The Dependent Spirit of the Lord’s Prayer
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The DEPENDENT Spirit of the Lord's Prayer.
"Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11
A created being must, of necessity, be a dependent being. The constitution of his nature involves this as its condition. There is but One who is independent, because there is but One who is self-existent. God owes His being to no other and higher power than Himself. He stands alone--alone the eternal, self-existent, independent Jehovah. Of no other being can this be said. There is not an angel in heaven who is not as much dependent upon God for every breath he draws, as the insect sporting its momentary existence in the sunbeam.
The fall of man has presented an impressive illustration of this truth. Dependent upon God in his pristine state of holiness, he is infinitely more so since bankrupt of all original righteousness and strength. His condition of utter feebleness and reliance upon a power other and infinitely above his own, finds no parallel in the history of creation. Not an being expatiating amid the glories of the upper world, not a tribe cleaving the blue vault of heaven, or traversing the deep paths of the sea, or roaming the wide circuit of the earth, hangs upon God for its existence and sustenance in a condition so feeble, helpless, and dependent, as the fallen creature man. But the regenerate man alone feels and recognizes this truth. He alone is conscious of this fact. He has been taught by the Spirit that he is "without strength," and that when he was without strength, Christ died for him.
Man is self-destroyed. He is a moral homicide, a self-murderer. "O Israel, you have destroyed yourself!" This is the first lesson the renewed creature learns. He learns that he is sinful, and a sinner before God. That he has no righteousness, no goodness, no worthiness, no strength; that he stands in God's bankruptcy court, owing ten thousand talents, and having nothing to pay. Oh, blessed truth this to learn under the teaching of the Holy Spirit--our poverty, emptiness, impotence, and nothingness!
But this is not all. As there is no creature so conscious of his weakness, so there is none so conscious of his strength as the renewed man. Taught his dependence, he has also been taught upon whom he is to depend. Instructed in the knowledge of his weakness, by the same Spirit he has been instructed wherein his great strength lies.
Hitherto the petitions taught us by our Lord in this, the disciples' incomparable prayer, have borne exclusive reference to the adoration, glory, and empire we ascribe to God. In this order we trace the infinite wisdom of our Great Teacher, who, in a subsequent part of His sermon on the mount, instructs us to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and that all things else should be added to us." God first--His being, His glory, His empire. Man second--his prayers, his needs, his supplies; that thus God in Christ might in all things have the pre-eminence. We now turn to the petition itself--"Give us this day our daily bread."
There are four kingdoms--as we have seen in a preceding chapter--over which the sovereignty of God extends--the kingdoms of nature and providence, of grace and glory. These are not separate and independent sovereignties, but are parts of one perfect whole--divisions of one great empire, God's scepter ruling alike over each and all. We may confirm and illustrate the unity of God's empire, by the spiritual conversion of His people. In their first, or abnormal state, they are found in the kingdom of nature, knowing nothing more of God than is learned in, and presenting nothing more to God than is culled from, the natural world.
Their religion is that of Cain--the religion of nature, the religion of fruit and flower. The ripened grape and the fragrant bouquet are all the sacrifice they present. "And Cain brought of the fruits of the ground an offering unto the Lord." In this offering there was no recognition of God's spiritual being, and no acknowledgment of his own sinfulness. "Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering--but unto Cain and to his offering He had no respect." The difference between these offerings was essential, and it was this. The offering of Cain was that of the natural man; the offering of Abel was that of the renewed man. The one was without an atonement for sin; the other was atonement itself. The one was a recognition of God's goodness; the other was an acknowledgment of God's holiness. The one honored God in His natural, the other in His moral perfections. The one embodied the self-righteousness and language of the Pharisee, the other the penitence and confession of the tax-collector. Look well to your religion, my reader! is it that of Cain, or of Abel?
But, bent upon His purpose of love, God leads His people from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of providence. Here they become the subjects of His wonderful works with the children of men. Perhaps, by the decay of health, perhaps by the loss of property, perhaps by the sorrow of bereavement, or by adversity in some of its countless forms, God at length brings them into the kingdom of grace. Taught in this kingdom their sinfulness, emptiness, and poverty; led to believe in the Lord Jesus, and to accept Him as all their salvation and all their desire; instructed, tried, tempted, sanctified, they are, at length, transferred from the kingdom of grace into the kingdom of glory, where they live and reign with Christ forever. Thus, the four kingdoms constitute one grand monarchy, of which Jehovah is the great King. Now, it is in the kingdom of grace that this petition finds its most fervent and most emphatic utterance.
We now turn to THE PETITION ITSELF. "Give us this day our daily bread." How rich and comprehensive the meaning of this simple and brief prayer! How it expresses the need of all classes and conditions of men! How worthy the wisdom and the benevolence of Him who taught it! It adapts itself alike to the simplicity of the child, and to the wisdom of the sage; to the guilt of the sinner, and to the spiritual aspirations of the saint! All, of every age, and climate, and state alike, find a vehicle of utterance for their needs in this single and sublime petition, "Give us this day our daily bread!"
The first consideration is, the SOURCE of the supply. Jesus, having first taught us that God was our Father--then to approach Him in the spirit of adoption as children--now instructs us to look up to Him for the supply of our needs; it being the province of a parent to provide for the necessities of his children. In this sense God is the universal Parent of the race. As all life emanates from God, so all life is sustained by God. "The eyes of all wait upon You; and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing." "He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." Wonderful Parent! bountiful Benefactor! Every living thing attracts Your notice, and receives its supply at Your hand. From the tiny insect traversing the rose leaf, up to the highest form of animal life, all draw their sustenance from You. All receive from Your bounty their daily bread. But how much more the children of Your electing love and converting grace! The very existence of God as our Father involves the certain supply of all our needs. Assured that we are His children--confirmed and sealed by the Holy Spirit--it were the veriest unbelief to doubt for a moment the truth that all our necessities will be met by His outstretched, full, and overflowing hand.
Oh, get this assurance that God is your Father, and then faith may grasp the pledge which this fact involves, that He will supply your daily need. How earnest and loving was Jesus in seeking to emancipate the minds of His disciples from all anxious, earthly care, by expounding to them the care of their Father in heaven.
"Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things." Inexpressibly tender, soothing words! With what music do they fall upon the ear of the distressed, tried, care-oppressed child of God! "Your heavenly Father knows." Each dissected word in this consolatory passage embodies a distinct and precious thought. "Your heavenly Father,"--it is a Father's knowledge, a Father's care, a Father's wealth. With such a Father, what want can He not, will He not supply?
Again, "Your heavenly Father!" Yours by adopting love, yours by free grace, yours in a changeless covenant, yours individually, inalienably, and forever yours--as if you were His only child!
Again, "Your heavenly Father knows"--knows your person, your name, your relation; knows your circumstances, your straitened position, your tried faith, your assailed integrity, your tempted spirit, your sad and drooping heart. He knows it all with the knowledge of a loving Parent.
Yet again--"Your heavenly Father knows that you have need"--your necessity; every requirement that exists, every demand that is made, every emergency that presses upon you, He knows. It is not what you desire, or think needful, but what you really and truly require, He recognizes and provides for. This was the apostle's limit on behalf of the saints, "My God shall supply all your needs;" not your imaginary or your luxurious desires, but what you necessarily and absolutely need.
Once more--"Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things." What things? food and clothing, things expedient for you; the temporal requirements of this present life. "Godliness has the promise of the life that now is." With this divine, this full assurance, breathing so kindly from the lips of Jesus, how should every doubt be removed, and every fear be allayed as to the present and ample supply of our temporal needs! What a gentle, loving, yet searching rebuke of our unbelieving distrust of God!
He who opens His hand and supplies the needs of every living thing, will He close that hand to you? He who hears the ravens when they cry, will He be deaf to you? He who guides the sparrow to the spot where the tiny seed awaits its morning's meal, will He not provide for you? O you of little faith! wherefore do you doubt? Look round upon this wide, this rich, this fruitful world--it is all your Father's domain. The cattle browsing upon its hills--the golden corn waving in its fields--the capacious granaries clustering around its homesteads--the precious gems embedded within its mines--all, all is yours, because all is His. Truly we have a wealthy Parent, the Proprietor of the universe; "for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." And He preserves its existence, fertilizes and blesses it for the provision of the many sons He is bringing home to glory.
Let us not, then, yield to despondency or sink in despair when the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil are well-near exhausted. God often permits our stores to come almost to their end before He interposes His supply, that we may all the more distinctly trace His love and gratefully acknowledge His hand. It is through many sharp trials that faith has to travel before it brings glory to God. The spirit of dependence is the essence of faith. Faith would remain a concealed, undeveloped, and unshapen grace, with no form, nor beauty, nor power, but for the severe tests, the stern discipline of service and of suffering to which our God often subjects it.
We can speak fluently and boastfully of our trust in God, so long as sense traces the way and eyes the supplies, and leans upon a creature prop. But oh, when all this fails us; when resources are drying, and supplies are lessening, and props are breaking, and poverty, difficulty, and entanglement stare us in the face, and we are brought to our wits' end, then we discover how slender is our hold upon God, how doubtful our trust in His word, how feeble and dwarfish our faith. And yet, small in degree as is that faith, it is priceless and imperishable. It may be sharply tried, severely winnowed, brought to its lowest ebb, its last resource; yet, such is its heavenly ascendancy, from the lowest depths it will shoot its arrows straight into heaven, send up its cry direct unto God, exclaiming, "Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him."
Precious faith! that can support when nature sinks; can call God Father when He smites; can comprehend a smile from a frown; can discover some rays of light in the darkest cloud; empties the heart of sadness and care, and fills it with joy, confidence, and hope. The faith of God's elect, in some of its actings in the soul, resembles the feeble tendril. Following the instinct of its divine nature, faith climbs the wall of the exceeding great and precious promise, clasps in its arms the "tree of life," and so gradually ascending into the fullness of Christ, and bathing its towering head in the calm sunshine of God's love, it smiles at the tempest and defies the storm.
Thus are we directed by the petition to look to our heavenly Father for the supply of our daily temporal necessities. This He does in various ways; and it is pleasant to trace His hand in all. He grants strength of body, resoluteness of will, and perseverance of effort in toil--and so gives us our daily bread. He clears and sustains our mental faculties, counsels our perplexities, and preserves us from, or extricates us out of, the difficulties of our path--and so gives us our daily bread. He suggests our undertakings, prospers our enterprises, blesses the work of our hands--and so gives us our daily bread. He knows our need, anticipates our deficiencies, and times His supply to our necessities--and so gives us our daily bread. He unveils hidden sources of wealth, raises up improbable and unexpected agencies, opens the hand and inclines the heart of kindness, affection, and sympathy--and so gives us our daily bread. Thus does our heavenly Father; and by the wonder-working of His providence, often most astounding and unlooked for, feeds and clothes us.
Promising that our basket and our store shall not diminish, that our bread and our water shall not fail, day by day He spreads a table for us in the wilderness, raining down the bread that sustains us with the morning's light and with the evening's shade. Could the simple annals of God's tried and straitened saints be written, what numberless instances of His providential care might be cited! scarcely less striking and touching than the most remarkable penned by the sacred historian. The cases of the prophet Elijah, of the widow of Sarepta, of the disciples for whom Jesus provided the morning's meal after their night of fruitless toil, of the multitudes whom, from the scanty supply, He more than fed in the wilderness, would all, in some one essential feature, seem to live over again.
You, who, when temporal circumstances are distressed, whose barrel of meal and cruse of oil are brought very low, whose minds' anxieties are corroding, whose hearts' fears are sinking, to whose eyes poverty and dependence appear in terrible form--turn this petition into the prayer of faith, and send it up to your heavenly Father, who knows your need, and whose love, faithfulness, and power are pledged to meet it. "For He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear."
But we must present this petition in its spiritual teaching. That our Lord included this as its chief burden there cannot be a doubt. How familiar, significant, and precious His own words bearing on this truth, and supplying the most full and impressive comment on the petition--"I am the bread of life." "I am the living bread which came down from heaven--if any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever--and the bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." No truth stands out from the page of God's word more gloriously than this. Jesus is our life; and in this the figure He condescendingly employs--like all the types, similitudes, and emblems which set forth the Lord Jesus Christ--falls below the spiritual truth it was intended to illustrate.
Natural bread does not impart life, it only nourishes and sustains it. But Jesus, as the Bread of Life, gives life; he that eats of Him lives. "I have come that they might have and that they might have it more abundantly." This "Bread" possesses both divine life and mediatorial life, and both are essential to the salvation of the soul. Oh, who can ever tell what our Lord passed through in order to become available as the life of His people! "Grain must be bruised (or ground) to make bread." How affectingly true was this of Jesus, as the living bread of His Church! In every sense and from every quarter He was bruised. "It pleased the Father to bruise Him, He has put Him to grief." He was bruised by Satan and by man--He was bruised by sin and by sinners--He was bruised by friends and by foes.
Who can describe the terrible process through which the fine wheat from heaven passed before we could eat by faith of this bread and live! What clue have we to this mystery of mysteries, what solution of this profoundest of problems--Christ's sufferings--Himself sinless and innocent--but that which the theory of a substitutionary sacrifice supplies? "Christ has loved us, and has given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice unto God for a sweet smelling savor." This explains it all. His death was expiatory. It was for sin. "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree." "When He had by Himself purged our sins." "He is the propitiation for our sins." "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." Hold fast this foundation doctrine of Christianity! It is more than this--it is Christianity itself. It is the life-blood of our religion, it is the life of our souls. Contend for it unto the death. Maintain your belief of the Atonement at any cost; sell it at none. It admits of no dilution, of no reservation, of no compromise.
Received fully, and believed simply, and lived holily, the end, in this world, of your faith, will be a happy, hopeful death, and in the world to come life everlasting. As a mortal soon to die, as a responsible being soon to give an account, as a sinner soon to appear before God, as an immortal linked with an endless destiny, the atonement of the Son of God is everything to you. It cannot be questioned, denied, ignored, but at the peril of interests more precious, and of an eternity more solemn than the universe!
You inquire, perhaps, in view of this impressive and emphatic statement, HOW may I obtain an interest in the atonement of Christ? Your question is of infinite importance. No profound reasoning or elaborate disquisition is necessary to its answer, as no labored process or weary pilgrimage is required for its attainment. God has made FAITH the receptive grace of salvation. The gospel terms are--not him that works, nor him that runs, nor him that deserves--but, "him that believes." The whole edifice of your salvation rests upon the simple reception in faith of a personal Savior. The words of that Savior are, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life." With this agrees the teaching of His apostle, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." What terms could be more simple, what mode of bringing you into the full reception of salvation, with its priceless, countless blessings of peace, joy, hope, more appropriate?
But even at this, perhaps, you stumble! The very simplicity of God's mode of bringing you into the experience of the costliest gift in His power to bestow, is your bar to its possession. But let a wise and holy witness testify--"Sin gives you the first title to the Friend of sinners; a simple, naked faith the second. Do not puzzle yourself about contrition, faithfulness, love, joy, power over sin, and a thousand such things which the white devil will persuade you that you must bring to Christ. He will receive you gladly with the greatest mountain of sin; and the smallest grain of faith at Christ's feet will remove that mountain. At the peril of your soul, desire at present not peace nor joy, nor puzzle yourself even about love; only desire that that blessed Man may be your Bridegroom, and that you may firmly believe that He is so, because He has given you His flesh and blood upon the cross. You have nothing to do with sin and self, although they will have much to do with you. Your business is with Jesus--with His free, unmerited love, with His glorious promises. Strongly expect nothing from your own heart but unbelief, hardness, and backsliding, and when you find them there be not shaken nor distressed; rather rejoice that you are to live by faith on the faithful heart of Christ, and cast not away your confidence, which has great recompense of reward."
"Faith is not what we feel or see;
It is a simple trust
On what the God of love has said
Of Jesus--of the 'Just.'
"What Jesus is, and that alone,
Is faith's delightful plea;
It never deals with sinful self,
Or righteousness in me.
"It tells me I am counted dead
By God in His own word;
It tells me I am 'born again'
In Christ my risen Lord.
"If He is free, then I am free
From all unrighteousness:
If He is just, then I am just;
He is my Righteousness."
Behold, then, this "living Bread"--giving life, sustaining life, and crowning life with the diadem of life eternal. It has in it all the ingredients of spiritual life--the pardon of sin, peace of mind, joy of heart, holiness of walk, and hope beyond. There is everything that your soul needs in Jesus. Make an inventory of your needs--add up the sum total, sign it with "poverty," "bankruptcy," "sinner the chief," "hell-deserving," and take it to Jesus, and from His full, overflowing, free-flowing abundance of all grace He will meet your need, honor your draft, and dismiss you from His presence your heart thrilling with joy unspeakable and full of glory!
"GIVE US." God's blessings are GIFTS. Divine, priceless, and precious they are beyond all purchase. They have indeed been purchased, but the purchase-price was not that of man's finding, but of God's--even the price of Christ's most precious blood. We come not, then, to God with the petition, "Sell us," but, "Give us." Out of Your overflowing heart, from Your infinite sufficiency and most free favor, give us the blessings of Your providence and grace. "I come, Lord, with an outstretched hand, with an empty palm, stricken with hunger, famished and ready to die. I have heard that there is bread enough in my Father's house and to spare. Lo! I come, not worthy to be called Your son, asking but the portion of a slave. Give me this day my daily bread."
Oh, what a charm, what a sweetness does the FREENESS of grace impart to the blessings bestowed upon us by God! All who cluster around His table and eat of this bread appear there as the pensioners of His most free grace. They are invited as a sovereign asks his guests to receive the hospitality of his princely home. What an affront would it be to that sovereign to offer to pay for the banquet to which he had graciously invited you! A greater affront cannot be offered to the free grace and love of God than to imagine that He will sell His favors, that He requires you to pay for your admittance into His kingdom of grace and glory. True, solemnly true, He expects a return, and a large return too, but it is such a return of love and thankfulness, of obedience and service, as His own Spirit working in our hearts enables us to make. Thus, when grace finds us God's beggars, it leaves us His debtors, laying us under the obligation--oh, sweet and holy bond!--of yielding ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, an unreserved surrender.
"THIS DAY"--"day by day." God will have us live upon His bounty by the day. We have no inherent, independent resources, no reserved and treasured supplies. The manna rained down by God around Israel's camp was a striking type of this truth. It was the Lord's Prayer of the Old Testament saints. In it they were taught to ask and to expect from God theirdaily bread. It was a morning and an evening supply. They were commanded to lay up nothing for the morrow. If they disobeyed this injunction, the manna decomposed and was unfit for use. There was no surplus, no waste, nothing superfluous. "As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."
What a divine lesson was Israel here taught! And what a gospel, spiritual truth it teaches us! We are here taught the great mystery of a life of daily faith. And oh, what may be the need, what the history of one single day! What its demands, its pressures, its trials. One short day may give its mold and complexion to a man's endless being. What events, what changes, what disappointments, what sorrows, what new and startling pictures in life's ever-shifting panorama may revolve! The sun which in the morning rose so gorgeously may at evening set in darkness and in storm.
But oh, how precious is this truth--God is prepared in response to our morning's prayer, to give us all that the day shall need. In anticipation of its daily toil, its mental anxiety, its physical demands, its trials of affection, its tests of principle, its endurance of suffering, its experience of grief, its losses, its crosses, its partings, you may perhaps enter upon it as the disciples entered into the cloud on Mount Tabor, with fear and trembling. But behold your promise! "Give us this day our daily bread." You thus begin your day with looking up. You commence it with God. Before you enter upon the day's battle of life, you repair to the Strong One for strength, to the Divine Counselor for wisdom, to the full Savior for grace, to your Heavenly Father for the day's supply--and with your vessel thus filled from the infinite source of all blessing, you go forth from your chamber as a strong man to run a race--fed, nourished, invigorated, with the daily bread God has so kindly and so profusely snowed around your camp.
Thus will God have us live a life of daily faith upon His bounty. If we would live amid the daily conflict of the flesh a life of holy victory, we must live a life of daily faith upon Jesus, a life of daily waiting upon God. "THIS day, my Father! The supplies of yesterday are exhausted; those of tomorrow I leave with You--give me this day all that its circumstances may demand. Give me the clearness of judgment, the soundness of decision, the resoluteness of will, the integrity of principle, the uprightness of heart, the moral courage, the Christ-like meekness, the holy love, the watchfulness and prayerfulness, the integrity and consistency, its yet unshaped history may require. I know not to what temptations I shall be exposed, by what foes I shall be assailed, through what trials I shall pass; what clouds will shade, what sorrows will embitter, what circumstances will wound my spirit. Lord, give me grace, strength, love, guidance, faith; give me this day my daily bread."
What a holy, happy life is this! It removes all care from the mind but the present, and for that present the believer hangs upon a Father's care. In this we trace a beautiful and perfect harmony of the Old and the New Testaments. The promise to the Old Testament saints was, "As your days, so shall your strength be." The prayer taught the New Testament saints is, "Give us this day our daily bread." And so we learn that God is the Author of both the Old and the New Testaments; and these two divine witnesses unite in testifying to His love, bounty, and faithfulness to His people.
Thus begin and continue your day with God. Its history, as I have reminded you, is all undeveloped, uncertain, and untraced. You cannot foresee one step, be certain one circumstance, or control one event. Let your prayer be--"Give me, Lord, all supplies for this day. I may have trials--trials of my judgment, trials of my affections, trials of conscience, trials of my principles, trials from those I most tenderly love--Lord, be with me. Guide me with Your counsel, hold up my steps that they slide not, and, in the multitude of my thoughts within me, let Your comforts delight my soul."
And mark the UNSELFISHNESS and SYMPATHY of this petition. It is not "give me," but "give US." There is a largeness of heart, a breadth of supplication here worthy of Him at whose feet we learn the prayer. Christ had come to bless the race. Self was its idol, and selfishness its sin. He had come to dethrone the one and to annihilate the other. By the "expulsive power of a new affection"--the love of God in the heart of man--He sought to unlock the affections, unseal the sympathies, and expand the powers of the soul; and by reinstating man in his filial relation to God, to reinstate him in his fraternal relation to his brother. Thus are we taught by Jesus to cast from us all selfishness in prayer, and in asking of our Heavenly Father--the one Father of His people by grace, and the one Parent of the race by creation--daily bread for ourselves, to ask also daily bread for others. Give US--the rich and the poor, the saint and the sinner, he who owns and he who tills the land--give us our daily bread.
Drinking into the spirit of this petition, we shall resolve with Job not to "keep my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless." A yet higher example of generous sympathy will influence us--the example of Christ himself. Followed into the desert by the populace, eager to hear His words and to see His works, they were three days with out food. His disciples would have dismissed the multitude to their homes famishing and fainting by the way. Not so the Lord. Himself often hungry for the very bread He so generously provided for others, He resolved upon meeting the present need. Taking in His hands the scanty supply, He sought His Father's blessing, then broke and distributed, and by the exercise of His own divine power, so multiplied the few and increased the little, as satisfied to the full the needs of "about three thousand men, besides women and children."
Who will say that our Lord was indifferent to the temporal necessities of man? That, because His first and chief mission was to bring down the bread of heaven to a fallen, sinful world, He would be slow to make an equal provision for the body; that body which, by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, was to become the sacred temple of God through the Spirit! The practical lesson, then, we learn from this memorable and instructive incident of our Lord's life is--to remember the poor. It is God's will that "the poor shall never cease out of the land." They are His special clients. "He shall judge the poor of the people." "He shall stand at the right hand of the poor to save him from those who condemn his soul." Poor and dependent Himself; it was among this class of society Jesus the most frequently mingled, and to whom He more especially addressed His ministry of grace, and among whom, for the most part, He wrought His miracles of power. The common people heard Him gladly, and to the poor the gospel was preached.
Imitating our Lord, we shall not deem the poor and the needy--especially those of the "household of faith"--beneath our regard, or beyond the pale of our sympathy and support. Blessed ourselves with daily bread, we should share our loaf with our less amply supplied and more necessitous brother, and in this way be instrumental in answering the petition sent up to his Father--"Give me day by day my daily bread." Oh, it is a high honor and a precious privilege to be God's dispenser to the poor! Has He given us more than our daily bread? It is that we might give of our surplus to others! The excess of our supply is to augment another's deficiency. Not the crumbs that fall from our table, but of its abundance, are we to give. "There is one that scatters, and yet increases; there is one that withholds, and it tends to poverty." The manna we selfishly refuse, or niggardly dole, or covetously hoard, shall breed its own devouring worm and emit a reeking smell. This suggests another and an important thought.
Let us not suppose that the question of the supply of the poor and the needy is a national, ecclesiastical, or class question. It is purely a Christian and humane one. The pauper of every climate and religion and grade is a 'brother' and a 'neighbor,' asking and claiming our recognition, sympathy, and aid. How nobly did our American brethren illustrate this fact, during the recent Irish famine, when they opened their granaries and despatched their ships freighted with corn to a people suffering from the blight of their crops, three thousand miles distant from their shores! All honor to a great nation true to the instincts of humanity, noble in character and illustrious in religion! Few questions of political economy have proved of a graver and more perplexing cast, and have tasked and tested to the same extent the power and skill of a nation's statesmanship, than the mode of meeting the necessities of the poor.
Pauperism exists in every land; but England has nothing to be ashamed of in the mode by which it has been met. The Christianity of the nation--its religion and its Protestantism--has nobly grappled with the "Bread Question," generously originating and wisely directing its supplies. The contrast of pauperism, as it both exists and is met in Protestant and in Papal countries, is so forcibly put by an American divine--an original and eloquent thinker--that I am tempted to quote his remarks in extenso. "Pauperism," he writes, "must be, and should be fed; but who? Catholicism taunts Protestantism with the pauperism of England, as if it were chargeable on the rejection of the Roman faith. But in answer to this, it is sufficient to say that the pauperism of British countries is found mainly in the class who are not church-goers. Those who have become degraded with sin, and skeptic, who keep no Sabbath, and read no Bible, and never enter the sanctuary, are the chief burdens on the poor fund in Protestant England. Those who visit the Sabbath-school, and the chapel or the church, both in the mining and manufacturing districts, are less grievously and less often the victims of poverty.
But in Catholic countries it is the church-going--those who haunt the porch, and the altar, and the confessional, and keep the church-holidays, that are the most shameless and importunate in their mendicancy. The poor of the Protestant countries are by their religion kept mainly from the worst woes and vices of the pauperism around them, which preys mainly on the rejecters or neglecters of their religion. But the poor of Catholic countries are made such and kept such by their faith; by its festivals, fostering idleness; by the mendicancy of many of its religious orders of friars, and by its confiscation of large portions of the nation's soil and the nation's resources in the support of monastic establishments, which consume, but do not produce. Again, the pauperism of Protestant England is not either as deep or deplorable as that of Catholic Ireland; nor that of the Protestant cantons in Switzerland like that of Catholic Savoy. We say this but in passing, and in reply to an unjust impeachment which the Roman Catholic often brings. But wherever population has become dense, and labor difficult to be obtained, pauperism has grown into a formidable evil. It is in many lands the great question of the times.
The gaunt and hollow-eyed class of the 'Wants' are confronting the more sleek but the less numerous and the feebler house of the 'Haves.' Shall the sinewy grasp of famine's bony hand be laid on the pampered throat of luxury, and a violent social revolution assay the right for a time the dread inequality? We believe that to the lands which honor not or scorn the gospel, there are few enemies which they have more cause to fear than this famishing multitude--fierce, unrestrained, and illiterate--a Lazarus without a gospel and without a God, turning wolf-like in the blindness of its misery and its brute strength on a Dives without conscience and without mercy. The poor must be relieved, but not inindolence. That gospel which is so eminently a message for the poor, yet declares that if any man will not work neither shall he eat. Society must not overlook her destitute children, butshe must not nurse and fatten them in sloth! If, on the other hand, she undertakes to supply and direct all their labor, she would restrain rather than foster enterprise and industry. If she compels work, she must have despotic powers to extort it.
If she resolutely clings to free institutions and reject despotism, she must forego the compulsory requirement of the labor; and then is it charity to bestow the unearned pay, and while the sluggard folds his arms to thrust donated food between his teeth? We do not see in association or social revolution, or in any system of mere political legislation, the full remedy of this. The gospel must come in, and by its influence on personal conscience and on individual character, teach the POOR self-respect, diligence, economy, and contentment; and require of the RICH sympathy, compassion, and bounty for their more necessitous brethren. Christ is needed, not only as an Interpreter and a Arbitrator between man and God; He is needed also in the daily business of the world as a Arbitrator between the several classes of society that now eye each other askance--each endeavoring to abridge its own duties and exaggerating its demands upon the class opposed to itself. And ought the WEALTHY to forget ever the bonds of sympathy that bind them, amid their opulence and in their lavish houses and their elegant leisure, to the multitudes around?
Are they wealthy? The poor man aided in building, storing, and sailing their ships, and in rearing and guarding their sumptuous abodes. The poor man takes, to protect their slumbers, the watchman's weary beat and the fireman's noble risks. Every grain of sugar and every lock of cotton that passes through their warehouses is the fruit of the labor of some other of mankind--their kindred, and their duty to whom they may not justly disavow. The purple and fine linen passed through the poor man's hands at the loom and the vat; and not an ornament or a comfort decks or gladdens them on their persons or in their houses on which the horny palm of penury has not at some time wearily rested. In one apartment there have met the toils of the coal miners of Northumberland and of the potters of Staffordshire. Upon one and the same table are grouped the offerings of the Mexican mines and of the British cutler, of the Scottish weaver and the Irish cottar, of the tea-gatherer of 'far Cathay' and of the whale-fisher of their own Nantucket.
'We are members one of another.' We cannot forget it with impunity. If each member of the great brotherhood of the nations were to come and claim back his contributions to our daily comforts, how poor and forlorn would we be left! Our common Father would not have us overlook it, in the benefits it has brought and in the bonds which it imposes. We owe much to our fellows, and we owe more to Him. To Him, the wealthiest capitalist who rules the exchanges of a nation owes as much of hourly obligation for life, and food, and health, and competence, as did Elijah the prophet, in the severe famine when God was feeding him by daily miracle at the brooks, and ravens were his purveyors, or in the house of the widow of Sarepta. Now, one mode of acknowledging gratefully our indebtedness to God is by the fraternal acknowledgment of obligation to our brethren, whom, as His pensioners, He transfers to our care. The RICH, then, are not entitled to be profuse and wasteful, and thus to empty the granaries, as it were, of many coming years and of many needy households in selfish rioting and prodigality. We do not call for the enactment of 'luxury laws', but we suppose Christianity to require of its individual disciples that 'their moderation should be known to all men.'"
Remarks fraught with such practical wisdom, and from the pen of a foreign writer, whose European travel betrays so much shrewd and impartial observation, strongly commend themselves to the study of every Christian, of every Christian statesman and political economist. Christianity alone supplies the true solution of the problem of how pauperism to be met. It alone throws upon the canvas the different shades into which pauperism resolves itself--the pauperism that is the result of indolence and selfish waste; or that which is engendered by a spurious and superstitious religious system; or that which is the natural offspring of unwise political legislation; or, yet more, that which is produced, in the providence of God, by social and national calamity.
While the gospel thus clearly defines pauperism, it as clearly instructs us how to meet it. It teaches the lesson of prudence, frugality, and economy, and it inculcates the precepts of self-denial, sympathy, and benevolence. It bridges the chasm between the rich and the poor, moulds the race into kin, and by its regenerating influence unites the kin into a family, and teaches us that he is my neighbor and he my brother who, wounded, in suffering, or in poverty, needs my sympathy and asks my aid.
Cheerful CONTENTMENT with God's measured supplies, is taught us by this petition. How uniform is the teaching of the Bible on this point of Christian duty! It nowhere promises excessiveness, or encourages peevish discontent with God's restricted supply. Not what we wish, not what we ask, but what we need, is insured to us. While God is infinitely rich and boundless in His resources, and often profuse and luxurious in His supplies, this is not the rule, but the exception, of His dealings with men, and especially with the saints. The promise is, "Your bread and water shall be sure." The precept is, "Be content with such things as you have." The limit is, "God shall supply all you need." The exhortation is, "Having food and clothing, therewith to be content." The desire is, "Neither poverty nor riches." The prayer is, "Give me this day my daily bread."
Such was the lowly fare of Him who came to work out our redemption from eternal woe. He often hungered, yet supplied others with bread; thirsted, yet gave others drink; wearied, yet gave others rest; sorrowed, yet gave others joy. Oh, what a self-abjuring, self-sacrificing, man-loving life was Christ's! Not a breath of murmur, not a syllable of discontent, not a word of impatience ever passed His lips. Contentment was enthroned upon His brow, meekness was reflected in His countenance, love beamed in His eye, kindness, gentleness, and compassion breathed in His every word. What was carnal enjoyment, the dainty table, the soft couch, the luxurious clothing, the splendid home, the exquisite music, to Him whose kingdom was not of this world?--who came to live a life of poverty--to toil as a impoverished carpenter--to be wickedly entreated, maligned, and traduced; and then, to close His career, condemned as a felon and crucified as a slave--all for love to man! With such an example of moderation, contentment, and patience; with such a model of unearthliness, unworldliness, and heavenliness; with such a crucifixion to the world ever before us--when "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," would allure is from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus--what true disciple of the Savior is not content with the needful and the moderate provision which a faithful and a loving Father is pledged daily to supply?
Confronted by this truth, shall we allow any allurement of the world, any temptation to wealth, or any proffer of daily sustenance to overcome our loyalty to conscience, to Christ, and to God? Shall we be tempted to profane the Sabbath, to embark in an enterprise injurious to our fellow-creatures--to take a step unjust and dishonest, selfish and questionable, to gain our livelihood, to win our daily bread? God forbid! Better, far better, eat your molded crust, and slake your morning and evening thirst at the pure spring, and so make your daily meal, than to luxuriate and fatten upon the "wages of sin." Is God your Father?--trust Him. Was He the God of your parent?--trust Him. "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread."
See through WHAT CHANNEL all our blessings, temporal or spiritual, flow--the divinely appointed channel of prayer. "Ask, and you shall receive." "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" And how corresponding and encouraging the apostle's exhortation, "Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." That need is enriching, that sorrow is joyful, that burden is uplifting, that care is lightsome, that trial is precious, that discovery of indwelling evil is sanctifying, that leads us to the throne of grace, that shuts us up to God in prayer. Oh, for what intent a Father's smiting, a Father's rebuke, a Father's rod, a Father's blessing, but to open our heart in prayer, and to unseal our lips in praise! "Let me hear Your voice; for sweet is Your voice, and Your countenance is lovely." In this loving, holy light, interpret all the dealings of your Father God.
Be earnest and covetous in your seeking after the "Bread of life." Here lay no restraint upon your desires, put no limit to your requests. "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." You cannot approach with a basket too large, with a vessel too empty, with a frequency too often, nor with a request too importunate. God has given you Christ. This divine loaf, prepared by God in heaven, has come down to earth, of which you are invited to partake, freely, abundantly, daily, and live. All that Christ is--all that Christ has done--and all that Christ is now doing--is yours. Every pulse of His heart beats for you; every drop of His shed-blood was for you; every grain of His treasured grace is for you; every breath of His intercession in heaven is for you--all is yours; for you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Day by day is the life of faith you are to live upon Jesus. It is DAILY bread. Jesus for each and for every day. Jesus for each day's needs--Jesus for each day's trials--Jesus for each day's sins--Jesus for life--Jesus for death--Jesus forever!
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