In those days the crowd once again became very large, and they had nothing to eat. Jesus called the disciples to Him and said,
be given;" though God's own sign - "the sign "- will not be wanting, nor be unseen by the watchers. Why will men "seek a sign?" Why "cannot" men "discern the signs" - even those which are always the peculiar and appropriate "signs of the times" ? The questions admit of one reply, for that age and this, and for every age. The answer is found -
I. In the prevalent spirit of unbelief. The strange closing of the eyes and shutting of the ears and hardening of the heart. And if the light abound the closed eye cannot see, and if the air be filled with angel-songs, or the voice of the Teacher lade the air with heavenly truth, the closed car admits it not. And though the hand of the Lord be present, the hardened heart receives not its impress. It is unmoved, untouched.
II. But why do not men believe? Is it that they cannot or that they will not believe? Alas! both. Some cannot because they have not been solely or sufficiently attentive to the Word, from the hearing of which cometh faith, or for a time they labour under the soul-hindering perplexity which some unresolved sceptical difficulty has involved them in. But these, being seekers of the faith, "shall find." They must be patient; for with our partial views of things we cannot suddenly quadrate all our truth with every suggested opinion, or point out the fallacy of that opinion. But some will not believe. In a foolish, even stupid - yea, wicked - resistance of evidence, they shut out the force of conviction; while others are hindered, being "slow of heart to believe," and therefore "foolish men."
III. Moral conditions affect the power of faith. Jesus showed this when he said, "How can ye believe which receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?" And the self-seeking and world-loving, the evil and the sensual, the disobedient, and all who have "refused to have God in their knowledge," must gain both an indisposition and an inaptitude of mind to receive God's testimony in that spirit of faith which implies faithfulness to the truth when known. These are the "wicked and adulterous" to whom "no" special "sign shall be given;" for, refusing the many signs that are around, they will not be "persuaded, if one rise from the dead." But to all one! "sign" shall "be given" - "a sign which is spoken against," but which remains ever the one "sign" in heaven and in earth and in all "times," "the sign of Jonah the prophet." - G.
I. Now we read that some of our foremost scientists — men of learning and research, and I am not here to say one word against them or their noble labours — have, as it were, if not formally, TACITLY AGREED TO BANISH GOD FROM HIS OWN CREATION. They continually declare we have nothing to do with God. He is the Unknown, and must remain forever Unknowable; we are Agnostics, we know nothing of Him. We summarise in a few words the net results of the development theory as applied to the food of man. Within the last ten years special investigations have been directed to the origin and growth of corn. I cannot now indicate the course and scope of these researches more than to say that we have two ways or prosecuting the inquiry — by the records of history, and by the deposits of geology. And their teachings in fine amount to this. Wheat has never been found in a wild state in any country in the world, nor in any age. It has no development, no descent. It has always been found under the same conditions as it is now — always under the care and cultivation of man — never existed where man did not cultivate it. Moreover, it has never been found in a fossil state. So, if we hearken to the teachings of geology, man existed long before his staff of life. The most minute investigations into the origin of wheat have failed to find it under any conditions in the least different from what it is with us today. The oldest grain of wheat in the world is in the British Museum, and this has been microscopically examined and subjected to the most searching analysis, but it is found to be in all respects exactly the same as the wheat you secured a fortnight ago in this parish in the Vale of Clwyd. So there has been no development within the records of history, and it has no existence in the deposits of geology. Again: the power and the means of perpetuating its own existence have been given to every living and growing thing, animal and vegetable, and this is carried on from age to age, without any interference on the part of man. The only great exception to this grand and beneficent law is the corn — the food of man. A crop of wheat left to itself, in any latitude or country, would, in the third or fourth year of its first planting, entirely disappear. It has no power to master its surrounding difficulties so as to become self-perpetuating. Thus it does not come under the law of the "survival of the fittest." And what is still more singular — we have never more than a sufficient supply for some fourteen months or thereabouts, even after the most bountiful harvest, and it has been calculated that we are often within a week of universal starvation should one harvest totally fail. And how near this awful catastrophe we may have been this year even, God only knows. A shade too much, or a shade too little; and oh how little, and it might have been! And science informs us that the wheat has untold millions of enemies peculiar to itself. And no wonder it is a matter of universal rejoicings when another harvest has been scoured, and the farmer's anxious labours have been crowned with success.
In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat.
II. MAN MUST WORK. And this is nowhere more evident than in the harvest. Man must plough and harrow, and sow and reap, and bind and gather into barns, and thresh and grind, and knead and bake, and the hundred and one other little things allotted as his honourable share in this grand concern; otherwise his body, with its mysterious relations to earth and sky, to time and eternity, to matter and spirit, will not receive the nourishment intended for its growth and work, though all the cycles of immensity were kept to shed their benign influences on field and meadow and homestead. And on the other hand, man may do all his part, and yet not one single grain could he gather into barn or rick if our heavenly Father did not cause the earth to revolve, the planets to move, the inconstant moon to wend its way along the star-bespangled firmament, the river to roll on its pebbly bed, the myriad laughing ocean in its cradle to ebb and flow, the entrancing landscapes of the sun-tinted clouds to sail in the balmy air, and the barriers of the dawn to be loosened that the golden rays of the lord of day may dance on the petals of the flowering wheat, and kiss the dew from the lips of the lily. Now sublimate this thought into the domain of the gospel, and you will have our part — our bodily and mental part, little though it be — in the spiritual and eternal life. For instance, you have power over your own limbs to come here to God's house, to bow the knee, to blend your voice in psalm and litany, to kneel before the holy table and receive the visible symbols of His Divine presence, and demean yourselves in bodily and mental posture as men who feel that God is amongst you; but after all you will go away empty if the Holy Spirit be not here to carry the words from the lips of the preacher to the heart of the hearer, and your Holy Communion will be an ideal ceremony if God's presence be not here to bless and satisfy the faithful worshipper. In one and the truest sense, all is of God, but He will not take you to heaven in spite of yourselves. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
III. THESE MIRACLES ARE CHARACTERISTIC OF OUR LORD HIMSELF, HIS LIFE, HIS WORK. Contrast this miracle of feeding the multitudes with our Lord's refusal, at Satan's bidding, to convert the stones of the desert into bread for His own sake. Our Lord's temptations and sufferings and death were all for the sake of others — of us — of me a sinner — of the human family.
I. WE SEE IT IN INSPIRATION. When it pleased God to give us a book of light, it was in His power to have made it all His own. But the human element mixes with the Divine. Bring forth all your gifts, such as they are, of understanding and culture and knowledge and utterance; bring them forth, all ye holy and humble men of heart, Moses and Samuel, David and Isaiah, Ezra and Ezekiel, Paul and John, Luke and Mark, Matthew and Peter; and then Christ, taking them at your hands, shall give them back to you blessed and blessing, to be to generations yet unborn the light of their life and the consolation of their sleep and of their awakening.
II. THAT WHICH IS TRUE OF THE BOOK IS TRUE ALSO OF THE LIFE. "How many loaves have ye?" Christ puts that question to the young man, whose course is not yet shaped definitely towards this profession or that, and who would fain so pass through things temporal that he finally lose not the things eternal. Christ bids him to ponder with himself each particular of his character and of his history; gifts of nature and of education, gifts of mind and body, gifts of habit and inclination, gifts of connection and acquaintanceship, gifts of experience and self-knowledge; and to bring these, like a man — not standing idle because he has not heard or felt himself hired: not excusing himself from obeying because his loaves are but seven, or because they are coarse or stale or mouldy — but to bring them to Him who made and will bless. How many loaves have ye? Nothing? Not a soul? not a body? not time? not one friend, not one neighbour, not one servant, to whom a kind word may be spoken, or a kind deed done, in the name, for the love, of Jesus? Bring that — do that, say that — as what thou hast; very small, very trivial, very worthless, if thou wilt: yet remember the saying, "She hath done what she could." There are others but too confident in their gifts and in their doings. It is not without its risk, even a life of charity, even a life of ministry. Are you quite sure, that, bringing out your seven loaves, you brought them to Christ for that blessing which alone gives increase? Nothing works of itself — nothing by human willing or human running — but only by the grace of Him who giveth liberally, and who showeth mercy. Most of all, that which would help Christ's own work — to seek and to save that which is lost. "How many loaves have ye?" The question is asked of the man — it is asked also of the community.
(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)Wherever there is anything new, unusual, or exciting going on, there the crowd is sure to collect. These people were in distressing bodily want. It seems a little singular that this multitude should have so forgotten themselves, as to hurry out thus unprovided into the empty wilderness. We should never see half the distress we do, if people were only a little more considerate and thoughtful. But it was to the credit of these people that the distress they suffered was incurred by what was commendable. With a right appreciation of Christ, it would be no unwisdom to perish in following after Him, rather than to live in ease by forsaking Him. There was no relief for the multitude in the common course of things. But man's extremity is God's opportunity. And what a picture is thus given us of the tenderness and goodness of our Lord! Jesus pities people in want of bread for the body, as well as those in want of food for their souls. He enters into our temporal as well as spiritual needs. Nor was His compassion a mere empty sentiment. It stimulated to action. It exhibited itself in deed. It set to relieve the distress that stirred it. It would not be right to expect such interpositions as a common thing. God has His own ways for dealing out to men their daily bread, which must be regarded; but his resources are not limited. But there is method in this marvellous relief. "So they did eat."
1. There were directions given which had to be obeyed. And so there are commands to be observed in order to get the bread of life. There must be a coming down, a sitting in the dust at Jesus' feet, a humiliation of self to His orders ant institutes.
2. He took what the people had, and added His power and blessing to it, and thus furnished the requisite supplies. They had seven cakes and a few small fishes. Grace was never meant to supersede nature, but to work upon it, to help it, bless it, and augment it. God is a frugal economist. He never wastes what already exists. He is never prodigal in His creations. We have eyes, and ears, and hearts, and understanding wills, which can be of good service in our salvation. All that they need is to be brought to Christ, submitted to His handling, bathed in His words of blessing, and filled with His power, to serve most effectually.
3. But the food He furnished was given to these hungry ones only through second hands. The bread and the fishes He "gave to His disciples to set before them, and they did set them before the people." Christ has appointed a ministry — an office which is filled by men, who, by His authority and command, are set apart and ordained to officiate between Christ and their fellows. And where there has been no ministry, there has been no salvation. The bread of life no man can have, until it is ministerially conveyed to him. Be it through the living voice, or the written page, or the solemn sacrament, that voice implies a speaker, that page a writer, that sacrament an administrator, who is God's appointed agent for the carrying of it to him who gets it.
(J. A. Seiss, DD.)
(J. A. Seiss, DD.)
1. The promptness with which Christ succours us. We see this in His providing bread before the multitude hungered, and in His care lest afterwards they should faint by the way.
2. The motive causes for all God's mercies to us, viz., our needs and our dangers.
3. The true effects of God's mercy — what He gives us is that true food which really satisfies, and which alone can satisfy, the whole nature of man.
(W. Denton, M. A.)
I. SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS MIRACLE AS CONTRASTED WITH OTHERS.
1. The desire to grant this blessing originated with Christ Himself. How comforting to know that He does not mete out His mercies in the scant measure of our prayers.
2. A striking instance of prevention, rather than cure. From how many ills unthought of, dangers unseen, woes unimagined, are we daily delivered by the preventing grace of God.
3. Human intervention employed. Christ the source of supply; the disciples privileged to dispense His bounty.
4. Unbelief in the innermost circle of disciples.
5. A vast multitude were benefited.
II. THE MIRACLE ITSELF.
1. Illustrates Christ's care for the bodies of men.
2. The abundance of God's bounty. The more we feed upon Christ, the Bread of Life, the more there is to feed upon.
3. The need of daily feeding on Christ. The miracle falls short here. To feed once for all is not sufficient. It is because they think it is that so many are spiritually sickly and weak.
(R. W. Forrest, M. A.)I. One singular feature in the character of our Lord — HIS SUPERIORITY TO ALL THE SELFISH PASSIONS OF OUR NATURE. This miracle demonstrated His power over nature, and taught those who witnessed it that if His kingdom were of this world He possessed the power to maintain it. They would naturally wish to assemble under such a Leader. It is at this moment, when all the vulgar passions of hope and ambition were working in the minds of the multitude, "that He sends them away;" to show them that His kingdom was spiritual.
II. THE CHARACTER OF HIS RELIGION. The systems of pretended revelation which prevail in the world encourage either superstition or enthusiasm, and have often separated piety from morality. They have drawn men from the sphere of social duty to unmeaning devotions. Christ assembles the multitude that He may instruct them.
III. WE ARE THE MULTITUDE DESCRIBED IN THIS PASSAGE OF THE GOSPEL. We have heard that there was a great Prophet come into the world tot the purpose of spiritual improvement. He has spread before us, in the wilderness of human life, that greater feast, of spirit and of mind, which may save us "from fainting on our way." The services we are called to perform in the cause of humanity. "That they who had eaten were about four thousand." The number who have this day approached the same Lord, and heard the same accents of salvation, are countless millions of the family of God.
(A. Alison, LL. B.)I. SATISFACTION. Is not the Church tired out, fainting? Is not the world a wilderness to you? Does not the Spirit of God make you feel the nothingness of everything upon earth? Christ the only satisfaction.
II. THE THING THAT SATISFIES A MAN. Bread.
III. THE PLACE where these individuals were to have that satisfaction.
(J. J. West, M. A.)
I. IN EACH CASE JESUS, BEHOLDING THE MULTITUDE OF PEOPLE, HAS COMPASSION ON THEM. That is the origin and source of help for man. Because of His compassion —
1. He came from heaven to earth to bring to famishing men the Bread of Life.
2. He sends to us His Church, by and through the ministry of which He gives us all the means of grace. He takes just what we have, water, bread, wine — all insufficient of themselves — and by His power makes them more than sufficient for our needs.
3. He looks at us not in the mass, but one by one. It is the individual soul which is the factor in the mind of God.
II. IN EACH CASE, BEFORE WORKING THE MIRACLE, HE DRAWS FROM THE DISCIPLES A DECLARATION OF THEIR INABILITY TO SUPPLY UNASSISTED THAT WHICH WAS NEEDED.
III. IN EACH CASE HE TAKES, NEVERTHELESS, THAT WHICH THEY HAVE, AND MAKES IT SUFFICIENT. "How many loaves have ye?" "Seven."
1. The gift of baptismal grace — the germ of all graces.
2. The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit, bestowed in confirmation.
3. The Holy Communion.
4. All the means of grace. The Word of God. Opportunities of public worship.
5. The power of repentance.
6. The gift of prayer.
7. The ministry of the Church.So that we have, after all, a great deal: if we use these gifts faithfully, by God's blessing they will more than suffice for the wants of our souls.
IV. IN EACH CASE HE COMMANDED THE MULTITUDE TO SIT DOWN. We must come to receive God's blessing obediently, quietly, calmly. Need of this lesson in a busy, energetic age, so restless and so excited. We need more repose of mind and character. It is good to be "up and doing," but there are times when it is well for us to sit still. The life most free from feverish excitement is the life most likely to profit by God's gifts.
1. "Sit down" before you say your prayers, if you would really have them answered. Recall your thoughts, be patient and quiet and humble, try to remember to Whom you are about to speak, and what it is you are going to ask, what you really need.
2. "Sit down" before your acts of public worship. Let there be more restfulness about your worship, more repose of thought, more concentration of thought on what you are about to do.
3. "Sit down" before each communion you make (1 Corinthians 11:28).(1) Let me calmly, honestly, and thoughtfully look into my past life, especially examining that part of it that has been lived since my last communion.(2) Let me see where I am, and what I am.(3) Let me try my best to see my sins as they really are, and as they are recorded in God's book.(4) Let me truly repent of past sins, and make my humble confession to God, honestly purposing amendment of life.
V. IN EACH CASE, EITHER AT HIS COMMAND OR WITH HIS APPROVAL, THE FRAGMENTS ARE GATHERED UP. God's gifts, whether temporal or spiritual, are never to be wasted. He gives with a splendid liberality, but only in order that His gifts may be used. Gather up —
1. Fragments of time.
2. Fragments of opportunities.
3. Fragments of temporal goods.
4. Fragments of prayer, repentance, worship, grace.
(C. M. Southgate.)
(H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
(R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
(R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
(R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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