THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

Fragments Gathered

He said unto His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."  John 6:12

It is a marked and instructive feature of all God's works, that there is no waste- no unmeaning expenditure, nothing extravagant or superfluous. All His operations, from the most minute to the most stupendous, are upon a principle of the strictest economy. There is not an atom of matter, nor a ray of light, nor a breath of air, nor a drop of water, nor a living thing over and above what is absolutely needful. Not a tree or shrub, not a beauteous flower or noxious weed, not an insect or animal, not a breath of air or a wave of the sea, that has not a mission to accomplish, an end to answer. Munificence and economy are the prevailing laws of God's works. Every thing is vast, and nothing is lost.
  Such is the principle recognized and enforced by our Lord in the words selected for our present reflection. Moved by human compassion, He had just performed a Divine miracle. A great multitude, attracted by His marvelous power of healing, penetrated the desert where He had retired, and found themselves cut off from all temporal supply. Inquiring of His disciples the extent of their resources, and finding them to consist of but five barley loaves and two small fish, He resolved upon the exercise of His miraculous power to meet the case. Taking in His hands the loaves, and looking up to God, He broke, and then gave to His disciples, who distributed to the multitude until their needs were fully met. Then followed the command inviting our attention- "When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."
  Such is the Divine precept of economy which we now propose to consider. The subject is highly spiritual, practical, and instructive. The great truth inculcated is that, as there is no waste in God's works, so there should be none in ours. That the fragments, whatever they are, in our domestic, personal, or official economy, should be conscientiously husbanded and carefully gathered, that nothing be lost. This principle applies to human society in all its departments, more thoroughly than would at first sight appear.
  It belongs to the ministry of home- it is inseparable from the proper government of our various public societies- it enters essentially into the prosperity of our different callings in life- and it is yet more closely and solemnly entwined with our Christian character and religious profession. "Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost." Returning to the narrative, let us attempt to glean from it the sacred truths which it teaches, and this will have prepared us to consider the Divine precept which it illustrates.
  The first thing which the incident teaches is, the miraculous feeding of this vast multitude. It was in all respects a Divine miracle. The miracles of the Bible have ever been regarded as constituting one of its most essential and impregnable fortresses. This will account, in a great measure, for the malignant assaults to which they have been subjected in every age of the world and by every phase of infidelity. Destroy the miraculous element of revelation, and its Divine authority is essentially shaken. Not that we would overrate the importance of miracles; as if the Bible relied for its evidence alone upon them. We regard the proofs drawn from the prophecies as equally demonstrable. It is the glory of our faith that its witnesses are many and true. That if one fails to rebut the assault and to convince the assailant, others appear upon the field equally as credible and conclusive. If one seal be ruthlessly torn from the sacred parchment, others remain to witness its truth and to attest its Divinity.
  The miracle was like this: attracted by His healing power, the multitude followed Jesus into Tiberias on foot, while He went by sea. Their route being shorter than His, He found them awaiting His arrival, to whom "He spoke of the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing." Seeing this great multitude hemmed in by the wilderness and with need staring them in the face, the question arose- how was their hunger to be met?
  "Five barley loaves and two small fishes" -humble and scanty fare this! -were all that the disciples could produce. But the Son of God was there! He who made the heaven and the earth, who provided seed for the sower and bread for the eater- who clothed the hills with flocks and the valleys with corn- was present, and the difficulty in His hands was of easy solution. The unbelief which once inquired- "Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" was now to receive a most severe, because a most kind and benevolent answer.
  The table was furnished, and furnished with guests. Jesus, who had an exquisite taste for the picturesque, commanded the multitude to be artistically grouped "in fifties and in hundreds upon the green grass." Then, taking the slender supply in His hands, and uplifting His prayer to God, He proceeded to distribute to the disciples, and the disciples to the people, and they ate and were filled. How are we to account for this marvellous fact- five thousand men fed to the full, from five loaves (a loaf for a thousand!) and two small fish? By what power did our Lord perform this feat?
  Was it by sleight-of-hand, or by collusion with His disciples, or by the power of evil magic? -for the sceptics of old affirmed that, "He cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils." Neither of these hypothesis will supply a fitting answer. It was a miracle- a supernatural act- and He who wrought it proved Himself Divine. His enemies had just been traducing His character and denying His Deity. As if to refute their slander and confound their blasphemy, He adduced this marvellous and undeniable evidence of His Godhead.
  Challenge the modern sceptics who deny the authority of miracles to imitate it! Bid the " spiritualists," the scoffers and the condemners of revelation of this Sadducean age, to assemble five thousand starving artisans in one place, and by necromancy, or legerdemain, or "spiritualism" satisfy their gnawing hunger with five barley loaves and two small fishes. How blank they look! How they skulk away, each one convicted in his own conscience of his littleness, his folly, and his crime! Accept, my reader, this fact of our Lord's life as a miracle, and the miracle as an evidence of His Deity, and His Deity as all engaged for your present and eternal salvation. Limit not the power of your Divine Savior. His Deity wrought your salvation- is the basis of His atonement; and His atonement is the foundation of your hope: and His Deity is engaged to sustain you in every trial, to enable you to surmount every difficulty, to supply your every need, to give you the victory over all your foes, and to conduct you to glory! Safe forever is every soul committed to His keeping. All power on earth and in heaven is His: His, that He might give eternal life to as many as the Father bath given to Him;  and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand, because He is God.
  This miracle equally demonstrated the fact of our Lord's pure humanity. We read that, "when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion." The Lord Jesus was very man as He was very God. As Man, He, sympathizes with our humanity in all its varied conditions and needs, and as the God-Man He meets it all. Compassionating our need- He supplies it; pitying our grief- He soothes it; touched with our infirmity- He sustains it; sympathizing with our sickness- He heals it; commiserating our temptation- He scatters it; lenient towards our weakness- He places beneath us His everlasting arms.
  Precious are the blessings thus distilling from the Divine-human nature of our adorable Lord. How could we part with it? What fount of sympathy, what source of succor, what spring of soothing; could be its substitute? What friend, what brother, what companion in tribulation, could take the place of the Incarnate God?  Let this truth encourage you to take every sorrow, difficulty, and need to Christ.
  The miracle illustrates, too, the power which our Lord possesses of increasing the little and of multiplying the few. Do we speak of the Church of Christ? It is comparatively but a small body; and those incorporated Christian communities, composed of members of the one Body of Christ, who walk in the truth and ordinances of Christ blameless, yet smaller. But, nevertheless, with the Lord's blessing upon the preaching of His Gospel, and the earnest labors of His self-denying saints, both at home and in heathen lands, the little one shall become a thousand, and a small one, a strong nation." "He will multiply them, that they shall not be few: and will glorify them, and they shall not be small." Let not, then, your hand slacken or your heart grow weary in the service of Christ, because of the feebleness of the instrumentality or the scantiness of the result. The few crumbs of the bread of life which you may scatter, He can so bless as to "multiply your seed sown and increase the fruit of your righteousness."
  It is thus He employs a worm to thrash the mountain, and allows the lame to take the prey, that He may secure all the glory to Himself. Not a crumb of the bread of life you give, not a grain of the precious seed you sow, but the Lord's blessing is in it, and shall so surely accompany its distribution as that ultimately it shall yield you a rich and eternal recompense of reward. If but one soul only is brought to Christ, if but one brand is snatched from the burning through your instrumentality, your life here will not have been in vain, and the crown you shall wear in the life hereafter will not be starless.
 "The good begun by you will onward flow
In many a branching stream, and widening grow;
The seed that, in these few and busy hours,
Your hands unsparing and unwearied sow,
Shall deck your grave with a maranthian flowers,
And yield you fruits Divine in heaven's immortal bowers."
  The miracle of feeding the five thousand encourages us to lean upon Christ's bountiful providence. Our resources may be narrow, our supplies humble and slender: but the Lord can so increase the little and multiply the few, as that the barrel of meal shall not waste, nor the cruise of oil fail until all our need is amply supplied. Those who possess but a "handbasket portion" of this world's good, see most of the providential power and goodness of God. These learn to live upon His bounty, and to feel His care. They hang upon His hand as a child upon a parent; and doubly sweet to them the "bread" and refreshing to them the "water" it supplies- for this is a Divinely assured portion- when they can trace a Father's faithfulness and love in sending it.
  This life of faith in God may be trying to flesh and blood, and often humiliating to the natural pride of the human heart nevertheless, it is a school in which many of the cardinal graces of the Spirit are developed and the Christian character is strengthened and matured, and, above all, in which there is a more close transaction with, and consequently a more intimate knowledge of, the character of God.
  Look then, to Jesus to bless your limited means, and to increase your scanty and lessening supplies. He can prevent hunger, or He can meet its demands. He can remove a lack, or He can supply its need. He has told you that your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things, and that He who opens His hand and supplies the needs of every living thing- who gems the landscape with flowers, pencils them with beauty and clothes them with perfume; who feeds the ravens when they cry, and guides the sparrow to its morning's repast- will feed and clothe you, you precious child of His love. "Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God."
  Nor must we overlook the higher truth our Lord doubtless intended to shadow forth in this distribution of bread to the famishing multitude, namely,  Himself as the Bread of Life come down from heaven to meet the spiritual needs of a fallen and famished world. Without going out of our way, as we think has been erroneously done, to represent this breaking of bread to the multitude as Eucharistic- there being not the shadow of a reference in the incident to the Lord's Supper. We yet may regard it as a symbol of the great and precious Gospel truth which our Lord upon another occasion thus clearly enunciated- "I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread he shall live forever."
  What a glorious announcement is this for a poor sinner in whose soul the Holy Spirit has created a longing after Christ! None will come to Christ until they feel their need of Him; and none will eat of Christ until they possess a hungering for Him. "He has filled the hungry soul with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away." He Himself has said, "Blessed are those who hunger after righteousness."
  How much may we thus learn of Gospel truth from this miracle of Christ! Were these five thousand men needy and famishing? -so spiritually are we. Did they come to Christ empty handed, receiving the bread without money and without price?- so spiritually may we. Did they all eat and were filled?- so spiritually may we. Did Christ increase the little and multiply the few?- so spiritually will He deal with us: He can increase our small faith, deepen our feeble love, augment our little strength, and greatly add to our limited degree of grace. Such are some of the Gospel and vital truths illustrated by the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. May the Holy Spirit give to us a quickening, sanctifying, and saving possession and experience of their power in our souls!
  We reach now the subject more especially under our notice- the PRECEPT which our Lord enjoined at this miraculous meal. "He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." There is scarcely less spiritual, practical teaching in the precept than in the miracle. At first sight this command of the Lord appears hardly consistent with His greatness and dignity. It would seem to be scarcely in agreement with the magnitude, the power, and the opulence of the resources just displayed. To an eye, resting but upon the surface of the precept, it seems to shade the splendor and lessen the grandeur of the miracle- that, He who possessed the resources of infinity, and who had but just unlocked the treasury of His affluence, lavishing its wealth upon a needy multitude, should condescend to notice the broken fragments that remained, over and above the generous and ample meal He had provided, would seem to awaken feelings in the hearts of some, fatal to their conception of the true sublime. And yet no act of our Lord's whole life more became Him than this. He was now acting in perfect agreement with Himself and in strict harmony with a law which, as we have shown, presided over all His works and operations- the law of economy and frugality. Let us simply open up and apply this precept thus taught by our blessed Lord, and see how truly consonant it is with His Divine greatness and glory.
  "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." We are taught that there is no thing too small, and no event too trivial for our Lord to notice. For instance, we learn from this injunction of Christ, His estimate of little grace. Can we doubt this?  What! did Christ regard the broken fragments of human food as not beneath His notice and His care; and will He, do you think, look with indifference and disdain upon the smallest measure of grace, the feeblest budding of faith, the faintest spark of love in the soul of a beloved disciple? Never! This was not His way when He dwelt with men.
  See Him crown the faith that touched but His fringe; see Him immortalize the love that anointed but His feet; see Him honor the grace that asked but the crumbs beneath the table; see Him respond to the cry of penitence in life's last, closing hour. O yes! the Spirit's work in the soul of a poor sinner is too Divine, costly, and precious- though it be ever so feeble- to be lost. Christ will not lose a fragment nor a crumb. Every act of faith shall crown Him; every breath of spiritual life shall honor Him; every pulse of love shall praise Him. In heaven the " fragments" shall be gathered, and all shall be preserved and garnered up forever; and all shall laud His name and augment His glory.
  Cheer up, gracious soul!  Have you nothing in your own estimation to bring to Jesus but "fragments?" nothing but a poor, sinful nature: a broken, contrite heart: a feeble, faltering faith; a faint, flickering love; a slow, halting footstep; a frail, imperfect service? here a little and there a little of your time, and talent, and substance? Cheer up! Jesus, your Lord and Master despises not the "day of small things;" but says to His ministers- "Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost."
  "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hands." The work of grace in your soul may be feeble, and you yourself a hidden child of God dwelling in the shade; nevertheless, it is the will of your Heavenly Father that not one of His little ones shall perish, and shall you be the first?
  But let me illustrate this precept of Christ, by its bearing upon our individual selves. How practical and solemn its teaching! For example, we are taught to set a high value upon the fragments of our spiritual graces and gifts, that nothing be lost. The Apostle John seemed to have an eye to this when he thus solemnly and touchingly exhorted the saints, "Look to yourselves, that you lose not those things which you have wrought; but that we receive a full reward." The Apostles were alive to the danger of their own loss as ministers who had been instrumental of working this grace, as of those saints in whose hearts the grace had been wrought. The loss of one would be the loss of both.
  John exhorts the elect lady and her children to whom his letter was especially addressed, to watch over themselves, lest they be carried away by the errors by which they were surrounded. This is the first duty of a Christian. Many a man has gone forth to combat with sin and error, not having first fortified and strengthened the citadel of his own heart; and presently he has been captured by the very foes he went forth to subdue. "Look to YOURSELVES!" says the Apostle. "Secure your own hearts; guard the citadel of your own soul first; see that the forts are well manned, and the avenues well patrolled, and the sentinels awake at their posts, before you sally out to confront the enemy in the field." By this personal and careful vigilance they would be protected from loss of grace, and holiness, and gift; and so their reward and his in heaven would be greater.
  The greater grace here, the greater glory hereafter! Glory is grace in full-flower and bloom! As the seed, the kernel, the flower here, so will be its fulness and perfection in heaven. The bliss and reward of heaven will be graduated by our personal holiness and service for Christ on earth! We may lose a portion of that bliss and reward. Our throne may be less elevated, our crown less radiant, our song less full, our joy less perfect, we may not receive a "full reward,"- by wavering in our course, by tampering with sin; by being led away by the error of the wicked, by following Jesus afar off. O let us "look to ourselves; let us gather up the fragments of our grace and gifts that nothing be lost, but that the lowliest measure be made subservient to the glory of Christ, and that both we and Christ's ministers who brought us to Jesus, may "receive a full reward."
  The same law of economy applies to the nobler part of our being- our mental powers. Our intellectual life is, for the most part, composed of fragments of thought- single thoughts, isolated and alone. To this we may trace almost all the great discoveries in science, inventions in physics, and reforms in morals. A man of one idea may be slighted by the unthinking and be ridiculed by the frivolous; but that one idea has blest the race with his genius, and filled the world with his renown. Such, for example, was the discovery of steam as a propelling power, and of the electric telegraph as a highway of thought and of international communication. Such, too, the great social reforms which have tended to purify and elevate society- the temperance reformation, so widely blest in emancipating the slave of strong drink, and making his home happy; the penny postage, drawing the heart of the nation into closer and more intelligent communion with itself. All these, and similar movements, had their birth in one idea: flashing, perhaps, upon the mind amid the busy hours of day, or stealing across it in the still hours of night.
  What spiritual light, liberty, and joy, too, have often sprung from one thought, or from one text of God's Word, suggested to the believer by the Holy Spirit! That one thought! O what a new world has burst upon the mind: what a new sun has arisen upon the soul: what a new creation, bathed in glory and rich with a thousand sweets, has floated before the eye of God's child. What a fresh discovery of God's character, what a precious glimpse of the Savior's loveliness and love, it has poured in upon the believing soul who has gone on its way rejoicing.
  Despise not, then, one idea. A single thought, yes, the mere fragment of a thought, who can tell what may lie hidden within its bosom! The fragment of a block of marble may be chiseled into a breathing statue; the fragment of a sheet of canvas may be pencilled into a speaking picture; the fragment of a lump of clay may be molded into a beautiful vase. Let us look to ourselves, then, that we allow no intellectual waste, no prodigality of mind; that, not a thought, or purpose, or resolve be lost, which by prayer and culture might have been made subservient to the good of man and the glory of God.
  Has such a thought found an entrance within your heart? Allow it not to depart; cherish it, communicate it to others: above all, in prayer commit it to the Lord. Who can tell what may be its result? A tiny seed, a little bud now, it yet may germinate, expand, and branch forth as into a noble tree, whose fruit and foliage shall bless the world.
  How much, too, may we economize our time? Time is priceless and precious. In one point of view, it is more important and solemn than eternity. Eternity is the creature of time: it is just what time makes it, happy or miserable, a blessing or a curse, draped with clouds of endless night, or gilded with beams of eternal day. One hour of time is of more value to a soul speeding to the judgment, unprepared to meet its dread sentence, than the ceaseless evolutions of eternity. There is no day of grace- no opportunity of conversion- no proclamation of salvation; in the eternal world. "Now is the accepted time, Now is the day of salvation."
  Let us, then, "redeem the time," because "the time is short." Gathering up its unemployed hours, its spare moments; redeeming it from sleep, from frivolous calls, from vain recreation, how much work for God and service for man may be accomplished?  Many a valuable volume has been compiled at the breakfast table- many a useful plan has been matured in a railway carriage- and many a work for Christ has been arranged while yet but few had brushed the dew of morning's slumber from their eyelids, which otherwise the absorbing calls of professional and public life had rendered impossible.
  Human life is made up of a succession of trifles, and its great achievements of fleeting thought. We must not wait for great occasions in order to accomplish great things. "He who waits to do a great deal of good at once;" remarks Dr. Johnson, "will never do any." He who stands upon the river's bank until its tide shall turn or cease to flow, may stand until doomsday, and have done nothing. He must seize it at its height, throw himself upon its bosom, and let it bear him on to some great and noble end.
  Grand occasions are rare, and yet more rare are the grand actions to which they give birth, men almost invariably proving themselves unequal to the occasion. But we need not travel far, nor wait long for suitable occasions to do good. Within our own homes, at our very doors, in each hour, the "sweet charities of life " may be fully employed. If these are allowed to pass unimproved, God will not entrust to our hands greater. "He, that is unfaithful in that which is least, is also unfaithful in much."
  O it is marvellous how much useful service may be performed by a strict economy of time, and by embracing every small occasion for its employment! "In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not your hand." "Blessed are those who sow beside ALL waters." He who watches God's providence, whose daily inquiry is, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" shall not long be idle.
  A Christian lady, on a recent occasion, one morning made it a subject of earnest prayer to the Lord to give her some work to do for Him. In the course of the same day she was waited upon with a request to take the important charge of a mother's class, which had just become vacant by the death of the lady who had conducted it with much success for years. Thus, in answer to prayer, the Lord will give to every one of His servants his work. Thus, then, let us gather up the broken fragments- the scattered crumbs of time, that nothing be lost. All are accountable to God for precious time!  How solemn the account of wasted time! What is eternity, but time, divested of its probation, prolonged to endless ages, moments of time never ceasing! Up, then, and work for God! There is work for all. None need fold their hands in sloth. "Why do you stand here all the day idle?" Your talents may be humble, your sphere limited, yet how much you may do for God and for man!
 The drops of rain and the rays of light
Are small themselves: but when all unite,
They water the world, and they make it bright.
 Then do not say- "Of what use am I?"
We may each do good, if we will but try;
We may soothe some grief, or some need supply.
 We can lend to the poor a helping hand;
We can cheer the sick, as we by them stand;
We can send God's Word to a heathen land.
 We can speak to others in tones of love;
We can dwell in peace, like the gentle dove;
We can point the weary to rest above.
 O how sweet to think that in life's young days
We may live to show forth our Savior's praise,
And may guide some feet into Wisdom's ways.
  Thus, too, with our worldly possessions. There is to be no extravagance here. By a wise husbanding of our temporal resources, however limited, by a prudent frugality and judicious economy, how much may be rescued from needless expenditure and sinful waste, and be devoted to advance some benevolent and Christian object, useful to man and glorifying to God. Money, as we have in another chapter remarked, is a responsible and solemn talent. The fragments must be gathered up that nothing be lost. With many of the Lord's people, Christian beneficence can only be exercised by a strict economy of their resources. By a little self-denial here, and by a little frugality there- gathering up the fragments over and above necessary demands, they are enabled materially to aid the cause of God and of truth in the world.
 We are but stewards of property, and must not waste our Master's goods. It was a pious and noble resolution of a Christian physician,  "I am resolved, with God's help, from whom all good thoughts and pious actions proceed, to whose grace we are indebted for any good we are enabled to do, to devote all fees earned and received on Sunday, and the tenth of all money received on week-days, for the promoting of the cause of Christ, and for the spiritual and temporal welfare of my fellow creatures." This is true Christian beneficence: a beneficence not the result of a fitful and momentary impulse, but springing from Christian principle, from the love of God in the heart- the fruit of a steady and fixed purpose. "Seek not proud riches," says Bacon "but such as you may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly;" and to this we may add, such as a judicious economy may frugally save, and a Christian benevolence may usefully scatter.
  In conclusion: do not undervalue, nor overlook the trifles of life. As there is not a sunbeam that glows, nor an insect that sports in its warmth; not a breath of air nor an atom of matter borne upon its wing, that has not its appointed mission, and that accomplishes not a useful end; so there is nothing, however trivial or trifling in our individual life, that may not be subservient to some noble and useful purpose. There is meaning in the words of the poet:
Think nothing a trifle, though it small appear
Sands make the mountains, moments make the year,
And trifles life: your care to trifles give,
Or you may die before you learn to live."

  See that there is no waste in your life. Have you an excess of prosperity? -feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the orphan, and make the widow's heart to sing for joy. Have you an excess of happiness? -let its overflowings distill into the cup of some child of woe, who, perchance, has none. Have you leisure time? -devote it to help forward some useful enterprise, the wheels of which, perhaps, are standing still for the lack of a voluntary hand. Gather up the fragments, from whatever source they spring, that even these may advance the fame of Jesus, the glory of God, and the well-being of man.
  Once more, we remind you, that in God's economy of the universe, nothing is lost. Nor shall it be in our individual history. If our intellectual faculties are misemployed- if our influence is abused- if our time is wasted, if our possessions are squandered- if our one talent is buried in the earth- if, in a word, we are living to ourselves, and not unto God- not even these things shall be lost!
  They have gone forth upon a solemn mission to be executed in the great day of account. Then will they appear as witnesses against us, when each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Not lost! O no! Failing to aid the cause of mercy, they will advance the purpose of judgment; laying up for us no treasure in heaven, they will pave our descent into the shades of despair, where God will by no means clear the guilty. No,
 Nothing is lost! The drop of dew
Which trembles on the leaf or flower
Is but exhaled, to fall anew
In summer's thunder shower;
Perchance to shine within the bow
That fronts the sun at fall of day,
Perchance to sparkle in the flow
Of fountains far away.
 Nothing is lost! The tiniest seed
By wild birds borne, or breezes blown,
Finds something suited to its need,
Wherein it is sown and grown.
The language of some household song,
The perfume of some cherished flower,
Though gone from outward sense, belong
To memory's after hour.
 So with our words; or harsh or kind,
Uttered, they are not all forgot;
They leave their influence on the mind,
Pass on, but perish not!
So with our deeds; for good or ill
They have their power scarce understood;
Then let us use our better will
To make them rife with good!