LOOK, there are the people! Five thousand of them, as hungry as hunters, and they all need to have food given to them, for they cannot any of them travel to buy it! And here is the provision! Five thin wafers — and those of barley, more fit for horses than for men — and two little anchovies, by way of a relish! Five thousand people and five little biscuits wherewith to feed them! The disproportion is enormous: if each one should have only the tiniest crumb, there would not be sufficient. In like manner, there are millions of people in London, and only a handful of whole-hearted Christians earnestly desiring to see the city converted to Christ; there are more than a thousand millions of men in this round world, and oh, so few missionaries breaking to them the bread of life; almost as few for the millions, as were these five barley cakes for those five thousand! The problem is a very difficult one. The contrast between the supply and the demand would have struck us much more vividly if we had been there, in that crowd at Bethsaida, than it does here, nearly nineteen hundred years afterwards, and merely hearing about it. But the Lord Jesus was equal to the emergency: none of the people went away without sharing in His bounty; they were all filled. Our blessed Master, now that He has ascended into the heavens, has more rather than less power; He is not baffled because of our lack, but can even now use paltry means to accomplish His own glorious purposes; therefore let no man’s heart fail him. Do not despair of the evangelization of London, nor think it hopeless that the gospel should be preached in all nations for a testimony unto them. Have faith in God, who is in Christ Jesus; have faith in the compassion of the Great Mediator: He will not desert the people in their spiritual need, any more than He failed that hungry throng, in their temporal need, long ago.
Notice the providence of God in bringing the lad there. We do not know his name; we are not told anything concerning his parentage. Was he a little pedlar, who thought that he could make some money by selling a few loaves and fishes, and had he nearly sold out? Or was he a boy that the apostles had employed to carry this slender provision for the use of Jesus and His friends? We do not know much about him; but he was the right boy in the right place that day. Be his name what it might, it did not matter; he had the barley loaves and fishes upon which the people were to be fed.
Christ never is in need but He has somebody at hand to supply that need.
Have faith in the providence of God. What made the boy bring the loaves and fishes I do not know. Boys often do unaccountable things; but bring the loaves and fishes he did; and God, who understands the ideas and motives of lads, and takes account even of barley loaves and fishes, had appointed that boy to be there. Again I say, believe in the providence of God. Mr. Stanley tells us; that, when he came out of that long journey of his through the forest, I think after a hundred and sixty days of walking in darkness, and found himself at last where he could see the sun, he felt that there was a special providence of God that had taken care of him. I am very glad that Mr. Stanley felt that it was the hand of God that had brought him out of the noisome shade; but I do not need to go to Africa to learn that we are beset behind and before by His goodness. Many of us have felt a special providence of God in our own bed-chambers; we have met with His hand in connection with our own children. .Yea, every day we are surrounded by tokens of His care. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.” “I am sure God took care of me,” said one; “for as I was; going along a certain street, I slipped on a piece of orange-peel, and had what might have been a serious fall; yet I was not hurt in the least.” To which his friend replied, “I am sure God has taken care of me; for I have walked along that street hundreds of times, and have never slipped on a piece of orange-peel, or on anything else.”
Let us also believe in His providence with regard to the church of Christ He will never desert His people; He will find men when tie wants them.
Thus it has ever been in the history of the saints, and thus it shall ever be.
Before the Reformation there were many learned men who knew something of Christ’s gospel; but they said that it was a pity to make a noise, and so they communed with one another and with Christ very quietly. What was wanted was some rough, bull-headed fellow who would blurt the gospel out, and upset the old state of things. Where could he be found? There was a. monk named Luther, who, while he was reading his Bible, suddenly stumbled on the doctrine of justification by faith; he was the man: yet when he went to a dear brother in the Lord, and told him how he felt, his friend said to him, “Go back to thy cell, and pray and commune with God, and hold thy tongue.” But then, you see, he had a tongue that he could not hold, and that nobody else could hold, and he began to speak with it the truth that had I made a new mart of him. The God that made Luther, knew what He was at when He made him; He put within him a great burning fire that could not be restrained, and it burst forth, and set the nations on a blaze. Never despair about providence. There sits to-night, somewhere in a chimney corner in the country, a man who will turn the current of unbelief, and win back the churches to the Old Gospel. God never yet did come to a point of distress as to His truth but what suddenly one came forward, a David with a sling and a stone, or a, Samson with a jawbone, or a Shamgar with an ox-goad, who put to rout the adversaries of the Lord. “There is a lad here.” The providence of God had sent him.
This lad with his loaves was brought into notice. When they were searching for all the provisions in the company, this obscure boy, that never would have been heard of else, was brought to the front, because he had his little basket of biscuits. Andrew found him out, and he carne and said to Jesus, “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes.”
So, rest assured, that if you have the Bread of Life about you, and you are willing to serve God, you need not be afraid that obscurity will ever prevent your doing it. “Nobody knows me,” says one. Well, it is not a very desirable thing that anybody should know you: those of us who are known to everybody would be very glad if we were not; there is no very great comfort in it. He who ,an work away for his Master, with nobody to see him but his Master, is the happiest of men. “I have only one hundred people to preach to,” said a country pastor to me; and I replied, “If you give a good account of those hundred, you have quite enough to do.” If all you have is very little — just that pennyworth of loaves and fishes — -use that properly, and you will do your Master service; and in due time, when God wants you, He knows where to find you. You need not put an advertisement in the paper; He knows the street you live in, and the number on the door. You need not go and push yourself to the front; the Lord will bring you to the front when He wants you; and I hope that you do not want to get there if He does not want you. Depend upon it, should you push forward when you are not required, He will put you back again.
Oh, for grace to work on unobserved, to have your one talent, your five loaves and two fishes, and only to be noticed when the hour suggests the need, and the need makes a loud call for you.
When brought into notice, the loaves and fishes did not fare very well; they were judged insufficient for the purpose Andrew said, “What are they among so many?” The boy’s; candle seemed to be quite snuffed out so small a stock — what could be the use of that? Now, I daresay that some of you have had Satan saying to you, “What is the use of your trying to do anything?” To you, dear mother, with a family of children, he has whispered, “You cannot serve God.” He knows very well that, by sustaining grace, you can; and he is afraid of how well you can serve God if you bring up those dear children in His fear. He says to the colporteur over yonder, “You have not much ability; what can you do?” Ah, dear friend! he is afraid of what you can do, and if you will only do what you can do, God will, by-and-by, help you to do what now you cannot do. But the devil is afraid of even the little that you can do now; and many a child of God seems to side with Satan in despising the day of small things. “What are they among so many?” So few, so poor, so devoid of talent, what can any of us hope to do? Disdained, even by the disciples, it is small wonder if we are held in contempt by the world. The things that God will honor, man must first despise. You run the gauntlet of the derision of men, and afterwards you come out to be used of God.
Though seemingly inadequate to feed the multitude, the loaves and fishes would have been quite enough for the boy’s supper, yet he appears to have been quite willing to part with them. The disciples would not have taken them from him by force; the Master would not have allowed it; the lad willingly gave them up to be the commencement of the great feast. ,Somebody might have said, “John, you know that you will soon be able to eat those five cakes and those two little fishes; keep them; get away into a corner: every man for himself.” Is it not a good rule, “Take care of number one”? Yes, but the boy whom God uses will not be selfish. Am I speaking to some young Christian to whom Satan says, “Make money first, and serve God by-and-by; stick to business, and get on; then, after that, you can act like a Christian and give some money away,” and so on? Let such a one remember the barley loaves and the fishes. If that lad had really wisely studied his own interests, instead of merely yielding with a generous impulse to the demand of Christ, he would have done exactly what he did; £o:: if he had kept the loaves, he would have eaten them, and there would have been an end of them; but now that he brings them to Christ, all ‘those thousands of people are fed, and he gets as much himself as he would have had if he had eaten his own stock. -And then in addition he gets a share out of the twelve baskets full of fragments that remain. Anything that you take away from self and give to Christ is well invested; it will often bring in ten thousand per cent. The Lord knows how to give such a reward to an unselfish man, that he will feel that he that saves his life loses it, but he that is willing even to lose his life, and the bread that sustains it, is the man who, after all, gets truly saved.
This, then, is the history of these loaves. They were sent there through God’s providence by a lad who was sought out and brought into notice.
His stock-in-trade was despised, but he was willing to give it, whether it was despised or not. He would yield it to his Lord. Now, do you see what I am driving at? I want to get a hold of some of the lads, and some young men and young women — I will not trouble about your age, you shall be lads if you are under seventy — I want to get hold of you who think that you have very little ability, and say to you, “Come, and bring it to Jesus.”
We want you. Times are hard. The people are famishing. Though nobody seems to need you, yet make bold to come out; and who knows but that, like Queen Esther, you may have come to the kingdom for such a time as this? God may have brought you where you are to make use of you for the converting of thousands; but you must be converted yourself first. Christ will not use you unless you are first His own. You must yield yourself up to Him, and be saved by His; precious blood, and then, after that, come and yield up to Him all the little talent that you may have, and pray Him to make as much use of you as He did of the lad with the five barley cakes.