Many Christians struggle a great deal with prayer. Whether it’s struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, the struggle is often not to make time to pray, but why pray. In Hebrews 4:16 the author of Hebrews tells his readers, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Hebrews 4:14-16, as has been noted by many biblical scholars, serves as the end for the first major section of the book and serves as a bridge into the next major section. Hebrews 4:16 provides the answer to why Christians are to persevere is the High Priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. His ministry reconciles God’s people to God and opens Heaven’s chest of grace, which makes possible the great resource of prayer.
To approach the throne of God in prayer on the basis of Christ’s High-Priestly ministry is to come to His propitiating sacrifice and present intercession. The language used here in Hebrews 4:16 is striking and clear. By telling God’s people to come before His throne, the author reminds God’s people that it is the place where blood has been offered for His people—the mercy seat where God calls sinners to meet with Him. God’s people are also reminded that it is to a King that they are to come.
Spurgeon and Coming before the Grace of God
In a great sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon worked out some of the implications on how Christians are to approach God in prayer. The first is that Christians must come in lowly reverence. If Christians show great respect in the courts of earthly majesty—in the White House, for example, or Buckingham Palace—then surely God’s people will come with even greater reverence before the throne of Heaven. There is no place for pride or vanity here, and if God’s people could see what really is before them spiritually they would tremble at its awesome majesty. Spurgeon writes, “His throne is a great white throne, unspotted, and clear as crystal. Familiarity there may be, but let it not be unhallowed. Boldness there should be, but let it not be impertinent.”[i]
Secondly, Christians should come to God in prayer with great joy. The favor that has been extended to us is so high a privilege that it should inspire great joy and thankfulness. Instead of judgment, Christians find themselves in a position as favored children—invited to bring their entire request to the King of Heaven.
Finally, Christians should come to God with confidence. Christians come knowing that they will be favorably received, knowing that they can speak freely, and knowing that this is a throne of grace. This is only possible, because of the High Priest, who has gone ahead securing access for His people by His blood.
Summoned Before the Throne
Many Christians struggle with prayer. They tremble as if the light from God’s throne exposed them in a naked shame, when in fact it reveals the radiant robes that have been draped around them, the righteousness of Christ given to all who trust in Him. The key to prayer—to praying often, to praying openly, to praying boldly and freely and with gladness of heart—is to know that one is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, invited to His own saving ministry, purchased by His precious blood, and anticipated by His sympathetic intercession. This is the secret to lively and happy prayer.
It is to the throne of God which people come—it is a throne of grace. This means that when God’s people come, their sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, along with any faults are looked upon with compassion. Stumbling prayers are not criticized, but are received with kindness. Moreover, Jesus’ priestly ministry secures the Holy Spirit’s help. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” God’s Spirit helps God’s people to pray, and He graciously interprets His people’s prayers in the heart of the Father.
Furthermore, because it is a throne of grace to which God’s people come, God is ready to grant the requests of His people. He is glad to provide for needs, to give strength to persevere through trials to His people. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The writer continues saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2nd Corinthians 12:9). One commentator explains, “Man needs mercy for past failure, and grace for present and future work. Mercy is to be ‘taken’ as it is extended to man in his weakness; grace is to be ‘sought’ by man according to his necessity.”[ii]
God requires His people to persevere in faith through the trials of the Christian life. He gives His people a great reason to press on the saving work of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is able to save His people to the uttermost. He has gone ahead of His people to open the doors and unlock the treasures of God’s mercy and grace. Prayer is a great resource God gives His people, one that must not be neglected if one is to grow strong in the faith and persevere through difficulties. Prayer brings one to a throne of power and authority, but also a throne of grace, to all who are in Christ. Therefore, let God’s people draw near to God with reverence, with joy, with great expectation, and especially with confidence that belongs to sons and daughters of the King of Heaven and Earth.
Spurgeon provides us a fitting conclusion about the difference God’s grace makes for God’s people:
“I could not say to you, “Pray,” not even to you saints, unless it were a throne of grace, much less I could talk of prayer to you sinners; but now I will say this to every sinner here, though he should think himself to be the worst sinner that every lived, cry unto the lord and seek him while he may be found. A throne of grace is a place fitted for you: go to your knees, by simple faith go to your Savior, for he, he it is who is the throne of grace.”[iii]
The challenge to approach God’s throne of grace is a call to persistent; confident prayer based on Jesus’ own experience of suffering and trials, and His subsequent ability to empathize with our weakness. Mercy focuses on the assurance that past transgressions have been dealt with, and grace points to the inner strengthening to endure test. Both come through the heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, who was Himself tested, and is generously given ‘for timely assistance’. In other words, the divine help comes at the appropriate time, not least when believers pass through periods of test (Hebrews 2:18). Since God is the one who gives the help (Psalm 9:9), we may be assured that He is aware of the right time when this help is needed.
[i] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 17:855.
[ii] B.F. Westcott, The Epistle To The Hebrews (London: Macmillan, 1903), 109.
[iii] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 860).