Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 7:7-11; LUKE 11:5-13
7. Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. 8. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 9. Is there any man among you, who, if his son shall ask bread, will give him a ston? 10. Or if he shall ask a fish, does he offer him a serpent? 11. If you, then, though you are evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father, who is in heaven, give good things, if you ask them from him?
5. And he saith to them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and shall say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves: 6. For a friend of mine hath come, on a journey, to me, and I have nothing to set before him. 465 7. And he from within answering say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed: I cannot rise and give thee. 8. I say to you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet, on account of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. 9. And I say to you, Aks, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. 10. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 11. And what father among you, from whom if his son shall ask bread, will give him a stone? Or, if a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 12. Or, if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13. If you, then, though you are evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
Matthew 7:7. Ask, and it shall be given you It is an exhortation to prayer: and as in this exercise of religion, which ought to be our first concern, we are so careless and sluggish, Christ presses the same thing upon us under three forms of expression. There is no superfluity of language, when he says, Ask, seek, knock: but lest the simple doctrine should be unimpressive, he perseveres in order to rouse us from our inactivity. Such is also the design of the promises that are added, Ye shall find, it shall be given to you, and it shall be opened Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard. Those who doubt can only pray in an indifferent manner; and prayer, unaccompanied by faith, is an idle and unmeaning ceremony. Accordingly, Christ, in order to excite us powerfully to this part of our duty, not only enjoins what we ought to do, but promises that our prayers shall not be fruitless.
This ought to be carefully observed. First, we learn from it, that this rule of prayer is laid down and prescribed to us, that we may be fully convinced, that God will be gracious to us, and will listen to our requests. Again, whenever we engage in prayer, or whenever we feel that our ardor in prayer is not sufficiently strong, we ought to remember the gentle invitation, by which Christ assures us of God’s fatherly kindness. Each of us, trusting to the grace of Christ, will thus attain confidence in prayer, and will venture freely to call upon God
“through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom (as Paul says)
we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him,”
(Eph. 3:11, 12.)
But, as we are too prone to distrust, Christ, in order to correct this fault also, repeats the promise in a variety of words. He uses the metaphor seek, because we think, that those things which our wants and necessities require are far distant from us — and knock, because our carnal senses imagine, that those things which are not immediately at hand are shut up.
8. For every one that asketh receiveth Some think that this is a proverbial saying taken from common life: but I am more inclined to a different view. Christ presents the grace of his Father to those who pray. He tells us, that God is of himself prepared to listen to us, provided we pray to him, and that his riches are at our command, provided we ask them. These words imply, that those who are destitute of what is necessary, and yet do not resort to this remedy for their poverty, are justly punished for their slothfulness. It is certain, indeed, that often, when believers are asleep, God keeps watch over their salvation, and anticipates their wishes. Nothing could be more miserable for us than that, amidst our great indifference, or—I would rather say—amidst our great stupidity, God were to wait for our prayers, or that, amidst our great thoughtlessness, he were to take no notice of us. Nay more, it is only from himself that he is induced to bestow upon us faith, which goes before all prayers in order and in time. But as Christ here addresses disciples, he merely reminds us in what manner our heavenly Father is pleased to bestow upon us his gifts. Though he gives all things freely to us, yet, in order to exercise our faith, he commands us to pray, that he may grant to our requests those blessings which flow from his undeserved goodness.
9. Is there any man among you? It is a comparison from the less to the greater. First, our Lord contrasts the malice of men with the boundless goodness of God. Self-love (φιλαυτία) renders us malicious: for every man is too much devoted to himself, and neglects and disregards others. But this vice yields to the stronger feelings of a father’s love, so that men forget themselves, and give to their children with overflowing liberality. Whence comes this, but because God, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, (Eph 3:15,) drops into their hearts a portion of his goodness? But if the little drops produce such an amount of beneficence, what ought we to expect from the inexhaustible ocean? Would God, who thus opens the hearts of men, shut his own? Let us also remember that passage of Isaiah, “Though a mother forget her children,” (Isa 49:15,) yet the Lord will be like himself, 466 and will always show himself to be a Father.
11. Your Father will give good things This is expressly mentioned by Christ, that believers may not give way to foolish and improper desires in prayer. We know how great influence, in this respect, is exerted by the excesses and presumption of our flesh. There is nothing which we do not allow ourselves to ask from God; and if he does not humor our folly, we exclaim against him. Christ therefore enjoins us to submit our desires to the will of God, that he may give us nothing more than he knows to be advantageous. We must not think that he takes no notice of us, when he does not answer our wishes: for he has a right to distinguish what we actually need. All our affections being blind, the rule of prayer must be sought from the word of God: for we are not competent judges of so weighty a matter. He who desires to approach God with the conviction that he will be heard, must learn to restrain his heart from asking any thing that is not agreeable to his will.
“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
Instead of good things (ἀγαθὰ) in the last clause, Luke says the Holy Spirit This does not exclude other benefits, but points out what we ought chiefly to ask: for we ought never to forget the exhortation, Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all other things shall be added to you, (Mt 6:33.) It is the duty of the children of God, when they engage in prayer, to strip themselves of earthly affections, and to rise to meditation on the spiritual life. In this way, they will set little value on food and clothing, as compared to the earnest and pledge of their adoption, (Ro 8:15; Eph 1:14:) and when God has given so valuable a treasure, he will not refuse smaller favors.
Luke 11:5. Which of you shall have a friend, Luke adds this comparison, which is not mentioned by Matthew. The general instruction conveyed by it is this: Believers ought not to be discouraged, if they do not immediately obtain their desires, or if they find them difficult to be obtained: for if, among men, importunity of asking extorts what a person would not willingly do, we have no reason to doubt that God will listen to us, if we persevere constantly in prayer, and if our minds do not slacken through difficulty or delay.
“Car un mien ami m'est venu voir en passant;” — “for a friend of mine has come to see.”
“Le Seigneur ne changera point;” — “the Lord will not change.”