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(2.) For the Number of the Persons that did eat: St Mark here mentions about four thousand; St. Johnabout five thousand; St. Matthew about five thousand Men, beside Women and Children, Mat. 14. 21. Again,
(3.) For the Number of the Loaves, and Provisions: St. Mirk here relates seven Loaves, and a few small Fishes; St. Matthew and St. John but five Loaves, and two small Fishes. Then,
Lastly, For the Fragments that were left and taken up: St. Mark here mentions but seven Baskets that were fill'd with them St. Matthew and St. John twelve Baskets full. But these Disferences are only in a sew small Circumstances, and may easily happen among Relaters and Transcribers: tho some, and perhaps probably enough, suppose this Mirar cle to be done more than once; and if it were repeated, these little Disferences may be easily reconcil'd. But however that be,
The Substance of the Relation is the fame in all the Evanjelists, who all agree that the Operation was miraculous, it being infinitely above the power of any natural Agent to feed four, as well as five thoufand, with those small Provisions- , and 'twas equally impossible, in any natural way, to sill seven as well as twelve Baskets with the poor Remainders.
But to come to the Gospel-, it begins the Relation of this Miracle thus, In those Days the Multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his Disciples, and saith unto them, I have Compassion on the Multitude, because thay have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat, &c. Where, in the Account of this Matter, we may observe,
First, The Number of the Persons that were here in want and distress:, and they were a Multitude, and a very great Multitude: This was a Circumstance that mov'd our Saviour's Bowels, and ought indeed to open and enlarge ours. The great Numbers of the Indigent and Needy, that are made so by the Casualties of Fire, or other unavoidable Accidents, are to open our Hearts and Hands to their Relief: Of this sort were the Multitude here fed by our Saviour j they were not the Idle and the Lazyi that would not labour to feed themselves, but such as had been for some time in a delart Place, where no Provisions could be had, and so could get nothing to eat: and what the Desert was to them then, that decrepit old Age, long Sickness, Multitude of Children, Want of Work, and such like helpless Calamities, are to others now; they are difabled from sustaining 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 needefch; for that would exhaust our Substance, and reduce us to want our selves. Christ indeed was able to feed Thoufands 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 Goodness 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 more numerous, there the Hand is to be the more bounteous, knowing, that he that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly, and he that soweth bountifully shaU reap bountifully. Again, '. ..i...
Secondly, We may observe here the Extremity of Want and Necessity that this Multitude were in; They have nothing to eat (faith the Text) and they have been with me three days (faith our Savionr) without any Sustenance or Provi, lion: 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 Accommodation-, 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 Cafe, 'tis faid,
Thirdly, That Jesus call'd his Disciples to him, and faid, / have Compassion on the Multitude, because they have been with me three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I fend them away sasting to their own Houses, they will saint by the way, for divers of them came from sar, Times of Misery are the Seasons of Pity: this mov'd our Saviour's Compassion 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 subsist any longer without Sustenance. God suffers his own People sometimes to be in straits, and to labour under great Difficulties and Necessities > but then as a Father pitieth his Childt whom he loveth, , Pa
so doth the Lord pity them that star htm. In the Mount of the Lord it-win 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 Israelites in the WiMernefc, giving them Food from Heaven, when earthly Provisions feil'd them ^ whenthey were hungry and thirsty, and their Souls ready to faint within them, he supported them by Miracles, and fed them with extraordinary and celestial Provisions. So did Christ 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 vast Numbers out of a small Pittance: their Necessity was his Opportunity, and his Compassion was highest- when their Condition was lowest, and thereby teaches us to ftiew Bowels of Pity and Compassion upon those that are in fife greatest Want. Our Blessed Saviour commended the good Sa mark an for pitying and providing for the wounded Traveller, 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 afMs own Expence took the care of him. This Christ commended as an Act worthy of Imitation, and bid his Disciples go, and learn to do likewise; Luke 10. 33,37. He that hath Ans World's Goods (faith St. Tsohn) and feeth his Brother lack Mi perish with Hungir, how dwetleth theUove of God' in him? And indeed they that suffer any to starve for lack of Necesfaries, will be charg'd with the Death of those whom they might and ought to have reliev'd.
Fourthly, We may observe farther, that the Pefftns3nere reliev'd, or fed by Christ, were those that attended hfe Person, and follow'd him both to hear hb Doctrine, arid behold his Miracles. J 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 Sustenance, and I cannot see them lack Necesfaries, who have dearly loved and stuck to me in all my Travels. He will not suffer them to want c6rpdral''F©od, who come to him for spiritual ^ neither will he derty^rhem the temporal Food of their Bodies, Who labour ferttcim.
mortat 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 honest, 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 Sluggard, and a Rod for the Fool's Back, Prov. 26.3. Arid our Laws have appointed the feme for all lazy and sturdy Beggars, who will not lahoar in any Calling to get an honest Livelihood, but idly live upon the Labours of others, without taking any care either to serve God or themselves. The Apostle wills us in thing good, to have an especial Regard to them that are of the Houjhold of Faith, Gal. 6.10. We cannot indeed relieve all, oar Stock or Substance will not reach to that, neither are we to impoverish our selves to feed others, nor to be <b profuse in our Charity, as to render our selves the Objects of it j for Charity may and ought to begin at home, tho it mure not end there: we are, in the first place, to mind and provide for our own Subsistence, and then to give to others what we can spare from our own Necessities and Abundance.
And here too our Charity must be guided by the Rules of Prudence and Discretion that is, so to distribute to the Exigencies of others, as not to rob or wholiy to deprive our selves: nor yet to be so liberal in our Distribution to one or more, as to have nothing left for the Succour of others. But above all, we are to have our first and princi
Sil regard to the honest and laborious Poor, who by Age, cknefs, Want of Work, or any unavoidable Casualties, are redue'd to Poverty i and to relieve them before and above 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 stealing, 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 prevent. These Lessons we learn from the Persons to whom this Miracle did extend.
But what was the Disciples Answer to our Saviour's compassionate Care and Concern for the Relief of this numerous and necessitous Multitude? Whyj the Disciples an
P 3 fwered
fwered him, From whence can a Man satisfy these Men with Bread here in the Wilderness? An Answer much like that of the murmuring and distrustful Israelites; Can God furnish a Table in the Wilderness? He smote the stony Rock indeed, so that the Waters gushed out, and the Streams siowed withal; but can he give Bread also, and provide Flesh for his People? Pfal. 78. 19,20. They for gat what God had done (faith the Pfalmist) and the wonderful Works that he had sticwed 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 overwhelms their Enemies; how he led them with a Cloud by Day, and in the Night with a Light of Fire, &c. 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 such great things had been done for them -, as we read at large in that seventy eighth Pfalm. The like Stupidity seem'd here to possess the Minds of the Disciples, who had let flip the Memory of Christ's mighty Works, and forgat the Operations of his Hand; else, instead of asking how they should be fatisfy'd with Bread here in the Wilderness, they would fay with David, Thou shalt prepare a Table for me in the fight of mine Enemies; thou Jhalt anoint my Head with Oil, and my Cup /hall be full: Pfal. 23. But what Reply did our Saviour make to these distrustful Words? Why, Christ 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 Astonishment, 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 Fijhes: Slender Viands for so 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 down on the Ground; which being a green grassy Place, as St. John tells us, gave them the Convenience of sitting or leaning upon one another, the Posture us'd in those Days in eating.