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evening come to their Master, in a care of their repast and discharge. “This is a desert place, and the time is now past : send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves victuals. How well it becomes even spiritual guides to regard the bodily necessities of God's people! This is not directly in our charge, neither may we leave our sacred ministrations to serve tables. But yet as the bodily father must take care for the soul of his charge, so must the spiritual have respect to the body. This is all that the world commonly looks after, measuring their pastors more by their dishes than by their doctrine or conversation, as if they had the charge of their bellies, not of their souls: if they have open cellars, it matters not whether their mouths be open. If they be sociable in their carriage, favourable and indulgent in their recreations, full in their cheer, how easily doth the world dispense with either their neg. ligence or enormities! as if the souls of these men lay in their weasand, in their gut. But surely they have reason to expect from their teachers a due proportion of hospitality. An unmeet parsimony is not here more odious than sinful: and where ability wants, yet care may not be wanting. Those preachers, which are so intent upon their spiritual work, that in the mean time they overstrain the weaknesses of their people, holding them in their devotions longer than human frailty will permit, forget not themselves more than their pattern; and must be sent to school to these compassionate disciples, who, when evening was come, sue to Christ for the people's dismission.
The place was desert, the time evening. Doubtless, our Saviour made choice of both these, that there might be both more use, and more note of his miracle. Had it been in the morning, their stomach had not been up, their feeding had been unnecessary. Had it been in the village, provision either might have been made, or at least would have seemed made by themselves. But now, that it was both desert and
evening, there was good ground for the disciples to move, and for Christ to work their sustentation. Then only may we expect, and crave help from God, when we find our need. Superfluous aid can neither be heartily desired, nor earnestly looked for, nor thankfully received from the hands of mercy. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee." If it be not a burden, it is no casting it upon God. Hence it is, that divine aid comes ever in the very upshot and exigence of our trials, when we have been exercised, and almost tired with long hopes; yea with despairs of success; that it may be both more longed for ere it come, and when it comes, more welcome.
Oh the faith and zeal of these clients of Christ! they not only follow him from the city into the desert, from delicacy to want, from frequence to solitude, but forgot their bodies in pursuit of the food of their souls.
Nothing is more hard for a healthful man to forget than his belly ; within few hours this will be sure to solicit him, and will take no denials. Yet such sweetness did these hearers find in the spiritual repast, that they thought not on the bodily; the disciples pitied them, they had no mercy on themselves. By how much more a man's mind is taken up with heavenly things, so much less shall he care for earthly. What shall earth be to us, when we are all spirit ? and in the mean time, according to the degrees of our intellectual elevations, shall be our neglect of bodily contentments.
The disciples think they move well : “Send them away that they may buy victuals." Here was a strong charity, but a weak faith ; a strong charity, in that they would have the people relieved; a weak faith, in that they supposed they could not otherwise be so well relieved. As a man who, when he sees many ways lay before him, takes that which he thinks both fairest and nearest; so do they: this way of relief lay openest to their view, and promised most. Well
might they have thought, it is as easy for our Master to feed them, as to heal them; there is an equal facility in all things to a supernatural power : yet they say, “Send them away.” In all our projects and suits we are still ready to move for that which is most obvious, most likely, when sometimes that is less agreeable to the will of God.
The All-wise and Almighty Arbiter of all things hath a thousand secret means to honour himself, in his proceedings with us. It is not for us to carve boldly for ourselves; but we must humbly depend on the disposal of his wisdom and mercy.
Our Saviour's answer gives a strange check to their motion ; “They need not depart.” Not need! They had no victuals; they must have; there was none to be had. What more need could be? He knew the supply which he intended, though they knew it not. His command was therefore more strange than his assertion, "Give ye them to eat.” Nothing gives what it hath not. Had they had victuals, they had not called for a dismission, and not having, how should they give? It was thy wisdom, O Saviour, thus to prepare thy disciples for the intended miracle: thou wouldst not do it abruptly, without an intimation both of the purpose of it, and the necessity. And how modestly dost thou undertake it, without noise, without ostentation! I hear thee not say, I will give them to eat; but, “Give ye:" as if it should be their act, not thine. Thus sometimes it pleaseth thee to require of us what we are not able to perform ; either that thou mayest show us what we cannot do, and so humble us, or that thou mayest erect us to a dependence upon thee, which canst do it for us. As when the mother bids the infant come to her, which hath not yet the steady use of his legs, it is that he may cling the faster to her hand or coat for supportation.
Thou bidst us, impotent wretches, to keep the royal law! Alas! what can we sinners do ? there is not one letter of those thy ten words that we are able to keep. This charge of thine intends to show us not our strength, but our weakness. Thus thou wouldst turn our eyes both back to what we might have done, to what we could have done; and upwards to thee in whom we have done it, in whom we can do it. He wrongs thy goodness and justice that misconstrues these thy commands, as if they were of the same nature with those of the Egyptian taskmasters, requiring the brick, and not giving the straw. But in bidding us do what we cannot, thou enablest us to do what thou biddest. Thy precepts, under the gospel, have not only an intimation of our duty, but an habilitation of thy power: as here, when thou badest the disciples to give to the multitude, thou meantest to supply unto them what thou commandedst to give.
Our Saviour hath what he would, an acknowledgment of their insufficiency: “We have here but five loaves and two fishes.” A poor provision for the family of the Lord of the whole earth. Five loaves, and those barley; two fishes, and those little ones. We well know, O Saviour, that the beasts were thine on a thousand mountains, all the corn thine that covered the whole surface of the earth, all the fowls of the air thine: it was thou that providedst those drifts of quails that fell among the tents of thy rebellious Israelites, that rainedst down those showers of manna round about their camp: and dost thou take up, for thyself and thy household, with "five barley loaves, and two little fishes ?" Certainly this was thy will, not thy need, to teach us, that this body must be fed, not pampered. Our belly may not be our master, much less our god ; or if it be, the next word is, “whose glory is their shame, whose end damnation.” It is noted as the crime of the rich glutton, that “he fared deliciously every day.” I never find that Christ entertained any guests but twice, and that was only with loaves and fishes. I find him sometimes feasted by others more liberally. But his domestical fare, how simple, how homely is it! The end of food is to sustain nature. Meat was ordained for the belly, the belly for the body, the body for the soul, the soul for God; we must still look through the subordinate ends to the highest. To rest in the pleasure of the meat is for those creatures which have no souls. Oh the extreme delicacy of these times! What conquisition is here of all sorts of curious dishes from the furthest seas and lands, to make up one hour's meal! what broken cookery! what devised mixtures ! what nice sauces! what feasting, not of the taste only, but of the scent! Are we the disciples of Him that took up with the loaves and fishes, or the scholars of a Philoxenus, or an Apitius, or Vitellius, or those other monsters of the palate ? the true sons of those first parents that killed themselves with their teeth.
Neither was the quality of these victuals more coarse than the quantity small
. They make a "But” of five loaves and two fishes, and well might, in respect of so many thousand mouths.
thousand mouths. A little food to a hungry stomach doth rather stir up an appetite than satisfy it: as a little rain upon a droughty soil doth rather help to scorch it than refresh it. When we look with the eye of sense or reason upon any object, we shall see an impossibility of those effects which faith can easily apprehend, and divine power more easily produce. Carnal minds are ready to measure all our hopes by human possibilities, and when they fail, to despair of success; where true faith measures them by divine power, and therefore can never be disheartened. This grace is for things not seen, and whether beyond hope, or against it.
The virtue is not in the means, but in the agent; “Bring them hither to me.” How much more easy had it been for our Saviour to fetch the loaves to him, than to multiply them! The hands of the disciples shall bring them, that they might more fully witness both the author, and manner of the instant miracle. Had the loaves and fishes been multiplied without this bringing, perhaps they might have seemed