Pray in Spirit

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
~ Proverbs 1:23

The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah.
~ Zechariah 12:7

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
~ Psalm 51:12

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
~ Jeremiah 31:9

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
~ John 1:29

O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.
~ Jeremiah 6:26

The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer, by John Owen. The following contains and excerpt from Chapter Two of Book Seven of his work, “On the Holy Spirit (Pneumatologia)A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, Embracing the Consideration of His Work”.

Book VII.

Chapter II. Zec 12.10 explained and vindicated.

The special promise of the administration of the Spirit of God to the end under consideration, is what I will lay as the foundation of the ensuing discourse.

Zec 12.10, “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications.”

The Spirit promised here is the Spirit of God, “the Holy Spirit,” with respect to the special end for which he is promised. And the manner of his administration, in the accomplishment of the promise, is expressed by, “I will pour out.” The same word is used for the same purpose in Eze 39.29, and Joel 2.28, as other words of the same importance are also, which we render “pouring out,” such as…

1. Two things have been declared elsewhere concerning this expression, as applied to the communication of the Holy Ghost:

(1.) What is intended in this, is a plentiful dispensation of him to the end for which he is promised, with respect to a singular and eminent degree in his operations. The apostle expresses this word, or the accomplishment of what is promised in it, by Titus 3.6, “he has richly” 358 or abundantly “poured out his Spirit.” Therefore, what is intended is not a mere grant and communication of the Spirit, but a plentiful effusion of him; which must have some eminent effects as pledges and tokens of this. For it is absurd to speak of a “plentiful, abundant effusion,” with degrees above what was granted before, and yet there be no certain ways or means by which it may be evidenced and demonstrated. The Spirit, therefore, is so promised in this verse as to produce some notable and specific effects of his communication.

(2.) This promise is specific to the days of the gospel; I mean that every promise is specific where mention is made of pouring out the Spirit on men. This may be evinced by the consideration of every place where this expression is used. But in this place, it is most unquestionable that its immediate effect is looking to Christ as he was pierced. Pro 1.23; Isa 32.15, 44.3, 52.15.

And it may yet be further observed that there is a tacit comparison in it with some other time or season, or some other act of God, in which or by which he gave his Spirit before. But it was not in that way, manner, or measure that he now promises to bestow him.2. Those to whom he is thus promised are “the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” — that is, the whole church, expressed as a distribution into the ruling family, and the body of the people under their rule.

The family of David, then in supreme power among the people in the person of Zerubbabel, is expressly mentioned for three reasons:

(1.) Because the faithfulness of God in his promises was concerned in the preservation of that family from which the Messiah was to spring — Christ himself, in the rule of the church, was thereby being typed out in a special manner.

(2.) Because all the promises in a unique manner were first to be fulfilled in the person of Christ, typed by David and his house. The Spirit, under the New Testament, was first to be poured out on Christ in all fullness;361 and then communicated from Him to others.

(3.) It may be to denote the special gifts and graces that would be communicated to those who were to be employed in the rule and conduct of the church under Him, the king and head of the church. And “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” is a phrase that expresses the whole church, because that was the seat of all their public ordinances of worship. See Psa 122. Therefore, the whole spiritual church of God, all believers, are the object of this promise, as represented in the “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

3. There are two special qualifications of the promised Spirit; for —

(1.) He is to be a “Spirit of grace,” Heb. chen (OT:02580) which the Greek constantly renders charis, and we render “grace,” from the Latin gratia. It is derived from chanan (OT:02603), as is the following word tachanuwn (OT:08469 supplication), which signifies to “have mercy,” or “compassion,” to be “gracious.” All the words by which God’s gracious dealings with sinners are expressed in Hebrew, include the meaning of pity, compassion, free goodness, and bounty. And it is variously used in the Scripture. Sometimes it is used for the grace and favor of God, because it is the fountain of all gracious and merciful effects towards us, Rom 1.7, 4.16, 5.2, 15, 20, 6.1, 11.5; 1Cor 1.3; and in countless other places. And sometimes it is used for the principal effect of this, or the gracious favor of God by which he accepts us in Christ, Eph 2.5; 2Thes 1.12. This is the grace the apostle prays for in behalf of the church, Rom 16.20; 1Cor 16.23. And sometimes it is applied to the favor of men, and acceptance with them, called “finding grace” or “favor” in the sight of anyone, Gen 39.4, 21; 1Sam 2.26; Pro 3.4; Est 2.15, 17, 5.2; Luk 2.52; Acts 4.33. And sometimes for the free effectual efficacy of grace in those in whom it is found, Acts 14.26; 1Cor 15.10; 2Cor 12.9. And sometimes for our justification and salvation by the free grace or favor of God in Christ, Joh 1.17; 1Pet 1.13; — for the gospel itself, as the instrument of the declaration and communication of the grace of God, 2Cor 6.1; Eph 3.2; Col 1.6; Titus 2.11; — for the free donation of the grace and gifts of the Spirit, Joh 1.16; Eph 4.7. And it has many other meanings which do not belong to our purpose.

Three things may be intended in this adjunct of grace.

(1.) A respect to the sovereign cause of his dispensation, which is none other than the mere grace of God. He may be called a “Spirit of grace,” because his donation is an effect of grace, without the least respect to any desert362 in those to whom he is given. This reason for the appellation is declared in Titus 3.4-7…

…opposition to our own works or deservings, is the love and kindness of God in Jesus Christ. This is why He may be justly called a “Spirit of grace.”

(2.) As he is the author of all grace in and to those on whom he is poured out. So God is called the “God of all grace,” because he is the fountain and author of it. And it has been proved elsewhere that the Holy Spirit is the immediate efficient cause of all grace in us, both in general and in the principal instances of regeneration and sanctification; and it will yet be further confirmed in what ensues.

(3.) The Hebrew chen is commonly used for that grace or favor which one has with another: “Let me find grace in your sight;” as in the instances quoted before. And so the Spirit may also be called a “Spirit of grace” because those on whom he is poured out have grace and favor with God; they are gracious with him, as being “accepted in the Beloved,” Eph 1.6.
Because, therefore, all these concur wherever this Spirit is communicated, I know of no reason why we may not judge them all to be included here, though the second one is especially intended. The Spirit is promised to work grace and holiness in all on whom he is bestowed.

(2.) He is, as thus poured out, a “Spirit of supplications;” that is, of prayer for grace and mercy. The word is formed from chen, as the other was — to be gracious or merciful. And expressing our act towards God, it is prayer for grace — a supplication; and it is never used except to express vocal prayer…

The sole cause and reason for pouring out the Spirit upon us, in the assemblies of the people of God or by private persons. “Hearken to the voice of my supplications,” is rendered by the apostle Paul hiketeria (NT:2428), Heb 5.7; it is used in this place alone in the Scripture. Originally it signified a bough or olive-branch wrapped with wool or bays, or something of like nature, which were carried in the hands and lifted up by those who were suppliants to others for obtaining peace, or averting their displeasure. Hence came the phrase velamenta proeferre, to hold out such covered branches. So Livy uses it, De Bel. Punic., lib. 24 cap. 30, “Holding forth olive-branches, and other covered tokens used by suppliants, they prayed that they might be received” into grace and favor.

They called them “branches of supplication,” or prayer. And they constantly called those prayers which they made solemnly to their gods, supplications. Some render tachanuwn as miserationes or lamentationes, and interpret it as men bemoaning themselves in their prayers for grace and mercy — in the end, this does not vary from the sense insisted on. But because it is derived from chen, which signifies to be merciful or gracious, and it expresses an act of ours towards God, it can properly signify nothing but supplications for mercy and grace; nor is it used otherwise in the Scripture. See Job 41.3; Pro 18.23; Dan 9.3; Jer 31.9; 2Chr 6.21; Jer 3.21; Psa 28.2, 6; 31.22; 116.1; 130.2; 140.6; 143.1; Dan 9.18, 23; Psa 86.6. These are all the places, besides this one, where the word is used. In all of them, it denotes deprecation of evil and supplication for grace, constantly in the plural number, to denote the earnestness of men.

Therefore, these are properly supplications for grace and mercy, for freedom and deliverance from evil. By a synecdoche, it refers to all sorts of prayer whatever. We may therefore inquire in what sense the Holy Spirit of God is called a “Spirit of supplications,” or what the reason is for attributing this to him. And he must be such, either formally or efficiently — either because he is such a spirit in himself, or he is such a spirit to us. If it is in the former way, then he is a Spirit who himself prays; and according to the import of those Hebraisms, he abounds in that duty. A “man of wickedness,” Isa 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” would be a Spirit abounding in prayer for mercy and diverting evil, as the word imports. Now, the Holy Ghost cannot be a Spirit of supplication in this way, either for himself or for us. No imagination of any such thing can be admitted with respect to him, without the highest blasphemy. Nor can he make supplications for us in his own person; for any such interposition in heaven on our behalf is wholly confined in the Scripture to the priestly office of Christ and his intercession. All prayer, whether oral or interpretative only, is the act of a nature that is inferior to that which is prayed to. The Spirit of God has no nature inferior to that which is divine. Therefore, unless we deny His deity, we cannot suppose he is formally a Spirit of supplication. He is such, therefore, efficiently with respect to us; and he is promised to us as such. Therefore, in general, our inquiry is how or in what sense he is a Spirit of supplication.

And there are but two ways conceivable by which this may be affirmed about him:

(1.) By working gracious inclinations and dispositions in us to this duty; (2.) By giving us a gracious ability for discharging it in a due manner.

These, therefore, must belong to and comprise his efficiency as a Spirit of supplication.

Both of them are included in that statement of the apostle, “The Spirit itself makes intercession for us,” Rom 8.26. Those who can put any other sense on this promise, would do well to express it. Every sense consistent with the analogy of faith will be admitted, so that we do not judge that the words are void of sense and have nothing in them. To deny that the Spirit of God is a Spirit of supplication, in and to believers, is to reject the testimony of God himself.

By the ways mentioned, we affirm that he is such a Spirit, nor can any other way be assigned.

(1.) He is such by working gracious inclinations and dispositions in us to this duty. He is the one who prepares, disposes, and inclines the hearts of believers to exercise this duty with delight and spiritual contentment. And where this is not so, no prayer is acceptable to God. He does not delight in those cries which an unwilling mind is pressed or forced to by earthly desires, distress, or misery, Jas 4.3. And in converse and intercourse with God, because we are alienated from living to him, by the ignorance and vanity of our minds.

And there is a secret alienation still working in us from all duties of immediate communion with him. It is he alone who works us toward that frame in which we pray continually, as it is required of us. Our hearts are kept ready and prepared for this duty on all occasions and opportunities.

Of ourselves, naturally, we are averse to any the meantime, they are acted and steered under the conduct and influence of those graces which are to be exercised in them. Some call this the “grace of prayer” that is given to us by the Holy Ghost. I suppose they do so improperly, though I will not contend about it. For prayer, absolutely and formally, is not a particular grace distinct from all other graces that are exercised in it. Rather, it is the way and manner by which we are to exercise all other graces of faith, love, delight, fear, reverence, self-abasement and the like, to certain special ends. I know of no grace of prayer that is distinct or different from the exercise of these graces. It is therefore a holy commanded way to exercise other graces, but it is not a particular grace itself. Only, where any person is singularly disposed and devoted to this duty, we may, if we please (though improperly), say he is eminent in the grace of prayer. And I suppose that it will not be denied by anyone, that this part of His work is intended in the promise.

If any are minded to distance themselves from other things which are ascribed to him — or if they abhor allowing him part or interest in our supplications, such that we may in any sense be said to “pray in the Holy Ghost” — or if they will not allow so much as the work of his grace being wrought in believers by virtue of this promise — then they will manage to oppose his other actings at too dear a rate to be gainers by it.

(2.) He is such a Spirit by giving an ability for prayer, or communicating a gift to the minds of men, that enables them to profitably exercise all his graces in that special way of prayer, for themselves and others. It will be granted afterward that there may be a gift of prayer used where there is no grace in its exercise, nor perhaps is there any to be exercised — that is, as some improperly express it, “the gift of prayer, where the grace of prayer is absent.” But in declaring how the Spirit is a Spirit of supplication, we must take both into consideration. He both disposes us to pray — that is, to exercise grace in that special way — and he enables us to pray. Where this ability is wholly and absolutely lacking, or where it is rejected or despised — even though he may act and exercise those very graces which are to be exercised in prayer, and whose exercise in that way is commonly called the “grace of prayer” — this work of his belongs to the general head of sanctification, in which he preserves, excites, and acts all our graces, and not to this special work of prayer; nor is he a Spirit of supplication in it.

Therefore, He is only a Spirit of supplication, properly, as he communicates a gift or ability to anyone, to exercise all His graces in the way and duty of prayer. This is what he is promised for here, and what he is promised to be poured out for, that is, in an abundant and plentiful manner. Wherever he is bestowed in the accomplishment of this promise, he both disposes the hearts of men to pray, and he enables them to do so. Indeed, he communicates this ability to others in great variety as to its degrees, and its usefulness in its exercise. But he does it for everyone so far as necessary for his own spiritual concerns, or for the discharge of his duty towards God and all others. But though this assertion contains the substance of what we plead for, further confirmation of it must be the principal subject of the ensuing discourse.

It needs no other demonstration that this is the sense of Zec 12.10, and that it is the mind of the Holy Ghost in the words. It expresses their proper meaning, nor can any other sense be tolerably affixed to them. To deny that the Holy Spirit is designated a Spirit of supplication because he inclines, disposes, and enables to pray, those to whom he is promised, and on whom he is bestowed as such, is to use a little too much liberty in sacred things.

A learned man of late, out of hatred for the Spirit of prayer, or for prayer being His gift, has endeavored to deprive the church of God of the whole benefit and Christian church, but to the Jews only. If he had said it belonged to the Jews in the first place, who would be converted to Christ, he would not have gone so wide from the truth, nor from the sense of other expositors, even though he said more than he could prove. But it is foolish and impious to suppose that any grace, any mercy, any privilege by Jesus Christ, is promised to the Jews, in which Gentile believers will not be sharers, or that whoever has the prerogative as to degrees, would not partake of the same kind. For if they too are children of Abraham, if the blessing of faithful Abraham comes upon them also. If it is through them that he is the heir of the world, his spiritual seed inhabiting it by right in all places, then all the promises made to him and his seed, belong to them. And because most of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of the Old Testament are made to Jacob and Israel, to Jerusalem and Zion, it is saying that all the promises are confined to the Jews. And so at once, this despoils the church of God of all right and title to them. This impious folly and sacrilege has been attempted by some. But because all the promises belong to the same covenant, with all the grace contained in them and exhibited by them, whoever has an interest in that comfort of this promise.

For he contends that it does not belong to the covenant by faith, has an interest in all the promises of God that belong to it.

And that person has an equal right to them with those to whom they were first given. To suppose, now that the Jews are rejected for their unbelief, that the promises of God made to them while they stood by faith, have ceased and are of no use, is to overthrow the covenant of Abraham. Indeed, it overthrows the whole truth of the New Testament. But the apostle assures us that “all the promises of God in Christ are yes, and Amen in him, to the glory of God by us;” 2Cor 1.20 — that is, in their accomplishment in us and towards us. He also positively affirms that all believers have received those promises which were originally made to Israel, 2Cor 6.16-18, 7.1.

And not only so, but he declares that the promises which were made of old to particular persons on special occasions — as to the grace, power, and love contained in them and intended by them — still belong to all individual believers, and they are applicable by them to all their special occasions, Heb 13.5-6, the promises of God, is what those who are concerned in the obedience of faith, would not forego for all that this world can supply them with.

This, therefore, is only a particular instance of the work and effect of the Spirit, as he is generally promised in the covenant. As we declared, the promises of him as a Spirit of grace and holiness in the covenant, belong to the believers of the Gentiles also. If they do not, then they have neither share nor interest in Christ; which is a better plea for the Jew than this particular instance will afford. But this promise is only a special declaration of what, in one case, this Spirit will do, who is promised as a Spirit of grace and holiness in the covenant. And therefore the author of the evasion, suspecting that the fraud and sacrilege of it would be detected, resorts to other subterfuges, which we will afterward address, so far as we are concerned.

It may be more soberly objected that, “The Spirit of grace and supplication was given to believers under the Old Testament. And therefore, if there is no more in it, if some extraordinary gift is not intended here, then how does it come to be made a special promise with respect to the times of the New Testament? It may therefore be supposed that what is intended here is not the ordinary grace or gift of prayer, which believers receive, and especially the officers of the church, but some extraordinary gift bestowed on the apostles and first converts to the church. This is how the prophecy concerning the effusion of the Spirit on all sorts of persons (Joel And their right to or interest in all 2.28-32) is interpreted by Peter, and applied to sending the Holy Ghost in miraculous gifts on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2.15-21.”

Ans. 1. I have already obviated this objection elsewhere, in general, by showing the prodigious folly of that imagination that the dispensation of the Spirit is confined to the first times of the gospel. This objection is a branch of that objection — enmity to the matter itself is the occasion of the whole objection.

Ans. 2. Nowhere do we find grace and prayer, the things promised here, reckoned among the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit under the New Testament. Prayer in an unknown tongue was extraordinary; but prayer itself was not, any more than grace; which if it was, the whole present church is graceless.

Ans. 3. The promise in Joel had express respect to the extraordinary gifts of prophecy and visions; and therefore it had its principal accomplishment on the day of Pentecost. This promise is of quite another nature.

Ans. 4. What is necessary for all believers, and their duty, and always so, is not an extraordinary gift bestowed on a few for a season. Now, if there are any who think that grace and prayer are not necessary for all believers, or that they may have abilities and exercise them without any aid of the Holy Spirit, then I will not at present contend with them. For this is not a place to plead with those who deny the principles of the Christian faith. Divine commands are the rule of our duty, not man’s imaginations.

Ans. 5. If this is not a special promise of the New Testament, because the matter of it, or the grace promised, was in some degree and measure enjoyed under the Old Testament, then there is no promise made with respect to that scion.

the saints under the Old Testament were really made partakers of all the same graces with those under the New. Therefore,

Ans. 6. Two things are intended in the promise with respect to the times of the gospel:

(1.) An application and enlargement of this grace or favor, as to its subjects extensively. It was confined to a few under the Old Testament, but now it will be communicated to many, and diffused all over the world. It will be so poured out as to be “shed abroad,” and imparted thereby to many. What before was only like watering a garden by a special hand, is now like the clouds pouring themselves out on the whole face of the earth.

(2.) An increase of the degrees of spiritual abilities for the performance of it, For Titus 3.5-6. There is now a rich communication of the Spirit of grace and prayer granted to believers, in comparison to what was enjoyed under the Old Testament. The very nature of the dispensation of the gospel evinces and confirms this, in which we receive from Jesus Christ “grace for grace.” I suppose it is needless to prove that, as to all spiritual supplies of grace, an abundant administration of it is brought in by Jesus Christ, the whole Scripture testifying to it.

There were, indeed, under the Old Testament, prayers to and praises of God dictated by a Spirit of prophecy, and received by immediate divine revelation, containing mysteries for the instruction of the church in all ages. These prayers were not suggested to them by the aid of the Spirit as a Spirit of supplication, but they were dictated in and to them by the Spirit as a Spirit of prophecy. Nor did they themselves fully comprehend the mind of the Holy Spirit in them, but inquired diligently into this, as into other prophecies given out by the Spirit of Christ which was in them, 1Pet 1.10-12; — an instance of which we may have in Psalm 22; it is a prayer with thanksgiving from first to last. Now David, to whom it was given by inspiration, might find in his own condition, things that had some low and mean resemblance to what was intended in the words suggested to him by the Holy Spirit, as David was a type of Christ. Yet the depth of the mysteries contained in it, the principal scope and design of the Holy Ghost, was in great measure concealed from David, and much more from others. Only, it was given out to the church by immediate inspiration, so that believers might search and diligently inquire into what was signified and foretold in this — that they might thereby be gradually led into the knowledge of the mysteries of God, as he was pleased to graciously communicate his saving light to them.

But with this, it was revealed to David and the other prophets, so that in these things “they did not minister to themselves, but to us,” 1Pet 1.12 as having mysteries in them which they could not, which they were not, to comprehend. But just as this gift has ceased under the New Testament (after finishing the canon of the Scripture), and no one pretends to it, so it was confined of old to a very few inspired persons. It does not belong to our present inquiry, for we speak only of those things which are common to all believers. And in this, a preference in all things must be given to those under the New Testament.

Therefore, if it could be proved (which I know it cannot be) that most of the church under the Old Testament made use of any forms of prayers, as mere forms of prayer — without any other end, use, or mystical instruction (all of which concurred in their prophetic composures), and for the sole end of prayer — it would not follow from this, whatever any pretend or plead, that believers under the New Testament may do the same; much less that they may be obliged to always do so. For there is now a more plentiful and rich effusion of the Spirit of grace and supplication upon them than was upon those of old. And as our duty is to be regulated by God’s commands, so God’s commands are suited to the dispensation of his grace. Persons under the New Testament are commanded to pray. For them not to constantly make use of the gifts, aids, and assistances of the Spirit, which are particularly dispensed and communicated in prayer, under a pretense of what was done under the Old, is to reject the grace of the gospel, and to make themselves guilty of the highest ingratitude. Therefore, we may and ought to bear with those who, not having received anything of this promised grace and assistance, nor believing there is any such thing, plead for the use of forms of prayer to be composed by some and read by others or themselves, and only in the discharge of this duty of prayer. Yet those who have been made partakers of this grace, and who own it as their duty to constantly use and improve the promised aids of the Spirit of God, will be careful not to allow any such principles or practice that would plainly annihilate the promise.

This much, then, we may suppose to have obtained in consideration of this testimony: That God has promised under the New Testament to give to believers, in a plentiful manner or measure, the Spirit of grace and of supplications, or his own Holy Spirit, enabling them to pray according to his mind and will.

The way and manner of his work in this will be declared afterward. It may suffice to generally oppose this one promise, to the open reproaches and bold contempts that are cast on the Spirit of prayer by many. In the end, their framers will fail in their design, unless they can blot this text out of the Scripture.

We will not, therefore, need to plead any other testimony to the same purpose in the way of promises. Only, we may observe that this being expressly assigned as a part of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, as promised under the New Testament, there is no one promise to that purpose in which this grace is not included. Therefore, the known multiplicity of them adds strength to our argument.