John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

26 (Romans 8:26)

Verse 26

26.And likewise the Spirit, etc. That the faithful may not make this objection — that they are so weak as not to be able to bear so many and so heavy burdens, he brings before them the aid of the Spirit, which is abundantly sufficient to overcome all difficulties. There is then no reason for any one to complain, that the bearing of the cross is beyond their own strength, since we are sustained by a celestial power. And there is great force in the Greek word συναντιλαμβάνεται, which means that the Spirit takes on himself a part of the burden, by which our weakness is oppressed; so that he not only helps and succours us, but lifts us up; as though he went under the burden with us. (264) The word infirmities, being in the plural number, is expressive of extremity. For as experience shows, that except we are supported by God’s hands, we are soon overwhelmed by innumerable evils, Paul reminds us, that though we are in every respect weak, and various infirmities threaten our fall, there is yet sufficient protection in God’s Spirit to preserve us from falling, and to keep us from being overwhelmed by any mass of evils. At the same time these supplies of the Spirt more clearly prove to us, that it is by God’s appointment that we strive, by groanings and sighings, for our redemption.

For what we should pray for, etc. He had before spoken of the testimony of the Spirit, by which we know that God is our Father, and on which relying, we dare to call on him as our Father. He now again refers to the second part, invocation, and says, that we are taught by the same Spirit how to pray, and what to ask in our prayers. And appropriately has he annexed prayers to the anxious desires of the faithful; for God does not afflict them with miseries, that they may inwardly feed on hidden grief, but that they may disburden themselves by prayer, and thus exercise their faith.

At the same time I know, that there are various expositions of this passage; (265) but Paul seems to me to have simply meant this, — That we are blind in our addresses to God; for though we feel our evils, yet our minds are more disturbed and confused than that they can rightly choose what is meet and expedient. If any one makes this objection — that a rule is prescribed to us in God’s word; to this I answer, that our thoughts nevertheless continue oppressed with darkness, until the Spirit guides them by his light.

But the Spirit himself intercedes, (266) etc. Though really or by the event it does not appear that our prayers have been heard by God, yet Paul concludes, that the presence of the celestial favor does already shine forth in the desire for prayer; for no one can of himself give birth to devout and godly aspirations. The unbelieving do indeed blab out their prayers, but they only trifle with God; for there is in them nothing sincere, or serious, or rightly formed. Hence the manner of praying aright must be suggested by the Spirit: and he calls those groanings unutterable, into which we break forth by the impulse of the Spirit, for this reason — because they far exceed the capability of our own minds. (267) And the Spirit is said to intercede, not because he really humbles himself to pray or to groan, but because he stirs up in our hearts those desires which we ought to entertain; and he also affects our hearts in such a way that these desires by their fervency penetrate into heaven itself. And Paul has thus spoken, that he might more significantly ascribe the whole to the grace of the Spirit. We are indeed bidden to knock; but no one can of himself premeditate even one syllable, except God by the secret impulse of his Spirit knocks at our door, and thus opens for himself our hearts.

Coopitulatur “ is [Calvin ] Latin — co-assist,” [Beza ] ’s una sublevat — lifts up together,” that is, together with those who labor under infirmities. The Vulgate has “adjuvat — helps,” like our version. [Schleusner ] says, that it means to succor those whose strength is unequal to carry their burden alone. It is found in one other place, Luke 10:40. It is given by the Septuagint in Psalms 89:21, for אמף — “to strengthen, to invigorate,” and in Exodus 18:22, for נשא אתך — “to bear with,” that is, “a burden with thee,” — the very idea that it seems to have here — Ed.

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible