Yesterday, other church members and I met for an early morning prayer meeting. We were praying prayers of thanksgiving through Romans 8, a richly encouraging way to start the day.
I thanked God for the Son’s and the Spirit’s ministry on our behalf. I think I thanked God that, when times are hard, we can find encouragement knowing that the Son and the Spirit are praying for us. Even if I didn’t say such a thing out loud, I know I have thought that both the Son and the Spirit pray for Christians, Romans 8 being the key text in my mind.
But this is a serious error. I’m convinced that I was wrong. The Spirit does not pray for Christians.
Here are a couple theologians of yesteryear to clear up my erroneous thinking.
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service
“The Holy Spirit teaches believers how to pray; therefore He is called the Spirit of prayer. ‘And I will pour upon [them] the Spirit of grace and of supplications’ (Zech 12:10); ‘But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’ (Rom 8:26). The Spirit shows them what they are lacking, and makes them sensibly conscious of it. He holds before them the desirability of that which is spiritual, causing them to esteem it highly. He prompts them to request these things from God by way of prayer, assuring them that God will hear them and grant them their desire according to His good pleasure. He produces in them a prayerful frame which manifests itself in a humble and believing frame of mind. He takes them by the hand and leads them to the throne of grace. He generates strong spiritual desires in them, putting the words in their mouth. If the matters for which they pray are too lofty, the desires too strong, or their heart so oppressed that they cannot speak one word, then the Spirit will help in their infirmities, causing them to utter their desires with groanings, which contain more than could be expressed with words, though they cannot be uttered.”
John Owen, A Discourse of the Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer
“We may, therefore, inquire in what sense the Holy Spirit of God is called a ‘Spirit of supplications,’ or what is the reason of this attribution unto him. And he must be so either formally or efficiently, either because he is so in himself or unto us. If in the former way, then he is a Spirit who himself prayeth, and, according to the import of those Hebraisms, aboundeth in that duty. As a ‘man of wickedness,’ Isaiah 55:7, or a ‘man of blood,’ is a man wholly given to wickedness and violence; so, on the other hand, a ‘Spirit of supplications’ should be a Spirit abounding in prayer for mercy and the diverting of evil, as the word imports. Now, the Holy Ghost cannot be thus a Spirit of supplication, neither for himself nor us. No imagination of any such thing can be admitted with respect unto himself without the highest blasphemy. Nor can he in his own person make supplications for us; for besides that any such interposition in heaven on our behalf is in the Scripture wholly confined unto the priestly office of Christ and his intercession, all prayer, whether oral or interpretative only, is the act of a nature inferior unto that which is prayed unto. This the Spirit of God hath not; he hath no nature inferior unto that which is divine. We cannot, therefore, suppose him to be formally a Spirit of supplication, unless we deny his deity. He is so, therefore, efficiently with respect unto us, and as such he is promised unto us…[1.] By working gracious inclinations and dispositions in us unto this duty; [2.] By giving a gracious ability for the discharge of it in a due manner…Both of them are included in that of the apostle, ‘The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us,’ Romans 8:26.”