Posted by: rcottrill | March 9, 2011

Break Thou the Bread of Life

Words: Mary Artemisia Lathbury (b. Aug. 10, 1841; d. Oct. 20, 1913)
Music: Bread of Life, by William Fiske Sherwin (b. Mar. 14, 1826; d. Apr. 14, 1888)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Mary Lathbury sometimes used the pen names Aunt May, or Aunt Mary. She was involved with the early Chautauqua Movement (shuh-TAW-kwuh), of which composer William Sherwin was the first music director. (For further explanation, see the Wordwise Hymns link.)

In the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11) is a request that the God would provide our necessary food each day. The New Living Translation renders the verse, “Give us our food for today.” Bread stands for all the nourishment we need, meat and potatoes, and more. But physical food is also used in the Word of God as a symbol of some spiritual realities–two in particular. The Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Bread of Life” (Jn. 6:33-35), the One who provides all that is needed for our eternal life and spiritual nourishment.

In a similar way, physical food is used as a symbol for the Scripture itself, the Word of God that is needed for our spiritual nourishment. “Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12). “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103).

In her hymn, Mary Lathbury insightfully combines this double imagery. She correctly shows that we meet Christ in and through the written Word. She says, Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me, Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me.”

The study of the Bible is not simply an intellectual exercise. Nor is the goal simply an accumulation of facts, or a search for rules to follow. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day did read the Scriptures, but they missed their main Subject. Jesus told them, “These [Scriptures] …testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39). With the author, our prayer should be, “Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord” (CH-1), and our testimony afterward, “In Thy Book revealed I see the Lord” (CH-4).

Not only is the Bible God’s truth, the Lord Jesus was able to say, “I am…the Truth” (Jn. 14:6). Not only do we get spiritual nourishment from the Scriptures (I Pet. 2:2; Heb. 5:13-14), but we are spiritually strengthened in our fellowship with Christ. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:9). That ongoing fellowship nurtures us spiritually.

In Colossians 3:16 Paul expresses this prayerful desire of his heart: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Or, as it is in another version, let it “have its home in your hearts and minds, and dwell in you in all its richness” (Amplified Bible). That is drawing nourishment from the Word! And just as the Lord was able to multiply one boy’s lunch to feed thousands, He can do something similar with us. As we break the bread (i.e. study God’s Word), He is able to multiply its effect not only in our lives, but provide for those we share it with (cf. CH-1 and 2).

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer is to illuminate the Scriptures, to give us an understanding of the rich truths it contains (I Cor. 2:9-10, 13). Then the truth can be applied and we can be fed. That too is expressed in Miss Lathbury’s fine hymn:

O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

1) What are some comparisons we can make between food and the Bible? (And what are some contrasts, some differences between the two?)

2) In Psalm 19:10 the Word of God is compared to gold and to honey. Gold is put in a safe, and honey is eaten. What is the difference between the two pictures, as to how we access and put each to use? And how does this relate to the Scriptures?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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