Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A THOUGHTLESS CROWD. Five thousand men have allowed themselves to be gathered together in a desert place, not very far indeed from places of habitation and nourishment, and yet far enough to cause faintness and famishing before they can reach them. They seem to have drifted into this position without any thought beforehand. The only sufficiently wise person among them was a bit of a lad who had five loaves and two small fishes with him. Yet these men must not be hastily reckoned fools as the world counts fools. It is easy to be wise after the event. It was the easiest thing in the world for this crowd to get into this helpless state. For:
1. It was a crowd. Not an army, not a disciplined band; it had no leader. The men composing this crowd never supposed when they started off that five thousand of them were going to be in a desert place together.
2. The most thoughtful of people cannot be thoughtful about everything. The most thoughtful of people may also be the most thoughtless. Even while this crowd was going blindly in the track of the great Wonder-worker, many of them would have hearts filled with anxiety because of their private affairs, Not all our thinking and pondering, not all our inquiring and superintending, will keep us out of sore perplexities. We may be in the daily habit of weighing and measuring the needs of life, and yet some day, all at; once, there may start up a need the possibility of which we were not able to guess.
II. A THOUGHTFUL JESUS. Jesus himself seems to have been the first to suggest the impending difficulty and danger. He always sees whither the actions of men are tending, and what complications and difficulties they are all unconsciously bringing about. Jesus himself is thoughtful concerning us, even when we are without thought, and without fear or suspicion that there is anything to think about. It is the business of Jesus, so to speak, to be thoughtful forevery one of us. This world is a sinful world, a suffering world, where thousands are ever on the brink of desperation, forced onwards, as it seems, with no choice but ruin and misery. Happily it is also a world constantly thought of by a higher wisdom and power than are to be found anywhere among us. Jesus knows that sooner or later every child of man will have to accept his ministry. Not a day but many are waking up to a want more pressing and terrible than any the body can feel, and Jesus is ready for the waking up. He thinks concerning all of us all the time.
III. A PERPLEXED COMPANION. Jesus will not only be a Benefactor to the hungry multitude, he will also be a Teacher to the disciples. They had to be taught concerning difficulties where they themselves could give no effectual help. It belongs to humanity that men should ever and again be driven into a corner where neither can they help themselves, nor can any other help them by the ordinary channels of human endeavour and ability. As we come face to face with human want and woe, we must be deeply, humblingly impressed with our natural inability before we can enter into all the strength of spiritual ability.
IV. A PROVIDING JESUS. He knew what he would do. Of course he did. We also can be thoughtful in our way. But, alas! the more we think the less we are able to do; the more we see to be done, and the more we see our own inability to do it. It is the glory of Jesus that he is at once the most sympathizing of all who observe human need, and the most able to help it. With him pity and providence go together. He is never tied to our ways of working. He is never taken by surprise. He is never overtaxed by the number of needy ones. He who fed five thousand could just as easily have fed five millions. He can be prompt, and yet neither strain nor hurry. He gives his own calmness and confidence to his servants. They know that his resources are theirs. Note, too, the responsibility that came on every one of these five thousand, because of his share in what was provided. - Y.
I. THE PROOF OF THE ABUNDANCE. There are distributions where the quantity is so limited that each has far short of what he could manage. The point of the miracle lies in this, that each had not merely something, but enough. And the proof that each had enough lies in this, that fragments were all strewn about.
II. THE EVIDENCE THAT THIS MODE OF SUPPLY MUST BE ONLY VERY OCCASIONAL. What comes easily is lightly valued. Though the people had got a meal in this marvellous way, they were not very thoughtful about the marvel. They ate on till they had enough, and then flung the residue away. Not every one would be so thoughtless, but a great many must have been, else whence the twelve baskets full? Habitual beggars are wasteful and reckless livers. There is great wisdom in the ordinance whereby man has to work so hard for his bread. He learns that he has to make the very best of things he can. It is a pitiful confession to make; but most men are compelled into forethought through sheer necessity.
III. THE RESPECT WHICH OUGHT TO BE PAID TO BREAD. Lane, in his "Modern Egyptians," says of them that they show a great respect for bread as the staff of life, and on no account suffer the smallest portion of it to be wasted if they can avoid it. "I have often observed an Egyptian take up a small piece of bread which had by accident fallen into the street or road, and after putting it before his lips and forehead three times, place it on one side, in order that a dog might eat it rather than let it remain to be trodden underfoot." Consider the marvellous transmutation by which bread becomes flesh and blood. Make the very best of it, then. Remember how Jesus has taken it as the symbol of that spiritual sustaining force which is to be found in him. One would have expected these people each one to take his own remaining fragment as an interesting memento of the wonderful deed. Even if it had become hard as a stone it would still have been there to recall the mercy and power of Jesus on an occasion of great need.
IV. WE ARE REMINDED THAT THERE IS NO ULTIMATE WASTE IN THE UNIVERSE. Jesus will have us waste nothing. We may be sure, then, that he wastes nothing himself. A great deal of rain falls where it cannot freshen anything, but sooner or later it finds its work and does its mission. We must not measure utility by our power to see it. What are called waste products in many manufactures turn out even more valuable than the direct products. Things reckoned useless are experimented on, and so in due time their value is discovered. - Y.
1. A wonderful miracle. Five thousand fed.
2. A right conclusion. "This is the Messiah."
3. A wrong act. They would take him and make him King. Notice -
I. THE PROPOSAL OF THE MULTITUDE. "To make him King."
1. The proposal was sincere and enthusiastic. The multitude were full of the idea; it burned in their breasts, boiled in their thoughts, flashed in their countenances, and blazed in their words. They were entirely swayed by it, and ready at any moment to break out in an apparently irresistible action.
2. The proposal was popular. The vast multitude were united, and even the disciples were not exempt. They were naturally drawn to the vortex of the terrible whirlpool of the popular sentiment. And although these people were not representative men, still they were fired with the national idea, and attempted to carry out the national wish with regard to the Messiah.
3. It was thoroughly secular. They wished to make him King in opposition to all the kings of the earth, and especially to Caesar, and to deliver them as a nation from the hateful yoke of Rome. Thus the proposal was directly seditious, endangering their own safety as well as the safety of Christ in direct opposition to the great purpose of his life.
4. It was utterly selfish.
(1) They wanted to use him for their own purposes. Instead of surrendering themselves to him and to his teaching as the Messiah, they wished him to surrender himself to them, and to serve their low and personal purposes. They were not anxious to be drawn up to him, but to draw him down to them. They thought and acted under the inspiration of the loaves and fishes. They are not the first nor last to attempt to use Christ for personal and worldly purposes.
(2) They wished to compel him to this. They would make him King by force. If they succeeded they would really be kings, and he the subject of their selfish desires. When they would take him by force, they little thought of the counter force they had to contend with. This is not an exceptional conduct with regard to Christ, to make him King by force. How many honours are forced upon him which he declines!
(3) It was entirely mistaken. There is no regard paid to the Divinity and dignity of his Person, the nature of his office, or the great purpose of his life. They were doubtless sincere and enthusiastic, but their thoughts moved in a groove unspeakably lower than his. Little they thought that the honour they proposed would ill fit him; that the sceptre of the mightiest empire would ill become him who wielded the sceptre of creation; that the thrones of the Caesars would be infinitely too small and mean to contain him who occupied and filled the throne of the universe; that the most brilliant earthly crown would be a worthless toy to him who already wore a crown bedecked with stars and suns. To offer an earthly kingship to him was a mistake and an insult.
II. THE CONDUCT OF JESUS. It shows:
1. The unselfishness of his nature. Consider:
(1) The proposal was real. The multitude were unanimous. They represented the national idea with regard to the Messiah. They were terribly earnest, and determined to make him King at any cost, even by force.
(2) It was quite possible. It was not the wild idea of a few enthusiasts, but that of a vast crowd representing the sentiments of the nation. And if Jesus were to consent they would rally round him with enthusiasm untold, and with such a General would be soon victorious.
(3) From a human point of view it was very tempting. They wanted to make him King - the highest honour, power, and glory that people can confer on their fellow man. Think of his low position. A poor Carpenter, and the Son of a poor carpenter from Nazareth. Under the circumstances, who but Christ would not gladly accept such an offer? What was offered him in a mental vision, or perhaps by the personal presence of the prince of this world in the wilderness, was now offered him in a more practical manner by the multitude in another wilderness. But such was the unselfishness of his nature, that the worldly honour and royal dignity and glory involved in the proposal appealed in vain to him. They had no response from his nature but the old one, "Get ye behind me."
2. The spirituality of his mission.
(1) Spiritual in its nature. It would not blend with worldly objects, nor fall in with worldly schemes.
(2) Spiritual in its sphere. The mind, the spirit, the soul, and heart.
(3) Spiritual in its means and operations.
(4) Spiritual in its end. The spiritual life of man; the salvation of the human race; the liberty of the captives of sin. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Here is an illustration and a proof of it. He is offered an earthly kingdom. His ideas of power, honour, and glory were diametrically opposed to those of the world. They were purely spiritual.
3. The purity and strength of his character.
(1) His character was in perfect harmony with his mission. His mission was spiritual and his character was true. Strictly true to his mission and to itself; there was not a jarring note.
(2) His character was delicately sensitive to the presence of evil. Sensitive to its invisible promptings and motives. "He perceived that they would come," etc. He was sensitive to the very breath of worldly notions, human ambition, and petty pride.
(3) His character had a decided resisting force against evil ever, in its most insidious and apparently innocent forms. How insidious and apparently innocent was evil in this proposal of the multitude! Was it not kindness and gratitude? Yes, but it was radically against the nature of his mission and the purpose of his life, and he shrank from it as from a venomous reptile. It was one thing to resist the proposal of the devil when he barefacedly offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world with their glory, on the humiliating and vile condition of worshipping him; it was another thing to resist him in the apparently innocent proposal of the multitude to make him King. It is one thing to resist the evil one in the common and glaring vices of society; it is another to resist him in the garb of kindness and in the hosannas of gratitude. Jesus did this. He had a force of character stronger than the force with which he was threatened. He became poor of his own accord, but could not be made King by force. A child could win him. A poor blind man could stop him by crying for help, but a multitude could not make him King against his will. He was taken by force once, but not before he gave a proof that it was by permission. He gave himself up to a cross, but not to an earthly crown. He sacrificed his life, but would not sacrifice his principle, his integrity, his mission, and heavenly trust.
4. The wisdom of his conduct.
(1) He resisted the evil at its very beginning. "When he perceived," etc.; before it had gained too much strength, nipped it in the bud.
(2) Resisted it at once. "Straightway," according to Mark - without any hesitation.
(3) Resisted it in the best way. The disciples were sent away first, then the multitude. When the multitude saw the disciples depart, they lost hope and courage, he did not use extraordinary means when ordinary ones would suffice. The force of his character and wisdom were sufficient for this.
5. The devotion of his spirit. "He departed again," etc. We see:
(1) The manner of his devotion. Retirement, alone.
(2) The spiritual dependence of his nature. Independent of the crowd, but dependent on his Father. The multitudes were filled. He was hungry now for his Father's fellowship.
(3) The habit of his life. "He departed again," etc. It was not the first time nor the last. Prayer was the habit of his life.
(4) The secret of his power. His power was fed and nursed in secret fellowship with his Father. He went up the mountain to meet him, and came down with fresh inspiration and strength. If we want to do wonders down among men, we must retire and climb the mount to God.
1. When a multitude is inspired with wrong ideas and purposes, better disperse it. Thus did Jesus.
2. The best of teachers often find it difficult to gather people and keep them together. Jesus often found it difficult to send them away; they clung to him, and he had to take himself away from them.
3. When Divine and human .forces come into collision, the human ought and must give way.
4. If Christ deemed it wrong to take man and make him his subject by force, it is wrong for man, or any number of men, to attempt to make him King by force. Voluntariness is the principle of his kingdom.
5. It is better to be alone with a mountain than to be with a multitude, when it is entirely inspired with wrong and dangerous notions.
6. Much honour is attempted to be forced on Jesus against his expressed will. Such honour to him is dishonour, and will not have it. He withdraws from it.
7. The highest honour we can pay Jesus and ourselves is to make him King of our hearts and souls. "Enter in, thou blessed of the Lord." - B.T.
I. IT IS I WHO WATCH. Although the disciples did not know it, their Master was, from the neighbouring height, by the fitful moonbeams, watching the little vessel as she struggled with the tempest. He knew exactly how matters were with his friends, and, when he came down from the height, he knew where to find the storm-tossed boat. So does he ever watch his people's course over the waters of life, and with especial interest when that course is one of peril.
II. IT IS I WHO LINGER AND DELAY. Although Jesus knew the state of his disciples, he did not at once come to the rescue. He waited, perhaps to try their faith, and to make his interposition the more welcome. Often do Christ's people fancy that their Lord is careless of their state of anxiety, alarm, or danger. But they are mistaken. He has his own reasons for delay.
III. IT IS I WHO LOVE. Christ's kindness may not always show itself just in the way which would be acceptable to us. Yet his kindness shall not depart from his own; he has loved them with an everlasting love. If there is one time when, more than at another, his heart yearns over his beloved ones, that time is the season of affliction, calamity, and apprehension.
IV. IT IS I WHO COME. At the right moment Jesus drew near. The "voice of the Beloved" was heard above the storm, assuring the distressed disciples that he was near. And his very presence brought comfort and confidence to the heart. Christ comes to his needy and afflicted ones - those "tossed with tempest, and not comforted." His language is, "Fear not; I am with thee: be not dismayed; I am thy God."
V. IT IS I WHO SAVE. He is the Lord of nature, and all nature's powers are, like the storm, subject to his control He is the Friend of man, and every heart may be reached by his sympathy and cheered by his encouragement. He is the Son of God, and as such he can bring the souls he has redeemed from the depths of earthly danger and of fear into the calm of heavenly security and peace.
"If Thou wert less than One Divine,
I. A MANIFESTATION OF AN OUTWARDLY PROPER AND HOPEFUL CONDUCT. These people sought Jesus, and in doing so:
1. They strove to find the right Object - Jesus. Many seek unworthy, worthless, and injurious objects - objects unworthy of them and their efforts - the very thought of which is most debasing and morally dangerous; but these people seek the most worthy, valuable, and soul-benefiting Object it was possible for them to seek.
2. It was most important for them and for all to find him. So important it was, that Christ, at the expense of the greatest condescension and self-sacrifice, placed himself in their way so that they may know and truly find him. And to find him is to find "a Pearl of great price" - an eternal fortune which will make the soul really rich forever.
3. They strove to find him in the right way. They sought him. Christ, as well as all the blessings of his redemption, is to be found by seeking. "Seek, and ye shall find," is as applicable to him as to all the spiritual blessings of his kingdom.
4. In their seeking there is much that is commendable and worthy of imitation.
(1) There is much enthusiasm.
(2) Intelligent observation. They observed his movements and those of his disciples.
(3) Diligent search. They spared no trouble nor effort.
(4) Determined perseverance. While others had given up in despair, they persevered in spite of the conduct of others, of disappointment and difficulties. When they were convinced that he was on the other side, and that the sea was between them, this they bravely crossed.
(5) Ultimate success. They found him, their efforts were rewarded with success - they found him.
II. A REVELATION OF WRONG MOTIVES. "Ye seek me, not," etc. This revelation shows:
1. That Christ is perfectly acquainted with the real character of men. He not merely knows the outward actions, but also their inward springs, motives, and inspiration. He knew the character of these men better than they themselves. He cannot be deceived by any amount of outward show and profession; the inward man is open to him.
2. That much outward interest is often manifested in Christ from wrong and improper motives. "Ye seek me, not," etc. It was so in the case of these people.
(1) Their motives were utterly selfish. They sought him, not for his sake, but for their own; not on account of what he was in himself, as manifested in his mighty works, but on account of what he might be to them as experienced in the loaves. They sought not Jesus at all, but their own self-interest in the results of his miracles.
(2) Their motives were lamentably low. They were not merely selfish, but they were such as pertained to their lowest self. "Because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled." They sought him, not even from intellectual curiosity, but from selfish gratification; their inspiration in seeking him came not from the higher region of the heart and soul, but from the lower region of the appetites. They seem to have partly lost the national idea of the Messiah's kingship which they entertained on the previous day; they now wish to crown him as the King of human food.
(3) Their motives reveal the complete ascendancy of the animal and the dormancy of the spiritual in them. They seemed to have been entirely under the reign of their physical nature; the spiritual seems fast asleep. The body was all alive and loud in its demands and satisfaction, but the immortal soul uttered not a word about her existence, wants, and misery - not even in the presence of Jesus.
3. That much of the interest manifested in Jesus is inspired by wrong motives, although the greatest advantages are enjoyed to possess the right ones.
(1) These people had seen the mighty works of Jesus. They had seen the signs - not one, but many; they were performed before their very eyes. They had enjoyed their temporal benefits, and they possessed the required capacities to comprehend their meaning and mission.
(2) These signs were eminently adapted to furnish them with right motives in seeking Jesus. They most eloquently and convincingly proclaimed him to be a Divine Person; their Messiah, the Son of God, come on a special mission, not to feed their bodies but to save their souls; not to deliver from the Roman yoke, but from the yoke of sensuality and vice and spiritual death.
(3) But in spite of all this he is sought from low and wrong motives. "Ye seek me, not," etc. The fight and natural motives are ignored, and wrong and unworthy ones are adopted. The loaves are more valued than the Divine power which multiplied them; the streams are more valued than the fountain - the means than the end. The Divine miracles of Jesus are prostituted to gratify the lowest appetites; the powers of the world to come are prostituted to serve the low ends of this, and an attempt is made to make the King of souls the slave of human bodies.
4. That any amount of interest in Jesus, in the absence of right and proper motives, is quite worthless. A right motive alone can make an action morally and spiritually right, valuable, and acceptable. As such:
(1) It is worthless to the man himself. "Though I speak with," etc.
(2) It is worthless to Jesus. Nothing is valued by him but what proceeds from right motives and worthy considerations - considerations of our spiritual wants, and his willingness and power to satisfy them. Motives with Christ are the final test of character and attachment to him.
5. That Jesus reveals the wrong motives of men in relation to him in order to improve them. In some cases he seems to do this for the improvement of others; but in this ease, as well as generally, for the improvement of those he addressed.
(1) The revelation is made directly to them. "I say unto you," etc. Not to some one else. Christ was honest and straightforward, and told people their faults to their faces. He holds the looking glass of truth before the man, so that he may see his moral image. And it is a great help to improve a man to let him see himself.
(2) The revelation is made with solemn emphasis. "Verily, verily," etc. Indicating the absolute truth of the charge, and its paramount importance with regard to their destiny.
(3) The revelation is in a reforming spirit. It is firm and condemnatory, still is moderate - a simple and plain statement of facts; and its evident intention was to benefit, correct, and improve them, elevate their tastes and motives, raise them from the material to the spiritual, from body to the soul, and from the temporal to the eternal. "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the signs," etc. There you lost it. You must retrace your steps and look at me through the miracles, and not through your own low self-interest; through your spiritual nature, and not through your physical appetites. Then you will see that the spiritual wants of your souls are infinitely more important than those of your bodies, and that I am divinely sent to feed and save you.
1. That Jesus could not be deceived by popular demonstrations in his favour. And what would cheer religious teachers generally rather saddened him, for he could see the inward motives as well as the outward movements; he judged from within, and what a man was inwardly he was really to him. He found this wanting often, even when the outward was promising.
2. That Jesus, with regard to his followers, went in for quality rather than quantity. He invited all, and would welcome all with equal readiness and joy. But only the genuine he would receive and encourage; the ungenuine he would reject and reprove. He preferred a few real followers to a multitude of "loafers."
3. On the great day of revelation it will be found that the religion of many was based upon selfish and worldly considerations, and not upon genuine faith and love, and warm attachment to the Saviour.
4. Inasmuch as purity and spirituality of motives and intentions are so essential in relation to Christ and the salvation of our souls, we cannot be too careful in this direction, especially when we consider that worldliness and selfishness are our most besetting and insidious sins. They clandestinely entwine around our most sacred devotions and services, and appear often innocent and agreeable; but nothing can so efficiently separate from Christ. Hence the necessity of the prayer, Create in me a clean heart, etc. - B.T.
seek and to save that which was lost. And again and again in the course of his ministry he was sought by those whom he was seeking. There were periods of popularity when, from various motives, the multitudes resorted to the Prophet of Nazareth. Their seeking Jesus was emblematical of the conduct becoming in all men, when Christ comes nigh to them in the messages of his Word and the ordinances of his Church.
I. SEEKING JESUS IMPLIES NEEDING JESUS. Men do not seek what they do not want. The soul that is without Christ, and has a perception of its destitution and need, is urged to go in quest of him. Men may have health, luxury, wealth, learning, fame; yet if they are without him who is the Son of God, and who brings God near to man, they are strangers to the highest good which we are capable of partaking. If there be any spiritual awakening, then the actual need becomes a conscious want, and the pressure of spiritual indigence urges to undertake this spiritual quest and pilgrimage.
II. SEEKING JESUS IS PROMPTED BY PRIZING JESUS. He is the Treasure hidden in the field, he is the costly Pearl; they who recognize him as such are constrained to use every endeavour to make him their own. Since to find him is to find all spiritual blessings - forgiveness of sin, help for duty, fellowship with heaven, and life eternal - it is natural enough that those who understand and feel this should set a high value upon Christ, and should seek him with all their heart.
III. SEEKING JESUS IS CREDITING AND HONOURING JESUS. It is his wish to be sought, nay, it is his command that men should seek him. There is, therefore, no presumption in this attitude and action of the soul; it is just what the Lord himself expects and desires from us. He will neither hide himself from those who seek him, nor will he repel and dismiss them from his presence. For, in coming to him, they take him at his word, and render to him the honour which is his due.
IV. SEEKING JESUS INVOLVES TRUSTING AND LOVING JESUS. They who earnestly, patiently, persistently seek the Lord, are drawn to him growingly by the bonds of a Divine attraction. The closer they keep to him, the stronger grows their faith, the warmer grows their love.
V. SEEKING JESUS LEADS TO FINDING JESUS. His own word of assurance is ample warrant for this: "Seek, and ye shall find." Many good things may be sought with diligence, and by a lifelong search, and yet may be sought in vain. Of the best of all blessings this cannot be said. "Every one that seeketh findeth."
APPLICATION. Here is a picture of the action which is becoming to every one to whom the gospel comes. It is not enough to admire the character of Jesus and to approve his work. Our will, our active nature, must be engaged in the effort to attain and to enjoy him. And we have this promise to cheer us: "Seek, and ye shall find." - T.
I. AN ERROR REBUKED; i.e. the very common habit of living and working merely for the sake of the supply of bodily wants. Our Lord's words have sometimes been misunderstood. He could not have intended to reprove poor men for labouring hard in order to secure an honest living for themselves and their families. What was it, then, which he so gravely reprehended? It must have been the concentration of all human interest and effort upon the existence and comfort of the body, upon the securing an abundance of material good, upon the attainment of opulence and the enjoyment of luxury. Such a course of life may be termed an idolatry of the body and of this passing earthly life. How many there are who pursue with all the energy of their nature the so called "good things of this life," forgetful that these things are destined to perish and to pass away! To such the ancient admonition of the prophet is applicable, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?"
II. AN EFFORT ENJOINED; i.e. the earnest endeavour to obtain spiritual provision.
1. Our Lord here gives a very striking and just representation of himself. He is "the Bread of life." Knowledge of him, fellowship with him, feed, nourish, strengthen, and cheer the soul. To know his truth, to feel his love, to do his will, - this is an aim in life worthy of all pursuit, worthy of the nature with which the Creator has endowed us.
2. Our Lord reminds us that "labour" - strenuous and persevering exertion - is necessary in order that we may partake of Christ, and enjoy the advantages of his spiritual fellowship. No mere passive acceptance is sufficient. The spiritual nature comes to appropriate and enjoy the Divine Saviour, through sincere and constant effort, through the study of his character, through growth into his likeness, through devotion to his cause.
III. A MOTIVE PRESENTED; i.e. the assurance that this spiritual provision abideth unto eternal life. Earthly supplies can only satisfy bodily wants. The need and the provision are alike perishable and perishing. But the heavenly Bread is especially provided to feed the immortal soul; and they who eat of it shall never hunger, and shall never die. The living water springs up unto life eternal, and they who drink of this fountain shall never thirst. To the disappointed and the distressed such representations should bring comfort and inspiration. The witness of our Saviour to himself is worthy of all acceptation.
IV. A PROMISE GIVEN; i.e. that the Son of man will surely give, to all those who labour to attain it, the satisfying and imperishable food of heaven. If we were convinced of the excellence and the attractiveness of the Bread of God, we might still have no belief in its accessibility to man; and in this case they would be cruel who should dwell upon the advantages of a possession which could never be appropriated. But the very purpose of Christ's mission to earth, of his teaching and miracles, of his sufferings and death, was that he might give himself to the hungering heart of humanity. Never does he turn a deaf ear to those who believingly and humbly approach him with the entreaty, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." - T.
I. THE AIM OF WORK ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL. This work must be for much more than the getting of a living. Jesus sees us sweating, straining, worrying, all to support natural life; and yet this support will neither make natural life safe, nor will it stave off the decay of natural powers. The old man does not get out of bread what the young man does. Natural life is but a means to a life more precious still. We turn things upside down when we give the chief thought of life to the producing of daily bread. That is a thing we must, indeed, think about, but let it be in the right way. A joiner must think about the sharpening of his tools; if he lets them get blunt his work wilt soon come to grief. But suppose a joiner thinks so much about the sharpening of his tools as never to do anything but sharpen them; why, he will soon sharpen them out of existence altogether. He does enough when he keeps his tools sharp for their proper work. The natural exists for the spiritual. The earthly exists for the heavenly. Let there be the work that men can see, but alongside of it let there be work just as hard, just as steady, having for its aim the prosperous growth and maintenance of the life that men cannot see.
II. THERE CAN BE NO SUSTAINING OF SPIRITUAL LIFE WITHOUT WORK. This point cannot be dwelt upon too much. There is no danger of us forgetting that we must work for the perishable bread. The world is full, always has been full, of them that work with their hands. Civilization means work - hard, continuous work. But somehow, when we come to consider spiritual life and growth, the idea of work seems to slip out of the mind altogether. So much of our talk about spiritual life and growth is mere talk, without basis of real experience and urgent desire of the heart. Then, too, we talk so much of God's grace, and God's giving, and man's inability, and the virtue of simple trust, that it is very easy to forget the need of spiritual industry. It is well, therefore, to have Jesus emphasizing this very need. Man does not leave the earth to bring forth of itself. Other things being equal, it is work that tells the most. And surely the same law may be expected to apply in our spiritual concerns. It cannot be all the same for the devout, prayerful, humble reader of his New Testament and for him who altogether neglects it.
III. THE MAIN ELEMENT IN SPIRITUAL INDUSTRY. "Believe in him whom God hath sent." True faith is true work. We are apt to get confused in distinguishing between faith and works - as if faith were not work, and very hard work too. Distinguish between faith and works as much as you please, but let it be a distinction between one kind of work and another. Is it to be supposed that a real, calm, intelligent, steady trust in Jesus can be got all at once? Surely it is one of the great attainments of the regenerated heart, coming after much experience, to say as Paul said, "I know whom I have believed." - Y.
I. REMEMBER DISTINCTLY THE DEPENDENT CONDITION OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS. We are, constantly, every one of us going to some one or other; and just as constantly others are coming to us. The dependence is none the less real because we come with money in our hands. Life begins with dependence and ends with dependence. We are members one of another. Jesus himself was not free from this great law of reciprocity in need. It was part of the fulness of his humanity that he should come to other human beings for the supply of common wants, just like all the rest of us. Even in the higher matters connected with his great spiritual purposes, there is a coming of Jesus to us. Not only do the branches come to the vine for the life that is to make them useful, but the vine also comes to the branches to find places where it may deposit and manifest its life. So when Jesus speaks of coming to him, this great fact of human dependence should excite in all of us the deepest interest in his words.
II. THE LIMITS OF THIS DEPENDENCE. There is a great difference between buying bread and begging bread. You will not be cast out as long as you have money to pay for the loaf. But go begging instead of buying, and you will soon be cast out. If you were to give to every one asking, turning not away from a single suppliant, such an army of askers would gather round you as would soon bring your giving to an end. A great deal must be done in the way of casting out for this reason, if for no other, that our resources are so limited. We are not as Elijah when he lodged with the widow at Zarephath. The secret of the unwasting barrel of meal and the unfailing cruse of oil is not with us.
III. WE HAVE ONE WITH UNLIMITED SUPPLIES. Jesus spoke to those who knew the attitude of the suppliant and the needy. A great crowd had come to him, hungering for the bread that perisheth, and he had not cast them out. But now he desired them to come, seeking for a better bread. We are not as concerned about spiritual life and spiritual sustenance as we are about natural life and natural sustenance. What greater calamity can happen to the natural life of men than that bread should become dear and scarce, and those who go seeking to find it cheap and plentiful should be, as it were, cast out? Such may happen in transactions over the bread that perisheth. Here is Jesus, speaking of the bread that endures to eternal life. As the appointed Donor and Custodian of that bread, he says no one coming to him will be cast out. You dare not write such an inscription over your door. The most capable of men, the man of largest resources, understands perfectly how he is in charge, not of a fountain, but of a reservoir. Jesus only can make the declaration without limit as to numbers or to time. Coming to him, we come to One who speaks out of the infinite and the eternal.
IV. THOSE WHO FAIL TO STAY WITH JESUS GO WITH A VOLUNTARY LEAVING. Many disciples went back, and walked no more with him. But they were not driven away, cast out; they went of their own accord. Jesus never turns any one back to sole dependence on the things of time and sense. If we like to call refusal of selfish desires and discouragement of frivolous pleasures a casting out, we may do so, but that is truly no casting out which is a voluntary going out. God seems to say to us every morning after our solid, substantial breakfast, "I have given thee the natural; wilt thou not also have the spiritual?" Days will come when all the abundance of bread will do our bodies little good. The flesh will fail. The outward man will perish. Jesus makes his declaration that the inward may be renewed day by day. - Y.
I. AN ADMIRABLE INQUIRY.
1. It reveals a noble conception of the higher life of man, which may be justly said to consist in working the work of God.
2. It embodies a worthy aspiration and purpose; for it implies that those who spoke thus believed themselves to be prepared to do whatever needed to be done, in order that by them the work of God might in some measure be accomplished.
3. It is a question which is becoming to all thoughtful students of human life, and to all who desire a law to direct their individual energy. It is too unusual; for whilst there are many, especially amongst the young, who ask - What shall we do to be rich, honoured, powerful, happy? there are few who eagerly inquire how they may work God's work. They who do so in sincerity, with docility, and with the resolution to obey the directions given, are certain to be led aright. For this question, when urged by ardent natures, excites joy, not only in the minds of Christ's ministers, but in the very heart of Christ himself.
II. A MEMORABLE AND DECISIVE REPLY.
1. It is a seeming paradox. Why, when the question was, "What shall we do?" should the answer be, "Believe"? An unexpected response! They who look at the matter superficially are wont to say - Never mind what you believe, so that you do what is right. But Christ puts faith first.
2. Belief in Christ is obedience, because God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as the Object of human faith. It is the will of God that men should believe on his Son. It is the supreme moral probation of every man, when Jesus comes to him and demands his faith. Christ points away from many works to one work.
3. As a matter of fact, belief in Christ is the turning of the soul to righteousness. For this is the means of securing pardon and acceptance, of becoming right with God, and also of securing spiritual strength and guidance for the duties of the earthly life.
4. It is a great moral principle, which the gospel takes up and uses for highest ends, that faith underlies doing. A man's inner convictions determine what his habitual works, his moral life, shall be. Such is the relation between faith and works, as taught by both Paul and James; the one apostle laying stress upon faith, the other upon works, and both pleading the authority of this and other sayings of the great Teacher himself. Believing is the beginning, work is the continuation, of the life; belief is the inner, work is the outer, process; belief is the motive, work the result; belief is the cause, work the effect. The Divine life for man is a work; but it is a work based upon a Divine Person, and it is faith which so bases it, which unites the worker to the living and personal Power. - T.
I. CONSIDER THE HUNGER OF THE SOUL WHICH IS PRESUMED. The body is dependent upon food for life, health, and strength; and the appetite of hunger prompts to the seeking and partaking of food. There is a correspondence between the hunger that craves and the bread that satisfies; an adaptation of the supply to the necessity. There is a parallel arrangement in the spiritual realm. Man is a weak, dependent, craving being, with an ineradicable desire for the highest good - a desire not to be appeased by earthly provisions. It is a spiritual appetite, which in many is deadened by carnal indulgence, by sinful habit, yet which ever and anon recurs. What a revelation of soul yearning would there be, could the inner nature and experience of any congregation be exposed to an observer's view!
II. CONSIDER THE BREAD OF THE SOUL WHICH IS PROVIDED.
1. Christ, as the true Bread, is the gift of the Father. All the family are dependent upon the liberality and thoughtfulness of the great Father and Benefactor. If "he openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing," it is not to be believed that, providing for the lower wants, he will neglect the higher. And, as a matter of fact, he has not done so.
2. Christ is the Bread "from heaven." As such he was prefigured by the manna of the wilderness. This gift is bestowed from the sphere of the spiritual and supernatural, which is thus brought near to our souls.
3. He is the true, the real Bread. There is no hollow pretence in this gift. God is not a Father who, if his son ask bread of him, will give him a stone. He who made the soul of man knows how that soul's wants can be fully and forever met.
III. CONSIDER THE SATISFACTION OF THE SOUL WHICH IS SECURED.
1. Christ is partaken, not by physical eating, but by communion of the spirit with the Saviour. Faith is the means of appropriating the Divine provision. Jesus in this conversation especially warned his disciples of the error into which some of them afterwards fell - the error of confounding carnal with spiritual participation of his body and blood.
2. The result of feeding by faith upon the Bread of life is - satisfaction and gladness, health and vigour of soul, and a life which is immortal. "If a man eat this Bread, he shall live forever." As the hunger of the Israelites was appeased by the manna, as the hunger of the multitude was appeased by the miraculous multiplication of loaves in the wilderness, so have myriads in every age partaken of the true and spiritual Bread, and have borne witness to its efficacy to satisfy their deepest cravings, and to nourish their spiritual life. - T.
1. That the majority of Christs hearers disbelieved him. His verdict at last was, "Ye believe not;" "Ye will not come."
2. That they disbelieved him in spite of the greatest advantages to faith. (Ver. 36.)
3. That in spite of their obstinate unbelief and cruel rejection, the gracious purposes of God and the mission of Jesus will not be void. "For all that the Father giveth me," etc. Notice -
I. THE FATHER'S WILL. We see in this will:
1. That he has given a certain number of the human family to Christ. In a general and a true sense all the human family have been given him; they are the objects of his saving love and grace. All are invited to the gospel feast, and commanded to repent. The earth is Immanuel's land, and the human race, without exception or partiality, are the objects of his saving mercy. But there are some specially given to Christ; they are spoken of as such: "All that the Father giveth me." They have been given in the past in purpose; they are given in the present in fact. This suggests:
(1) That the salvation of the human family is carried on according to the eternal purpose and plan of God. Everything has been arranged from the beginning. Nothing happens by accident; neither the Father nor the Son is ever taken by surprise.
(2) That the mission of Christ is not a speculation, but with regard to him an absolute certainty. Speculation is a term unapplicable to Divine proceedings; they are fixed and determined as to their mode and result. Jesus lived and acted on earth in the full consciousness of this. And who would not rejoice that the blessed Redeemer was not in this hostile world as the creature of chance and at the mercy of fate, but ever fortified with the knowledge of his Father's will and purpose, the consciousness of his Father's love, and the certainty of the success of his own mission?
2. That the Father gave these to Christ, because he knew that they would come to him. Let it be remembered that the division of time, as past, present, and future, is nothing to God. All time to him is present. In his plans and election he experienced no difficulty arising from ignorance, but all was divinely clear to him. And we see that he is not arbitrary in his selections, We know that his authority is absolute; that he has the same authority over man as the potter over the clay. He can do as he likes, and perhaps this is the only answer he would give to some questioners, "I can do as I like." But we know that he cannot like to do anything that is wrong, unreasonable, or unfair. He cannot act from mere caprice, but his actions are harmonious with all his attributes, as well as with the highest reason; and can give a satisfactory reason for all acts, and justify himself to his intelligent creatures. The principle on which he gave certain of the human family to Christ was willingness on their part to come to him. In the gifts of his providence he has regard to adaptation - he gives water to quench thirst, etc. But, in giving human souls to Christ, he had a special regard to the human will. He knew as an absolute fact that some would refuse his offer of grace in Christ, and that others would gladly accept the same offer under the same conditions. The former he neither would nor could, the latter he graciously gave. It is an invariable characteristic of those given to Christ that they give themselves to him.
3. Those given to Christ shall certainly come to him. "All that the Father giveth me shall," etc. Jesus was certain of this. And if given, they come; and if they come, they were given. Divine foreknowledge is never at fault, and Divine grace can never fail to be effective with regard to those thus given to Christ. Their coming was included in the gift. There was the knowledge of their coming, and every grace, motive, and help was promised with the gifts; so that their arrival to Christ is certain. They shall come, in spite of every opposition and difficulty from within and without.
4. That these were given to Christ in trust for special purposes. These are set forth:
(1) Negatively. "That I should lose nothing" (ver. 39). Not one, not the least, and not even anything necessary to the happiness of that one.,
(2) Affirmatively. "May have everlasting life." The highest good they could wish and enjoy.
(3) That they should have these blessings on the most reasonable and easy terms. By simple acceptance of the gift, and simple and trustful faith in the Giver (ver. 40).
II. JESUS AS THE EXECUTOR AND TRUSTEE OF THE FATHER"S WILL. In these capacities:
1. He is most gracious, for
(1) the work involves the greatest responsibilities. It is true that those given shall come to him. But look at their miserable condition. They are guilty; he must procure their pardon. They are condemned; he must justify them. They are corrupt; he must cleanse and sanctify them. They are sick; he must heal them. They are in debt; he must pay it. The responsibilities are infinite.
(2) It involves the greatest self-sacrifice. To meet these responsibilities required the greatest self sacrifice possible. Before they could be justified, he himself must be condemned; to heal them, he must be mortally wounded; to make them rich, he must become poor; to pay their debt, he must lay down his life as a ransom; and to bring them unto glory, he must be made "perfect through sufferings." What but infinite love would accept the trust and execute the will?
2. He is most tenderly and universally inviting. "Him that cometh to me I will," etc. These words are most tender and inviting. They were uttered in the painful consciousness that many would not come to him, although there were infinite provisions and welcome. The door of salvation need not be wider, nor the heart of the Saviour more tender, than this. There is no restriction, no favouritism. "Him that cometh."
3. He is most adapted for his position. This will appear if we consider:
(1) That he is divinely appointed. "The Father which sent me." The Father appointed him to be the Trustee and Executor of his will. And he knew whom to appoint. He acts under the highest authority.
(2) He was willing to undertake the trust. It is true that he was sent, but as true that he came. "I am come down from heaven" (ver. 38). There was no coercion. His mission was as acceptable to him as it was pleasing to the Father, so that he has great delight in his work.
(3) He is thoroughly acquainted with the Divine will. Perfect knowledge is essential to perfect execution. Many profess to know much, but where is the proof? Jesus proves his knowledge by revelation. "This is my Father's will," etc. He was acquainted with all its responsibilities, its purposes, and sufferings, as well as all the difficulties in carrying it out. This he knew from the beginning before he undertook the trust.
(4) He is enthusiastically devoted to both parties - to the Testator and the legatees. He is devoted to the Father. "I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but," etc. He had a will of his own, but in his mediatorial office it was entirely merged in that of his Father. He is equally devoted to the objects of his Father's love; for "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." And he could say more - he would help and almost compel him to come in.
(5) He is divinely competent. He is the Son of God, the Elect of the Father, ever conscious of his capacities for this work. Not a shadow of doubt in this respect ever came across his mind. He was serenely conscious of fulness, of power, of life - the fulness of the Godhead; and he gave ample proof of his Divine competency as he went along. The sick were healed, the dead were raised, the guilty were pardoned, and all penitents who appealed to him were saved. Naturally and well he might say, "I will raise him up at the last clay." And being able to do this, he can do all. All the qualifications necessary to execute the Divine will with regard to the human race fully meet in him. "His will be done."
1. The purposes of the Divine will are in safe hands. Not one shall suffer on his account.
2. The lives of believers are in safe custody. Nothing will be lost.
3. The mission of Jesus is certain of success. "All that the Father giveth me," etc.
4. The perdition of man must come entirely from himself. All the purposes and dispensations of God, all the mediatorial work of Jesus, are for his salvation. All that God in Christ could do for his deliverance is done. Nothing but his own will can stand between him and eternal life.
5. The duty of all to come to Jesus and accept his grace. There is a marked difference between the conduct of Jesus and the conduct of those who reject him. He receives the vilest; they reject the most holy and gracious One. He opens the door to the most undeserving; they close it against the pride of angels, the inspiration of the redeemed, and the glory of heaven and earth. Beware of trifling with the long suffering mercy of Jesus. The last thing he can do is to cast out; but when he casts out, he casts out terribly. - B.T.
I. THE DRAWING OF THE SOUL BY THE FATHER.
1. The soul needs to be divinely drawn. And this because:
(1) By reason of sin it is estranged from God, is far from God, is even at enmity with God.
(2) There are other attractions, very powerful, and such as men are wont to yield to, which draw man's nature in an opposite direction. "The world, the flesh, and the devil" have great power; and in the case of very many exert that power efficaciously to keep the soul from God, and even to increase the distance by which it is so separated.
2. The instrumentalities, or spiritual forces, by which the Father draws human souls to Christ.
(1) The presentation of truth adapted to man's intelligence. The next verse brings this agency before us in explicit statement: "They shall be all taught of God."
(2) The utterance of moral authority addressing the conscience. Passion and interest may draw men from Christ; duty, with a mighty imperative, bids them approach their Lord and Saviour.
(3) Love appeals to the heart of man with mystic power.
"The moon may draw the sea;
3. The manner in which the Father draws the soul unto himself.
(1) This attraction is not of a physical, mechanical, forcible kind. Such compulsion would be out of all character, would not harmonize with man's moral freedom. And, indeed, it would not be the drawing of the soul.
(2) It is a moral, spiritual attraction, in accordance with the nature both of him who draws and of those who are drawn. The Holy Spirit of God is the power to whom we owe the action of those moral constraints which are the chief and most beneficent factors in the moral life of mankind.
(3) Mighty though this drawing be, it is for the most part gentle and gradual. Its influence is not always at once apparent; it becomes manifest with the growth of experience and the lapse of time. It is continuous, lasting in the case of many from childhood to old age.
(4) The power and efficacy of this agency is not to be disputed. The Father calls, and the child answers. The magnetism is exercised, and the soul flies to the attracting power. The light shines, and the eye turns towards the welcome ray.
II. THE COMING OF THE SOUL TO CHRIST.
1. There is an indispensable condition without which no soul can come to Christ. Christ must first come to the soul. The gospel must be preached, and must be received, for it is the Divine call, which alone can authorize the approach of sinful man to the Holy One and Just.
2. The soul's method in coming. It is easy enough to understand how when Jesus was on earth men came to him; they came actually, bodily, locally. Yet the principle of approach is ever the same; for our Lord said indifferently," Come unto me," and "Believe on me." The coming of the bodily form was useless apart from spiritual approach, sympathy, and trust. As it is the soul which the Father draws, so it is the soul which, being drawn, finds itself near the Saviour and in fellowship with him.
3. The soul's purpose in coming. It is impelled by conscious need of the Redeemer, as the Prophet, the Priest, the King, divinely appointed. It hopes to find in him that fall satisfaction which, sought elsewhere, is sought in vain.
4. The soul's experience in coming.
(1) There is welcome and acceptance; for he who comes is never, in any wise, cast out.
(2) There is a perfect response to the desire and need. The hungry is fed, the thirsty finds the water of life, the weary meets with rest, and the man who longs to serve has revealed to him the law and rule of consecration.
(3) There is the eternal abiding; for the soul that comes to Jesus neither leaves him, nor is left by him.
5. The soul's obligation in coming.
(1) Gratefully to acknowledge the infinite mercy by which this attractive influence has been exercised, and to which the fellowship with Christ is due.
(2) Diligently to act as the Father's agent in bringing other souls to Jesus. We can trace the Divine power in the human agency which was employed to lead us to the Saviour. The same God can still use the same means to the same result. - T.
I. A SUITABLE CONCLUSION TO HIS CAREER ON EARTH. As his birth had been supernatural and his ministry likewise, as his resurrection from the dead had in this respect corresponded with all that had gone before, it was proper that his final departure from earth should be distinguished by what was more than human in incident and in power. He could not die a second time; how could he disappear from among men more appropriately than in the manner he himself had foretold?
II. AN EVIDENT PROOF OF THE DIVINITY OF HIS PERSON AND MISSION. And this in two ways.
1. Jesus had expressly and repeatedly foretold that he should ascend into heaven; the fact of his doing so proved his Divine foreknowledge.
2. At the same time, his ascension distinguished him from all others. He was not even, like Elijah, taken up; he ascended in the exercise of his own native power.
III. A NECESSARY CONDITION OF THE OUTPOURING OF THE SPIRIT. He himself had said, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come." His work was to be completed in the bestowal of spiritual influence for the enlightenment and conversion of mankind. It was when he ascended on high that he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men.
IV. A PREPARATION FOR THE ESPECIALLY CHRISTIAN LIFE OF FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY. Through the Ascension Christ's friends and followers realize their union with an unseen Saviour. The invisible sphere, which apart from this seems so remote, is thus brought near, Christians, risen with Christ, set their affections upon things above.
V. A POINT OF DEPARTURE FOR THE CHURCH'S LABOURS, No one can read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles without feeling that the ascension of Christ, recorded in the first chapter, is the key to the whole of the narrative. The Lord went into heaven, but left his servants upon earth, to carry out his instructions, and to advance his cause and kingdom. The trust came home to their hearts, and animated their ministry.
VI. THE GROUND OF A BLESSED HOPE. Jesus departed with his hands outstretched in the attitude of blessing. Blessing his people, he ascended; blessing them, he lives and reigns above; and blessing them, he will return. It is his own assurance, "I will come again;" it is the assurance of his angels, "He shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him go into heaven."
APPLICATION. If, as our Lord's language intimates, his ascension must needs awaken surprise, still more should it enkindle gratitude, arouse to consecration, and inspire hope. - T.
i.e. earthly and human; the other spiritual, i.e. heavenly and Divine; and of these the second is the true and satisfactory principle. "The flesh profiteth nothing" - the religion which is external and ceremonial, which rules itself by the letter, is vain; "the Spirit quickeneth" - the religion which begins with the inner nature, and lays all stress upon the laws and the life of the soul, is Divine, acceptable, and enduring.
I. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE SPIRIT TO THE FLESH IS APPARENT IN THE VITAL QUESTION AS TO THE NATURE OF THE UNION OF THE CHRISTIAN WITH CHRIST. The religion of the flesh teaches that, if a man could only eat the Lord's body and drink his blood, he must be saved. The religion of the Spirit tells us that physical contact in itself is worthless; and that the matter of all importance is the spiritual connection between the believer and the Saviour.
II. SPIRITUAL WORSHIP IS BETTER THAN MERE BODILY OBSERVANCES. There is a very powerful tendency in human nature to lower religion into a system of form and ceremony. Many under the Mosaic economy were carried away by this tendency, whilst the more spiritual Jews saw clearly into the true nature of acceptable worship. On this point our Lord's language is most explicit, especially in his conversation with the woman of Samaria. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
III. A SPIRITUAL CONCEPTION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS SUPERIOR TO ONE THAT IS CARNAL. It is often regarded as something of the nature of a human organization; yet our Lord's parables should convince the student that there is a kingdom altogether different from any human institution, whether political or ecclesiastical. Many are the mischiefs, as Church history abundantly teaches us, which have flowed from the fountain error of regarding the Divine kingdom according to "the flesh,"
IV. THE SACRAMENTS THEMSELVES ARE ONLY RIGHTLY DEEMED OF WHEN THEY ARE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF THE SPIRIT. The outward observances, the visible signs, are valuable and necessary. But they are material expressions of spiritual truth and reality; they are earthly means to spiritual ends.
V. CHRISTIAN OBEDIENCE IS THAT WHICH IS RENDERED, NOT SIMPLY BY THE BODILY NATURE, BUT BY THE SPIRIT. Christ is a Master who asks not mere outward homage or conformity, but the reverential subjection, the cheerful obedience, of the whole nature. Let the spirit serve him, and the devotion of the bodily powers will follow, to prove the sincerity of love. - T.
I. HOW IS IT TO BE EXPLAINED THAT SOME PROFESSED CHRISTIANS FORSAKE THE LORD?
1. Fickle and frivolous natures, when the novelty of discipleship wears off, revert to the careless and irreligious life of the past. Their heart is in the world, and, like Lot's wife, they look back. Some transient excitement, some personal influence, induces impressible natures to acknowledge in words that Jesus is their Saviour and Lord. But only the surface of the soul is reached, and the world has possession of the inmost depths.
2. Christ's claims to Divine authority are rejected as too lofty to be accepted by those accustomed to merely human standards. And his moral requirements are too stringent for a low ethical standard to submit to. Many would hold to Christ did he make a lower claim, or impose a laxer rule.
3. The doctrines which Christ reveals are too profound and spiritual for the carnal mind. The disciples of Jesus find that if they would know the Master's thoughts they must brace themselves to an arduous effort of spirit. From this they shrink, and consequently turn to a creed more commonplace and less exacting. One thing may certainly be said of all the various classes who are chargeable with the guilt and folly of forsaking Jesus. It is this: those who leave Christ have never really known him. If they had found eternal life in him, they would never have forsaken him for causes such as those described.
II. WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD CLEAVE TO CHRIST.
1. Because there is no one else to whom to go. The invitations and allurements which conflict with the attractions of the Saviour, however specious, are altogether vain. In the time of his earthly ministry, to whom could men go, if not to Jesus? They could find no satisfaction in the teaching and society of Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, etc. So is it now.
2. Because Christ is the supremely excellent. As the Messiah, the Son of God, able to secure forgiveness and acceptance, able to procure us all spiritual help and blessing. He is beyond all comparison the most precious. To desert him is to turn the back upon all moral perfection and Divine grace.
3. Because Christ has the highest of all gifts to bestow; i.e. eternal life. With this what can the promises of others for a moment compare?
4. Because Christ's own remonstrance begs us to stay with him. "Will ye also go away?" is his gracious appeal. As much as to say - For your own sake, and for my sake, remain! Since Christ has not forsaken his people, his people are bound not to forsake him. Wonderful as is the fact, it is certain that Jesus is pained and grieved by the desertion of those for whom he has done and suffered so much; it is certaia that Jesus is gladdened when his people cleave closely to him in the season of temptation or discouragement. - T.
I. THAT THE MINISTRY OF JESUS REPELLED MANY. "From this time many of his disciples," etc. And why?
1. Because his ministry revealed their true character to themselves and others.
(1) As unreal. They were miserably wanting in sincerity, honesty, and earnestness.
(2) As worldly, secular, and carnal - wanting in spirituality and true concern for the soul
(3) As selfish. They were self-seeking and self-righteous.
(4) As wicked.
(5) As unbelieving.
2. Because his ministry was diametrically opposed to their real character. He preached repentance - inward reform, heavenly birth, and honesty, which were opposed to their hollowness of principle. He preached the superior claims of the soul and spiritual things, which were opposed to their carnality and worldliness. He preached self-sacrifice and love and exemplified them in his life, and these were opposed to their selfishness. He inculcated holiness, which was opposed to their wickedness and vice. He demanded practical and genuine faith, which was opposed to their infidelity and indifference. He denounced their conduct, and enforced opposite principles with such force and honesty that at last his ministry not merely became unattractive to them, but obnoxious and painful.
3. Because his ministry was uncompromising and unchangeable. He would not pander to their likings in any way. He was the true and faithful Witness. There was no discord in the music of his ministry. So that his followers had either to change, exercise faith in him, or follow him under a cloak of profession, or leave him entirely. These chose the latter; they "went back, and walked no more," etc.
II. THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO A LONG WAY WITH JESUS AND THEN LEAVE HIM. It was so in this case. We have here:
1. A sad separation. "They walked no more," etc.
(1) They left Jesus, and not Jesus them. He did not send them away. All moral separations from Christ are commenced by man. Judas shall remain in the society of Jesus till he goes out himself. An illustration of what our Lord had just said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
(2) They separated from him after being with him for some time. "They walked no more with him." They had walked a good deal with him. They were his disciples. They had attended his ministry, heard his gracious words and saw his mighty deeds, but separated at last.
(3) They separated from him although they had received much kindness from him. Their sick were healed, their miseries alleviated, and their hunger satiated. They had only just been feeding on his bounties in the desert; but now they leave their old Benefactor, who was willing, able, and anxious to bless them spiritually and eternally. What ingratitude and perversity!
(4) They separated from him forever. This was certainly the case with regard to his society in this world. There are sad partings often on earth, and painful social separations by distance and death; but of all sad separations, the saddest is the separation of the soul from Christ - of an old disciple from his Master.
2. A sad loss to them, not to Jesus.
(1) They lost what they had gained. We can scarcely think that they could have been with Jesus without being somewhat benefited. Some of them, we may conjecture, were almost Christians, but in leaving Christ they lost all, even what they had; much of their best energies were wasted.
(2) They lost what they might have gained. What they had from Jesus was nothing to what they might have. What he had done for them was only introductory to what he would do. They left him on the threshold of the temple of truth and salvation, and thus lost the best society, the divinest ministry, their only Deliverer, and the inestimable blessings arising from union with him. What a sad loss!
3. A sad retrogression. They went back.
(1) To go back from Christ is to go back from all good. For he is the incarnation of goodness, the exhaustless Treasury of all spiritual blessings, and the only Saviour of the soul. To go back from him is to recede from the standard of moral excellency, and the centre of redemptive help and grace.
(2) To go back from him is to go on towards all evil and its consequences. Man cannot be spiritually stationary; and in the opposite direction of Christ there is only evil - the cold breath of infidelity, the darkness of spiritual death, and the terrible whirlwinds of despair and misery.
(3) To go back from Christ is one of the worst symptoms of the soul. While man clings to Christ there is some hope of him; but when he tears away from him, he manifests a sinful force which breaks through the mightiest moral power which can be brought to bear on him, and his character seems fixed and his destiny decided. We speak of going back in the world, but this is the saddest going back of all - to go back from Christ. "Many of his disciples went back;" but Christ went on in his eternal course of benevolence, redemption, and glory.
1. What ought to attract people to Christ often drives them away from him. It was so here.
2. There are crises in the Christian ministry and in the lives of disciples which severely test their Christian character and attachment to Christ. "From that hour," etc.
3. There are many who will follow Jesus while everything runs smoothly, but leave him at the least offence or difficulty. They will not stand the test.
4. Those who leave Jesus early rather than follow him under a false profession are better off than those who follow on thus to the last. These disciples who left him now were better than Judas, who continued to the bitter end.
5. It is better not to follow Jesus at all than, after following awhile, turn back again. They are worse at the end than the beginning - more difficult of recovery. And the recollection of their time with Jesus will only be the painful memory of better days, brighter hopes, nobler possibilities, which must enhance their misery. - B.T.
I. JESUS" QUESTION. "Will ye also," etc.? This implies:
1. His regard for the freedom of the will. Christ does not destroy, nor even interfere with, the freedom of the human will, but ever preserves and respects it. He ever acknowledges the sovereignty of the human soul and will.
2. That it was his wish that each disciple should decide for himself. "Will ye," etc.?
(1) The personality of religious decision. Religion is personal. Every religious act must be personal, and is ever judged as such.
(2) The importance of religious decision, "Will ye," etc.? A most important question to them in its immediate and remote issues. Their destiny hangs upon it.
(3) The urgency of immediate decision. If they had a wish to leave him, the sooner the better. The question of our relationship to Christ cannot be settled too soon. It demands immediate consideration.
3. That it was not his wish to retain them against their will.
(1) This would be against the principle of his own life.
(2) It would be against the principle of all spiritual life.
(3) And against the great principle of his kingdom, which is willing obedience and voluntary service. Whatever is done to him against the will, or without its hearty concurrence, has no virtue, no spiritual value. All his true soldiers are volunteers. Unwilling service must lead to separation sooner or later.
4. His independency of them.
(1) He is not disheartened by the great departure. Many went back. He was doubtless grieved with this, with their want of faith and gratitude, but was not disheartened.
(2) He is independent of even his most intimate followers. "Will ye," etc.? If even they had the will to go away, he could afford it. One might think that he could ill afford to ask this question after the great departure from him. He had apparently now only twelve, and to these he asks, "Will ye also," etc.? He is not dependent upon his disciples. If these were silent, the very stones would speak; if the children of the kingdom reject him, "many shall come from the east," etc.
5. His affectionate care for them. "Will ye also," etc.? In this question we hear:
(1) The sound of tender solicitude. There is the note of independency and test of character; but not less distinctly is heard the note of affectionate solicitude for their spiritual safety. He did not ask the question of those who went away.
(2) The sound of danger. Even the twelve were not out of danger. Although they were in one of the inner circles of his attraction, they were in danger of being carried away with the flood.
(3) The sound of tender warning. "Will ye also," etc.? You are in danger. And their danger was greater and more serious than that of those who left; they were more advanced, and could not go away without committing a greater sin.
(4) The sound of confidence. The question does not seem to anticipate an affirmative reply. With regard to all, with the exception of one, he was confident of their allegiance.
II. THE DISCIPLES ANSWER. Simon Peter was the mouthpiece of all. The answer implies:
1. A right discernment of their chief good. "Eternal life." This, they thought, was their greatest need, and to obtain it was the chief aim of their life and energy; and in this they were right.
2. A right discernment of Jesus as their only Helper to obtain it. Little as they understood of the real meaning of his life, and less still of his death, they discerned him
(1) as the only Source of eternal life;
(2) as the only Revealer of eternal life;
(3) as the only Giver of eternal life. "With thee are the words," etc.
3. Implicit faith in his Divine character. "We believe and know," etc. They had faith in him, not as their national, but as their personal and spiritual Deliverer - the Saviour of the soul. and the Possessor and Giver of eternal life.
4. A determination to cling to him.
(1) This determination is warmly prompt. It is not the fruit of study, but the warm and natural outburst of the heart and soul.
(2) It is wise. "To whom shall we go?" They saw no other one to go to. To the Pharisees or heathen philosophers? They could see no hope of eternal life from either. To Moses? He would only send them back to Christ. It would be well for all who are inclined to go away from Christ to ask first, "To whom shall we go?"
(3) It is independent. They are determined to cling to Christ, although many left him. They manifest great individuality of character, independency of conduct, and spirituality and firmness of faith.
(4) It is very strong.
(a) The strength of satisfaction. Believing that Christ had the words of eternal life, what more could they need or desire?
(b) The strength of thorough conviction. They not only believe, but also know. They have the inward testimony of faith and experience. True faith has a tight grasp. Strong conviction has a tenacious hold.
(c) The strength of willing loyalty. "Lord, to whom," etc.? "Thou art our Lord and our King, and we are thy loyal subjects." Their will was on the side of Christ, and their determination to cling to him was consequently strong.
(d) The strength of loving attachment. The answer is not only the language of their reason, but also the language of their affection. Their heart was with Jesus. They could not only see no way to go from him, but they had no wish.
(e) The strength of a double hold. The Divine and the human. The hold of Jesus on them, and their hold on him. They had felt the Divine drawing, and they were within the irresistible attraction of Jesus. They were all, with one notorious exception, by faith safely in his hand.
1. Loving faith in the Saviour is strengthened by trials. It stands the test of adverse circumstances. In spite of forces which have a tendency to draw away from Christ, it clings all the more to him.
2. The success of the ministry must not always be judged by additions. Subtractions are sometimes inevitable and beneficial. The sincerity of the following should be regarded even more than the number of the followers.
3. It is afar greater loss for us to lose Jesus than for Jesus to lose us. He can do without us, but we cannot do without him. He can go elsewhere for disciples; but "to whom shall we go?" B.T.
some should go back and walk no more with him. He was even prepared to see many shrinking from his searching tests. But if all had gone, if he had been left in utter solitude, a Teacher with nobody to teach, a Messenger with none to welcome his message, he would have been astonished.
I. CONSIDER THOSE WHO WENT.
1. How came they to Jesus at all? This is best answered practically by considering how people now first of all come into connection with Jesus. Departure is ever going on of those who in some way, for some time, have been in connection with Jesus. What can be a more decided bringing of human beings to Jesus than all that is included in early training. Think of the thousands whom loving mothers bring to Jesus on the strength of his own strong words, "Suffer the little ones to come unto me." Coming is a thing of degrees, as departing is a thing of degrees. There must ever be movement in one direction or the other. We cannot, as Jesus did, single out particular individuals. There would be neither charity, humility, nor advantage in doing that. In truth, Jesus did not so much single out the apostates as they themselves did.
2. How came they to go? Their own plea would be found in the hard sayings of Jesus. They would profess a lack of the sensible and the practical in these sayings. That is just where the mistake generally comes in. We want all speeches and actions measured by our estimate of the possible and the desirable. If mysterious and difficult utterances are to shut out Jesus from the rule of human hearts, then he will never get the devotion of a single one. Those who went away professed to find the sayings difficult; that does not mean that those who stayed found them easy. The real reason for departure lay in this, that those departing had never faith of the right kind in Jesus himself. Many words of Jesus are really difficult - difficult of necessity and of purpose - but quite enough of his words are clear and plain to take away all ground for basing reasonable apostasy on them. No one can know better than Jesus himself how often his wisest, deepest words have been made the base and carnal excuse for unbelief.
II. CONSIDER WHOSE WHO SWAYED. Listen to their spokesman, Peter. Their spokesman, but not, therefore, the real, true representative of every one of them. Recollect Judas stayed, and for all we can see he might just as well have gone with the rest. Peter's answer, up to a certain point, was satisfactory. It cannot be supposed that he understood as yet the essence and the preciousness of eternal life. But he did feel that what Jesus laid such stress on must be something unspeakably good, and so he must stay with Jesus to make sure of getting it for his own. Go where you cannot get natural food, and natural death will soon come. Go where you are out of living and abiding contact with Christ, and whatever beginnings of eternal life be in you will soon perish. Yet there is a saddening element in the answer. One would have liked it better had there been some tender expression of sympathy with Jesus in this hour of so many desertions. The state of heart by which Peter was to look at things more from Jesus" point of view was to come after. - Y.