26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: 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.
27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27 kjv
his passage points out some important items for the daily needs of life’s journey. All travelers in the King’s Country are furnished with a most excellent tourist’s guide. Attention to the truths in the above-mentioned verses would save from much needless mistake, regret, blunder, and falling, it may be. God would have us all real students. He expects us to read and think for ourselves. He arranges place and time for us to sit in His library and feast on its treasures, and learn for ourselves the wonders of His kingdom that now is, and that which is to come. He wants us to look into His textbooks, to walk with Him amid the beauties and glories of the natural world. The seas are His [Psalm 95:5], the stars in heaven are His. The secrets of air and ether 2 are His. The generative forces of nature are all His. We are His children. He made this world for us. The world of mind and spirit are His. They are a step nearer Himself than the material universe. It is more to find, see, and understand God in the hidden spheres of spiritual life, than in the world of material things.
Our sonship involves and necessitates companionship and fellowship. These do not exist without community of understanding, aim, and desire. To be “made in His image” [Genesis 1:27] means to be of similar organization as to kind; though it does not necessarily imply equality of degree.
Fatherhood in God implies likeness in the son. More, a father seeks to make the son know what he knows. He desires his son to see things as he sees them: to seek what he seeks, to like what he likes, to be as he is in quality and character. God desires our success. In His order, what we desire He wants to assist us to obtain. He wants us to have what we want, while we abide in the light.
Our want of success in spiritual attainment is a grief to Him. Our inability to compass what we want, and reach satisfaction, pains the very nature of all parentage, and so pains “Our Father,” because He is a father.
To meet the difficulty into which the defection of sin brought us, He has furnished us a Helper: this Helper, to be what we are not; this Teacher to teach us what we know not; this Reformer to bring us to that which we are not; this Transformer to make us like what we are not; this is the special office work of the personal Holy Ghost. He is a sympathizing Teacher. Please do not think of Him as a mere critic, convictor of wrong, and reporter of evil conduct or mere influence. While His office as responsible Schoolteacher implies all this, think, on the other hand, of His office as Helper. He knows all things, for He is God. As the gift of Jesus, He comes in the spirit of love to fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness in our behalf. Do you need love? His work is to “shed it abroad in the heart” [Romans 5:5]. Have you “infirmities”? He it is who is commissioned from the Trinity to help you with them. Have you troubles about prayer? Carry them to Him, for it is He who sits as special Helper at your mercy seat. Did your preacher, like one I once heard, lump together infirmities, faults, mistakes, and errors all in one vessel and label them all “sins,” and you have gone troubled, knowing that sin could be forgiven, and that one could be saved from it, but because you could not be saved from infirmity, you therefore reckoned yourself a continual sinner? It is false. If infirmities were sins, needing the remedy of forgiveness, the Holy Ghost would not “help” you in them, else He would help you in sinning.
Cruden 3 defines infirmities thus:
Sickness or feebleness of body; afflictions, reproaches, and persecutions; spiritual weakness, and defects in grace; failings and mistakes, either through ignorance or weakness.
This is Scriptural, and therefore practical. Who has not gone in some of these ways! How many go for years with a weak body, unable to carry the spirit on its errands of mercy and love! How many carry an enervated and over-sensitive nervous organization, with a brain consequently hindered in all work. There are those born with faults for which they can never be responsible. There are those injured for life through no fault of their own. But all this field is not so wide as littleness and lowness of a dethroned spirit. Now, we who have been teachers have been tried and perplexed and grieved with children who could study, but had no aptitude whatever to learn what we wanted them to know. Have you considered God’s love in sending the Holy Spirit to help that infirmity which fell on us all on account of sin? This dullness of spiritual apprehension, how you have chided yourself for it! How you have lamented over it and blamed yourself for having it! Well, for this very thing the Holy Spirit came. Look up to Him this moment. Hunt up your infirmities and tell Him all about them. Pile them up at His feet, and rest from their burden.
Then there is your prayer: how you have chided yourself, and perhaps let the devil worry you, because you did not pray like someone else you could name. Perhaps the other one had been to the Teacher and found out what to pray for. You tried to pray in and of yourself. You did not count on the Helper, and because of this lack of trust, were left to yourself. Remember the text implies that not knowing what to pray for as we ought is an infirmity for which there is help in the Holy Spirit.
The word “help” is suggestive. It is an inspired word. It does not convey the idea of pardon or deliverance. The thought implies a burden to be carried, for which there is somehow not strength sufficient. The Helper is the divine Spirit of God. He cannot help us in the carrying of a sinful thing. All the words He uses in connection with the adjusting of the sin question are different.
There is no thought here turning attention to pardon or cleansing. The condition of being helped, so far as this connection shows, refers to a case in which all these things have been previously settled. The Father here speaks to His redeemed child, longing, in the deepest tenderness, to reach a feature of the hurt of sin, that can neither be pardoned nor cleansed.
Another thought I would not have you miss is that your infirmity is a possible extra chance for you to be associated with the Infinite. I have known those who, after having met some accident which maimed for life, found from that time their infirmity a peculiar channel of helpfulness and acquaintance with God. 4 For some it seems needful, in order that they “may enter into life” over there, to be “maimed” and “halt” here; they are better off by being bereft of some “offending member” [Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48] or sense or outward opportunity in the time life, in order to gain the eternity life. Grieve not therefore, unduly, if the way of your going lies along some of these hard passes. Going down to Egypt was a hard pass for poor Joseph [Genesis 39], but it resulted in a place next to the throne of the greatest of kings [Genesis 40, 41]. If the route be in the order of God, hold still. The Helper is always there.
It is also in the thought underlying the words of the text that we “ought” to do what we cannot of ourselves do. That is, God certainly requires of us that which cannot be done unless He helps us. In other words, the full measure of life’s possibilities requires our association with the Infinite. Man’s “ought” includes a definite participation in the Infinite Omnipotence. So, whatever man ought to do, man can do. There are, therefore, no impossible commands. This is evident from the nature of the case, and yet how strange to think we are required to do that which necessitates the positive putting forth of the divine energy. God so identifies himself with us and honors humanity with the gift of Himself. It seems bewildering, almost, to think that God would put the “ought” on us to do that which, of ourselves, we cannot, in order to get Him to help us! We should not shrink or complain of those passes in life where, cut off from all other sources of help, we are forced to trust Him and find out by actual contact what He is to the trusting soul. Run back along the trail of your experience and find out how true this is.
If these positions be thus solidly true, it is evident in the next place that every man should keep his experience up to his knowledge and convictions of right. The oughtness in him should have right of way at all times, and he should be as good as he knows he ought to be. How far beneath this thousands live! So common is it for people to live beneath the oughtness hidden in their privileges, that the rightness of this law has been suspended in the high court of their conscience. The possibility to live beneath one’s privilege is the bane of the race and falls heavily on the people of God.
The oughtness in us is not simply the standard of rightness, but also the measure of the possible. We can be what we ought to be. We can be justly punished for failure to be what we can be. If we can be pardoned, we ought to be. If God has provided to make us holy here, we ought to be. The can be and the ought to be run in parallel lines with divinity between to make the connections.
To attempt what I know I cannot do of myself appears useless and unjust to all who do not have faith. But, yet, when we consider that the doing of this very thing is the special condition which brings us into actual and personal contact with God, we ought, on the other hand, to rejoice that we are counted worthy to be called to such privilege. Here is the special fieldwork of the Spirit. He “maketh intercession for us with groanings.” Some thoughts are too big to be contained in words. Some desires are wordless and unutterable in dictionary terms. Some features of love are inexpressible in word language. God really puts us in the line of real “mind reading;” that is, in knowing others’ thoughts without the use and locomotion of words. Possibly language may pass away when the true spiritual life is reached—when the body is glorified. Other methods may supersede our present, being so much superior that we will care no more for what is now of so much use.
At any rate, there is such a thing as wordless prayer. While the usual order is to say prayer, as Jesus said when instructing the disciples, [Luke 11:1-4] it is possible to think prayer, and while about the usual activities of life to keep the prayer line in use; yet, after all, it is more to keep the soul in a prayerful attitude; a condition of mind in which, though you have not time to pray, you can easily, as if by habit, refer everything to Jesus. True, wordless prayer is that which cannot be put into words. Its known expressions are groans and sighs. You have seen a sleeping child sob and sob again, even after all crying has passed. The vocal expression has passed away, but the sea of the spirit within has not reached quieted waves yet.
At such times the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for us.” Is not this then the best praying we do? Cannot heaven answer all such prayer? Possibly at such times you have been tempted to sink down into utter prostration, and perhaps thought yourself all but abandoned of the Lord. When we have prayed through, and can say no more, and the burden is still on, is it not time then to lie still and let the blessed Spirit make intercession for us? What we cannot say, He can. What we fail to express to the listening court of heaven, He can. Our failure is His opportunity; but faith must hold steady. The searching is “according to the will of God.”
Relationship is what is wanted in the prayer, and yet we are conscious of relationship without prayer. We love and are fully resting in our love when we have no petition. So, when the spirit gets back to God, like the forgiven child into its mother’s arms, it is the office of the Spirit of God to make conscious this adjusted relation. It is more satisfying than all words. God rests in His love, and the child rests also. It is the rest of consciousness. It does not need words any more. It is better felt than told.
Endnotes for Help Through Unexpected Channels
1 This article is taken from The Double Cure or Echoes from the National Camp-Meetings (Boston and Chicago: The Christian Witness Co., 1894), pages 234-241.
2 Ether is an old term which meant “upper atmosphere,” and in Reid’s day it was thought to be the substance which filled all of outer space and that which transmited light. The word is the root of others, like ethereal and the more modern Ethernet. Essentially, Isaiah is saying, “The secrets of the atmosphere and outer space are God’s.”
3 Alexander Cruden (1699-1770) was a Scottish Presbyterian moral reformer, remembered chiefly for compiling Cruden’s Concordance, an alphabetical listing of all the major words in the Bible.
4 Little is known about Isaiah’s wife, Mary Braden Reid, but Isaiah may have had his loving, loyal spouse in mind when he wrote these words. An interesting choice of words appeared about her in an article about Isaiah which appeared in a compilation local biographies published in 1890: “In February, 1869, Mrs. Reid was accidentally thrown from a cutter [i.e., a small sleigh] and sustained such injuries that she was maimed for life.” [Emphasis mine.] Exactly what those injuries were has not yet been discovered. See Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Story County, Iowa, (Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1890), page 405.