CHRIST AND THE GREAT COMPANY
‘And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up His eyes, and saw a great company come unto Him, Be saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’
In this miracle our Lord appears as the Master of matter—of material things, of natural laws. Let us, for one moment, endeavour to trace the contrast between the Son of Man and the sons of men in this respect.
I. We are the slaves of matter.—Not only is our bodily organisation material, but matter seems to penetrate into the very inner sanctuary of the mind, so that a great number of those words which denote intellectual acts are derived from material objects. Yet there is, of course, another sense in which man may look upon himself as the lord of matter and of natural things. Witness the triumphs of the present day. Witness the fairy tales of science and the results of time. And yet, when we come to look at it closely, there is nothing royal or masterful in it after all. How does man prepare himself for these great achievements? By the humiliation of his spirit. Man stands utterly impotent before law.
II. But our Lord exercises over material things a direct and illimitable power.—So, in this miracle, that which is not living is diminished by distribution; but He stands there apparently hour after hour in the midst of the multitude, and He takes the fragments of the five small loaves and of the two dead fishes, and impresses upon them the stamp of a higher life. There are around us thoughtful men, awed and terrified by the cold shadow of fatality, which seems more and more creeping on, and moving over what appeared before to be the domain of man’s free action, who say with awe and astonishment, ‘Do what you will, there is still the same broad, awful margin for vice and pauperism; still the hungry generations are treading down the weak and the despised. Shall there be no end of these things—no escape from them?’ Do we believe in the life of our Lord? Then, above and around these perturbations and irregularities of time and of sin, there is a calmer and diviner world, of which Christ is King.
III. The parable of the bread.—The ministry of our Blessed Lord consists of two great divisions—His words and His works. His acts speak; His words are works. His miracles are parables, if we can only read their meaning. We should be better able to understand the refreshment that may come to us from the parable of the bread, if we read it in the light of our daily prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ What does that familiar petition mean? It means, no doubt, in the first instance, ‘Give us our daily food; give us food sufficient for us.’ Let us not spiritualise this away on the one hand, nor let us gird in those words with the narrow run of the loaf and joint. They mean, surely, something more than our daily food. Surely it is not in vain, too, that this miracle has been recorded by all the four evangelists that our minds might, so to speak, become saturated with it.
IV. It is the eternal parable of the eternally abiding Church of our ever-living and ever-present Lord in its agency amongst us. There are many substitutes for the bread of Christ. We have heard a good deal about a morality utterly without dogma, which is to work like an infallible charm; which is to convince every educated child that lying, and stealing, and disobedience will as infallibly entail punishment and evil consequences as putting his hand into the fire or jumping from the garret window. We have been told of a refined education, which, when men shall have to eat their bread in sorrow and bitterness, will teach them to take the world of art as a resting-place for their spirits, and to give a hush to all their griefs. If this be so, we may as well push away at once the thorn-crowned Galilæan, Who, from the centre of that true manhood of His, felt round the whole vast circumference of human sorrow. Are there amongst us any hearts that God once wounded, but which have been healed again? The fresh and dewy ocean breezes, the snowy heights of the Alps or the Pyrenees, to which you have carried your broken heart—are these the things that have given you rest? Has it not been kneeling at the Holy Communion, the quiet hours spent over your Bible, and the learning from that the hope of meeting in the everlasting heaven?
‘“A great miracle; but,” as St. Augustine says, “we shall not wonder much at what was done if we give heed to Him that did it. He Who multiplied the five loaves is He Who multiplies the seeds that grow in the earth, so that barns are at last filled by them. But because He does this every year no one marvels. Men marvel not at what is greater, but at what is rare. For Who is He that even now feeds the whole world, but He that of a few grains creates whole harvests? Christ wrought, therefore, as God. The power was in His hands; but those five loaves were as seed, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him Who made the earth.”’
LOVE, POWER, ORDER
In this miracle we see the love, the power, and the order of heaven. The Good Shepherd was feeding His flock, and there was abundant provision for them all. ‘They did all eat and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.’ Nothing was wasted, nothing lost.
Probably in blessing the food our Lord would adopt the ordinary form of thanksgiving in use at the time. ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the world, Who causes to come forth bread from the earth.’
I. In this prayer we notice, first, the look up to heaven which is characteristic of man, who is God’s child, created in His image, that He may know, love, and gratefully serve his heavenly Father in the spirit of piety and holy fear. No animal looks up to God or knows Him as the source of all blessings. Prayer is the ascent of the soul to God, and prayer is one of the chief marks which distinguish man from the beasts around him. To live without prayer is to live the life of a beast, not of a man upon earth. Our Lord, Who, as Perfect Man, is our example, looked up to heaven, and blessed the loaves before He brake them. If we follow His example we shall never forget to ask a blessing on our food, and to give thanks for it after we have taken it.
II. The second thought given to us in the prayer is that it is God Who causes bread to come forth from the earth. The germination of seed, the rise of the sap in the trees, the ripening of the corn, fruits, and flowers, year by year, is a never-ceasing wonder. God is not Nature, and Nature is not God, but our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that it is God Who clothes the lilies and all the flowers with their colour, and gives them beauty of form and fragrant scent. What we commonly call Nature would have no existence but for the upholding and directing power of God. Jesus Christ has taught us to say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Living creatures, who need food for their sustenance, depend upon the Giver of that food.
III. Christ in His work made His disciples fellow-workers together with Himself.—He used their ministry in feeding the multitude. Christ did not specially create the barley loaves and fishes, but took them out of the hands of a lad who was standing in the crowd, blessed them, and gave them to the apostles for distribution. Had the disciples taken the bread to the people without first bringing it to Christ, St. Andrew’s remark, ‘What are they among so many?’ would have proved true. In all work done for God’s glory and the good of men, we should begin by bringing whatever we have to Christ for His blessing. He is with us still as the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body.
Rev. Canon Bodington.
‘All our earthly comforts come to us originally from the hand of Christ; whoever brings them, He sends them; He distributes to them who distribute to us. So of spiritual blessings; in distributing the Bread of Life to those that follow Him, He is pleased to make use of the ministration of His disciples; they are the servitors of His Table, or, rather, rulers in His household, to give to every one their portion of meat in due season.’
SUPERFICIAL, YET PROFOUND
The miracle wrought. We learn from it (1) superficial lessons; (2) profounder lessons.
I. Superficial lessons.
(a) A lesson of considerateness in little things. No great suffering or distress would have befallen the multitude had they gone away without a meal; only inconvenience. But this inconvenience the thoughtfulness of the Saviour would spare them.
(b) A lesson of order. The men carefully arranged in plots, with broad passages between them. No confusion. The whole scene, busy as it was, characterised by the most perfect quietude and propriety.
(c) A lesson of economy. Possibly the disciples surprised to find Christ attaching so much importance to fragments of coarse food, especially after such a wonderful display of His power. But every gift of God to be made the most of. Fragments of time, money, opportunity, influence not to be flung away, but used.
(d) A lesson as to the source of our blessings. The food conveyed to the recipients by the disciples, but Christ the real Bestower of of it. So our blessings, temporal and spiritual, come to us through the instrumentality of other men—parents, friends, ministers—but all to be traced up to Christ Himself.
II. The profounder lesson.—Christ the Sustainer of spiritual life, as He is the Giver of it. At the present moment it was not revealed that He sustains this life by imparting Himself. But the revelation was soon made in the synagogue of Capernaum, and the miracle prepared the way for it.
Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.
(1) ‘All other miracles of Christ are of a restorative character; but this is a grand exhibition of creative goodness, and, as such, stands alone in the Gospel narratives. It is, indeed, so remarkable that even John, who professes to give the words of Jesus rather than the acts of Jesus, records it fully.’
(2) ‘Still to-day Christ gives both rest and food to all who come to Him. Still to-day “He fills the hungry with good things.” Dr. Arnot tells of a young Scotch girl who was sent to Madeira to escape the cold of a winter in Scotland. She wrote home a charming account of the place, of the climate and the landscape. And even in the matter of health there was neither sickness nor pain. But there was one sad complaint running through the letter—she could not eat. If only the appetite returned she felt she would be well. The next mail brought the news she was dead and buried. She died not for want of food, but from want of hunger.’
CO-OPERATION WITH GOD
‘And Jesus took the loaves.’
There is great teaching in this. What were ‘five loaves’ for ‘five thousand’ persons? Why use them at all? Just as easy to make the whole supply out of nothing by one creative act; and would not the miracle then have been, at least would it not appear, to be greater, and take more effect? A very reasonable thought; yet ‘Jesus took the loaves.’
He must have had a reason for that apparently unnecessary act. What was it? That He might show us that men must do what they can. You must give Him what you can. You will not be fed if you do not give those things He requires. It is all His own love and favour, but He requires first ‘the loaves.’
I. You have a little grace.—It is very little; a mere nothing compared to what is wanting; a mere nothing to what it might have been if you had used well what God had given you. But God has given yon something. You have some good desires; you have some convictions of sin; you have some religious feelings; you have some rays of hope; you do really pray, and you have given up something that is wrong. You have sparkles of love now and then in your breast. Do you want that to become more? Then put what you can in Jesus’ hands constantly. Simply commit it to the holy keeping, and the transforming and magnifying grace of Jesus; and He will do it; He will multiply it. Give Him what He has already given you. Give Him ‘the five loaves.’ What you have—it is very little. Give Him ‘the five loaves,’ and He will do wonders. Then it will go on and on invisibly—by a secret process. ‘The five loaves’ will increase, they will grow; He will add a thousandfold; He will make it more than you ever conceived.
II. You have some powers which you can now in a solemn way give to Jesus.—Consecrate them. Do not say, ‘Oh, I have not got anything worth the giving; it is of no use at all.’ Do not say that; it is not true. Do not despise the grace that is, at this moment, in your soul. Whatever it be, however poor, however small, just give it to Jesus; simply give it to Jesus. Put that little, that very little that you have—though it seems nothing to you—put it into the hands of Christ, and it will come back multiplied, manifolded, wonderfully manifolded. Give Him the little, and He will make it much.
III. And it will not be for yourself only.—‘The five loaves,’ placed in Jesus’ hands, they not only benefited the person who gave them, but ‘five thousand’ people. The fact is wonderful, but true! Who knows, who can calculate, to what extent anything we really give to Christ, may radiate and extend? Have faith in the little! have faith. It needs no more; believe it, and it will be. Have you, at this moment, any one to whom you wish particularly to do good? Have you any weeping heart to comfort? any soul to be saved? any good to be done to any one? Have you a desire for the conversion of the heathen? Do you wish that the whole world should be brought to Christ? Then, then give to Christ what you have now got to give. Give Him, give Him ‘the five loaves.’ Give it Him in simple confidence, and when you have given to Christ anything that you can give Him, watch, see, look what will become of it. See how wonderful, how effectual He will make it. How wonderful! Beyond all your hope and calculation the result will be.
—Rev. James Vaughan.
‘How many people read the miracle and forget the boy. For—
“What time the Saviour spread His feast,
For thousands on the mountain side,”
it was a boy who carried the loaves. Yet that boy has been famous for nineteen hundred years. The story of what he did has been told all down the ages. He was evidently a poor boy—he had for his dinner five barley cakes and two small dried fishes: it was just what the poor people of those days ate. But he was unselfish, for he gave his own food for the Saviour’s use. And he was plenteously rewarded.’
ALL NEED SUPPLIED
‘Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.’
‘Five barley loaves and two small fishes’ in Christ’s hands can do more than two hundred pennyworth of bread, even if that amount could have been purchased. When will the Church fully entrust her Lord with all the resources she possesses, and cease to calculate that she requires at least ‘two hundred pennyworth of bread’ before she can attempt to satisfy the needs of a hungering world.
I. The significance of the text.—At the outset there was no thought on the part of the disciples of the possibility of a super-abundant supply. They were busy calculating what might be ‘sufficient.’ When Christ breaks the loaves and fishes, we may be sure there will be an ample provision for all. He Himself teaches us that in this miracle we may learn of Him as the Bread of God Which came down from heaven that He might give life unto the world. His Body has been broken and His Blood shed, and in Him there is an abundance of inexhaustible supply, not for our needs alone, but also for the needs of the whole world. At His Table we are bidden to draw near with faith that we may be fed. May it not be that we experience that He not merely feeds, but feasts us? There are in Him resources far beyond anything that we have yet experienced for our life and service. May we have grace at His Table to ‘gather up the broken pieces that remain over,’ and to see to it that nothing of His infinite provision for us is lost by any one of us.’
II. A safeguard against presumption.—This command to ‘gather up’ is a safeguard against presumption. The disciples might have argued that, having One with them Who can so marvellously supply bread in the wilderness, all necessity for care and forethought on their part was removed. No, each one must take his basket, his wallet, and fill it from this abundant provision. Christ never exercises His miraculous powers where men, by prudent thought, can secure provision for themselves from His supplies. A true policy of faith will never clothe itself in the nightdress of sloth. It is impossible for us to trust our God too implicitly to work with us in all He calls us to do, but we must never presume on His working instead of us. If on the one hand we are taught that Christ is not extravagant in the exercise of His miraculous power, we are taught on the other that we too need to be careful guardians of His provision. Those broken pieces that remained over had been miraculously provided; the disciples must take care of them. The Bread of God, the Bread of Life, has been provided by the most amazing miracle, and with Him God will freely give us all things, but we must guard His gifts or we shall not be fed.
III. A note of warning.—There is a solemn note of warning in the reason assigned to this command, ‘that nothing be lost.’ ‘The broken pieces that remain over.’ How abundant is the supply in Him Whose Body was broken, and Whose Blood was shed to make the satisfaction for the sins of the whole world! How sore is the hunger of a sin-stricken world! Let us by God’s grace determine that nothing of that precious provision shall be lost, but that we will gather it up in our individual and collective baskets and bear it forth to meet the needs of a perishing world.
‘In this little circumstance, again, we have a proof that real food was supplied, and in sufficient quantity for all. There was not merely a morsel for each man, but an abundant supply, enough and to spare. Our Lord’s care for little things, and dislike of waste and extravagance, appear strongly in this sentence. It would be well if the principle contained in the words was more remembered by Christians—“Let nothing be lost.” It is a deep principle of very wide application. Time, money, and opportunities of showing kindness and doing good are specially to be remembered in applying the principle. It admits of question whether the “disciples” who distributed the bread on this occasion, and afterwards gathered the fragments, did not include other helpers beside the twelve apostles. The time necessary for the distribution of bread among five thousand people, if only twelve pairs of hands were employed, would prove on calculation to be very great.’
LET NOTHING BE LOST
How can we gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost? Too many of us must feel, sadly it may be, that there are days and hours and minutes which we have lost which cannot be recalled; and not only has the precious talent of time been wasted, but opportunities for good, placed in our way by God, have been passed by unheeded. But it will not be of any use to look back on the mistakes, the faults, the lost days, unless it leads to something more than regret. It is easy enough to feel sorrow, but sorrow alone will not avail us unless we repent of the past, and repentance does not only mean being sorry. It means a desire for a better future. Well, then, let us look forward, and strive to learn from the experience of the past, and to do better by God’s help in the future.
I. We have to try and realise the reality, the earnestness of life.—It is a terrible responsibility which God has given us in allowing us to live. It has been truly said in the Arab proverb, ‘Every day in thy life is a leaf in thy history.’ We may forget what sort of story we have been writing day by day, but on the last day of all, when the books are opened, the leaves from life’s history will be read out. This ought to make us careful how we live day by day, since as the days are, so will the years be. As we look forward, waiting to begin our journey on the untrodden paths, let us bethink us of our equipment.
II. We need to take with us more humble faith in God.—We talk of our faith, but all the while we are planning and devising for the future; fretting our hearts about what may never come to pass, and presently our cherished plan miscarries, the house which we made so strong for ourselves crumbles into ruin, and we learn that we have been foolishly following our own way instead of committing our way unto the Lord. If we would be happy and avoid the cares and worries which kill more often than actual disease, we must learn, child-like, to put our hand into the Hand of God, and to say, ‘Lord, undertake for us.’
III. We need more earnestness in the discharge of our religious duties.—And remember, that every duty, every act of our daily work, is a religious duty to be done unto God and not unto men. Life in this world is like a vast machine in which there are numerous wheels and handles to be turned, some small, some great. Every one of us has his special handle—his special place or part in the work; let us strive by God’s help to fulfil His command, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.’ Let us strive day by day to tread in the footsteps of our Master, Jesus. He it is Who doth go before us, and if we follow closely, nothing can come amiss to us, since we shall know that the sorrow and the joy alike drop from the same dear Hand. Let each day that God lends to us see ‘something attempted, something done.’ Let our prayer be—
‘Lord imbue me
With will to work in this diurnal sphere,
Knowing myself my life’s day-labourer here,
Where evening brings the day’s work’s wages to me,’
Thus we shall be prepared for all the changes and the chances of this mortal life, if only we can say with truth,
‘To-morrow let my sun his beams display,
Or in clouds hide them; I have lived to day.’
Rev. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton.
(1) ‘Most of you have heard of the Roman Emperor who said with anguish, “I have lost a day.” Some of you may have heard of a nobleman, of whom it was said that he lost an hour in the morning, and was looking for it all the rest of the day. How many of us have lost a day given us by God, how many are wasting their time in looking sadly after those neglected opportunities which will never return!
“Here hath been dawning another blue day,
Think, wilt thou let it slip useless away?”
(2) ‘When the friends of Mendelssohn, the great composer, tried to dissuade him from his work, he said, “Let me work while it is yet day. Who can tell how soon the bell may toll.” Such should be the feeling of every worker for Jesus Christ, of every Christian. A great English writer and a good man had these words engraved on the dial-plate of his watch, “The night cometh,” that he might be reminded that he must work his work while it is called to-day.’
‘This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.’
We may reverently take up the words of the admiring crowd as they beheld the miracle of multiplied bread, and expand them in the light of a fuller revelation. ‘This is of a truth that Prophet’ Who has come once in the mystery of the Incarnation; Who is coming again to gather together the elect saints to be partakers in His glory. We can confidently declare that He is the Prophet foretold; the Living Bread that came down from heaven. As a proof that He is Divine we point thankfully to His regenerating work, and exultingly to His power to satisfy the craving of human souls. We may examine and criticise His teaching, and comment upon the perfection of His example. We do it in the spirit of glowing pride, delighting in Him as servants in a powerful and generous master. Let us lovingly contemplate the result of His redeeming work, and pronounce Him in our hearts and with our lips to be the Messiah foretold and the King coming to judgment.
Those who lived in the days of the first Advent were conscious of a longing—of a void within the soul which all human systems had hitherto been unable to fill. No philosophy, no moral law, no mere device of man, could still the cry upon human lips, nor the tumult in human hearts.
I. Jesus differs from all human teachers, and the remedy, which He declares to be unlimited in its powers, is not a system or a code of morals, but a Person, God veiled in human flesh, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. He presents Himself as our Redeemer and Restorer. He is not only the Priest, but the Victim, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; He is not only the Mediator, but the ground of the mediation; not only the Teacher, but the sum and substance of all that is taught. If Jesus be within the human soul, purified for His temple, then and then only the longing is satisfied and the cry is hushed.
II. Jesus Christ presents Himself to man as a moral being, and is Himself the mainspring of the morality which He teaches. Roman and Jewish laws could not curb unbridled passion by the strong hand of power; but the foundations of Christian morality are loyalty and love, and the object of their rapturous devotion is Emmanuel—God with us. By love man is taken out of himself and raised into a higher and purer atmosphere; the once worshipped shrine of self is battered down, and in its place is reared and beautified a holier altar. Loyalty to Jesus lifts the soul from earth to heaven, and sustains it in the sincere worship of all that is pure. Thus is Jesus all in all to man as a moral being.
III. And man, as a spiritual being, beholds Jesus the Good Physician, and acknowledges that if he be willing he can be made whole. Man, at his best, has an insatiable longing to feel after God if haply he may find Him. In Jesus, God comes down from heaven to earth.
—Rev. W. E. Coghlan.
‘Look out upon the world as it is and imagine what it would have been had not Jesus come, the Prophet foretold, had He not sealed with His death of agony the lessons of His self-sacrificing life. The spiritual world without Jesus Christ would be like the natural world without the sun: we should now be groping miserably in the dark without life and immortality brought to light. All that is best and purest in human society is the result, directly or indirectly, of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and the beauty of His undeviating example. Charitable institutions for the needy; hospitals for the sick in peace, and the wounded in war; the sanctity of the marriage vow; the purity of domestic life; the respect given to women; the abolition of slavery; mercy to the conquered foe; the bond of brotherly love; even-handed justice to rich and poor; forgiveness of injuries; the careful training of the young, and the keen anxiety for the salvation of other men’s souls; all these things are the results, directly or indirectly, of the life and death of Christ.’
THE KING AND THE KINGDOM
‘Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again into the mountain Himself alone.’
John 6:15 (R.V.)
It was the miracle of the loaves and fishes that provoked the popular enthusiasm; and no doubt the people thought that, if He were their king, all their material wants would be certain to receive satisfaction.
I. It is not Christ’s first object to secure for men in this life outward conditions favourable to universal ease and comfort.—That was clearly not His object in the creation of the material universe which He has built for our home. Men have to live by the sweat of their brow, and in most parts of the world they have to work hard in order to live. There are fogs and floods; harvests are blighted; there is intolerable heat; there is intolerable cold. Men are disciplined to endurance by physical discomfort. Their intellectual life is provoked to strenuous activity by the hardships and difficulties of their condition. The proverbial garden of the sluggard is not a reproach to Providence, but to the sluggard. It was God’s will that he should have not only a garden bright with flowers, but that he should have the physical vigour, the industry, and the intelligence that would come from cultivating it. God cares more for the man than for the garden.
II. Nor is it Christ’s first object to give us a social and political order that shall certainly secure for men universal physical happiness. Government is a Divine institution; but it is through human virtue, human self-sacrifice, human patience, human sagacity, that the material blessings which are possible through the social condition are to be actually won; and it is not God’s will that we should have the material blessings apart from the virtues and the intellectual labours which are necessary for the maintenance of a just social order. It was impossible that Christ should accept power on the terms upon which He knew it was offered Him.
III. The relations of Christ to the political, economic, and social order have exercised the thoughts of men ever since He returned to His glory. He declared before His Ascension that all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth; the great words of the psalmist had been fulfilled—not the elect race only, but all nations had been given to Him as His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth as His possession. During His earthly ministry He and His apostles had declared that the Kingdom of Heaven was ‘at hand’; after His resurrection that proclamation ceased; the kingdom was no longer ‘at hand’; it had actually come, for the King had come; and through the redemption which He had achieved the whole race stood in a new relation to God. He was King of kings and Lord of lords—King by Divine right, Lord by Divine appointment. There were no longer any aliens from the Divine commonwealth; every man was a subject of Christ by birth; revolt was still possible, but revolt is a crime of which only the subjects of a lawful prince can be guilty; men are the subjects of Christ by the Divine Will, though it lies with their own will whether they will be obedient to His laws and loyal to His throne. His authority extends over every province of human life: over the business of men and their pleasures; over science, literature, and art; over the family, over the State, as well as over the Church.
Let men learn to acknowledge Him as the true King of men, and within a generation the whole life of the country would be changed.
‘If the social order is to be great, men must be great; if the social order is to be kindly, men must be kindly. We can only hope for great and enduring changes for the better in the social order as the result of great and enduring changes for the better in the spirit and character of the whole people. The ethical quality of the organisation of a State—political, economic, social—must, I suppose, be always more or less inferior to the general ethical life of the nation. Reforms which are far in advance of that life may be carried as the result of transient enthusiasm, but they will not be effective, and they will not endure.’
CHRIST’S PRESENCE IN TROUBLE
‘Then they willingly received Him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.’
A strange transition. From witnessing a mighty miracle, and helping it instrumentally, amidst an admiring crowd, the disciples experience solitude, darkness, winds, waves, storm, anxiety, and danger. But Christ knew it, and Christ appointed it, and it was working for their good.
I. Trial is part of the discipline which all true Christians must expect.—It is one of the means by which their grace is proved, and by which they find out what there is in themselves. Winter as well as summer, cold as well as heat, clouds as well as sunshine—are all necessary to bring the fruit of the Spirit to ripeness and maturity. We do not naturally like this. We would rather cross the lake with calm weather and favourable winds and the sun shining down on our faces, But it may not be. In our darkest hours we may seem to be left.
II. But we are never really alone.—The Lord Jesus Christ has power over the waves of trouble just as over those of the sea. He came to His disciples as they were rowing on the stormy lake, ‘walking on’ the waters. He walked on them as easily as we walk on dry land. They bore Him as firmly as the pavement of the Temple, or the hills around Nazareth. That which is contrary to all natural reason was perfectly possible to Christ. The Lord is not only the Lord, but the Maker of all creation. Learned men talk solemn nonsense sometimes about the eternal fixity of the ‘laws of nature,’ as if they were above God Himself and could never be suspended.
III. Let all true Christians take comfort in the thought that their Saviour is Lord of waves and winds, of storms and tempests, and can come to them in the darkest hour, ‘walking upon the sea.’ There are waves of trouble far heavier than any on the Lake of Galilee. There are days of darkness which try the faith of the holiest Christian. But let us never despair if Christ is our Friend. He can come to our aid in an hour when we think not, and in ways that we did not expect. And when He comes all will be calm.
—Bishop J. C. Ryle.
‘The practical remark has often been made, that many of the things which now frighten Christians, and fill them with anxiety, would cease to frighten them if they would endeavour to see the Lord Jesus in all, ordering every providence, and overruling everything, so that not a hair falls to the ground without Him. They are happy who can hear His voice through the thickest clouds and darkness, and above the loudest winds and storms, saying, “It is I be not afraid.” It has been thought by some that the words, “It is I,” might be more literally rendered, “I am,” and that they are intended to refer to the name of God, so familiar to Jews: “I am.” It is a pious thought, but hardly in keeping with the context and the circumstances of the occurrence. Our Lord desired first to relieve the fears of His disciples by showing them Who it was that they feared: and the Greek words for “It is I,” are the only words that He could well have used.’
THE LABOUR QUESTION
‘Labour not for the meat which perisheth.’
The most pressing question of the day is the ‘Labour Question.’ Our Lord’s teaching shows us:—
I. The dignity of labour.—He worked with His own hand at a useful trade. He described His Divine office in the world as ‘working.’ In almost all His parables He pictures earthly labour. The old curse, ‘to eat bread in the sweat of the brow,’ He turned into a blessing. A blight has fallen upon the relations of employer and employed from the old pagan tradition as to despising him who serves. The ‘place’ of the labourer, the servant, is the place occupied by the Lord Jesus. The remedy for the dangerous gulf created between the ‘masses’ and the ‘classes’ is not more policemen, but in the noble teaching of Christ.
II. His sympathy with labourer’s fatigue.—Christ tenderly pitied the weariness of the toil-worn labourer; ought not His Church to do the same? There is a higher law of political economy than ‘to buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.’
III. The true object of labour.—‘Labour … for that meat which endureth.’ When life’s aim is for the life with God, all labour is elevated by it.
THE WORK OF FAITH
‘Then said they unto Him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent.’
Christ’s answer must have greatly surprised those who asked the question. As much as if one of you were to come to your clergyman, and were to say: ‘I want to do some “work” for God. Tell me, what shall I do?’ And he should answer you, and say: ‘Believe! That is your work.’
I want you to look at faith as a work. Persons separate ‘faith’ and ‘work’ too much, as though a ‘work’ were a positive thing, done at a definite time and place, for a distinct object, and carrying a particular character, thoroughly real and practical; and ‘faith’ were not.
How is faith work? Why is faith not easy?
I. To have faith we must first clear the ground.—Faith cannot live with any one known sin. We must be prepared to give up anything which our conscience condemns. The condition is absolute. ‘If any man will do His will.’ And this is hard work; to be willing to give up everything for God; to conquer any wrong thing in the heart and life. But it is an essential prerequisite to faith.
II. What we have to believe is contrary to the natural bias and current of the mind.—Nature teaches, and our pride repeats it, that to be saved we must do something: we must be good. It is very hard to get this out of the mind, and to see that we must be saved in order that we may be good, and not that we must be good in order that we may be saved. It is hard to accept a doctrine which so ignores merit, and puts us, and all we do, nowhere.
III. Because it is difficult to bring the mind to receive anything so wonderful as that which we are required to believe. ‘What! if I only acknowledge my sins, and believe that Jesus Christ died for me, am I then and there forgiven and saved? It is too wonderful; it is too good to be true.’ It would be too good to be true if God had not said it. But He has said it. Nevertheless, the heart must be in a very childlike state to take it, and believe it, and to cast itself upon it without a doubt, without a fear; to live upon it, and to die upon it.
IV. Because faith is appropriation, and appropriation is the hardest thing a man ever has to do. It is difficult, indeed, to see and follow the arguments which prove the inspiration of the Bible; it requires thought—careful, accurate, honest thought. But it is essential at the outset. But this is intellectual. The intellectual is always easier than the moral. It is far easier to convince the mind, at this moment, than the heart. But to bring the matter home, to feel, ‘That promise means me. Christ is looking at me. That blood has washed out all my sins. My whole debt is paid. I am a free, forgiven, happy child of God’—that is the strain! Appropriation is the testing point. Shall I tell you how difficult it is? It touches the point of impossibility. It is impossible. You cannot do it. God must do it in you. Here comes the supernatural faith. It is the creation of God. It is the work of Omnipotence. ‘By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.’ If you cannot believe anything else, believe that. Ask for it. Use what you have.
—Rev. James Vaughan.
‘A life of faith in the Son of God is a life which is guided and ruled by love to Him; a life in which the heart continually tastes the blessedness of pardon and of peace; a life in which the thought of Christ and of His love is ever present to deter us from sin, to incite us to holiness; a life in which every new sin and every new sorrow is brought to the feet of Jesus, and left with Him—the sins to be washed away, and the sorrows to be turned into joy.… We may well ask ourselves, Is ours a faith like this; a faith not merely to speak about, but a faith by which we live; a faith which worketh by love? What fruit do we see of our faith in our daily lives? Does it make us better men and women; does it make us care less about this passing world, and more about the everlasting joys of the world to come? Does our faith in Christ help us to love Christ? does it move us to give up our lives to Him Who gave up His life for us? What a blessed thing it would be for us if our lives were lives like this; if each of us could say in truth as St. Paul said, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”’ (Galatians 2:20).
‘Jesus said unto them, I am the Bread of Life.’
The multitude followed the Lord, and immediately He directed their minds to that deduction which He would have us likewise draw from this fact—the necessity of seeking food not for the body only, but for the whole man, soul and body, who lives not by bread alone, but by grace also. Thus while our Lord’s words damped the zeal of the worldly-minded, whose only object was to use His aid in resisting the Roman power, He at the same time so ordered it that His rebuke to them affords instruction to His Church throughout all ages on one of the most sacred mysteries of our Holy religion.
I. There is provided for us all spiritual food.—The multitude had asked for further instruction how they might get miraculous support: ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ And our Lord replied, ‘This is the work most acceptable in the sight of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent’—so believe, as not dictating to Him, but receiving His commands. This was displeasing to them; they saw that He refused to do what His miracle had shown Him capable of doing, viz., of miraculously supporting a force capable of resisting the Romans; and so their feelings towards Him begin to change, and they seek to disparage His work: “What sign shewest Thou then (greater than Moses)—what dost Thou work (above what Moses did)?’ (John 6:30). Our Blessed Lord never sought to make partisans. He would simply encourage that faith which would lead honest hearts from things temporal up to things spiritual. He did not, therefore, defend Himself, or seek to maintain His cause; but he proceeded with His Divine instruction: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from Heaven (which I exhort you to labour for), but My Father (now) giveth you the true Bread from Heaven (of which the manna was a type); for the Bread of God is He Which cometh down from Heaven and giveth life to the world’ (see also John 6:34-35). Therefore, not only is there provided for us spiritual food—i.e. food for our souls—and not only is Christ the Giver of it, but—
II. This spiritual food is Christ Himself.—The Jews murmured at our Lord because He said, ‘I am the Bread of Life’; and they argued the subject, as many persons would do now; because they could not understand, they scoffed, and turned the declaration into ridicule. Now, our Lord would not enter into argument with those who were only seeking reasons to justify themselves in their unbelief. He simply, therefore, repeated His declaration more emphatically, and gave them to understand that He was prepared to teach those who were led to Him by the Father, and had had their eyes opened to discern the mystery: ‘I am the living (or life-giving) Bread; if any man eat (or feed upon) this Bread, he shall live for ever, and the Bread that I will give is My Flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’ There is, then, spiritual food provided for us. This food is given to us by Christ our Lord; this spiritual Food is Himself; and now we find that it is His Flesh which He giveth—even that Flesh which He offered once, and once for all, for the sins of men, upon the Cross.
III. How was this received?—Let the infidel mark this, who, when we speak of grace in the Sacraments, asks how grace can come from an affusion of water, or from eating of bread and wine. He regarded not the ‘How?’ of the infidel, but more emphatically still said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you’ (John 6:53 et sqq., 57). It was impossible for them then to understand the full import of these words. But this much they could understand—that, having had proof that He could give miraculous food, and that somehow He could confer it upon those who should abide with Him, it was their duty to have acknowledged Him, to have said, ‘We believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and we will stay with Thee to be further instructed in the mysteries of that Kingdom of which Thou art King.’ But when the Kingdom of God (the Church) was established, when our Lord had commissioned His Apostles and their successors, what He did mean was more fully known. To us it is given to know that by union with Him we are united to God, and He thus is the support of the soul; to know that there is Bread from Heaven, and that Christ is that Bread; nay, further, that the Bread, the Sustenance, with which He supplies us, is His Body and Blood, no longer visibly present, but sacramentally received by faith in the Holy Ordinance, called on this very account the ‘Sacrament of His Body and Blood’ (1 Corinthians 10:16). This, in the Apostles’ time, was a question which could be only answered in one way: it was an admitted and an acknowledged principle of Christianity, not to be argued upon, but to be believed. And now the answer of the Church is the same.
THE BREAD OF LIFE
God does not give us life without giving us nourishment for it (Psalms 78:15-20). The believer knows that as Jesus is the Life (John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12), so Jesus is also the Bread of Life. Consider—
I. Bread is ordained for a great end—to preserve the whole race of mankind.—What would men do if they had not bread? What would souls do without Christ? (John 15:5; Acts 4:12). He is the Lamb foreordained (1 Peter 1:19-20): and prepared of God (Hebrews 10:5); for the whole world (John 1:29).
II. Bread is of universal necessity; all require it, rich and poor, old and young.—So it is of Christ. The king needs (Psalms 21:1-7); so does the poor beggar (Luke 18:38). The old look to Him for consolation (Luke 2:25); so do the young (2 Timothy 3:15). They who have worldly riches are sorrowful without Him (Matthew 19:22).
III. Bread has a hidden virtue, which cannot be known unless by taste or experience.—And so we say of Jesus, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalms 34:8; cf. 1 John 1:1). All who have tried Him delight in Him (Song of Solomon 2:3; Song of Solomon 5:1). They desire to have more and more of Him (1 Peter 2:2-3).
IV. Bread strengthens and renews life—without it men grow faint and die.—You remember the case of David (Mark 2:25-26). Before Christ came, man was without strength (Romans 5:6); but now in Christ all strength is to be found (Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 2:1).
V. Bread also, by renewing strength and preserving life, fits us for work and business.—So Christ tells us distinctly, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing’; but what does His servant Paul say? (Philippians 4:13). He had learnt by experience that the grace of Christ was sufficient for him in everything (2 Corinthians 12:9).
VI. Bread, as it comprehends the greatest of blessings when promised, so the greatest of judgments when denied (Genesis 47:13; Luke 15:14). (Look at Amos 8:11). Think how awful it is for man to be without Christ (Ephesians 2:12; Ephesians 4:18-19). We shall understand this by reading God’s words to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:13; Ezekiel 4:17).
You see, then, how these few simple facts concerning the bread we eat illustrate the great spiritual truths of Jesus as ‘the Bread of Life.’
—Bishop Rowley Hill.
(1) ‘The table of shewbread, bearing the weekly-changed “bread of presence” as an offering from the children of Israel, is a symbol of that spiritual food which is presented to His people by our Lord, Who said, “I am the Bread of life” (John 6:35), Who, as “the living Bread” is ever with the Church in her wanderings. As changed every Sabbath, the Shrewbread may also be an illustration of the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, in which we “show forth the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Corinthians 11:26).’
(2) ‘As soon as the slightest spiritual desire is manifested by any one, however ignorant and weak, he should be at once directed to Christ. It is what our Lord Himself did. As soon as the Jews said, “Lord, evermore give us this bread,” He cried, “I am the Bread of life.” He never “quenched the smoking flax.”’
THE GOLDEN PROMISE
‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’
When a penitent sinner ventures to come to the Lord, he is so keenly alive to his condition that a word, a look, would drive him back. This promise, then, is just the strong consolation he wants. It sweeps away every objection and every fear, clears the path for his return, and clasps him at once in the embrace of the Father’s love.
I. To some, no doubt, this is a kind of encouragement which you want most.—You feel your need of peace with God. You are convinced that there is mercy for you only through Christ; but this is your abiding fear, that somehow you will not be received. Be assured henceforth that there can be no such thing as refusal. There is nothing which you can construe into a refusal. No soul in this world, or the next, can ever rise up and say that he came according to the Lord’s word, but was cast out. Jairus came, Mary Magdalene came, the woman of Canaan came, and they were not cast out—nay, some He received before they asked, to show how tenderly willing He was to receive sinners. The widow of Nain did not even speak, and yet He knew and granted her heart’s desire. The sisters of Lazarus did not ask for such a thing, and yet He gave them their brother restored to life. He might have appealed to the whole Jewish people and said, Which of you, coming to Me, have I once cast out? A silent nation would have attested His readiness to save. And since then, what multitudes has He saved! Whenever His Gospel is fully addressed to the conscience, and Jesus is exalted, then sinners are drawn to Him. Inquirers who are awakened to feel their soul’s peril, often begin to fear that they shall not be received. Such fears are utterly groundless. Cast them away, then, and come. There is nothing to forbid your finding the mercy which myriads have found already. Do not object that you are not penitent enough, or that, somehow, you do not come in the right way. Very likely, for all you do is faulty. But how are you to come in the right way? Away with your objections. Let the Lord Himself be your teacher. Put His promise to the trial. Come, and commit your eternal interests into His hands. Come, and plead His promise, ‘Lord, here I come, I see ten thousand reasons why I may be cast out, if I were cast out, I would still honour Thy righteous dealing; I deserve to be cast to the uttermost destruction, but I hear that Thou art rich in mercy; I listen to Thy gracious invitation, and here I am come; if I perish, I perish!’ Is that your history? Then do you think, after what has been said, are you to be the very first that shall not be received? Can you think that after ages of mercy, and myriads of sinners saved, He will now cast out you?
II. Some have come already, and can testify to the truth of the promise.—Perhaps many years have passed away since He received you. And now, on reviewing life, marked with countless mercies, this stands prominently forward as the greatest mercy of all—that He drew you to Him, and then, when you came with feeble and tottering steps, He met you with a smile of love, and blotted out all your sins by instantaneous forgiveness. Then what return are you making? Where is your gratitude? Where is your obedience? Where is your constraining sense of the mercies of God? Are you presenting your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is your reasonable service? If you have much forgiveness, are you loving much?
III. But some to whom I am speaking have not come at all.—To you I have again to publish the invitation of a willing Lord. Did I say willing? Yes, He is willing. How willing, none can tell! So willing that, with infinite welcome, He would receive every returning sinner who would only come. Remember His tender appeal to Jerusalem, mixed with His very tears, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ Was not He willing then? Yea, but He is more than willing. He has commanded His servants to go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that His house may be filled. ‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Perhaps some are saying, ‘Lord, I will come!’ and another, ‘I will come!’ Methinks I hear His voice again breaking His long silence, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’ Would that it were echoed in every nation and every tongue throughout the world, ‘Him that cometh to Jesus, He will in no wise cast out.’
IV. But will He always say so?—Ah! the day is coming, fast coming—will soon be here—when He will cast out! Whom? Those who neglected His salvation, those who would not come to Him that they might have life, those who made light of His messages, those who put off the claims of the soul, and thought little of the realities of eternity. Against them the door will be shut. They come, indeed, but come too late, and it will never be opened. But now the door is open, wide open, open to receive you. The Master of the house waits to be gracious. His patience is almost gone, the space for repentance almost spent, He may soon shut the door, and if once shut against you, it will be shut for ever!
Rev. W. B. Mackenzie.
‘Nearly the last words that Henry Bazely, “the Oxford Evangelist” said, were: “‘Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out; and, Lord, I have come.”’
‘And this is the Father’s Will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.’
‘Raise up at the last day’ is a phrase repeated four times in this chapter (John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54). The neuter gender of the pronoun is used. Why? Everything that His Father had given our Lord is here viewed as a whole, a kingdom, although it includes individuals mainly. There will be a glorious resurrection of things as well as persons.
I. The significance of His Providence will be shown in the Resurrection.—This discourse was suggested by the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He says, ‘Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost.’ Every fragment of His Providential dispensations will be gathered up in ‘that day,’ and each item of His Providential dealings with men will appear as something not to be lost. We are in danger of losing these fragments now. The varied experiences of life combine the apparently trivial with its great issues. Men are accustomed to attach vast importance to great events, and its lesser incidents are thought little of. But the King of Glory, although proprietor of all things, is a great economist, and the Resurrection will include a vindication of His dealings with men in all the petty details of life. Life is now surrounded with mystery. We are like miners working in the dark beneath the surface of visible things, yet co-workers with God, and ever contributing to His glory if faithful, glorifying the Son of God by submitting to His Providence even when we do not understand its meaning. And when we are brought above ground, so to speak, into the light of Resurrection, there will be raised with us a clear indication and vindication of the Providence of God in our lives.
II. The bearing of the material miracles upon the spiritual life will also be shown in the Resurrection. This most spiritual address of our Lord’s was based upon a material miracle. Men do not see the spiritual meaning of the miracles which occur in every life just now, but although much of what may be termed side-light may be thrown upon them in this life, yet the full effulgence of heavenly light will not shine upon them until that last day. Eternal light is needed for the full exposition of Eternal truth. St. Paul says that the Rock which followed Israel was Christ. In a manner which we now know not of, it will be seen in that day how the Christ has followed the life of every believer in all its details. And the miracles in that life (and who has not experienced such?) will be manifested in all their spiritual meaning and bearing upon eternity.
III. The full testimony of Christ’s work will be shown in the Resurrection.—We have referred to two classes of these works: His general Providence and His miracles. ‘The works that the Father hath given Me to accomplish bear witness of Me, that the Father hath sent Me.’ ‘If ye believe not Me, believe the works.’ In these days the testimony of these works seems to be obscured, but He ‘will raise it up at the last day.’ ‘When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?’ Whether or not, there will be a glorious revelation of the meaning of those works as a testimony to the well-beloved Son, ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day, for the night cometh.’ But the duration of that night is limited, and it will be followed by a yet more glorious day. The Day of Resurrection will be a Day of Revelation. Then shall His works in the whole world bear convincing testimony to the power and authority of the Christ—a testimony which shall convict every gainsayer. And as the Resurrection body will be infinitely more glorious than the natural body, so will the Resurrection testimony to the works of the Christ be infinitely more glorious than anything offered to Him during His earthly ministry. Revelation 12:10 : ‘And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ.’ And there were great voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.’ The voices that now hear testimony to the Christ are not, alas! always ‘loud’ or ‘great,’ but the Resurrection testimony will be as the voice of seven thunders. ‘Blessing, and glory, and honour, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the Throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.’ Thus in that last day will be raised up every jot and scrap of evidence to the greatness and glory of the Son of God, through the light of eternity thrown upon the dealings of His Providence, the lesson of His miracles in their spiritual significance and application, and the full testimony of all His words and works while here on earth.
MYSTERY AND RELIGION
‘I am that Bread of Life.’
The Jews ask questions which Jesus declines to answer, but directs their attention to the subject of their own personal interest in the things of salvation. Thereupon ensues a conversation and a discussion, the leading points of which shall be the topics of the present discourse.
We will consider (1) The demand made by God of everybody to whom the message of salvation comes—‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent” (John 6:29). (2) The result of compliance with the demand—Christ becomes to us ‘the bread of life’ (John 6:51). (3) The world’s rejection of the demand—‘This is an hard saying; who can hear it?’ (John 6:60).
I. The demand.—The hearers eagerly expect the Saviour’s reply, for they had asked Him what they were to do in order to ‘work the works of God’—i.e., in order to obtain the Divine favour and approval. They probably thought that He would speak of some religious duties which they had neglected, or that He would exhort them generally to more earnestness and diligence in spiritual things than they had hitherto manifested. But He explains that what is required of them is belief in Him Whom God hath sent. And why is belief mentioned first? Because it lies at the foundation of the spiritual life; and Jesus always begins at the beginning.
II. The result of compliance with the demand.—To those who accept Him thus—on the testimony of the Spirit—Jesus becomes the Bread of Life. Let us pause on these words. They imply that Jesus must be taken by us with a personal appropriation—‘He is mine, and I am His.’ It is of no profit to a starving man to be able to speak wisely or eloquently about the loaf that is put into his hands—he must use it, make it his own. Nor is it enough for us to hear about Christ, or read about Christ, or sing about Christ, or be interested about Christ, or preach about Christ—we must take Him as a man takes bread and eats it.
They imply, that as the natural bread has to be broken and crushed before it can serve the purposes of nutrition, so the Jesus Who is profitable to us is the Jesus whose Body was broken on the Cross: Jesus the crucified. More than this, they imply that there is a mysterious assimilation of Jesus Christ—the Bread of Life—with the very being of the believer. It is not enough to say, ‘Jesus gives me life.’ We must rather say, ‘Jesus is my life.’
III. The world’s rejection of the Divine demand.—The Divine demand is rejected because it involves mystery. But let us look at the matter a little more closely. The statement made by our Lord about Himself is, of course, not a little startling—‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood ye have no life in you.’ But the form of the words is not, though many persons think it is, the real offence to the Jewish hearers. What they stumble at, is the thought that underlies the words. Amongst the most annoyed were some disciples of Jesus. They said that they could not stand such outrageous opinions, and that it was high time for them to leave Him; and they did leave Him. ‘They went back, and walked no more with Him’ (John 6:66). So it is nowadays. Some persons demand a religion without mystery—a religion in which everything shall be as plain and simple and as capable of demonstration as a rule of three sum or a problem in geometry. And some people are unhappily persuaded to leave Christ, to cease to be His disciples, for this reason—because there are profound things in His teaching—things which cannot be understood—which may be apprehended, but not comprehended.
Our last thought shall be this—I will put it in the form of a question—granted that there are, as indeed there must be, difficulties in the Christian religion—things hard to be understood—problems for which we shall find no solution, at least not in this world—what shall we gain by leaving Christ? Christ can do for us what no one else can.
—Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.
‘This incident, our Lord’s interpretation shows, as plainly as can be shown, that the ordinance of the Sacrament is not commemorative merely. An actual feeding upon Christ, is spoken of throughout His discourse here. And when Christ said, “This do in remembrance of Me,” it is plain that the remembrance is to be understood as bringing with it and involving not merely the revelation of an event past, or of a dear departed friend and benefactor, but the participation also ill a present benefit, grounded on the realising of that past event and the union with that Divine benefactor and source of life, in an actual and present manner. The discourse of which the text is part is thus of immense value to the Christian, as assuring him of a real living and feeding upon his Saviour, in that Sacrament.’
‘The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
The Jews expressed no desire to know how to obtain this promised blessing, but perplexed themselves with the inferior question—how the thing promised could be accomplished. ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ In answer to this our Blessed Lord, Who never satisfied a profane curiosity, simply reiterated His previous assertion, only in stronger and more unequivocal terms.
I. What is required is clear—a participation of Christ—heavenly food, which is Christ Himself, as once crucified, Who has now been glorified. It is not here said that the one thing needful is only faith in Christ, for, although it is only by faith that we can receive Christ, yet faith is not the bread, but the hand by which we receive the Bread; faith in Christ crucified is the condition required, but the bread of life is the reward conferred upon that faith. Faith is the qualification; the thing to be sought for is the Body and Blood of Christ. At the time of the ‘institution’ our Lord’s natural body was visibly present before His disciples; they could not therefore have understood Him to mean that this was distributed to them, or that such would hereafter be the effect of their carrying out His orders. After His Ascension they understood more clearly the connection between His declaration, ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing,’ and His words, ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?’ When He instituted this blessed sacrament, He anticipated the effects of His Ascension, and imparted Himself spiritually to His Apostles; and though sitting at the right hand of God, He is specially present in the Eucharist to convey Himself, through the consecrated emblems of His Body and Blood, spiritually but really, to the hearts of His faithful people. The Eucharist then is a sacrament, the means through which we receive a covenanted gift from God.
II. What we offer to God.—There are sacrifices, which Christians present as their own, the best they can give to God. God gives us a property in certain things; and what He has given He permits us to regard as our own, and to accept what we give of these as offerings. He needs nothing at the hands of His children, but He is pleased to receive back out of what He gives as tokens of love and gratitude on our part. Out of Christ, it were presumption to approach God with any such intent; but through Christ, we are permitted to bring our gifts; and in offering anything to God, we offer a sacrifice. Our sacrifices, in the Eucharist, have all of them a spiritual reference, and are—
(a) Almsdeeds; God hath declared that what we do to the poor and afflicted in His Name, He will regard as done unto Himself; therefore the giving of alms is a sacrifice. It is not the money which is the sacrifice; the money is only the outward and visible sign of the real offering, which is internal and spiritual, the benevolent sentiment within. And this must be a freewill offering; compulsory support of paupers, or money given grudgingly, cannot come under this head (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 11:16; Acts 10:4).
(b) Prayer, praise, and thanksgivings are direct offerings to God. From the Book of the Revelation we learn that, through the intercession of Christ, the prayers of God’s saints ascend before Him as the smoke of incense (Revelation 5:8; Malachi 1:11; Hebrews 13:15).
(c) The dedication of a contrite heart, sanctified by grace, is another acceptable offering to God (Psalms 51:17).
(d) The sacrifice of the whole man, body, soul, and spirit (Romans 12:1).
All these sacrifices the faithful communicant offers when he takes part in the service of the Holy Eucharist. Thou hast sacrified Thyself for us, O Lord; Thou hast given us grace to make an offering to Thee—behold it, even all we have and all we are.
‘Let us remember how impossible it is for any one to explain the end of this verse who denies the sacrificial character of Christ’s death. Once grant that Christ is only a great teacher and example, and that His death is only a great pattern of self-denial, and what sense or meaning can be got out of the end of this verse? “I will give My flesh for the life of the world!” I unhesitatingly say that the words are unintelligible nonsense if we receive the teaching of many modern divines about Christ’s death, and that nothing can make them intelligible and instructive but the doctrine of Christ’s vicarious death, and satisfaction on the Cross as our Substitute.’
THE FOOD OF THE SAINTS
‘As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.’
These words, simply and naturally, imply, first of all, the idea simply of eating. It is not, I think, amiss for us from time to time to recollect on what our convictions rest.
I. We know that it was by eating, transgressing God’s command, that man fell, and we know something of the result of that fall. To us who have the revealed truth made clear, we, when we hear of the Holy Eucharist as being the food of the saints, should be thankful. It is passing strange that so much good should come to us through eating; but if I believe the Word of God, I ought to be able to get experience enough round about me of the result eating has produced. When I hear of the Eucharist being the food of the saints, instead of being, in the first instance, tempted to doubt, I reflect—this is not then something out of harmony with what God has told me, it is not an accident, as it were, in God’s dealing with mankind, but it does represent to me God’s will and purpose carried on now—still the old purpose.
II. And then when it speaks of the Holy Eucharist as the food it suggests that it is intended for all; it is for all, as we all need food; none can do without it. And we, if we are believers, have no real right to expect to be able to live—live, I mean, in the sight of God, without the Holy Eucharist. ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’ ‘As I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me shall live by Me.’ It is the appointed means by which we draw into ourselves the Divine life; we are made one with Him there, and He with us. At the first institution of the Holy Eucharist, all the Apostles, as the symbol of the Church, partook of it. With the early Christians all were communicants, all took their part in breaking of bread. According to the rule of the Church of England, every parishioner should receive the Holy Communion three times a year at the least.
III. But yet again, it is called the food of the saints, and not the medicine of the saints.—By calling it food and not medicine, it seems to speak of life without sickness and without pain. It might have been called the medicine of the saints. It is so in one sense; we do pray that our bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood; but I take it that when I call the Holy Eucharist the food of the saints, I do really look at it in a more inner, and more central, and more true aspect than if I call it the medicine of the saints.
IV. The Holy Eucharist is the bond of union and a cause of union.—We, being partakers of one Bread, become one. And the Holy Eucharist should be regarded as being the food of the family—the chief and best means of family union, unity and love.
Bishop Edward King.
‘If the Eucharist is to be the food of the family, there must be a very considerable advance in mutual accommodation, so as interchangeably to provide that now one and then another can go to partake of this holy food. It would be an advance and a blessing if all those who are employed either in domestic service, or in the great employments of our manufactories, or scattered about in our country villages, if there were a real understanding; just as they desired their fellow-servants to have their food to support their bodies, so they did really see that the Holy Eucharist is the appointed food of the saints, the food of the family; so that there should be an exceeding zeal shown by one member for another, so that all in the family, in their turn and in their way, should not be deprived of their food, without which, as believers, we have no reason to suppose that the soul can be kept from starvation.’
Christ gives Himself to us to be the food of our souls. We must receive Him in His Holy Sacrament. In His Holy Sacrament He comes to us. He comes into us. He takes up His abode in the cleansed chamber of our souls, and where He is no ill can come. “He that eateth Me even he shall live by Me.”
I. But people have doubts about the Holy Sacrament.—Look, then, at a few points in this history, and see how it is arranged so as to help our faith in the Sacrament. You will observe that Christ’s Apostles and all these five thousand people were far away from all supplies of food, and were, as we should say, in danger of starvation. Just in the same way any one of us who has come to Christ and been set free from his old sins, and is trying to follow Christ, is in danger of falling back into sin for want of strength to persevere. A couple of barley loaves and a few small fishes were all the food that was to be got in that wilderness. If there had been no more found for them, all those people must have fainted from starvation. Christ’s Apostles could not get any more for them. The people could not get any more. So it is with you. You cannot keep up your own strength. We—that is, Christ’s servants and ministers—we cannot keep up your spiritual strength for you. You must each for himself receive Christ, feed on His Body and His Blood as He has commanded you. This shall be your spiritual strength; Christ’s Presence in your soul, which Satan will see and fear, so that that Wicked One toucheth you not.
II. People say they cannot understand it.—They never will be able to understand it. The people were in a wilderness: i.e., a place which could not supply any food; a place where Christ’s Apostles could not get them any. Whatever food was to be got there must be miraculous. Nothing that the wilderness could produce would support life. Now, the wilderness stands for this world; it stands for this life, and all that belongs to it. Since the Fall of Man, this world and this life, have been a wilderness. Nothing that this world can produce can keep up your spiritual strength. Nothing that we can get for you out of this world can do it. It must be something from the other world, from God and Christ and Heaven, and not from here. You will observe that the Apostles themselves could not get anything out of the wilderness for the people, and what they had of their own was not enough. So neither can we either get you or give you anything of our own which will be enough to help you. But we can do as the Apostles did. And what was that? Why, we can obey our Lord, and we can give you the food He gives us to distribute; and we can tell you that the Bread from Heaven shall preserve your bodies and your souls unto Eternal Life. You cannot understand, but—
(a) By faith; and
(b) By obedience,
you shall know that Christ Himself gives that spiritual food which can carry you safe and harmless through this world’s wilderness to the Heaven where there shall be no more temptation or sin or trial.
III. The food is Christ Himself.—Look now, at what this means. When you were baptized you were made a member of Christ. You were, so to speak, grafted upon Him. Your spiritual life, i.e., all your power to be good or to do right, all your power to resist temptation and to shut out evil thoughts—comes to you from Christ. But how? A person may, if he likes, harden himself to Christ. He may think he can do very well alone. Christ does not force Himself upon any one. If the newly-grafted twig does not receive the sap from the tree, or if at any time it becomes diseased so that the sap does not flow into it, it will die. So with you, you must receive Christ. Just as our food gives us strength for all kinds of needs, so when you come to Holy Communion you should consider with yourself what is it that you are needing now. Whatever it is, that Christ is waiting to give you. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is all in all to the Christian. He is your life; that is, He keeps up your livingness, in whatever way it wants keeping up, at any particular time. You cannot need anything—you cannot ask anything—but He comes to you to give you that particular thing, be it perseverance, or strength, or warmth of love to God, or self-denial, or what not.
IV. People are far too much in the habit of thinking about Holy Communion as a special privilege for advanced Christians, and those alone.—Depend upon it that Satan wins more souls by making penitents shrink back from Holy Communion—persuading them to wait until they have grown fit—than by any other device. For thereby he very often prevents their ever growing fit. Therefore, you who do truly repent you of your sins, and earnestly desire to lead a new life, draw near with faith and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort. It is meant for you in your present state of spiritual faintness, and weakness, and exhaustion. It is meant to strengthen and revive you; and, believe me, if we could only hear the words which angels and blessed spirits utter as they see well-meaning penitents go away from the precious Body and Blood which Christ offers them—our chancels would ring to the mournful cry of, ‘Why will ye die, O House of Israel?’ while our Lord Himself is saying of you, ‘They will not come to Me that they might have Life.’
‘As food presupposes life and requires a healthy condition of the recipient if it is to profit, so food gives internal strength. Food is not an external prop on which we lean; it is an internal sustaining power. So with Holy Communion. We feed on Christ’s Body and Blood that He may dwell in us. He told His Apostles that it was “expedient for them that He should go away”; i.e., that He should be withdrawn from their sensible recognition of Him as an external presence in order that He might, by the Holy Spirit, come to them in a better, nearer way as an internal sanctifying presence. Do we thus cherish the presence of “Christ in us, the hope of glory”? Do we seek to be conformed more and more to His likeness as we feed on Him? So are we to be recognised as living members of His mystical body, bringing forth “the fruits of the Spirit.”’
A SPIRITUAL PLUMMET
‘Doth this offend you?’
This interrogation is the plummet wherewith God tries, from time to time, the depth of our religion, our progress in the hidden life.
I. He tries our faith!—You say that you believe in Jesus. You do well; but Satan does the same. How, then, must our faith differ? The eagle knows the sun is shining, and some men will love their sins, lay up riches and fawn upon the great to feed ambition; yet they will tell you they believe in Christ. But why? Because they want to quiet conscience and put on Death a more pleasing garb. Is this true faith? No; their faith is in themselves or in their wealth. Again, laying one’s sins on Jesus to-day and wilfully repeating them to-morrow, believing He will always free you from their guilt—this is not faith. It is asking God to give consent to evil, thinking ‘wickedly that He is even such an one as thyself.’ Then what is faith? Faith in Christ means perfect trust; thus if you believe that He can make you clean, you will rely upon the means He has ordained. Do not set your heart on Pharpar or Abana lest it offend you to be sent to Jordan, and faith begins to argue with divinity.
II. He tests our earnestness.—You have given yourself to Christ, and asked Him to do with you according to His blessed will. You want to tread the paths the saints of old have trod, and live for Jesus only. The march begins with conscious grace. He fills the soul with sweet and heavenly calm. You see the best visions of the Fatherland, visions of peace. Jesus is near in all His beauty, you see His footprints clearly and feel His guiding hand. This opening of the soul’s true life is like the golden sunrise on the snowy Alps. But do not stop to gaze; enjoy the vision as you would the flowers of spring. Those roseate hues will fade ere the sun is fairly on its way—dark clouds will gather round and tempests beat—cold winds will moan and whistle through the corridors; the driven snow just now so beautiful will wear a leaden aspect. Time has no lasting beauty, no bright unchanging sky. We seek this in eternity; earth gives the Cross and Paradise the Crown. Then count thyself happy if the sun resumes his early splendour as he sinks into the West. If the soul is bathed again in heavenly peace in its last struggles on the wave of time—‘Doth this offend you?’ Yet rest assured that if you have really given yourself to God you soon will find how true it is. The soldier’s valour is not proved in time of peace, nor does he look on peace as lasting, but simply as the hour to train for war. Is it for nothing that we call the Man of Sorrows Brother? For nothing that the infant brow was signed? And bear in mind, the Cross of Baptism has never been effaced. It is the mark distinct whereby the angels know us to this day, the seal indelible which we shall carry to eternity. But what an empty show that Cross would be if the Christian life was to be a life of ease and satisfaction.
III. He tests our obedience.—If we would grow in holiness we shall meet with many things that will offend our nature or wound self-love. We shall learn every day how much remains unconquered. But ‘whatsoever the Master saith unto thee, do it.’ If His demands on thy affection seem too great it only proves how much He loves thee, but that thy whole heart has not yet been given in return. And inasmuch as the Lord our God is jealous, these demands are made till we hold nothing from Him, love nothing that does not savour of Him, seek nothing out of Him. But in each call your will is free—‘Doth it offend you?’ You have it in your power to refuse to hear; God will not force us to receive His Grace. It may be He is asking you to give up some pleasure which robs Him of His glory, some companion who leads you from the Saviour and the Church’s faith, some pet indulgence that makes your life a selfish or a worldly life, and keeps a prisoner on earth the soul that ought to hover round the Throne of Grace. Or, more glorious still, perhaps it is the Spirit breathing in your ear one of those great counsels of perfection which the world will ever treat with ridicule and scorn. ‘Doth it offend you?’ Or do you try to think the call is not a real one, only some untamed fancy, painting religion with unnatural tints? Many a soul has tried to think the like, and gone to the grave a spiritual failure. Why? Because Christianity is terribly practical, though not after mammon’s fashion; these Divine inspirations must be carried out; the calls of Love obeyed. God will not be mocked; then think of the danger of despising His counsels. Are they too hard? Do they offend you?
—Rev. C. H. Rouse.
‘Humility is the frame of mind which we should labour and pray for, if we would not be offended. If we find any of Christ’s sayings hard to understand, we should humbly remember our present ignorance, and believe that we shall know more by and by. If we find any of His sayings difficult to obey, we should humbly recollect that He will never require of us impossibilities, and that what He bids us do He will give us grace to perform.’
WORDS OF LIFE
‘The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life.’
John 6:63 (R.V.)
In John’s Gospel the prooemium, standing where it does, effects a great purpose. A great life is not sufficiently recounted by anecdotes and dates. How can we link its facts together, and present to ourselves and others an organic whole? John, in the prooemium of his Gospel, presents us with that which proves itself the right key by fitting all the wards of the lock, by supplying a principle which harmonises all the facts. The prooemium does this for all in our Lord’s earthly life.
I. The personality of Christ.—The acceptance of views of the Person of Christ as worked out upon principles different from the Divine Society known as the Church ultimately, leads to a moral impasse of a destructive nature. An example of this is now before our eyes. A book, whose very name is startling, has lately been published in France. Its title is The Irreligion of the Future, and it is in the highest degree laudatory of irreligion. For all its hostility to religion, it sinks at times to a melancholy sentimentalism and despair, masquerading in the garb of resignation—all, however, with apparently not very unsatisfactory issues, until we come to a difficulty which is supposed by many to underlie the whole purpose of the work. There are two chapters of which the headings are, ‘Religion and Irreligion in Women,’ ‘Religion and Irreligion in connection with the Fecundity and Future of Races.’ ‘It is sad,’ says the writer, ‘to find that one out of the three or four great peoples which, even taken by itself, counts as something in what chances there are of human happiness, sets to work in gaiety of heart to annihilate itself. In connection with the chapter of “Religion and Irreligion in Women,” the author turns, with the triumphant modesty of the successful missionary, to the spiritual history of a lady. She was married to a husband whom she loved, as he loved her, truly and deeply. She had, indeed, married partly from a desire to win him to Christ. One day her husband asked her if she might not think it a congenial task to read the Bible through carefully in an impartial spirit. She accepted the idea, starting with the extreme postulate that every word of the Bible was dictated by God; that it was an instrument vibrating through and through with a Divine and deathless music. She went on upon her course not without many doubts and misgivings. When the first part of her task was over, she turned to the pages of the New Testament with a throb of expectation. She came with especial delight to the Gospel according to John, which she had studied carefully in past years. Alas! she no longer found the Man without a stain, the Lamb of God. She detected “blemishes, contradictions, credulities, superstitions, moral imperfections.” She cried with an exceeding great, bitter cry, “My belief has faded away—my God has deceived me!”’ May God forgive her! One naturally asks, Was this lady capable of judging the matter? Did she know anything of the language in which the original was written by John? Had she access to the sources from which she might have learned much? Had any one ever pointed out to her in that Gospel truths not yet developed, seen only in the far away like the golden trees of the distant hills? Evidently she must have heard from her husband the triumphant cry of Strauss in a company where Darwin’s name was mentioned. ‘Darwin!—the man who drove the miraculous out of the universe!’ But did he? Did he drive out anything but a shallow interpretation of the miraculous? Did she understand what Jesus said to the Jews?—‘My Father worketh even until now, and I work,’ the miracle of continual creation. Was she ever taught to find in another Book by John a thought derived from a natural fact as yet unknown to the sons of men? ‘He that hateth is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes’—the unused eyes atrophied. Had she ever considered the appeal to womanhood—‘The woman, when she is in travail hath sorrow because her hour is come; but when she is delivered of the child she remembereth no more the anguish for the joy that a man is born into the world’? Is there no underlying glory there? ‘The woman,’ not this or that woman, but all the sex that has not unsexed itself. The world, as it is even now, with its lachrymae rerum, its inseparable sorrows, but also its inseparable joys—a healthy and serene conviction that the child is after all a little prince, with his own little place in a great assembly where he may play a not unhappy part. And so the Virgin-born surveyed a birth of births, and deaths, and their issues, with that steady unshrinking Virgin eye, which is also the eye of God. As our knowledge of John deepens, our knowledge of his interpretation deepens.
II. The only morality strong enough to support the life of a Christian nation.—The same latent possibility in religion to do for races and nations in the last emergencies that which irreligion can never do is manifested again and again. Think how it was in the late great West Indian earthquake. I happen to have seen an account of it quite lately, traced by a hand of genius and vitalised by a heart of love—one in the long procession of Christian women, unveiled as well as veiled, unvowed as well as vowed, among whom strength and training bow down before decrepitude and decay, before the ghastly wound and the pestilential flesh. The writer to whom I refer brings us with her to the hospital, where the wounded and dying were taken, after a description of the earthquake which has all the appearance of a steadier eye and a less shaken observation than I have ever seen elsewhere. But I can only refer to some sentences directly bearing upon our present subject: ‘One of the most remarkable features was the courage and real patience displayed by all the wounded. The faith of the negroes was unfaltering, and their religion stood to them like a rock. Even the little children clung to it. Soon after the dawn of the first day, I was struck by finding upon the ground scattered leaves of a Common Prayer Book. Some one had carried it at the time of the disaster, and afterwards it had been divided into hundreds of pieces and passed from hand to hand.’ Here, again, an earthquake in lands inhabited by higher races than the negroes, is often followed by atheistic crime as commonly as by the fire that follows its footsteps.
I have endeavoured so far to illustrate the peculiar support offered by John in the prooemium of his Gospel, (1) to the true Personality of our Lord, and (2) to its evidence to the only morality strong enough to support the moral life of a Christian nation. Now I add a reference to the words of Christ.
III. The words of Christ.—In other lands a reverence, not easy to distinguish from continued worship, is offered to the Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs, at Amritsar. Day after day a succession of readers goes on reciting from this sacred volume in measured tones, or in dispersing with a golden whisk the flies from the stand on which it is placed. Aged ecclesiastics of rank sit on one side, solemn choirs upon the other. Not far outside is a lakelet, called the Pool of Immortality, there is a great golden gate; certain doors of ivory and silver. The Granth is carried in at three o’clock in the morning, and remains in the temple until eleven at night. Day and night the chamber is heavy with the scent of jasmine and marigolds. ‘That which becometh old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away.’ It is not only of meats that it is written, ‘Wherein they that occupied themselves were not profited.’
One of the noted passages in Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity used to be that in which he spoke with reverential wisdom of the reading of the Lessons in our churches. ‘Sermons,’ says the Churchman, with his stately wisdom, ‘are not the only means. Many long centuries before these our days wise men doubted not to write that by him who but readeth a Lesson in the solemn assembly as a part of Divine Service, the very office of preacher is so far first executed. With their patience, therefore, be it spoken, the Apostles preached as well when they wrote as when they spoke the Gospels of Christ; and our usual public reading of the Word of God for the people’s instruction is preaching.’ Yes! for our Word of God is ‘quick and powerful, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ For centuries the Apocalypse was not read in our churches. One chapter and the Epistle for Trinity Sunday, part of another for St. Michael and All Angels, a verse transported by a happy thought from the Sarum Liturgy to our Burial Service. When parts of the Apocalypse are read by a man who has made them his own, have you not seen world-worn eyes become wet with tears and like the soft eyes of a little child? Carry away the great principles—That the prophecy of the Apocalypse is not prediction (except as regards the downfall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Kingdom of Christ); that the multitudinous objects projected before our eyes as illustrations are symbols, not pictorial; that the dates and mystic numbers are not miscellaneously collected from anticipated chapters in history. A comparison of the first chapter of Revelation with the Gospels will lead us to a perception of the Spirit and life of Christ’s words. The Fourth Gospel contains no narrative of the Transfiguration, but let us keep Matthew’s account before us, let us compare it with the opening vision of Christ in the beginning of the Revelation, we shall not hesitate to conclude that John’s spirit is looking back to the Holy Mount: ‘Jesus was transfigured before them, and His face did shine as the sun. And, behold! a bright cloud. And a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them and said, Arise, and be not afraid.’ If he who said in his simple and stately way, ‘I, John,’ was the son of Zebedee, he could not fail to have been thinking of the Transfiguration. ‘It is I—be not afraid’ reminds us also of another fear with sweet encouragement. But in the passage the Transfiguration seems transfigured and the glory glorified.
‘Will ye also go away?’
The sin implied in this affecting appeal of Christ is that of backsliding and apostasy from Him and His cause.
I. Some forsake the way of the Lord because of its growing straitness.—The extreme narrowness of the way does not fully appear to the believer on his first setting out in the Divine life, and many have fallen away. Such individuals never counted the cost of a Christian profession of Christ. They took not into consideration the self-denial demanded, the battle with sin involved, the crucifixion to the world required; and when these things came upon them, these half-hearted pilgrims swerved from their profession, and returned to the sins they professed to have renounced, and to the world they professed to have abandoned, and walked no more with Jesus.
II. The world is another fruitful cause of alienation from a religious profession.—It is a deadly snare, a fatal rock to many a towering professor. Its seductions are so powerful, its disguise so successful, its pleas so plausible, its eddies so numerous, its vortex so powerful and absorbing, few who profess to have come out of and to have renounced it for ever, escape from its entire enthralment, and hold on their Christian course of daily dying to its fascination and power. Oh, what a snare to the Christian profession is the ungodly world! And is there not, at the present moment, cause for alarm at the growing encroachment of the world upon the professing Church of Christ? We verily think so.
III. Offence because of the truth is another popular cause of inconstancy of religious profession and of apostasy from the faith. As the Gospel becomes more unfolded to their view, and those truths and doctrines are propounded which teach eternal election, Divine sovereignty, free grace, effectual calling, spiritual regeneration, perceptive holiness, final perseverance, and cognate doctrines of grace, by and by they become offended, go back, and walk no more with Jesus.
—Rev. Dr. Octavius Winslow.
‘It is an affecting thought that multitudes who appear to set out for heaven, moved by some powerful, undefinable impulse, eventually flag, halt, and finally turn back, and never touch the borders of the good land. They seem to make some spiritual progress, to bid fair to hold on their way to the end, but by and by, when the straitness, the difficulties, and the dangers of the way unfold themselves, they tire, and stumble, and gradually decline and walk no more professedly with Jesus.’
A TOUCHING APPEAL
What was the feeling our Lord here betrayed? It was a deep, intense, earnest sympathy with the Christian progress and perseverance of His true disciples. ‘Will you leave and forsake Me? Will you sever from My faith, no more walk with Me, and henceforth cease to be My disciples?’ What must have been the touching tenderness of that look, the melting tones of that voice, the winning power of that appeal when these words were spoken! What is the subject thus so dear to the heart of Christ?—with what is His sympathy so closely, so warmly entwined? It is the perseverance of His disciples in spiritual knowledge, grace, and steadfastness, resolving itself into a simple, single, and firm adherence to Himself. ‘Will ye also go away?’ The subject is important—Christian perseverance. Let us present it in two or three particulars.
I. Perseverance in the growth of spiritual knowledge must necessarily occupy a prominent place in religious progress.—‘Add to virtue knowledge.’ Real growth in experimental Christianity demands calm thought, mental abstraction, patient and prayerful study of Divine truth. Christian progression would be an anomaly not based upon, and accompanied by, Christian knowledge—an increasing knowledge of Christ, knowing more and more of the glory of His person, the excellency of His work, the sufficiency of His grace, and the depth of His love. The point from which we start and the goal to which we aspire are the same—a knowledge, spiritual and saving, of God and Christ. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.’ With this we commence our spiritual life, with this we close it on earth, and with this we prolong it through eternity.
II. A faithful, consistent attachment to Christ also includes a firm, unswerving adherence to His pure truth.—To compromise the Gospel is to compromise the Christ of the Gospel. To give heed to the teaching that causeth to err, to exchange truth for error, is to turn the back upon Christ. Adherence to truth and loyalty to Christ are inseparable. As error enters the mind, love to Christ leaves the heart.
III. Adherence to Christ includes also adherence to the Church of Christ.—Christ and His Church are one, as the Church per se is one and indivisible. We cannot, therefore, in any way separate from the Church of Christ without compromising our union with Christ Himself.
—Rev. Dr. Octavius Winslow.
‘We know but little of the Gospel, and the hindrance to our deeper learning lies in our belief that we know it intimately. We are ignorant of its laws, and we have not searched out its spirit: we make curious inquisition into the words of man, and we are negligent of the Word of God. One sentence of the Gospel is more precious than all the literature of the world—it is the fountain of truth. With what love, what faith, what adoration, should we give ear to Jesus Christ in His own Word! Let us then, henceforward, say to Him with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” One moment of devout aspiration, of love, and of the Divine Presence, gives a deeper insight into the truth than all the reasonings of men.’
ABIDING WITH CHRIST
‘Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’
Other teachers may do good or not, but they will do no great harm so long as they do not keep men away from Christ, nor take men away, nor tempt them to go away. Temptation to this there always has been of some sort. The disciples must have felt it when they were being left in a small minority, especially when those who had a reputation for clear-headedness and learning were mostly in the majority. They must have felt also, as others did, that in the teaching of Jesus there was much beyond their comprehension. From such temptations how were they saved?
I. The disciples’ conviction.—Not by their admiration of His character or of His teaching, nor by their affection for His Person, but by this conviction, ‘Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ His words supplied what had been wanting in the words of man from the beginning. Life—life of soul and body—what is it; will it continue, or will it come to an end? Such questions had weighed on the minds of all generations. Not only this, but we take all life to be that power in soul and body which is always fighting for health, and is itself untouched by decay, untainted by disease or death, so that any one who could tell of life which is everlasting could tell also of palliative or remedy for everything that would cut us off from life. It was no wonder that the disciples, persuaded of this, should refuse to go away.
II. How had the conviction come to them?—For two years they had been with Him, carefully listening and observing. They heard Him speak, as never man spake, such things as they felt in their inmost hearts that all men required to hear. They saw in Him the power to give life, healing all manner of diseases, bidding even the dead arise; they saw that all the powers of Nature were at His command; they saw Him holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, boundless in compassion and love; they saw that all He was, and all He said and did, was in full accordance with what He professed to be; and, above all, those outward facts were crowned by the profound experience of new life and new power in themselves, which had come to them from Him. Before other two years had passed by they had seen and experienced greater things than these, and as they communed with their own hearts, or spake one with another, in their recollections of the past, there would always be the glad thought that they had not gone away.
III. Their conviction may be ours.—Let no one, be he teacher or not, step between us and our portion. Its value would be gladly proclaimed out of the fullness of our own hearts and minds, if we did but give them liberty, and thus and thus would they speak: The teacher and friend I need and long for, who alone can meet my case, is one who knows at least what it is to live in the body, as well as to be tempted through the soul and the body; who could speak to me with the voice of authority about sin and pardon; who could be always with me, and go where I go and stay where I stay; who could see me in the darkness as well as in the light, and see my whole being throughout, for how else could he bring me help? One who could say to me, ‘It is I be not afraid,’ and to the storm, ‘Peace, be still,’ and to the power of evil, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further’; one who could fathom my perplexities, enlighten my darkness, and never misunderstand me; who could heal the sores of my conscience, rule my passions, and understand the groanings that I cannot utter; one who knows what the valley of death is, and would be with me there, and who can speak for me in the Day of Judgment, and receive me to glory. To whom then shall I go? To whom but to Thee, Lord Jesus? Thou art offering Thyself to us for all this and more, able to save to the uttermost, to the glory of God the Father.
‘The Bishop of Manchester (Dr. E. A. Knox), speaking at the Blackpool Sands Mission in August, 1906, said that as a boy he had been brought up in a godly home, but when he went to Oxford he had, in preparing for examinations, to read infidel books, and he felt as though he were losing the grip of his faith. In his distress he took down the Bible his father had given him, and as he opened it his eye lighted on a text he had marked, “Will ye also go away?” and the reply of the disciple, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” This forced him to consider to whom he could go if he gave up Christ. Could he go to Aristotle? There were no words of eternal life there. Could he go to Plato? There were no words of eternal life there. Could he go to Hobbes? There were no words of eternal life there. Could he go to John Stuart Mill? There were no words of eternal life there. He saw from his mother’s Christ-like life and his sister’s bright example, that Christ had the words of eternal life, and he determined that before he left Christ he must find some one who could give him the words of eternal life. But he knew of no one then; he had found no one since, and never expected to find any one, for Christ and Christ alone had the words of eternal life.’
THE DOWNFALL OF JUDAS
‘Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon.’
Who was Judas? He was one of the Twelve chosen to be with the Lord during His life on earth. When the twelve were sent out by two and two to preach, Judas went also. To Judas, as to the others, Christ gave the power against unclean spirits and to heal all manner of disease. He was one of that privileged band who followed our Blessed Lord, who witnessed His miracles, who enjoyed the closest intimacy with Him. What was his character during this time? Are we to suppose that, whilst he was preaching the doctrines of Christ, he did so without himself believing in them? That, whilst he cast out devils in the Name of Jesus, he had no faith in that Name? That, whilst at Christ’s bidding, he went forth, without scrip, without bread, without money, exposing himself to enmity and hardship, to want and suffering, he did so with hatred towards Christ settled in his heart? Oh! no. Judas was far more like many of us. He was a man of a weak and vacillating mind, capable of going right—sadly liable to go wrong; trembling and hesitating on the edge of faith, yet not yielding himself, heart and soul, to his Master’s will; believing, not really and savingly, but with a kind of belief; working for and obeying Christ in a measure; perhaps thinking himself all this time to be a faithful, hard-working, obedient disciple.
But a change came over him. Unbelief entered his heart, unsuspected by those around, known only to our Lord. Sin was then presented to his notice—he allowed his thoughts to dwell on it. To conceal it he framed a lie. Reproof was administered. The thought and deed of treachery was added to his former sins. Exposure followed. Then entered hatred and led him to that final act, which dragged down his soul to everlasting, irretrievable ruin. Notice:—
I. His lack of faith.—Our Lord, in His great Eucharistic discourse, spoke of feeding His people with His Body and His Blood, and many of His disciples, saying ‘This is an hard saying,” departed from Him. It was then that Christ spoke the words of the text. This discourse seems to be the event which first disclosed the character of Judas in its weakness. He had preached and worked miracles in Christ’s Name, but had not true, strong faith in Him—hence, when any doctrine beyond his reason was taught, his weak faith allowed him not to grasp it. By his lack of faith in doctrine he weakened, and eventually lost his faith in the person of Christ; for how is it possible to disbelieve a doctrine without disbelieving the teacher? It is the spirit of belief, or of unbelief, in us which determines whether we sit as humble learners of what Christ has taught, or as judges of what Christ should have taught. I have been told by some, who even professed themselves Christians, it does not matter much whether we ever receive the Sacrament or not. Does it not matter? It is impossible that Christ’s wishes, that Christ’s commands, should be of no consequence. If ever this spirit of unbelief assails any of you, put it quickly from you as a suggestion of the devil. And if the saying is too hard for you, pray earnestly to God to give you faith to grasp it. And even if your faith be feeble, do not therefore forsake this Heavenly Feast, but come and partake of it, praying for further grace and enlightenment. We are not to wait till we fancy our faith is matured to obey Christ’s commands. We are to obey, that our faith may be strengthened and made perfect.
II. His yielding to evil.—This history of Judas teaches us also to be constantly on our guard against the first suggestions of evil. Sin entered into his heart, at first, perhaps, but half-suspected by himself, and then, gradually increasing in strength, and adding to itself fresh sins, ended in the destruction both of his body and his soul. These first suggestions are very dangerous. They are so very subtle, so apparently unimportant and trivial, that we hardly deem it worth our while to notice them. Yet they are, as the saying is, ‘the thin edge of the wedge,’ which at first slightly gashes the heart and then opens a wide cleft which separates us from God and His Christ. Oh! mark well these first suggestions, these first thoughts, these first, trivial as they seem, words and deeds of sin. Satan is as cunning now as when he tempted Judas. All great sins have small beginnings. Judas commenced by doubting our Lord, and ended by betraying him.
Rev. C. Marriott.
‘The frequency of our Lord’s warnings and hints addressed to Judas Iscariot is very remarkable. Rollock observes what an awful proof it is of the hardness of the heart that a man so warned should not be conscience-stricken and repent.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 6". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany