ŇFor what man is there among you, which if his son ask him bread, would give him a stone? Or if he ask him fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, which are evil, can give to your children good gifts, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?Ó  Matthew 7:9-11.

 

2. These words contain a second reason of the former commandment to pray, as also a confirmation of the promise annexed thereunto for assurance to be heard; and it may be scanned thus:

 

If earthly parents though they be evil, can give good gifts to their children, when they want them and ask them at their hands; then much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those that ask Him.

But earthly parents, though they be evil, will give good gifts to their children.

Therefore much more will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him.

 

This reason standeth in a comparison of unequals, drawn from the less to the greater; from the care which is ordinarily seen in natural parents over their children, to prove undoubtedly the most tender care of our heavenly Father over us. And this kind of reasoning is usual with God in Scripture. (Isa. 49:15), Can a woman forget her child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Though they should forget, yet will I not forget thee. (Psa. 103:13), A father hath compassion on his children; so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him. (Mal. 3:17), É.and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

 

In the framing of this reason, behold a special favour of God vouchsafed to godly parents: They may take a taste of GodŐs love and care over themselves, by the consideration of that natural care and tender affection they bear towards their own children. And indeed they may more easily than others, apprehend and apply to themselves the loving favour and tender care of God over them, by the like affections in themselves towards their own children. Now this favour and privilege God vouchsafeth for special ends: First, to entice and stir up  those parents which yet have not tasted of GodŐs love, to embrace His Word and promises whereby God reveals His love to men, that so they may taste of GodŐs love towards them, whereof they have so notable a pattern in their affection towards their own children. Secondly, to provoke them to labour to have their hearts rooted and grounded in the love of God. And, thirdly, that they having experience of GodŐs love in themselves, may bring their children and posterity to the fruition of the same love and mercy.

 

Now to come to this comparison; the first part whereof is this: that it is a natural property to all parents to give good things unto their children. This is a principal, binding conscience, that parents should be careful of their children. He that provideth not for his own (saith the apostle (1 Tim. 5:8)), especially for them of his family, is worse than an infidel; for infidels do not put out this light of nature, but provide for their children.

 

Here then those parents are to be blamed, who spend their substance in gaming and riot, and so leave their children and family destitute and in want. These spend upon their own lusts, those good things which they should bestow upon their children, and so shew themselves unnatural; but the magistrate, who is the public father, ought to look unto them, and to restrain them from such disorder.

 

Secondly, here those likewise are to be blamed, which for food and raiment will provide and give sufficient to their children, but in the meanwhile they give them no godly education in the instruction and information of the Lord, which is a good thing indeed unto the soul; for which the godly in Scripture are commended; as Abraham towards his family (Gen. 18:19), and Lois and Eunice towards Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5), who brought him up in faith unfeigned.

 

Thirdly, by this we may see the state of those that kill their own children (for so we may read that some parents have eaten their own children), namely, they are such as become unnatural, being in GodŐs just judgment left unto themselves to be ruled by the devil, who filleth their hearts with this unnatural and savage cruelty. Now Christ speaks here of the light of nature not extinguished, and so it is true even among the heathen.

 

 

ŇIf ye then, which are evil, can give to your children good gifts, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?Ó (v.11).

 

Here is the application of the comparison, the ground whereof was laid down in the two former verses. And by evil, He means not every sinner, but such as are stained with malice, envy and self-love, being bent to seek their own good only; for so saith the master to the envious labourers (Matt. 20:15), Is thine eye evil because I am good? That is, art thou envious because I am bountiful?

 

In these words, Christ gives us to understand that it is the note of an evil man to be given wholly to seek his own good, though otherwise he live civilly; for this is a fruit of evil covetousness and self-love. Experience sheweth the grievousness of this sin; for thence come the manifold practices of injustice, cruelty and oppression that be in the world, hence it is that times of dearth are made more heavy upon the poor, than otherwise GodŐs hand hath sent them; because the rich seek their own good and commodity only at such times; hence come engrossing, deceiving and enclosing to the spoil of the poor. We must therefore be aware of this sinful practice; and on the other side, give ourselves to practise goodness towards others, setting ourselves to the practice of love, which seeketh not her own things, but is bountiful, that so we may shew forth our love to God by well-doing to our brethren; as the apostle bids us (Gal. 5:13), Do service to one another by love; and (Phil. 2:4), Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of other men. This was good king JosiahŐs practice, for which cause, among many particular virtues, all his goodnesses are said to be recorded (2 Chr. 35:26). And St Paul likewise became all things to all men, that he might win some; and though he were free from all men, yet he made himself servant unto all men, that he might win the more (1 Cor. 9:19-22).

 

You that are evil can give good gifts; that is, bread, fish and such like, as (Luke 11:11,12). Here it is plain that an evil man may have some kind of virtues in him, whereby he may do some good works.

 

Question: How can this be, for an evil man wants faith, and so whatsoever he doeth is sin? Answer: We must know that the gifts of the Spirit are of two sorts: some are common, whereby the corruptions of manŐs nature is only restrained and limited, for the maintaining of civil societies, that man with man may live in some order and quietness. And hence it was that among the heathen, some were just, some mild, some liberal, etc. All these came from the Spirit, yet not renewing the parties, but only restraining their natural wickedness. And of this sort of gifts is the love and care of parents towards their children, and the love of children towards their parents. And these and such like evil men may have, for they are not sanctifying virtues, but rather shadows thereof. The second kind of the gifts of the Spirit are more special gifts and graces, whereby the corruption of manŐs nature is mortified and in some part abolished, and the graces of GodŐs image are renewed in man, whereby they become loving, meek, just, temperate etc., which in the regenerate are true Christian virtues, and the exercise hereof is the doing of good works indeed.

 

How much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him? These words contain the second part of the comparison, wherein Christ doth amplify and set out the bountifulness of God in His gifts to His children. And St Luke specifieth these good things, to be the gift of the Holy Ghost, in regard of grace and operation (Luke 11:13).

 

Here then, three points are to be handled:

            1. Who gives these good things?

            2. What is given?

            3. To whom?

 

1. For the first, the author of those good things is the Father; for of Him, and from Him, cometh every good gift and every perfect giving.

 

Question: But this gift is the Holy Ghost. Now the Holy Ghost is God; how then can He be given? This seems to imply inequality in the Trinity, for the person giving must have power and authority over the person given. Answer: We must know, first, that this action of the Father in giving the Holy Ghost, is not by virtue of superior power and authority, but by consent. The Holy Ghost is freely willing to be given of the Father; for all three persons being one and the same God, must needs have one and the same will, as in all things, so is this gift. Secondly, this giving is not in essence or person, but in regard of operation and grace; as love, joy, peace, etc., in the hearts of GodŐs children.

 

2. What are these good things given? Answer: The Holy Ghost.

 

Question: Why should the Father give the Holy Ghost, and not the Holy Ghost as well give the Father, seeing they are equal? Answer: The reason is because of that order which the divine wisdom manifesteth in the Trinity; for though all three Persons be equal in all properties of the Godhead, which is one and the same in them all; yet they are distinct in order, the Father being the first Person, the Son, not the first, but the second; and the Holy Ghost not the first Person, nor the second, but the third. And hence it is that the Father gives the Son, both the Father and the Son give the Holy Ghost; yet not in Person, but in regard of gifts and operation, and that by free and equal consent, not from superiority, or by constraint.

 

3. To whom doth the Father give the gift of the Holy Ghost? Answer: To them that ask Him. Hence some would gather that man hath free will by nature in his conversion, because he must first ask, and then comes the gift of the Holy Ghost. Answer: We must know that by the Holy Ghost here is meant, not the beginning of grace, but the increase thereof, and a greater measure of gifts, with a more sensible feeling of them; for this promise is made to GodŐs children that ask, which none can be, but by the Holy Ghost. See this in the disciples (John 20:22), Christ said to His disciples, who had true grace before, Receive the Holy Ghost; and yet also after that, the Holy Ghost came down upon them in the form of cloven tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). Now these latter givings, were in regard of greater measure, as it is said, they were filled with the Holy Ghost (v.4). Again, by them that ask, is not meant everyone that uttereth words of request to God; but those that ask in faith, and pray aright by grace; as (Rom. 10:14), How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And (Rom. 8:26,27), We know not what to pray as we ought, but the Spirit helpeth our infirmitiesÉ.. and maketh request for the saints according to the will of God.

 

The Uses.

1. Hence we learn that grace is given not to the idle, but to them that use the good means ordained of God for the obtaining of grace; as the holy exercises of the Word, in hearing, reading, meditation, and humble and earnest prayer; and therefore, if we would have grace, we must diligently exercise ourselves in these means, for faith cometh by hearing (Rom. 10:17). And GodŐs children in all ages have used the means to get grace; (Lam. 5:21), Turn thou us, O Lord, unto thee, and we shall be turned. And David is plentiful in the means, whereby he abounded in grace; (Psa. 119:33), Teach me, Lord, the way of thy statutes, (v.99), I have had more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. So ChristŐs disciples did not only hear Him preach, but desired to be instructed in those things which they knew not; (Matt. 13:36), Declare to us the meaning of the parable. Also, they prayed Him to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). Here then we may see the cause of that ignorance and want of grace which abounds in the world; namely, contempt or negligence in the means which God hath ordained for the obtaining of grace; for the heart of the negligent is like the field of the sluggard (Prov. 24:30,31), that hath no corn in it, but is overgrown with briars and thorns.

 

2. Secondly, this serves for the comfort of those that have as yet but the beginnings of grace, in small and weak measure; they must not be discouraged, for God hath plenty of grace in store; if they can but find and feel their want of grace, and lament it unto God, using the means of the Word and prayer to get supply; here is a promise of the Holy Ghost, who is the storehouse and fountain of all grace.

 

3. Thirdly, this serves for a good ground to confute sundry errors; as first, the opinion of universal grace, whereby some hold that every man may be saved if he will; for the promise of the Holy Ghost (without which none can be saved) is not universal, but here made with restraint to those that ask according to GodŐs will, which none can do without the Spirit; which must teach us to pray in faith, without which we receive nothing from God (Jam. 1:6,7). Secondly, this overthroweth the fond conceit of Anabaptists and Familists, who look for the Spirit by revelation, and not in the exercise of the Word and prayer. But we must look to the means, in which God gives the Spirit; and out of that means, we are more subject to the delusions of Satan, than to the operations of the Holy Ghost. Thirdly, this also confuteth the error of the church of Rome, who teach that a man by the good use of the gifts of nature, may come to obtain the gifts of the Holy Ghost. But there is no larger promise than this in all the Scripture, where the gifts of the Holy Ghost are promised to the exercise of the gift of prayer in faith; which we cannot do by nature but by grace. And besides, when we ask in faith by grace, this is no cause of the gifts of the Spirit which we receive, but only a discharge of our duty in the exercise of the means which God hath appointed; whereupon followeth the increase of grace, yet no way of our merit, but from GodŐs free mercy and His bounty.