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gative, in ministering to the necessities, while he checks the pride and presumption of man. The miracles of our blessed Lord which have hitherto passed in review, had a more limited object. Th; ir design was to relieve individual, or domestic distress ; they were an appeal, public indeed, to the understanding and senses of all who witnessed them, but slightly felt, impersectly understood and little improved, except by the parties more immediately interested in them. They were granted to importunity, and as a reward to the prayer of faith. That which is the subject of the passage now read, embraces a much wider range than any of these, and is the spontaneous effusion of his own divine benevolence and compassion. Ten thousand persons, at a moderate calculation, were at once the witness and the subjects of the miracle, and in a case wherein it was impossible they should be mistaken, for they had every sense, every faculty exercised in ascertaining the truth. And here he waits not, as in other cases, till the cry of misery reaches his ear, but advances to meet it, to prevent it; he outruns expectation, and has a supply in readiness, before the pressure of want is felt. The duration of Christ's public ministry, from his baptism to his passion, has been calculated from the number of passovers which he frequented. This, as may be supposed, has occasioned considerable variety of opinion. The attentive reader will probably adopt that of our illustrious countryman, Sir Isaac Newton, who reckons five of these annual festivals within the period. The first, that recorded in the 2d chapter of St. John’s gospel, at which he purged the temple, predicted his own death and resurrection, and performed sundry miracles. The second, according to that chronologist, took place a few months after our Lord's conversation with the woman of Samaria, which he founds on that text, John iv. 35, “Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” The third, a few days prior to the Sabbath on which the disciples walked out into the fields, and plucked the ears of corn, when he cured the impotent man at the pool of Bethsaida. The fourth, that which was now approaching at the aera of this miracle; and the fifth, that at which he suffered. The people were now there
fore flocking from all parts of Galilee, on their way to
Jerusalem to keep the passover: and this accounts for the very extraordinary number who at this time attended his preaching and miracles. “After these things,” says John. The other three evangelists connect this scene, in respect of time, with a most memorable event in the history of christianity, the decapitation of John Baptist in the prison. When these melancholy tidings were told to Jesus, Matthew informs us, that “he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof they followed him on foot out of the cities. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick;” and then immediately follows the miracle of feeding the multitude, recorded with exactly the same circumstances in all the four evangelists. Mark affixes an additional date. It was at the time when the disciples returned from the execution of their first commission, with an account of their success: “And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.” On this Jesus proposed a temporary retirement from the public eye, for the conveniency of private conversation, of repose, and of the necessary refreshment of the body : “And he said unto them, come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while : for Vol. IV. 2 U.
there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately;” and this, as before, prepared for the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The self-same circumstances are minutely narrated in Luke’s gospel. These mark the precise epoch when Christ went over the sea of Galilee, and retired with the twelve to a mountain in the desert of Bethsaida. But though he went by water, to escape for a season the multitudes which thronged after him, the place of his destination is discovered, and thousands, filled with impatience, admiration, gratitude, hope, outstrip the speed of the vessel, by a circuitous journey along the i. of the lake. Their motives were various. The powerful principle of curiosity attracted many. A thirst of the word of life impelled others. “A great multitude followed him, because they saw the miracles which he did on them that were diseased,” and many had themselves “need of healing.” An affect. ing view is exhibited of Christ's benevolent character. As from the elevation of the mountain he beheld the people pressing forward by thousands to the spot where he was, all thoughts of food, of rest, of accommodation lost in an appetite more dignified and pure, his bowels melted : “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.” The sight of a great assembly of men, women and children must ever create a lively interest in every bosom alive to the feelings of humanity. The view of his mighty host ox. into tears, merely from reflection on their natural mortality. What then are the “bowels and mercies” of the compassionate friend of mankind, on surveying innumerable myriads ready to perish everlastingly for lack of knowledge, dying in their sins! He feels even for their bodily wants, which, in the ardour of their spirits, they seem to have themselves forgotten, and a supply is provided
before the cravings of nature have found out that it was necessary. And thus a gracious Providence, in things both temporal and spiritual, outruns not only the supplications of the miserable, but their very hopes and desires. -
“The day began to wear away,” they were in a desert place, the multitude was prodigiously increased, they had fasted long, no provision of either victuals or lodging had been made, and the adjacent villages promised but a slender accommodation of either, even had there been money to purchase them. A case of truly aggravated distress . The forethought and sympathy of the disciples went no farther than to suggest the propriety of an immediate dismission of the assembly, while sufficient light remained to procure what was needful for exhausted nature. “When the day began to wear away then came the twelve, and said unto him, send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place.” But their gracious master looked much farther, and felt more tenderly. He addresses himself particularly to Philip, who was of the city of Bethsaida, and might be supposed to know the state of the country, and how much it could produce in an emergency of this kind, on the supposition that their stock of money was equal to the demand; “he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” Why the appeal was personally made to Philip, may be accounted for from some peculiarity in that disciple’s character. He appears to have been one of those who slowly, suspiciously, reluctantly admitted the evidence of their master’s divine mission; for we find him, long after this, discovering a diffident, scrupulous, incredulous disposition; and his kind master administering a just and seasonable rebuke : “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip 2 he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou, them, shew us the Father ?” Thus was it needful that the witnesses of the truth to others should have their own doubts completely removed. And thus, He, who knew what was in man, will bring out of the man himself what is in him; not with the insidious design of deceiving and exposing him, as men often act by each other, but of making him feel his own weight; of enabling him to form a just estimate of his wisdom and strength; of affording him a fresh and irresistible proof of his master's supreme power, and divine intelligence, “This he said to prove him : for he knew what he would do.” We have here a most sublime representation of the Redeemer's foreknowledge of the natural reasonings of the human mind, and of the existence and effect of second causes. That a thousand persons of as many different inclinations, pursuing as many different interests, with as many different capacities, should be brought to one point, should co-operate in promoting the same purpose, should, unknown to each other, involuntarily enter into exactly one and the same pursuit, is not to be explained on the common principles of human sagacity, and can proceed only “from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” Philip immediately has recourse to arithmetical calculation ; he estimates the multitude at so many, he examines into the state of their finances, and finds them deplorably deficient: “two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.” No, the difficulty was not to be thus resolved. Neither was the matter much mended to human apprehension, when Andrew, Simon's brother, brought information that there was a lad present who had five barley loaves and