Home      Back to Sunday Next before Advent





Gleanings after Harvest.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

Second part of Sermon LXXI. for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity.
 Jer. xxiii. 5-8.    St. John vi. 5-14.
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.JER. viii. 20.
(for the first part, on the Lesson.
... And then this prophecy in the Scripture appointed for the Epistle seems, as it were, to pass into the Gospel, where Christ on feeding His people is acknowledged as “that Prophet which should come into the world.” The connexion is obvious, the teaching is one.

In the appointed services for this day before the Reformation the Epistle and Gospel were different; the Epistle being that which we now have for last Sunday; the Gospel consisting of the striking account of the Day of Judgment which occurs in the twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse, “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it.” . . . “and I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened.” Now this lesson was very appropriate and very impressive on the last Sunday of our sacred year, wherein so great a part of the book of life was closed, to be opened only on the Last Day. And this makes one the more earnest to inquire what is the full power and meaning of the Gospel which we now have, and the more so as it is but a repetition of the same Gospel which we had on the Fourth Sunday in Lent; the account of our Lord feeding the five thousand ‘with the five barley loaves. But this is not all. For it is the account of this miracle as given in St. John’s Gospel, when it might have been a statement of the same selected from one of the other Gospels.  Whereas the peculiarity of the circumstance in St. John is this, that this Evangelist seems merely to insert in his Gospel the account of the miracle, in order to introduce that remarkable discourse of our Lord at Capernaum, wherein He explains the spiritual meaning and intent of that miraculous Bread, as representing His own Body and Blood, by which He should feed His people unto the end of the world. This then, (blessed be God, and blessed for ever be His holy Name, through Christ our Lord!) this then is our altar-lesson for this Sunday, this last and best, this highest of all consolations; and yet, while it is reaching itself down to the lowest of all, as the manna adapting itself to every taste—full unto abundance for each, yet with no fragments that remain—the sheet let down by the four corners from Heaven to earth, in order to lift us up from earth to Heaven, —the altar itself, and the altar service throughout the year, and all the prayers of Holy Communion, do but sound again and again this Gospel, and seem to say, “Lord, evermore give us this Bread.”

To repeat the Scriptural account. “When Jesus then lift up His eyes, and saw a great company come unto Him,—that is, after healing so many who had been brought to Him in the wilderness to which He had retired, and when He had sat down there and taught them, and lifting up His eyes saw still more and more crowds flocking to Him in this retreat,—He saith unto Philip, for Philip was of Bethsaida, that town which bordered most nearly on this wilderness, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat ? (And this He said to prove him; for he Himself knew what He would do.) Philip answered Him, Two hundred penny-worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, the friend and fellow townsman of Philip, saith unto Him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?  They do but serve to show the greatness of our want, and our poverty in this wilderness.

The boy with the five barley loaves, whom St. Andrew and St. Philip bring, may well represent the childlike spirit which Christ receives, the little ones which His Church brings to Him, looking up to Him in meekness of faith. It is all we have to bring and offer Thee, O Lord; but even this Thou wilt deign to receive, if brought in a childlike spirit, with eyes that wait on Thee. It is enough. And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  And Jesus took the loaves; and when He had given thanks, He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. That which God receives into His hands is increased always, and multiplies. If into His hands He receives our hearts and lives, they abound with blessings; if our worldly goods, they are restored to us an hundredfold in this present time; if our good intentions, they are strengthened; if works of charity, they are made to abound like the Nile; if our prayers, they return as drops that replenish the earth. But almost all His blessings He bestows through the medium of others, delighting to make them the channels of His mercy. "He distributes to the disciples, and they to the multitude.” 

When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Why should this be added? For God is wont, in His kingdoms of nature and grace, to spread abroad with great profusion; He openeth His hand, and His gifts abound as the sea; there is no lack, and no let or limit; not only on the good ground, but also on the trodden ways, and on the rock, and amid the briars, are found the superabundant seeds of life ‘which He scatters. So does it appear in the finite vision of man; for even the stars are in man’s view as the sands on the sea-shore, in waste prodigality of infinite life. But not so with God. He telleth them all by their names. All things are numbered by Him, and known in measure and weight. And so is it now though at His table in the wilderness the superabundance seems great, and lavish the profusion as He opens His hand, yet it is all in measured exactness, and known of God. 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. “Twelve baskets,” according to the number of them that gathered, and of the tribes of Israel scattered abroad, but not lost in the sight of God.

Again, it may be that this is said also in condescension as an example for the conduct of man. Let there be no waste prodigality in that ‘which is the staff of life to the poor. What love of God’s poor can there be where there is not carefulness to preserve and to distribute that which is of much account and precious to them?  Has He not provided in the law that the gleanings of the field should be for the poor and the stranger?  And if in the gathering of the manna “he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack,” (Exod. xvi. 18. 2 Cor. viii. 15.) this was likewise to convey in another form this same lesson of unselfish care for the needs of each other, avoiding covetousness or prodigality.

But further, these words have likewise another meaning, as they must sound in the ears of us all as applied to things spiritual and the opportunities of salvation in this temporal life. “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Indeed I do not know any warning that comes more seasonably to an earnest Christian at all times. He finds continually a day well-nigh gone, and some little opportunities of good which he had hoped for departing with it unfulfilled; but then comes this merciful voice, “Gather up the fragments that remain,” and in doing so he may find more than he had at the beginning. And so with the passing year, and all its seasons of grace, instead of sitting down in despondency when he considers the gifts of God which he has abused, and the talents he has neglected, he is rather aroused by a more earnest call to repentance to “gather up the fragments that remain.” Where Christ is there must ever be self-distrust, never despondency.

And why have the words a peculiar power and efficacy as thus applied which they have in no other sense ? It is because God measures the work done by a Christian, not by time, but by the love which, it evinces; not by external actions, but by the heart from which it flows. The Bread which He gives is His Body, and this Bread is eternal life. To partake once of eternal life is to partake of the same for ever. “Strengthen then. the things which remain.” That which hath power to shut out indolence, and presumption, and despair, shall enlarge the heart to receive the hidden manna. They said to Him at Capernaum, “Lord, evermore give us this Bread.” It was a good prayer, the best of prayers, and better than they knew, and the Spirit of God gave them to make that prayer, and it was answered by Him that heareth prayer far beyond what they thought, or knew, or desired. But yet the prayer which they of themselves had then need to make was not only “Give us this Bread,” but also, Give us to know and to understand what this Bread is; give us to. long after this Bread according to our need and the value of it; enlarge our desires after it, after Thyself Who art This Bread, and art come down from Heaven to give Thy flesh for the life of the world, that partaking of Thy risen Body we may be with Thee at the right hand of God. “Lord, evermore give us this Bread,” and give us faith to be nourished by it, and love to know its worth, and knowledge to weigh it aright with the things of time.

My brethren, in the diseases our bodies are subject to, faith in God is often of more avail than all the medicines which human skill can apply; and in some weaknesses and depressions of the mind which are connected with the body, faith in God is, I am convinced, oftentimes the only remedy and means of restoration. Men seek, and seek, and seek in vain, till they find that rest. But infinitely greater is the power of faith in that which is peculiarly its own province,—in apprehending aright the Son of God, and in discerning in mean elements His Body when we eat of that Bread.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended,—but are we not saved I—if Thou our Saviour art with us, art within us ? But thou art a God that hidest Thyself, and carnal eyes cannot discern Thee. Our services on this Sunday seem to turn our eyes in hope to another Advent. “The plowman,” says the Prophet, “shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed.”

Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did—when they had seen: they were Jews of whom our Lord said, “Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe,” when they had seen the miracle, they said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world. The day was well-nigh gone, and the shadows of evening were spread out, when, lest they should faint by the way, He prepared for them that table in the wilderness. It was a little after, in the same night, that the disciples beheld Him walking on the sea, and drawing near unto them in their trouble, and heard His voice, saying, “It is I; be not afraid.” And it was on the next day, at Capernaum, that He taught the people in a manner so earnest, so impressive, so forcible, of what He was about to do, of which that miracle had been the sign—of His Body which is meat indeed, and His Blood which is drink indeed. They that sought and found Him at Capernaum had acknowledged that He was “that Prophet that should come into the world,” they were desirous to make Him a King, to acknowledge Him as the Messiah of God; but oh, how far short was this of that which -was needed for the saving of their souls! Their hearts were still on earth, not in Heaven; and when He spake of His mysterious indwelling, and of the true Bread in which is life, they “murmured in themselves;” they said, “It is an hard saying; who can hear it?" “Many went back, and walked no more with Him.”  For the Father alone Which is in Heaven could draw them unto Him; the Father Who had revealed the Son unto St. Peter as the Son of the living God. He, therefore, could now say, “Lord, to whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

Alas ! my brethren, the harvest is past, the summer is ended; we have been saved, but we are not safe. How can we be safe, as long as we love anything more than God in Christ, and value anything more than the Bread from Heaven? Mother and sister, brother and friend, these one by one drop away as the autumn of life comes on; but all this, my Blessed Saviour, hast Thou promised to be to me. Knowledge, and honour, and possession, and rest hast Thou promised to be; and all this Thou surely art, when Thou givest Thyself at Thins holy altar to me; but the heart must be emptied and enlarged to receive Thee there. For Thou art all fulness: there is no room for aught else where Thou art. All is summer without end where Thou art, for there is no time with Thee. All is harvest and ingathering, and nothing a. lost where Thou art; for of Thy fulness do all we receive, and grace for grace.

And now, Christian friends, we have come to the end of our sacred year, during which, from Sunday to Sunday, in unfolding the Scriptural instructions from the altar, I have had one especial design and purpose, as peculiarly seasonable. to these times, viz. to dwell on Him Whose delight it was to be among the sons of men; to show forth the tender compassions and sympathies of Him Who in unspeakable lowliness was ever pleased to designate Himself the Son of Man; and Whose human “compassions fail not,” though He be now on the right hand of God. Let us then lift up our hearts to Him, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the Author and Finisher of our faith; ever remembering this, that it is not enough for us to acknowledge the Word of God, or even that the Word was with God; we must also acknowledge that the Word was God.

Summer and winter, seed-time and harvest-time, days and years, how soon shall each one of us have to bid adieu for ever to you!  Nay, Christ Himself, Whom we have known after the flesh, soon shall we as such have to know Him no more; nay, even already must it be so. That sea-shore of Galilee, where He so often taught; those places which are hallowed by the recollection of some miracle of mercy or divine parable ; Bethlehem and Nazareth, Capernaum and Jerusalem; these scenes which have become endeared to us, because they have become associated with the knowledge which we have of His infinite goodness; all these things too are fading away like the visions of the past, or the works of His hands on earth in the pride and glory of the field; but the Word of God abideth for ever, because the Word is God. In that world where sun and moon are not, He shall be to us no more the provision by the way, (Viaticum)  but yet shall ever be still “the medicine of immortality,” and “the Bread of Life.”