How many loaves have ye? Go and see. - Mark vi:33
There is a richness of instruction in all the incidents of our Saviour's life, which we, I fear do not often take the trouble to arrive at. We look at his miracles, for instance, as evidences of his divine power and unwearied compassion. But we rarely proceed further and inquire, what is the moral lesson which the Holy Ghost intended to teach me from the record of these remarkable facts? Thus, in the history of the Syrophenician woman, how perennial a fountain of encouragement to importunate prayer is opened to every humble believer? And, thus, in the miracle from which the text is taken, I think there may be found several lessons which may guide the conscience and encourage the hope of every true-hearted disciple.
Turn we for a moment to the scene before us. An immense multitude, five thousand men, besides women and children, have followed the blessed Saviour from all the towns and villages in the neighborhood. They have listened to his instructions throughout the live-long day. 'Divers of them came from far.' The burning sun of Syria pours down upon them its scorching effulgence. The strongest are exhausted, the weaker are fainting with heat, famine, and thirst. The dictate of humanity is uttered by the Redeemer in the words. 'Give ye them to eat.' The disciples plead that the thing was impossible. Our Lord commands them to look at their store. The report is discouraging. Their provisions were barely enough for themselves. They had only 'five loaves and two small fishes.' This was, however, no reason for delaying the work of benevolence. The multitude sit down. Our Lord blesses the bread, and the distribution commences. All eat and are filled. But Christianity teaches economy as well as benevolence. 'Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost.' They did so, and twelve baskets are loaded with the remainder, after every one has been satisfied.
Let us now seek for the moral lesson which this narrative is intended to convey. To me it seems to teach in the first place,
I. The smallness of our means forms no reason why we should not engage in the work of benevolence. Who can conceive of more limited means than those of the disciples? Five loaves and two fishes among many thousands. Yet our Lord commands the multitude to sit down. He begins with this little; and he taught us by the event, how a little in the service of God may be greatly increased.
Poor disciple! your Lord commands you to be benevolent. You say it is impossible, - that you have no more than you need for yourself. I ask you how many loaves have you? Are you so poor that you cannot give one to Christ? Deliberately examine your little store. Have you not two mites, which make a farthing? If you have no more, Christ will accept of that She who gave this sum was the noblest benefactor whom the Lord looked upon, among all the many donors to the treasury. Has Christ really excluded you from the privilege of the poor widow; or are you excluding yourself?
To the rich I need only say, how many loaves have ye? Your tables are loaded with luxuries. Your wants, nay, your caprices are gratified. If the poor are called upon by Christ to be charitable in their penury, what shall excuse you if you minister not to Him of your abundance? Go too, now, ye rich men.
You are a minister of Christ. Your salary is small, and you are obliged to practice economy. You are laboring for God in your calling, and for these reasons suppose that you are excused from the work of charity. My brother, how many loaves have you? Go and see. Look over your means. Lay them all before Christ, and in the presence of the Saviour decide whether you have nothing that you can give him. Is your calling religious? It certainly ought to be. But is it religions, unless you set an example of religion? You might as well not repent or pray because your calling is religious, as to fail to set an example of religion in the matter of charity. With what confidence can you urge benevolence upon your people, unless they behold you practising what you preach? I fear that this is one cause why you take so little interest in the cause of missions, But you are afraid if your people do any thing for missions they will not pay you your salary. So, then, they are covetous, and you mean to improve them by following their example. If you act on this principle, be not surprised, if you are, in the end, starved away. Begin yourself by bringing the tithes into the Lord's store house.
You are a poor church. You can hardly support yourselves and maintain the gospel. But let me ask you, how many loaves have ye? Go and see. You are living very comfortably. Your tables never have known want. Your houses are well furnished. Has a perishing world no claim? Has a suffering Saviour no claim on all this? You feel poor, I fear, because you have withheld from God what was his own, and he has sent leanness into your souls.
You are poor, but if your pride require that your house should enlarged you could enlarge it. If your pride required you to beautify your meeting-house, you could do it. I once heard of a church within the present century, for which it was pleaded as an excuse for not doing more in charity; that they had spent ten thousand dollars in magnificently repairing and beautifying their meeting-house. There must, in this case, have been loaves enough somewhere.
Are you really poor and weak? Do you wish to be made stronger? Show the world that you love your fellow men. Testify your love to Christ not by words but by actions, and the Lord will pour out a blessing that you shall not have room enough to receive it.
This leads me to remark in the second place.
II. The way to have more, is to obey God in the use of what we have. If we wish to do much good, we must begin to do good in any way, be it ever so small, that God places in our power.
Thus the disciples found it. Their means were small. They began with five loaves and two fishes. The supply continued. They kept on giving and the supply increased. The multitude was filled. They gather up the fragments that remain: their five loaves and two fishes have become twelve baskets full.
Thus was it with our brethren in England fifty years since. They began with L13 14s. 2d., to send the gospel to the heathen. Their missions have been established all over the East. They have translated the Bible into the languages of hundreds of millions. The[y] have almost evangelized the West Indies; and, aside from their usual collections, they gathered up, as jubilee fragments, 32,500 pounds, about 145,000 dollars; and of this sum sent to our aid more than 2,000 dollars as an act of fraternal kindness.
III. Let us, however, observe the spirit in which all this must be done. Jesus looked up to heaven and blessed, as he brake the bread. We must go forward in the work of benevolence in the spirit of charity and of faith. If we attempt to do good from motives of ostentation, or from a hope of being repaid, we shall be inevitably disappointed.
Our Lord acted by miraculous power, but this power was exercised through the means of holy love. He had compassion on the multitude. While we, therefore, call you to follow his example in action, we must as strongly exhort you to follow it in principle, and motive, and temper. Religious charity is not merely giving, it is giving with a heart full of love to the souls of perishing men. It is only this charity that God will bless. This only will He water with the dew of his blessing. Remember then, that without this, your offering is destitute of every element that is acceptable to Him.
It must be done in faith. By this, I mean an unwavering confidence in the veracity, the power and the love of God. This, is that makes prayers and alms all-prevalent with God. This 'moves the hand that moves the world.' Enlarge your heart until it encompasses the world. Think of the miseries of hell and the blessedness of heaven. Think of the love of Christ, by whom a way of salvation is opened for all. Remember that Christ has laid upon you the labor of preaching, or sending the gospel to every creature, and has promised, 'Lo I am with you always!' Remember that God has promised to do this work when you in confidence in him attempt it. Enter then into covenant with him. Commence the work of, evangelizing the world; yes, you, the feeblest saint on earth. Pour out your whole soul to him in behalf of the world. Lay yourself, your talents and property at his feet. Begin to distribute to the whole multitude of perishing souls, and when you stand on the sea of glass mingled with fire, you will thank me for giving you this advice.
[From R. B. C. Howell & J. R. Graves, editors, Tennessee Baptist, "Minister's Department", May 8, 1847, volume III, p. 1. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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