We have here Christ’s discourse with his disciples concerning bread, in which, as in many other discourses, he speaks to them of spiritual things under a similitude, and they misunderstand him of carnal things. The occasion of it was, their forgetting to victual their ship, and to take along with them provisions for their family on the other side of the water; usually they carried bread along with them, because they were sometimes in desert places; and when they were not, yet they would not be burthensome. But now they forgot; we will hope it was because their minds and memories were filled with better things. Note, Christ’s disciples are often such as have no great forecast for the world.
I. Here is the caution Christ gave them, to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. He had now been discoursing with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and saw them to be men of such a spirit, that it was necessary to caution his disciples to have nothing to do with them. Disciples are in most danger from hypocrites; against those that are openly vicious they stand upon their guard, but against Pharisees, who are great pretenders to devotion, and Sadducees, who pretend to a free and impartial search after truth, they commonly lie unguarded: and therefore the caution is doubted, Take heed, and beware.
The corrupt principles and practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees are compared to leaven; they were souring, and swelling, and spreading, like leaven; they fermented wherever they came.
II. Their mistake concerning this caution, Matt. 16:7. They thought Christ hereby upbraided them with their improvidence and forgetfulness, that they were so busy attending to his discourse with the Pharisees, that therefore they forgot their private concerns. Or, because having no bread of their own with them, they must be beholden to their friends for supply, he would not have them to ask it of the Pharisees and Sadducees, nor to receive of their alms, because he would not so far countenance them; or, for fear, lest, under pretence of feeding them, they should do them a mischief. Or, they took it for a caution, not to be familiar with the Pharisees and Sadducees, not to eat with them (Prov. 23:6), whereas the danger was not in their bread (Christ himself did eat with them, Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1), but in their principles.
III. The reproof Christ gave them for this.
1. He reproves their distrust of his ability and readiness to supply them in this strait (Matt. 16:8); “O ye of little faith, why are ye in such perplexity because ye have taken no bread, that ye can mind nothing else, that ye think your Master is as full of it as you, and apply every thing he saith to that?” He does not chide them for their little forecast, as they expected he would. Note, Parents and masters must not be angry at the forgetfulness of their children and servants, more than is necessary to make them take more heed another time; we are all apt to be forgetful of our duty. This should serve to excuse a fault, Peradventure it was an oversight. See how easily Christ forgave his disciples’ carelessness, though it was in such a material point as taking bread; and do likewise. But that which he chides them for is their little faith.
(1.) He would have them to depend upon him for supply, though it were in a wilderness, and not to disquiet themselves with anxious thoughts about it. Note, Though Christ’s disciples be brought into wants and straits, through their own carelessness and incogitancy, yet he encourages them to trust in him for relief. We must not therefore use this as an excuse for our want of charity to those who are really poor, that they should have minded their own affairs better, and then they would not have been in need. It may be so, but they must not therefore be left to starve when they are in need.
(2.) He is displeased at their solicitude in this matter. The weakness and shiftlessness of good people in their worldly affairs is that for which men are apt to condemn them; but it is not such an offence to Christ as their inordinate care and anxiety about those things. We must endeavour to keep the mean between the extremes of carelessness and carefulness; but of the two, the excess of thoughtfulness about the world worst becomes Christ’s disciples. “O ye of little faith, why are ye disquieted for want of bread?” Note, To distrust Christ, and to disturb ourselves when we are in straits and difficulties, is an evidence of the weakness of our faith, which, if it were in exercise as it should be, would ease us of the burthen of care, by casting it on the Lord, who careth for us.
(3.) The aggravation of their distrust was the experience they had so lately had of the power and goodness of Christ in providing for them, Matt. 16:9, 10. Though they had no bread with them, they had him with them who could provide bread for them. If they had not the cistern, they had the Fountain. Do ye not yet understand, neither remember? Note, Christ’s disciples are often to be blamed for the shallowness of their understandings, and the slipperiness of their memories. “Have ye forgot those repeated instances of merciful and miraculous supplies; five thousand fed with five loaves, and four thousand with seven loaves, and yet they had enough and to spare? Remember how many baskets ye took up.” These baskets were intended for memorials, by which to keep the mercy in remembrance, as the pot of manna which was preserved in the ark, Exod. 16:32. The fragments of those meals would be a feast now; and he that could furnish them with such an overplus then, surely could furnish them with what was necessary now. That meat for their bodies was intended to be meat or their faith (Ps. 74:14), which therefore they should have lived upon, now that they had forgotten to take bread. Note, We are therefore perplexed with present cares and distrusts, because we do not duly remember our former experiences of divine power and goodness.
2. He reproves their misunderstanding of the caution he gave them (Matt. 16:11); How is it that you do not understand? Note, Christ’s disciples may well be ashamed of the slowness and dulness of their apprehensions in divine things; especially when they have long enjoyed the means of grace; I spake it not unto you concerning bread. He took it ill, (1.) That they should think him as thoughtful about bread as they were; whereas his meat and drink were to do his Father’s will. (2.) That they should be so little acquainted with his way of preaching, as to take that literally which he spoke by way of parable; and should thus make themselves like the multitude, who, when Christ spoke to them in parables, seeing, saw not, and hearing, heard not, Matt. 13:13.
IV. The rectifying of the mistake by this reproof (Matt. 16:12); Then understood they what he meant. Note, Christ therefore shows us our folly and weakness, that we may stir up ourselves to take things right. He did not tell them expressly what he meant, but repeated what he had said, that they should beware of the leaven; and so obliged them, by comparing this with his other discourses, to arrive at the sense of it in their own thoughts. Thus Christ teaches by the Spirit of wisdom in the heart, opening the understanding to the Spirit of revelation in the word. And those truths are most precious, which we have thus digged for, and have found out after some mistakes. Though Christ did not tell them plainly, yet now they were aware that by the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he meant their doctrine and way, which were corrupt and vicious, but, as they managed them, very apt to insinuate themselves into the minds of men like leaven, and to eat like a canker. They were leading men, and were had in reputation, which made the danger of infection by their errors the greater. In our age, we may reckon atheism and deism to be the leaven of the Sadducees, and popery to be the leaven of the Pharisees, against both which it concerns all Christians to stand upon their guard.