The Spirit Assisting
Role of Suffering
A child of God oppressed, suffering sorely, often driven to his wit’s end—what a strange thing! A joint-heir with Christ financially embarrassed, poor in this world’s goods, wondering where his next meal is coming from—what an anomaly! An object of the Father’s everlasting love and distinguishing favor tossed up and down upon a sea of trouble, with every apparentprospect of his frail boat capsizing—what a perplexity! One who has been regenerated and is now indwelt by the Holy Spirit daily harassed by Satan, and frequently overcome by indwelling sin—what an enigma! Loved by the Father, redeemed by the Son, his body made the temple of the Holy Spirit, yet left in this world year after year to suffer affliction and persecution, to mourn and groan over innumerable failures, to encounter one trial after another, often to be placed in far less favorable circumstances than the wicked; to sigh and cry for relief, yet for sorrow and suffering to increase—what a mystery! What Christian has not felt the force of it, and been baffled by its inscrutability.
Now it was to cast light upon this pressing problem of the sorely tried believer that the eighth chapter of Romans was written. There the Apostle was moved to show that "the sufferings of the present time" (v. 18) are not inconsistent with the special favor and infinite love which God bears unto His people. First, because by those sufferings the Christian is brought into personal and experimental fellowship with the sufferings of Christ (v. 17 and cf. Phil. 3:10). Second, severe and protracted as our afflictions may be, yet there is an immeasurable disproportion between our present sufferings and the future Glory (vv. 18-23). Third, our very sufferings provide occasion for the exercise of hope and the development of patience (vv. 24, 25). Fourth, Divine aids and supports are furnished us under our afflictions (vv. 26, 27) and it is these we would now consider.
Help amidst Suffering
"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities" (Rom. 8:26). Not only does "hope" (a sure expectation of God’s making good His promises) support and cheer the suffering saint, leading him to patiently wait for deliverance from his afflictions, but the blessed Comforter has also been given to him in order to supply help to this very end. By His gracious aid the believer is preserved from being totally submerged by his doubts and fears. By His renewing operations the spark of faith is maintained, despite all the fierce winds of Satan which assail. By His mighty enabling the sorely harassed and groaning Christian is kept from sinking into complete skepticism, abject despair, and infidelity. By His quickening power hope is still kept alive, and the voice of prayer is still faintly heard.
And how is the gracious help of the Spirit manifested? Thus: seeing the Christian bowed down by oppression and depression, His compassion is called forth, and He strengthens with His might in the inner man. Every Christian is a living witness to the truth of this, though he may not be conscious of the Divine process. Why is it, my afflicted brother, my distressed sister, that you have not made shipwreck of your profession long ere this? What has kept you from heeding that repeated temptation of Satan’s to totally abandon the good fight of faith? Why has not your manifold "infirmities" annihilated your faith, extinguished your hope, and cast a pall of unrelieved gloom upon the future? The answer is because the blessed Spirit silently, invisibly, yet sympathetically and effectually helped you. Some precious promise was sealed to your heart, some comforting view of Christ was presented to your soul, some whisper of love was breathed into your ear, and the pressure upon your spirit was reduced, your grief was assuaged, and fresh courage possessed you.
Here, then, is real light cast upon the problem of a suffering Christian— the most perplexing feature of that problem being how to harmonize sore sufferings with the love of God. But if God had ceased to care for His child, then He had deserted him, left him to himself Very far from this, though, is the actual case: the Divine Comforter is given to help his infirmities. Here, too, is the sufficient answer to an objection which the carnal mind is ready to make against the inspired reasoning of the Apostle in the context: How can we who are so weak in ourselves, so inferior in power to the enemies confronting us, bear up under our trials which are so numerous, so protracted, so crushing? We could not, and therefore Divine grace has provided for us an all-sufficient Helper. Without His aid we had long since succumbed, mastered by our trials. Hope looks forward to the Glory to come; in the weary interval of waiting, the Spirit supports our poor hearts and keeps grace alive within us.
"Our infirmities": note the plural number, for the Christian is full of them, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Frail and feeble are we in ourselves, for "all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field" (Isa. 40:6). We are "compassed with infirmity" (Heb. 5:2) both within and without. When trials and troubles come we are often bewildered by them and faint beneath them. When opposition and persecution break out against us, because of our cleaving to the Truth and walking with Christ, we are staggered. When the chastening rod of our Father falls upon us, how we fret and fume. What a little thing it takes to disturb our peace, stifle the voice of praise, and cause us to complain and murmur. How easily is the soul cast down, the promises of God forgotten, the glorious future awaiting us lost sight of. How ready are we to say with Jacob, "All these things are against me," or with David, "I shall now perish one day at the hand of Saul."
The "infirmities" of Christians are as numerous as they are varied. Some are weak in faith, and constantly questioning their interest in Christ. Some are imperfectly instructed in the Truth, and therefore ill-prepared to meet the lies of Satan. Some are slow travelers along the path of obedience, frequently lagging in the rear. Others groan under the burden of physical afflictions. Some are harassed with a nervous temperament which produces a state of perpetual pessimism, causing them to look only upon the dark side of the cloud. Others are weighed down with the cares of this life, so that they are constantly depressed. Others are maligned and slandered, persecuted and boycotted, which to those of a sensitive disposition is well-nigh unbearable. "Our infirmities" include all that cause us to groan and render us the objects of the Divine compassion.
But "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities." Here is a Divine revelation, for we had known nothing about it apart from the Scriptures. We are not left alone to endure our infirmities: we have a helper, a Divine Helper; One not far off, but with us; nay, in us. The Greek word here for "helpeth" is a striking one; it signifies to "take part with" or to "take hold with one." It occurs in only one other passage, namely, "bid Mary therefore that she help me" (Luke 10:40), where the obvious thought is that Martha was asking for her sister’s assistance, toshare the burden of the kitchen, that she might be eased. The Spirit "helpeth" the Christian’s infirmities not only by a sympathetic regard, but by personal participation, supporting him beneath them, like a mother "helps" her child when leaming to walk, or a friend gives his arm to an aged person to lean upon.
In his comments on this clause Calvin says, "The Spirit takes on Himself a part of the burden by which our weakness is oppressed, so that He not only succours us, but lifts us up, as though He went under the burden with us." Oh how this should endear the blessed Spirit of God to us. We worship the Father, whence every mercy has its rise; we adore the Son, through whom every blessing flows; but how often we overlook the Holy Spirit, by whom every blessing is actually communicated and applied. Think of His deep compassion, His manifold succourings, His tender love, His mighty power, His efficacious grace, His infinite forbearance; all these challenge our hearts and should awaken praises from us. They would if we meditated more upon them.
The Spirit does not remove our "infirmities," any more than the Lord took away Paul’s thorn in the flesh; but He enables us to bear them. Constrained by a love which no thought can conceive, moved by a tenderness no tongue can describe, He places His mighty arm beneath the pressure and sustains us. Though He has been slighted and grieved by us a thousand times, receiving at our hands the basest requital for His tenderness and grace, yet when a sword enters our soul or some fresh trouble bows us down to the ground, He again places beneath us the arms of His everlasting love and prevents our sinking into hopeless despair. (Please click here to continue reading, The Spirit Assisting)