The Power of Intercession

John 17:9.---' I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.'

In this chapter we have the only prolonged prayer of Jesus given in the Gospels. Fragments of prayer have been preserved which burst from His soul in hours of unusual emotion, but nowhere else are we allowed to listen while our Lord pours out His full heart to His Father. He brings Himself and His disciples and all who are to be won for Him throughout the ages to the mercy seat. It is the beginning of the heavenly intercession.

There is no voice which has ever been heard, either in heaven or in earth, more exalted, more holy, more fruitful, more sublime, than this prayer offered up by the Son of God Himself.

In these intercessions of our Lord for the groups of those whom he calls His friends four points seem to stand out. First, those for whom he prays are God's gifts to Himself. They are 'the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were and thou gavest them me.' They were God's before they were His; they were God's still while they were His. Secondly, He lets His mind dwell upon all that they have been to Himself. He puts out of sight for the moment all their weakness and all their failures. He puts out of sight the fact that He has needed this very night to wash the feet of all them, that they have shown slowness to understand His teaching, and that before the next morning they will have deserted Him and fled. While He prays He will dwell only on the good. 'They have kept thy word.' And, thirdly, He sees the actual dangers that beset them. He foresees that they will be in the world, that they will be hated by the world, that they will be tempted to sin; but He does not pray that they may be taken out of the world, or that they may not be exposed to hatred and temptation. The prayers are only for spiritual blessings---that they may be drawn into closer unity, that they may be sanctified in the truth, that the true Christian joy and Christian love may be fulfilled in them. And them, lastly, He leaves those for whom He has prayed absolutely and with all confidence in His Father's hands. In the Father's keeping they will be sanctified in the truth, and others will believe through their preaching. They will ultimately be with Him and behold His glory. And at the last He no longer asks the Father for that, but He wills it through His union with the Father. 'I will that they also whom thou hast gavest me may be with me where I am.' They may desert Him that very night, they may deny Him the next morning, the trusted three may not be able to watch with Him one hour, but yet there is a quiet confidence that He will win through to the end. He has no anxious thought for the morrow---no anxious thought at all.

Now, who are they whom God has given us? They fall into two classes. In the first place there are those whose relation to us comes from no choice whatever of our own, but from what we call the accident of our birth and circumstances, but whom we very wisely think of as the gifts of God to us. Such are our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children. But, further, there are those also whom we have chosen for ourselves, and this was the case with those apostles for whom our Lord was praying that night. They had not chosen Him, but He had chosen them. But they were none the less in His eyes gifts from the Father. No one, He knew, could come unto Him except the Father drew him, and the Father had drawn the disciples by the cords of love, and had given them to Him, not as mere neighbors, the friends of His growing years, but as the objects of His love, as those who had made response to His love. And so for ourselves there are the objects of our own free choice---the wife, the husband, the friend.

Such then, must be, as it was with our Lord, the starting point of our intercession. We are praying for those who are gifts to us, gifts whom we value for the Giver's sake as well as for their own, gifts for the use of which we are responsible, which we shall have hereafter to give back to the Giver, not tarnished but made more beautiful.

For this we shall need to imitate our Lord and dwell upon all that they have been to us in the past, to requicken every memory of past tenderness and kindness. This is why true intercession is so valuable. Amid the petty jars and annoyances of daily life, amid those small frictions which arise within the circle of love and friendship, little things sometimes seem so great. The hasty word leaves its scar; the unjust taunt has its sting, and the poison from the sting upsets the whole current of our blood. But intercession soon restores the true proportion, and the mole-hill is seen once more to be a mole-hill, and to be as nothing compared with the high ranges of past acts of love and thoughtfulness which lie further off on the horizon.

So with our hearts full of gratitude to God for what those have been to us in the past, we shall picture to ourselves the dangers that assail them, and then try to frame our prayers in the way that our Master would have us to do, reminding ourselves that intercession is not only to help the weak to be strong, but the strong to be kept strong; not only to help the bad to be good, but the good to be better. And we must see to it that the deepest and strongest prayer shall be not for their physical but their spiritual welfare.

When we have tried to carry out any inspiration that has come to us in the moment of prayer, we shall leave those whom we love with confidence in the Father's keeping. We shall rest securely, like our Lord, on His love as Father, on His character as righteous Father, as holy Father; and we shall go on with our tasks without fretting, without restlessness, without anxiety. For surely that is the comfort of intercession to a father. It is casting a burden which we cannot bear upon shoulders that can bear it, upon a heart that loves to bear it. If in anything we really have made known our requests unto God with prayer and thanksgiving, then we have the promise that the peace of God shall guard our hearts and minds. For if we have once come really to think of those whom we love as God's gifts to us, then even if they are taken from us we shall believe that the Lord who has taken them away is the Lord who gave them, and we shall be able to say, 'Blessed be the name of the Lord.'

But the example of our Lord carries with it a still further lesson. It reminds us that the prevailing power of intercession will depend upon the character of our own lives, our own efforts to do the Father's will. Before He prays for others on that night our Lord is able to appeal to His own life. 'I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.' 'I kept them in thy name.' But even that is not all. His intercession commits Him to a further effort still to do God's will. There is a new act of self-sacrifice to be faced. Once more He has to say, 'Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.'

So if we would hope that our prayers may help our friends, let us look into our own lives, let us be grateful for the grace of God wherever and whenever it has helped us to do the work which He gave us to do. And let us not slacken our efforts, but again and again consecrate our lives to God's service. Let us bring into our own lives the courage, the self-control, the absence of bitterness, the sense of the reality of God's presence in life which we have asked for our friends.

I find that an exceedingly close walk with God is necessary for the maintaining of fervor in intercession. Sometimes an extraordinary sense of want may beget fervor in our petitions for ourselves, or a familiar mercy enliven our graceful acknowledgments. But it is scarcely ever that we can intercede with fervor unless we enjoy habitual nearness to God. We have not really learned to love until we are living the highest possible life in order that the object of our love may become a saint.

On the other hand, there is surely very real encouragement to us in the thought that every time we do try to intercede for others reacts upon our life and helps it. When our intercession is made an exercise of love and care for those among us in a nearer relation, it often becomes of the greatest benefit to ourselves, and produces the best effects on our own hearts. We are stirred to fresh acts of kindness, our eyes are more and more opened to see the goodness and the loveableness of those around us, and it has been truly said, every man feels that his soul's inner growth is shown by a keener appreciation of the unnoticed goodness that lies around us on every side.

When the Evangelist recorded this Intercessory prayer it was years after the Lord had uttered it. It was to him the record of a prayer that had been answered again and again in the history of the Christian Church. He knew how the apostles and their converts had been sanctified in the truth, how God's love had been perfected in them, and how they had had spiritual fellowship one with another. Now the measure of their joy had been fulfilled. he was recording a prayer of One whom he knew still to be an advocate with the Father, One to whom Christians could pray both for themselves and for their brethren, knowing that they would have the petition they desired.

And still the Advocate is there. Still He pleads for us and for those whom we love. Let us, then, take pains that our prayers may be modeled on His great Intercession, that they may be framed in His spirit, that they may be offered in His Name, and then we may be sure that they will find their way into the presence of God and that He, our Advocate, who stands there, will purify them from anything that is selfish or unworthy in them, and present them to the Father for is blessing.

In Christ, timothy