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to have come by the secret provision of the guests; now there can be no question either of the act, or of the agent. As God takes pleasure in doing wonders for men, so he loves to be acknowledged in the great works that he doth. He hath no reason to part with his own glory, that is too precious for him to lose, or for his creature to embezzle. And how justly didst thou, O Saviour, in this mean to teach thy disciples, that it was thou only who feedest the world, and upon whom both themselves and all their fellowcreatures must depend for their nourishment and provision; and that if it came not through thy hands, it could not come to theirs.
There need no more words. I do not hear the disciples stand upon the terms of their own necessity; Alas! sir, it is too little for ourselves, whence shall we then relieve our own hunger? give leave to our charity to begin at home. But they willingly yield to the command of their Master, and put themselves upon his providence for the sequel. When we have a charge from God, it is not for us to stand upon selfrespects; in this case there is no such sure liberty, as in a self-contempt. O God, when thou callest to us for our five loaves, we must forget our own interest; otherwise, if we be more thrifty than obedient, our good turns evil; and much better had it been for us to have wanted that which we withhold from the
He that is the Master of the feast marshals the guests; "He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass." They obey, and expect. Oh marvellous faith! so many thousands sit down, and address themselves to a meal, when they saw nothing but five poor barley loaves, and two small fishes. None of them say, Sit down to what? here are the mouths, but where is the meat? we can soon be set, but whence shall we be served? ere we draw our knives, let us see our cheer. But they meekly and obediently dispose themselves to their places, and look up to Christ
for a miraculous purveyance. It is for all, that would be Christ's followers, to lead the life of faith; and, even where means appear not, to wait upon that merciful hand. Nothing is more easy than to trust God when our barns and coffers are full; and to say, "Give us our daily bread," when we have it in our cupboard. But when we have nothing, when we know not how or whence to get any thing, then to depend upon an invisible bounty, this is a true and noble act of faith. To cast away our own, that we may immediately live upon divine providence, I know no warrant. But when the necessity is of God's making, we see our refuge: and happy are we, if our confidence can fly to it, and rest in it. Yea, fulness should be a curse, if it should debar us from this dependence: at our best, we must look up to this great householder of the world, and cannot but need his provision. If we have meat, perhaps not appetite; if appetite, it may be not digestion; or, if that, not health and freedom from pain; or, if that, perhaps from other occurrents, not life.
The guests are set full of expectation. He that could have multiplied the bread in absence, in silence takes it and blesses it; that he might at once show them the Author and the means of this increase. It is thy blessing, O God, that maketh rich. What a difference do we see in men's estates! some languish under great means, and enjoy not either their substance or themselves; others are cheerful and happy in a little. Second causes may not be denied their work; but the overruling power is above. The subordinateness of the creature doth not take away from the right, from the thank of the first mover.
He could as well have multiplied the loaves whole; why would he rather do it in the breaking? was it to teach us that in the distribution of our goods we should expect his blessing, not in their entireness and reservation? "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth," saith Solomon; yea, there is no man but
increaseth by scattering. It is the grain thrown into the several furrows of the earth, which yields the rich interest unto the husbandman: that which is tied up in his sack, or heaped in his granary, decreaseth by keeping. "He that soweth liberally shall reap liberally."
Away with our weak distrust! If wealth came by us, giving were the way to want: now that God gives to the giver, nothing can so sure enrich us as our beneficence. He multiplied the bread, not to keep, but to give; "He gave it to the disciples." And why not rather by his own hand to the multitude, that so the miracle and thank might have been more immediate? Wherefore was this, O Saviour, but that thou mightest win respect to thy disciples from the people? as great princes, when they would ingratiate a favourite, pass no suits but through his hands. What an honour was this to thy servants, that as thou wert Mediator betwixt thy Father and man, so thou wouldst have them, in some beneficial occasion, mediate betwixt men and thee! how fit a type is this of thy spiritual provision, that thou, who couldst have fed the world by thine immediate word, wouldst by the hands of thy ministers divide the bread of life to all hearers! like as it was with the law; well did the Israelites see and hear that thou couldst deliver that dreadful message with thine own mouth, yet in favour of their weakness, thou wouldst treat with them by a Moses. Use of means derogates nothing from the efficacy of the principal agent, yea, adds to it. It is a strange weakness of our spiritual eyes, if we can look but to the next hand. How absurd had these guests been, if they had termined the thanks in the servitors, and had said, We have it from you; whence ye had it is no part of our care: we owe this favour to you; if you owe it to your master, acknowledge your obligations to him, as we do unto you. But since they well knew that the disciples might have handled this bread long enough ere any such effect could have
followed, they easily find to whom they are beholden. Our Christian wisdom must teach us, whosoever be the means, to reserve our main thanks for the Author of our good.
He gave the bread then to his disciples, not to eat, not to keep, but to distribute. It was not their particular benefit he regarded in this gift, but the good of many.
In every feast each servitor takes up his dish, not to carry it aside into a corner for his own private repast, but to set it before the guests, for the honour of his master; when they have done, his cheer begins. What shall we say to those injurious waiters, who fatten themselves with those concealed messes which are meant to others? their table is made their snare, and these stolen morsels cannot but end in bitterness.
Accordingly the disciples set this fare before the guests. I do not see so much as Judas reserve a share to himself, whether out of hunger or distrust. Had not our Saviour commanded so free a distribution, their self-love would easily have taught them where to begin. Nature says, First thyself, then thy friends either extremity or particular charge gives grace occasion to alter the case. Far be it from us to think we have any claim in that which the owner gives us merely to bestow.
I know not now whether more to wonder at the miraculous eating or the miraculous leaving. Here were a whole host of guests, five thousand men ; and, in all likelihood, no fewer women and children. Perhaps some of these only looked on: nay, "They did all eat." Perhaps every man a crumb, or a bit: nay, they did eat to satiety; "All were satisfied." So many must needs make clean work; of so little there could be left nothing. Yea, there were fragments remaining. Perhaps some crumbs or crusts, hardly to be discerned, much less gathered: nay, "Twelve baskets full;" more remained than was first set down.
Had they eaten nothing, it was a just miracle that so much should be left; had nothing remained, it was no less miracle that so many had eaten, and so many satisfied; but now that so many bellies and so many baskets were filled, the miracle was doubled. Oh work of a boundless Omnipotency! Whether this were done by creation or by conversion, uses to be questioned, but needs not; while Christ multiplies the bread, it is not for us to multiply his miracles. To make aught of nothing, is more than to add much unto something. It was therefore rather by turning of a former matter into these substances than by making these substances of nothing.
Howsoever here is a marvellous provision made, a marvellous bounty of that provision, a no less marvellous extent of that bounty.
Those that depend upon God, and busy themselves in his work, shall not want a due purveyance in the very desert. Our strait and confined beneficence reaches so far as to provide for our own: those of our domestics which labour in our service do but justly expect and challenge their diet; whereas day-labourers are ofttimes at their own finding. How much more will that God, who is infinite in mercy and power, take order for the livelihood of those that attend him! We see the birds of the air provided for by him; how rarely have we found any of them dead of hunger! yet what do they, but what they are carried unto by natural instinct? how much more where, besides propriety, there is a rational and willing service! Shall the Israelites be fed with manna, Elijah by the ravens, the widow by her multiplied meal and oil, Christ's clients in the wilderness with loaves and fishes? O God, while thou dost thus promerit us by thy Providence, let us not wrong thee by distrust.
God's undertakings cannot but be exquisite; those whom he professes to feed must needs have enough. The measure of his bounty cannot but run over. Doth