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God of nature exercising his divine prerogative, in ministering to the necessities, while he checks the pride and presumption of man.
The miracles of our blessed Lord which have hitherto passed in review, had a more limited object. Their design was to relieve individual, or domestic distress; they were an appeal, public indeed, to the understanding and senses of all who witnessed them, but slightly flelt, imperfectly understood, and little improved, except by the parties more immediately interested in them. They were granted to importunity, and as a reward to the prayer of faith. That which is the subject of the passage now read, embraces a much wider range than any of these, and is the spontaneous effusion of his own divine benevolence and compassion. Ten thousand persons, at a moderate calculation, were at once the witnesses and the subjects of the miracle, and in a case wherein it was impossible they should be mistaken, for they had every sense, every faculty exercised in ascertaining the truth. And here he waits not, as in other cases, till the cry of misery reaches his ear, but advances to meet it, to prevent it; he outruns expectation, and has a supply in readiness, before the pressure of want is felt.
The duration of Christ's public ministry, from his baptism to his passion, has been calculated from the number of passovers which he frequented. This, as may be supposed, has occasioned considerable variety of opinion. The attentive reader will probably adopt that of our illustrious countryman, Sir Isaac Newton, who reckons five of these annual festivals within the period. The first, that recorded in the 2d chapter of St. John's Gospel, at which he purged the temple, predicted his own death and resurrection, and performed sundry miracles. The second, according to that great chronologist, took place a few months after our Lord's conversation with the woman of Samaria, which he founds on that text, John iv. 35. “Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest ? behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields ; for they are white already to harvest." The third, a few days prior to the Sabbath on which the disciples walked out into the fields, and plucked the ears of corn, when he cured the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda. The fourth, that which was now approaching at the era of This miracle; and the fifth, that at which he suffered. The people were now therefore flocking from all parts of Galilee, on their way to Jerusalem to keep the passover : and this accounts for the very extraordinary number who at this time attended his preaching and miracles.
“After these things," says John. The other three Evangelists connect this scene, in ress of time, with a most memorable event in the history of Christianity, the decapitation of John Baptist in the prison. When these melancholy tidings were told to Jesus, Matthew informs us, that "he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof they followed him on foot out of the cities. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick ;" and then immediately follows the miracle of feeding the multitude, recorded with exactly the same circumstances in all the four Evangelists. Mark affixes an additional date. It was at the time when the disciples returned from the execution of their first commission, with an account of their success: " And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.” On this Jesus proposed a temporary retirement from the public eye, for the conveniency of private conversation, of repose, and of the necessary refreshment of the body: " And he said unto them, come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest á while : for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately ;” and this, as before, prepared for the miracle
of the loaves and fishes. The selfsame circumstances are minutely parrated in Luke's gospel. These mark the precise epoch when Christ went over the sea of Galilee, and retired with the twelve to a mountain in the desert of Bethsaida. But though he went by water, to escape for a season the multitudes which thronged after him, the place of his destination is discovered, and thousands, filled with impatience, admiration, gratitude, hope, outstrip the speed of the vessel, by a circuitous journey along the shore of the lake. Their motives were various. The powerful principle of curiosity attracted many. A thirst of the word of life impelled others. “A great multitude followed him, because they saw the miracles which he did on them that were diseased,” and many had ihemselves "peed of healing." An affecting view is exhibited of Christ's benevolent character. As from the elevation of the mountain he beheld the people pressing forward by thousands to the spot where he was, all thoughts of food, of rest, of accommodation lost in an appetite more dignified and pure, his bowels melted : "And Jesús, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd : and he began to teach them many things.” The sight of a great assembly of men, women and children must ever create a lively interest in every bosom alive to the feelings of humanity. The view of his mighty host melted Xerxes into tears, merely from reflection on their natural mortality. What then are the “ bowels and mercies” of the compassionate friend of mankind, on surveying innumerable myriads ready to perish everlastingly for lack of knowledge, dying in their sins! He feels even for their bodily wants, which, in the ardour of their spirits, they seem to have themselves forgotten, and a supply is provided before the cravings of nature have found out that it was necessary. And thus a gracious Providence, in things both temporal and spiritual, outruns not only the supplications of the miserable, but their very hopes and desires.
“ The day began to wear away,” they were in a desert place, the multitude was prodigiously increased, they had fasted long, no provision of either victuals or lodging had been made, and the adjacent villages promised but a slender accommodation of either, even had there been money to purchase them. A case of truly aggravated distress! The forethought and sympathy of the disciples went no farther than to suggest the propriety of an immediate dismission of the assembly, while sufficient light remained to procure what was needful for exhausted nature. " When the day began to wear away then came the twelve, and said unto him, send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place.” But their gracious Master looked much farther, and felt more tenderly. He addresses himself particularly to Philip, who was of the city of Bethsaida, and might be supposed to know the state of the country, and how much it could produce in an emergency of this kind, on the supposition that their stock of money was equal to the demand: “he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” Why the appeal was personally made to Philip, may be accounted for from some peculiarity in that disciple's character. He
appears to have been one of those who slowly, suspiciously, reluctantly admitted the evidence of their Master's divine niission ; for we find him, long after this, discovering a diffident, scrupulous, incredulous disposition; and his kind Master administering a just and seasonable rebuke: “Philip saith unto him, Lórd, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you and yet hast thou not known me, Philip ? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father ; and how sayest thou, then, shew us the Father ?" Thus was it needful that the witnesses of the truth to others should have their own doubts completely removed. And thus, He, who knew what was in man, will bring out
of the man himself what is in him; not with the insidious design of deceiving and exposing him, as men often act by each other, but of making him feel his own weight; of enabling him to form a just estimate of his wisdom and strength; of affording him a fresh and irresistible proof of his Master's supreme power, and divine intelligence. “This he said to prove him : for he knew what he would do."
We have here a most sublime representation of the Redeemer's forek powledge of the natural reasonings of the human mind, and of the existence and effect of second causes.
That a thousand persons, of as many different inclinations, pursuing as many different interests, with as many different capacities, should be brought to one point, should cooperate in promoting the same purpose, should, unknown to each other, involuntarily enter into exactly one and the same pursuit, is not to be explained on the common principles of human sagacity, and can proceed only " from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.". Philip immediately has recourse to arithmetical calculation ; he estimates the multitude at so many, he examines into the state of their finances, and finds them deplorably deficient : “two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.” No, the difficulty was not to be thus resolved. Neither was the matter much mended to human apprehension, when Andrew, Simon's brother, brought information that there was a lad present who had five barley loaves and two small fishes to dispose of. He himself sets no great store by his intelligence; a single loaf to a thousand men appeared to him a mere nothing, an aggravation rather than an alleviation of the distress : “ but what,” says he despondingly, “are they among so
The case is thus brought to an extreme point. Five thousand men, beside a multitude of women and children, probably to an equal, if not a greater pumber, feel the pressure of hunger, and of no one of our natural appetites are we more acutely sepsible than of this; every one of this myriad, therefore, down to the youngest child, was a distinct and a competent witness upon the occasion, of the individual and of the general calamity, and of the total want of an adequate supply. Providence thus frequently permits things to come to the very verge of woe, that man may feel his own weakness and insufficiency, feel his entire dependence, and learn to acknowledge and to adore the seasonable interposition of heaven; that God may be seen as refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble." * As if every preparation of human sagacity had been made, Jesus, with dignified composure, commands, saying, “ Make the men sit down." The attention and sympathy of Christ are observable in minute circumstances. His guests had passed a day of uncommon fatigue ; they were now overtaken with two great infirmities, want of food and want of rest. A standing meal, weary as they were, would have been an unspeakable benefit; or to have stretched out their exhausted limbs to repose, even with a slender provision, for “ the sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much." He who careth for oxen, who feedeth the raven, who sustaineth the sparrow on the wing," shall he not much more” hear the cry of human wretchedness? Both the precious gifts of bread and rest are bestowed at once, and both unhoped for, both unasked. “ Make the men sit down :" and it is remarked, “ Now there was much grass in the place.” What a delicious assemblage of natural and interesting beauties! Ii was the still evening of a day in spring ; the fragrant fertile earth had spread an ample carpet, at once delightful to be bold, pleasant to the smell, and softened to the pressure of the faint. Twenty thousand eyes are turned in silent expectation to their common friend and benefactor. The very order of their arrangement embellishes the scene, and the subdivisions and straight lines of art set off the majestic irregularity of
nature : a hundred rows of fifty men each. What, compared to this, was the royal “feast whieh the king Ahasuerus made unto all his princes, and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces !" What, compared to this, was the great, but impious feast, which “Belshazzar the king made to a thousand of his lords !” These noisy and profane revels were quickly disturbed, and issued in sorrow. What a different spectacle did the mountain in the desert of Bethsaida present ! All is calmness and harmony, all is peace and joy. The great Master of the feast surveys his vast family with complacency and delight! they behold in him their condescending teacher, their merciful physician, their liberal provider, their almighty Lord, in whom all fulness was pleased to dwell.
" And Jesus took the loaves." He miraculously supported his own body for forty days in the wilderness, without eating or drinking; and the same divine power could undoubtedly have refreshed and sustained this great multitude, for a night, without bread, as easily as by a supernatural multiplication of it. But this would have been less sensible and convincing; and natural vigour of constitution might have been supposed equal to the load. In the method of relief which our Lord was pleased to employ, every man had the witness withio bimself, and could bear a clear testimony concerning all around him, that not the powers of nature, but the God of grace had ministered to their common necessities. "And, when he had given thanks :" Two different words are employed by the Evangelists to describe this action of our Saviour. The first three say, “ he blessed” the loaves, pronounced upon them a solemn and powerful benediction, in virtue of which they became prolific, and multiplied far beyond the extent of the demand. Our Evangelist represents him as giving thanks," ascribing to God his heavenly Father the glory of every gift of an indulgent Providence, whether bestowed in the order of natural increase, or produced by an extraordinary interposition. The form of words, employed by Christ on this occasion, most probably blended both ideas, as indeed they cannot be easily separated. To give thanks for what God has given is a devout acknowledgement of dependance upon him, a tacit expression of hope in his goodness for the time to come, and the most likely means of increasing our store. He acted as the great pattern of his disciples, teaching them in difficulty to look up to heaven for direction and assistance, to improve the blessings of Providence by referring them to their great Author, and to cast every future care on him who hath helped hitherto. Man cannot pronounce a benediction capable of communicating efficacious virtue, but, what is equivalent to it, he can “in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let his requests be made known unto Gods" and time employed in devotion is not loss, but unspeakably great gain.
“Jle distributed to the disciples and the disciples to them that were set down : and likewise of the fishes as much as they would." The fare was ordinary, barley bread and dried fish. “ The full soul loatheth an honey-comb; but to the hungry every bitter thing is sweet." Mark, the quality of the food is not changed, the quantity only is increased, for the object of the miracle was not to pamper luxury, but to satisfy hunger. The disciples had nothing to give but what they first received. And what must have been their astonishment, their satisfaction, as they walked from rank to rank, to behold the food not diminish, but multiply to the mouth of the eater! No murmuring could arise on account of a partial distribution, for all had enough and to spare. No doubt could arise respecting the fountain of supply, for every ear heard the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; every eye beheld his face lifted up to heaven, and his hands extended to diffuse plenty. The body and the mind were refreshed together, with food convenient for them. Thus seasonable, thus suitable, thus satisfying are the good and perfect gifts which
come down immediately from the Father of lights. The selfsame miracle, my friends, is repeated day by day, through a different process, and we observe it not, we feel it not. An unseen hand “ causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man:"it" bringeth forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart." " that man would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men !"
“When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” There is a criminal forethought about to-morrow which the Gospel condemos, because it implies distrust of the care, wisdom and goodness of Providence, and because it mars the enjoyment, and encroaches upon the duties of tu-day. But there is likewise a prudent and pious forethought, which both reason and religion highly approve and powerfully recommend, because it is the cooperation of human sagacity with the benignity of Providence; and the happiest and most honourable condition of man is exertion, as if no supernatural and were to be expected, and reliance on God, as if human efforts amounted to nothing. “Gather up the fragments;" was the command of him who had the power of multiplying without end, but who would lay himself under no obligation to exert a miraculous energy to repair the profusion, or supply the negligence of thoughtless man. What occasions the present dearth of every necessary of life? Not the upkindness of heaven, for the earth has yielded her increase, and our garners are full; but cruel oppression on the one hand, and abominable waste on the other. The precious fruits of the ground are, contrary to nature, hoarded up in expectation of glutting avarice with a higher return, till they corrupt ; or they are vilely cast away by the minions of opulence and grandeur, who care 11ot what they destroy, because the master's fortune is able to support the expenditure. It is one, and not the least of the evils of war, that of the provision necessary to the maintenance of fleets and armies, one half at least goes to loss, through dishonesty, carelessness, and wilful prodigality. This profusion is often found in company with a hard and stony heart. It appears to have constituted great part of the criminality of the rich man in the Gospel. He “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." But this was not in itself sinful, nor is it charged upon him as guilt. The offal of his table was not wisely used. While detestable luxury reigned within doors, the cry of misery at the gate was disregarded. The beggar Lazarus desired, but desired in vain, “to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table.” It is in cvery man's power to reduce the price of. provisions. Let him purchase no more than what is needful, and let him be careful to look after the fragments which remain. The opulent man is res ponsible for the inhumanity, the extravagance, the criminal neglect of his domestics, and to no purpose does he exclaim against the rapacity of combinations to engross and enhance, while he is fostering the mischief by the wretched economy
of his own household. Let nothing be lost" is the economy of nature, the maxim of true wisdom, and a precept of Christianity.
“ Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them. that had eaten. Thus the miracle was complete : ample provision was made for the moment, and a lesson of prudence given for all generations. The bodies of thousands were refreshed by homely but wholesome food, and the sacred impress of divine truth was applied to the human heart. Thus transitory things are rendered permanent, and provision made for supporting the body is converted into food for the immortal soul.
The conviction produced was perfectly natural, and it operated uniformly