Life By Bread Matthew 4:4

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.—Matthew 4:4.

How shall we live? Multitudes of people are asking that question to-day with peculiar earnestness. The man who could give a satisfactory practical answer would be regarded as the greatest of all public benefactors. Sometimes a kindly providence apparently shapes all for a man at the moment of his birth. Not till some sudden calamity overwhelms him is he roused into a conscious necessity of deciding for himself what he will do and become. But to most men there comes early in life the occasion and the necessity for deliberation and decision. Towards what goal in the future, he then asks, shall I now direct my steps, and by what route and methods shall it be reached? To these questions he is forced to give some kind of answers.

1. What is covered by the word “Bread”?—Bread we call the staff of life. This familiar imagery is as ancient at least as the time of Abraham. To the three angels, one of them the mysterious angel of the covenant, who appeared to him as he sat at the door of his tent in the plains of Mamre, the hospitable patriarch said, “I will fetch a morsel of bread, and stay ye your hearts.” Moses, when he threatened the people with famine in punishment of their sins, described it as the breaking of their staff. Isaiah also warns the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah that the Lord of hosts will take away “the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water.” Bread was what the famished Bedouin craved when he caught up so eagerly the bag he found lying by a fountain in the desert, and flung it down again so quickly in despair, exclaiming, “Alas! it is only diamonds.”

But “bread,” as we have it in the text, means more than this. It covers the whole visible economy of life—all that range of supplies, helps, and supports upon which men depend to keep themselves alive, and to make life comfortable and enjoyable. It covers the whole economy of food and drink, clothing, shelter, ministry to the senses, to power, respectability, and worldly honour. The world's commonly accepted theory is, By these things we live. We cannot get on without them.

If it be urged that these views of Mr. Hinton [on sacrifice] are very uncomfortable views of life, I might suggest that Christianity itself, with its fundamental axiom, “He that loveth his life shall lose it,” cannot strictly be defined as a comfortable religion. I would ask whether our modern worship of “the comfortable” has given us a life that really satisfies even the most worldly amongst us; whether, on the contrary, it has not bound down the free play and joyous movement of life under a “weight of custom, heavy as frost, deep almost as life,” debarring us from the healthy joys of “plain living and high thinking,” from the lofty enterprise and joyous heroism that “feeds the high tradition of the world,” and from the deeper blessedness of sacrifice,

That makes us large with utter loss

To hold divinity?1 [Note: Ellice Hopkins, Life and Letters of James Hinton, 293.]

2. The peril of “Bread.”—Possessed as we are of a physical nature, with its clamorous appetites and its innumerable bodily needs, we are tempted at times to believe that man is merely a superior kind of animal, living by bread alone, and with no interest in anything save what he can see and touch and taste. On this view, man becomes and remains a mere instrument, in one way or another living only for bread, living only for an end out of himself, living merely in subservience to that class of things which bread represents. There is the great evil in this world, and there spring up temptations similar in character to those which assailed Christ in the wilderness.

(1) There is danger for the individual. In that first conception of himself as a responsible and solitary being, every young man meets the same devil as Jesus met. And the temptation is the same—the assurance given in some form or other that bread is all that a man needs, that everything else is a delusion, that to live a life of physical comfort is the only solid wish for a man's soul. Perhaps it is a business which he knows is wrong, but sees must be profitable. Perhaps it is the abandonment of those he ought to care for, so that he may himself get rich. Perhaps it is the hiding of his sincere convictions in order to keep his place in some social company. Perhaps it is connivance at a wicked man's sin in order to preserve his favour. Perhaps it is the postponing of charity to some future day when it shall be easier. Perhaps it is a refusal to acknowledge Christ, the Master, out of fear, or because some easy, foolish friendship would be sacrificed. Perhaps it is simply the giving up of ambitions, intellectual or spiritual, for the sake of quiet, unperturbed respectability. These are real struggles.

Now, manifestly, it must lead to the most disastrous results when the lower elements of a man's nature are treated as if they were the only, or at any rate the most important, elements. The soul of the sensualist is like a State in which the ignorant, vulgar and stupid mob has usurped the reins of government, and is proceeding to destroy everything better than itself. Enjoyment, which is the proper satisfaction for the sensuous part of our being, is no satisfaction at all for the mind and heart and spirit. The unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted to pleasure may be proved, not only by abstract considerations, but by the fact that those who have lived in this fashion invariably speak of their existence with disappointment and disgust.

I have seen the silly rounds of business and pleasure and have done with them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world and consequently know their futility, and do not regret their loss. Their real value is very, very low; but those who have not experienced them always overrate them. For myself, I by no means desire to repeat the nauseous dose.1 [Note: Lord Chesterfield.]

In one of his Hebrew Melodies Byron speaks in a similar strain—

Fame, wisdom, love, and power were mine,
And health and youth possess'd me;
My goblets blush'd from every vine,
And lovely forms caress'd me;
I sunn'd my heart in beauty's eyes,
And felt my soul grow tender;
All earth can give, or mortal prize,
Was mine of regal splendour.

I strive to number o'er what days
Remembrance can discover,
Which all that life or earth displays
Would lure me to live over.
There rose no day, there roll'd no hour
Of pleasure unembitter'd;
And not a trapping deck'd my power
That gall'd not while it glitter'd.

The serpent of the field, by art
And spells, is won from harming;
But that which coils around the heart,
Oh! who hath power of charming?
It will not list to wisdom's lore,
Nor music's voice can lure it;
But there it stings for evermore
The soul that must endure it.
(2) There is a national menace. In these modern days one finds oneself rummaging the pages of Gibbon and Tacitus and Juvenal. Look at those old empires which lived by bread alone; by riches so enormous that it seems as if God had determined to give money a chance to do its best; living by power so vast that there were no more worlds to conquer; living by pleasure so prodigal and so refined and varied that the liveliest invention was exhausted, and the keenest appetite surfeited. Babylon, Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage,—to-day we dare not open to our children the records of the inner life of these communities. We almost hesitate to read its fearful summary in the first chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The old empires have gone down in ruin, and their pleasures have turned to a corruption which is an offence in the world's nostrils. The old city which rang with the cry of “Bread and the Circus!” is only a monument now. The tourist wanders over the Palatine, and peers down into the choked vaults of the Cæsars' palaces; and the antiquarian rummages where Nero's fish-ponds gleamed, and climbs along the broken tiers of the Coliseum, from which the culture and beauty and fashion of Rome looked down with delight upon Christian martyrs in the fangs of tigers.

Not in material progress then, nor in art and science, nor in the stoicism of absolute duty, is the law of human nature found to lie. We fall back upon the immemorial truth—“Man shall not live by bread alone.”

The most helpful and sacred work, which can at present be done for humanity, is to teach people (chiefly by example, as all best teaching must be done) not how “to better themselves,” but how to “satisfy themselves.” It is the curse of every evil nation and evil creature to eat, and not be satisfied. The words of blessing are, that they shall eat and be satisfied. And as there is only one kind of water which quenches all thirst, so there is only one kind of bread which satisfies all hunger—the bread of justice, or righteousness; which hungering after, men shall always be filled, that being the bread of heaven; but hungering after the bread, or wages, of unrighteousness, shall not be filled, that being the bread of Sodom.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, v. (Works, vii. 426).]

3. Christ's attitude to “Bread.”—But the subject has another side. There are people who try to get rid altogether of the lower elements. They attempt to eradicate desire, to extinguish instinct, to suppress and annihilate the bodily nature. Principal Caird says, “If the spiritual self is essentially greater than the lower tendencies, why should it not exist without them? If desire and passion drag me down from my ideal life, why should I not escape from their thraldom, and live as if I were a disembodied spirit? Snap the ties that bind me to the satisfactions of the moment, that absorb me in the transient and perishable, and will not my spirit gain at a bound its proper sphere? But,” he answers, “the ties cannot be snapped, and even if they could, the end proposed would not be gained. The violent self-suppression at which the ascetic aims can never be effected; and if it could, it would be, not the fulfilment, but the extinction, of a moral life. In our self-development the lower natural tendencies have an indispensable part to play. Apart from them, the realization of our ideal nature would be utterly impossible.” In the life of our Lord we find no encouragement for this ascetic theory. “The Son of man came eating and drinking.” Very precious to Christian hearts are those brief, those thrilling records which make Him like unto us, one with us, in all things: Jesus wept. Jesus was wearied with His journey. Jesus said, I thirst. Jesus was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow. He afterward hungered. The Maker of our bodies never speaks scornfully of their normal, innocent necessities. Human life, in the lowest sphere of its merely animal functions and wants, is invested with a sort of sacredness as the workmanship and husbandry of God.

How utterly opposed to the thought of Jesus Christ is all asceticism, all religious isolation and retreat from the world. Society, not solitude, is the natural home of Christianity. The Christian is not to flee from the contagion of evil, but to meet it with the contact of health and holiness. The Church is not to be built on glass posts for moral insulation, but among the homes of common men for moral transformation. What use is a light under a bushel? It must shine where there is darkness. The place of need is the field of duty, and though we are not to be of the world, we are to be first and last in the world and for the world.1 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 42.]

In a letter to the Rev. W. P. Wood, who was thinking of introducing some criticism of Benthamism into his Oxford Sermons, Dean Hook wrote: “If you have had time to look into Bentham's work you will find that he assumes that there are only three principles of action, (1) asceticism, (2) sympathy, (3) utility. There is a misplaced attempt at facetiousness involving a gross misstatement of the first of these principles at the outset of the book; for it is a bad introduction to a work professing strict philosophy to lay down that the principle of asceticism consists in supposing the ‘misery of His creatures to be gratifying to the Creator.' The principle, though carried to an excess, was in itself good and true, namely, the subduing of sensual appetites as a means of freeing the mind from their bias. Like every other device of man, this principle failed with the monks as it had failed with the Stoics, and I think that on inquiry it would be found the radical vice of the system was its leading men to dwell too exclusively on self, by which in the first place pride, and in the next indifference to the happiness of others, became gradually engendered in the ascetic.”1 [Note: W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Walter Farquhar Hook, i. 246.]

to be continued