Life By The Word Of God 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

When Christ says that men shall live by God's word, He means by “life” far more than the little span of years, with their eating and drinking and pleasure and gain-getting. This utterance of the world's Redeemer assumes the fact of immortality. If not, the theory of life by God is condemned; and there is nothing for us but the bread-theory: “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.” To live by the word of God is to share the eternal life of God. The bread-life is but the prelude and faint type of this.
1. The first point to be attained by man is to rise to the true conception of life. When he does this he has a different standard of value from that of the mere bread standard. The standard of value with him is whatever elevates and perfects his personality; not what he gets, not what he accumulates, not what feeds only one part of his nature, but what makes him great and good, strong and beautiful, and assimilates him to God and Christ. He values everything that comes from the mouth of God, and lives by it—that is, all things that God gives, not merely to the body, but to the soul.

Every word of God contains a revelation and a commandment. Whenever God speaks by any of His voices, it is first to tell us some truth which we did not know before, and second to bid us do something which we have not been doing. Every word of God includes these two. Truth and duty are always wedded. There is no truth which has not its corresponding duty. And there is no duty which has not its corresponding truth. We are always separating them. We are always trying to learn truths, as if there were no duties belonging to them, as if the knowing of them would make no difference in the way we lived. That is the reason why our hold on the truths we learn is so weak. And we are always trying to do duties as if there were no truths behind them; that is, as if they were mere arbitrary things which rested on no principles and had no intelligible reasons. That is why we do our duties so superficially and unreliably. When every truth is rounded into its duty, and every duty is deepened into its truth, then we shall have a clearness and consistency and permanence of moral life which we hardly dream of now.

The rule and measure of duty is not utility, nor experience, nor the happiness of the greatest number, nor State convenience, nor fitness, order, and the pulchrum. Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas; and even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church could cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain, and would have a sway.1 [Note: Cardinal Newman.]

2. Man cannot be satisfied with bread, with anything material—he cannot live upon it; there are portions of his nature which it will not nourish, cravings which it will not satisfy. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” If man is to live, he must satisfy the deeper cravings first. This is shown both in consciousness and in experience.

(1) The appeal to consciousness.—Man discovers within himself certain powers—powers of work, powers of study, powers of sacrifice, powers of suffering for others; what is to become of these powers if he lives by bread alone, if he makes material comfort his one and only object? Undoubtedly they will dwindle and decay. We know that we have a reason and a conscience which ought to be our guide; and we are all conscious, at least at times, of feelings, wishes, aspirations which material things can never satisfy. We all feel that we are capable of and meant for a higher and nobler life than that of an animal: even for a life guided by reason and conscience, a life of faith, love, righteousness, holiness, a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice for our own good and for the good of our brethren; and we all somehow or other have a belief that no life can be at its best or worthiest which is not after this pattern.

(2) The appeal to experience.—Again by a survey of human history we find that other men, in other days, have lived not for the flesh, but for the Spirit. The testimony of devout men at many times and in many regions of the earth to the capacity of the human spirit for communion with the Divine Spirit, which is the very breath of the Godhead, is as sure and strong as any testimony to any essential fact of human nature. Their history confirms man in his study of himself. He reads his duty in their stories. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.”

A second man I honour, and still more highly [than the toilworn Craftsman]: Him who is seen toiling for the spirituality indispensable; not daily bread, but the bread of Life. Is not he too in his duty; endeavouring towards inward Harmony; revealing this, by act or by word, through all his outward endeavours, be they high or low? Highest of all, when his outward and his inward endeavour are one: when we can name him Artist: not earthly Craftsman only, but inspired Thinker, who with heaven-made Implement conquers Heaven for us! If the poor and humble toil that we have Food, must not the high and glorious toil for him in return, that he have Light, have Guidance, Freedom, Immortality?—these two, in all their degrees, I honour; all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth. Unspeakably touching is it, however, when I find both dignities united; and he that must toil outwardly for the lowest of man's wants is also toiling inwardly for the highest. Sublimer in this world know I nothing than a Peasant Saint, could such now anywhere be met with. Such a one will take thee back to Nazareth itself; thou wilt see the splendour of Heaven spring forth from the humblest depths of Earth, like a light shining in great darkness.1 [Note: Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, Bk. iii. chap. iv.]

3. To live this higher life is to be obedient to the word of God. Jesus, the author of Christian faith, lived from beginning to end, without deviation or exception, by the words proceeding from the mouth of God. In His passion-baptism He bore the penalty of the disobedience of the race, and in His resurrection He took again His life, that He might communicate it to sinful men, that in its energy they also might obey the law of God. He conquered at the last, as He conquered at the first, by obeying every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God; overcame by His human faith and obedience, and not by His Divine power; made Himself known in His highest glory to men, not by exempting Himself from the lot of humanity, but through a fellowship with their miseries.

(1) Obedience is the secret of manhood.—The supreme duty of every man is that he should discover and obey these words. If he live from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, and from year to year without reference to that law, hoping that, after being regardless of, if not rebellious against, it, he will at last slip into some happy state, then surely he must indeed be blind and foolish. Self-control and a willing humiliation of self to the Will that rules the universe is man's first and hardest lesson. This teaches him at the outset how helpless and hopeless he is in himself. Such knowledge drives a man out of himself hungry and thirsty for every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. When once he has learned to lay hold of the Power which alone can help him, then begins the process which ends in the mastery of self and in the consummation of a life which alone is worth living.

How is the soul free? Not, as has been excellently put, “when it is at the mercy of every random impulse, but when it is acted upon by congenial forces, when it is exposed to spiritual pressure, to constraint within itself.” Let us take a concrete instance. Take a high-souled man who is injured or insulted by his fellow. How will he act? What will be here the next thing? The natural reaction, the instinctive movement, will be one of revolt, of paying back in like coin. That lies nearest to the animal in him, and he feels it all. But will it determine his action? Will that actually come next?

There is a beautiful story which D'Aguesseau, a French Advocate-General of the seventeenth century, tells of his father: “Naturally of a quick temper,” his son says of him, “when under provocation one saw him redden and become silent at the same moment; the nobler part of his soul allowing the first fire to pass without word said, in order to re-establish straightway that inner calm and tranquillity which reason and religion had combined to make the habit of his soul.” There you have the thing taken from the life; the trained soul caught in the entire fineness of its action. The whole philosophy of the spirit is there; the higher nature constructing its next thing, not from the grosser impulses, but from the free obedience it pays to the highest that is in it.1 [Note: J. Brierley, Religion and To-Day, 143.]

(2) Obedience is the proof of sonship.—It was by His obedience to the word of God that Christ proved His Sonship. As there is no doubt, neither is there any wavering in His decision. The life of man is the life of obedience to God. He has bidden me be His son here. The life of a son is the life of obedience, and He has bidden me prove that the life of sonship and the life of man are one, and that I must prove. My sonship—not by claim from the heavens; not by being exalted with twelve legions of angels; not with flare of trumpet—I must prove my sonship through obedience. I must prove my sonship by working out the will and carrying out the word of my Father. There is a long, long, fierce struggle before the man who says he will not live by bread alone. But by obedience to the word of God the victory will ultimately be ours, and our title, “sons of God,” be approved.

You must yield yourselves to be led along by the Spirit, with that leading which is sure to conduct you always away from self and into the will of God. You must welcome the Indweller to have His holy way with your springs of thought and will. So, and only so, will you truly answer the idea, the description, “sons of God”—that glorious term, never to be satisfied by the relation of mere creaturehood, or by that of merely exterior sanctification, mere membership in a community of men, though it be the Visible Church itself. But if you so meet sin by the Spirit, if you are so led by the Spirit, you do show yourselves nothing less than God's own sons. He has called you to nothing lower than sonship; to vital connexion with a Divine Father's life, and to the eternal embraces of His love. For when He gave and you received the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of promise, who reveals Christ and joins you to Him, what did that Spirit do, in His heavenly operation? Did He lead you back to the old position, in which you shrunk from God, as from a Master who bound you against your will? No, He showed you that in the Only Son you are nothing less than sons, welcomed into the inmost home of eternal life and love.2 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Romans, 223.]

Francis had conquered, one by one, his love of company, of fine clothes, of rank and wealth; his aversion to squalor, disease, and misery; his daintiness in food and surroundings. All were laid upon the altar of obedience, and for all God gave him a thousandfold of their antitypes in the spiritual life—for parents and friends, His own continual presence; for rank, sonship of the King of kings; for garments, the robe of righteousness; for wealth, “all things”; for personal fastidiousness, a purity, tenderness, and joy which lifted him above the annoyances of daily experience. The weapons marked with the cross were gaining him the victory. His vision was in course of fulfilment.1 [Note: A. M. Stoddart, Francis of Assisi, 91.]