Copyright 1945 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Assigned to Homer C. Hoeksema. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reprinted in any form without permission from the publisher, except in the case of a brief quotation used in connection with a critical article or review.
For information, address the Reformed Free Publishing Assoc., 4949 Ivanrest Avenue, Grandville, MI 49418-9709.
V. Coming to Eat the Bread of Life
For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. --John 6:33.
One of the most amazing miracles of the old dispensation is the feeding of the people of Israel, day by day, with bread that rained from heaven, the wonderful manna. How mysterious, how utterly inexplicable was this heavenly bread! In appearance it was a little kernel, like coriander seed, and as it fell with the early morning dew, it looked like hoarfrost. Every morning it fell, and it never failed, yet on the Sabbath one looked for it in vain. It supplied the children of Israel with bread only for one day, and if they tried to lay up for the morrow, it became putrefied in their larders; yet, if on the sixth day they gathered enough to last them over the Sabbath, it was never spoiled. Early in the morning it must be gathered, for the rising sun would soon melt it; yet, it was so hard that it was beaten and crushed with mortars, and it was baked in the fire. It was meant only for the people of God, and for none other, for it fell only around the camp of the Israelites, and that, too, only as they wandered in the desert: the like of it was never seen before, nor ever again. To speak in terms of today, it must have been a very healthful and palatable food, possessing all the necessary vitamins for it was capable of keeping over a million people alive and strong for a period of forty years! Indeed, the manna that rained from heaven was one of the most marvelous signs ever displayed!
Similarly, one of the most illustrious wonders performed by our Savior during His public ministry among us, is the feeding of the five thousand at the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. Five loaves of bread and two small fish were multiplied in His hands until there was sufficient food for five thousand hungry men, and the disciples could gather twelve basketfuls of the fragments that remained. Small wonder that the multitude were aroused to wild enthusiasm by the sight, and would take Him by force to crown Him their king! Of the manna in the desert they had heard through Moses, but this miracle surpassed even that in glory, for here they had but to sit down on the hillside to receive food prepared to eat!
Yet, these signs of God's marvelous power, taking place in the sphere of the natural and earthy, were but symbols obsignating still greater and more mysterious wonders of grace in the sphere of the spiritual and heavenly. For with reference to the wonder of the manna in the desert the apostle Paul writes in I Cor. 10:3 that the people of Israel "did all eat the same spiritual meat." And to the victorious saints the Lord promises that He will give them "to eat of the hidden manna." Rev. 2:17. And when on the day following the multiplication of the loaves He met those that had been fed in Capernaum, He rebuked them that they followed Him for the bread, and that they had not seen the sign. And He expounds to them the meaning of the sign by pointing to Himself as the bread of life. "For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world ... I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger... I am the bread which came down from heaven... He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life." John 6:33-48.
It is evident, then, that he that comes to Jesus must come to Him as the bread of life, and that the will to come and eat of that bread, implies and presupposes hunger, spiritual hunger. The dead do not eat. They that are full do not seek bread. One must have spiritual appetite to come to Jesus. In that sense it is true: "Whosoever will may come. We must, therefore, inquire what it means that Jesus is the bread of life, how one eats of this bread, and who have the will to come to eat.
In order to understand the meaning of the figurative expression "the bread of life," we must remember that "man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4, etc. And this does not mean, as it is often interpreted, that bread does not nourish us unless God blesses it, but that man is more than the beast, that he has a higher life, that cannot be sustained and nourished by mere material bread, but is dependent upon the Word of God's grace. The animal is purely earthy and physical. His life is sustained by bread alone. Man, however, is a creature that is adapted to a higher life, the spiritual life in fellowship with God. The saying, which appears to be the slogan of thousands in our mad, eminently carnal age, "let us eat, and drink, for tomorrow we die," is a denial of man's inmost nature and needs, and lowers him to the level of the brute beast. He has a higher life, which material bread, which all the things of this world, which all the products of culture and civilization cannot satisfy, but which can be satisfied and nourished only by the favor of God.
That this is, indeed, the meaning of the text we quoted is evident from its original context in Deut. 8:3, as well as from the use our Lord makes of it in reply to the first temptation of the devil. In Deut. 8:3 we read: "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." Manna was a sign of God' s favor over His people, and in that sense it was "spiritual bread." I Cor. 10:3. And the Lord quotes this passage when the devil would tempt Him to reveal His power in making bread out of stones, to leave the way of suffering, and thus to become disobedient to the Father, which would cause Him to lose God's favor. He would much rather suffer hunger than lose the lovingkindness and fellowship of God, for man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. For man it is true, indeed, what the psalmist so beautifully expresses in Ps. 63:
"Apart from Thee I long and thirst,
And nought can satisfy;
I wander in a desert land
Where all the streams are dry."
And again :
"The lovingkindness of my God
Is more than life to me;
So will I bless Thee while I live
And lift my prayers to Thee.
In Thee my soul is satisfied,
My darkness turns to light,
And joyful meditations fill
The watches of the night."
The reason for this is that man is more than the beast. He is a creature that is adapted to bear the image of God. He was formed by God's very fingers, and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. He was related to the earth, and to earthy things, to be sure, but also to God. He was formed with a heart whence are the issues of his life. And he was originally endowed with the image of God. He was gifted with the true knowledge of God, that he might know his Creator in love; he was created in perfect righteousness, that he might will the will of God; and he was made in spotless holiness, that he might consecrate himself and all things to the Most High. And thus, adorned with God's image, he lived. He thirsted after God, but his thirst was constantly satisfied. He knew his God in all things, lived in His fellowship, tasted His grace, and loved Him with all his heart, and with all his mind, and with all his soul, and with all his strength. The grace of God was the bread of life for him.
Such is man's real life.
All existence of man without this fellowship of God, apart from Him and under His wrath, is death. Man may eat and drink, he may work and enjoy himself with the things of this world, he may enhance his earthly existence with all the inventions of culture and art, but if he has no more than this he is very really dead.
And dead he is by nature, apart from Christ.
For he did not believe that he lived by the Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. He rejected God's Word. He turned to the lie of the devil. In contradiction to the Word of God, he saw that the tree was good for food, and to make one wise. And he followed the lie. The result was that he died. He forfeited and lost the favor of God. He became the object of God's wrath, under which he pines and dies for ever. The image of God in him was perverted into its very opposite. Instead of his original knowledge of God, there now was darkness of mind, so that he loves and follows the lie and vanity; instead of righteousness, there were now the motions of iniquity, so that his will is perverse, and motivated by enmity against God; and instead of holiness, there is now the corruption of his whole nature, so that, rather than being consecrated to God, he lifts his rebellious fist in the face of the Almighty. He is become a child of his father the devil. Such is man by nature. And whoever denies this, and proclaims that all men are by nature the children of God, deceives the people, and leads them away from Christ. So dead man is, that by nature he does not and cannot hunger and thirst after the living God. So really dead is he, that he must be raised from the dead, that he must be born again, in order to live at all!
Now, Christ is the bread of life exactly for such sinners that are in themselves dead in trespasses and in sin. He is the Wonderbread of God, prepared by God in order that those that eat of it might have eternal life. And eternal life is not merely life that lasts for ever, but it is life in God's fellowship and friendship on the highest possible level, that is, in heavenly glory. Unto that everlasting life of immortality and incorruption in God's tabernacle, where we shall see face to face, and know as we are known, the God of our salvation nourishes us through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the true manna that came down from heaven, the bread of life. He is such as the Son of God that became flesh, that was crucified, raised from the dead on the third day, glorified in the highest heavens, and is become the quickening Spirit. He is the bread of life for sinners because in Him there is fullness of grace, the grace which sinners need in order to have life. In Him there is righteousness, eternal righteousness, for sinners that are in themselves guilty, and worthy of eternal death, children of wrath; a righteousness that is sufficient to overcome and blot out all their sins, and to make them worthy of the glory of that eternal life which even Adam in the state of rectitude never knew, nor could have attained. In Him there is the power of complete liberation from the bondage and shackles of sin and corruption, the perfect liberty of the love of God. In Him there is perfect peace, knowledge of God, wisdom, light, and life. The Christ of the Scriptures is, indeed, the Bread of life, from which if a man eat, he shall never hunger. He is the true manna that is able to nourish the sinner from guilt unto perfect righteousness, from corruption unto holiness, from spiritual ignorance unto the true knowledge of God, from folly unto wisdom, from darkness unto light, from death unto eternal life!
In order to be saved, therefore, we must come to Him and eat. And as Christ does not simply give us, but is the bread of life, we must eat Him. Just as in the natural sense we eat bread, that is, take it, taste it, relish it, assimilate it, make it part and parcel of our very physical existence, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, bone of our bone; so, in the spiritual sense, we must eat the Christ of the Scriptures, appropriate Him, taste that He is good, absorb Him, and assimilate Him into our spiritual nature. We must eat Him, not as the modern Christ of man's own invention, not as the great teacher that instructs us how to be good, or as the good example we must copy, but as the crucified One Who was raised from the dead. That is the reason why Jesus said to the murmuring and astonished multitude in Capernaum: "And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." And again: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." John 6:51-56. Thus appropriating and assimilating unto ourselves and into our spiritual substance the Christ of the Scriptures, we receive out of His fullness even grace for grace. His righteousness becomes our righteousness, His knowledge becomes our knowledge. His love overcomes our enmity, His life is victorious over our death: we are saved from death unto life.
Nor is this act of eating the bread of life ever an accomplished and finished deed. You cannot say: "I accepted Christ a year, or ten years ago, and because of that accomplished act I am saved and live to day." Even as for the sustenance of your physical existence you must continually eat bread, so you must constantly appropriate and assimilate Christ in order to have life. Always our life is in Him, never in us apart from Him; and always we must receive out of Him even grace for grace. And here in this world this eating of the bread of life takes place through the means of the preaching of the Word as revealed in the Scriptures, and through the administration of the holy sacraments which He Himself has instituted for that very purpose.
Whosoever will may come, and eat of the bread of life! That is undoubtedly true. There is no exception to this "whosoever." But who will come? Who have this will to come? Surely, you will answer this question by saying: only those that hunger for the bread of life. The will to come is motivated by the hunger for this bread. And this hunger consists of a deep consciousness of one's own emptiness and of Christ's fullness, of one's own sin and of Christ's righteousness, of one's own death and of Christ's life; and of a profound longing and desire to possess Him!
But you will admit that the dead hunger not, and the natural man is dead, blind, naked, miserable, an enemy of God, a lover of sin and darkness. His condition is such that by nature he is not merely incapable of longing for the bread of life: it is nauseating to him, and he turns away from it in disgust. Always he will assume the same attitude as did the carnal multitude in Capernaum, when they finally judged that the Word of life Jesus spoke was a hard speech, which no one could hear, left Him, and walked no more with Him!
The will to come and eat of the bread of life is the will of faith. By faith only we hunger after righteousness and life. By faith only we recognize the Christ as the bread of life. By faith we long for Him, come to Him, are united with Him, draw out of Him even grace for grace, eat Him unto eternal life. But faith is not of ourselves. It is the gift of God. The will to come and to eat of the bread of life, therefore, is the fruit of grace. And if thus, by the marvelous grace of God we have been made hungry, and have tasted the goodness of the bread of life, we may safely confront the question the Lord put before His disciples after the carnal multitude of Capernaum had departed from Him: "Will ye also go away?" For we will surely answer with Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God !" John 6:67-69.
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer
Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.