God of love and power meets you and talks with you through Jesus, as man communes with his friend? It is in this light we come to regard prayer, not merely as a divine command, or as a Christian duty, but as the holiest, sweetest, and most precious privilege God has given to us on earth. Look at its grandeur—a mortal, a sinful mortal, in audience with the God of heaven! And when we consider that mortal in the light of a child and that God in the character of a Father, the spectacle becomes one of unsurpassed beauty and tenderness. But look at its preciousness. It comprehends all the minutiae of our daily life. "Casting all your care upon Him." "Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." What a tender, loving rebuke is this of that restraining of prayer, and limiting of God, which restricts our petitions to the major concerns of life, while it leaves unprovided for the minor ones. And yet, beloved, God is as deeply interested in your small cares as in your large ones. Those comparatively trivial events, those lesser circumstances of your history, are often those which you feel the most keenly, which chafe the most severely, and upon which so much that is important and momentous in your life depends. Learn, then, the blessedness, and appreciate the privilege, of hallowing with prayer the minute details of daily life. Infinite as Jehovah is, He stoops to our little trials, little cares, little wants, little sorrows. Nothing is too small for God that concerns you, His loved child. Study the life of Jesus when on earth. Was there a circumstance, or a want, or a temptation in the history of His disciples too mean or unimportant for His notice? He who, by similitude so significant and impressive, could vindicate and explain the particular providence of God in the affairs of His people, assuring those who the very hairs of their head were all numbered, was not likely to pass unnoticed and unmet the fasting and languor of His disciples, when on one occasion He said unto them, "Come you yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile." He who created the minute things of nature, alike regards the minute things in providence, and despises not the "day of small things" in grace. God made the atoms that form the pyramids, the mote that dances in the sunbeam, the insect that swims in the ocean drop. Do you think, then, that He can be indifferent to, or regard as beneath His notice, the smallest care, the most delicate sorrow, the lowest want, the lowest interest, that relates to you? Impossible! Learn, then, to entwine with your petitions the small cares, the trifling sorrows, the little wants of daily life. Whatever affects you—be it a changed look, an altered tone, an unkind word, a slight, a wrong, a wound, a demand you cannot meet, a charge you cannot notice, a sorrow you cannot disclose—turn it into prayer, and send it up to God. Disclosures you may not make to man you can make to the Lord. Man may be too little for your great matters, God is not too great for your small ones. Only give yourself to prayer, whatever be the occasion that calls for it. Send up your heart unto God just as it is. Send up a whole heart, and He will return it a broken heart. Send up a broken heart, and He will return it a healed heart. Send up a cold heart, and He will return it a loving heart. Send up an empty heart, and He will return it a full heart. Send up a praying heart, and He will return it a praising heart. Only send up your heart to heaven, whatever its frame or condition, its desires or wants, and your Heavenly Father's loving, gracious heart will descend and meet it when its pinions have scarce left the earth to sweep in faith and prayer the skies. "Trust in Him at all times. You people, pour out your heart before Him. God is a refuge for us." "And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer: and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." Wonderful encouragement to prayer!
Having thus spoken of the sacred incense, it is meet that we now advert to the censer. You will observe these "odors" are described as ascending from "golden vials." "Golden vials (or bowls) full of odors, which are the prayers of saints." These "golden vials," or bowls—as some critics more literally render the word philae—are the censers of the saints. It is, then, an interesting and important question, What are the censers which the saints of God wave before the altar? In other words, to speak less figuratively, From whence does true prayer spring? It is not, beloved reader, every man who bends the knee before God who offers prayer from a golden censer. There is no religious duty so little understood, or more generally abused, as prayer. How much passes current for prayer with man, which is not prayer with God! It is like mistaking the artificial convulsions of galvanism for the actual breathing of life—the contortions of nature for the actings of grace. An individual may offer to God "strange fire" from an earthly censer. God says, "I cannot away with it." Beloved, true incense floats from a golden censer—what is it?
Shall we begin with the censer of a broken and contrite heart? Here is a censer of the purest gold! Take not man's estimate of it—he, in his blindness, is constantly mistaking the spurious for the true, the precious for the vile. The world holds lightly a broken heart for sin. But take God's estimate,—"Thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit." A broken heart for sin is God's dwelling! Again,—"To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit." God will look at him—He will not look at a proud, self-sufficient, self-justifying heart—for "the proud He knows afar off;" but His eye—His eye of love, His eye of delight, His eye of approval—will rest upon the humble, broken, and contrite heart. Despised by the worldly, scorned by the proud, overlooked often by the saints, yet how beautiful, how costly, how precious to Christ is this golden vial! True, it is a contrite heart,—true, it is an empty heart,—true, it is a self-abased heart; but there waves not a censer in heaven, save the Great High Priest's, more beauteous, more costly, more precious than it. This "golden vial" is of heavenly construction. A Divine Craftsman made and formed it. God the Holy Spirit alone wrought this penitence, inspired this contrition, awakened this conviction of sin. He it was who abased that pride, laid low that loftiness, stained that glory, and smote that stricken, smitten heart in the dust. His the power that wakes that more than melody from those pale, trembling lips—"God be merciful to me a sinner!" Melody! Oh, angels' harps breathe not sweeter music than this! And God, when He hears it, looks down and sees on earth no spectacle of interest or grandeur to surpass it—one more precious to His heart. Bruised and broken though that spirit be, clad in the habiliments of woe and grief, filled with self-loathing and sin-abhorrence, it is in God's eye a golden censer, wafting to His throne earth's sweetest, holiest, richest incense. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."
The believing heart is a golden censer, from which the holy incense of the prayer of faith ascends to God. A heart that humbly believes in the Lord Jesus,—that accepts without demur or hesitation, and as His free gift, His finished salvation,—that rests child-like and wholly upon the one offering by which Jesus has perfected forever the salvation of His people, is a "golden vial." All real prayer is the prayer of faith. It is offered in faith in God's word—His promise—and in what He is Himself as God,—able and willing to answer prayer. The prayer of faith is but taking God at His word:—"If you who are evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things (even the Holy Spirit) to those who ask Him?" Now, the prayer of faith is the pleading of this promise with God, thus taking Him at His word. The Lord Jesus here places a blank card in the hands of His saints, and bids them inscribe upon it just what they want. It is a note of hand which He bids them fill up to any amount or character of blessing they require, and He will grant it. "Ask what you will." Beloved reader, the Lord gives you this promise, and bids you send it up to Him for fulfillment with the prayer of faith, trusting Him to make it good. There is much wisdom and love of our heavenly Father displayed in giving us this general promise that we might give it a particular application. Faith in God's promise is not so much a belief that a particular request will be granted—for that request is not named in the promise. But the stipulation is to grant any good asked, anything supplicated, any petition preferred, if only asked in faith—faith in God's faithfulness and power to make good His word, and to obtain the blessing asked. It is a general promise connected with a particular application. The Lord Jesus says, "If you shall seek anything in my name, it shall be granted you." Therefore do not hang back and say, "My particular need is not mentioned in the promise; my especial case is not provided for in the Word." It is, beloved, if you will but take hold of the general promise of God, and plead it with the prayer of faith. No particular temporal good may be mentioned,—no especial spiritual blessing may be promised,—no single case may be specified; but if the censer of a believing heart waft the incense of the prayer of faith to God, God will grant that particular temporal good, or bestow that especial spiritual blessing, or meet that peculiar and urgent case. It was thus that Jacob prayed. "You said, I will surely do you good." What good? Any good, all good! There was the pleading by faith of God's general promise in a particular case of urgency. And when he met the Angel of the Covenant at Peniel, he exclaimed, "I will not let You go except You bless me…And He blessed him there." The prayer of the Syrophenician woman was the prayer of faith. "Call me a dog, tread me down beneath Your feet—only grant me my request, and come and heal my child." Her faith had a general apprehension of Christ's power to eject the demon from her daughter, and then she flung her particular sorrow upon that heart that never was known to reject a plea, or cast a sorrow back again. Such is the power which the prayer of faith has with God! It is irresistible. No unworthiness, no sinfulness, no backsliding, no unfaithfulness, no depth of want, or peculiarity of case shall prevail with God to turn a deaf ear to the cry of faith. Faith in His word of promise, in His illimitable power, in His boundless resources, in His beloved Son, is so honoring to His nature and glorifying to His name, that the faintest incense which the censer of a lowly, believing heart ever sent up to heaven, reaches the Majesty on high, and brings back the blessing in a gracious and loving response—more than we either asked or thought of. We have to do not only with a prayer-answering, but also with a prayer-exceeding God—a God who always bestows more than we supplicated, because He delights to give, not according to our stinted desires, and measured requests, but according to the infinite merits of His beloved Son and His own wondrous love and power. Ask this faith of prayer at the hands of Jesus. He is not only its Object and its Medium, but He is also its Author and its Giver. Beseech Him to infuse this precious faith into your feeble, stammering petitions. Implore Him to intensify and energize your faint and faltering supplications with this divine heaven-descending and heaven-ascending principle. "Lord, increase my faith! Let me ask in faith, nothing doubting. Nerve my poor, faltering arm, so ready to hang down; stay my fluttering heart upon You, so prone to swerve; and help my soul to cast itself upon Your precious promise to save to the uttermost, and I shall be saved. Lord, I believe; help You mine unbelief." Or, is your faith faltering faith—tempted faith—tried faith—sinking faith? Listen to the words of Jesus, once addressed to a doubting believer, and now addressed to you. "O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?" "Gracious Savior! do You acknowledge my 'little faith?' Then my 'little faith' shall acknowledge You! I will come to You,—I will confide in You, I will look to You; come what will, sink or swim, live or die, saved or perish, I will cleave and cling, dear Lord, to You! You are and You shall be my All in all." Wave this censer before the altar of sacrifice, and your prayer of faith shall be accepted. "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." (1 John 5:14, 15.) The prayer of faith will pardon sin,—the prayer of faith will heal the sick,—the prayer of faith will open heaven,—the prayer of faith will move the Arm that upholds the universe! Ask in faith, nothing doubting, and you shall have the petitions you desire of Him.
A Christ-loving heart is also a "golden vial" full of precious incense—the incense of love. And such is the heart of all who are renewed by the Spirit, and are in a state of reconciliation and peace with God. There may be fluctuation in this holy affection, it may ebb and flow,—it may be tried, tempted, grieved,—yet a heart in which glows a solitary, glimmering spark of divine love, a heart which can say, "Lord, You know all things, You know that I love You," is a golden censer, wafting its grateful incense to God. But let us not be satisfied with a dubious or imperfect love to God. Let our return of affection be worthy the Object that inspires it. There are no changes in the tide of Christ's love to us—it is always a flow, never an ebb. What may to our short ken appear an ebb, is in reality not so. It is not that the tide of God's love recedes from us, it is that we recede from the tide of God's love. We quit the depths of this infinite and never-receding ocean, and repair to the shallows of creature good, of human affection, of worldly enjoyment; and then, chilled, disappointed, perhaps wounded, we marvel that our love to God has so soon congealed, ceasing to flow in its customary warm and undivided current. We wonder that the Bible has not the same interest, the means of grace the same attraction, prayer the same sweetness, and the ministry of the word the same power. Alas! the change is in our humanized divine affections, in our lessened spirituality, in our lessened tone of heavenliness, in our truant affections, our undecided heart. We have allowed the idolatry of the creature, the love of the world, or the too eager pursuit of its calling, or the too earnest desire to please and stand well with its friends, to insinuate itself into our heart, and steal away its affections from Christ. But let us retrace our steps,—the door of return is yet open,—and come back to Christ. Repairing afresh the altar where His sacrifice was offered, let us from its holy fire replenish our cold censer with living embers, and once more send up the holy, precious, fragrant incense of a restored, loving, surrendered heart to God.
Not less precious to the Lord is the censer of a praiseful heart. Alas that the elements of thanksgiving and praise should be so wanting in our religion! Yet so it is. We speak of prayer-meetings, but seldom of praise-meetings,—of gatherings for humiliation, confession, and supplication, but how rarely do we assemble to give thanks to God, and to render to Him the praise due unto His great Name. When the pressure is upon us, we are eager to draw in the Divine goodness by prayer; when the pressure is removed, how slow to breathe out the acknowledgment by praise! And yet for our encouragement God has said, "Whoever offers PRAISE glorifies me." Since the Lord's government of His people is a government of love, it follows that, whatever the decision of that government may be, it is in love He deals with them. "Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten." If this be so, there is nothing in the dealings of God that may not prompt you to wave before Him the golden censer of a thankful heart. Oh, precious the cloud thus ascending, filling heaven with its odor! In heaven, all is adoration, thanksgiving, and praise. And when we offer praise to God, we approach in our worship on earth the nearest to the worship of the glorified in heaven. Oh, let us, then, not be slow to wave this golden censer, and offer Him the precious incense! We will praise Him for electing love—praise Him for Jesus—praise Him for a divine righteousness—praise Him for a free-grace salvation—praise Him for a full pardon—praise Him for a throne of grace—praise Him for the Rock that towers above our head, sheltering us with its shadow, and refreshing us with its streams—praise Him for the blessing given, for the blessing withheld—praise Him for the restorings, for the upholdings, for the chastenings, for the rebukes, for the wounds,—for the darkness of sorrow, for the brightness of joy,—for the retrospect of grief, for the prospective of bliss,—yes, for all that is past, that is present, and that is to come;—for all, all flows from one Divine source—the everlasting and unchangeable love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One point of deep interest yet remains to be considered—the preciousness of the incense: "golden vials, full of odors." Be the incense that is offered to God through Christ what it may—prayer—confession of sin—supplication—praise, yet ascending from the heart, oh, how full of sacred odor is the vessel! It may be a sinful, and yet a contrite heart,—a wandering, and yet a sincere heart,—a changeful, and yet a loving heart; still, in God's eye, it is a "golden vial," and the Lord smelled a sweet savor in the incense wafted from it to His throne.
Prayer must be precious incense to God, because, in the first place, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the soul. All true prayer—be it but a desire, a groan, a tear, a sigh—is the inspiration of the Spirit. "The Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." It is this truth that stamps a value upon the weakest prayer the saints of God ever breathed, and which imparts to that weak prayer a richer fragrance to God than earth's choicest perfume. We but faintly conceive the costliness and beauty of the lowest work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is nothing less than the begetting of the Divine nature in man: the erection and up building of a structure of righteousness that shall outlive all material grandeur, and be radiant with the glory and resound with the praises of Jehovah to all eternity. That must be the power of God the Holy Spirit that can extract incense so sweet, so fragrant, so precious, from hearts so sinful, so vile, so worthless as ours! Such are the prayers breathing from your heart, dear reader. They may be mixed with much of the earthliness of the channel through which they flow,—you may complain of coldness, formality, wandering thoughts, the intrusion of things foreign to your feelings, desires, and enjoyments,—yet, pouring out your heart to God in the most retired, lonely, feeble way, your Father in heaven recognizes it as the voice of a child, and "accepts you with your sweet savor." Oh, see, then, that the prayer that breathes from your lips, whether from the pulpit or the closet, whether in public or in private, be the breathing of the Holy Spirit! Seek to be filled with the Spirit. Rest not short of His vital power, and sanctifying influence, and fragrant anointing in your soul. Then, although your prayers may be mixed with tears, and groans, and confessions,—though with a stammering tongue and quivering lip you address the Majesty of heaven and earth, God will observe the voice of His Spirit in your prayers, and will speedily and graciously respond.
But that which imparts the richest fragrance to the prayers of the saints is the atoning merit of Christ's obedience and death, through the medium of whose mediatorship they are offered, and on the ground of whose merits they are accepted. The apostle beautifully propounds this truth:—"Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor." This sacrifice it is—divine in its dignity, expiatory in its character, complete in its offering, and accepted by God—that invests with a cloud of divine incense, most fragrant and precious, every broken petition, every penitential confession, every believing supplication wafted to God from the heart of a saint on earth. The sacrifice of Christ on earth opened a door by which the believer approaches God in heaven. The intercession of Christ, which is the presentation of His merits before the golden altar, secures the acceptance of his petitions in glory. We marvel not now that these "golden vials" should be "filled with odors, which are the prayers of saints." The Holy Spirit fills the censer, and then Jesus the obedient One, Jesus the crucified One, Jesus the risen One, Jesus the ascended, glorified, interceding One, throws the divine fragrance of His offering around the prayers of His people, and thus they find favor with God. What an encouragement is this to draw near to God in prayer! Who that approaches, though with taint, and fear, and imperfection in his petitions, yet with sincerity, penitence, and faith, shall fail of finding acceptance both of his person and his offering, seeing that the Lord Jesus Christ imparts His merits, employs His advocacy, and blends with the much incense of His sacrifice every humble suit, every heaven-directed petition? "We are many times dejected at the remembrance of our prayers; but the concern that Christ has in them is a ground to raise us. We have an Advocate that knows how to separate the impertinences and follies which fall from the mouths of His clients; He knows how to rectify and purify our bills of requests, and present them otherwise than we do. How happy a thing is it to have One to offer up our prayers in His golden censer, and perfume our weak performances by applying His merit to them! Satan distracts our prayers, but cannot blemish Christ's intercession. When we cannot present our own case, by reason of diseases and indispositions, we have One to present our cause for us, that can never be distempered, who is more quick to present our groans than we are to utter them. Besides, all prayers put up in His name shall be successful. (John 16:23.) The arguments we use from Christ's merits are the same fundamentally upon which the plea of Christ in heaven is grounded, and if God should deny us it, it were to deny His Son, and cast off that delight He Himself has in the merits of His death; but God loves that mediation of His Son, and that this work of His should be honored and acknowledged. And though we have no promise to have our prayers heard, yet there is no doubt but He will hear the prayers of Christ for us, for Him He hears always. (John 11:42.)"
In another part of the Apocalypse we have a beautiful unfolding of this truth,—the mediation of Christ in connection with the saints' prayers:—"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and, there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne." (Rev. 8:3.) This "angel" was Jesus, the Angel of the everlasting Covenant, who now stands before the golden altar, waving the golden censer, blending the precious incense of His own divine and atoning merits with the prayers of all His saints. Oh, how powerful, then, with God must be the prayers of His people, entwined and blended with the much incense of such a sacrifice! How can we doubt the success of every petition sent up to the court of Heaven, with such an Advocate to present and plead it? Let us, then, "draw near;" let us come boldly to the throne of grace and ask what we will. Is it pardon? ask it. Is it acceptance? ask it. Is it grace? ask it. Is it some temporal good needed? ask it. The petitioner may be unworthy, and the petition imperfect—there may be much sinfulness in the one, and many flaws in the other; but Christ's merit puts it all right. Upon the ground of that merit, God says to you—"I will accept you with your sweet savor." The person first finds favor, and then the offering. Our persons, "accepted in the Beloved," secure the gracious acceptance of our prayers. Tell me not, then, that there is so much sinful taint marring the fragrance of your prayers—such coldness of spirit—such vagrancy of mind—such intrusion of sinful imaginations and desires—such formality, unbelief, and insincerity—such a lack of power, life, and unction,—in a word so much unpraying prayer; still, approaching as a true penitent, with some yearnings of spirit after God—some Christ-thirsting, Christ-longing in your soul, and asking in His name, and pleading His blood, there shall be a gracious acceptance of your person, and a prompt answer to your prayers, secured by the cloud of incense which goes up moment by moment from the golden censer which the Angel of the everlasting Covenant waves to and fro before the golden altar in heaven. One touch of that censer, one breath of that incense, annihilates in a moment and forever all the sinful faults and human imperfections adhering to your prayers. "The prayers of all saints." Sweet and encouraging declaration! No one excluded; the weak, the trembling, the fearful, the unbelieving, those of but shallow knowledge, of little grace, and of tried circumstances, who write themselves "less than the least of all saints,"—even their prayers, presented in the name of Jesus, and offered with the much incense that floats from the golden censer, cover the mercy-seat of heaven with their cloud, and fill heaven with their fragrance. Poor trembling soul! doubt no more the full acceptance of your prayers.
How precious, then, is prayer! Prove its preciousness by personal experience, beloved reader. Are you afflicted?—give yourself to prayer. Are you burdened with sin?—give yourself to prayer. Are you oppressed with sorrow?—give yourself to prayer. Are you bereaved of those you loved?—give yourself to prayer. Does God hide the light of His countenance from your soul?—does Jesus suspend the visits of His love, the gracious manifestations of His presence?—give yourself to prayer. Does Satan tempt—does the world persecute—do the saints wound?—give yourself to prayer. Does loneliness depress—does disease invade—does sickness lay low?—give yourself to prayer. Or, are you approaching the valley of the shadow of death—the solemn moment nearing of your spirit's entrance into the eternal world—the grave unveiling its bosom to receive the lifeless tenement?—GIVE YOURSELF TO PRAYER. Listen to the gentle voice, the kind invitation of your covenant God and Father,—"Come, my people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors about you; hide yourself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." These "chambers" of repose and security are many and precious. They include the everlasting love of God,—the cross of Jesus, the covenant of grace,—the mercy-seat,—the promises of Jehovah,—the full and free invitation of the gospel,—the pavilion of Christ's grace, the cleft of the Rock; yes, to sum all up in one, "the secret place of the Most High," which is the very heart of God's heart, hidden, enshrined in which, no evil shall touch you. "For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me." Oh, the charm, the soothing, sanctifying power of PRAYER! "Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which never is exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a haven unruffled by storms; it is the root, the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings. I speak not of the prayer which is cold, and feeble, and devoid of energy; I speak of that which is the child of a contrite spirit, the offspring of a soul converted, born in a blaze of unutterable inspiration, and winged like lightning for the skies. The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire; it has bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished the wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction; it has stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt: in a word, it has destroyed whatever is an enemy to man. I again repeat, that I speak not of the prayer engendered by the lips, but of that which ascends from the recesses of the heart. Assuredly, there is nothing more potent than prayer; yes, there is nothing comparable to it. A monarch vested in gorgeous habiliments is far less illustrious than a kneeling suppliant, ennobled and adorned by communion with his God. Consider how august a privilege it is, when angels are present, and archangels throng around; when cherubim and seraphim encircle with their blaze the throne; that a mortal may approach with unrestrained confidence, and converse with heaven's dread Sovereign! Oh, what honor was ever conferred like this! When a Christian stretches forth his hands, and invokes his God, in that moment he leaves behind him all terrestrial pursuits, and traverses on the wings of intellect the realms of life; he contemplates celestial objects only, and knows not of the present state of things during the period of his prayer, provided that prayer be breathed with fervency. Could we but pray with fervency; could we pray with a soul resuscitated, a mind awakened, an understanding quickened, then, were Satan to appear, he would instantaneously fly; were the gates of hell to yawn upon us, they would close again.
"Prayer is a haven to the shipwrecked mariner, an anchor unto those who are sinking in the waves, a staff to the limbs that totter, a mine of jewels to the poor, a security to the rich, a healer of disease, and a guardian of health. Prayer at once secures the continuance of our blessings, and dissipates the cloud of our calamities. O Prayer! O blessed Prayer! you are the unwearied conqueror of human woes, the firm foundation of human happiness, the source of ever-during joy, the mother of philosophy! The man who can pray truly, though languishing in extremest indigence, is richer than all besides; while the being who never bends the knee, though proudly seated as a monarch of nations, is of all men most destitute. Let us, then, direct our thoughts to Him that was poor; yet rich; rich, because He was poor. Let us overlook the enjoyments of the present, and desire the blessings of the future; for so shall we obtain the blessings both of the present and the future. Oh, may we all obtain them through the grace of Christ our Lord, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all glory, now and for evermore! Amen." (Chrysostom.)
Prayer is one of the essential elements of the hidden and sequestered walk of the believer with God. It is an engagement so sacred,—often blended with an unfolding of the heart so confidential and hallowed,—it would seem as if this were the soul's most suitable and loved companion in solitude. There can be no painful sense of loneliness when the believer is in converse with God. All places are peopled, and all space is filled when occupied by Him. Complain not that the world is a solitude, while Jesus treads its lone and shaded paths by your side. Mourn not that no responses of love and sympathy wake its stillness—that no echoes break upon your ear but those of your moaning spirit, when Christ talks with you by the way, your Friend and Brother. Oh no, you cannot be alone,—without love, without friendship, without sympathy, without society,—when your spirit is absorbed in God, who is all life, all love, all presence. The affecting sentiments of one whose solitude was hallowed and whose loneliness was cheered with holy converse with God, have sublimely expressed these pensive feelings of the heart—
"Like the low murmur of the secret stream,
Which through dark alders winds its shaded way,
My suppliant voice is heard,—ah, do not deem
That on vain toys I throw my hours away!
"In the recesses of the forest valley,
On the wild mountain, on the verdant sod,
Where the fresh breezes of the morn prevail,
I wander lonely, communing with God.
"When the faint sickness of a wounded heart
Creeps in cold shudd'rings through my sinking frame,
I turn to You,—that holy peace impart,
Which soothes the invokers of Your dreadful name.
"O all-pervading Spirit! Sacred beam!
Parent of life and light! Eternal Power!
Grant me through obvious clouds one transient gleam
Of Your bright essence in my dying hour!"
Prayer is so spiritual an exercise, it behooves us to be cautious how we confound the gift with the grace of prayer. There may exist in some the gift apart from the grace, and in others the grace apart from the gift. It is of great moment that those especially who are to plead with God in behalf of others keep this distinction in view; and while seeking from God the gift, may be yet more assiduous and intense in their seekings of the grace of prayer. Alas, what spiritual deadness, what perfunctory formality may invade our pulpit devotions! What empty censers may we wave in public, and before our God! There may be the beauty of thought, the elegance of diction, the copiousness of language, without, alas! the reality and power of prayer. Oh for the effusion of the Spirit of prayer upon the pulpits of our land! But not here alone may be traced the deadening influence of a spirit of formality—the existence of the gift apart from the grace of prayer—but the domestic altar and the closet may witness to this separation. How may we know the difference? We think by the following marks. The gift without the grace of prayer is more used to vent itself in public; but the grace of prayer most seeks the privacy of communion, and loves to pour itself out when none but God and the conscience are the listeners. The gift of prayer alone inflates the soul with pride; the grace of prayer lays it low in its own eyes, and the greater its enlargement and power, the profounder its humiliation before God. The gift of prayer, working alone, inspires the soul with the fond conceit of its own strength; the grace of prayer constrains it to take hold of the strength of Christ. The gift of prayer, apart from the Spirit, is satisfied with the applause of man; the grace of prayer waits in lowliness upon God, seeking no response save the still small voice of the Spirit in the soul. The gift of prayer contents itself with cold, intellectual, rational views of God, His character and works; but the grace of prayer deals closely with the crucified Savior, is pervaded with the atoning blood, and is mixed with contrition of spirit, confession of sin, filial love, thanksgiving, and adoration. What need have we, then, to look well to our prayers,—honestly to examine our hearts, and ascertain whether our souls have been baptized with the "Spirit of grace and supplication," and if, when we present ourselves before God either in public or in private, we can in some measure adopt the language of Paul, and say, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ!" Those who restrict themselves to a Formulary of devotion have need to be doubly watchful of the prayerful state of their souls, lest the constant repetition of a "form of sound words" be a substitute for the inward and spiritual grace of prayer. There are many who read prayers—how few who pray them! We can see no serious objection to a prearranged formulary of devotion, provided the heart accompanies the sentiments and words expressed. The form of supplication taught His disciples by our Lord—which indeed, as we have elsewhere observed, is more properly the disciples' prayer—was intended doubtless as a model rather than a mold. We can see no reasonable argument in favor of its rejection; on the contrary, much that pleads for its employment as a summary of great and important petitions needed by the Christian, the Church, and the world. And yet, while thus conceding the lawfulness of a formulary of devotion, we must still keep in mind the essential element of all true prayer,—the spiritual state of the heart with God.
Our subject is suggestive of close self-examination. Prayer is the moral barometer of the soul,—it proves the existence, and tests the tone of our spiritual life. As a man is in his walk with God, so is he as a man of God. As vital religion is from God, so to God it returns, and with God it deals. It is more solicitous what God thinks, how God approves, and to what degree it lives for God, than it is to commend itself to man. The religion that so shapes its course as to stand well with the world,—that can accommodate itself to the world's opinions, blend with the world's pleasures, win the world's smile,—that thinks as the world thinks, acts as the world acts, temporizing, compromising, assimilating,—that is not the religion of God and of the Bible. It may clothe itself in a sanctimonious garb—it may multiply its religious forms and ceremonies, keep its saints' days, its matins and vespers, and yet possess not an element of real godliness. O God, search and try us, and give to us grace to search and try ourselves, lest there be found in us any false principles, anything untrue and unsound in our religion, any element fatal to our salvation, anything that interposes between us and Christ's finished, atoning work! Now here, beloved reader, is a divine and certain test—the existence and power of prayer in our souls. Prayer restrained, prayer cold, prayer totally neglected, is symptomatic of a low and lifeless state. Reverse this, and you have the clear and unmistakable indices of a vital, healthy, and spiritual action of the soul. Let us, then, bring our hearts honestly, frequently, and closely to this test. What is the state of your soul's barometer? Unlike that which indicates the natural atmosphere, the mercury of the soul rises when the moral atmosphere lowers. When clouds are gathering thickly and darkly, when storms are rising, and tempests are sweeping, then it often is that prayer is the most vigorous, the most powerful, the most ascending to God. The seasons of adversity, trial, and sorrow, are the most praying seasons with God's people. Prayer often languishes in prosperity. The spiritual barometer is the most depressed when the sky is the most cerulean, and the atmosphere the most serene, and the sun the most brilliant. Ah! how difficult to maintain a humble, watchful, honest walk with God, when the star of temporal good is in the ascendant. We lose sight then of the Star of Bethlehem—of Him whose birth was mean, whose condition was poor, whose life was wreathed with storms, and whose life closed in humiliation, agony, and blood. But seasons of adversity, of sorrow, of suffering, of need,—when the earthly star is fading and sinking,—are halcyon seasons in the history of the child of God. Then it is that spiritual prayer is in the ascendant, that the sun of the soul attains its meridian. Then we turn to God, betake ourselves to the throne of grace, take the low place, humbled, chastened, child-like, and dependent—the will subdued, the heart prayerful, the spirit praiseful, the soul ascending. Look, then, often and closely to the barometer of your soul. This suggests another thought.
Study to maintain an aptitude of soul for prayer. This, we imagine, is the meaning of the divine precept, "Pray without ceasing." Literally this may not be. It would be impossible for you to be incessantly in the act; or breathing out the expressions of prayer. Nor is this necessary. The bird is not always on the wing. There are moments of repose, when it smooths its ruffled plumage, and its pinions gather strength. But it is ever ready for its flight; and at the first pressure of hunger, or the first note of alarm, it expands its wings and soars. So let us cultivate the spirit of prayer—the heart attuned to the holy duty; the mind sitting so loose to earthly employments and cares, as that at any moment of danger or need it may come into the dreadful presence of God with devout and solemn reverence. This is to "pray without ceasing." We are to relax no season or habit of prayer—but in the closet, in the family, in the social circle, and in the public sanctuary, call upon the name of the Lord. "We are to maintain an uninterrupted and constant spirit of prayer. We are to be in such a frame of mind as to be ready to pray publicly if requested; and when alone, to improve every moment of leisure which we may have when we feel ourselves strongly inclined to pray. That Christian is in a bad state who has suffered himself, by attention to worldly cares, or by light conversation, or by gaiety and vanity, or by reading an improper book, or by eating and drinking too much, or by late hours at night among the thoughtless and the vain, to be brought into such a condition that he cannot engage in prayer with proper feelings. There has been evil done to the soul, if it is not prepared for communion with God at all times, and if it would not find pleasure in approaching His holy throne." (Barnes.) Prayer is to the believer what wings are to the bird—it assists his soul heavenward; and when the crude winds of adversity blow, and the seductions of the world would enchain him to earth,—then, resorting to prayer, the believer soars as on eagle's wings to a purer atmosphere and sunnier skies. Such is the Divine promise,—"Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." See, then, O child of God! that the pinions of your soul are ever ready for their heavenly flight. Sit so loose to carnal good, hold the creature, however dear, by a band so slight, and creature-blessings by a tie so slender, that at any moment, and in any place, your heart may turn to God, and exclaim,—"Whom have I in heaven but You? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside You." And as the bird requires no preparation for its flight, save only its instincts of danger or of need, so your soul needs no preparation before it draws near to God, before it betakes itself to the throne of grace, save the deep conviction of your poverty and want, your heart's thirst for holiness, your spirit's yearning for Christ. Alas! how many restrain prayer before God because of their low frames! They find their minds are so earthly, their hearts so cold, their spirits so depressed, so strong and unconquerable a distaste and disinclination for prayer, that, yielding to their feelings, they relinquish this, the most quickening and reviving, as it is the most precious and comforting, of all spiritual privileges. But, beloved, the Lord demands of you, before you approach Him in prayer, no self-fitness, no previous preparation, but that you, a poor, sinful, unworthy soul, needing Christ, coming empty to Christ, bringing all your sins and backslidings, and sorrows and wants to Christ, may "receive out of His fullness grace for grace." Approach Jesus as you are—come with elevated frames, or with depressed frames; with the language of praise, or with the utterance of want; with the gloom of despondency, or with the aspiration of hope,—only fall prostrate at the feet of Jesus, and receive the blessing He is able, and is willing, to bestow—the blessing found only there.
"All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him."
This suggests another thought. There is great danger of a willful quenching in our minds the spirit of prayer. If, when the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray—if, when we feel the soft, silent, gentle stirrings of our heart to rise to God, we suppress the emotion, unheed the voice, or postpone the act, we quench the Spirit's influence, and withdrawing, He leaves us to a cold and smokeless censer—a heart from whose altar no real prayer ascends. Oh, it is a serious and solemn thing not to have an ear quick to catch the voice of the Spirit—a heart ready to respond to the call of Christ. With more than oriental poetry has the inspired penman, in his graphic description of the Church, portrayed this state:—"I sleep, but my heart wakes: it is the voice of my beloved that knocks, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my affections were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spoke: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer." (Song of Sol. 5:2-6.) She heeded not the monition of the Spirit,—she responded not to the voice of Jesus,—she quenched the spirit of prayer in her soul; and when she arose to meet her Lord—lo! He was gone! Cultivate then, beloved, a holy aptitude for prayer, an earnest, watchful heeding of its earliest and gentlest call. Then prayer will not be a strange employment or an irksome task. In your closet, in your counting-house, in your morning or evening rambles, amid domestic cares or professional engagements, your heart will feel the attraction of heaven, and prayer, like a pillar of incense ascending from the altar, will rise wafted to the throne of God.
There is an important view of prayer we must not overlook. Are we not great losers from not cherishing a watchful spirit unto prayer? We ask, we petition, we invoke, but how little expectation is there of God's response; how little patient waiting for the Lord's answer, how little watching for the blessing! Verily, this is an essential and serious defect in our Christianity which must be remedied. But what is the Divine precept touching this point? "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." (Eph.6:18.) "WATCHING THEREUNTO WITH ALL PERSEVERANCE." The same idea is presented in other words:—"Blessed is the man that hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." (Prov. 8:34.) The allusion here is to the position of the priest, waiting at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation where the Lord had promised to speak unto him, in holy expectation of the Lord's answer; it depicts also the expectant attitude of the congregation itself, watching the opening of the temple-gate, whence the priest would come, bearing in his hands the blessing his intercession had procured. Such must be our watching and waiting for the answer of our prayers. Expect God will answer you, and He will answer. Look for the blessing you have craved, and you shall receive it. To petition, and expect no response,—to ask, and look for no reply,—to pray, and care for no answer,—to implore a boon, and turn away in indifference and unbelief, is to cast the deepest dishonor on a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God. Marvel not that God answers neither by fire, nor by dew, nor by the still small voice—you are not waiting at the door of the tabernacle, nor watching at the temple-gate in holy, earnest, sincere desire for, and expectation of, the blessing! This was the Psalmist's position—"I will direct my prayer unto You, and will look up." Oh, be this our holy attitude!—looking up above all human improbabilities and impossibilities,—looking above all our sinfulness and unworthiness,—looking above all the dark, depressing, painful circumstances of our position,—looking above creature help, sympathy, and support,—looking up to God alone! The more we look up to God, the less we shall find it necessary to look down to man. The more we look up to God, the more thoroughly we shall be schooled in the holy are of looking up. David looked up when he had breathed his prayer to God. The disciples looked up when Christ ascended into heaven, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Stephen looked up amid the agonies of his martyrdom, and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. My soul! do you look up above your broken cisterns, your dark clouds, your difficulties and your sorrows, and behold your God waiting to be gracious, ready to answer. "Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disturbed within me? hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." (Ps. 43:5.) Be you found, then, beloved, honoring God by a holy, believing expectation. He will regard your cry, and the answer will come. "For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." (Hab. 2:3.) Oh, for stronger confidence in Jehovah touching prayer! Lord, increase our faith! Is there a suppliant You will reject? a case You will despise? a blessing You will withhold? a want You can not meet? a sinner You refuse to comfort? a sin You will not pardon? or a poor humble penitent You will not accept? No, not one. Then, Lord, I come, and will wait and watch, nor let You go until You bless me! Arise, my soul! He calls you. Behold, Lord, I come! I come!
With such encouragements to prayer—the Spirit inditing, Christ endorsing, the Father responding—let us draw near and ask large blessings. Already, in answer to prayer, the Church of God in America, in Ireland, in Scotland, and in some parts of our own land, is receiving the baptism of the Spirit. As the tidings reach us of thousands pressing into the kingdom of God in connection with a work too scriptural in its character, too supernatural in its power, and too decided in its results to be mistaken for the work of man, we exclaim with the wondering and grateful feelings of the Psalmist, "You, O God, did send (marg. shake out) a plentiful rain (marg. a shower of liberalities), whereby You did confirm Your inheritance, when it was weary." (Ps. 68:9.) The "signs of the times," the spiritual and intelligent study of which we too much overlook, are mighty and impressive in their significance. Christ is about to do great things in behalf of His Church—to "shake out showers of liberalities." The Holy Spirit is on His march through the land, traveling in the greatness of His strength and in the marvels of His grace. The moral barometer of the world indicates the approach of showers of blessings—"the former and the latter rain abundantly." The cloud, now larger than a man's hand, is stretching across continents, oceans, and islands, freighted with life, light, and love to a lost world. "Your kingdom come," has long been the prayer of the Church. His kingdom has, in measure, come; but it is destined to come in the full triumph of its grace, and in the final acclaim of its glory. It is yet to come with a power, a victory, and a majesty such as the world never yet has beheld. Jesus is to take to Him His great power and reign. What are these extraordinary movements of the Spirit but a preparing the way for the personal coming and reign of the Lord? Before that great and glorious advent, "this gospel of the kingdom is to be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end come." In view of this great and predicted fact, we look upon religious Revivals as the ordained and surest pioneers of Christian missions. The baptism of the Holy Spirit in this and other nations is but the arising and girding of the Church of God to go up and possess the land which His Providence has made ready for the "feet of Him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace." The uprootings and overturnings of the nations of the earth are but the usherings in of the kingdom of Jesus. The strongholds of error and of despotism upon the continent of Europe, impaired by time and shaken by revolution, are preparing to yield to truth and liberty. The chains of idolatry, superstition, and caste in heathendom, smitten by rebellion and loosened by mutiny, are ready to fall from the myriads they have for centuries enslaved. India and China, Turkey and Japan, with well-near the entire world, for ages hermetically closed to Christ's gospel, are throwing wide their gates to admit and even welcome the messenger and the almoner of Christ's Church. What encouragement this to united, believing, persevering PRAYER! "Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons; and concerning the work of my hands command you me." (Isa. 45:11.) Infinite condescension!—worthy of Him who "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." Lord, behold us at Your feet, wrestling with Your word of promise—"COMMAND you me!" "Drop down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together."
Let us not be hindered and straitened in our prayers for this precious blessing—the outpouring of the Spirit upon ourselves, upon our families, upon the Church of God, and upon the world—by the idea that the Spirit is already in the Christian Church, the promise and gift of her Lord a present and inalienable blessing, and that therefore we are not warranted to pray for and expect a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit is the Indweller of the Church of God, abiding with her forever, and that the renewing and sanctifying of the saints is by Him, we fully and gratefully acknowledge. No declaration of our Lord could be more unmistakable when He says, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth." But the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and the gracious and especial MANIFESTATION of the power of the Spirit in the conversion of sinners, are two different things—the one not a denial or a contradiction of the other. How cold, how deathlike, how unscriptural that teaching which tells us that because the Spirit is already the Indweller of the Church of God, all prayer and supplication for the expression of His convincing, life-giving, and sanctifying power is a work of supererogation! The outpouring of the Spirit, the Word of God warrants us to look for in these last days. Peter thus quotes the prophecy of Joel:—"And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh." The effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was but the commencement of a series of Revivals—the first instalment of the blessing—that were to trace and signalize the gospel and final dispensation. We do not regard these especial baptisms as the giving of another Spirit; it is the same Holy Spirit who converted the three thousand on the day of Pentecost whom we now invoke, and who, in response to these invocations, is graciously pleased to visit the Church with "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." We have our Lord's own warrant to ask in faith the bestowment of the Spirit—"If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him." This promise and this warrant touching supplication for the manifestation and outpouring of the Holy Spirit was designed to prompt the desire, and guide the prayers, and feed the faith, and inspire the hopes of the Church of Christ to her latest age. And sad will it be for us when we shall cease to offer unto our ascended and glorified High Priest that incense of believing and importunate prayer, which shall enclose the Church and the world within the descending, all-enfolding cloud of a quickening and sanctifying Spirit! "The time is coming, and prophecy has foretold it, when in every land there shall be offered to God a peace-offering—when from the closet and the sanctuary, from the hill-top, the field, the forest-side, where the children of God shall, like Isaac, walk forth at eventide to meditate—the voice of pious supplication shall ascend in one continuous stream; until our globe, as it rolls along its orbit, shall seem but a censer revolving in the hand of the Great High Priest, and pouring out at every aperture a cloud, dense and rich, of incense, fragrant and grateful to God." (William R. Williams)
"Come, then, and added to Your many crowns,
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
You who alone are worthy!—
The very spirit of the world is tired
Of its own taunting questions, asked so long—
'Where is the promise of your Lord's approach?'
Come, then, and added to Your many crowns,
Receive yet one, as radiant as the rest,
Due to Your last and most effectual work—
Your word fulfilled, the conquest of a world."
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