"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." (Matt. 7:7-8)
These words are plain and emphatic, and sufficiently simple to be comprehended by the merest infants among the children of God, whose minds are unbiased by false teaching. But such has been the indefatigable zeal of the enemies of the Lord, to pervert the Scriptures of truth, that even these words of our divine Master, have been strangely misconstrued, and it is to be feared that some of God's dear children have been imposed upon by the enemy, in regard to their real meaning. To understand properly any Scripture, especially the text under consideration, it is indispensably necessary that we should observe who is the speaker, and who are the subjects of address, as well as the true meaning of what is spoken. The Scriptures generally are a communication from God himself. Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and God spake to the fathers, the ancient patriarchs, by the prophets, so that their inspired communications to Israel were no less the words of God than that which he has in these last times spoken to us by his Son. The words of our text were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and therefore must be regarded as clothed with all the power and infallibility of the supreme and eternal Godhead. They are entitled to the sacred reverence which we have for him from whose lips they were spoken. No one, we conclude, who fears the Lord and trembles at the majesty of his words, would designedly pervert their meaning, or countenance their perversion by others. But so it is, as we shall presently show, this with the general tenor of the Scriptures is most awfully misrepresented, distorted, misinterpreted and misapplied, by very many who claim to be the children of God, and ministers of the gospel. By them it is generally, and perhaps we may say universally, applied to mankind in general, and to the unconverted or unregenerated, in particular. Those who contend for what they call "Free agency," offered salvation on conditions to be performed by men, human ability to repent and believe the gospel, to exercise faith in Christ, to love God, and to secure their own eternal salvation by their own wills and works, frequently repeat the words of our text, and other passages in the same connection, with an air of assumed triumph, as though they either believed themselves, or intended to make others believe, that these words were addressed by our Lord to the human family at large, and to the most ungodly in a special manner. They even go farther, and represent that the God of glory was in the act of expostulating with unrenewed sinners, and laboring to induce them to apply to him for salvation. As though the subject on which our Lord was speaking, was to show how possible it was, and how very cheaply every sinner might save himself. That if the sinner can be prevailed on to seek for religion, he shall find it; if they will seek for Christ, they shall find him; and if they will seek for justification before God, and eternal life and happiness, they shall find it. That if they will knock at heaven's gate, the portals of immortal glory shall on that condition be thrown open to them. A careful examination of the Scriptures however, will show to those unto whom it is given to know the things of the kingdom of Christ, that such a gross perversion of the text is a most presumptuous and blasphemous contradiction, both of the letter and spirit of what our Savior said, and also of the uniform testimony of all the record of the holy Scriptures on the subject.
Instead of addressing the words and assurances of the text to the world of mankind indiscriminately, or to ungodly sinners in particular, they were spoken exclusively to his disciples, and we have his own authority for saying that they apply to no other characters. At the commencement of the fifth chapter, we are informed of the peculiar circumstances of the occasion, when Christ delivered this discourse, or "sermon on the mount," as it is called, which is given in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters, and of which our text is an important part. It reads thus, "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying..." Now if he had intended this discourse to apply to sinners indiscriminately, why did he retire from the multitudes and address it exclusively to his disciples? Why, if it concerned the multitudes, did he not address it to them? Can any mortal tell? Again, if he were only speaking to his disciples of things which were applicable to the multitudes of the unconverted, why did he address his words to them, in the second person, ye and you, instead of they or them? Will any one dare to charge that he did know the proper use of words, or that he would say one thing and mean another, and that, too, essentially different from what he said? If in our text he had been speaking of asking for, and receiving regeneration; seeking for and finding pardon; knocking, and thereupon having the doors of mercy, or salvation, or of eternal life, opened to them, then they unto whom the words were addressed, were those of all men, unto whom they had the least application, for as his disciples they were regenerated already, and he said they followed him in the regeneration, they had already received the forgiveness of their sins, and could, and did experimentally know, and unequivocally testified that, "The Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins." And in so testifying, Jesus said to the rulers of the Jews, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen..." They had already been admitted into the kingdom of the Messiah; had already entered into life, and already stood freely justified in the Savior's righteousness, before the throne of God. Why then, we repeat the question, did he retire from the multitudes, and speak these words only to his disciples? If he had designed these words to express a conditional offer of salvation to unconverted sinners, is it not rational to believe that he would have availed himself of so favorable an opportunity as he had before he departed from the multitudes? How irrational then to suppose that with these words on his lips for the multitudes, that he who is too wise to err, should have deliberately left those to whom he designed his words to apply, and who, more than all the others, were the most vitally interested in them, and without uttering one word of the kind to the indiscriminate multitudes, ascend a mountain, and when his disciples came to him, open his mouth, and deliver to them the message which he had intended for the very multitudes which he on that occasion purposely avoided.
Another equally conclusive and irresistible testimony in the Scriptures, against the heresy of the Arminian notion, that God has offered salvation to all who will seek for it, is found in the words of our Lord in reply to his disciples, when they had asked him if there were many that would be saved, In this case observe the subjects of salvation, and concerning the extent of salvation Jesus said in reply not to the world, but to his disciples "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many shall seek and shall not be able." Who can believe it possible that our Lord should at one time say that all sinners who seek for salvation shall be saved, and at another time declare positively that many should seek, and should not be able to enter in at the strait gate, which leadeth into life? To say nothing of the absurdity of the notion of blind men's seeking, and dead men's knocking, it is enough for us to know that Christ is sought of them that asked not for him, and that he is found of them that sought him not. That Israel (that is carnal Israel) hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (Rom. xi. 7). "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone: as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offense: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."-Rom. ix. 31-33. God has bidden his Israel to seek, (not to procure their salvation by deeds of the law, or works of righteousness which their own hands have done, or can do,) but he has commanded them to seek his face. He said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye my face, in vain. It was not in vain that he has said unto his spiritual Israel, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else." It is because none but God can save a sinner, that God commands his Israel to look to him for salvation, and to him alone-, for in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. Not in themselves, nor in their resolvings, nor in their seekings or doings, for the Lord has made bare his holy arm, and the ends of the earth shall see his salvation. He shall say to the north, Give up- and to the south, Keep not back. He will gather them from the east and from the west, and shall also say, Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth-, even every one that is called by my name, for I have created him for my glory. When he who is the good Shepherd putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them and calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. When dead in sins, they are made to hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live. Who are the dead that shall hear, and that shall live? Christ has himself settled this question, "My sheep hear my voice;" because he has put them forth, gone before them, and called them by name. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."
We have shown, by such testimony as men will not disregard with impunity that the words of our text were spoken by Christ, and addressed to his disciples exclusively; that it is audacious presumption in those who labor to pervert his words, and to turn the truth of God into a lie. It remains now for us to show who are the disciples, and in what sense these words were applied to them, and the eternal consolation which they afford to such as are his disciples indeed.
They only are recognized in the New Testament as his disciples, who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. To be born again, born of the Spirit, and born into the light and love of the Redeemer, affords evidence that we are the children, and heirs of immortality; but some of God's children walk in disobedience, at least for a season; but in their disobedience to him as their Prince and Savior, their Leader and King, they are not scripturally speaking, his disciples, though they be his children. The disciples who went to him in the mount, and who listened to his discourse, were those who had not only passed from death unto life, but they had forsaken all, and followed him-, to them therefore his promises in his discourse were, and to such now, are applicable. "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." He had told them in a former part of his sermon, or discourse, of the special providential care which their heavenly Father had over them, that he feeds the ravens, and protects the sparrows, clothes the grass, and beautifies the frail lilies of the field, and that he would also provide all things needful for them. Although exposed to the rage of their enemies, disfranchised as citizens, cast out of the synagogues, and even driven from their houses and homes, they need not distrust the goodness and constant providence of their God, or say, What shalt I eat, or what shall I drink, or wherewithal shall I be clothed? for their heavenly Father knoweth that they have need of these things. They were directed to seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto them. The kingdom of God, and his righteousness, then, was that they were to seek, and our text assures us that they would not seek in vain, for they shall find. None but those who are born again, can seek that kingdom successfully, for except a man be born again, he cannot see it; and we cannot be qualified to seek for things which we cannot see. But Christ had said to his disciples, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear." To them it was given to know the things of the kingdom; but to them that are without, it was not given. Therefore he said to his disciples, apart from the multitudes, Seek, and ye shall find, as they were directed to ask, and it should be given to them. He had taught them to pray, and to ask God to give them their daily bread, deliver them from evil, protect them from temptation, and forgive their trespasses..etc, and in our text he assures them that they shall not ask in vain, for these things shall be given to them. If earthly parents knew how to give good gifts to their children, how much more should your heavenly Father? for he told some who claimed to be children of God, that if God were their Father, they would believe on him; but he said they were of their father the devil. To the children of God belongs the privilege to ask, with the assurance that they shall find the kingdom of God, and his, God's, righteousness; and to knock, and the doors of deliverance from all their fear shall be opened unto them. Of them, as the disciples of the Redeemer" it may truly be said, "Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee, and thou shalt tread upon their high places." What encouragement is here for the tried disciples of the Lord Jesus, while well they know that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, yet amidst all their conflicts, their God is within hearing. He rideth upon heavens in their help, and in his excellence, on the sky.
May the kind assurances with which the new covenant abounds to abounds to them, be set home with power and grace to the heart of all who love the Lord, and may we be encouraged to trust in, and rely upon him, constantly, firmly and forever.