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faith may behold with full and steady contemplation, may draw from it sources of consolation under all distresses, and conceive from it a confidence in the goodwill of God. Under which hope, a man may not only dare to promise to himseif all good from God, but may believe, that there is in him an infinite treasure more of help, which he may readily have in every time of need.
You have often heard already, that there are two kinds of good things, spiritual and temporal. This Gospel teaches us little children how to believe for these very precarious and corporal things ; and it is set before the weak, as though represented in a picture. Whence we may learn this goodness of God :-namely, how bountiful he is in bestowing his riches upon us. And hence, as soon as we have learnt how willing God. is to take care of our bodies, we hereupon begin to think with ourselves, that he can also supply us with spiritual food and raiment for our souls. But if I cannot commit my body to him to be fed, how much less shall I be able to commit my soul unto him to be preserved for ever? Or, if I cannot be brought to believe that he will give me one pound, how, I pray you, shall I hope to have from him ten pounds? If I cannot with confidence promise to myself from a person a piece of bread, much less will my mind by any means be brought to believe, that he will leave me a farm or a whole estate. He therefore that cannot apprehend this tender, and, as it were, suckling faith, to him it will certainly be a most difficult matter to believe, that God will pardon his sins, and eternally save his soul. For we are persuaded, that the soul is of a thousand-fold more value than the belly; towards which, however, he shews mercy, as the Gospel of this day teaches.
Wherefore the apostle Peter, 1 Epist. ii. properly gives this admonition, “ Beloved brethren, as born babes desire the milk, (nót of the body, but of the soul, which is sincere and uncorrupt) that ye may grow thereby.” · For it is not enough that the infant be put to the breast and suck, but he must grow in size and gain strength; that he may afterwards be able to feed
on bread and more solid food.—To feed on milk, is to have a taste of the favour and grace of God. Moreover, to taste the good-will of God towards us, is to put it in practice in our lives. For although I may preach the good-will of God towards us, and his clemency and mercy, with a full mouth (as they say) for an hundred years together, yet that will profit me nothing unless I myself taste and have an experience of those blessings for myself. This is the source of true confidence in Christ. And hence you may see, how rare a bird a true Christian is. You may indeed find many who commit their bellies unto God. But all that is only on the surface, and the outside of the matter; it rests on the outside of the ear only, when it ought to sink down into all the deep recesses of the heart !
Let us then now consider this example; which teaches us the principle and nature of faith. The apostle, Hebrews xi. has left it written thus, “ Faith (saith he) is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
That is, I am to expect a certain good which I can neither see with my eyes, nor hear with my ears; and of which I am to cherish the hope only; which is here exemplified in this Gospel of to-day. Here, about four thousand men, together with their wives and children, had sustained a three-days fast, and was not this a fast indeed,) who were all but perishing with hunger, were a whole day's journey away from their houses, and were deprived of every means of sustaining their bodies. Now Paul saith, that faith is a thing of that nature that a man is wholly to rest upon it as a foundation, and to hope for those good things which the eyes cannot see. And it was such a faith as this that the multitude had; who could see no provision, and yet still trusted in God that he would feed them.
Moreover, what does Christ? He indeed, as it behoved him, displayed a great depth of wisdom. He goes to the apostles and asks them how all these are to be fed. The disciples answer, Whence shall we buy bread here in the desert to satisfy all this multitude ? Here you may see how human reason and faith militate against each other :- the more exalted reason is in wisdom, the less is it able to submit to the works of God! The Saviour, therefore, for this very reason asked the disciples this question, that each of them might exert his own reason, and might thereby learn how widely human wisdom and faith differ from each other. And here we are also taught, how blind reason is ; and how, when faith comes, we must utterly away with it.
Let this then serve us for an example.—If I be a husband, and have a wife and a swarm of children, and have nothing wherewith to support them, and know no one who will supply my need in any thing ; it is my part to believe, and to hope that God will have respect unto me. Whereas, when I see that my hope is vanishing, and that food and clothes are not immediately brought unto me; hereupon, because I am a fool of no faith, I yield to desperation. Afterwards, I apply my mind to dishonest means to accomplish the matter ;to theft, to imposture, and other arts of the same kind, whereby the eyes of men are wont to be blinded; and thus, break out of my right path of life, in any way that
See, therefore, what evils shameful unbelief brings upon men. Whereas, if I have faith, I shut my eyes and say, My dearest Father! I am thy creature, and the work of thy hands. It cannot be denied, but that thou hast created me. I place all my hopes in thee; who art more concerned about me, than I am about myself. It is nothing with thee, though I be driven to the greatest depth of want, to feed me, to clothe me, to provide for me necessaries, and to be my support for the whole of my life!'
Thus faith itself is a solid foundation : on which resting, I steadily expect those things which I do not see: and, in a word, it fully supplies all necessities. Nay the angels themselves should descend from heaven. and bread be dug out of the earth to administer supplies, before that man should perish with hunger, who leaned upon the prop of such a faith as this. Nay,
heaven and earth should be confounded together, before God should permit a man endowed with such a confidence as this, to suffer under the want of garments, or any other necessary of life. And it is such a confidence in God as this, that the adamantine and irrevocable promises of the word of God require. But if thou wilt bring thy reason into the matter, that will soon, like the apostles here, begin to prate thus.-- This is impossible.' And again, ‘Thou mayest sit still long enough, before a roast goose will fly into thy mouth.' And this is because there is no object that it can see or touch, but all things appear to it to be void. The same as this was the distrust of the apostles. They thought thus with themselves. “How can it come to pass that so great a multitude of men can be satisfied with food ? 'Whereas, if they had seen a large heap of gold before them, if they had seen loaves of bread, and dishes filled with meat, they would have believed that the present necessity might have been supplied; and they would have managed all things according to the best of their
But let this suffice concerning faith in temporal good things. Now let us speak in respect of those spiritual good things, whereby those who are “ ready to perish” are to be supported and supplied. Here, death will present itself before our eyes, when we are concerned to live. Hell will appear, when we desire heaven. The judgment of God will be set before us, when we want to feel his saving grace. In a word, that which we want most to see, will be taken from our sight. And no creature can stretch forth unto us a helping hand against death, hell, and the judgment of God. But when I am acting faith I say to myself thus. Behold! faith is an immovable foundation ! By leaning upon this, I shall attain unto those things which are far removed from my sight: and those things which are immediately before my eyes, how horrid soever they be, shall not in the least hurt me, while I thus believe. Wherefore, although I cannot attain unto any thing as yet, in sight, but death, hell, and the judgment of God; yet, I am to look at,
none of these things ; but rather, with an undoubting confidence, my mind is to be settled thus ;-that God will freely give me grace and happiness, not because of my merits or works, but because of his PROMISE !
This is to cleave unto God with a sincere confidence, as is here beautifully set forth in this common and corporal description of the men in number four thousand, who, by a fixed faith alone in God, did not doubt that they should be supplied by him. Whereas, had they judged according to the capacity of their reason, they would have murmured among themselves and said, • We certainly are a numerous multitude; we are in a vast desert; our bellies are empty and famishing ; and there is nothing here to satisfy our hunger. But they murmur not at all in this way; they conceive a steady faith; dispute not at all against God by human sense; yield themselves up entirely to the divine will; and, without any farther concern, commit unto him the supply of this urgent necessity of hunger.
But however, God, before this concern comes upon them, and before they begin to entreat of him, stands forward; being more concerned for them than they are for themselves; and he saith, “I have compassion on the multitude; and if I send them away fasting, there is danger lest they should faint by the way.” Here, I pray you, behold what a God we have ! How bountiful he is in goodness towards us! How he takes care even to feed our impure bellies! Here the hopes of the men are raised, and the words of Christ are consolatory unto them, when he says, ' They are here lying down and have now been with me three days, and therefore they ought to be filled before they go away. Here we may see, that all who cleaye close to the word of God, are fed of God himself: for this is the power and nature of faith, which floweth from the word of God.
Wherefore, my beloved, let us also begin to believe: for unbelief alone is the parent of all the sins and wickednesses which at this day reign in all the orders of men. And why is it, that, which way soever you turn yourself, you meet with so many harlots and whore