FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently to me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." -- Isa. 55:1, 2.
GOOD common-sense must tell us that our souls need daily food just as much as our bodies. If it is a law in physical life that we must eat to live, it is also equally a law in spiritual life.
"Give us this day our daily bread," is a prayer that includes the soul as well as the body, and unless the religion of Christ contains this necessary food for our week-day lives, as well as for our Sunday lives, it is a grievous failure. But this it does. It is full of principles that fit into human life, as it is in its ordinary common-place aspects; and the soul that would grow strong must feed itself on these, as well as on the more dainty fare of sermons and services and weekly celebrations.
But it is of vital importance that we choose the right sort of spiritual food upon which to feed. If unwholesome physical food injures the physical health, so also must unwholesome mental food injure the spiritual health. There is such a thing as spiritual indigestion, just as there is physical indigestion. More and more the most skilful physicians are urging the fact that the state of our health is largely dependent upon the food we eat; and gradually mankind are learning that to secure good health for our bodies we must eat only health-giving food. This is equally true on the spiritual plane, although it is not so generally recognised. The laws of spiritual hygiene are as real and as inexorable as the laws of physical hygiene, and it is of vital importance to our soul health that we should realise this.
Some German women have fallen into the habit of "naschen," that is, of nibbling comfits and cakes all day long. They carry "cornets" of bon-bons in their pockets, and nibble at them continually. No one wonders that they suffer greatly from disordered digestions, and become sallow, and irritable, and old before their time. And does not plain common-sense teach us that, when people feed their souls upon a diet of novels, or of gossip, or of frivolities of every kind, they must necessarily suffer from languor of spiritual life, debility of spiritual digestion, failure of vitality, and a creeping moral paralysis.
"And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes" (Num. 11:4-6).
"But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" (Ps. 106:14, 15).
"Leanness of soul" arises far more often than we think from the indigestible nature of the spiritual food we have been feeding upon. We are not satisfied to eat the food God has provided for us, and we hunger for the fleshpots of Egypt. (See also Exod. 16:3, and Num. 21:5.)
We do not like our providential surroundings perhaps, or our church, or our preacher, or our work, or our family associations, and we are all the time thinking we could be better Christians if only our circumstances were different, if we could attend a different church, or move into a different neighborhood, or engage in a different sort of work. Our souls "loathe the light food" of God's providing; and we question, as the Israelites did, whether God is really able to provide the spiritual food necessary for us in the "wilderness," where He seems to have appointed our dwelling-place.
"Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can He give bread also? can He provide flesh for His people? Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth" (Ps. 78:19-21).
The "wrath of God" is only another name for the inevitable results of our own bad actions. God's wrath is never, as human wrath generally is, an arbitrary condition of His mind, resulting from His displeasure at being crossed; but it is simply the necessary result of a broken law, the inevitable reaping of that which has been sown. If a man eats unsuitable food he will have indigestion. An untaught savage might say that it was the wrath of God that had brought the indigestion upon him, but we, who understand the laws of health, know that his indigestion is simply the necessary result of the unsuitable food he has eaten. And similarly the sickly spiritual condition of so many Christians is not, as they sometimes think, a direct infliction of God's displeasure, but is simply and only the necessary consequence of the unsuitable and indigestible spiritual food upon which they have been feeding.
"Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation" (Hosea 12:1).
"He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" (Isa. 44:20).
The soul that feeds on the "wind of doctrine," or on the "ashes" of earthly vanity, will find itself brought into a state of great desolation and distress; and this, not because of God's wrath, according to our understanding of that expression, but because of the unchangeable law of spiritual hygiene, that improper soul food must produce illness of soul, just as improper food for the body must make the body ill.
What, then, is the proper food for the soul? What is the daily bread our Lord would have us eat? He tells us in that wonderful discourse in the sixth chapter of John, when He says, "I am the bread of life," and adds, "Whoever eateth me, even he shall live by me." (See John 6:48-58).
To many people this is a very mysterious passage, and I do not at all feel competent to explain it theologically. But it has a common-sense side as well, which has a very practical application to one's every-day life, and it is of this side I want to speak.
Very few persons realise the effect of thought upon the condition of the soul, that it is in fact its food, the substance from which it evolves its strength and health and beauty, or upon which it may become weak and unhealthy and deformed. The things we think about are the things we feed upon. If we think low and corrupt thoughts, we bring diseases upon our soul, just as really as we bring diseases upon our body by eating corrupt and improper food. The man who thinks about self, feeds on self, just in proportion to the amount of thought he gives to self; and may at last become puffed up with self, and suffer from the dreadful disease of self-conceit and self-importance. On the other hand, if we think of Christ we feed on Christ. We eat His flesh and blood practically, by filling our souls with believing thoughts of Him. The Jews said, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" And a great many people say the same to-day. I think my suggestions will show one way at least in which He can give it; and I know that any who try this plan of filling their souls with believing thoughts of Christ will find practically that they do feed upon Him, to the joy and delight of their hearts. He tells us this when He says, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." He meant them to understand that to feed on Him was to receive and believe His words; that it was not His literal flesh they were to eat, but the words that He spake unto them; that is, the truths that He taught them.
"Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts" (Jer. 15:16).
I was once teaching a Bible-class of old coloured men, when one of them stopped a long time over a verse he was reading. I asked him at last what was the matter, whether he could not understand it? "Oh yes, Missus," he replied, "I understands it fine, and it tasted so good that I was just waiting a minute to get a good eat off of it."
"Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that roll. And He said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness" (Ezek. 3:1-3).
If we will take the words of God, i.e., His revealed truth, into our lips and eat it; that is, if we will dwell upon His words and say them over and over to ourselves, and thoroughly take in and assimilate their meaning in a common-sense sort of way, we shall find that our soul-life is fed and nourished by them, and is made strong and vigorous in consequence.
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).
The things we think on are the things that feed our souls. If we think on pure and lovely things we shall grow pure and lovely like them; and the converse is equally true. Very few people at all realise this, and consequently there is a great deal of carelessness, even with careful people, in regard to their thoughts. They guard their words and actions with the utmost care, but their thoughts, which, after all, are the very spring and root of everything in character and life, they neglect entirely. So long as it is not put in spoken words, it seems of no consequence at all what goes on within the mind. No one hears or knows, and therefore they imagine that the vagrant thoughts that come and go as they list, do no harm. Such persons are very careless as to the food offered to their thoughts, and accept hap-hazard, without discrimination, anything that comes. Hence, from carelessness as regards the books they read or the company they keep, they may be continually imbibing as their soul's food the objectionable ideas of the unbeliever, or the sensualist, or the worldly-minded, or the agnostic, or the Pharisee. It is not possible to carry this on for any length of time without inducing soul-diseases. A vitiation of mind and character is effected, and gradually all delicate distinctions between faith and unfaith, good and evil, purity and impurity, are more and more obliterated. The soul feeds itself on doubt instead of faith, or on coarseness instead of refinement, and becomes correspondingly bewildered or corrupt.
"But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man" (Matt. 15:18-20).
"Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it" (Jer. 6:19).
The "fruit of our thoughts" is just as sure to come upon us as the fruit of our actions, little as we may have realised it. The laws of hygiene are as absolute in the realm of spirit as in the realm of matter. It is of the utmost importance for us to recognise this, for these laws work on inexorably, whether we know it or not; and all unconsciously to ourselves we may be at this very moment vitiating and degrading our soul-life by the thoughts we are indulging, the books we are reading, or the company we are keeping.
The Apostle sets before us the hope of having all our thoughts brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (See 2 Cor. 10:5.) This cannot mean of course that we are to be thinking of Christ every minute. A little exercise of common-sense will show us that this is neither possible nor desirable. But it means that we are to have Christ's thoughts about things instead of our own, that we are to look at things as He does, and are to judge as He judges. And this we are to do with "every thought," not with our Sunday thoughts only, but with our week-day thoughts as well. It would never do for the health of our bodies to be careful of our food on Sundays only, and pay no regard to what we should eat the rest of the week; and similarly, it is idiotic to expect our souls to thrive if they are provided with suitable food on Sundays alone, and are left to feed on ashes throughout the other days of the week. Neither will little doses of suitable food now and then do. One hour of a Christ-like way of looking at things will not make much headway in the matter of the soul's health against ten hours of un-Christ-like ways. Every thought we think, in every hour we live, must be, not necessarily about Christ, but it must be the thought Christ would think were He placed in our circumstances and subject to our conditions. This is what it means really to feed on Him and be nourished by the true bread of life that cometh down from heaven.
The disciples, when they heard of this living bread, prayed, "Lord, evermore give us this bread;" and, if we join in their prayer, He can only reply to us as He did to them, "Here I am; I am the bread of life; come to me, believe on me, feed your souls with faith in me and with my thoughts." For again, I would repeat that the most practical way I know of for feeding on Christ is to fill our souls with His thoughts. We must do with Him as we would with any great master in art or science, whose spirit we wished to assimilate, and whose works we wished to copy. We must study His life, and try to understand His spirit, and imbue ourselves with His ideas. We must, in short, make Him our constant mental companion; we must abide with Him and in Him, and let Him abide in us. We must let the underlying thoughts of our heart, at the bottom of all other thoughts, be of the Lord and of all His goodness and His love; and all we do and all we think must be founded on these bottom thoughts concerning Him. For again, I repeat, that the things we think about are the things our souls feed upon, and if we want to feed on Christ we must think His thoughts. I do not mean literally have Him consciously in our thoughts every moment, but, rather, as I have said, have faith in Him at the bottom of our thoughts, as the foundation upon which they all rest, and we must accept all His ideas as our own.
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:1-4).
As far as we can gather from their history, the way in which the Israelites in their wanderings ate and drank of Christ, was simply by believing what God said, accepting what He provided, and obeying what He commanded. There was nothing occult or mysterious about it. They did not go off into emotional ecstasies, nor indulge in self-absorbed contemplation. Their spiritual feeding was just a plain matter-of-fact every-day life and walk of trust and obedience. When they ate of the manna they were eating "spiritual meat," for it was the meat God had provided, and the rock from which their water flowed was a "spiritual rock," for it was the rock and the water of God's providing.
This ought to teach us that in the common every-day needs and supplies of life we may as truly feed on Christ as in our moments of spiritual exaltation.
It is in order that some may be helped to eat this same "spiritual meat," and drink this same "spiritual drink," in their every-day lives, that these Bible lessons have been sent out. May the Lord make them His message to each one who shall read them!
Table of Contents Chapter 3 Home The Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith