When the Israelites came out of Egypt and started on their wilderness journey to the promised land, they found themselves without sustenance. The land furnished no supplies. In this respect they were cut off from earthly resources. In their emergency they cried unto the Lord, and God gave them bread from heaven. Each day they gathered the necessary supply. The amount for the Sabbath was gathered the day preceding. Beyond this there was no collection for future use. An effort to save it proved a disgusting failure. Forty years did the daily supply of manna fail not, till they reached the land that God had promised.
The bread on which God fed His people from the land of bondage to the land of Canaan was a type of Christ. This is asserted by both Paul and the Saviour. As such it is worthy of careful study.
1. The Israelites were wholly dependent on the daily bread which God gave. This was a want which the world could not supply. They must feed upon the heaven-supplied food or die. So is every one thus dependent on the bread of life. The world can not supply the wants of the child of God. He needs a daily food which the world does not produce. The world is to him a spiritual desert. He can not look to it to meet the wants of his spiritual nature. Being born from above, he has to live from above. When he seeks to gratify the cravings of his carnal nature by turning back to the flesh-pots of Egypt, he languishes and dies.
Be it remembered that this bread of life is Christ. It is not some theory about Him. It is not some system of theology of man's formulation. Men may feed upon systems and theories till their souls are dwarfed and starved. Such feeding makes partisans and cold-blooded sectarians, without imparting divine life to the soul. We must come directly to Christ. Through His holy word we must study Him, assimilate our lives to His, feed upon Him as the bread from heaven, and drink in of His gracious spirit. The world took knowledge of the saints of old, that they had been with Jesus. And so it may now easily decide as to those of such holy companionship.
2. Christ is the bread of life. As such He has to be appropriated. There is no virtue in bread to sustain life until it is appropriated and assimilated to the system. Men may starve within reach of abundance. God supplies the bread of life, but He does not compel men to eat it. They are urged to eat and live, but they may refuse and die. Oh, the millions in our land who are starving for the bread of life, when it is offered them day by day! Unless we eat the body of the Son of God we have no life. Our salvation, therefore, depends upon eating. Yet there is no virtue in the act of eating. The virtue is in the thing eaten. It is not putting on your coat that makes you warm, but the coat after it is on. Faith is a condition of salvation; but there is no power to save in believing. The saving virtue is in the thing believed. So we may substitute nothing for that which God has given. We must eat the bread which God provides, else all our eating will be in vain.
3. It is well understood by all classes that the wants of the physical man need to be daily supplied. To meet these demands, is the chief concern of the great mass of humanity. Observe that young man. He is in the vigor of robust manhood. He has just enjoyed a night's refreshing sleep and a hearty breakfast. His system seems to be overflowing with an excess of vitality. He goes forth to his work boastful of his strength. But how many hours is it till nature cries aloud for the replenishing of his strength? How long can he live on the boastful supply of his physical manhood? A few days finds him as helpless as a babe. So essential is physical food to physical life.
Nor is spiritual food less essential to spiritual life. As new-born babes we need the unadulterated milk of the word, that we may grow thereby. As men and women, we need the strong meat adapted to our maturity. The great mistake is in trying to live the spiritual life without spiritual food. The strong men in Christ are the good feeders. Those who feed upon the bread of heaven will develop in that which is heavenly. No man has religion enough at the start to take him through life, unless he dies early. The foolishness of the five foolish virgins consisted in their not taking an additional supply of oil. So it is now with every one who does not daily replenish his supply of spirituality. He who tries to live without communion with God -- in reading, in praying, in meditation and obedience to the divine will -- will end in shameful failure.
Christian character is a growth, not a divine impartation. God does not give spiritual strength in an arbitrary way. He provides the means to that end. If we use them, strength results. If we neglect them, we die in feebleness. The means in the figure before us is the bread of life, and the bread of life is Christ. There is an absolute necessity, therefore, for feeding upon Him. From Him all spiritual strength is derived. He is the source of all life. He said to His disciples: "Without me, ye can do nothing." As the branch draws its nourishment and fruit-bearing qualities from the vine, so we draw all spirituality and fruitfulness from Christ. We are fruitful in proportion as we abide in the Vine; and we are strong in proportion to our feeding on the bread of life.
4. God permitted Israel to gather manna for one day only at a time. So in teaching His disciples to pray, the Saviour said: "Give us this day our daily bread." Our bread of life is a never-failing supply. There was no need of laying up manna, for God gave a fresh and abundant supply every morning. This daily supply never ceased till their pilgrimage was over. Of this they had assurance. Hence an attempt to lay up a supply for future use was to distrust the God of their fathers. The true bread of heaven is as unfailing as was the typical bread of the wilderness. God's people will ever have an abundant supply of that bread of which, if a man eats, he shall never hunger. Hence the Saviour says: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
5. The world has been greatly concerned about food for six thousand years. The gratification of the appetite has both blessed and cursed the race. Life has ever depended upon food; hence food has been the chief concern of man. During the history of the world the race has been ignorant of the processes of digestion and assimilation. They have known nothing of the chemistry of this source of life. They have gone on from age to age building up their bodies by taking food, wholly ignorant of the process by which it was done. The value of the thing eaten has never depended on a knowledge of the process by which it was assimilated. We thank God that it is thus with the bread of life. We may never expect to comprehend the "mystery of godliness" in this life. Just how the bread of life enables us to live forever, we are not concerned to know. It is enough for us to know that it is so. Let us, then, appropriate this rich provision of God's grace, and the blessing will be ours.