From negative religion, our Lord proceeds to enforce that which is positive—prayer to God, and justice to men. We have had directions already concerning the duty of prayer, and are now furnished with encouragements to engage in it.
Observe the terms by which it is expressed—asking, seeking, knocking. No mention is made of what we are to ask or seek for; but it is understood that every thing we want, both for this world and that to come, is richly provided, and that the way of access to God is opened by the Saviour. Such an invitation would not else have been given. It is also understood that what we receive is of grace, and that we must apply for it, not as haughty claimants, but as needy and unworthy supplicants. The prayer of the Pharisee had not a single petition in it. We may also perceive that true prayer is that by which we look out of ourselves, and seek help from above. The formalist rests in the deed alone, but the believer in Jesus thinks not of his own seekings, but of the objects sought. There is also a gradation of desire expressed in the terms. Seeking is somewhat more than asking, and knocking more than seeking. The mind, when properly engaged in this exercise, increases in its importunity, like his who said, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”
Observe, next, the encouragements afforded us in the exercise. It is wonderful how they are heaped, as it were, one upon another. Here are first promises, “It shall be given you,” &c.; next examples, “Every one that asketh receiveth,” &c.; and then an appeal to the feelings of a parent, arguing thence to the compassion of our heavenly Father.
It is of great account in prayer to lay hold of the promises. It is this constitutes it the prayer of faith. It is true we may pray for temporal things which are not specifically promised, provided it be in submission to the will of God, leaving it to his wisdom to give or to withhold, as seemeth good to him. But even here we must not lose sight of his general promise, to withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly. It is also true, that if there were only a possibility of success in matters of salvation, considering the urgency of our case as lost and helpless sinners, we might well supplicate mercy. Such were the reasonings of the four lepers, and of Esther the queen; but though they have sometimes been applied to the sinner’s application for mercy, yet they are not cases in point. We must not compare our heavenly Father to capricious heathens, who might have spurned their supplicants, instead of hearing their petition: nor an application at a mere per-adventure to coming on an invitation, and under a promise of acceptance.
And then, with respect to examples, our Lord directs the attention of his followers to facts. “Every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth.” This is like challenging them to find an instance of a poor supplicant perishing at a throne of grace, or of a single petition offered in the faith of Jesus falling to the ground. Lastly, His appealing to the heart of an earthly parent, and arguing that “if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, much more will our heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him,” is truly overwhelming. And is it possible, after all this, that we should ever feel reluctant to draw near to him? Oh what must be that alienation of heart which can make light of such a privilege, that guilt and shame that make it seem almost a duty to stand aloof, and that distrust of God which gives to our approaches before him an appearance of presumption!
Ver. 12. “Therefore all things whatsoever,” &c. It may seem as if there could be no connexion between this precept and those which preceded it. On close inspection, however, we may find it otherwise. It may have a connexion with various other precepts which had gone before, and, so far as they related to the duty of man to man, contain a sort of summary of the whole. Or it may well be considered as connected with what is said on prayer. All inordinate affection toward this world (which is the impetus that moves men to overreaching practices) has its root in a distrust of God. Were we daily to ask for all we want of him, seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and relying upon his promise to add other things as he sees them to be best for us, we should have no inclination to covetousness or injustice. But if, instead of depending, like sheep, on the care of their shepherd, we set off like beasts of prey, to forage the world for ourselves, we shall often judge it to be wise and necessary to seize on that which equity forbids. Hence arises the hateful distinction among statesmen between what is right and what is politic, and hence all the rapacity which desolates the earth. It will be found in the end that whatever was right was wise; but this lesson is seldom learned till it is too late. Oh what a world would it be if this rule were acted upon! What families, churches, cities, and nations, would our eyes behold! But this is not to be expected till it shall be written in the hearts of men by the Spirit of God.
It is remarkable that this golden rule, as we call it, is God’s witness in every human breast. Every one has so much regard for himself as quickly to feel wherein he is wronged, and to pass censure on the person who has wronged him. He has therefore only to apply the principle to his own conduct, and the right and the wrong must instantly appear. Hence no one can plead ignorance. Even the heathens, who have not the written law, “are a law unto themselves, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 587–588). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.