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GIVE US TODAY OUR NEEDFUL BREAD
Give us today our Needful Bread, or as Luke has it, Give us daily our Needful Bread. Seeing that some suppose that it is meant that we should pray for material bread, their erroneous opinion deserves to be done away with and the truth about the needful bread set forth, in the following manner. We may put the question to them—how can it be that He, who says that heavenly and great things ought to be asked for as if, on their view, He has forgotten His teaching now enjoins the offering of intercession to the Father for an earthly and little thing, since neither is the bread which is assimilated into our flesh a heavenly thing nor is it asking a great thing to request it?
For my part I shall follow the Teacher’s own teaching as to the bread and cite the passages in detail. To men who have come to Capernaum to seek Him He says, in the Gospel according to John, Verily, verily, I tell you you seek me not because you saw signs but because you ate of the loaves of bread and were filled . . . for he that has eaten and been filled with the loaves of bread which have been blessed by Jesus seeks the more to grasp the Son of God more closely and hastens toward Him.
Wherefore He will enjoin: Work not for the food that perishes but for the food that abides unto life eternal which the Son of Man shall give you. And when, upon that, they who had heard inquired and said: What are we to do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them: This is the work of God that you believe on him whom He has sent. As it is written in Psalms, God sent His Word and healed them, that is the diseased, and believers in that Word work the works of God which are food that abides unto life eternal.
And my Father, He says, gives you the true bread from heaven, for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. It is true bread that nourishes the true man who is made in God’s image, and he that has been nourished by it also becomes in the Creator’s likeness. What is more nourishing to the soul than Word, or what more precious to the mind of him that is capable of receiving it than the Wisdom of God?
What is more congenial to the rational nature than Truth? Should it be urged in objection to this view that He would not in that case teach men to ask for needful bread as if something other than Himself, it is to be noted that He also discourses in the Gospel according to John sometimes as if it were other than Himself but at other times as if He is Himself the Bread. The former in the sense of the words: Moses hath given you the bread from heaven yet not the true bread, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
In the latter sense, to those who had said to Him Ever give us this bread, He says: I am the bread of life: he that comes unto me shall not hunger, and he that believes on me shall not thirst; and shortly after: I am the living bread that is come down from heaven: if anyone eat of this bread he shall live unto eternity: yea and the bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the sake of the life of the world.
Now since all manner of nourishment is spoken of as bread according to Scripture as is clear from the fact that it is recorded of Moses that he ate not bread and drank not water forty days, and since the nourishing Word is manifold and various, not all being capable of nourishment by the solidity and strength of the divine teachings, He is therefore pleased to offer strenuous nourishment befitting men more perfect, where He says:
The bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the sake of the life of the world: and shortly after: Except you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drinks His blood, you have not life in yourselves. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood hath life eternal, and I will raise him up in the last day. for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.As the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also he that eats me—he too shall live because of me. This is the true food, Christ’s flesh, which being Word has become flesh, as it is said And the Word became flesh. When we eat and drink the Word He tabernacles in us.
When He is assimilated the words are fulfilled: We beheld His glory. This is the bread that is come down from heaven. Not as the fathers ate and died, he that eats this bread shall live unto eternity. Discoursing to infant Corinthians who walk in the way of man Paul says: I gave you milk to drink, not meat, for you were not yet able. Nay even now you are not yet able, for you are still of the flesh; and in the Epistle to Hebrews: And you are become in need of milk, not of solid nourishment. For any one who partakes of milk is devoid of moral reason, for he is infant.
But solid nourishment is for mature men who by force of use have their senses trained to discriminate good and evil. In my opinion the words: One man hath faith to eat anything, but he that is weak eats vegetables are also in his intention meant to refer not to material forms of nourishment but to the words of God that nourish the soul: Of these the man most faithful and mature is able to partake of any, he being denoted in the words One man hath faith to eat anything, whereas the weaker and more immature is content with simpler teachings that do not quite produce full strength in him, reference being intended to him in the words But he that is weak eats vegetables.
There is also in Solomon a saying in the Proverbs which I think teaches that the man who by reason of simplicity is incapable of the stronger and greater sentiments is better, short of false thought, than the man who, though more ready and keener and of greater insight into things, fails to penetrate the principle of peace and harmony in all. Solomon’s passage runs as follows: Better is hospitality of vegetables served with friendship and grace than a fatted calf with enmity.
Many a time do we accept untutored simpler entertainment, accompanied by good conscience, as guests at the table of those who are unable to furnish us with more, with greater satisfaction than any elevation of words upreared against the knowledge of God and proclaiming with ample plausibility a sentiment alien to the Father of our Lord Jesus who has given the law and the prophets. In order, therefore, that we may neither fall sick of soul for lack of nourishment nor die to God because of famine of the Lord’s word, let us in obedience to the teaching of our Savior, with righter faith and life, ask the Father for the living bread which is the same as the needful bread.
Let us now consider what the word epiousion, needful, means. First of all it should be known that the word epiousion is not found in any Greek writer whether in philosophy or in common usage, but seems to have been formed by the evangelists. At least Matthew and Luke, in having given it to the world, concur in using it in identical form. The same thing has been done by translators from Hebrew in other instances also; for what Greek ever used the expression enotizou or akoutisthete instead of eistaota dexai or akousai poice se.
Exactly like the expression epiousion, needful, is one found in Moses’ writings, spoken by God: Ye shall be my periousios—peculiar people. Either word seems to me to be a compund of ousia—essence—the former signifying the bread that contributes to the essence, the latter denoting the people that has to do with the essence and is associated with it. As for ousia, essence, in the strict sense, by those who assert the priority of the substance of immaterial things, it is ranked with immaterial things which are in possession of permanent being and neither receive addition nor suffer subtraction. For addition and subtraction are characteristic of material things in reference to which growth and decay take place owing to their being in a state of flux, in need of imported support and nourishment.
If the import exceeds the waste in a period growth takes place, if it is less, diminuation; and if, as in conceivable, there are things receiving no import at all, they are in what I may term unmitigated diminuation. Those on the other hand who hold the substance of immaterial things to be posterior and that of material things to be prior, define essence in these terms: It is the primary matter of existing things out of which they are or the matter of bodily things out of which they are; or that of terms out of which they are; or the primary unqualified substance or presubstance of existing things; or that which admits of all transformations and modifications though itself as such inherently incapable of modification; or that which undergoes all modification and transformation.
On their view essence is inherently unqualified and inarticulate as such. It is even indeterminate in magnitude, but it is involved in all quality as a kind of ready ground for it. By qualities they mean distinctively like the actualities and the activities in which movements and articulations of the essence have come to be, and they say that the essence as such has no part in these inherently though it is always incidentally inseparable from some of them and equally receptive of all the agent’s actualizations however it may act and transform. (For it the force associated with the essence, pervading all that would be responsible for all quality and the particular dispositions involving it.)
And they say that it is throughout transformable and throughout divisible, and that any essence can coalesce with any other, all being a unity not withstanding. What I have said in this discussion of essence raised by the expressions the needful bread and the peculiar people has been to distinguish the meanings of essence. And since we have already seen that it is spiritual bread for which we ought to ask, we must needs understand the essence to be akin to the bread, so that just as material bread on assimilation into the body of the nourished passes into its essence, so the living bread which is come down from heaven being assimilated into the mind and soul may impart its own power to him who has lent himself to nourishment from it, and so become the needful bread for which we ask.
And again, in like manner, as the nourished attains strength varying according to the character of the nourishment whether solid and fit for athletes or of the nature of milk and vegetables, so it follows that when the word of God is given either as milk as befits children, or as vegetables as suits invalids, or as flesh as is proper for combatants, each of the nourished acquires this or that power or nature according to the word to which he has lent himself.
Moreover, there is a kind of reputed nourishment which is in reality harmful, a second that is productive of disease, and another that cannot even be assimilated, and all of these may be transferred by analogy to varieties of reputedly nourishing teachings. Needful, therefore, is the bread which corresponds most closely to our rational nature and is akin to our very essence, which invests the soul at once with well being and with strength, and, since the Word of God is immortal, imparts to its eater its own immortality.
It is just this needful bread that seems to me to be otherwise termed in Scripture a tree of life, he who stretches forth his hand to which and takes of it shall live unto eternity. And under a third name this tree is termed wisdom of God in Solomon’s words: She is a tree of life to all that take hold upon her and to those that lean upon her as upon the Lord she is safe. And since the angels also are nourished by God’s wisdom receiving power for the accomplishment of their proper works from their contemplation in truth with wisdom, it is said in Psalms that the angels also are nourished, men of God designated Hebrews holding communion with the angels and, as it were, even becoming messfellows with them.
Such is the meaning of the saying:Bread of angels hath man eaten. Far from us be such poverty of mind as to suppose that it is of some material bread, such as is recorded to have come down from heaven upon those who had quitted Egypt, that the angels continually partake and are nourished, as though it was actually in this that the Hebrews had communion with the angels, God’s ministering spirits. And while we are considering the needful bread and the tree of life and the wisdom of God and the common nourishment of saintly men and angels, it is not untimely to refer to the three men recorded in Genesis who were entertained by Abraham and partook of three measures of fine flour of wheat kneaded into ember-cakes, and to observe that this may perhaps simply be told in a figurative sense.
It would show that saints are able upon occasion to impart spiritual and rational nourishment not only to men but also to divine powers, either for their benefit or for the exhibition of their most nourishing acquisitions, the angels being cheered and nourished in such display and becoming the readier to cooperate in every way and henceforth to conspire in the apprehension of fuller and greater things by the man who has cheered and so to say nourished them with his store of nourishing teachings already acquired.
No wonder that a man may nourish angels when even Christ avows himself to stand before the door and knock in order that He may enter into him that opens to Him and sup with him on his fare, thereafter Himself in turn to impart His own to him who first according to his individual power has entertained the Son of God. So then the partaker of the needful bread, having his heart confirmed, becomes a son of God whereas he that has portion in the serpent is none other than a spiritual Ethiopian and himself in turn changes into a snake by reason of the serpent’s toils so that, even should he express a desire for baptism, he is reproached by the Word and hears it said: Snakes, offspring of vipers, who hath prompted you to flee from the coming wrath?
And David speaks of the serpent body being fed on by Ethiopians: Thou has shattered the heads of the serpents in the water, you hast crushed the serpent’s head, you hast given him to be food for the Ethiopian peoples. If it is not absurd to suppose that, since the Son of God and also the Adversary are of essential substances, either of them may become nourishment to this soul or that, why need we hesitate in the case of all powers, better and worse, including human beings, to believe that each one of us may derive nourishment from any of them?
As Peter was about to commune with the centurion Cornelius and those who met together with him in Caesarea, and thereafter to impart the words of God to the Gentiles also, he saw, the vessel let down from heaven by four corners, in which were all manner of quadrupeds and reptiles and beasts of the earth, whereupon he was also bidden rise up and stay and eat, and after he had said in deprecation: Thou knowest that nothing common or unclean hath ever entered my mouth, he was commanded to call no man common or unclean because what God had made clean ought not to be made common by Peter; in the words of the passage, what things God hath made clean make not you common.
Accordingly the clean and unclean food distinguished according to the law of Moses in terms of various animals bear an analogy to the differing characters of rational beings and teaches that some are nourishing for us but others the reverse until God has cleansed and made all, or those from every race, nourishing. But while that is indeed so and while there is such diversity among foods, the needful bread, for which we ought to pray in order to be counted worthy of it, and, being nourished by the Word that was God with God in the beginning to be made divine God, is one and transcends all the foods mentioned.
But it will be said that the word epiousion, needful, is formed from epienai, to go on, so that we are bidden to ask for the bread proper to the coming age, in order that God may take it in advance and bestow it on us now. Thus what was to be given as it were tomorrow would be given us today, today being taken to mean the present age, tomorrow the coming. Since, however, as far as I can judge, the preceding interpretation is better, let us go on to consider the added reference to today in Matthew or the expression daily written in Luke.
To call the whole present age today is a usage frequent in the Scriptures, as in the passages: He is father of the Moabites until today, and He is father of the Ammonites until today, and this account has been reported among Jews until today, and in the Psalms, Today if you hear His voice harden not your hearts. In Joshua, this is expressed very clearly: Turn not away from the Lord in the days of today. And if today means the whole present age, yesterday is probably the bygone age. That I have understood to be its meaning in Psalms and in Paul in the Epistle to Hebrews.
In Psalms it is thus: A thousand years are in thine eyes as a yesterday that had passed—whatever the much talked of millennium means, it is likened to yesterday as opposed to today; and in the apostle it is written, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and unto the ages. No wonder that the whole of an age counts with God as the space of a single day with us, aye and less as I think. We may also consider whether the accounts of feasts or assemblies recorded in terms of days or months or seasons or years have symbolical references to ages. For if the law contains a shadow of coming things, its many Sabbaths must be a shadow of many days and its moons come round in the course of intervals of time, completed by some manner of a moon’s conjunction with some sun.
And if a first month and tenth till fourteenth day and a feast of unleavened bread from fourteenth till twenty-first contain a shadow of coming things, who is wise and to such a degree God’s friend as to have vision of the first among many months and its tenth day and so on? What need I say of that feast of seven weeks of days, and of that seventh month whose new moon is a day of trumpets and on whose tenth day falls a day of atonement, which are known to God alone who has enacted them? Who has to such a degree received the mind of Christ as to interpret those seventh years of freedom for Hebrew domestic slaves and of remission of debts and of cessation from tillage of the holy land?
And over and above the feast of every seven years there is yet another year, the so-called Jubilee, clearly to imagine whose nature even partially, or the true laws to be fulfilled in it, is for no one save Him who has contemplated the Father’s counsel in reference to the order in all the ages according to His unsearchable judgments and His univestigable ways. In trying to reconcile two apostolic passages it has often occurred to me to raise the question how there can be consummation of ages at which Jesus has been manifested once for all unto abolition of sins if there are going to be ages following after this. The Apostles’ passages are as follows: In the Epistle to Hebrews, but now at a consummation of the ages He hath been manifested once for all unto abolition of sins through His sacrifice; but in the Epistle to Ephesians, in order that He may show forth, in the years following, the exceeding riches of His Grace in kindness toward us.
Well, in conjecture as to matters so great, I believe that, just as the year’s consummation is its last month after which arises another month’s beginning, so probably the present age is a consummation of numerous ages completing as it were a year of ages, and after it certain coming ages will arise whose beginning is the coming age, and in those coming ages God shall show forth the riches of His Grace in kindness, when the greatest sinner, who for having spoken ill against the Holy Spirit is held fast by his sin throughout the present age and the coming one from beginning to end, shall after that, I know not how, receive a dispensation.
When a man has had vision of these things and has given thought to a week of ages with intent to contemplate a kind of holy sabbath—keeping and a month of ages to see God’s holy new moon, and a year of ages to survey the feasts of the year when every male must appear before the Lord God, and the corresponding years of so many ages to discern the seventh holy year, and seven weekly years of ages to sing a hymn to the Enactor of Laws so great, how can he after such consideration cavil over what is the merest fraction of an hour in the day of such an age, instead of doing everything to become, through his preparation here, worthy of obtaining the needful bread and to receive it while it is today and daily, what daily means being already clear from the foregoing explanations.
For he who prays today to God, who is from infinity to infinity, not only for today but also in a sense for that which is daily shall be enabled to receive from Him who hath power to bestow exceedingly above what we ask or think even things—to use extreme language—which transcend those that eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard and that have not gone up into the heart of man. These considerations seem to me to have been very necessary for the understanding of both the expressions today and daily when we are praying that the needful bread be given us from His Father.
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