Opere mini non cibo qui perit, sed cibo illi qui permanet in vitam aeternam, quem filius hominis dabit vobis: hunc enim Pater obsignavit, id est, Deus.
Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
These words are the beginning of that long Sermon which Christ made concerning the bread that comes down from Heaven; the occasion whereof was the flocking of the multitude to Christ, for that they had been partakers of the feeding of the lo[a]ves; and for that Christ saw them so earnest in seeking after material bread, he takes occasion to put them in minde of a more excellent bread which they should labour for: For whereas the names of the good things in this life were given to spiritual things, As that godlinesse is gain, the first epistle to Timothy, the sixt[h] chapter, That to be rich [528/529] in good works is true riches, the first epistle to Timothie, the sixt[h] chapter and the eighteenth verse; That to be decked with virtue is the beauty that doth indeed adorn both men and women, the first epistle of Peter the third chapter and the fourth verse. It appeareth that howsoever these corporal blessings doe carry the names of good things yet they are not truly called; but the truth thereof is comprehended in spiritual good things, whereof the good things of this life are but shadows. Christ by that water which the Samaritan came to draw, took occasion to speak of the water of life; whereof whosoever drinketh shall thirst no more, John the fourth chapter and the fourteenth verse. And by the bread which the Capernaites sought after, took occasion to stirre them up to seek for the bread of life: So should we from the outward things, which we enjoy for the maintenance of the life present, gather spiritual meditations of true good things necessary to the life to come.
Secondly, These words depend upon the former verse; Wherein Christ seeing them flock unto him, said, Ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but for that ye eat of the lo[a]ves. Upon which words as he concluded with this exhortation, Labour not for the meat, &c. So before he gives them this counsell, he sets down the reproof. Where Booze [Boaz] charge his servants concerning Ruthe, that they should let her gather and not rebuke her, the word signifieth to confound or put to shame, Ruth the second chapter and the fifteenth verse; the reason is, because we are all ashamed of reproof. Christ, though he had no wounds by sinne, was contented to be baptized, as if he had been a sinner; but we that have the wounds and sores of sinne, cannot abide the plaister of reproof, but think it a shame to be rebuked when we offend. But Christ before he counsels them, doth think good first by reproof to put them to shame: And it is a shame to them in two respects. First, That in the heat of their Religion and devotion, when they would seem most devout, Christ chargeth them with hypocrisie, Ye seek me not for the miracles, that by them ye may beleeve, but for the meat. Secondly, They are put to shame the more, for that he doth not lightly touch them, and glance at their hypocrisie, but doth accuse them in vehement and earnest manner, Verily, verily, I say to you, the twenty sixth verse; but Christ doth rebuke them for another end. Howsoever it be a good effect that men be made ashamed of their sinne by reproof, yet is it not the last end: Christ doth it not to confound, but rather to amend them; and therefore exhorts them, that they should chiefly labour for the meat that perisheth not, as the Apostle in one place saith, hoc loquor ad pudorem, the first epistle to the Corinthians the sixt[h] chapter and the fift[h] verse, doth elsewhere say, I write not these things to shame you, the first epistle to the Corinthians, the fourth chapter: So Christ to these men saith, I speak not this for your confusion, but for your amendment. So that albeit they were guilty of hypocrisie, yet not desperate hypocrites; for Christ had some hope of them, and therefore ceaseth not to exhort them.
Again, Christ might only have exhorted them, and not used any reproof; [529/530] but he in wisdome thinks it meet, first to reprove them for their fault, and then to shew them how to amend it. Pride is the cause why many good exhortations have no successe. While men think it needlesse they should be rebuked, they are like the proud Pharisees that despised the counsel of God, Luke the seventh chapter and the thirtieth verse. But Christ to make manifest to them, that they need counsel, doth first shew them their hypocrisie: We are ready to justifie ourselves in all things; our corruption is such, that we are ignorant of our own sinnes, which made the Prophet to say, Cleanse me from my secret sinnes, Psalm the ninteenth: We take them to be no sinnes, wherein we greatly offend God: Whereupon the Prophet saith, Cor hominis inscrutabile est, Jeremiah the seventeenth chapter, only God, being greater than our heart, knoweth all things, and is able to discover all our sinnes, the first epistle of John the third chapter: Therefore we are to pray to God, to open our eyes, that we may see the necessity of exhortation. The people that followed Christ shewed two Zeals, One was to make him King, The other to seek him, but both proceeded from one cause, because he fed them. Christ saw both these Zeals, The one he rejected utterly, and would not be made King; But he corrects the other zeal; he forbids them not to seek him, but wills them to seek him for this end, That from him they may receive the bread that endures to life everlasting.
The reason why Christ would not be honoured, was of two sorts. First, For that is a slender honor, to honor God for temporal things; for as the Israelites did honor God while he fed them with bread from Heaven and gave them water out of the rocks, but so soon as they wanted either of them then they murmured: So when God continueth his temporal blessing upon men, so long he shall be heard; but when his benefits ceaseth, then his honor ceaseth. Therefore he rejecteth this honour partly in regard of his own self, but chiefly for our cause: For howsoever it be less honourable for Christ to be honoured for outward blessings; yet the chief cause why he rejecteth it is because it is lesse profitable for us. They were desirous of temporal blessings, which he did bestow upon them: But yet he is desirous to bestow upon them spiritual blessings, which, as they are better for them, so desires greater honor.
The exhortation, ariseth out of the reproof, which is concluded in it: The matter of it is reduced to six points, First, Cibus hic perit. Secondly, Et quæritur tamen. Thirdly, Cibis est qui non perit. Fourthly, Et cibus hic non quæritur. Fifthly, That meat is to be desired which endureth for ever. Sixthly, This bread is to be had only in the Sonne of man; for, it is he whom God the Father hath sealed.
For the first point. Whereas there are two significations of life; the one life it self, or the substance; the other the joy of life, which is the life of life; the bread of both these lives doth perish that which keepeth and maintaineth the substance of life, doth perish: For albeit the Israelites did eat Manna, which was the bread of Angels, yet of them Christ saith, Your fathers eat of it, but dyed, John the sixth chapter; [530/531] for when God takes away the staffe and strength of bread, it hath no more power to preserve life. So that man liveth not by bread of itself, for it perisheth. Whereas bread hath two powers, the one to satisfie the hungry stomach, the other to restore the body being weak; we see it loseth both these powers: the power of satisfying doth not continue; for though a man satisfie himself never so much with it today, yet tomorrow he will crave more, and his stomach will waxe emptie. As for the power to restore, albeit during health, it strengthneth mans heart, yet if once sicknesse come, it hath no power to restore strength. Secondly, Whatsoever maintains the joyes of life, that perisheth also, for the world passeth away and the fashion thereof, the first epistle to the Corinthians the seventh chapter, and the first epistle of John the second chapter, and whatsoever may make mans life joyfull. The pleasures of this life, which are the causes of our joy, are transitory; and though they could continue with us, yet we our selves must passe away and leave them, yea even while we may take the pleasures of this world, yet old age will approach, and the dayes wherein we shall say, I have no pleasure in them, Ecclesiastes the twelfth chapter and the first verse.
Secondly, Though this bread decay, yet our Saviour telleth us, that men are so foolish, they gave themselves wholly to seek it. And that this is true, will appear, if we look upon our actions, either civil or religious; If we consider either the care we take for this life, or the diligence we use in Gods service. Of the first care we have an example in Martha, against inordinate care of this life: Our Saviour rebuketh Martha who was troubled about many things, Luke the tenth chapter; and so we doe rise so early and take such pains for this life, Psalm one hundred twenty seven, that is the service of Baal was more painfull, than the service of the true God. So we take more pains in the service of the three Gods of this world, the first epistle of John the second chapter, than of the true good: The same appears if we consider our care in matters of Religion: Wherein we must confess, that our special joyes are in the things of this life, and for the bread of it. These men whom Christ here reproveth, were not about their Trades, but occupied in a matter of Religion, then to hear Christ and see his miracles: and yet we see that under colour of sowing to the spirit, they did but sow to the flesh, and make provision for the same, Galatians the sixth chapter. And howbeit Maries part be the better, and the actions of religion more excellent than the actions of this life, yet they seek their own things and not the things that are Gods.
Thirdly, There is a bread that doth not perish. Christ commends the care of spiritual things under them four: First negatively, Labour not for that bread which perisheth. Secondly affirmatively, Labour for that which endureth; This life doth not last for ever: but after this life there is another life, which shall be everlasting: And as it is a life, so there is a food for it, which we must labour for: without which we shall not attain to that life, no more than we can continue in life here, unlesse we have the food appointed for it, Apud te fons vitæ, [531/532] Psalm the thirty sixth and with him is fulnesse of joy, Psalm the sixteenth. Now we have the one life and the joyes of it, out of the consideration of the Creature; but then we shall have life and joy from God the Creator, who is the fountain of joy and life. Therefore howsoever we labour in this life to lay up treasure for our outward maintenance, yet we must chiefly take care for the life to come, and lay up for our souls a good foundation, the first epistle to Timothie the sixt[h] chapter; but the following of good things of this life doth hinder us from this care. We are like the Israelites that cared not for the promised bread, because they had the flesh pots in Egypts, so as they could be content to have turned thither: So it was with the two tribes and half; who for that they had convenient pasture for their Cattel on the other side of Jordan, cared not for travelling into the land of Canaan, Numbers the thirty fift[h] chapter. Another hindrance is, the labor and trouble that must be suffered, for the purchasing of eternal life. We have a spiritual sluggishnesse, like the sloathfull person whom Salomon speaketh of, He would have fain have had bread, but was loth to labour for it; It was cold and there was a Lyon in the way, Proverbs the twenty second chapter. So the great trouble and danger that must be born, doth keep us from seeking the bread of eternall life, as the Israelites said, The land is a good Land, but the People are many and strong, Numbers the thirteenth chapter, and so had no lust to seek to enter into the land of Canaan: So we confesse that eternall life is the better, but we have so many comforts in this life, and find it so troublesome to attain to the other life, that we leave off all care for it, and content ourselves with our present state: The trouble and danger that stayeth us from seeking life eternal, is that which the Scripture setteth out, All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution, the second epistle to Timothy the third chapter. By many tribulations we must enter into the kingdome of Heaven, Acts the fourteenth chapter, And the way is narrow and the gate streight that leadeth to life, Luke the thirteenth chapter.
To take away the first hindrance, the holy Ghost sheweth, that there is a better life and greater joyes reserved in the life to come, The eye hath not seen, the eare hath not heard, the first epistle to the Corinthians the second chapter. And, that the other should not hinder us, he saith, All the afflictions in this life are not worthy of the glory that shall be revealed, Romans, the eighth chapter. In both which places we see God would kindle in us a desire of eternal life: As there is a life that endureth, so there is a meat for it. We know the body needs bread, therefore we seek for bread for it: so must we seek for the food of the soul. The joy of the body must be a memorial to stirre us up, to provide food for the soul.
Fourthly, This food we doe not seek: We are so intangled in the pleasures of this life, that we think not of eternall life; the pleasures of this life, while we enjoy them, doe quench the care of the life to come: But being once past, they are as nothing, and we are never the better for them; though we desire eternall life, yet we perswade [532/533] ourselves we shall have it without seeking the food for it. We think it necessary to seek bread for the body, but not for the soul; though we doe think it necessary, yet we do neglect it, and deny in our works, that we think it needfull: We doe not labour for it, as we are here commanded: The sluggard would fain have bread, but shall want it, because he labours not for it in temporall things, as riches, honour, preferment, a great deal will not content men: But in Religion and matters spiritual, they are of Agrippæs minde, aliquantulum persuades, Acts the twenty fourth chapter, great store of worldly goods is nothing, but a few good works are sufficient; If we sow to the spirit in never so little measure, we think we have done a great deal; but if we sow never so much to the flesh upon apparel and vanity all is too little; if we spend all the six dayes about our own profit, yet it is not enough, but we will encroach upon the Sabbath; therefore the people ask, When will the Sabbath be ended, Amos the eighth chapter; But if we spend but one day in the week, or one hour in Gods service, it is tedious to them. We take part with Martha; and as for Mary, that was occupied about Gods worship, we think not so well of her, though Christ testifie of her, that she chose the better part, Luke the tenth chapter: If we vouchsafe once in seven dayes to come unto Gods house, yet it shall be later before we come, and we think it long till we be gone.