The Daily Bread Matthew 6:11

Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

In the Lord's Prayer there are three petitions for God's glory, three for man's spiritual necessity, and in the midst is set one petition for man's bodily needs - only one, and that most full of significance, "Give us this day our daily bread."

Let us be reverent enough to take this sentence in its plain meaning. To give it some mystical or symbolic interpretation which our Lord did not mean it to have is to set up another prayer which is not the Lord's Prayer. "Daily bread" does not refer to the Eucharist. The word translated "daily" is very obscure, it occurs nowhere else in the Greek language; but all are agreed that the meaning is "bread for our daily subsistence," and the attempt made by Abelard in the twelfth century to translate it "supersubstantial" is undoubtedly wrong. The petition simply deals with the most fundamental of social questions - the need of sustenance.

There is no better commentary on this petition than that of old Bishop Barrow: "A noble heart will disdain to subsist like a drone on the honey gained by others' labour; or like vermin to filch its food from the public granary; or like a shark to prey on the lesser fry: but will one way or other earn his subsistence, for he that does not earn can hardly be said to own his daily bread."1 [Note: P. Dearmer, in Churchmanship and Labour, 252.]

1. The first point to notice in this clause of the Lord's Prayer is its moderation. In the prayer which is prompted by our natural instinct we ask for everything we happen to want; we put ourselves first; we are immoderate in our desires; we seek to bend the Divine will to our own wishes. In all these respects, as has been already noticed, the Lord's Prayer puts human instinct under the strongest check. This prayer for the supply of our own needs is not allowed to be uttered till it has been preceded by prayer for the honouring of the Divine name, the coming of the Divine Kingdom, and the doing of the Divine will; and till, in all these respects, the law of heaven has been taken for the law of human conduct.

2. Next let us ask what daily bread can be understood to include? Surely it is all that is necessary for us to make the best of our faculties. It is nourishment; and everything may fairly be called nourishment which can be said to fertilize and liberate the energies of human nature, instead of cloying and clogging them. Once grant this, and it is obvious that very different things are meant by "bread" to different people. There is hardly any luxury which has not its use to stimulate this or that nature, or to meet this or that exceptional need. The question whether this or that article of diet or comfort can be used under the head of "daily bread," can be answered only by answering the question - Do I work the better for it? And in answering this question there are two facts, closely allied, which have to be kept in mind.

(1) The first is, that comforts very soon reach the point where they begin to clog human energies instead of liberating them. A venerable statesman has been often heard to remark that the things people say they "can't do without" are like the pieces of thread with which the Lilliputians bound Gulliver. Each of them could be snapt by itself, but taken together they bound him more tightly than strong cords. Nobody, therefore, can find out what he really needs for his work without constantly testing himself in giving up things. No one can consider a number of well-to-do Englishmen without perceiving that they are materialized; that is, that the supply of food and drink and comfort generally dulls their intellectual and still more their spiritual powers. In other words, the spirit in them is the slave of the flesh.

(2) Here comes in view the second fact. Fasting has been historically a principle of Christianity, and was so in Apostolic Christianity. Rightly stated, the principle of fasting is but the recognition that the flesh has in ordinary human life got the upper hand of the spirit, and that it is time for the spirit to take revenges upon the flesh, and to assert its mastery. Fasting, like every other principle, must have its methods and its rules and its order, or it will fail to take effect; but we are concerned now only with the principle, and it is this - the Christian will, from time to time, deliberately deny himself in lawful comforts, and nourishment of the body, in order to assert spiritual vitality, in order to find out what he can do without, in order to maintain the principle that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

3. The next point in this petition lies in the word "this day." St. Matthew has "this day"; St. Luke has "day by day." It is conjectured that the one was the morning version and the other the evening version of the Early Church. The lesson is simple. We must be content to wait from day to day upon the hand of God; we must ask only for present needs; we must not be anxious about the morrow.

But, it may be said, how can this be reconciled with the forethought and far-sightedness that are necessary to civilized life? The answer lies in our own experience. Have we found that anxiety about possible consequences increased the clearness of our judgment? Have we found that it made us wiser and braver in meeting the present, or more far-sighted in arming ourselves for the future? We know very well that it is the opposite spirit that has made civilization possible - the spirit of men who are content to do their work from day to day, to plough the field and wait for the harvest, the spirit of men who take their meat from God in simple and hearty reliance upon the Power whom the earth and the winds and seas obey. Clearness of vision, providence, discovery, are the rewards of the calm and patient spirit, that is content day by day to have the daily bread. Out of the anxiety for the morrow that cannot pray, "Give us to-day our bread," spring all the evils of the money-lust - the fever of speculation, the hasting to be rich, the endless scheming, the continual reactions of fantastic hope and deep depression in individuals, of mad prosperity and intense sufferings in nations. Wars, oppressions, misery, crime - these are because men do not pray, "Give us this day."

to be continued