An answer to their askings is here promised, for their further comfort. Now there are two ways of asking: asking by way of enquiry, which is the asking of the ignorant; and asking by way of request, which is the asking of the indigent. Christ here speaks of both.
I. By way of enquiry, they should not need to ask (John 16:23): “In that day you shall ask me nothing;” ouk erotesete ouden—you shall ask no questions; “you shall have such a clear knowledge of gospel mysteries, by the opening of your understandings, that you shall not need to enquire” (as Heb. 8:11; they shall not teach); “you shall have more knowledge on a sudden than hitherto you have had by diligent attendance.” They had asked some ignorant questions (as John 9:2), some ambitious questions (as Matt. 18:1), some distrustful ones (as Matt. 19:27), some impertinent ones, (as John 21:21), some curious ones (as Acts 1:6); but after the Spirit was poured out, nothing of all this. In the story of the apostles’ Acts we seldom find them asking questions, as David, Shall I do this? Or, Shall I go thither? For they were constantly under a divine guidance. In that weighty case of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, Peter went, nothing doubting, Acts 10:20. Asking questions supposes us at a loss, or at least at a stand, and the best of us have need to ask questions; but we should aim at such a full assurance of understanding that we may not hesitate, but be constantly led in a plain path both of truth and duty.
Now for this he gives a reason (John 16:25), which plainly refers to this promise, that they should not need to ask questions: “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs, in such a way as you have thought not so plain and intelligible as you could have wished, but the time cometh when I shall show you plainly, as plainly as you can desire, of the Father, so that you shall not need to ask questions.”
1. The great thing Christ would lead them into was the knowledge of God: “I will show you the Father, and bring you acquainted with him.” This is that which Christ designs to give and which all true Christians desire to have. When Christ would express the greatest favour intended for his disciples, he tells them that it would, show them plainly of the Father; for what is the happiness of heaven, but immediately and everlastingly to see God? To know God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest mystery for the understanding to please itself with the contemplation of; and to know him as our Father is the greatest happiness for the will and affections to please themselves with the choice and enjoyment of.
2. Of this he had hitherto spoken to them in proverbs, which are wise and instructive sayings, but figurative, and resting in generals. Christ had spoken many things very plainly to them, and expounded his parables privately to the disciples, but, (1.) Considering their dulness, and unaptness to receive what he said to them, he might be said to speak in proverbs; what he said to them was as a book sealed, Isa. 29:11. (2.) Comparing the discoveries he had made to them, in what he had spoken to their ears, with what he would make to them when he would put his Spirit into their heart, all hitherto had been proverbs. It would be a pleasing surprise to themselves, and they would think themselves in a new world, when they would reflect upon all their former notions as confused and enigmatical, compared with their present clear and distinct knowledge of divine things. The ministration of the letter was nothing to that of the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:8-11. (3.) Confining it to what he had said of the Father, and the counsels of the Father. what he had said was very dark, compared with what was shortly to be revealed, Col. 2:2.
3. He would speak to them plainly, parresia—with freedom, of the Father. When the Spirit was poured out, the apostles attained to a much greater knowledge of divine things than they had before, as appears by the utterance the Spirit gave them, Acts 2:4. They were led into the mystery of those things of which they had previously a very confused idea; and what the Spirit showed them Christ is here said to show them, for, as the Father speaks by the Son, so the Son by the Spirit. But this promise will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where we shall see the Father as he is, face to face, not as we do now, through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), which is matter of comfort to us under the cloud of present darkness, by reason of which we cannot order our speech, but often disorder it. While we are here, we have many questions to ask concerning the invisible God and the invisible world; but in that day we shall see all things clearly, and ask no more questions.
II. He promises that by way of request they should ask nothing in vain. it is taken for granted that all Christ’s disciples give themselves to prayer. He has taught them by his precept and pattern to be much in prayer; this must be their support and comfort when he had left them; their instruction, direction, strength, and success, must be fetched in by prayer. Now,
1. Here is an express promise of a grant, John 16:23. The preface to this promise is such as makes it inviolably sure, and leaves no room to question it: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I pledge my veracity upon it.” The promise itself is incomparably rich and sweet; the golden sceptre is here held out to us, with the word, What is thy petition, and it shall be granted? For he says, Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. We had it before, John 14:13. What would we more? The promise is as express as we can desire. (1.) We are here taught how to seek; we must ask the Father in Christ’s name; we must have an eye to God as a Father, and come as children to him; and to Christ as Mediator, and come as clients. Asking of the Father includes a sense of spiritual blessings, with a conviction that they are to be had from God only. It included also humility of address to him, with a believing confidence in him, as a Father able and ready to help us. Asking in Christ’s name includes an acknowledgment of our own unworthiness to receive any favour from God, a complacency in the method God has taken of keeping up a correspondence with us by his Son, and an entire dependence upon Christ as the Lord our Righteousness. (2.) We are here told how we shall speed: He will give it to you. What more can we wish for than to have what we want, nay, to have what we will, in conformity to God’s will, for the asking? He will give it to you from whom proceedeth every good and perfect gift. What Christ purchased by the merit of his death, he needed not for himself, but intended it for, and consigned it to, his faithful followers; and having given a valuable consideration for it, which was accepted in full, by this promise he draws a bill as it were upon the treasury in heaven, which we are to present by prayer, and in his name to ask for that which is purchased and promised, according to the true intent of the new covenant. Christ had promised them great illumination by the Spirit, but they must pray for it, and did so, Acts 1:14. God will for this be enquired of. He had promised them perfection hereafter, but what shall they do in the mean time? They must continue praying. Perfect fruition is reserved for the land of our rest; asking and receiving are the comfort of the land of our pilgrimage.
2. Here is an invitation for them to petition. It is thought sufficient if great men permit addresses, but Christ calls upon us to petition, John 16:24.
(1.) He looks back upon their practice hitherto: Hitherto have you asked nothing in my name. This refers either [1.] To the matter of their prayers: “You have asked nothing comparatively, nothing to what you might have asked, and will ask when the Spirit is poured out.” See what a generous benefactor our Lord Jesus is, above all benefactors; he gives liberally, and is so far from upbraiding us with the frequency and largeness of his gifts that he rather upbraids us with the seldomness and straitness of our requests: “You have asked nothing in comparison of what you want, and what I have to give, and have promised to give.” We are told to open our mouth wide. Or, [2.] To the name in which they prayed. They prayed many a prayer, but never so expressly in the name of Christ as now he was directing them to do; for he had not as yet offered up that great sacrifice in the virtue of which our prayers were to be accepted, nor entered upon his intercession for us, the incense whereof was to perfume all our devotions, and so enable us to pray in his name. Hitherto they had cast out devils, and healed diseases, in the name of Christ, as a king and a prophet, but they could not as yet distinctly pray in his name as a priest.
(2.) He looks forward to their practice for the future: Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. Here, [1.] He directs them to ask for all that they needed and he had promised. [2.] He assures them that they shall receive. What we ask from a principle of grace God will graciously give: You shall receive it. There is something more in this than the promise that he will give it. He will not only give it, but give you to receive it, give you the comfort and benefit of it, a heart to eat of it, Eccl. 6:2. [3.] That hereby their joy shall be full. This denotes, First. The blessed effect of the prayer of faith; it helps to fill up the joy of faith. Would we have our joy full, as full as it is capable of being in this world, we must be much in prayer. When we are told to rejoice evermore, it follows immediately, Pray without ceasing. See how high we are to aim in prayer—not only at peace, but joy, a fulness of joy. Or, Secondly, The blessed effects of the answer of peace: “Ask, and you shall receive that which will fill your joy.” God’s gifts, through Christ, fill the treasures of the soul, they fill its joy, Prov. 8:21. “Ask for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and you shall receive it; and whereas other knowledge increaseth sorrow (Eccl. 1:18), the knowledge he gives will increase, will fill, your joy.”
(1.) We have an advocate; as to this, Christ saw cause at present not to insist upon it, only to make the following encouragement shine the brighter: “I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you. Suppose I should not tell you that I will intercede for you, should not undertake to solicit every particular cause you have depending there, yet it may be a general ground of comfort that I have settled a correspondence between you and God, have erected a throne of grace, and consecrated for you a new and living way into the holiest.” He speaks as if they needed not any favours, when he had prevailed for the gift of the Holy Ghost to make intercession within them, as Spirit of adoption, crying Abba, Father; as if they had no further need of him to pray for them now, but we shall find that he does more for us than he says he will. Men’s performances often come short of their promises, but Christ’s go beyond them.
(2.) We have to do with a Father, which is so great an encouragement that it does in a manner supersede the other: “For the Father himself loveth you, philei hymas, he is a friend to you, and you cannot be better befriended.” Note, The disciples of Christ are the beloved of God himself. Christ not only turned away God’s wrath from us, and brought us into a covenant of peace and reconciliation, but purchased his favour for us, and brought us into a covenant of friendship. Observe what an emphasis is laid upon this “The Father himself loveth you, who is perfectly happy in the enjoyment of himself, whose self-love is both his infinite rectitude and his infinite blessedness; yet he is pleased to love you.” The Father himself, whose favour you have forfeited, and whose wrath you have incurred, and with whom you need an advocate, he himself now loves you. Observe, [1.] Why the Father loved the disciples of Christ: Because you have loved me, and have believed that I am come from God, that is, because you are my disciples indeed: not as if the love began on their side, but when by his grace he has wrought in us a love to him he is well pleased with the work of his own hands. See here, First, What is the character of Christ’s disciples; they love him, because they believe he came out from God, is the only-begotten of the Father, and his high-commissioner to the world. Note, Faith in Christ works by love to him, Gal. 5:6. If we believe him to be the Son of God, we cannot but love him as infinitely lovely in himself; and if we believe him to be our Saviour, we cannot but love him as the most kind to us. Observe with what respect Christ is pleased to speak of his disciples’ love to him, and how kindly he took it; he speaks of it as that which recommended them to his Father’s favour: “You have loved me and believed in me when the world has hated and rejected me; and you shall be distinguished yourselves.” Secondly, See what advantage Christ’s faithful disciples have, the Father loves them, and that because they love Christ; so well pleased is he in him that he is well pleased with all his friends. [2.] What encouragement this gave them in prayer. They need not fear speeding when they came to one that loved them, and wished them well. First, This cautions us against hard thoughts of God. When we are taught in prayer to plead Christ’s merit and intercession, it is not as if all the kindness were in Christ only, and in God nothing but wrath and fury; no, the matter is not so, the Father’s love and good-will appointed Christ to be the Mediator; so that we owe Christ’s merit to God’s mercy in giving him for us. Secondly, Let it cherish and confirm in us good thoughts of God. Believers, that love Christ, ought to know that God loves them, and therefore to come boldly to him as children to a loving Father.