We had the story of a miracle very like this before, in this gospel (Mark 6:35), and of this same miracle (Matt. 15:32), and here is little or no addition or alternation as to the circumstances. Yet observe,
1. That our Lord Jesus was greatly followed; The multitude was very great (Mark 8:1); notwithstanding the wicked arts of the scribes and Pharisees to blemish him, and to blast his interest, the common people, who had more honesty, and therefore more true wisdom, than their leaders, kept up their high thoughts of him. We may suppose that this multitude were generally of the meaner sort of people, with such Christ conversed, and was familiar; for thus he humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation, and thus encouraged the meanest to come to him for life and grace.
2. Those that followed him, underwent a great deal of difficulty in following him; They were with him three days, and had nothing to eat, that was hard service. Never let the Pharisee say, that Christ’s disciples fast not. There were those, probably, that brought some food with them from home; but by this time it was all spent, and they had a great way home; and yet they continued with Christ, and did not speak of leaving him till he spoke of dismissing them. Note, True zeal makes nothing of hardships in the way of duty. They that have a full feast for their souls may be content with slender provision for their bodies. It was an old saying among the Puritans, Grown bread and the gospel are good fare.
3. As Christ has a compassion for all that are in wants and straits, so he has a special concern for those that are reduced to straits by their zeal and diligence in attending on him. Christ said, I have compassion on the multitude. Whom the proud Pharisees looked upon with disdain, the humble Jesus looked upon with pity and tenderness; and thus must we honour all men. But that which he chiefly considers, is, They have been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. Whatever losses we sustain, or hardships we go through, for Christ’s sake, and in love to him, he will take care that they shall be made up to us one way or other. They that seek the Lord, shall not long want any good thing, Ps. 34:10. Observe with what sympathy Christ saith (Mark 8:3), If I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for hunger. Christ knows and considers our frame; and he is for the body, if we glorify him, verily we shall be fed. He considered that many of them came from afar, and had a great way home. When we see multitudes attending upon the word preached, it is comfortable to think that Christ knows whence they all come, though we do not. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, Rev. 2:13. Christ would by no means have them go home fasting, for it is not his manner to send those empty way from him, that in a right manner attend on him.
4. The doubts of Christians are sometimes made to work for the magnifying of the power of Christ. The disciples could not imagine whence so many men should be satisfied with bread here in the wilderness, Mark 8:4. That therefore must needs be wonderful, and appear so much the more so, which the disciples looked upon as impossible.
5. Christ’s time to act for the relief of his people, is, when things are brought to the last extremity; when they were ready to faint, Christ provided for them. That he might not invite them to follow him for the loaves, he did not supply them but when they were utterly reduced, and then he sent them away.
6. The bounty of Christ is inexhaustible, and, to evidence that, Christ repeated this miracle, to show that he is still the same for the succour and supply of his people that attend upon him. His favours are renewed, as our wants and necessities are. In the former miracle, Christ used all the bread he had, which was five loaves, and fed all the guests he had, which were five thousand, and so he did now; though he might have said, “If five loaves would feed five thousand, four may feed four thousand;” he took all the seven loaves, and fed with them the four thousand; for he would teach us to take things as they are, and accommodate ourselves to them; to use what we have, and make the best of that which is. Here it was, as in the dispensing of manna, He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.
7. In our Father’s house, in our Master’s house, there is bread enough, and to spare; there is a fulness in Christ, which he communicates to all that passes through his hands; so that from it we receive, and grace for grace, John 1:16. Those need not fear wanting, that have Christ to live upon.
8. It is good for those that follow Christ, to keep together; these followers of Christ continued in a body, four thousand of them together, and Christ fed them all. Christ’s sheep must abide by the flock, and go forth by their footsteps, and verily they shall be fed.