"Give ye them to
eat" (Matt. 14:16; cf. Mark 6; Luke 9; John 6).
It is significant that the
feeding of a multitude by Jesus is something recorded by all four
writers of the Gospels, even if the two occasions are not
reported by each.
This significance in its
general meaning can be easily recognized, although John focuses
the occasion upon the particular point of the Person of Christ;
that is the statement of Christ - "I am the living
bread", and carries upward to the "Father" and
right back to Israel in the wilderness.
There are some points in this
universally recorded work of the Lord which are to be noted.
1. The deep and heartfelt
concern of the Lord that people should be fed. "He had
compassion on the multitude". John very carefully,
meticulously, and fully transfers this, as from the lips of
Jesus, to the spiritual life, as of far greater
importance than the physical. But the physical necessity is an
illustration of the spiritual.
God has so constituted the
human body that its very life, strength, growth, energy, and
usefulness depend upon food. The very fact of the New
Testament is a powerful declaration that, what is true of the
physical body, is - at least - true of the spiritual life in
Multitudes of Christians seem
to think (if they do think about it at all) that, once they are
born again, work is the only thing that matters, and that this
can be done without sound, solid, and ample food. Growth does not
matter. Energy can be found without feeding. Endurance does not
depend upon nourishment. This is a mistake which will find such
people out, sooner or later. Jesus did not so think. The very
survival of the multitude depended - in His judgment - upon their
being fed. It was a precaution against "Lest they faint".
Such a possibility and probability gives immense significance to
the spiritual food question.
A weak, feeble, poor, stunted,
dissatisfied condition in the life of the Christian is certain to
follow - at some time - poverty, scarcity, or meagreness of
spiritual food. There was a generation of strong, robust, and
fruitful saints, the values of whose lives have come down to us
in their written lives and ministries. It is impressive to note
how the substantial nature of that generation is being called
back in the reproduction of that ministry today. That was the
generation of such men as A. J. Gordon, A. T. Pierson, A. B.
Simpson, F. B. Meyer (to mention only a few), and it was the time
of the inception of the convention movement which had as
its basic motive "the deepening of the spiritual life".
What a galaxy of stalwarts
"Northfield" (in America) and "Keswick" (in
England) represented and produced in those days. The
repercussions and momentum of those times and ministries lie
behind much of the original missionary work in many lands.
Missionary work in its strongest and purest nature sprang out of
- indeed was an extension of - those days of spiritual solidity
The names of Pierson, Gordon,
Simpson, Hudson Taylor, Inglis, Andrew Murray, etc. are tied in
with the two aspects, the convention movement and the missionary
movement. These have been largely separated in our time, and the
solid background or foundation is lacking in the greater part of
missionary work and workers.
Let us recover and bring
forward the attitude and concern of our Lord, as demonstrated in
the multitude-feeding on record for the recognition of the Church
in all ages. His very Person and glory are bound up with a people
well fed and satisfied! Do not let us allow ourselves to separate
compassion from the food question. Jesus did not!
2. Then note the time factor in
the act of Jesus. Jesus did not intervene casually. He did not
just say: 'Perhaps we had better let the people have something to
eat now. Let's have a little interval and diversion, and eat
something.' There would probably - in such case - have been those
who were not particularly interested in feeding. Or there might
have been those who were more interested in temporal food than in
spiritual. But Jesus moved when, and because, the situation was
critical, essential, and imperative.
The Lord may be generous in His
provision, but He is neither casual nor wasteful. The record
shows that He conserves even in His bountifulness. There was real
hunger and felt need. The Lord only provides when this is true of
those concerned. Little hunger - little food. Little appetite -
frugal provision. The Lord's compassion is for those who are
consciously hungry to the point of real necessity. It is a fixed
way with the Lord that He does not move until something like
desperation makes it evident that it is His move, and is
supernatural. The disciples would say, "Send them away";
'Let them fend for themselves'. But Jesus knows when things are
beyond that point, and buys the situation for Himself.
3. Then we note the
intermediaries of provision.
Human agency and
instrumentality was drawn into responsibility. The resources were
definitely not with the disciples, and they knew it to
be so. They were extended and taxed as to their faith and
obedience. Their responsibility was not to provide but - knowing
the Lord - to form a link between the need and the
supply; between scarcity and abundance.
Many who take positions of
responsibility amongst the people of God are themselves a
limitation. The people are starved, but the intermediaries stand
in the way. They have not got the resources themselves, but they
do not move to bring them from where they are.
Like the story of 'the friend
at midnight' in Luke 11, it is necessary to know where bread is
to be found, and then, even if at considerable personal
inconvenience, see to it that the need is brought into touch with
Jesus would teach us that: -
1. He is really concerned about the spiritual food question.
2. He will provide when - and only when - there is a real need.
3. He lays the responsibility upon intermediaries, and that the
state of His people lies at their door.