And whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.…
In the common acceptation, the phrase "in my name" means the same thing as "for my sake" or "on my account." The common notion seems to be that if we present ourselves before the Infinite Majesty with any request and make use of this formula, our requests will be granted, no matter what they may be. The young soldier dying on the field sends by his wounded comrade a letter to his father at home, saying, "This is my friend; give him whatever he asks for, for my sake;" and although the requests of the wounded man are unreasonable and injurious, the father grants the petition, simply because of the love that he bears his son. Just so men go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with this text as their warrant. Another conception of the promise is that Christ has accumulated an infinite fund of merit by His death, and has put the Father under infinite obligations to Him. Those, therefore, who come to the Father in the name of the Son have a claim on Him which He is bound to recognize. The transaction, as thus conceived, is partly legal and partly commercial. To ask in Christ's name is therefore substantially the same thing as to present an order at a store signed by one of the joint proprietors, or a cheque upon a bank certified by the cashier. The name, as we say, is good for the amount. It matters not to us whether the persons to whom the cheque or the order is presented are friendly or unfriendly to us; nor to them whether the thing is good for us or not; there need be no acquaintance beyond simple identification. What they impart to us is not of grace to us but of debt to the one whose name we present to them. This view needs only to be distinctly stated in order that its credulity may be perceived.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY ASKING IN CHRIST'S NAME? The name, in the New Testament, generally stands for the person. So always when miracles are wrought by the name of Christ, it is the personality and the power of Christ that are referred to. Believing in the name of Christ is believing not merely in a word but in Christ, with a glance, no doubt, at His trustworthiness. To ask for anything in the name of Christ, then, is to put ourselves in His place as nearly as we can, and to ask for the things that He would ask for, and in the spirit with which He would present His requests. Just in proportion as His mind is in us, and our lives reproduce His life, will our prayers be effectual. The same truth is put in another form in John 15:7, 16. It is only when the life of the Master quickens and invigorates the disciple, just as the life of the vine does that of the branches, that he can truly pray in Christ's name, and find a certain answer to his prayers.
II. THIS INTERPRETATION LIMITS THE PROMISE IN CERTAIN DIRECTIONS. That is really no objection to the interpretation.
1. Men have brought to God many strange requests for objects unworthy and injurious to themselves, and yet have supposed that by the use of this phrase they made good their demand upon Him. Those to whom, e.g., worldly prosperity would be a curse, who have no power to use wealth wisely, and would surely be corrupted by it, sometimes ask for it, and seem to think that God is not faithful to His promise because He does not give it to them.
2. Sometimes good people have hateful whims that they wish to have gratified. One good woman whom I knew prayed, so she said, in Christ's name all night, that her husband may be kept from joining a certain church. Thus she imagined this promise to be a weapon with which she could compel the Deity to gratify her small bigotry, her antipathy to another Christian sect.
3. Neither does the text encourage speculative or experimental praying. A proposition was made that Christians should pray for the patients in a certain ward of a hospital; and if these recovered more rapidly than those in other wards the result would be a demonstration of the power of prayer. But men who pray, just to see whether there is any use in praying or not, are not praying with the mind of Christ, no matter what phrases these may use; and there is no promise of answer to any such prayers. To ask a good man for a good gift, just to see what he would say, would be an insult; and it is not less offensive to approach God in this way.
4. Neither does this interpretation encourage the expectation that God will work miracles to relieve us of work. Some imagine that God will support them in idleness if they only pray in faith for food and raiment and shelter. We know, as well as we can know anything, that it is God's will that we should earn our livelihood by labour, and husband our earnings with prudence.
5. The same principle applies to suffering. One who violates a physical law the existence of which he knows or ought to know, and then thinks to escape through prayer from the penalty of that law, really insults God by his prayer. No one can pray really in the name of Christ who is not careful to obey every part of the law of God, natural as well as Biblical. The very first condition of asking in Christ's name is an entire and hearty willingness to know and to do the will of the Lord. To pray in the name or character of Christ is to remember that we are ignorant and that God is infinitely wise; and that what He chooses for us, though it may seem evil to us, is by far the best that we can only make known to Him our desires, and then leave ourselves with entire submission in His careful and powerful hands.
III. AFTER WE HAVE QUALIFIED THIS PROMISE IN ALL THESE WAYS IT IS STILL LARGE ENOUGH — So large that we shall never begin to realize all the good it offers us.
1. It does not forbid us to ask for temporal mercies, for the least of the good things that God provides, nor for the greatest of them. You may pray for health; that is a blessing that Christ gave to many while He was here. But it is a gift that He does not always give to those He loves best! and when you pray for it you must always say, "Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done."
2. You may pray for success in business and for prosperity if you desire them for spiritual or benevolent rather than for natural and selfish reasons. But here, too, the dominating wish will be that God's will may be done. You may, honestly think that you could use wealth in such a way as to derive moral and spiritual benefit from it for yourself, and to confer benefits upon others; but the Omniscient One may know that you are mistaken about this, and, for your own good, as well as for His glory, He may therefore withhold what you crave.
3. There is one class of petitions, however, in which you do not need to make any of these reservations. When you ask for spiritual gifts, then if you are sincere you know that you are asking in Christ's name. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification."
(Washington Gladden D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.