IN the absence of Mission news from Africa we give the following extracts, compiled, abridged and edited from a sermon on the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:15-21), by C. H. Spurgeon.
THE disciples came to Jesus saying, “Master, send the multitude away.” They had thought over the problem of how to feed these people, and came to the conclusion that they could not do it. Since they could not supply the necessities of the people, they would endeavour to shut their eyes to their needs. “Master send them away; let them go and buy for themselves.” Jesus promptly replies, “They need not depart.” There was no necessity for it. “Give ye them to eat.” Indeed He spoke wisely. He drew out from His disciples an acknowledgment of their poverty. “Master,” they said, “we have here but five barley loaves, and a few small fishes: what are they among so many?”
Disciples of Christ, behold the thousands of men, and women, and children, in need of the bread of life. They spend their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfieth not. They are perishing for lack of knowledge, and worse still, when they faint there are some who pretend to feed them. Superstition offers them stones instead of bread, and serpents instead of fish. The Papist and the ritualist offer to sell something to them which will gratify them; they try to feed upon it but it does not satisfy. The Infidel tries to persuade them that their hunger is imaginary, and thus mocks their appetite. They faint; they famish; they are ready to die. Nor can they feed themselves; their wallets are empty. When Adam fell he beggared all his posterity; neither man, nor woman, nor child among them is able to satisfy his or her own hunger. Of the tens of thousands of our race in this land, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in America, and in Australia, not one can find as much as one loaf upon which a single soul might feed. They sow but reap not, they plough but gather no harvest. “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.”
See, ye disciples of Christ, see ye the great need which is before your eyes? Let your hearts beat with sympathy; let your souls be full of pity; do feel for those millions. I beseech you, if you cannot help them, weep over them; let there be now before your mind’s eye a clear and distinct recognition of the many hundreds and thousands whose spiritual need is a cry, “Feed us, for we famish; give us bread to eat, or we die.”
I think I hear you whisper one to another, “Who are we that we should feed this multitude? We have but five barley loaves and two small fishes.” Even so! Yet remember this is your mission. If ever the world is to be fed, it is with Christ through the Church. Do I hear you murmur, “How can we as a Church feed the world? How few are our talents, there are not many among us who are learned and wise. We have no wealth with which to supply our missionaries.” Besides, some of you add, “What can I do individually? Of what use can I be?” And then I hear the groan of one who is growing grey, “Oh I feel it, but it is getting late with me. The night cometh – a long night. Who shall work then?”
Let me tell you, brethren and fathers, we who are in our youth feel that also. Work as we may (and some of us can say that we lose no time in Christ’s cause) yet we can do nothing. We seem to be like one man against an innumerable host. Our years are flying by. Souls are dying. Hell is filling. Down the cataract of destruction men are being plunged incessantly beyond our sight, beyond our hope. We cannot do such a great work.
But hark! I hear the cries of the multitude. Their deep need and great plight are loud cries: “We are perishing: will you let us perish? We are famishing: will you let us famish? Our fathers have gone down to hell, and our fathers’ fathers have perished for lack of the bread that came down from heaven, and will you let us die?” Across from Africa, the multitudes cry, “Will you let us perish?” From Asia they lift up their voice, “Will you always leave us?” From Australia the Aborigines cry, “Shall we never see the light? Shall we never hear the gospel?” Oh! how terrible is the wail, as it were – the combined wail that cometh up from all the nations under heaven!
One man in Paul’s vision, who said, “Come over and help us!” was enough to constrain him. Millions are in need of our help today. But have we not just said, “We cannot”? Surely we must take back our words and say, “We must.” If we cannot, we must. We feel our weakness, but there is an impulse within us that says we must do it, and we cannot stop, we dare not. The displeasure and chastisement of heaven will fall upon us if we, the church of Christ, refuse and renounce the task. Shall we fold our arms and let them die? No! by the love we bear to His name; by everything that is holy before God and humane in the sight of our fellow mortals, we say we must although we say we cannot.
Yet there is a strong tendency in our hearts to shift our responsibility. “Let us send them away into the villages to buy meat.” We look towards some Bethsaida in the distance, and say, “Let them go there and get food.” This is a strong temptation with many Churches. Perhaps you say, “We have not got all this work to do: there are other Churches; let them do their part. Let them go into the villages and get meat.” Ah, but not so; the Master has said to you, “Give ye them to eat.” “Ye.” Let this Church, in looking upon the world, feel as if it were the only Church, and do its utmost as if it had no other helper under heaven, but had all the work to do itself. And let the entire Church of our Lord Jesus Christ – instead of looking to societies for evangelisation, or to commerce, or to governments – remember that she, as an instrument, is the sole saviour of the world. As Christ is the world’s hope, so is His Church instrumentally the world’s hope, and she must take up the charge. Instead of sending to this town or that, she must heed her Master say, “Give ye them to eat.”
I do fear, dear friends, that many of us are getting into a very easy state about perishing men, because we keep out of their way. To stop our ears to the cry of the hungry, to shut our eyes to the wants of the widow and the fatherless, is not the way to relieve famine. Leave the priest and the Levite, if they will, to pass by on the other side. Your Master asks of you, Christian, practical, personal service. Your Christianity is worth nothing, unless it makes you, as a united body and as individual members, do God’s work for the world’s sake and for Jesus Christ’s sake – it is worth nothing, unless it makes you heed His word, “Give ye them to eat.”