Luk_11:9-10. I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened [Note: This was written at a great distance of time from that which precedes it, and without any consciousness that the text had been treated before. The reader will excuse a little repetition, for the sake of the different ground occupied in the two Discourses. This was, in fact, preached from Luk_11:5-10. But the insertion of it will shew to young ministers how greatly the same subjects may be diversified; to illustrate which, is an object that the Author has much at heart.].
THE prayer which our blessed Lord taught to his Disciples, and which is contained in the verses before my text, is suited to the Church of God in all ages: and it is a very encouraging circumstance, that, in approaching to the throne of grace, we are able to address the Most High in words which he himself has dictated for our use. But doubts are apt to arise in the mind, whether God will hear the prayers of such worthless and sinful creatures as we are: and, to remove such apprehensions, our merciful and gracious Lord has made an appeal to us respecting our own readiness to assist each other, especially in cases of emergency, and when urged by repeated applications. The appeal, as made by him, carries conviction to the mind. But the argument itself must not be pressed too far. We cannot, in all cases, infer from what man would do, that God will do the same: no, in truth; such a mode of arguing as that would lead, and often does actually lead, to the most fatal errors. I will therefore make the necessary distinctions on this subject; and shew,
In what cases this argument is valid—
Certainly it is an argument much used in Holy Writ—
[Our blessed Lord states it distinctly in the words following my text: “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him [Note: ver. 11–13.]?” To the same effect he speaks in the parable of the unjust judge: “Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you, that he will avenge them speedily [Note: Luk_18:2-8.].” From these and many other passages it is clear, that the argument, if properly used, is weighty and conclusive.]
But it is an argument much abused by ungodly men—
[Nothing is more common than for ungodly men to state what they themselves would do, and to conclude from thence what they are authorized to believe respecting God. And, in fact, this is the strong-hold of atheism itself: for there is not a perfection of the Deity which is not practically denied upon this very ground. Hear how God himself represents this matter: for he who knows the heart, and can interpret infallibly its most secret motions, thus declares, respecting the atheistical and ungodly world: “Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the House of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth [Note: Eze_8:12; Eze_9:9. See also Psa_10:11 and Job_22:13-14.]” What is here, but a plain denial both of the omnipresence and omniscience of God? His justice also, and his truth, are alike questioned by them upon the same grounds. St. Paul thus states the objections of an unbelieving Jew: “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God,” i. e. if our ungodliness be the means of displaying the efficacy and excellency of the Gospel, what shall we say? Is God (i. e. is not God) unrighteous, who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man.) God forbid (replies the Apostle): for then, how shall God judge the world? Then the objector, still pressing his argument, adds, “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory (i. e. if God has overruled my errors for the illustration and confirmation of his own truth), why am I yet judged as a sinner?” that is, if I am the means of honouring him, whether intentionally or not, it would be very unjust in God to deal with me as if I dishonoured him. To all which the Apostle answers, ‘You may as well speak out at once, and say, “Let us do evil, that good may come:” and the only reply that I shall condescend to make to all such impious objectors is, “Their damnation is just [Note: Rom_3:5-8.].” ’ Thus, as the justice of God is arraigned in reference to what he has threatened; so also is his truth, in reference to his execution of his threatenings: “There shall come, in the last days, scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation [Note: 2Pe_3:4; 2Pe_3:9.];” construing thus the forbearance of God into an utter dereliction of his declared purpose. The sovereignty of God is that against which they set themselves with peculiar vehemence. That God should exercise mercy according to his own sovereign will and pleasure, and not according to any desert of man, is an idea which they cannot endure. They consider that as a warrant to cast all the blame of their condemnation upon God himself; and will confidently say, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” But St. Paul’s answer to that objection must silence every human being: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour [Note: Rom_9:18-21.]?” In a word, the whole that God has revealed to us respecting our fall in Adam, our condemnation by the law, our justification by faith alone, and the eternity of future punishment awarded to all who believe not in Jesus Christ; the whole of this, I say, is no better than “foolishness” in the eyes of unconverted men [Note: 1Co_1:23.]. And the ground of their accounting it foolishness is, that it is a different mode of proceeding from that which they themselves would follow towards one another: for, as they would not punish to all eternity any offence committed against them, so neither ought God to punish sin in that way; and, as they would reward men according to their merits, so ought God to do. In short, they think “God to be altogether such an one as themselves: but God will reprove them, and, with righteous severity, will set before them the things which they have done [Note: Psa_50:21.]:” for, however just a comparison between God and man may be in some respects, in other respects it can serve no other purpose than to lead us into the most fatal errors.]
Let me, then, mark distinctly, when, and in what cases, this argument is valid—
[There is a broad line of distinction to be drawn, and such a line as will suffice to keep us from any material error on the subject. When the comparison relates only to what is good and gracious, the argument founded on it is not only valid, but may be carried to an extent that would be utterly inadmissible on any other subject under heaven. For instance, we may not only say, if an earthly parent will be kind to his child, how much more will your heavenly Parent be so? But we may put the argument thus: “If a man will shew the smallest kindness imaginable to his beloved child, how much more will God exercise the greatest possible kindness towards a stranger, provided that stranger call upon him in humility and faith?” This is, in fact, the very statement which our Lord himself gives in the verses following my text: for it is worthy of notice, that, in the latter part of the comparison, he drops the relation of a child, and says, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him [Note: A similar statement we have in the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:13, 14.): “If the blood of bulls &c. will do the smallest thing, i. e. will cleanse the body from a mere ceremonial defilement, how much more will the blood of Christ, &c. do the greatest, i. e. cleanse the soul from all manner of moral defilement, and sanctify it wholly unto the Lord?”]?” But, when the comparison supposes or implies any claim on God, then is it not only vain, but impious in the extreme: for man has no claim whatever upon God. The very devils have as much claim upon him as we, unless we come to him in the name of Christ. On our fellow-creatures we have a claim; but on God we have none: and if we presume to say, I would not act so or so towards a fellow-creature; therefore God will not act so or so towards me; we reduce him to a level with ourselves; we bind him by laws to which he is not subject; and we prescribe rules to him which he will never follow. Of our duties to man we may form some judgment: but “we cannot by searching find out God [Note: Job_11:7.];” who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, or can see [Note: 1Ti_6:16.]:” and if we attempt to speak of him, we only “darken counsel by words without knowledge [Note: Job_38:2.].”]
Having shewn in what cases this argument is valid, I proceed to mark,
The force of it, as here applied—
Our blessed Lord here institutes a comparison between God and man, as moved by importunity to exercise kindness towards a suppliant friend. Hear,
[Who amongst us, if a friend came to him, even at midnight, for bread to set before one who had unexpectedly come from a great distance to take up his abode with him, would refuse his request? We might, probably enough, express reluctance at first, on account of the disturbance it would occasion to our family; but, on his urging his request, we should grant it: though the feelings of friendship should not suffice in the first instance to produce an acquiescence in his wish, his importunity would be sure to prevail. The parallel between God and us is here so obvious, that our Lord forbears to state it; because every one will naturally draw it for himself. For instance: will an earthly friend act thus? What then will not our heavenly Friend do, whose love so infinitely transcends all that ever existed in a mortal bosom? And will an earthly friend do this with such inconvenience to himself and family; and shall his reluctance be overcome by dint of importunity? What then will not He do, who, at whatever hour he be applied to, can experience no inconvenience, and who delights in importunity, as the best possible expression of our love to him? Here the argument is clear and strong; and such as must carry conviction to every mind. Hear then,]
[Justly does our blessed Lord found on this statement an exhortation to us, to be in supplication urgent, and in expectation confident. Let us“ask” whatsoever our necessities require: let us “seek” it, too, in every way that we can devise: and, if our heavenly Friend appear inattentive to our suit, let us stand “knocking” at his door, till he come to our aid. Let us take no refusal. Of his sufficiency we can entertain no doubt; nor should we for a moment call in question his willingness to help us. Delays, instead of discouraging us, should only increase the ardour of our suit: for, succeed we must. Our blessed Lord tells us, “Ye shall,” “ye shall,” “ye shall” succeed. “Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Before we yield to any discouragement as to the issue of our supplications, let us find an instance wherein such importunity was ever known to fail. Let us search the annals of the whole world: and if, from the beginning of the world unto this hour, we find not one single exception, yea, and are assured by Him who knoweth all things, that no exception ever did exist; then let us, like Jacob of old, close, as it were, with our heavenly Friend, and wrestle with him all the night; and tell him plainly, that “we will not let him go until he bless us [Note: Gen_32:24-28.].” If we act thus, we may as well doubt the existence of a God, as doubt the issue of our supplications: “for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh (however unworthy he may be of the favour asked), it shall be opened.”
Behold, then, the force of the argument as here applied; and know, that where goodness and grace are the points of comparison between God and man, the argument can never be too strongly put, or the inference be too securely drawn.]
Are there any here present who doubt the efficacy of prayer?
[Such existed in the days of old; even men who said, “What profit should we have, if we pray unto him [Note: Job_21:15.]?” But on what grounds can such a question be asked? If it be from an idea that God is incapable of attending to the concerns of men, then hear his indignant reproof of this atheistical conceit: “They say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planteth the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall not he see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity [Note: Psa_94:7-11.];” aye, and ye will find them vanity too, my brethren, if ye persist in such conceits as these.]
Are there any who think they can be saved without prayer?
[Be assured that, however willing God is to bestow his blessings, he will be sought unto before he will impart them: for the condition he has imposed is this; “Ask” and ye shall have. And if ye will not comply with that, then know, that nothing awaits you but “destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power [Note: 2Th_1:9.]:” for he has irreversibly declared, that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God [Note: Psa_9:17.].” If ye say, “This shall not be;” then will I bring to your remembrance that awful admonition, “God is not a man, that he should lie; nor the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good [Note: Num_23:19.]?” God’s promises, it is true, are free and full: but “he will be inquired of,” in earnest prayer, before he will vouchsafe to you his proffered blessings [Note: Eze_36:37.].]
Lastly, Are there any who are discouraged by the idea that God will not condescend to them?
[Persons too of this description were found in the days of old, who, in a desponding mood, complained, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me.” But what was the answer of God to them? “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget: yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me [Note: Isa_49:14-16.].” Here is the very argument that is urged in my text, and with all the force which has been given to it. Let it come home to all your hearts, and make every one of you to “pray, without ceasing [Note: 1Th_5:17.],” and without a doubt [Note: Jam_1:6-7.].]