THE SECOND SERMON UPON
JOHN vi. 11.
He distributed to the Disciples, and the Disciples to them that were set down, and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
JOHN vi. 11.
He distributed to the Disciples, and the Disciples to them that were set down, and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
THis is the second time; I take leave to remember you of it, that I have propounded this Text before you. To treat upon a Text of multiplying and increase, it may be it hath some influence upon the words of the speaker. Or if not so, yet it being a branch of a famous Story out of which our Church hath compiled three several Gospels (observe your Common-prayer Book, and you will find no less) I say that which hath supplied us with three Gospels, may easily afford us occasion of two Sermons. It is so circumstanced with mysteries, that as twelve Baskets did no more than contein that which was left of five loavs and two fishes, so when I have spoken once and again upon this Theme, the remainder which I must omit, will be manifold more than I shall be able to deliver. It came to pass at such an opportunity, as in reason you may be confirmed that our Saviour meditated some great matter: for setting all occurences in right order, John the Baptist was newly beheaded, and his bloud yet warm, Matth. xiv. It was as the Devil would have it, the burning Light was put out, the Forerunner cut off, the mouth of the great Witness was stopt, he that divulged Christs glory over all Judea. Now his fame will be less bruited abroad than it was before: not a whit; for immediately as it were on purpose to supply the place of that mighty Prophet, Christ amazeth the people with this Table that he spread in the Wilderness; the rumour of it filled Jerusalem and all Judea: so that Satan might say with Herod, this is John the Baptist that is risen from the dead.
And it hapned to the greater glory of the Son of God, that all parties were never so generally pleased with any wonder that he did. In this Gospel of St. John he healed a man that had been infirm eight and thirty years: It liked them not,* be∣cause it was done on the Sabbath day. He told the Pharisees their secret sins, they told him he was a Samaritan and had a Devil.* He gave eyes to one that was born blind: but who durst confess it? for he that did was sure to be excommunicated. He raised Lazarus to life after he had been dead four days.* This made the High-Priests broil with anger, that they concluded in their Council it was expedient to put him to death. Onely this Miracle was taken with the right hand,* and for ought appears, escaped all malignancy and sinister interpretation. If it sped so well with them, that observed no more from it, but that they did eat and were filled. (I speak it upon good authority, the Lord rebukes them for it in this Chapter, ver. 27. That they laboured for the meat that perished, and not for meat that endured to everlasting life.) If these had such liking to it, how much more considerable is it to us, who may collect the highest mysteries of Religion out of these lowly figures. First you may discern in this the communicableness of charity, which passeth the good things of fortune from hand to hand to those that need, as these barley loaves were derived from the Fountain to the River, and from the River to the smaller Brooks. Secondly you may see no less than Christ and his Church knit together by Page 922 fit junctures and sinews, his influence moves in his Apostles, the Apostles dispense his gifts unto the people, which is the harmony that keeps all in tune in the house of God. Nay thirdly here is the very Sacrament of the Sacrament: As the bread in this Miracle was blessed from Christs lips, and drew vertue from thence above its nature; so in the Lords Supper the Word infuseth it self into the Element, and it becomes a Sacrament. These things without peradventure the Jews did not wot of, but we have light enough to discry them from this Story, He distributed to the Disciples, &c. I am constant to that partition of the whole verse which I deli∣vered heretofore, a preparation to a Miracle, and the Miracle it self. The preparati∣on as I noted I dispatched it, was bodily and ghostly, bodily in assumpsit, Jesus took the loaves; ghostly in gratias egit, or benedixit, he gave thanks. The Miracle consists plainly of these three Members. Here is the distribution, which is Christs act, He distributed to the Disciples. 2. The subdistribution, that was the Disciples Office, They distributed to them that were set down. 3. Here is the reception, that did belong to the People, They did all eat and were filled, they had as much as they would. Distinctly upon these three in their order.
There is but one giver in the Text, the rest that are mentioned are all borrowers; to him therefore as to the Patron of the Miracle give we the precedency in this Narration, He distributed. That Pronoun and Verb together make a rich conjun∣ction, and yield such an ample Revenue as the whole earth cannot receive: For all the wealth of this World, and our Portion of glory in the Text is lodged in the room of these few syllables, He distributed. But to lay hold of it with the right hand, and as it belongs to the matter which is before me, I consider it as it conducts us to the two regent Attributes of the Divine nature, Power and goodness, or in terms as easie to be remembred, as a Miracle, or as a Benefit. First as a Miracle: If the Son of God had communicated all that was before him, and no more, as far as it would reach, the Company that was with him had barely seen his courtesie; but since it pleased him to increase the loaves more than a thousand fold above their natural quantity, it was an argument of his Majesty and Omnipotency. Mighty things are those which thou hast done O Lord, and who is like unto thee? What a memorable Feast was here set forth out of an handful of meat? Was ever hun∣ger conquered with such small provision? Were ever five thousand persons tabled at so cheap a rate? nothing was made ready, and yet nothing wanted, no Ovens were heated, yet they had their fill of bread without scarcity; no nets were cast to drag the Seas, yet fish abounded with them to their utmost satiety. In brief, a Child did keep and carry all the food that was among them, and yet here was an open House for all comers.
Julian that great Apostate studied Magick, and all secret unlawful Arts under that great Sorcerer Jamblichus the Philosopher. His desires were to make the Scriptures, and in them the Miracles of our Saviour suspected or despicable. Well, when he and his infernal Partners had tried all their cunning, what could they produce correspon∣dent to this unquestionable increase of five loaves and two fishes? why it was too manifest to be impeached, and too great to be imitated. Cast seeds of corn into the ground, and we look for an augmentation, but with many conditions, and after much leisure. First the bosom of the earth, after it is well manured, must take it, the dews and rain must liquor it, the Sun must cherish it, the seasons of the Spring and Harvest must give it blade and mature it: but Christ had all these in the palm of his hand eminenter, he took a fragment of a barly loaf into his hand, and to teach his Church that his grasp had in it the fecundity of the earth, the moisture of the showers, the influence of the Sun, the comprehension of all times and seasons, and the excellency of all power, as he broke it, it enlarged it self far beyond those goodly ears of Wheat which Pharaoh saw in his Dream, and every crum became an handful,*quinque panes erant quinque semina, non terrae mandata sed ab illo qui terram fecit multiplicata, says St. Austin; the five loaves were after the manner of five seeds of corn, not fructifying in the earth, but multiplying in his hand that made the earth. But because all kind of pulse and grane, yea though it were Manna, it self that came from Heaven, is of that condition, that it must run through much art before it be made bread: but that which Christ brake and gave to his Disciples was bread in the first existence and production: therefore St. Hilary had rather compare the loaves that swelled thus by Christs blessing to a River, whose fountain supplies one wave to run after another with an indifferent succession, and whatsoever the Cattle drink riseth again out of the Spring, and the channel is al∣ways Page 923 filled: so the loaves received no diminution by the portions which were bro∣ken off, sed quicquid aufertur usurario quodam meatu reparatur; nay the principal was not only repaired, but it was requited with interest.
Having stood at gaze a while to behold that which was done, shall we walk round about it as it were, to observe, if we can, after what manner it was done: he that takes upon him to search into the modus, how a Miracle was effected, must beware of two rocks in his way, that he do not distrust and say in his mind how is it pos∣sible to be? and that he do not circumscribe the Divine power and say, necessarily thus it must be. Steering my self by these advisoes, I say, first, Christ could amplify that little portion of bread into those great exceedings, by creating some new sub∣stance, to eek out that which was in his hand before, qui sine seminibus operatur se∣mina, he spake the word, and the first seeds that ever grew came out of nothing: nothing is not removed at such vast distance from his power, but that it may be made something, because he is infinite in doing all things. Secondly, He that turned water into wine, with the same vertue could turn the adjacent air into the substance of Bread and Fish. Which sudden alteration in a thin and a fluid body unprepared to take such an impression, was an action proper to God, and no less transcendent than the principal Creation. Thirdly, Though growth be the affe∣ction only of a living thing, yet he could make every fragment of those victuals to grow in an instant of time, as the dry stick in Aarons hand did shoot out Leaves and Almonds. Fourthly, If he pleased it was not difficult to him, but that he could distend and widen that small matter into a far broader substance; as when a little water is rarified, and boiles over a Cauldron when it is vehemently heated, or as the Rib which was taken out of Adams side was extended to make a Woman, which surpassed it self an hundred fold in magnitude. Finally, I may miss in all these, for the ways of the Lord are past finding out, and some other means may be used, upon which the eye of Philosophy did never open. You may as soon tell the num∣ber of the Stars, as reckon in what divers fashions such an unwonted augmentation should come to pass; and my Text is read in some old Copies very consonant here∣unto, that our Saviour distributed of both species, Bread and Fish, not quantum vo∣lebant, as much as the five thousand desired, but quantum volebat, as much as he would. Whatsoever his will affects his strength effects, or else there were not only impotency, but contristation in the Divine Nature; but his goodness is not bound∣ed by our imperfect desires, nor his truth by our weak understanding. In which title the Apostle had reason to glorifie him, Eph. iii. 20. Ʋnto him that is able to do ex∣ceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, unto him be glory throughout all ages world without end.
The report which Pliny makes of the Lioness, that she whelps but once in all her life perhaps is mistaken, yet the principle toward which he lookt in that report is a good one, that great births and great effects fall out but seldom. Christ did not make many such distributions as this was, and yet it was not like Plinies Lioness, once more he brought forth the like. First, He shewed what strange things his Di∣vinity could command among the Jews (for first he was sent to them.) Soon after, and in the very next Chapter, after the order of St. Matthew, he fed four thousand with seven Loaves and a few Fishes near to Decapolis among those of Tyre and Sidon, and they were Gentiles. If Miracles would prove infallible means to convert sin∣ners (commonly we think so, but it is our ignorance) if they were natural nou∣rishment to beget sound and wholsom Faith, they had seen them oftner. But to lay it open to you that this Miracle, upon which I preach, did not take with them as it deserved; the very same persons that had eat of his Banquet expostulate with Christ in the thirtieth verse of this Chapter, What sign shewest thou that we may see and believe thee? What dost thou work? See what it is come to. That which was done but the other day was forgotten; and a Sign they ask for, as if they had never seen any before. Nay, before the end of this Chapter, Ver. 66. Many of these whom he had engaged unto him by his miraculous benefits they dropt off like withered Leaves, from that time many of his Disciples went back, and walked no more with him. No better came of his great work done upon the Loaves and Fishes; no better came of Manna in the days of Moses, which was every morning spread about their Tents. And yet we are perswaded if God would shew such tokens among us, it would make us such earnest, such thankful Christians that the kind∣ness would not be lost upon us. And doth that conceit hold you, that to see five thousand fed with a few fragments would do your Faith and Conscience such a Page 924 pleasure? Why then I tell you, you see a greater Argument of Gods infinite power every day in the year. Millions of People being in the world, as many as there be drops in the Sea, yet all these have their daily bread, and the celestial benignity is never exhausted. This is customary indeed, but much more than the other, Et in∣solita stupendo vident quibus quotidiana viluerunt; Lesser things are admired which hap∣pen rarely, the greater works of God, because they are frequent are heeded care∣lesly. Say not now but ye see cause enough why Christ did actuate this Miracle of the loaves no oftner than twice, he would not stretch his Creatures beyond their na∣tural size to please their idle curiosity. And yet I will tell you of a miraculous multiplication, but I do not wish you to believe, that is done toties quoties as they think fit that have the Relique in their custody. It is the Cross on which our Sa∣viour was crucified, (you must not question the Story but that Helen found it in an heap of rubbish at Jerusalem) many did desire Chips of it out of their devotion, and though innumerous slices of it were cut away, yet it kept its just magnitude, and never varied. The thing was divulged by some, but none of the famous Do∣ctors,* one thousand three hundred years ago. One of them that is said to write extemporary Catechisms when he was a young man, compares the Cross which wasted not for all the shivers that were borrowed from it to these Loaves and Fishes. Another says out of his credulous good meaning, that it got this solidity because the bloud of him was spilt upon it who saw no corruption. And to this hour, say such as get their living by this craft, this holy wood is not consumed, though it be abundantly imparted. Is this credible that Christ did dispense this power unto any to work a Miracle when they would, as if there were an Office erected to do signs and wonders? Qui Bavtum non odit, he that hath so strong a sto∣mach to disgest this, let him swallow such an other; that out of three or four nails that pierced our Saviours hands and feet, the Friers can direct you to Churches and Religious Houses where an hundred instead of four are exposed to adoration. What though the Beam of the Cross did not diminish for the portions cut away, yet which way did the Nails increase? Did one Nail spawn another as big as it self? None is so frontless to defend it. But to cut off further process upon the matter: It is best to bind the Legend how the Cross and the Nails have multipli∣ed into volumes, and believe them together. But the sure way is not to parallel the glorious works of our Master with such Apocryphal fictions. There is a great difference between Juggling and Miracles.
Hitherto touching the Act of his power in producing this admired work, go onward to the next Point, and we shall encounter his goodness. Our Saviour did not use to do tricks to shew his skill, but that some might be the better for him, there∣fore his power was joyned with Beneficence, Ʋt potestas non terreat, sed amorem ex∣citet, says St. Austin; That he might not astonish them with his greatness, but en∣dear them with his liberality. Leaf gold is drawn out a great way, and then it is fit for nothing but Ostentation: So the multiplying of the Loaves and Fishes had served barely for the pomp of the eye, but that the wonderful encrease thereof con∣cluded in a benefit. And first I note, though the love of Christ to mankind was excessive, strong unto death, yet going in the Tract of reason, they had little cause to look for this at his hands. Alas, he had no home to entertain them, no Revenues wherewith to feast them, no Olive yards or Vineyards to bestow upon them.* Could five thousand look for a Supper of his bestowing? For our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich, that is, says Nazianzen, he put on the poverty of my wretched flesh, that I might gain the riches of his glo∣rious Divinity. They that followed him had not their wages in Meats and Drinks, in Silver and Gold, but in Sanctity, and Justification, in peace of Conscience, and in the earnest of the Spirit to be heirs of Salvation. And he whose Profession it was to open the Treasures of Heaven to his Disciples, and to possess naught of Earth, no not so much as to set his foot upon, doth he strain himself to give enter∣tainment to so many in the Wilderness? What was this, but to yield as it were to the time, to be beneficial to the Jews in a temporal way, that by all means he might win their love. He had fed their Spirit with the Word of life, and satiated them, one would think, with the promise of eternal Joy and Immortality, if they believed in his name; but he knoweth whereof we are made, he considereth the Worm in our corruptible appetite which is always craving. He remembred that a little in hand goes a great way with them that cannot abide to have all their state in reversion, therefore he distributed unto the necessity of their body, though his Page 925 Errand for which he came into the world was to be the Saver of Souls, as you would say, he stept a little out of his own way to bring them into the right way. I cannot but revolve it in my fancy that the Jews were more transported with this curtesie of our Saviours than with all that had preceded. Hereupon they cry out, This is the Messias, this is he that should come into the world, Let us take him up and make him a King. How ignorantly and unequally doth flesh and bloud set a price upon the works of God? I durst almost say, that this was one of the least good turns that ever he did them. When a Miracle came off graciously indeed, it had such a tang at the end of it, as Son thy sins be forgiven thee, or This day is Salvation come to thine house. This had no such heavenly adjunct, but was a frank Feast among a promiscuous company, as his rain falls upon the just and unjust. Well, though the grudgings of this disease are become natural to us all, to like the heavenly offices of the Gospel the better if Christ befriend us a little with these corruptible things, yet carnal Companions are most odious to apprice things momentary before coelestial. How much better doth Solomon distinguish? Length of days, mean∣ing endless days, are in his right hand, and in his left hand riches and honour. Wherefore David describes evil affected men, that value earth before heaven, that their right hand is a right hand of iniquity, because they grasp transitory things in their right hand, fixing their chiefest complacency in them, which are favours of much later digress, and to be received in the left. And the same Metaphor is pro∣secuted in another sacred Song, Cant. ii. 6. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. Sinistra capiti non praeponitur, sed supponitur, says Bernard. The left hand which bestows Loaves and Fishes must be under our head, not above it, as if it were the top of our desires: but the right hand should compass us about at the very heart. To this Point but a word more. Christ produced this Amplitude of sustenance even out of his penury, when he had nothing, and possessed nothing. Quid facturae sunt ejus divitiae cujus paupertas nos divites fecit? says St. Austin. What great thing will he confer upon us out of the riches of his glory, who made such generons welcom to so many thousands with his poverty?
May this suffice to unfold our Lords goodness in this distribution with respect to himself, and his own humiliation. Lay the present condition of the people in another balance, to whom he opened his hand of liberality, and you shall find him that faithful Steward, that gives the portion of meat in due season to the Family, Luk. xii. The people were many, thousands of men, beside women and children. These had gi∣ven diligent attention to Christs Doctrine from morning to night. It was in the Spring time, much about the Passeover, when the body is most lusty, and the appetite most sharp, and yet in all that space none of these, no not so much as they or the weaker Sex, and the tenderer Age, had taken any refection. As the Poet made a fancy of it, that while Orpheus touch'd his Lute the Deer listened, and had no leisure to drink or graze, Neque amnem libavit quadrupes, nec graminis attig it herbam. So the throng that pressed about Jesus hung at his lips, and hungerd so much for grace, that they forgat the refreshing of nature. The Disciples being not ill ad∣vised that faintness and infirmity must ensue upon it, out of instancy and passion command their Lord, send the multitude away, and their Allegations indeed are piti∣ful, this is a desart place, it affords nothing, these good men and women are un∣furnished, and have brought nothing to eat. Dismiss them to seek their Sup∣per in the adjacent Villages, there is no other way, and ten to one such poor Ho∣steries had nothing in store to entertain them. With their leave, this was counsel, but no charity. If a brother be destitute of food, and one of you say be filled, notwithstand∣ing ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? Jam. ii. 16. Yet to purge the Disciples from such luke-warm love, I profess in their behalf,* they did to their utmost what they were able. All the commiseration on earth, set God aside, could not just at the nick afford what they wanted; the distress was such, that it did as it were make an out-cry to all the world, Is there any one that can re∣lieve you? I may say it truly without lightness, this was Christs qu to come in, and no opportunity like it, it is his manner to be most propitious in an extreme plunge, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, says Philo, this is proper to God to be strong in weakness, to abound in scarcity, and to be most comfortable in a despe∣rate necessity.
If things feasible or facile were only brought to pass, Infidels would say, Who could not do this? Therefore God doth reserve his power and his rescue for hopeless miseries. And David calls it articulately the time wherein he may be found, Page 926Psal. xxxii. 7. As he called out to Abraham to stay his hand in the latest minim of the moment, when there was not an hairs breadth between Isaac and death. As the Israelites were disappointed of Manna till they were weary of their life, and made that dismal moan, Would to God we had died in Egypt. And as Elias had no an∣swer from heaven, nor Ravens to feed him, till he was at the pitch of discontent, It is enough Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my Fathers. When these immediate natural causes, which work strongest upon our senses, when these fail, and can cast no influence of succour upon our afflictions, then God acts his part alone, and arrests our Faith, and challengeth it to give thanks to nothing but to his Om∣nipotency. So he preached to Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me, Judg. vii. 2. Let them be reduced to three hundred, and their paucity will confess that it is the Sword of the Lord that got the victory. But no∣thing more proper to illustrate this, than my Theme in hand. Christ could have led this people forth far from a Desart, into a wealthy place where the fields were la∣den with fruits. This is his usual way, as he made man of the dust of the earth, so to feed him with the fruits of the earth, that she which was our Mother might be our Nurse likewise. But so long as Nature is free and peremptory in this course, we sacrifice to our own seed, and our own labour. Again, he could have staid their appetite, and prevented all hunger and faintness though they had gone away empty from the Wilderness. I would not say it of this people, I know some that would have grown insolent in such a case, upon the merit of their fasting: But best of all that they wanted, and had not till Christ provided them a Table. For lest we should forget God, if we had not special use of him, he hath laid extremities upon us, such as these, to make us remember him. And as his glory doth triumph in helping his Creatures at special need, so it captivates the Soul of man to very mo∣derate contentation, and brings it low like a weaned child. When we wallow in abundance, and have all manner of store at our command, we are so wanton in our choice that the best will not please us; but thrust us into the Desart, where we are begirt with hard necessity, then we grow supple, and indifferent to any thing if the Lord will help us. Our Saviour need not study to satisfie any mans licorish longing in this extremity of hunger, he found five barley Loaves to break among them, and he made them no better, he did not turn them into sugar-plates, or Marchpane. Wherefore if any man find himself voluptuously transported, let him pray to God that his prosperity may go a little backward, like the Sun upon the Dial of Ahaz; let him wish that he were come to the exigence of some extremity, like the Prodigal, that he were faln from the honey-comb, to the husk which the Swine eat. The Syrian Paraphrast intended this, I believe, in the Lords Prayer, when it framed our tongue to supplicate on this wise, Give us this day the bread of our necessity. Now this Point for an upshot shall thus expire. Our soul is in the same plight as their bodies were, that had come a far journey, and continued with our Saviour, and had not one fragment of food to content their stomach. So our Soul is streightned, and wants blessedness, it passionately longs to obtain it. This world is a barren Wilderness, there is nothing but grass in the place, and that which fadeth like the flower of grass. We are far from him, as this people was, and we seek a Country in the heavens. What are five Loaves and two Fishes, the poor pittances of Nature, to procure us felicity? Some say, send them to the next Village for succour, to the intercession of Saints and Angels. No sweet Saviour, but as the eyes of a servant look unto the hands of his Master, so our soul waits upon thee until thou have mercy upon us.
Nor did our Saviour distribute his Largess only to stop the gap of necessity. For had they been runnagates David doth award them to be unpitied, Let them continue in scarceness: but flagrante ptetate, when their hearts were set upon zeal, and their ears attentive by the space of an whole day to hear the Doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, then this Miracle falls out as a reward of their Piety. For even as the 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, or Feasts of Charity were wont to be celebrated among the Christians in the Primitive Church, immediately after the divine Mysteries had been solemnized: So when these Jews had lent their patience to a good Sermon, I am sure (for never man spake like him, by his enemies confession) the close of it was, that they eat bread toge∣ther joyfully with singleness of heart. And I do not amiss to say, that this diligence to hear and learn, did attract his love to do this for them; for did they importune him by Prayer? Did any one, among so many, beseech him to shew his power, and Page 927 pity them? no, but they had done enough to open his bowels, though they held their peace: for first seek the Kingdom of Heaven, and the righteousness thereof, and all these things shall be added unto you. Hallow his name, advance his King∣dom, and do his will, and that which follows comes in by course, you cannot fail of your daily bread. In this Assembly that sanctified the whole day in the Desart to wait on Christ, you may imagine there were sundry of them that lived by their sweat and labour from hand to mouth: Will not these be much damnified by their godliness? The night was come, they had earned nothing by their labour; they may go home and starve: yea, nothing less: they that had committed themselves to his providence like the fowls of the air, shall fair as well as the fowls of the air. For the Lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that fear the Lord do want no good thing, Psal. xxxiv. 10. The Apostles, not long before this accident in my Text, were sent abroad without Scrip, without provision, without change of raiment. Lacked you any thing, says our Saviour? the Heathen could not say that the Christians were the poorer for not working the seventh day: your Trade is increasing while your shop is shut up on Holidays, if you serve the Lord. Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come, 1 Tim. iv. 8. We had Brethren in diebus illis, in those noble times, that came near to the Apostles, who durst urge the Lord upon his word, in the face of Infidels, that the soul of the righteous should not famish. In the year 176 Marcus Aurelius was ready to give battel to the Marcomans, but the day was so hot, and the drought so sore, that his Army fainted, and could not strike a stroke. The Christians that served under him, to shew the glory of their great Master Jesus, the Son of God, joyned their Prayers together, and instantly obtained so much rain as refreshed all the Roman Legions, and so much thunder as consumed the Marcomans with fire and lightening. I make not the Doctors of the Church my Authors for it, but Dion Cassius, an Heathen, confesseth the accident, and Xiphiline, another of the same, ascribes it to the Christians: and that Legion which consisted of Christians was called from hence 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, the thun∣dring Legion, long after. The blessings of the Lord they are not viscata beneficia, they do not hang in his fingers like birdlime, when his Children need them, but they drop like an Honeycomb, without straining.
But men are so apt to object against this, as if they stretcht their wits to make God a liar: they will tell you that they have known and heard of righteous men that have been forsaken and destitute. Digito terebrare Salinum contentus perages, si cum Jove vivere tentas; Poverty ever was and will be the obloquy of honesty: Neither is bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill, Eccles. ix. 11. Well the knot is soon untied, if you do not over-reckon with God, and extend his word to a greater proportion of temporal blessings than he hath promised. There is a Son that grudged at his Father, Luke xv. quia nusquam haedum dedisset, he had never given him a Kid to make merry with his friends. Must every one that is a Son look for a Kid, and for enough wherewith he may be merry and vo∣luptuous? no, no, if you have pabulum & latibulum, any thing to stay hunger, and a Cave to put your head in, God is not in your debt, and you may do as well as they that have the Kid; for life is oftner lost by surfeiting than by starving. Every Levite that serves faithfully at the Altar must not think to wear a Mitre like Aaron, as St. Hierom speaks of Praetextatus that would be baptized, and become a Christian, if he might be Bishop of Rome. All men must not look to be requited like Valenti∣nian; that refused the Tribune-ship of Julian upon condition of Idolatry, and be∣came an Emperor: They that gape for so much, tenter Gods promise to the stretch of their own greediness. First, They seek dominion, and wealth, and think the King∣dom of Heaven will come into the vantage. Miserable souls, that do not fear lest their dignity should be their total recompence, and all that ever they shall have for their service. They that put themselves upon Gods providence, as these men did in the Desart, they shall not want: but remember then that they must accept of barley loaves for current payment. Peter and John had neither silver nor gold, yet they had food and raiment, and for the most part the most fortunate are they that be no such Camels, but they may pass through the eye of the needle.
I will work out of the point but this little more; these five hundred men that waited upon Christ had kept their Fast to the full Canonical time, they had eat no∣thing, until night, therefore he distributes the loaves, dissolves their fast, and would not suffer them to continue it any longer than might do them good. A man in the fervour of his desire will pursue that he desires so hard, as he will quite forget his Page 928 meat: so Esau felt no hunger when he was in the chase a hunting; but as soon as that was over he longed for meat upon any terms: so during the whole day that our Saviour preached, the time was so well taken up, that they minded not the em∣ptiness of their body, so their ears were filled: but when these raptures were over, the tortures of hunger must needs ensue; then our Lord supplies them with a mo∣derate refreshment, to teach us, that religious Fasting should be used as the friend of Grace, and not as the foe of Nature. Many have put themselves to the pain of long abstinence to subdue their carnal desires. Palladius and some legendary Au∣thors will give you the report of some that took no sustenance for three whole months, and forty days: I had rather believe such an Author as Hippocrites in this subject, he says, Where natural heat is weak, and phlegm abounds, upon which the heat may spend its force, a sick man may continue long and eat nothing; but such as are of sound health cannot preserve life above seven days without meat: therefore St. Austin keeping himself to the modesty of truth, tells it with admiration, that some mortified Christians would taste neither meats nor drinks for three days. Yea, this is credible: but the Church, which would not over-lay mans weakness with severity, did never in her Canons prorogue a Fast longer than the Evening of one day, ad∣ding, that the Supper should be frugal and without all delicacy: so in my Text, here was an abstinence kept for an whole day, then followed after St. Hieroms Phrase, Cibus vilis & vespertinus, a crust of a barly loaf, and a little fish. Whether the wor∣ship of God may consist in Fasting, taken single by it self, I dispute it not: all will agree that it is medium cultus, a good disposition to Gods service, because it removes the impediments. Now mark how our Saviour limited this Fast, and take heed of excessive macerations: Make not that which is ordeined for the Handmaid, to be the hinderer of devotion: fasting doth as it were bring the Bow to ejaculate prayer with the greater force; now, that Fast is frustrate of the due end, which brings such infirmity upon the body, that it is unfit for prayer. The Church there∣fore hath always provided, like a tender Mother, so to circumscribe the strictest Fast, that no man should put his life to hazard, nor his health to prejudice: and he that shortens his days by such immoderate penance, is as much to be blamed, as if he would offer a Sacrifice, and play the thief to compass it. It is St. Hieroms simili∣tude, and this to boot, in an Epistle to Laeta, whom he chid for that fault; Experi∣entia didici assellum cum in via fessus fuerit diverticula quaerere; the body over-pined with fasting, is the Ass that being tired too much will never keep the high-way, but turn aside into every Lane and Corner. To dispatch this, for I think we need not a Bridie in this kind, I would we did, Maior, the School-man, could say, that we were never such scrupulous fasters in this Island, as in the neighbour Kingdoms; but for the truths sake, the summ is, Fasting is not to be preferred before Charity, and it must be proportioned, that it may not stiffen our devotion, but make it more lim∣ber for Prayer and Piety.
And so far, that this distribution of our Lord came from his manifold goodness with respect to the convenience of time. The same goodness takes us along into a fresh consideration, respecting his Instruments by whom he wrought, he distributed to his Disciples. A Feast, where there were five thousand Guests, could not be served without many waiters, and loe the Twelve were 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, those diligent Ministers that did the office for them all; or you may say it doth very much re∣semble a Maundy, and the Apostles were the Maundy-men. And because the time will not suffer me to insist long upon it, I will give you the substance of it in short particulars.
First, The latest motion that came from the Disciples was an hearty good wishing to this poor people: Sir, send them away, and let them go to the Villages; as who should say, I would they were in some courteous place where they might rest, and be refreshed. There was brotherly affection in this charitable wish of theirs, and behold Christ promotes it to bring forth fruits, and turns their Optative Mood into a Potential; as who should say, do you moan their necessity, and long to see them better provided for? It is well done, go your ways, and with your own hands deliver them as much as shall suffice them. There was none of the holy Race that did so much bewail the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt as Moses did,* many time his mind did run upon it when he kept the Flocks of Jethro, instantly God made his vows and wishes grow up into a solid substance; Come, says the Lord, I will send thee unto Pharaoh, and thou shalt bring forth my people out of Egypt. If you see any thing that wants the blessing of the Lord to help it, or reform it, at Page 929 the least send forth the desires of your soul for a gracious time to mend it, and you know not whether God will give your own arm ability to effect it.
Secondly, See what Christ hath done, miraculi gloriam quasi à se in Apostolos trans∣tulit, he made his Disciples sharers with him in this Miracle; which was more than the most ambitious among them did ever ask; for it was not so much to sit at his right hand and at his left in an earthly Kingdom, as to be partners with him in such a grand exploit, which was wrought by the puissant finger of his Diety: But, which is most of all, Christ did as it were conveigh the glory of this Miracle from himself to his Disciples; what he did himself was not before the eyes of the Company, the Twelve received all, and gave all to the People. Why, what if they had got all the honour by it? be it so, if it hapned so, he had lost that which he never sought for, the praise of men. They that love to have their memory feather'd with applause and fame, will rather entitle themselves to other mens beneficence, and rather encroach upon the glory of other mens deserts, than part with their own: as the gibe went upon a Roman, Vide quam liberalis fit qui non sua solum, sed etiam aliena largiatur. But when the Holy Spirit is in that plenty as to work a Miracle, nothing that the Actor doth will ever smell of boasting or popularity. Elisha would neither receive from Naamans Purse, nor from his Praise; would not come before him to be known by face, but sent him word by a Deputy, what he should do to be healed. But still take Christ for an Example rather than any Prophet, he restored a sick man to health, and he that was healed wist not who it was, for Jesus had conveighed himself away, Joh. v. 13. He did not this work in the light to be seen, because he would not be haunted with the shadow of glory.
Thirdly, He distributed to the Disciples, and assumed them into the same works which himself did, save only in the work of our Redemption: but when he was acting that part, either they fell asleep, or run away, as when he was laid hold upon to be crucified: it was an exploit above a mortal man to assist it, and would admit of no associate, I have trodden the Wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me, Isa. lxiii. 3. But the power of doing Miracles was communicated unto them for the edifying of the body of the Saints, and that before a great Con∣gregation, where there were many witnesses, that there was such virtue given to men; as if Christ had said before them all, these are they that shall work signs and wonders in my Name, when I am gone to Heaven. These are they indeed, but to do such mighty things was an Heritage which they could bequeath again to their Sons, and to their Sons Sons in all descending Generations. As a Conqueror enters, it may be, in triumph into a City which he hath taken, but when the Solem∣nity of the triumph is over, a plain working-day fashion serves for after: so the Gospel entred with triumph into the World by the power and pomp of Miracles, overtopping all false Religions, and captivating all imaginations; but would you have Christianity to hold on its triumph when it hath vanquished both Judaism and Idolatry 1600 years ago? Not so, but as there is a time to every purpose under Heaven, so there was a time to glorify God by Signs and Wonders, and a time to believe though Signs are ceased. But now was the season to communicate some share of that mighty vertue to the Apostles, as well to prepare them to know their office, as to prepare the People to know that those were the Dispensers of the Mysteries of God.
Lastly, the Disciples received the Blessing immediately from Christ, and they went between Him and the People to feed them with bread, to teach us, that it is for his Saints sake that the earth hath plenty of all things. It was not unto them which murmured that God gave water of the rock, but unto Moses that cried unto him. It was to Elias that God gave rain after three years drought, and not unto Ahab. Forget not therefore which way all temporal Blessings come about. There are holy and mortified men among us that spend the greatest part of their life in penance and devotion, these make intercession for you that your Table may be furnished, and though they do not give it you with their hand, as the Disciples did in our present business, they give it you with their Prayers: when others re∣vel it, and waste their stock in vanity, these grovel upon the earth with their bended knees, that the Lord would not be angry.* As St. Austin said to such a purpose, Quando ipsi laetantur nos pro illis gemimus; when others pamper their genius with marrow and fatness, these do macerate themselves with abstinence to avert famine from the Land. A devout man whose zeal is free from faction, and his heart clear from malice, that drives not his private prosperity, but every day Page 930 spends some Canonical hours most strictly for publick blessings, it may be hath no∣thing himself, and yet procures all; as the Apostles took bread from Christ not for themselves, but to give away to the multitude, or if some little came to their share they enjoyed it not without the envy of those that were the better for their bene∣fit. For when they had distributed their Masters Maundy once and again to so ma∣ny folk, yet they grudged them that which a Nest of Sparrows would make bold with, when they pluckt a few ears of corn, and rub'd them in their hands. Well, the World will never reform this ingratitude, and yet the Lord doth not repent him that his Saints are so precious in his sight, that they obtein riches, health,* and peace for those that hate them and persecute them. Such a poor Widow as Anna that continued in Prayers and Fastings day and night in the Tem∣ple, in part Cesar did owe the prosperity of his Crown unto her, the People were beholding to her that they had their Traffick, the Priests that they had the exer∣cise of their Religion, they of the City that they had their health, they of the Country that they had their Harvest. May be there were Blasphemers, Extortio∣ners, Adulterers that were filled with this Feast which Christ made: so it shall be while good and bad are intermingled every where. But do you mark it, Christ committed the bread at the first breaking to the hands of the Disciples, for faith∣ful and good men are the Conduit-pipes of all the Blessings which the earth re∣ceiveth from the Father of mercies: to whom be glory for evermore. AMEN.