The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 7:7-12

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 18, 2015

7 Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. ‎

“Ask,” &c. These words are connected by some commentators (Maldonatus, &c.) with the Lord’s Prayer (6:9–15), as if our Lord was pointing out the mode in which we should pray for the petitions contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and they are so connected by St. Luke (11:9). Others connect them with the foregoing, thus: Our Lord’s precepts were very hard of accomplishment; the duties He imposes, beyond human strength, beyond the power of human nature, weakened by sin. He, therefore, points out both the source whence the necessary strength is to come, viz., from heaven, whence every good gift descends from the Father of lights, as also the infallible means of obtaining this necessary strength; and that is, prayer, offered up with the proper conditions and dispositions. Let them beg it of God, and He will give them grace and strength. “Ask,” “seek,” “knock.” These words are differently interpreted; but they, most likely, denote the different leading qualities of prayer. “Ask,” with confidence; “seek,” with diligence; “knock,” with unceasing perseverance. Of course, the words of this and the following verse being affirmative propositions, imply that we shall obtain the fruit of our petitions, all the other necessary conditions being observed; that is to say, provided we pray with the proper dispositions, both as regards the mode of praying and our own state of soul. For, we pray and receive not, “because we ask amiss” (James 4); and if we are determined to persevere in sin, or if we entertain feelings of vengeance, God will not hear us (Prov. 28:9; John 3:21; Prov. 21; Matt. 6:15). Also, the object of our petitions should be good, and conducive to our salvation, and sought for in a spirit of conformity to God’s holy will. Indeed, in every good prayer relating to temporal blessings, and immunity from temporal evils and sufferings, the condition, that God sees that they would serve our eternal salvation, is always implied (see 1 John 5:14, commentary on).

8 For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. ‎

“For, every one that asketh,” provided he does so as he ought, both in regard to conditions and matter of prayer, and his own personal dispositions, “receiveth,” &c. In this general proposition, the last is repeated in a still more emphatic form. No one can allege his own weakness in excuse. To all, without exception, is given the grace of prayer, the expedite means of obtaining the necessary grace and strength from God. This is not confined to any particular person or class. “Every one,” be he saint or sinner, has the assurance of the Son of God Himself—infallible truth—that, if he pray as he ought, he shall be heard. From these words, it is inferred, that prayer is a necessary means of grace; that grace is given on condition that we pray for it. “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” Therefore, if we ask not, it shall not be given, is implied. This is particularly true of that great gift—that crowning grace—of final perseverance (Concil. Trid. §§ vi. Can. xvi.), which, if we obtain, we are saved; if we fail to obtain, we are lost. (Con. Trid. §§ vi. Can. xxii.) This is of faith (Concil. Trid. §§ vi. Can. xxii;) and although it is not of faith, it is still quite certain that there is only one means of securing this all-necessary grace. That one only means is prayer. It cannot be merited, but it can be infallibly obtained, by persevering prayer. “Suppliciter emereri potest” (St. Augustine).

9 Or what man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will he reach him a stone? ‎
10 Or if he shall ask him a fish, will he reach him a serpent? ‎
11 If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him? ‎

“Bread,” though in nature and substance quite different from “a stone,” in form and colour, resembles it. The same is true of “a fish” and “a serpent.” Man is said to be “evil,” either compared with God, whose nature is Infinite goodness, “who in His angels found wickedness” (Job 4:18), “and the stars are not pure in His sight” (Job 25:5), or, rather, on account of his proneness to evil from his youth (Gen. 6:5; 8:21), not to speak of his own voluntary and sinful transgressions. The connexion seems to be this: If an earthly father, who is evil, as explained, will not refuse his son the necessaries of life, will our heavenly Father, whose nature is goodness; who, “although a woman should forget the fruit of her womb, will not forget us,” refuse His children the necessary good gifts they earnestly ask of Him? And again, if an earthly father will not give his children what they ask for, when he knows the objects of their petition to be either useless, as a stone in place of bread, or noxious as a serpent, in place of a fish, although they may earnestly seek for them, thinking them to be good, while they are really evil, how much more determinedly will our heavenly, benevolent Father withhold from us these objects of petition which He knows would be ultimately injurious to our eternal welfare? In the above reference to our Heavenly Father, and the comparison instituted, two things are conveyed. 1. That He will give us what He knows to be for our good, when we ask them as we ought. 2. That His goodness will prevent Him from lending an ear to our petitions, when He sees, that granting them would injure us, viz., when we ask for what we imagine to be “bread,” but, which He sees to be a worthless stone, He, then, will not grant it; or when we think we ask for a “fish,” which He knows to be in reality noxious, “a serpent,” He will, then, withhold it.

The connexion may also be this: “Ask, and you shall receive,” provided you ask for what is necessary and expedient. For, if you ask for what He sees to be injurious; if you ask for a fish, which He knows to be a “serpent,” this good, heavenly Father will withhold these noxious gifts, and give you something better instead, v.g., if He refuse to remove temporal evils, the removal of which might injure your salvation, He will grant the greater gifts of perfect patience and sweet conformity to His holy and adorable will.

“Know how to give good gifts to your children.” The word, “know,” expresses custom or habit of doing a thing. Thus, it is said, “the sun knoweth his going down” (Psa. 104:19). The words of this verse (11), which are a sort of conclusion, clearly indicate the object of our Lord in introducing the example of the earthly father in the preceding verses to be—1st. That, as the earthly father gives gifts to his children, so will the heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him; and 2ndly, as the earthly father would not give noxious gifts, even when urgently sought to do so, so, neither will our heavenly Father. “He will give (not bad, but) good things;” or, as St. Luke has it, “He will give the good spirit to them that ask it” (Luke 11:13).

12 All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.

“Therefore,” may be inductive or inferential, as if He said: All that I have said in the foregoing regarding the love of our neighbour, including our enemies, regarding alms-deeds, forgiveness of injuries, &c. may be briefly summed up in this great principle of the natural law, this leading maxim of moral philosophy, “all things whatsoever you would” rationally desire, by a truly Christian wish (it does not, of course, embrace corrupt, sensual wishes) “that men would do to you,” &c. The connexion of this verse is traced by Maldonatus to c. 5:42. Besides being easily connected and aptly fitted together in sense, St. Luke, who probably observed the order and connexion in which our Redeemer spoke, connects them immediately (Lk 6:31).

“For this is the law,” &c. By “law,” is meant the Pentateuch. By “the prophets,” all the other books of the Old Testament, whether prophetical or not. The Hebrews were wont to call the Books of Kings, the Psalms, &c., prophetical, (Mt 11:13; 22:40, &c.) The words, then, mean: This first principle of the natural law is the compendium of all that Moses and the other inspired writers have written on the subject of fraternal charity; or, if we understand by the love of the neighbour, the love of him for God’s sake—and this alone is the true Christian idea of the love of our neighbour—then, the words will mean, that this great principle is a compendium of the entire law, new and old, since in this sense, the love of God, too, is included. The whole law is summed up in this: the love of God for His own sake, and of our neighbour for the love of God (see commentary, Rom. 13:8). Some commentators connect this verse with v. 1, making the intervening verses parenthetical illustrations or examples. In this verse, our Redeemer inculcates brotherly love. The fulfilling of the precept of brotherly love adequately, including the love of God, as above explained, is the compendium of the entire law.

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