The Living Bread

Sacramental Meditation XXXII
By John Willison, Practical Works (London: Blackie & Son, 1844), 289-90; minimally edited.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

Christ crucified is our manna, or heavenly bread that preserves the life of the soul, and it is only by faith it must be received and eaten. Bread is a comprehensive word, including all things necessary for this life; so Christ, our spiritual bread, is a most comprehensive blessing, including all we want, seeing “He is made of God to us, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” Again, bread is the most necessary thing for our life, and the want of it brings the greatest misery; so Christ is the most necessary blessing to the soul, and the want of Him makes a man miserable in time, and through eternity. It is a greater misery to have no Saviour for the soul, than to have no bread for the body. Christ alone is the bread that preserves us from soul famine, and nourishes us to eternal life; He is the Bread of Life, the Living Bread. “Lord, give us evermore this bread.”

Bread is called the staff and stay of man’s life; so Christ is the staff and stay of spiritual life, he upholds our souls in life. He is the staff that faint and weary souls must lean upon in going through this wilderness. Yea, Christ our living bread is a staff to defend us, and beat off our enemies, and put all the hellish host to flight. That was a strange dream of one of the Midianites. “Behold a cake of barley bread came tumbling into the host of Midian, and smote a tent” (Jdg 7: 13). Strange! a piece of bread to overturn a tent! Behold this dream made good in the sacrament. The bread there, which represents Christ, when received with faith upon him, will tumble into the host of Satan and his lusts, these Midianites who vex us with their wiles, strike down their tents, and put them all to flight.

Christ is the bread that came down from heaven, of which the Israelites’ manna, that God sent miraculously from heaven, was an eminent type. That manna was God’s free gift to the murmuring Israelites, to preserve them from starving in the deserts where bread could not be had. This manna was a curious grain, that made fine bread, with which God furnished them plentifully every morning from the clouds, sufficient to satisfy six million men. But Christ, our spiritual manna, doth far excel theirs, though he was resembled by theirs in some things. Manna was first ground and beaten, and baked in ovens, before it was made bread to them; and so the grain which makes our ordinary bread must be threshed and ground betwixt two mill-stones, and baked by the force of fire, before we eat it. So Christ, the antitype, was threshed and bruised, and ground betwixt the mill-stones of divine justice and our sins, and also roasted by the fire of wrath, that he might be fit bread for saving our souls; and all this we should call to mind, when we make use of the bread in the holy supper.

The Israelites’ manna came down to them with the dew; so Christ, with the benefits of his purchase, comes to us by the dews and influences of the Holy Spirit. Their manna fell round about their tents, and every man was free to gather it; so every man is free to gather our heavenly manna. The Israelites behooved to go out of their tents to gather theirs; so God will have us to go forth, and be at pains to get our spiritual food. God, who rained manna about their tents, could have rained it into their mouths; but he loves not to encourage sloth in his people, but would have them at all pains to make sure of Christ for their portion. As the Israelites gathered daily, so we must be daily going to Christ, and making use of him. As they gathered early in the morning, so God would have us seeking after Christ in the morning of our lives.

Oh how far doth our heavenly manna excel that of the Israelites! Theirs but fed the body, and could not preserve them from death at last; but our manna feeds the soul, and nourishes to eternal life, and preserves all that eat of it from eternal death. Theirs fell not on the Sabbath day; nor durst they go to seek it on that day; but ours falls every day, and double on the Sabbath; and therefore (Sod calls us to double our diligence, in gathering it on the Sabbath. Their manna continued only in the wilderness, and ceased when they came to Canaan; but ours continues for ever, and our fullest enjoyment of it is in the heavenly Canaan; and therefore all true Israelites long to be there.

Oh how lamentable is their folly, who spend all their time and thoughts in seeking bread to their bodies, and are careless and indifferent about the bread of life to their souls! All their care is to support the clay house, but let the soul starve that inhabits it. It is but a short time they can enjoy the bread they are so concerned for; the bodies they mind so much must be meat for worms, and the soul they neglect, a prey to devils!

But, whatever others do, may I be wise to provide the living bread for my soul, and learn to eat it, and make use of it by faith, and especially when I go to the Lord’s Table; for, without faith we can get no nourishment, no life nor strength from this heavenly bread. Faith is the mouth that eats the bread of life, and sucks honey out of the rock. Now, the Spirit of God calls faith or believing, an eating, because by it we taste the sweetness and excellency of Christ, and have great satisfaction in partaking of Christ and His benefits. As by eating, our bodies increase in strength and stature, so, by believing, our souls grow in grace and spiritual strength, to run in God’s ways. As by eating, the bread incorporates and becomes one with us; so, by our receiving and applying Christ’s broken body by faith, He is made one with us, and we one with Him. As by eating bread, men live upon it, and get support and strength for working or journeying; so believers, by looking to, and trusting wholly in the righteousness of Christ, and the merit of his blood, feed and receive spiritual strength for their work and warfare, and so make a progress in their journey to Canaan.

Oh that I had a spiritual hunger and sharp appetite for this bread of life, and were desiring and longing for it, for the support and nourishment of my soul, more than a hungry man for bread to his body. A hungry man perishing for want of bread, would prefer a piece of bread before many bags of gold, if both were set before him, and he allowed to make his choice; so the awakened soul that sees his need of Christ, prefers him to a whole world; give him never so much of the world’s comforts, he is still dissatisfied without Christ, and says, What will all these things avail me, if my starving soul perish without the bread of life?

I have many arguments to plead with God for this bread; Lord, do not thy free calls and promises bind thee to give me it? Thou hast said, “The needy shall not be forgotten.” Is not Christ, the bread from heaven, the free gift of God to perishing souls? And dost thou not invite those to come and eat of it, that have no money or price to give for it? Lord, thou hadst compassion upon the bodies of men, when they had no bread to eat, and didst provide bread for five thousand of them by a miracle; and hast thou not as much compassion to starving souls that are far more precious. Lord, thou givest natural affections to earthly parents, and makest them pitiful to their children, when they cry for bread, so that they cannot shut up their bowels against them when hungry, nor will they give them a stone instead of bread. And will my heavenly Father, who is infinitely more compassionate than the most tender parents, refuse the bread of life to starving souls, who cry earnestly for it? Lord, I trust in thy mercy, and depend on thy promise, I believe thou wilt not let a poor hungry beggar starve and fall down at thy door, when there is bread enough in thy house, and to spare. Oh cause me to sing with the Psalmist, “But I have trusted in thy mercy, my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation” (Ps 13:5). Ω