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need occasionally, nay, frequently, to retire, not only from the business of common life, but even from the public and active duties of religion? Those who preach the word need retirement for their personal benefit, and for acquiring ideas, and strength of body and mind, for renewed teaching: and those who hear the word need retirement, that they may ascertain whether what they have heard with the multitude be received by them as individuals, and that they may follow up the word by meditation and prayer.
The other evangelists mention that Jesus, with his disciples, went thither "by ship." Being somewhere on the coast when the apostles joined him, he embarked on the sea, as being the least fatiguing way of going to the retired spot to which he intended to conduct them. Luke says, in the 11th verse, that "the people, when they knew it, followed him." Or, as it is in Mark, "The people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran a-foot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him." Some of those who were near the spot where he took ship, knowing him, and rightly conjecturing, by the course he steered, where he intended to land, set out on foot, with all speed, increased their numbers from the towns through which they passed, and were so expeditious that they stood ready to meet him, in a great crowd, by the time he reached the shore.* Now, as on many other occasions, were the prophetic words fulfilled: "Unto him shall the gathering of the people be." On this, we may remark, that when ordinances are removed to a distance from us, we should follow them, and be willing to sacrifice worldly considerations, and to undergo fatigue, in order to reach them. When ordinances are brought to our door, how thankful ought we to be, how careful ought we to be to improve them, and how blame-worthy are we if we neglect them! But, should they be of difficult access, we are not therefore to rest contented without them, nor are we to remain carelessly behind them when they are withdrawn. The command to the Israelitest may be considered as a lesson to us: "When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.'
Though it was, doubtless, somewhat inconvenient for our Lord and his disciples to be thus met by the multitude, yet, as there is no reason to suppose that they were intending * Doddridge.
+ Josh. iii. 3.
any rudeness-as many of them were influenced by commendable motives-and as a noble opportunity of doing good was again thus presented-our Lord, instead of dismissing them with a reproof, received them kindly, and again began to teach, and to work miracles. According to Luke, "He received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing." According to Mark, Jesus, "when he came out" of the ship, "saw much people, and was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." From John's account, 6th chapter, at the 3d verse, it appears that Jesus, in order, we may suppose, that he might be well seen and heard, "went up into a mountain, and there sat with his disciples," and the multitude also waited on him. It appears, too, from John's stating that the Passover was nigh, that it was in the season of spring, which admitted of their being in such a situation. Thus our Lord spent the day.
Verses 12-14: "And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we shall go and buy meat for all this people. (For they were about five thousand men.)" There were two similar miracles performed by our Lord, namely, this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, which is related by all the four evangelists; and the miracle of the feeding of four thousand with seven loaves and a few little fishes, related by Matthew* and Mark. Contrary to his usual custom, John repeats this miracle of the five thousand, probably to prepare the way for the introduction of the long and interesting discourse which is founded on it, and in which our Lord declares himself "the bread of life." Consistently with Luke, but introducing some further particulars, John‡ thus writes: Jesus saith unto Philip, Whence shall we have 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 pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little." From this, it is thought likely that two hundred pence, or denarii, about + Mark viii. 1.
* Matt. xv. 32.
+ John vi. 5.
six pounds five shillings of our money, was all the stock the disciples had at this time. And Philip said that though the whole of it were expended, it would scarcely purchase as much bread as would furnish such a multitude with a slight refreshment, not to speak of a full meal. It did not occur to the disciples how Jesus was to furnish the meal; but he knew well what he was to do. Instances of the miraculous multiplication of provisions had happened before. According to the word of the Lord by Elijah, the widow of Zarephath's barrel of meal wasted not, neither did her cruise of oil fail. By Elisha's direction, a certain widow poured out of one pot of oil, till all the vessels she could borrow were filled. But the case most similar to this in the Old Testament, is related in 2 Kings, 4th chapter, from the 42d verse: "And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God" (Elisha) "bread of the first-fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof: and he said, Give unto the people, that they may
And his servitor said, What! should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord." Much more striking, however, is this miracle, by which our Lord, with five loaves and two fishes, fed five thousand men, and that, too, as Matthew* states, "besides women and children."
It is difficult to conceive any scene of greater simplicity and grandeur, than this must have now presented: Jesus said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. And they did so, and made them all sit down." Or as in Mark,†" And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties." Some conceive this description implies that the people were arranged in separate parties, some of which contained fifty each, and some an hundred each; and that, no doubt, would secure some regularity. Others are of opinion that they were arranged in what are strictly called ranks, or rows, with room to pass between each row, forming thus, at once, one great party with distinct subdivisions; and it is remarked that, if we suppose them thus drawn up, an hundred men in front, and fifty deep, this would exactly exhaust the whole five
* Matt. xiv. 21.
+ Mark vi. 39.
thousand, and place them so that their number would be very easily perceived, while it proved that our Lord knew the number before. The women and children must be supposed to have been seated by themselves, according to the usual custom in Eastern countries.
Then followed a feast, which, however inferior in worldly attractions, far surpassed, in real grandeur, even the royal feast of Ahasuerus. "Then Jesus took the five loaves and the two fishes, and, looking up to heaven," a natural and reverential token of his regard being directed to his Father in heaven, to whom he was about to address himself in words, "he blessed them"-he prayed for, and actually bestowed such a blessing on the provisions as could come on inanimate objects, and as the present time required-namely, a blessing to the use of the people, and to the increase of the quantity of food. John says that our Lord " gave thanks"-thanks, we may suppose, as for all the goodness of God; so especially, for the great display of his power and kindness now to be given. He then brake," divided the loaves, and also the fishes, into portions; and we must suppose that, as he did so, they miraculously increased in his hands, and, probably, that they increased also in the after distribution. He "gave" the provisions, first "to the disciples," to put honour on them, and to show how the affairs of his kingdom in general were to be managed. Then the " disciples set before the multitude." They went round, distributing the provisions in great abundance; John says, as much as they would," that is, as much as the people would take. Wonderful to tell, "they did eat, and were all filled"-fully satisfied! Finally, as we learn from the harmonized account, when they were filled, Jesus said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost: and the twelve, going through the whole ranks, and carefully collecting the broken pieces of bread and fish, "there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets"-a much greater quantity than they had at first. How astonishing!
But, let us improve this miracle, literally and figuratively.
Let us improve it literally, or in reference to the supply of bodily wants. And, first, we learn from this miracle, that it is our duty to do what we can to supply the bodily wants of others. Our Lord showed compassion on the multitude, not only by teaching, but by feeding them.
The disciples appear to have been willing to spend all the money they had, to buy bread for them; and though this was not required of them, they cheerfully brought forward their whole stock of provisions, and distributed them, under their Master's direction. Now, there is in this a pattern for our imitation. None of us can work miracles, it is true, but most of us can contribute something, and all of us should contribute liberally according to our means, to supply the bodily wants of others, of which the want of food is perhaps the most urgent. "Is not this the fast that I have chosen," saith the Lord, "to deal thy bread to the hungry?" We are charged "to do good, to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." As the loaves and fishes multiplied in this miracle, so we may say that a little will go far in charity when judiciously applied, and that a particular blessing often attends those who are particularly generous, so that their property is increased, instead of diminished, by their charity, when viewed in all its consequences. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself." So also, in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians,* "As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower, both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness." Encouragements to this duty abound in Scripture. In the words of the wise man, "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight."-" He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed: for he giveth of his bread to the poor." "If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry," saith Isaiah, "and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Nay, if such charity flow from Christian principle, it will be acknowledged, at last, as done to Christ himself, when he shall say, "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink."
2 Cor. ix. 9.