When Jesus said, "Give ye them to eat," He was speaking to men already distressed and distracted. There was no doubt about the success of their work, but each new day presented new problems. And this day was surely no exception. A crowd eager and expectant had been listening to the Lord all day, and now it was toward evening. Five thousand men beside women and children are a real crowd anywhere, but in this desert place! Well, what could be done? The disciples were saying, "We had better close the meeting and 'let these hungry people go." And that seemed about the only sensible thing to do. Indeed, Philip had already counted the cost if everyone were to have even a little. Practical men like Philip are always helpful to have around. But it was to him in a particular way that Jesus spoke. In the midst of the discussion Andrew came forth with a suggestion: "There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes." Catch his emphasis on the word "small"; no wonder he added, "But what are they among so many?" Andrew was a lovable, friendly man, probably not an outstanding preacher like his brother, but in a crisis he always seemed to know what to do. When the Greeks wanted to see Jesus it was Andrew who led the way. A group is fortunate to have an Andrew among them.
This story has always thrilled me. But it is more than a story it is a parable. Like those disciples, we too face an impossible situation. We face a hungry world, with night coming on. When we have taken stock of our resources we too are compelled to say, "What are they among so many?" Certainly it would be easier to send the people away and let them buy for themselves. But then comes the command: "Give ye them to eat."
Everywhere men are hungry. At the close of one of the Sunday night meetings in New York recently a few interested folks came over to my apartment. One of them, a woman of culture and charm, a truly influential personality in the city of New York, began to unburden her soul. "You do not know how I feel," she said. "I am like a plant that needs repotting. My roots are all twisted around, and there is not sufficient soil there for my soul. I go from church to church, from congregation to congregation, and I come away unfed. And there are thousands of others in this city just like myself. I'm heart hungry! That's it just heart hungry!" There she was a minister's daughter, but heart hungry; an outstanding educationalist, but heart hungry; a social success, but heart hungry.
As I listened my own soul was being laid bare in self-examination. Was I prepared to meet such a need? Ours is the only message that can truly satisfy, but are we able to give it in such a way as to feed hungry hearts? And our generation is the most educated generation of all time. Men are wise, but their wisdom has led them far from the Father's house. Not only have they lost the sense of sin, but, something far worse, they have lost the knowledge of a personal God. The Creator has been lost in His creation.
In recent years science has done much to enlarge our vision. No longer are we ignorant concerning the universe. But our materialistic knowledge has outstripped our spiritual perception. Until recently we spoke of the universe as a unit. But we have grown far beyond that. In these days our astronomers talk glibly about "island universes," thousands, hundreds of thousands of them, until overwhelmed by the mystery and immensity of it all men are inclined to give way to a certain type of philosophy which pictures God as merely an engineer ing intelligence and man himself as "an accidental collocation of atoms. . . . destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system." Such a bleak and despairing outlook knows nothing of a personal God and finds no place of comfort in the hour of agony and defeat.
Newton's law of gravitation seemed fundamental in our thinking. We were all brought up on the falling-apple theory. We believed it almost as firmly as the Ten Commandments. Then along came Einstein, and he declared we must greatly mod ify our concepts. "It fell," he said, "not because of a mysterious force pulling it downward, but because space is curved by the pressure of the great mass of the earth, and the apple took the line of least resistance." He thus challenges all scientific thought, and especially so when he declares that the universe is finite rather than in finite. For more than two hundred years the world has basked in the light of Newton's theory, but now we are plunged again into bewilderment. On Newton's birth place are these significant words by Alexander Pope:
"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in Night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was Light."
Then recently J. C. Squire added this satirical and somewhat humorous couplet:
"It did not last: the Devil howling, Ho! Let Einstein be, restored the status quo."
Yes, men are bewildered today, lost in a maze of ideas. No wonder hungry hearts are everywhere. They need to rediscover God, not only as the Creator and Upholder, but especially as the Redeemer. David said, "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." It is the goodness more than the greatness of the Lord that leads men to repentance and satisfies their heart hunger.
I was sitting in my study in Washington one summer day. A little family was living upstairs father, mother, and a wee girl about twenty months old. Her father had fastened a little gate across the stairway to prevent the little one from rolling down the stairs. But this day those itching fingers had fiddled around with the lock until they got it open. Then quietly she managed to come downstairs. Her mother evidently missed her, then seeing the gate open, she became alarmed and called out. Just at that moment the little girl passed right in front of my window, and when her mother called, you should have seen her running across the lawn as fast as she could! For once in her life she was free! Then I heard the mother coming down the stairs and calling as she came. But this naughty girl, chuck ling with delight, was exerting her independence. She did not know it, but she was running headlong into trouble. I did not see exactly what had happened, because a tree shut out the view, but I knew immediately, for the mother screamed. I dashed out just in time to see that little girl fall right over a four-foot brick wall into the rose bed. But I saw more than that; I saw real mother love. Without attempting to go around to the steps, the mother jumped down after the little girl, and with eager hands picked up that bundle of naughtiness, covered with tears and blood and dirt. Not stopping to consider the effect on her lovely white dress, that mother cuddled her to herself. She was sure she had broken an arm or a leg, or at least her nose. I examined her, but everything seemed all right. She was none the worse for the fall, except that she had learned a good lesson.
No, that mother never thought a thing about herself or her clothes. Her one thought was for her baby. Both of them were crying. Then she took the little girl upstairs, not to thrash her, but to wash her. She did not stand on the edge of the wall shaking her finger and saying, "You naughty little girl! It serves you right. And when you get sorry enough to come back upstairs and apologize, I'll take you in." No! she never even thought about that. Neither did our Saviour say that to us. He left the heights of heaven to rescue us. His garments were bloodstained when He stretched forth His hands to save us. And men need to know this. If you would lead a man to repentance, show him the good ness of God. Lift up Jesus so he can see Him in all His sin-pardoning love. When a man is down among the rosebushes and the dirt, he doesn't want someone to come and tell him what he ought to have done. He wants somebody with arms strong enough to lift him out of his plight and carry him back to his Father's house. Brethren, that is our responsibility. We must help men to know that God loves them, and because He loves them He washes them. He does not wait until men are clean, but He loves them in spite of their sin. That is no new gospel, brethren; that is the gospel John wrote of in Revelation 1:5. It is the everlasting gospel; the same gospel that met Adam in his need. He was down there hiding among the bushes, but God came looking for him, not to punish him but to save him. Every sinner tries to hide behind some bush somewhere, but may God give us hearts that can understand the needs of poor lost men and women and boys and girls.
As we face what seems an impossible task, the command of Christ is clear and definite "Give ye them to eat." Sympathy is not enough. Men need the bread of life. And they need the comfort of God's love. Religion is no good unless there is action with it. The word religion conies from a Latin word, religare, which means to bind back. And any religion that does not bring or bind men back to God, isn't God's religion. Not only that; it should also bind men to each other. And that is evangelism. We have evangelism under many different labels today. There is lay evangelism, colporteur evangelism, medical evangelism, Sab bath school evangelism, welfare evangelism, public evangelism, personal evangelism. All these are good, and we need every one of them, but it is possible to have them all and yet not have much real evangelism. For evangelism is more than organization or some new plan. It is binding men back to God. And unless we are doing that, and satisfying their heart hungers and making them kind and courteous, we are not preaching the religion of the early Christian church. David said our God "telleth the number of the stars." Ps. 147:4. But He does more "He healeth the broken in heart." Verse 3. And that is what men need. Their hearts hunger to know that they are not alone in this limitless universe. They long for the assurance that behind those mighty suns and systems is a heart of love. Man needs a Friend and Companion through the journey of life, so that when at last he reaches the sunset of life's little day, he can pillow his head on the promises that He who healeth the broken in heart will be his Guide through the dark ness.
"What you preach makes God so real," said someone the other evening. I knew at once that the message had touched his heart. And that is what we need a Saviour that is real.
"Lord, let me be an instrument
From which Thy deft hand brings
Harmonies that thrill the heart
When Thou shalt pluck the strings."