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What is God to the soul? He is its Light, its Healing Balm, its Bread of Life

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

GOD hath most graciously prepared a great supper, but those who would enjoy it must come with hearts hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

He who tastes not, perceives not the sweetness of this heavenly feast; and he who does not hunger for it, does not taste it. To believe in Christ is to come to this heavenly banquet. But no one can believe in Christ who does not acknowledge his sins in true contrition and penitence. Contrition is the spiritual hunger of our souls; and by faith our souls are spiritually fed.

The Lord God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna, angels’ food (Ex. xvi. 4, Ps. lxxviii. 25); but in this blessed feast of the new covenant, God feeds our souls with heavenly manna, that is, the pardon of our sins; nay more, with the Body and Blood of His own Son, who is the Lord of the angels. Christ is the living Bread, who came down from heaven (John vi. 51), that He might give life to the world. One who fills Himself with the husks that the swine eat, that is, with the carnal delights of this world, cares naught for the blessedness of this spiritual feast. The carnal mind has no conception of that which is true blessedness to the soul; in this wilderness world God feeds our souls with His own manna, when earthly sustenance fails us, and when every earthly comfort departs. Those who had just married wives, in the parable (Luke xiv. 20), were backward in coming to the supper; but souls that are not joined to the devil through sin, nor allied to the world through its pleasures, hasten to this gospel feast. “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ,” says the apostle (2 Cor. xi. 2). We must keep our souls from all unholy alliance with the world, if God is to espouse us to Himself in this spiritual union. Those who in the parable of the supper were occupied with looking after their newly purchased lands also refused the kind invitation (Luke xiv. 18); and those engrossed in the pleasures of this world, have no longings after the blessedness of the heavenly banquet. Desire is the food of the soul; our souls do not come to this mystical feast if they have no desire for it; and a soul that places its happiness in the comforts of this world cannot desire the heavenly delights of the gospel. When the rich young man heard that he must give up the earthly riches in which his soul delighted, if he would follow Christ, he went away sorrowful (Matt. xix. 22). Christ, our heavenly Elijah (2 Kings iv. 3, 4), does not pour the oil of heavenly grace into any vessel that is not first entirely emptied; and the love of God does not take possession of any soul, from which the love of self and the love of the world have not first been excluded. Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also (Matt. vi. 21); if the world is thy treasure, thy heart is in the world. Love has a uniting power; if thou lovest earthly things, thou wilt be joined to earthly things. Love has an assimilating power; if thou lovest the world, thou wilt become worldly; if thou lovest heavenly things, thou wilt become heavenly-minded.

In the parable, those who traded in oxen and merchandise (Luke xiv. 19) did not come to Christ. Those who set their hearts upon earthly riches (Ps. lxii. 10) do not seek the heavenly; earthly riches seem for a time to satisfy the desires of the soul, so that it does not seek in God that which alone would afford it full and perfect satisfaction. The riches of the world consist in material things, as silver and gold, houses and lands, flocks and herds. But no material thing can possibly satisfy the longings of the soul, which is far more excellent than any material object, for all these have been created for the use and benefit of the soul. How utterly material things fail to meet and satisfy the needs of the soul, appears in death, when we must give them all up. It is passing strange that we should so set our hearts upon these earthly possessions, when our hold upon this is so frail and short-lived. When Adam forsook the comforts afforded him in God, and sought delight through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was driven out of paradise (Gen. iii. 24); so our souls, if they turn from God the Creator to the creature, are deprived of heavenly comforts, and shall be forever driven away from the tree of life.

But what remains to those who neglect this heavenly feast? The world passeth away and the lust thereof (I John ii. 17, 1 Cor. vii. 31); and so shall all they who set their hearts upon it; all created things shall perish, and so shall they who rest their hopes in them. God declares that those who prefer the possessions and pleasures of this life to the blessings and comforts of His heavenly feast, shall not taste of His supper (Luke xiv. 24). If the supper be neglected, the hungry must go unfed; and if Christ be rejected, there remaineth no more remedy for sin. Those who despised the invitation shall suffer the pangs of eternal hunger, and shall dwell forever in the outer darkness; those who refused to heed the word of Christ: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden” (Matt. xi. 28), shall one day hear that dreadful word: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matt. xxv. 41). The Sodomites were consumed by fire sent down from heaven, when, graciously invited to this heavenly feast of good things, through the preaching of Lot, they willfully refused to come; and so those who have insolently spurned the gospel invitation shall be consumed by the fires of divine wrath, that shall burn forever and ever. The five foolish virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom, without taking oil in their vessels with them, framed various excuses for their delay; but meanwhile the door was shut (Matt. xxv. 10); and so those whose hearts are not filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit in this world, will not be admitted by Christ into a participation of His heavenly joy; but will find that the door of long-suffering, the door of mercy, the door of everlasting consolation, the door of hope, the door of grace, the door of good works, shall be fast shut against them.

Besides this there is an inward call of Christ to our souls, and blessed is he who heeds it. Christ often knocks at the door of our hearts with holy longings, devout aspirations, pious meditations, and blessed is he who throws wide open his heart’s door to the Christ (Rev. iii. 20). As soon as thou dost experience in thy heart some longing after the grace of God, thou mayst certainly conclude that it is Christ knocking at the door of thy heart. Oh, admit Him, lest He pass by, and afterwards close against thee the door of His mercy. As soon as thou perceivest in thy heart the faintest spark of pious thoughts, conclude at once that it was enkindled by the fervor of God’s love, through the Holy Spirit. Oh, feed and keep alive that holy flame that it may kindle into a glowing fire of love for God. Oh, beware, lest thou quench the Holy Spirit and hinder the Lord’s work in thy soul (1 Thess. v. 19). He who destroys the temple of God shall suffer the severest judgment of God (1 Cor. iii. 17). Our heart is the temple of God; and that we destroy when we refuse to heed the inward call of the Holy Spirit through God’s word. The prophets of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. i. 21), but now under the gospel all the truly pious feel the inward motions and drawings of the Holy Spirit. Blessed indeed are all they who hear and follow Him.

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