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Seeking and Finding
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
I CANNOT imagine a better, more cheering or a more comforting statement with which to face all the uncertainties and hazards of our life in this world of time than that contained in verses 7—11. It is one of those great comprehensive and gracious promises which are to be found only in the Bible. There is nothing that can be more encouraging as we face life with all its uncertainties and possibilities, our ‘future all unknown’. In such a situation, this is the essence of the biblical message from beginning to end, this is the promise that comes to us: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ In order that we might be quite certain about it, our Lord repeats it, and puts it in an even stronger form, for He says: ‘Every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.’ There is no doubt about it, it is certain; it is an absolute promise. What is more, it is a promise made by the Son of God Himself; speaking with all the fullness and authority of His Father.
The Bible teaches us everywhere that that is the one thing that matters in life. The biblical view of life, in contra-distinction to the worldly view, is that life is a journey, a journey full of perplexities, problems and uncertainties. That being the case, it emphasizes that what really matters in life is not so much the various things that come to meet us, and with which we have to deal, as our readiness to meet them. The whole of the biblical teaching with regard to life is in a sense summed up in that one man Abraham, of whom we are told, ‘he went out, not knowing whither he went’. But he was nevertheless perfectly happy, at peace and at rest. He was not afraid. Why? An old Puritan who lived 300 years ago answers that question for us: ‘Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went; but he did know with whom he went.’ That is the thing that matters, he knew that he went out on that journey with Another. He was not alone, there was One with him who had told him that He would never leave him, nor forsake him; and though he was uncertain as to the events that were coming to meet him, and the problems which would arise, he was perfectly happy because he knew, if I may so put it, his Travelling Companion.
Abraham was like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who, under the shadow of the cross, and knowing that even His most trusted disciples were suddenly going to leave Him and forsake Him in their fear and concern about saving their own lives, nevertheless was able to say this: ‘The hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me’ (John 16:32). According to the Bible, that is the one thing that matters. Our Lord does not promise to change life for us; He does not promise to remove difficulties and trials and problems and tribulations; He does not say that He is going to cut out all the thorns and leave the roses with their wonderful perfume. No; He faces life realistically, and tells us that these are things to which the flesh is heir, and which are bound to come. But He assures us that we can so know Him that, whatever happens, we need never be frightened, we need never be alarmed. He puts all that in this great and comprehensive promise: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ That is just one of the biblical ways of repeating this message which rum through the Scriptures as a golden cord from beginning to end.
If we are to derive the full benefit from such wonderful, gracious words, we must look at them a little more closely. It is not enough just to repeat a great phrase like this. The Bible must never be used as a form of psychological treatment. There are people who do that. There are people who think that the best way to go through life triumphantly is to read and repeat wonderful verses to oneself. Of course that can help you up to a point; but it is not the biblical message and the biblical method. That kind of psychological treatment gives only temporary ease. It is like the teaching which tells us that there is no such thing as disease, and that you cannot be ill, and that because there is no disease there is no pain. That sounds most helpful and may lead to a temporary improvement; but there are diseases, and diseases lead to death, as even the adherents of such cults eventually discover for themselves. That is not the biblical way. The Bible conveys truth to us, and wants us to consider this truth. So, when we come to a phrase like this, we do not just say, ‘all is well’. We must know what it means, and we must apply it in detail to our lives.
As we come to analyse this great statement, we are reminded again of that canon of interpretation which we have often had to heed which warns us of the danger of extracting a text from its context. We must avoid the terrible danger of wresting the Scriptures to our own destruction through not taking them in their setting, or failing to observe particularly what they say, or failing to note their qualifications as well as their promises. This is particularly important with a statement such as this. There are people who say, ‘Scripture says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. Very well,’ they go on; ‘does not that say explicitly, and does it not mean of necessity, that whatever I want or desire, God is going to give to me?’ And because they think that it does, and because they think that that is the scriptural teaching, they ignore all the other teaching and just go to God with their requests. Their requests are not granted, and then they are down in the depths of depression and despair. Their case is even worse than it was before. They say, ‘God does not seem to be fulfilling His promise’, and they are wretchedly unhappy. We have to avoid that. Scripture is not something that works automatically. It pays a great compliment to us by regarding us as intelligent people, and it presents truth to our minds by the Holy Spirit. It asks us to take it as it is, and as a whole, in all its promises. That is why, you notice, we are not looking at verses 7 and 8 only. We are considering verses 7—11 because we must take this statement as a whole if we are not to go seriously astray in considering its various parts.
There is no difficulty in showing that this statement, far from being a universal promise that God is pledged to do for us anything that we may ask of Him, is actually something very much bigger than that. I thank God---let me put it like this bluntly---I thank God that He is not prepared to do anything that I may chance to ask Him, and I say that as the result of my own past experience. In my past life I, like all others, have often asked God for things, and have asked God to do things, which at that time I wanted very much and which I believed were the very best things for me. But now, standing at this particular juncture in my life and looking back, I say that I am profoundly grateful to God that He did not grant me certain things for which I asked, and that He shut certain doors in my face. At the time I did not understand, but I know now, and am grateful to God for it. So I thank God that this is not a universal promise, and that God is not going to grant me my every desire and request. God has a much better way for us, as we shall now see.
The right way to look at this promise is this. First of all let us ask this obvious question. Why did our Lord utter these words at this particular point? Why do they come at this particular stage in the Sermon on the Mount? We have reminded ourselves that there are certain people who say that this seventh chapter of Matthew, this final portion of the Sermon on the Mount, is nothing but a collection of statements which our Lord just delivers one after another as they happen to occur to Him. But we have already agreed that that is a very false analysis, and that there is a theme running right through the chapter. The theme is that of judgment, and we are reminded that in this life we are always living under the judgment of God. Whether we like it or not, the eye of God is upon us, and this life is a kind of preparatory school for the great life that is awaiting us beyond death and time. So everything we do in this world is of tremendous significance, and we cannot afford to take anything for granted. That is the theme, and our Lord applies it immediately. He starts with the question of judging other people. We must be careful about that because we ourselves are under judgment. But, why then does our Lord utter this promise of verses 7—11 at this point? Surely the answer is this. In verses 1—6 He has shown us the danger of condemning other people as if we were the judges, and of harbouring bitterness and hatred in our hearts. He has also told us to see to it that we remove the beam out of our own eye before trying to extract the mote out of our brother’s eye. The effect of all that upon us is to reveal us to ourselves and to show us our terrible need of grace. He has held us face to face with the tremendously high standard by which we shall be judged---‘With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ That is the position at the end of verse 6.
Immediately we realize that, we are humbled and begin to ask, ‘Who is sufficient for these things? How can I possibly live up to such a standard?’ Not only that; we realize also our need of cleansing, we realize how unworthy and sinful we are. And the result of all this is that we feel utterly hopeless and helpless. We say, ‘How can we live the Sermon on the Mount? How can anybody come up to such a standard? We need help and grace. Where can we get it?’ Here is the answer: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ That is the connection, and we should thank God for it, because standing face to face with this glorious gospel we must all feel undone and unworthy. Those foolish people who think of Christianity only in terms of a little morality which they themselves can produce have never really seen it. The standard by which we are confronted is that found in the Sermon on the Mount, and by it we are all crushed to the ground and made to realize our utter helplessness and our desperate need of grace. Here is the answer; the supply is available, and our Lord repeats it for the sake of emphasis.
As we look at this there are a number of questions which should be asked. Why are we all what we are in view of such promises? Why is the quality of our Christian living so poor? We are left entirely without excuse. Everything we need is available; why then are we what we are? Why are we not exemplifying this Sermon on the Mount more perfectly? Why are we not conforming more and more to the pattern of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? All that we need is offered us; it is all promised us here in this comprehensive promise. Why are we not availing ourselves of it as we should? Again, fortunately, that question is also answered, and that is the real meaning of this verse. Our Lord analyses these words and He shows us why we have not received, why we have not found, why the door has not been opened to us as it should have been. He realizes what we are, and He encourages us to avail ourselves of the gracious promise. In other words, there are certain conditions which must be observed before we can rejoice in these great benefits that are offered us in Christ. What are they? Let us note them simply and briefly.
If we want to go through life triumphantly, with peace and joy in our hearts, ready to face whatever may come to meet us, and to be more than conquerors in spite of everything, there are certain things we have to realize, and here they are. The first is, we must realize our need. It is strange, but some people seem to think that all that is necessary is that the promises of God should be held before us. That is not enough, however, because the central trouble with the whole of mankind is that we do not realize our need. There are many who preach about the Lord Jesus Christ to no effect and we can see why. They have no doctrine of sin, they never convict or convince people of sin. They always hold Christ before men and say that that is enough. But it is not enough; for the effect of sin upon us is such that we shall never fly to Christ until we realize that we are paupers. But we hate to regard ourselves as paupers, and we do not like to feel our need. People are ready to listen to sermons which present Christ to them, but they do not like to be told that they are so helpless that He had to go to the cross and die before they could be saved. They think that that is insulting. We must be brought to realize our need. The first two essentials to salvation and to rejoicing in Christ are the consciousness of our need, and the consciousness of the riches of grace that are in Christ. It is only those who realize these two things who ‘ask’ truly, because it is only the man who says ‘0 wretched man that I am’ who seeks for deliverance. The other man is not aware of his need. It is the man who knows that he is ‘down and out’ who begins to ask. And then he begins to realize the possibilities that are in Christ.
What our Lord emphasizes here at the beginning is the paramount importance of the realization of our need. He puts that by using these three terms---ask, seek, knock. When you consult the commentators you will find great discussions as to whether seeking is stronger than asking, and knocking stronger than seeking. They spend much of their time in dealing with such matters. And, as usual, you find that they tend to contradict each other. Some say that asking represents a faint desire, seeking a greater desire, and knocking something very powerful. Others say that the man who knocks is the man who is right outside and that the supreme thing is asking, not knocking. The unbeliever, they say, must knock at the door, and having entered in at the door he begins to seek, and at last face to face with his Lord and Master he can ask.
But, surely, all that is quite irrelevant. Our Lord is simply at pains to emphasize one thing, that is that we are to show persistence, perseverance, importunity. This comes out clearly when we notice the setting of this self-same passage in Luke 11. There we have the parable of the man upon whom a guest suddenly landed at midnight, and as he had no bread to set before him, he went and knocked at the door of a friend who was already in bed. And because of his importunity the friend gave him some bread. The same thing is taught in the parable of the importunate widow in Luke 18. That is precisely what we have here. These three words emphasize the element of persistence. There are times of stocktaking in life when we pause for a moment and say: ‘Life is moving on; I am moving on. What progress am I making in this life and world?’ We begin to take stock of ourselves and say: ‘I am not living the Christian life as I should; I am not as diligent in my reading of the Bible and in prayer as I know I should be. I am going to change all this. I see there is a higher level to which I must attain, and I want to get there.’ We are honest; we are quite sincere; we fully intend to do it. And so, during the first few days of a new year, we read the Bible regularly, we pray and we ask God for His blessing. But---and this is surely true of all of us---we soon begin to slacken and to forget. At the very moment we thought of reading or praying something comes in, quite ‘out of the blue’, as we say, something we never anticipated, and our whole scheme and programme is upset. In a week or two we find that we have entirely forgotten our excellent resolve. That is what our Lord is concerned about. If you and I are really to obtain these blessings which God has for us, we must go on asking for them. ‘Seeking’ simply means going on asking; ‘knocking’ is just the same thing. It is an intensification of the word ‘ask’. We go on, we persist; we are like the importunate widow. We keep on asking the judge, as it were, just as she did, and our Lord tells us that the judge said, ‘I had better do something about this woman or else she is going to worry me with her persistence.’
The importance of this element of persistence cannot be exaggerated. You find it not only in biblical teaching, but also in the lives of all the saints. The most fatal thing in the Christian life is to be content with passing desires. If we really want to be men of God, if we really want to know Him, and walk with Him, and experience those boundless blessings which He has to offer us, we must persist in asking Him for them day by day. We have to feel this hunger and thirst after righteousness, and then we shall be filled. And that does not mean that we are filled once and for ever. We go on hungering and thirsting. Like the apostle Paul, leaving the things which are behind, we ‘press toward the mark’. ‘Not as though I had already attained’, says Paul, ‘but I follow after’. That is it. This persistence, this constant desire, asking, seeking and knocking. This, we must agree, is the point at which most of us fail.
Let us then hold on to that first principle. Let us examine ourselves in the light of these Scriptures and the pictures given of the Christian man in the New Testament. Let us look at these glorious promises and ask ourselves, ‘Am I experiencing them?’ And if we find we are not, as we all must confess, then we must go back again to this great statement. That is what I mean by the possibilities. While I must begin by asking and seeking, I must go on doing so until I am aware of an advance and a development and a rising to a higher spiritual level. We must keep on at it. It is a ‘fight of faith’; it is ‘he that endureth to the end’ that will be saved in this sense. Persistence, continuance in well-doing, ‘always to pray, and not to faint.’ Not just pray when we want a great blessing and then stop; always pray. Persistence; that is the first thing. The realization of the need, the realization of the supply, and persistence in seeking after it.
Let us now look at the second principle, which is the realization that God is our Father. Our Lord talks about that in verse 9 and He puts it like this: ‘Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ This, of course, is the central principle of all---the realization that God is our Father. That is what our Lord is concerned to emphasize in all He says here. He is using His familiar method of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If an earthly father does so much, how much more so God? This is one of our main troubles, is it not? If you should ask me to state in one phrase what I regard as the greatest defect in most Christian lives I would say that it is our failure to know God as our Father as we should know Him. That is our trouble, not difficulties about particular blessings. The central trouble still is that we do not know, as we ought to, that God is our Father. Ah yes, we say; we do know that and believe it. But do we know it in our daily life and living? Is it something of which we are always conscious? If only we got hold of this, we could smile in the face of every possibility and eventuality that lies ahead of us.
How then are we to know this? It is certainly not something based on the notion of the ‘universal Fatherhood of God’ and the ‘universal brotherhood of man’. That is not biblical. Our Lord says something here that ridicules that and proves such an idea to be nonsense. He says, ‘If ye then, being evil’. You see the significance? Why did He not say, ‘If we then, being evil’? He did not say it because He knew He was essentially different from them. The speaker is the Son of God; not a man who is called Jesus, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. He does not include Himself in that ‘ye’. But He does include the whole of mankind. ‘Ye being evil’ means that we not only do things which are evil, but that we are evil. Our natures are corrupt and evil, and those who are essentially corrupt and evil are not the children of God. There is no such thing as the universal Fatherhood of God in the generally accepted sense of that term. Christ says of certain people: ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.’ No; by nature we are all the children of wrath, we are all evil, we are all enemies of God; by nature we are not His children. So this does not entitle all men to say, ‘Well now; I rather like this doctrine. I am rather afraid of all that lies ahead of me, and I like to be told that God is my Father.’ But God is your Father only when you satisfy certain conditions. He is not the Father of any one of us as we are by nature.
How then does God become my Father? According to the Scriptures it is like this. Christ ‘came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power (i.e., authority) to become the sons of God’ (John 1:11, 12). You become a child of God only when you are born again, when you receive a new life and a new nature. The child partakes of the nature of the Father. God is holy, and you and I are not children of God until we have received a holy nature; and that means we must have a new nature. Being evil, and even conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), we do not have one; but He will give it to us. Now that is what is offered to us. And there is no contact and communion with God, nor are we heirs to any of these promises of God, until we become His children. In other words, we must remember that we have sinned against God, that we deserve the wrath and punishment of God, but that He has dealt with our sin and guilt by sending His Son to die on the cross of Calvary for us. And believing in Him, we receive a new life and nature and we become children of God. Then we can know that God is our Father; but not until then. He will also give us His Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’; and the moment we know this we can be certain that God as our Father adopts a specific attitude with respect to us. It means that, as my Father, He is interested in me, that He is concerned about me, that He is watching over me, that He has a plan and purpose with respect to me, that He is desirous always to bless and to help me. Lay hold of that; take a firm grasp of that. Whatever may happen to you, God is your Father, and He is interested in you, and that is His attitude towards you.
But that does not exhaust the statement. There is a very interesting negative addition. Because God is your Father He will never give you anything that is evil. He will give you only that which is good. ‘What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?’ Multiply that by infinity and that is God’s attitude towards His child. In our folly we are apt to think that God is against us when something unpleasant happens to us. But God is our Father; and as our Father he will never give us anything that is evil. Never; it is impossible.
The third principle is this. God, being God, never makes a mistake. He knows the difference between good and evil in a way that no-one else does. Take an earthly father; he does not give a stone for bread, but he sometimes makes a mistake. The earthly father at his best sometimes thinks at the moment that he is acting for the good of his child, but discovers later that it was bad. Your Father who is in heaven never makes such a mistake. He will never give you anything which will turn out to be harmful to you, but which at first seemed to be good. This is one of the most wonderful things we can ever realize. We are the children of a Father who not only loves us but looks upon us and keeps His eye upon us. He will never give us anything evil. But beyond all, He will never lead us astray, He will never make a mistake in what He gives us. He knows everything; His knowledge is absolute. If we but knew we were in the hands of such a Father, our outlook upon the future would be entirely transformed.
Lastly, we must remember increasingly the good gifts which He has for us. ‘How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’ This is the theme of the whole Bible. What are the good things? Our Lord has given us the answer in that passage in Luke 11. There, you remember, it reads like this: ‘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?’ That is it. And in giving the Holy Spirit He gives us everything; every fitness we require, every grace, every gift. They are all given to us in Him. Peter summing it up says, ‘his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3). You see now why we should thank God that asking, and seeking and knocking, do not just mean that if we ask for anything we like we shall get it. Of course not. What it means is this. Ask for any one of these things that is good for you, that is for the salvation of your soul, your ultimate perfection, anything that brings you nearer to God and enlarges your life and is thoroughly good for you, and He will give it you. He will not give you things that are bad for you. You may think they are good but He knows they are bad. He does not make a mistake, and He will not give you such things. He will give you things that are good for you, and the promise literally is this, that if we seek these good things, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the life of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc., all these virtues and glories that were seen shining so brightly in the earthly life of Christ, He will give them to us. If we really want to be more like Him, and like all the saints, if we really ask for these things, we shall receive; if we seek them, we shall find them; if we knock, the door will be opened unto us and we shall enter into their possession. The promise is, that if we ask for the good things our heavenly Father will give them to us.
That is the way to face the future. Find out from the Scriptures what these good things are and seek them. The thing that matters supremely, the best thing for all of us, is to know God, ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom (he) hath sent’; and if we seek that above everything else, if we ‘seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness’, then we have the word of the Son of God for it that all these other things shall be added unto us. God will give them to us with a bounty that we cannot even imagine. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ (511-521)
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