OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
discourse, on the consideration of which we now
enter, was, like most, if not all, of our Lord's
discourses, occasional, rising out of the
circumstances in which he was placed when he
uttered it, and from them taking its particular
form, and deriving its peculiar illustrations. Its
subject is the most important and interesting which
can engage the attention of the human mind. It
contains a discussion and decision of two
questions, which, in all countries and ages, have
occupied the thoughts of reflecting men, but to
which unassisted reason, though applying all its
energies to the task for a long course of
centuries, had failed to find a satisfactory
reply—What ought to be the object of man's
supreme pursuit? and, how is he to secure the
attainment of this object?
John VI. 1-25
The circumstances which led our Lord to deliver the discourse now before us, and suggested the instructive and beautiful imagery by which his doctrines are at once illustrated and adorned, may be shortly stated.
Our Lord, on the return of his apostles from the evangelical itinerant labours in which he had employed them, having heard of the anxiety which Herod the Tetrarch had expressed to see him, had left Capernaum, a city on the west side of the sea of Galilee, belonging to that prince's dominions,—where he had chiefly resided for a considerable period, and where his time and attention had been continually occupied by the crowds who came from all quarters to hear his doctrine, and to experience or witness his miraculous power;—and had crossed over to the opposite side, to a retired spot, in a somewhat thinly inhabited district, apparently with the intention that the disciples might have that repose which their fatigue required, and that he might be out of the way should Herod show a disposition to use force in order to have his curiosity gratified, and his remorseful fears either confirmed or removed.
Our Lord's departure, though private, soon became matter of notoriety, and a vast multitude from Capernaum and the neighbouring country and villages, made a hasty journey round the north end of the sea of Galilee, and were ready to welcome him, on his disembarking on the eastern shore. Ascending a mountain, followed by the multitude, whom he regarded with melting compassion, "as sheep scattered without a shepherd," he spent the day in performing beneficent miracles, and uttering heavenly instructions: "teaching them many things," "speaking to them of the kingdom of God, and healing them that had need of healing." (Matt. xiv. 14; Luke ix. 11)
As the evening drew on, his disciples proposed to him to dismiss the multitude, that, dispersing themselves among the villages and throughout the adjacent country, they might find refreshment and lodging. Far from acquiescing in this proposal, our Lord replied, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." His disciples, astonished at these words, stated that the expenditure of two hundred denarii, (between six and seven pounds of our money, which probably constituted all their store), in buying food, even if such a quantity of it could have been procured in so retired a situation, which was not probable, would scarcely suffice to furnish a mouthful to such a crowd; and on inquiry, it was found that the stock of provisions which they had with them, was only "five barley loaves, and two small fishes." (John vi. 9). This information in no degree shook our Lord's determination to provide with bodily refreshment, before dismissing them, the multitude, fatigued by their journey, and faint from long-continued abstinence.
The confused mass of human beings, amounting to five thousand men, besides women and children, was soon, by his orders, transformed into fifty orderly companies of guests. Standing up and holding in his hands the slender stock of provisions, he invoked the Divine blessing, which so miraculously increased them, that he filled the baskets of the twelve apostles, and they distributed them to the multitude, and the multitude handed them from one to another, till the vast assembly had eaten to satiety, and "twelve baskets full of fragments remained from the wondrous feast.
The miracle produced on the multitude a deep and general impression, that he who performed it could be no other than Israel's promised deliverer, and many of them were disposed to employ every means in their power to induce him to assume immediately those royal honours, to which, in that case, he was entitled, and which he had shown he could so easily maintain. Aware that should such a proposal be made, his disciples, from their remaining prejudices, were very likely to second it, he prevailed on them, somewhat reluctantly, to embark without him for the opposite shore, and he remained behind, probably because he knew that had he offered to go, the multitude, in their present temper, would have attempted forcibly to detain him, and certainly because he contemplated making a new trial of his disciples' faith, and giving them a new demonstration of his divine knowledge, and power, and kindness.
The multitude, finding that our Lord had not accompanied his disciples, and concluding that, as there was no other boat on that side of the sea, he could not leave that neighbourhood without their being aware of it, were induced peaceably to disperse, with the intention no doubt of coming together early next morning, and pressing on their chosen leader the acceptance of the honours and allegiance they were ready to yield him. On the multitude departing to find lodging in the villages and country around, our Lord retired into the recesses of the mountains, and spent the greater part of the night in devotional communion with his Father and God.
Meanwhile his disciples encountered a storm in their passage across the lake, and had spent a great part of the night in laboriously struggling, against a strong wind and a stormy sea, to gain the opposite shore. While they were about the middle of the lake, a human form appeared to them, walking on the troubled waves, as on a solid pavement. The surprise, not unmixed with terror, with which men have always regarded intercourse with the inhabitants of the invisible world, was their first emotion but, on ascertaining that it was indeed their Lord, their fear was turned into joy. Peter, with his characteristic forwardness, requested permission to come to meet his Master on the waters. His request was complied with, and he met with a very impressive demonstration of the weakness of his own faith, and of the omnipotent kindness of his Lord. On Jesus coming aboard the vessel, the tempest instantaneously ceased, and in a very short period, if not "immediately," in the strictest sense of the word, they gained the western shore. On arriving there early in the morning, it is probable that both our Lord and his disciples, who stood much in need of rest, retired for a season to repose.
It is obvious, however, that in this case, the season of relaxation and rest was but brief. The multitude, whose hearts were set on making the miracle-worker their king, collected early in the morning to carry their purpose into effect. But on seeking for Jesus, he was nowhere to be found. This threw them into a state of great perplexity. They knew that the only boat which, the day before, was on that side of the sea, was that in which Jesus and his disciples had crossed from Capernaum. They knew that the disciples had departed without him. They seem to have conjectured that he who could miraculously multiply five loaves and two fishes, so as to constitute an abundant meal for more than five thousand individuals, ought also, in some miraculous manner, transport himself across the lake and availing themselves of boats which that morning had arrived from Tiberias, they crossed over to Capernaum, in the hope of finding Jesus there, where they knew he had for some time chiefly resided.
Nor was their expectation disappointed. They found him (as appears from the 59th verse) "about his Father's business," in the synagogue teaching the people. On entering the synagogue, they accosted him, and inquired as to the time of his return, hoping, no doubt, that in telling them when, he might also inform them how, he had crossed the lake. To this question our Lord gave no reply. The information they wished for might easily be got from the disciples, or from others who had witnessed the miraculous circumstances of his passage.
Our Lord's object plainly was to disabuse them of their false views and expectations,—to show them that he was not the kind of Messiah they anticipated and wished for,—that it was in vain for them to expect from him the sort of benefits on which they had set their heart, but that he was ready to bestow upon them benefits of a far higher order,—benefits which he only could bestow,—benefits at once necessary and sufficient to secure their true happiness. He shows them that he was perfectly aware of the real state of their minds, and preaches to them that "repentance," without which they could not enter into that spiritual kingdom that he had come to establish,—a kingdom altogether different from that earthly kingdom which they were dreaming of establishing by force.
John Brown of Edinburgh was a Scotch Burgher minister, eldest son of Rev. John Brown of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire, and grandson of John Brown of Haddington. He was born on July 12, 1784 and died at Edingburgh October 13, 1848. He studied at Edinburgh and the divinity hall of the Burgher Church at Selkirk; was licensed 1805 and ordained minister of the Burgher Church of Biggar, Lanarkshire, 1806. After serving several more pastorates he became professor of exegetical theology to the United Associate Synod after 1834. He was strongly in favor of the separation of church and state, and in 1845 was tried (and acquitted) before the synod on a charge of holding unsound views concerning the atonement.
He was a fine orator and a voluminous writer; the most prominent of his works are: Exposition of the Discourses and Sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ (3 Vols. 1850); The Resurrection of Life, an exposition of I Cor. xv. (1852); Expository Discourses on Galatians (1853); and the Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (1857).