The apostle here suggests two privileges more to which true Christians are entitled:—
I. The help of the Spirit in prayer. While we are in this world, hoping and waiting for what we see not, we must be praying. Hope supposes desire, and that desire offered up to God is prayer; we groan. Now observe,
1. Our weakness in prayer: We know not what we should pray for as we ought. (1.) As to the matter of our requests, we know not what to ask. We are not competent judges of our own condition. Who knows what is good for a man in this life? Eccl. 6:12. We are short-sighted, and very much biassed in favour of the flesh, and apt to separate the end from the way. You know not what you ask, Matt. 20:22. We are like foolish children, that are ready to cry for fruit before it is ripe and fit for them; see Luke 9:54, 55. (2.) As to the manner, we know not how to pray as we ought. It is not enough that we do that which is good, but we must do it well, seek in a due order; and here we are often at a loss—graces are weak, affections cold, thoughts wandering, and it is not always easy to find the heart to pray, 2 Sam. 7:27. The apostle speaks of this in the first person: We know not. He puts himself among the rest. Folly, and weakness, and distraction in prayer, are what all the saints are complaining of. If so great a saint as Paul knew not what to pray for, what little reason have we to go forth about that duty in our own strength!
2. The assistances which the Spirit gives us in that duty. He helps our infirmities, meant especially of our praying infirmities, which most easily beset us in that duty, against which the Spirit helps. The Spirit in the world helps; many rules and promises there are in the word for our help. The Spirit in the heart helps, dwelling in us, working in us, as a Spirit of grace and supplication, especially with respect to the infirmities we are under when we are in a suffering state, when our faith is most apt to fail; for this end the Holy Ghost was poured out. Helpeth, synantilambanetai—heaves with us, over against us, helps as we help one that would lift up a burden, by lifting over against him at the other end—helps with us, that is, with us doing our endeavour, putting forth the strength we have. We must not sit still, and expect that the Spirit should do all; when the Spirit goes before us we must bestir ourselves. We cannot without God, and he will not without us. What help? Why, the Spirit itself makes intercession for us, dictates our requests, indites our petitions, draws up our plea for us. Christ intercedes for us in heaven, the Spirit intercedes for us in our hearts; so graciously has God provided for the encouragement of the praying remnant. The Spirit, as an enlightening Spirit, teaches us what to pray for, as a sanctifying Spirit works and excites praying graces, as a comforting Spirit silences our fears, and helps us over all our discouragements. The Holy Spirit is the spring of all our desires and breathings towards God. Now this intercession which the Spirit makes is, (1.) With groanings that cannot be uttered. The strength and fervency of those desires which the Holy Spirit works are hereby intimated. There may be praying in the Spirit where there is not a word spoken; as Moses prayed (Exod. 14:15), and Hannah, 1 Sam. 1:13. It is not the rhetoric and eloquence, but the faith and fervency, of our prayers, that the Spirit works, as an intercessor, in us. Cannot be uttered; they are so confused, the soul is in such a hurry with temptations and troubles, we know not what to say, nor how to express ourselves. Here is the Spirit interceding with groans that cannot be uttered. When we can but cry, Abba, Father, and refer ourselves to him with a holy humble boldness, this is the work of the Spirit. (2.) According to the will of God, Rom. 8:27. The Spirit in the heart never contradicts the Spirit in the word. Those desires that are contrary to the will of God do not come from the Spirit. The Spirit interceding in us evermore melts our wills into the will of God. Not as I will, but as thou wilt.
3. The sure success of these intercessions: He that searches the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, Rom. 8:27. To a hypocrite, all whose religion lies in his tongue, nothing is more dreadful than that God searches the heart and sees through all his disguises. To a sincere Christian, who makes heart-work of his duty, nothing is more comfortable than that God searches the heart, for then he will hear and answer those desires which we want words to express. He knows what we have need of before we ask, Matt. 6:8. He knows what is the mind of his own Spirit in us. And, as he always hears the Son interceding for us, so he always hears the Spirit interceding in us, because his intercession is according to the will of God. What could have been done more for the comfort of the Lord’s people, in all their addresses to God? Christ had said, “Whatever you ask the Father according to his will he will give it you.” But how shall we learn to ask according to his will? Why, the Spirit will teach us that. Therefore it is that the seed of Jacob never seek in vain.
II. The concurrence of all providences for the good of those that are Christ’s, Rom. 8:28. It might be objected that, notwithstanding all these privileges, we see believers compassed about with manifold afflictions; though the Spirit makes intercession for them, yet their troubles are continued. It is very true; but in this the Spirit’s intercession is always effectual, that, however it goes with them, all this is working together for their good. Observe here.
1. The character of the saints, who are interested in this privilege; they are here described by such properties as are common to all that are truly sanctified. (1.) They love God. This includes all the out-goings of the soul’s affections towards God as the chief good and highest end. It is our love to God that makes every providence sweet, and therefore profitable. Those that love God make the best of all he does, and take all in good part. (2.) They are the called according to his purpose, effectually called according to the eternal purpose. The call is effectual, not according to any merit or desert of ours, but according to God’s own gracious purpose.
2. The privilege of the saints, that all things work together for good to them, that is, all the providences of God that concern them. All that God performs he performs for them, Ps. 57:2. Their sins are not of his performing, therefore not intended here, though his permitting sin is made to work for their good, 2 Chron. 32:31. But all the providences of God are theirs—merciful providences, afflicting providences, personal, public. They are all for good; perhaps for temporal good, as Joseph’s troubles; at least, for spiritual and eternal good. That is good for them which does their souls good. Either directly or indirectly, every providence has a tendency to the spiritual good of those that love God, breaking them off from sin, bringing them nearer to God, weaning them from the world, fitting them for heaven. Work together. They work, as physic works upon the body, various ways, according to the intention of the physician; but all for the patient’s good. They work together, as several ingredients in a medicine concur to answer the intention. God hath set the one over against the other (Eccl. 7:14): synergei, a very singular, with a noun plural, denoting the harmony of Providence and its uniform designs, all the wheels as one wheel, Ezek. 10:13. He worketh all things together for good; so some read it. It is not from any specific quality in the providences themselves, but from the power and grace of God working in, with, and by, these providences. All this we know—know it for a certainty, from the word of God, from our own experience, and from the experience of all the saints.