All the four gospels record the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. John also records the discourse in which Jesus shows that the providing of the food was a figure of himself as the Bread of Life.
We will not now follow the explanation given of the typical foreshadowings of Christ’s work, but we will look particularly at one essential point of Christ’s teaching on that occasion. He said that the words that he spoke were spirit and life. He said that a man must believe on him to have everlasting life; that he that came to him receiving him as the Bread of Life should never hunger, and he that believed on him should never thirst. He supports his statement by a quotation from the prophet Isaiah. “No man can come to me”, said Jesus, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, They shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me.” The Jews repudiated his claims to divine paternity. Jesus told them that their refusal could be traced to the fact that they did not comply with the conditions which made men acceptable to God. God drew men to him; but this drawing of God was not some supernatural action operating upon a man’s will by the exercise of divine power; it was through the agency of instruction. Men could respond or refuse, and their relationship to the Father was dependent upon their own actions. God’s method, Jesus explained, is by education; by God teaching and by man learning. In the context of the statement from Isaiah, the prophet describes Jerusalem of the coming age, delivered from her widowhood and with children of the resurrection who have been written for life in Jerusalem gathered about her. Jerusalem’s chief excellence will be her immortal citizens; of them the prophet says, “They shall all be taught of God”. This is fitting. How inappropriate it would be for men who have no interest in God and His commandments, who have no love for His truth, or His purpose, to be associated with the revelation of His glory in the earth. Those who will be associated for ever with the great Creator will be those who have found pleasure in His ways and who have striven to understand His thoughts.
Jesus gives the words of Isaiah a personal connection by saying that the Father was even then teaching them in the words that he was speaking. As men heard him so they learned of the Father and came to Him. We must, of course, recognize that the hearing is not limited to the physical action whereby the words are received. The murmurers heard His words in that sense, but they did not hear them as the Father’s words; but those who did, responded. And Jesus shows that he is not thinking of any audible utterance of the Almighty such as their forefathers had heard at Sinai, or even as the still small voice that was heard by Elijah at Horeb. “Not that any man”, says Jesus, “hath seen the Father save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.” He claims an experience of God which no other man had enjoyed. Men need not see the Father to hear His voice, but when God has spoken through an authenticated prophet who is His mouthpiece, then the words are the speech of the Almighty.
We have not heard the voice even of Jesus by our ears, but we have the record of his life, of his works and of his words given us by men in whom was fulfilled the promise of Jesus that the Spirit would call all things to their remembrance and would guide them into all truth. In the light of this we accept the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus without hesitation or question, and so we come to know what Jesus said and taught.
We also recognize the authority of the Apostles in their epistles and believe that what they wrote has the authority that belongs to the Word of God. Jesus said that men who heard them were hearing himself. “He that heareth you heareth me.”
When Jesus endorses the saying of the prophet that all who share the everlasting inheritance will be taught of God, he was not excluding himself. He is the perfect example of a man taught of God. This is brought out more directly even than in the Gospels in a very striking prophecy concerning him in Isaiah, chapter 50. The prophet recalls the divine deliverance at the Exodus, emphasizes that failure subsequently was not due to any lack of power to redeem on God’s part, and then speaks of the man through whom redemption would come. It is as though Christ was responding to God’s remonstrance to Israel that they were sold because of their iniquities, that he would so comply with God’s requirements that redemption would be wrought through him. “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.” This was not easy, for this learning of God, this obedience to God, provoked the resistance and opposition of the ungodly in Israel. Therefore, says the spirit of Christ in the prophet, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Then comes an expression of faith in God; of the assurance of victory with God’s help; and that he would not be brought to shame for his own actions. God would approve; for he says, “He is near that justifieth me.” In the absolute sense of the words this is true only of the Lord Jesus. To justify is to pronounce righteous, and of all the descendants of Adam, only he who was the Son of God as well as son of man could be declared righteous. It was because of this that he was raised from the dead and is alive for evermore; and through his perfect righteousness and voluntary death God has provided the conditions whereby others can be justified through Christ because their sins can be forgiven for his sake; as Isaiah says in a later chapter: “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” We see in that the perfect issue of the unfailing obedience of Jesus as the pupil in God’s school. He was “taught of God”; he was the pattern student of God’s word and the one who perfectly applied the precepts of God to his own life.
If it was necessary that the Son of God should thus receive the instruction of the Father, how much more is it necessary that they whose iniquities are forgiven through his knowledge and his sacrifice, should also wait continually at wisdom’s gates to be instructed of God. It would be altogether too narrow a view to limit this instruction of God to a system of doctrine in the sense we usually use the words. We must believe the truth in the doctrines we have received. It is essential that we understand first principles, but it is not enough that we know that man is mortal, that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, that he is coming again to re-establish the kingdom of God, and rule the world in righteousness. To know these things brings the responsibility that we must serve and obey God with our whole mind, soul and strength. It is part of the doctrine in the largest sense of the word, not only that men should believe the gospel and be baptized, but that they should also be taught all things that Christ has commanded. The doctrine of God is not something to be detached from life. It is rather something that has to be worked out in life.
We have seen in the Continent of Europe an illustration of the effects of wrong doctrine. The Nazis propounded a theory of race and blood and the superiority of the German people and of their right of rulership over others. This was not a doctrine to be taught as something remote from human life, as men might know astronomy or some other of the sciences. It would never have satisfied Nazi leaders for their views to be taught in such a way. Those who believed their teaching were themselves to be active propounders of it with enthusiasm and thoroughness. It was a doctrine that had to give a bias to their whole lives and to influence all their actions. All points of view were affected by it. History, the duty to the State, the object of life, were all adapted to the aim the leaders had set before them. Their views were evil and wrong for the most part, and one of the problems that remains is to eradicate them from a generation that has been saturated with Nazi teaching. Even in this country, where there has not been the same perversion of moral standards, it would be a mistake to think that the general attitude to life is a godly one. Faith in the Scriptures has been almost lost, and with it the recognition of the authority of the moral teaching inculcated by the word of God. The men who were leaders in the teaching of evolution during the last century lived generally according to the standards of life which had been built up when men were more guided by the word of God. It was thought that those standards were independent of the word of God and they would be maintained under the new doctrine. This was an illusion, but the consequences of the new teaching were not felt at once. The accepted standards continued for a time to ensure a certain regard for the principles of right, even when the source of those principles was not recognized, but gradually decline has been continuing until we behold the general disregard of those rules of life which the Bible enjoins.
A recent writer has said, “Among great masses of our population today Bible reading and church going are no more. In part we have become a civilization of the cinema and the roadhouse, colourless and rootless.” This witness is true. We must recognize that no help in following divine ways is to be found in the attitude that prevails among our fellows. If we would have a character that is pleasing to God we must have our roots firmly established in the soil from which nourishment can be obtained. Our faith must be well established in the word of God and our minds must be permeated with its teaching. And not only our minds, but we must have experience of that teaching by putting it to the proof in our lives. Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians is as important to us as it was to his first hearers. The Gentiles, he says, had their understanding darkened, and had given themselves over to all kinds of uncleanness. It can be said with equal truth of the present generation; but the believer is not so. “Ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and been taught by him, as truth is in Jesus.” Those Ephesians had not heard Jesus and been taught by him by any personal contact, but by the testimony of the apostles who were the Lord’s ambassadors they had been instructed and so had come to know Christ.
“Truth”, says Paul, “is in Jesus”—an absolute claim. He does not say, as the words are usually quoted, “the truth as it is in Jesus”. There is not one phase of truth in Jesus and other phases elsewhere. Truth in regard to God and God’s way of life to be followed by men is in Jesus; not out of him nor apart from him.
But this instruction of Christ, says Paul, concerns the putting off of a former course of life associated with Gentile ways. It concerns the renewing of the mind by the word of God and the putting on of the new man which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Adam transgressed God’s law, and the law of sin has wrought in the members of all his posterity ever since, bringing forth evil desires. The “new man” was a divine creation, not separate from the old creation, but out of it. While Adam was son of God and of dust, the Lord from heaven was Son of God and son of man. But righteousness and holiness of truth after the divine pattern was manifested in him, and this is the new man that we have espoused and put on. We cannot put off the old man as we might a garment and put on the new man as another garment. The old man is something inwrought in our very nature, and by a process of learning and living a new man has to be formed, taking the place of the old man. Our obedience to the truth does not bring a miraculous transformation of our natures; it brings us the forgiveness of our sins and is an espousal on our part before God of the ways of righteousness which were accepted in His Son. The apostle, therefore, gives some very practical counsel concerning this putting off of the old and putting on of the new man. He takes a number of the commonest vices of human nature, tells us how to exorcise the evil and cultivate the good. We must put away lying by speaking truth; while angry we must see that we sin not in giving place to the devil. Still more clearly does his next illustration emphasize the law of the opposite extreme. The man who has been addicted to stealing is not only told to steal no more but is required to labour with his hands that he may have to give. That is the effective way to prevent taking the property of others; with such an aim continually before them, men can be cured of the evil of theft. So with speech; instead of corrupt, or putrid communication, speech must be good and of the character that builds up and ministers grace to the hearers. And it is in connection with this very common failing of all men and women that the apostle adds, “and grieve not the holy spirit of God”. The reason for clean speech is because the foul is grieving to God. Bad language, unclean speech, does not become the mouths of those who are the children of God. The next fault to be overcome by the substitution of its opposite is also provided with similar motive; bitterness and wrath, anger and clamour, have to be substituted by kindness, tenderness of heart and forgiveness, and if this should seem a hard thing to do, we are encouraged in the effort by the fact that therein divine ways are exemplified; “For God himself for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. Be ye therefore followers of God.” This principle, briefly expressed in the words of Paul in another place, “Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good”, is illustrated in many of the commandments of the apostles, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the instruction cited from Ephesians. We must learn that we cannot eradicate evil unless we cultivate good. It is a vain thing to strive for the negative righteousness which consists merely of putting away that which is bad and evil. It can only be done by the cultivation of the pure and noble and the wholesome.
These are the principles that the apostle says are involved in being taught by Christ, and as we are taught of Christ so we are taught of God, and in this way qualify ourselves under God’s grace, for inclusion among those immortal saints of Zion, whose essential quality is that they are taught of God.