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The Bread Which God Giveth.

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, pp. 94, 97-106.

Second part of Sermon LIV. for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.


But seek ye first the Kingdom of GOD, and His righteousness; and all

these things shall be added unto you.—S. MATT. vi. 33.


THE Collect and the Gospel being on this as on other Sundays during this season found together in ancient books, may be considered as both illustrating and enforcing each other; but it is not so with the Epistle, which is but a continuation of that for last Sunday, and seems to be carrying on the same subject. ...(for the first part, on the Epistle.)
...Now the Gospel for this Sunday is remarkable in this respect, that on two other Sundays, the fourth Sunday in Lent and the last of the Sundays after Trinity, the same subject occurs for the Gospel of the day,—that of our Lord’s multiplying the loaves and the fishes. And indeed, when we consider that our Lord on two occasions wrought this same miracle, and has had each of them recorded for the edification of His people, it seems but agreeable to this, that His Church also should more than once thus solemnly call our attention to the instruction they are intended to convey. Moreover, our Lord, by twice performing this miracle, has thereby stamped it to us as one of peculiar interest and importance. Add to which, it appears in itself intended to set forth the marvellous operations of His providence and of His grace in two instances which He likewise often repeats; the one is what we witness in nature, especially at this approaching season of the year, in the waving cornfield, when a few grains of wheat are, by the blessing of God and the secret working of His power, multiplied into very many. And the second is that frequently recurring miracle in His spiritual Kingdom, whereby His Church is sustained, the carrying on of that memorable occasion which the circumstances of this day’s Gospel seem more especially intended to exhibit, when the same night in which He was betrayed He took the bread into His hands, and blessed and brake, and gave to His disciples.  So it is even unto this day in His Church. And both of these miracles, the one by which the body, the other that by which the soul is supported, have the promise of continuance. Of one it is said, “seedtime and harvest shall not cease ;” [Gen. ciii. 22] of the other, “as often as ye eat this bread, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.” [1 Cor. xi. 26.]  It is the Lord’s memorial, the pledge of His Presence, the food of His people until the end.

But on this occasion, without dwelling merely on that high mystery which our Lord has connected with it as its spiritual signification, whereby He supernaturally supports His people in the wilderness, for He has explained the true Bread to be His own Body, we may consider it in a more general way as a pledge and assurance to us, still continued and. confirmed unto this time by the like going on in the kingdom of nature and of grace; that He will never fail to support us, if we look to Him, both in body and soul; ant if with bodily support, oh, how much more with spiritual, of importance so infinitely greater! Yet both may be considered together; for the Lord is Maker of them both, both naturally come together on this subject; as in St. Paul’s words, “He that ministereth seed to the sower minister bread for your food, multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness.” [2 Cor. ix. 10.]

In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples unto Him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with Me three days, and have nothing to eat.  And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for divers of them came from far. How often do we read of our Lord’s having compassion, or outwardly showing indications of it! It would seem as if He could not behold any form of distress without being moved with pity; whether it were the cry of a blind man, or the sight of a bereaved widow, or mourners like Mary and Martha at a grave, or people suffering from hunger,—He could not witness such things without being sensibly affected. This is much to be observed. Thus, in the present instance, He might in His wisdom have had great and Divine reasons for working this miracle, both for the confirmation of His mission and for the edification of future generations; there was no occasion, humanly speaking, that He should thus be brought down and be made one with suffering mankind by a sort of human pity; that the miracle should thus be as it were forced from Him as a relief to His affections thus worked upon and moved. The world almost accounts it a sort of weakness when a man does good out of sensible pity. Or again, many human teachers, when they had been instructing the multitudes on the infinite value of the soul in comparison with the body, of the importance of eternity, inculcating on them the truths of spiritual wisdom, of the things of God and Heaven, would have considered almost beneath their notice the mere wants of the body. Such earthly matters they would have left as the concern of others; if not beneath their notice, yet not such as to interfere with their high and spiritual calling. But far otherwise was it with Him Who “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows ;“ and had in Himself that intimate feeling for all our wants, with a tenderness like that which a mother has for a child. For when we do good to others we stand above them; when we do so out of compassion, we are brought down to them. However, so it was, He was as one under constraint, drawn “by the cords of a man.” He had compassion. And so is it even now; in His exaltation He has not laid aside this tender sympathy with all our needs. “We have not an High Priest,” says St. Paul, “who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” [Heb. iv. 15.]  Wonderful indeed is this His mercy; it is like His almighty power, which manifests itself alike in the greatest and the smallest things; for while His pity was so great that it had brought Him down from Heaven to give His own Body for the food and eternal life of our souls, at the same time the like pity descended likewise to the daily wants of the perishing body. What an encouragement is this to go to Him in all our wants, both small and great, knowing that He careth for us!

And His disciples answered Him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? It seems strange that they should have forgotten the former miracle, were it not that mankind are so wont to forget such tokens of God’s presence. Or it may be that something of faith and hope was intended in the inquiry, as if with the secret thought, man indeed cannot do it, but Thou canst.

And He asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And He commanded the people to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to His disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes; and He blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. In this action of our Lord’s is particularly to be observed His giving of thanks, which was probably, as on other occasions, accompanied by that significant action of looking up to Heaven, as if acknowledging all good to be from thence; and then, in like manner, with the lifting up of His hands did He confer His blessing. Thus we read throughout the Scriptures of all good being associated with the blessing of God. It was the blessing of the Creator, Who in the beginning blessed the creatures He had made, and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Again, the father of the faithful had a peculiar blessing vouchsafed to him on the offering up of his son, when God said to him by the angel from Heaven, “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy people.” And Jacob, taught of God, struggled for the like when he said, “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.” And the increase of His Church is owing to the same; for our Lord’s last act, when He ascended to Heaven, was, that “He lifted up His hands” on His disciples, “and blessed them.” But the crown of all blessings, which most resembles this occasion, was that at the Last Supper, when offering up Himself as a willing oblation for us, He gave thanks and blessed the bread and the wine. So that the bread has been ever named by the Church with this peculiar name, “the Bread of Thanksgiving ;“ and St. Paul calls the cup, “the Cup of Blessing which we bless.”

So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away. How many reflections crowd upon us at this manifestation of Him Who is the Giver of all good!  Thus He openeth His hand and filleth all things living with plenteousness. And thus would He have us to be, like Himself, “full of compassion;” not to close the hand as man does, but to open it as God is wont. For “it is more blessed," said the Lord Jesus, “to give than to receive.” [Acts xx. 35.]  And He has in this set forth that precept which He has given, “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy rich neighbours,” but the poor. For here His guests are the needy and the hungry. And St. Basil observes [Par. Brev.], that in the last Judgment, when the Lord calls the righteous, he that hath been bountiful hath the first place; and he that hath nourished the poor is sent into life before the rest.

Those who meditate on these things will also find high spiritual truths opening on them more and more, as contained in these outward symbols. Those whom He thus fed were such as flocked to Him for religious instruction, and to hear His gracious words; and these four thousand may well represent those multitudes who will come to Him from the four quarters of the world. These He will feed by means of His Church, which is built on “twelve foundations,” in which are “the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb ;“ shall feed them with the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost,—that Bread which is the food of the soul. And herein we have His deeper and fuller answer to that question of the disciples, “Whence can one satisfy these with bread in the wilderness ?"  The world is a wilderness, what therein can satisfy the human soul?  Nothing, surely, but the Bread from Heaven which Christ gives.  And He has promised that they who hunger after righteousness shall be filled.

What, then, is the chief consideration we may derive from the Gospel of this day? The subject is one of no little importance; for the people that partook of that first miracle were offended because they considered it not aright. And the Twelve themselves, who distributed the bread, after both these miracles grieved their Divine Master, because they remembered them not, neither understood. It was but a short while after this miracle, that in the boat with Him, mistaking an expression He had made use of, their anxious thoughts were reasoning among them-selves because they had no bread, when He said, “O ye of little faith! why reason ye because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your hearts yet hardened?  Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?” And then, reminding them of those two miracles of the five loaves among five thousand, and the seven loaves among four thousand, He again added, “How is it that ye do not understand?”  The subject that grieved their Lord was this, that notwithstanding all that those two miracles were intended to teach them, they were still thinking of the bread that perisheth, whether or not it would fail them; whereas, what He had intended to teach them was, to leave this entirely to His merciful care; for “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” He had wished, that being assured He Himself would provide as was best for the body, they should be concerned and thoughtful only for the things of the soul—of God and eternity. He had designed by those miracles to draw off their minds from the concerns of this world, and to lift them up from earth to heaven.

And the same thing was shown in a manner no less forcible and impressive in that discourse at Capernaum, with those who had partaken of that first miracle of the loaves.  In grief and disappointment He saw them flocking after Him, and said, “Ye seek Me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.  Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.”

And now to apply the same to ourselves. It was observed that the counterpart of this miracle is still carried on by the providence of God every year in harvests more or less abundant, whereby the blessing of God upon the corn, as it passes through the hands of man, multiplies the seed sown, some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold. Now what our Lord desired on those two occasions of multiplying the loaves was, to draw attention to the miracle, to the marvellous working of His power and goodness; this He had particularly wished them to notice, and understand, and remember; it was from hardness of heart that they were slow to do so. But what He wished at the same time to withdraw their minds from, was the mere means of bodily support. He wished them to have seen His hand—to have been impressed, overpowered by it—to have been thankful; to have under-stood it, reading that lesson with spiritual eyes ; and in consequence to have trusted in Him altogether for the means of present subsistence, and to have sought from Him the true food of the soul.

Now the effects of the harvest—of reaping, and enjoying, and witnessing the fruits of the earth of all kinds—is to make men think of the food that perisheth; to look to such things, and rest in them in all their varieties and abundance. What is the consequence when the mind dwells on these for their own sake? It is again to seek for more with the men at Capernaum, or else, with the good and lowly disciples, to be “taking thought” in poverty, from a fear that such wants may not be supplied. But the very contrary to this is the design and desire of our merciful God towards us. He wishes us to rest in none of His gifts, but to be led by them to seek for rest in Himself only. For be assured, my brethren, let Him give us the whole world, yet unless He gives unto us Himself we are poor indeed.

But, alas! such is the frailty of our nature, that the more He bestows upon us of outward gifts, the more danger we are in of resting in them, and thereby of for— getting Him. For He gives, and in giving withdraws Himself; yet it is Himself that He would have us to seek, to love, to rest in, and then we shall care for nothing else, for in having Him we have everything. He would have us to seek Him, because He loves us and pities us, and knows that He is Himself our only true happiness.

But it is not in harvests and fruits of the earth only that He indicates His superintending compassionate Providence, wishing us at the same time not to care for such things, but only for Himself the Giver. But in all the circumstances of our earthly life, in which He has shown His watchful regard to our wishes, our comforts, and desires of all kinds, from our birth all along unto this day; His affording us many means of temporal good,— friends it may be, some share of reputation, wealth, learning. Most men are at times sensibly affected by a review of these blessings in their own lives, as indica-tions of God’s tender goodness towards them. But in all these things it is to be feared that we afford to our merciful God matter of complaint and sorrow, because we value and love His gifts more than Himself.

Compassionate Saviour, do Thou Thyself teach us the lesson Thou wouldst have us to learn, and write it by Thy Spirit on our hearts and lives. Let us not grieve Thee by letting it pass from us, or by taking it amiss, as they did of old who partook of those Thy miraculous mercies.

Alas, O my God, I know no greater occasion than this for sorrow, and pain, and tears, that we should forget and dishonour Thee, because Thou art good!

It is such reflections as these, dear Christians, which I think the Church would call to our minds on this Sunday, by the key which the Collect seems to furnish to the intentions of the Gospel; for in that we pray that He Who is “the Author and Giver of all good things,” would “graft in our hearts the love of” His “name, increase in us true religion,” and “nourish us with all goodness.” And I hope that during this week this Collect may be very frequently repeated by us, both night and day, with such thoughts of humiliation as become us, on account of our want of love to our merciful God for all His benefits.