The Duty of Prayer (7:7–11)
These verses teach us the duty of prayer, and the rich encouragements there are to pray. There is a beautiful connection between this lesson and that which goes before it. If we want to know when to be silent, and when to speak, when to bring forward holy things and produce our "pearls," we must pray. This is a subject to which the Lord Jesus evidently attaches great importance: the language that he uses is a plain proof of this. He employs three different words to express the idea of prayer: "ask," "seek" and "knock" (verses 7–8). He holds out the broadest, fullest promise to those who pray: "Everyone who asks receives" (verse 8). He illustrates God’s readiness to hear our prayers by an argument drawn from the well-known practice of parents on earth. "Evil" and selfish as they are by nature, they do not neglect the bodily needs of their children. So how much more will a God of love and mercy attend to the cries of those who are his children by grace!
Let us take special notice of these words of our Lord about prayer. Few of his sayings, perhaps, are so well known and so often repeated as this. The poorest and most unlearned can generally tell us that "if we do not seek we shall not find." But what is the good of knowing it, if we do not use it? Knowledge which is not improved and well employed will only increase our condemnation on the last day.
Do we know anything of this asking, seeking and knocking? Why should we not? There is nothing so simple and plain as praying if we really have a will to pray. Sadly, there is nothing which we are so slow to do: we will use many of the forms of religion, attend many ordinances, do many things that are right, before we will do this; and yet without this no soul can be saved!
Do we ever really pray? If not, we shall be without excuse before God at the last day, unless we repent. We shall not be condemned for not doing what we could not have done, or not knowing what we could not have known; but we shall find that one main reason why we are lost is that we never asked to be saved.
Do we indeed pray? Then let us pray on, and not faint. It is not lost labor; it is not useless. It will bear fruit after many days. Those words have never yet failed: "Everyone who asks receives."
Concluding Lessons (7:12–20)
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount our Lord begins to draw his discourse to a conclusion. The lessons he here forces on our notice are broad, general and full of the deepest wisdom. Let us mark them in succession.
1. The Rule of Duty Towards Others
First, he lays down a general principle for our guidance in all doubtful questions between people. "Do to others what you would have them do to you" (verse 12). We are not to deal with others as others deal with us: this is mere selfishness and heathenism. We are to deal with others as we would like others to deal with us—this is real Christianity.
This is a golden rule indeed! It does not merely forbid all petty malice and revenge, all cheating and overreaching: it does much more. It settles a hundred difficult points which, in a world like this, are continually arising between people. It prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases. It sweeps the whole debatable ground with one mighty principle. It shows us a balance and measure by which everyone may see at once what is his duty. Is there something we would not like our neighbor to do to us? Then let us always remember that this is the thing we ought not to do to him. Is there a thing we would like him to do to us? Then this is the very thing we ought to do to him. How many intricate questions would be decided at once if this rule were honestly used!
2. The Two Gates
Second, our Lord gives us a general caution against the path many people travel in religion (verses 13–14). It is not enough to think as others think, and do as others do. It must not satisfy us to follow the fashion, and swim with the stream of those among whom we live. He tells us that the way that leads to everlasting life is "narrow," and "only a few" travel in it. He tells us that the way that leads to everlasting destruction is "broad," and full of travelers: "many enter through it."
These are fearful truths! They ought to raise great searchings of heart in the minds of all who hear them. "Which way am I going? By what road am I traveling?" In one or other of the two ways here described, every one of us may be found. May God give us an honest, self-inquiring spirit, and show us what we are!
We may well tremble and be afraid if our religion is that of the multitude. If we can say no more than this, that "we go where others go, and worship where others worship, and hope we shall do as well as others at last," we are literally pronouncing our own condemnation. What is this but being in the "broad way"? What is this but being in the road whose end is "destruction"? Our religion at present is not saving religion.
We have no reason to be discouraged and cast down if the religion we profess is not popular and few agree with us. We must remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in this passage: "small is the gate." Repentance, faith in Christ and holiness of life have never been fashionable. The true flock of Christ has always been small. We must not mind if we are thought singular and peculiar and bigoted and narrow-minded. This is "the narrow road." Surely it is better to enter into life eternal with a few, than to go to "destruction" with a great company.
3. Warning Against False Prophets
Third, the Lord Jesus gives us a general warning against false teachers in the church. We are to "watch out for false prophets" (verse 15). The connection between this passage and the preceding one is striking. Do we want to keep clear of this "broad road"? We must beware of false prophets. They will arise: they began in the days of the apostles; even then the seeds of error were sown. They have appeared continually ever since. We must be prepared for them, and be on our guard.
This is a warning which is much needed. There are thousands who seem ready to believe anything in religion if they hear it from an ordained minister. They forget that clergymen may err as much as laymen: they are not infallible. Their teaching must be weighed in the balance of holy Scripture: they are to be followed and believed so long as their doctrine agrees with the Bible, but not a minute longer. We are to try them "by their fruit" (verse 16). Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets. Let us remember this. Our minister’s mistakes will not excuse our own. "If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14).
What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the Word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that "they are not learned, and do not claim to have definite opinions." The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.
May we all bear in mind our Lord’s warning! The world, the devil and the flesh are not the only dangers in the way of the Christian; there is still another one, and that is the "false prophet"—the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Happy is he who prays over his Bible and knows the difference between truth and error in religion! There is a difference, and we are meant to know it, and to use our knowledge.