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that decrepit old Age, long Sickness, Multitude of Children, Want of Work, and fuch like helpless Calamities, are to others now, they are disabled from fustaining themselves, and so are cast upon the Bounty of the Rich: and where the Number of these is great, there our Care and Charity must be the greater : not that we are to give to every one that asketh, no nor yet to every one that neededh; for that would exhaust our Substance, and reduce us to want our felves. Christ indeed was able to feed Thousands by Miracle; his Power was equal to his Will, and both were infinite and without Bounds; his Mercy is over all his Works, and is able to supply all their Wants: but we are finite arid limited both in our Being and Substance; our Goodnefs extendeth not to all, and therefore we are to give only out of the Ability and Abundance that God hath given : but where the Objects are nore numerous, there the Hand is to be the more bounteous, knowing, that he that sowerb Sparingly shall reap Sparingly, and he that soweth bountifully shall reap boun- . tifully. Again,
Secondly, We may observe here the Extremity of Want and Necessity that this Multitude were in; They have no thing to eat (faith the Text) and they have been with me three days (faith our Saviour) without any Sustenance or Provi fion : so that they were ready to starve and pine away for Hunger. The Multitudes here fed by him were in a Place remote from all Accommodations, and having been there for some days without Food, were driven to the utmost Necessity, just upon the point of fainting and languishing. Now in this fad and deplorable Cise, 'tis said,
Thirdly, That Jesus call'd his Disciples to him, and said, I bave Compaffionontbe Multitude, because they have been with me three days, and have nothing to eat, and if I fench them away, fafting to their own Houses, they will faint by the Day, for divers of them came from far. Times of Misery are the Seasons of Pity: this moy'd our Saviour's Compallion towards them, and his Bowels turn'd within him, and so should ours in the like case. The Multitude had attended him as long as they were able, and now could go no farther without fainting, nor, fubfist any longer without Sustenance. God suffers his own People fometimes to be in Straits, and to labour under great Difficulties and Neceflities; but then as a Father pitieth his Child, whom he loveth, P 2
To doth the Lord pity them that feer bim. In the Mount of the Lord it will be seen, was a proverbial Saying among the Jews, to signify, that God will help his People out of the greatest Straits, and appear for them in the height of their Extremities. So he did for the Ifraelites in the Wilderness, giving them Food from Heaven, when earthly Provisions fail'd them; when they were hungry and thirfty, and their Souls ready to faint within them, he füpported them by Miracles, and fed them with extraordinary and celestial Provifions. So did Chrift here for the Multitude that follow'd him; he nourish'd them in a Defart, where little or nothing could be had, by an extraordinary Providence, and by his multiplying Virtue furnish'd a Meal for vaft Nrimbers out of a Imall Pittance: their Neceffity was his Opportunity, and his Compassion was highest when their Condition was lowelt, and thereby teaches us to thew Bowels of Pity and Compassion upon those that are in the greatett Want. Our Bleffed Saviour commended the good Samaritan for pitying and providing for the wounded Fraveller, when he could find no Relief from the hard-hearted Priest' and Levite in his greatest Distress, whereas he, good Man, commiserated his Condition, brought him to an Inn, pour'd in Wine and Oil into his Wounds, and at his own Expence took the care of him. This Christ commended as an A&t worthy of Imitation, and bid his Disciples go, and learn to do likewife; Luke 10. 33; 37. He that bach this World's Goods (faith St. John) and feeth his Brother lack and penish with Hunger, how dwelleth the Love of God in him? And indeed they thar fuffer any to ftarve for lack of Neceffaries, will be charg'd with the Death of those whom they might and ought to have reliev'd.
Fouri bly, We may observe farther, that the Perfons here reliev'd, or fed by Christ, were those that attended his Perfon, and follow'd him both to hear his Doctrine, and be hold his Miracles. I have compassion (faith he) on the Multitude, because they have been with me, moving from place to place with me, to see my Works, and to receive mine Instructions, and for the space of three days have had no manner of Suftenance, and I cañinot see them lack Neceffaries, 'who have dearly loved and stuck to me in all my Travels. He will not fuffer them to want corporal Food, who come to him for spiritual ; neither will he deny them the temporal Food of their bodies, who labour for the im. mortal Food of their Souls. And this may teach us to prefer in our Charity those that attend the Service of God, and adhere to the Ways and Duties of Religion ; and to relieve the honeft, vertuous and pious Poor, before the wicked, careless and wandring Beggars: the best Charity to these is Correction, and forcing them to work; for Solomon hath order'd a Scourge for the Sluggárd, and a Rod for the Fool's Back, Prov. 26. 3. And our Laws have appointed the fame for all lazy and sturdy Beggars, who will not labour in any Calling to get an honest Livelihood, but idly live upon the Labours of others, without taking any care eithec to serve God or themselves. The Apostle wills us in doing good, to have an especial Regard to them that are of the Houfhold of Faith, Gal 6. 10. We cannot indeed relieve all, our Stock or Substance will not reach to that, neither are we to impoverish our felves to feed others, nor to be fo profuse in our Charity, as to render our selves the Objedts of it; for Charity may and ougħt to begin at home, tho it must not end there we are, in the first place, to mind and provide for our own Subfiftence, and then to give to others what we can spare from our own Neceflities and Abundance.
And here too our Charity must be guided by the Rules of Prudence and Discretion ; that is, fo to distribute to the Exigencies of others, as not to rob or wholly to deprive our felves: nor yet to be fo liberal in our Distribution to one or more, as to haye nothing left for the Succour of others. But above all, we are to have our first and principal regard to the honest and laborious Poor, who by Age, Sickness, Want of Work, or any unavoidable Casualties, are reduc'd to Poverty, and to relieve them before and a bove others, who are poor because they will not endeavour to be otherwise, and instead of working with their Hands the thing that is good, reach out their Hands to picking and Atealing, and to do all manner of Evil. Moreover, we are taught here only to relieve Mens present Wants, and not to provide against all future Contingencies, which Mens own Care and Providence ought prudently to foresee and pre. vent. These Lessons we learn from the Perfons to whom this Miracle did extend,
But what was the Disciples Anfwer to our Saviour's compassionate Care and Concern for the Relief of this numerous and neceflitous Multitude ? Why, the Disciples an,
Swered him, From whence can á Man satisfy these Men with Bread here in the Wilderness? An Answer much like that of the murmuring and distrustful Israelites; Can God fure nish a Table in the Wilderness? He fmote the stony Rock in. deed, so that the Waters guped out, and the Streams flowed withal; but can be give Bread also, and provide Flesh for his PeoplePfal. 78. 19, 20. They forgat what God had done (faith the Psalmist) and the wonderful Works that he had jbewed for them; viz. The marvellous things he did in the fight of our Forefathers in the Land of Egypt; how he divided the Sea, and let them go thorow, and made the Waters to stand on a heap, which fell down and overwhelnd their Enemies; how he led them with a Cloud by Day, and in the Night with a Light of Fire, cc. things great enough to be had in everlasting Remembrance, and to banish all Doubts of his Power, and Willingness to provide for them. And yet they kept not his Goodness in Remembrance, but were disobedient at the Sea, even at the Red-Sea, where fuch great things had been done for them; as we read at large in that seventy eighth Pfalm. The like Stupidity seem'd here to poffefs the Minds of the Disciples, who had let Nip the Memory of Christ's mighty Works, and forgat the Operations of his Hand ; else, instead of asking how they Thould be satisfy'd with Bread here in the Wilderness, they would say with David, Thou fhalt prepare a Table for me in the fight of mine Enemies; thou malt anoint my Head with Oil, and my Cup shall be full: Pfal. 23. But what Reply did our Saviour make to these distrustful Words? Why, Chrift takes no notice of their Diffidence, knowing it to proceed from the Weakness of their Faith, and the Infirmity of their Mind, but applies himself to another Method for their Conviction, asking them, How many Loaves have ye? intending to add such a multiplying Virtue and Blessing to them, as should fill them with Aftonishment, and make them lay aside all Doubts and Fears about future Provisions. The Answer they gave as to the Number of the Loaves, was seven; in St. Matthew it is but five barly Loaves, and two small Files: Slender Viands for fo great a Multitude, especially having come so long a Journey, and being in so hungry and fainting a Condition.
However, Our Saviour commanded the People to fit domon on the Ground, which being a green graffy Place, as St. John tells us, gave them the Convenience of fitting or leaning upon one another, the Posture usd in those Days in eating.
And when they were thus plac'd, He took the seven Loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his Disciples to set before them, and they did set them before the People. Where his giving of Thanks before his distributing the Creatures to them, signifies his rendring Acknowledgments to God for his Bounty, and making outward and solemn Expres fions of it; before we use or receive his Creatures for our Refreshment: whose excellent Example herein may teach us to do the same, to render unto God the Praise of his Gifts, and to lift up our Eyes: unto him, who openeth his Hand, and filleth all things living with Plenteousness; setting out to every one their Portion, and giving them their Meat in due reason. This is a Tribute of Homage we owe to the Almighty Donor for all his Blessings, and is a piece of Service highly profitable for us, and acceptable to him.
It follows, And they had a few small Fishes; and be blessed, and he commanded them to set them also before them : Where his blessing the few Fishes, denotes not only his Acknowledgments to God for his Liberality, but his fanctifying them to us for our Support and Comfort ; for all the Creatures are fanctify?d by the commanding Word of God, and his Blessing is deriy'd upon them by Prayer and Thanksgiving.
But what Comfort did the Multitude reap from those small Provisions? Why, that the next words tell us ; So they did all eat, and were filled. Wonderful! that fo small a Quantity of Provisions should increase and multiply to the filling of so vaft a Multitude: for the next Verse tells us, that they were about four thousand; and St. Matthew, that they were about five thousand, beside Women and Children. And what is more strange than all this, 'tis here faid that they took up of the broken Meat, that was left, seven Baskets; or, as St. Matthew hath it, twelve Baskets full; which was vastly more than was at first before thein : after which they were all sent away fully fatisfy'd.
But tho this Miracle be prodigiously great and altonishing, yet there is fomething far more wonderful and amaz ing, that occurs every day to a wise Observer, and that is the feeding and filling not of Thousands only, but of Millions of Creatures, with daily and hourly Provisions by natural and ordinary Means; which being common and conftant, are not so much.admir'd as some rare and uncommon Occurrences, which in themselves are far less wonderful. However, both are Matters of our loudest Praises arid