I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Horatius Bonar (1808–1889)
Peace! earth’s last battle has been won;
Its days of conflict now are o’er;
The Prince of peace ascends the throne,
And war has ceased from shore to shore.
Rest! the world’s day of toil is past;
Each storm is hushed above, below,
Creation’s joy has come at last,
After six thousand years of woe.
Messiah reigns! earth’s king has come!
Its diadems are on his brow,
Its rebel kingdoms have become
His everlasting kingdom now.
This earth again is Paradise;
The desert blossoms as the rose;
Clothed in its robes of bridal bliss,
Creation has forgot its woes.
O, long-expected, absent long.
Star of creation’s troubled gloom!
Let heaven and earth break forth in song,
Messiah! Saviour! art thou come?
For thou hast bought us with thy blood.
And thou wast slain to set us free;
Thou mad’st us kings and priests to God,
And we shall reign on earth with thee!
—Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, First Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878).
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” 30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”
These verses form the beginning of one of the most remarkable passages in the Gospels. None, perhaps, of our Lord’s discourses has occasioned more controversy, and been more misunderstood, than that which we find in the Sixth Chapter of John.
We should observe, for one thing, in these verses, the spiritual ignorance and unbelief of the natural man. Twice over we see this brought out and exemplified. When our Lord instructed his hearers to “labour for the food which endures to eternal life,” they immediately began to think of works to be done, and a goodness of their own to be established. “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” Doing, doing, doing, was their only idea of the way to heaven. Again, when our Lord spoke of Himself as One sent of God, and the need of believing on Him at once, they turn round with the question, “What sign showest thou? what dost thou work?” Fresh from the mighty miracle of the loaves and fishes, one might have thought they had had a sign sufficient to convince them. Taught by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, one might have expected a greater readiness to believe. But alas! there are no limits to man’s dulness, prejudice, and unbelief in spiritual matters. It is a striking fact that the only thing which our Lord is said to have “marvelled” at during His earthly ministry, was man’s “unbelief.” (Mark vi. 6.)
We shall do well to remember this, if we ever try to do good to others in the matter of religion. We must not be cast down because our words are not believed, and our efforts seem thrown away. We must not complain of it as a strange thing, and suppose that the people we have to deal with are peculiarly stubborn and hard. We must recollect that this is the very cup of which our Lord had to drink, and like Him we must patiently work on. If even He, so perfect and so plain a Teacher, was not believed, what right have we to wonder if men do not believe us? Happy are the ministers, and missionaries, and teachers who keep these things in mind! It will save them much bitter disappointment. In working for God, it is of first importance to understand what we must expect in man. Few things are so little realized as the extent of human unbelief.
We should observe, for another thing, in these verses, the high honour Christ puts on faith in Himself. The Jews had asked Him,—“What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” In reply He says,—“This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” A truly striking and remarkable expression! If any two things are put in strong contrast, in the New Testament, they are faith and works. Not working, but believing,—not of works, but through faith,—are words familiar to all careful Bible-readers. Yet here the great Head of the Church declares that believing on Him is the highest and greatest of all “works!” It is “the work of God.”
Doubtless our Lord did not mean that there is anything meritorious in believing. Man’s faith, at the very best, is feeble and defective. Regarded as a “work,” it cannot stand the severity of God’s judgment, deserve pardon, or purchase heaven. But our Lord did mean that faith in Himself, as the only Saviour, is the first act of the soul which God requires at a sinner’s hands. Until a man believes on Jesus, and rests on Jesus as a lost sinner, he is nothing.—Our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is that act of the soul which specially pleases God. When the Father sees a sinner casting aside his own righteousness, and simply trusting in His dear Son, He is well pleased. Without such faith it is impossible to please God.—Our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is the root of all saving religion. There is no life in a man until he believes.—Above all, our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is the hardest of all spiritual acts to the natural man. Did the Jews want something to do in religion? Let them know that the greatest thing they had to do was, to cast aside their pride, confess their guilt and need, and humbly believe.
Let all who know anything of true faith thank God and rejoice. Blessed are those who believe! It is an attainment which many of the wise of this world have never yet reached. We may feel ourselves to be poor, weak sinners. But do we believe?—We may fail and come short in many things. But do we believe?—He that has learned to feel his sins, and to trust Christ as a Saviour, has learned the two hardest and greatest lessons in Christianity. He has been in the best of schools. He has been taught by the Holy Spirit.
We shall observe, lastly, in these verses, the far greater privileges of Christ’s hearers than of those who lived in the times of Moses. Wonderful and miraculous as the manna was which fell from heaven, it was nothing in comparison to the true bread which Christ had to bestow on His disciples. He himself was the bread of God, who had come down from heaven to give life to the world.— The bread which fell in the days of Moses could only feed and satisfy the body. The Son of man had come to feed the soul.—The bread which fell in the days of Moses was only for the benefit of Israel. The Son of man had come to offer eternal life to the world.—Those who ate the manna died and were buried, and many of them were lost forever. But those who ate the bread which the Son of man provided, would be eternally saved.
And now let us take heed to ourselves, and make sure that we are among those who eat the bread of God and live. Let us not be content with lazy waiting, but let us actually come to Christ, and eat the bread of life, and believe to the saving of our souls. The Jews could say,—”Evermore give us this bread.” But it may be feared they went no further. Let us never rest until, by faith, we have eaten this bread, and can say, “Christ is mine. I have tasted that the Lord is gracious. I know and feel that I am His.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.