FEEDI G OF FOUR THOUSA D BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, D.D., D.C.L.

And His disciples answered Him, From whence can a man satisfy these with bread here in the wilderness ? ST. MARK viii. 4. THE record of the feeding of the four thousand, which has been read this morning as the Gospel for the day, brings before us in a striking light the twofold aspect of our Lord s miracles. They are works at once and lessons, or, to use the language of the apostles, they are " powers " and " signs." In the former relation they take their place among the facts of the universe which reveal the great laws of God. In the latter they illustrate the subordination of the physical to the moral, and lead us to feel a divine presence in the great sacraments of ature. It is of no moment that the laws which miracles set forth cannot be traced at every instant in outward operation. Antecedently to all experience, we can not presume to prescribe what will be the mode in which God will manifest His will. We believe that He will never deny Himself, and He is Light and Truth and Love and Life. If, then, we can see, as yet, however dimly and imperfectly, that the miracles of our Lord tend to open to us new views of the economy of the world, to re-establish broken 280

VILLAGE SERMO S 281 harmonies between the aspirations and the powers of man, to figure in sensible forms the infinite tenderness of divine compassion, to foreshadow the great defeat of sin and death, then we shall welcome

them as signs of our heavenly King, declaring His Presence and setting forth His will. To speak of miracles as " suspending " the laws of ature is to neglect or rather to deny their essential character. Here as everywhere the weaker force is overpowered by the stronger, but both produce their full effect. The result is, so to speak, the issue of a conflict. There is a relation between the effort and the object even in the works of Christ. This kind, He said, goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day. Or to show yet more closely the unity of all divine action that is, at once of the creation and of the preservation of the world My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. In these last marvellous words the whole question is summed up. There is no sharp distinction between the " ordinary " and the " miraculous " working of God. In both the element of life and being absolutely escapes all analysis. We know something of the mechanism and phenomena of life, but life itself, its beginning and its close, is at least as great a mystery as any miracle. In this way, then, the " powers " of Christ claim to take their proper place among the events of history, as deeds truly wrought for men and among men. But this is not all : they are, as I have said, lessons also, pregnant each with a peculiar meaning. Each work is an acted parable a sermon addressing us not merely by the

282 VILLAGE SERMO S lively scene of imagination, but by the realities of life. The general truth of this statement is attested by the teaching of our Lord Himself. When the renewed labour of future apostles was rewarded by

the great draught of fishes, as we lately heard, the teaching of the memorable event was pointed in the words, which began and typified the history of the Church : Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. The multitudes fresh from the miraculous feeding by the shores of Gennesaret, followed Christ, and straightway He spoke to them of the bread of heaven, the heavenly manna, and raised their thoughts from natural to spiritual wants, from the meat which perishetJi to that meat which endureth to everlasting life. For thirty and eight years a sick man had lain powerless by the pool of Bethesda. After the healing word was spoken, Christ found him in the Temple, and then laid open before him the source of all suffering : Behold, thou art made whole : sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto tJiee. The woman who touched the hem of Christ s robe was instantly restored, but it was not till she had confessed her Saviour that she heard the words : Daug]iter, be of good comfort : thy faith hath saved thee. The Pharisees blasphemed when the man blind from his birth confessed the divine mission of Him who had healed him ; and Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see ; and that they which see might be made blind. Once again, in the presence of the hopeless mourner, when the grave had closed over him whom He had loved, Jesus said unto Martha,

xxxn VILLAGE SERMO S 283 / am the resurrection and the life, not at some future time only, when earth shall restore her dead, but now and at all time. And at His voice Lazarus came forth from the tomb, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, that we may be henceforth not faith less but believing, and hasten to obey, even against all hope, Him who calls us from our earthly

bondage to a higher life. The existence of this unquestionable symbolism in the general scope of our Lord s miracles suggests the existence of a continuous undercurrent of spiritual meaning beneath their details. The events, if we look at them with any care, are seen to be no mere duplicates, but marked severally by distinctive features. Those which have the closest mutual resemblances are yet separated by a variety of minute differences which change the specific character of the lesson. It would be strange if it were not so. The works of Christ, no less than the words of Christ, were perfect. They met the circumstances of the case not by a rude approxima tion, as with us, but by absolute fitness ; and their very individuality clothes them with a permanent power. This may be seen in the records preserved to us of the two miraculous draughts of fishes, or of the two miracles of feeding. If we take the latter, we shall confess probably that a casual reading conveys little impression of any difference between them, yet I believe that a more minute comparison of their details will leave no doubt as to their substan tial diversity. The feeding of the four thousand will be seen to form one of a group of Gentile miracles. This is shown most clearly in St. Mark. The first

2 8 4 VILLAGE SERMO S is that noble triumph of faith in which the Syrophoenician mother wins the recovery of her daughter by unparalleled devotion. The next, the healing of the deaf and dumb man, whom Christ first led aside from the multitude before He sighed and said, Ephphatha: Be opened. The third, the feeding of the multitude. In each the scene is in a heathen district. The first was wrought on the borders of

Tyre and Sidon, the next in the coasts of Decapolis, the last still on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, which Christ now approached from that quarter ; for when the work was ended, He passed over with His disciples to Magdala. One other detail, preserved by St. Matthew, is itself decisive as to the Gentile origin of the multitude in this last case, for when they wondered at Christ s works, it is said that they glorified the God of Israel, the God, that is, as the whole context shows, of a strange nation. It would be impossible now to examine at length the mutual relations of this group of miracles, which close (as you will find) with marked significance a great period of the Lord s ministry. I would rather ask you to do this for yourselves, and, believe me, the subject is a fruitful one. But if we confine our attention to the miracle before us to-day, we shall see how each detail contributes to enforce its special lesson when contrasted with the previous miracle of the five thousand. There the multitude was apparently part of a pilgrim-caravan, for the passover, the feast of the Jews, was nigh. Here a multitude gathered from a Gentile region waiting for present help. There the divine support was given at once, when

xxxir VILLAGE SERMO S 285 the day began to wear away : here after a delay, w/ien they had continued zvith CJirist already three days. There the disciples first offer counsel to the Lord : here He calls attention Himself to the patient crowds. There help was not far off in the villages and the country round about : here there was danger lest if the people were dismissed they should faint by the way: for divers of them came from far, There the question was : Shall we go and buy two

hundred pennyworth of bread? here From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness ? There the difficulty seemed to be to make existing resources available : here to find resources of any kind. The apostles, when they had seen the one miracle, yet do not seem to have expected the other. Evidently the conditions were changed. Hope for the Gentile was yet far off and even unlooked-for, after the Jew had been fed with heavenly food. At last it was only realised when endurance had overcome trial, when natural strength was exhausted, when obvious supplies had failed, when intercession was silent, by the spontaneous love of a Saviour who was from the first waiting to be gracious. I have said nothing of differences of number and some minuter details in the two narratives, but no one, I think, can read his Bible carefully without feeling that there is in it a mysterious symmetry of parts which he cannot yet fathom. It is possible, no doubt, to crowd our own fancies into the text with rash irreverence ; for there is an irreverent credulity as well as an irreverent scepticism. The safeguard against this is in watchful patience. It

286 VILLAGE SERMO S is enough if you will study Holy Scripture with the firm conviction that every word has its work. What its work is we may not see clearly in every case, for the written revelation of God is spiritually discerned. Yet we shall see enough, I know, to save us from that precipitate and false love of candour which urges many to surrender outworks of Truth which faithlessness alone can make assail able. We need not less criticism but more more calm, more searching, more complete. Let us only

listen lovingly, and what seemed a thunder - clap will be found to be an intelligible voice from heaven. Let us gaze steadfastly, and the dazzling light which dims our outward sense will reveal a vision of God. When the adversaries of Stephen closed round him he looked up into heaven and saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God standing to welcome to Himself His faithful witness. It follows from what has been said that the spiritual sense of the miracles is not a mere accom modation, but belongs to their very essence. Thus the Gospel of the day speaks to us with a direct lesson of comfort if ever, as well may be, our hearts fail as in our life-long pilgrimage. The question of the disciples is one which we often ask, at least in spirit, when we contrast our work with what may seem the nobler work of others, our circumstances with the more favourable circumstances in which they are placed. From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness ? It appears to us to be impossible to fulfil Christ s commands. The very

xxxii VILLAGE SERMO S 287 nature of our work is against us. Our time, we say, is occupied with a dull routine which exhausts the faculties without really exercising them. Our energies are confined within definite limits which we may not pass. There is no scope for free and generous exertion. We would labour much if we might choose our own field, but here the return is uncertain and at best scanty. Vain delusion ! Whatever lies before us, poor and mean and trivial as it may seem, is the work of God. We dare not

weigh in our earthly balance the issues of life. Fame, honour, reputation, eminence are only re flections, or too often shadows, of worth and heroism. Great and small are terms relative to our little world. We can labour honestly and heartily though we know not to what end. When David kept his few sheep in the wilderness he was gaining strength to rule over Israel. When Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel he was gaining wisdom to proclaim the mysteries of Christ. And thousands there have been in every age whose names are written only in the Book of Life, who have silently spread blessings around them from the study, from the workshop, from the lonely chamber, from the crowded camp, which yet live among us. From zvhence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness ? Our situation, we think, is peculiarly difficult. The tone of our surroundings is uncongenial to devotion. Temptations are many and powerful. There is no quarter to which we can look for immediate help. If it were otherwise we too should be changed. As it is, we yield for a time and wait for altered circumstances to display

288 VILLAGE SERMO S our true character. And yet shall we allow that right has no inalienable power : that truth and purity are mere accidents of outward things. It was in the wilderness that Christ revealed Himself as the supporter of His fainting people. It was in the wilderness that the manna fell, the type of Him who is the bread from heaven. As it was in old time so will it be now. Let us not doubt. The sense of our need is the condition of God s help.

. For let us not be mistaken. If the wilderness is to be crowned for us with the beauty of Eden ; if our difficulties and trials are to be changed into blessings, we must first be found waiting upon Christ. It may be that we shall wait long. It may be that we shall see the aid for which we had looked pass away. It may be that w r e shall have followed Him from far, so that a return homewards is impossible. And still if we leave Him not, He cannot fail us. He will not remove our wants, but He will satisfy them. He will not take away our temptations, but He will give us strength to conquer them. He will bless the little which we offer Him, and so it will overflow with a rich increase.

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