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13. The nature of spiritual hunger

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness

Matthew 5:6

We are now come to the fourth step of blessedness: ‘Blessed are they that hunger’. The words fall into two parts: a duty implied; a promise annexed.

A duty implied: ‘Blessed are they that hunger’. Spiritual hunger is a blessed hunger.

What is meant by hunger? Hunger is put for desire (Isaiah 26:9). Spiritual hunger is the rational appetite whereby the soul pants after that which it apprehends most suitable and proportional to itself.

Whence is this hunger? Hunger is from the sense of want. He who spiritually hungers, has a real sense of his own indigence. He wants righteousness.

What is meant by righteousness? There is a twofold righteousness: of imputation; of implantation.

A righteousness of imputation, namely, Christ’s righteousness. ‘He shall be called the Lord our righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23:6). This is as truly ours to justify, as it is Christ’s to bestow. By virtue of this righteousness God looks upon us as if we had never sinned (Numbers 23:21). This is a perfect righteousness. ‘Ye are complete in him’ (Colossians 2:10). This does not only cover but adorn. He who has this righteousness is equal to the most illustrious saints. The weakest believer is justified as much as the strongest. This is a Christian’s triumph. When he is defiled in himself, he is undefiled in his Head. In this blessed righteousness we shine brighter than the angels. This righteousness is worth hungering after.

A righteousness of implantation: that is, inherent righteousness, namely, the graces of the Spirit, holiness of heart and life, which Cajetan calls ‘universal righteousness’. This a pious soul hungers after. This is a blessed hunger. Bodily hunger cannot make a man so miserable as spiritual hunger makes him blessed. This evidences life. A dead man cannot hunger. Hunger proceeds from life. The first thing the child does when it is born, is to hunger after the breast. Spiritual hunger follows upon the new birth (1 Peter 2:2). Saint Bernard in one of his Soliloquies comforts himself with this, that sure he had the truth of grace in him, because he had in his heart a strong desire after God. It is happy when, though we have not what we should, we desire what we have not. The appetite is as well from God as the food.

1 See here at what a low price God sets heavenly things. It is but hungering and thirsting. ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, buy without money’ (Isaiah 55:1). We are not bid to bring any merits as the Papists would do, nor to bring a sum of money to purchase righteousness. Rich men would be loath to do that. All that is required is to bring an appetite. Christ ‘hath fulfilled all righteousness’. We are only to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’. This is equal and reasonable. God does not require rivers of oil, but sighs and tears. The invitation of the gospel is free. If a friend invites guests to his table, he does not expect they should bring money to pay for their dinner, only come with an appetite. So, says God, It is not penance, pilgrimage, self-righteousness I require. Only bring a stomach: ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’. God might have set Christ and salvation at an higher price, but he has much beaten down the price. Now as this shows the sweetness of God’s nature he is not a hard master so it shows us the inexcusableness of those who perish under the gospel. What apology can any man make at the day of judgement, when God shall ask that question, Friend, why did you not embrace Christ? I set Christ and grace at a low rate. If you had but hungered after righteousness, you might have had it, but you slighted Christ. You had such low thoughts of righteousness that you would not hunger after it. How do you think to escape who have neglected ’so great salvation’? The easier the terms of the gospel are, the sorer punishment shall they be thought worthy of who unworthy refuse such an offer.

2 It shows us a true character of a godly man. He hungers and thirsts after spiritual things (Isaiah 26:9; Psalm 73:25). A true saint is carried upon the wing of desire. It is the very temper and constitution of a gracious soul to thirst after God (Psalm 42:2). In the word preached, how he is big with desire! These are some of the partings of his soul: Lord, thou hast led me into thy courts. O that I may have thy sweet presence, that thy glory may fill the temple! This is thy limping house; wilt thou draw some sacred lineaments of grace upon my soul that I may be more assimilated and changed into the likeness of my dear Saviour. In prayer, how is the soul filled with passionate longings after Christ! Prayer is expressed by ‘groans unutterable’ (Romans 8:26). The heart sends up whole volleys of sighs to heaven; Lord, one beam of thy love! one drop of thy blood!

It reproves such as have none of this spiritual hunger. They have no winged desires. The edge of their affections is blunted. Honey is not sweet to them that are sick of a fever and have their tongues embittered with choler.’ So those who are soul-sick and ‘in the gall of bitterness’, find no sweetness in God or religion. Sin tastes sweeter to them; they have no spiritual hunger. That men do not have this ‘hunger after righteousness’ appears by these seven demonstrations:

1 They never felt any emptiness. They are full of their own righteousness (Romans 10:3). Now ‘the full stomach loathes the honeycomb’. This was Laodicea’s disease. She was full and had no stomach either to Christ’s gold or eye-salve (Revelation 3:17). When men are filled with pride, this flatulent distemper hinders holy longings. As when the stomach is full of wind it spoils the appetite. None so empty of grace as he that thinks he is full. He has most need of righteousness that least wants it.

2 That men do not hunger after righteousness appears because they can make a shift well enough to be without it. If they have oil in the cruse, the world coming in, they are well content. Grace is a commodity that is least missed. You shall hear men complain they lack health, they lack trading, but never complain they lack righteousness. If men lose a meal or two they think themselves half undone, but they can stay away from ordinances which are the conduits of grace. Do they hunger after righteousness who are satisfied without it? Nay, who desire to be excused from feeding upon the gospel banquet (Luke 14:18). Sure he has no appetite, who entreats to be excused from eating.

3 It is a sign they have none of this spiritual hunger, who desire rather sleep than food. They are more drowsy than hungry. Some there are who come to the Word that they may get a nap, to whom I may say as Christ did to Peter, ‘Couldest thou not watch one hour?’ (Mark 14:37). It is strange to see a man asleep at his meat. Others there are who have a ‘deep sleep’ fallen upon them. They are asleep in security and they hate a soul-awakening ministry. While they sleep, ‘their damnation slumbereth not’ (2 Peter 2:3).

4 It appears that men have no spiritual hunger because they refuse their food. Christ and grace are offered, nay, pressed upon them, but they put away salvation from them as the froward child puts away the breast (Psalm 81:11; Acts 13:46). Such are your fanatics and enthusiasts who put away the blessed ordinances and pretend to revelations. That is a strange revelation that tells a man he may live without food. These prefer husks before manna. They live upon airy notions, being fed by the ‘prince of the air’.

5 It is a sign they have none of this spiritual hunger who delight more in the garnishing of the dish than in food. These are they who look more after elegance and notion in preaching than solid matter. It argues either a wanton palate or a surfeited stomach to feed on salads and fancy dishes, neglecting wholesome food. ‘If any man consent not to wholesome words, he is proud, knowing nothing . . .’ (1 Timothy 6:3, 4). The plainest truth has its beauty. They have no spiritual hunger that desire only to feast their fancy. Of such the prophet speaks: ‘Thou art to them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument’ (Ezekiel 33:32). If a man were invited to a feast, and there being music at the feast, he should so listen to the music that he did not mind his meat, you would say, Sure he is not hungry. So when men are for jingling words and like rather gallantry of speech than spirituality of matter, it is a sign they have surfeited stomachs and ‘itching ears’.

6 They evidence little hunger after righteousness that prefer other things before it, namely, their profits and recreations. If a boy when he should be at dinner is playing in the street, it is a sign that he has no appetite to his meat. Were he hungry he would not prefer his play before his food. So when men prefer ‘vain things which cannot profit’ before the blood of Christ and the grace of the Spirit, it is a sign they have no palate or stomach to heavenly things.

7 It is a sign men have no spiritual hunger when they are more for disputes in religion than practice. Robert of Gaul thought he saw in his dream a great feast, and some were biting on hard stones. When men feed only on hard questions and controversies (1 Timothy 6:3, 4) (like some of the schoolmen’s ‘utrums’ and distinctions), as whether one may partake with him that does not have the work of grace in his heart, whether one ought not to separate from a church in case of mal-administration, what is to be thought of paedobaptism, etc. When these niceties and criticisms in religion take men’s heads, neglecting faith and holiness, these pick bones and do not feed on the meat. Sceptics in religion have hot brains but cold hearts. Did men hunger and thirst after righteousness they would propound to themselves such questions as these, How shall we do to be saved? How shall we make our calling and election sure? How shall we mortify our corruptions? But such as ravel out their time in frothy and litigious disputes, I call heaven to witness, they are strangers to this text. They do not ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’.

The Word reproves them who, instead of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, thirst after riches. This is the thirst of covetous men. They desire mammon not manna. ‘They pant after the dust of the earth’ (Amos 2:7). This is the disease most are afflicted with, an immoderate appetite after the world, but these things will no more satiate than drink will quench the thirst of a man with the dropsy. Covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Too many Protestants set up the idol of gold in the temple of their hearts. This sin of covetousness is the most hard to root out. Commonly, when other sins leave men, this sin abides. Wantonness is the sin of youth; worldliness the sin of old age.

The Word reproves them who hunger and thirst after unrighteousness. Here I shall indict three sorts of persons:

1 It reproves such as thirst after other men’s lands and possessions. This the Scripture calls a ‘mighty sin’ (Amos 5:12). Thus Ahab thirsted after Naboth’s vineyard. This is an hungry age wherein we live. We have a great deal of this hungering and thirsting, which has made so many state-thieves. Men have fleeced others to feather themselves. What a brave challenge did Samuel make; ‘Behold, here I am, witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed: Whose ox have I taken? Or whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Of whose hand have I received any bribe? ...’ (1 Samuel 12:3). Few that have been in power that can say thus, Whose ox have we taken? Whose house have we plundered? Whose estate have we sequestered? Nay, whose ox have they not taken? ‘Goods unjustly gotten seldom go to the third heir’. Read the plunderer’s curse: ‘Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled’ (Isaiah 33:1). Ahab paid dear for the vineyard when the devil carried away his soul and the ‘dogs licked his blood’ (1 Kings 21:19). He that lives on rapine dies a fool. ‘He that getteth riches, and not by right, at his end shall be a fool’ (Jeremiah 17:11).

2 It reproves such as hunger and thirst after revenge. This is a devilish thirst. Though it were more Christian and safe to smother an injury, yet our nature is prone to this disease of revenge. We have the sting of the bee, not the honey. Malice having broken the bars of reason grows savage and carries its remedy in the scabbard. Heathens who have stopped the vein of revengeful passion when it has begun to vent, will rise up against Christians. I have read of Phocion who, being wrongfully condemned to die, desired that his son might not remember the injuries which the Athenians had done to him, nor revenge his blood.

3 It reproves such as hunger and thirst to satisfy their impure lusts. Sinners are said to sin ‘with greediness’ (Ephesians 4:19). So Amnon was sick till he had defiled Tamar’s chastity (2 Samuel 13). Never does an hungry man come with more eagerness to his food than a wicked man does to his sin. And when Satan sees men have such an appetite, commonly he will provide a dish they love. He will set the ‘forbidden tree’ before them. They that thirst to commit sin shall thirst as Dives did in hell and not have a drop of water to cool their tongue.

Let us put ourselves upon a trial whether we hunger and thirst after righteousness. I shall give you five signs by which you may judge of this hunger.

1 Hunger is a painful thing. Esau, when he was returning from hunting, was almost dead with hunger (Genesis 25:32). ‘Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them’ (Psalm 107:5). So a man that hungers after righteousness is in anguish of soul and ready to faint away for it. He finds a want of Christ and grace. He is distressed and in pain till he has his spiritual hunger stilled and allayed.

2 Hunger is satisfied with nothing but food. Bring an hungry man flowers, music; tell him pleasant stories; nothing will content him but food. ‘Shall I die for thirst?’ says Samson (Judges 15:18). So a man that hungers and thirsts after righteousness says, Give me Christ or I die. Lord, what wilt thou give me seeing I go Christless? What though I have parts, wealth, honour and esteem in the world? All is nothing without Christ. Shew me the Lord and it will suffice me. Let me have Christ to clothe me, Christ to feed me, Christ to intercede for me. While the soul is Christless, it is restless. Nothing but the water-springs of Christ’s blood can quench its thirst.

3 Hunger wrestles with difficulties and makes an adventure for food. We say hunger breaks through stone walls (cf. Genesis 42:1, 2). The soul that spiritually hungers is resolved; Christ it must have; grace it must have. And to use Basil’s expression, the hungry soul is almost distracted till it enjoys the thing it hungers after.

4 An hungry man falls to his meat with an appetite. You need not make an oration to an hungry man and persuade him to eat. So he who hungers after righteousness feeds eagerly on an ordinance. ‘Thy words were found, and I did eat them’ (Jeremiah 15:16). In the sacrament he feeds with appetite upon the body and blood of the Lord. God loves to see us feed hungrily on the bread of life.

5 An hungry man tastes sweetness in his meat. So he that hungers after righteousness relishes a sweetness in heavenly things. Christ is to him all marrow, yea the quintessence of delights. ‘If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious’ (1 Peter 2:3). He that spiritually hungers tastes the promises sweet, nay tastes a reproof sweet. ‘To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet’ (Proverbs 27:7). A bitter reproof is sweet. He can feed upon the myrrh of the gospel as well as the honey. By these notes of trial we may judge of ourselves whether we hunger and thirst after righteousness.

The words may serve to comfort the hearts of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; I doubt not but it is the grief of many a good heart that he cannot be more holy, that he cannot serve God better. ‘Blessed are they that hunger’. Though you do not have so much righteousness as you would, yet you are blessed because you hunger after it. Desire is the best discovery of a Christian. Actions may be counterfeit. A man may do a good action for a bad end. So did Jehu. Actions may be compulsory. A man may be forced to do that which is good, but not to will that which is good. Therefore we are to cherish good desires and to bless God for them. Oftentimes a child of God has nothing to show for himself but desires. ‘Thy servants, who desire to fear thy name’ (Nehemiah 1:11). These hungerings after righteousness proceed from love. A man does not desire that which he does not love. If you did not love Christ, you could not hunger after him.

But some may say, If my hunger were right then I could take comfort in it, but I fear it is counterfeit. Hypocrites have their desires.

In reply, that I may the better settle a doubting Christian I shall show the difference between true and false desires, spiritual hunger and carnal.

1 The hypocrite does not desire grace for itself. He desires grace only as a bridge to lead him over to heaven. He does not so much search after grace as glory. He does not so much desire the way of righteousness as the crown of righteousness. His desire is not to be made like Christ, but to reign with Christ. This was Balaam’s desire. ‘Let me die the death of the righteous’ (Numbers 23:10). Such desires as these are found among the damned. This is the hypocrite’s hunger. But a child of God desires grace for itself and Christ for himself. To a believer not only is heaven precious but Christ is precious (1 Peter 2:7).

2 The hypocrite’s desire is conditional. He would have heaven and his sins too, heaven and his pride, heaven and his covetousness. The young man in the gospel would have had heaven, provided he might keep his earthly possessions. Many a man would have Christ, but there is some sin he must not be uncivil to, but gratify. This is the hypocrites’ hunger; but true desire is absolute. Give me, says the soul, Christ on any terms. Let God propound what articles he will, I will subscribe to them. Would he have me deny myself? Would he have me mortify sin? I am content to do anything so I may have Christ. Hypocrites would have Christ, but they are loath to part with a lust for him. They are like a man that would have a lease, but is loath to pay down the fine.

3 Hypocrites’ desires are but desires. They are lazy and sluggish. When one excited Lipsius to the study of virtue, says he, ‘My mind is to it’. ‘The desire of the slothful killeth him, for his hands refuse to labour’ (Proverbs 21:25). Many stand as the waggoner in the fable crying, ‘Help, Hercules’, when his wain stuck in the mud, when he should rather have put his shoulder to the wheel. Men would be saved but they will take no pains. Does he desire water that will not let down the bucket into the well? But true desire is quickened into endeavour. ‘With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early’ (Isaiah 26:9). The ‘violent, take heaven by force (Matthew 11:12). The lovesick spouse, though she was wounded, and her vail taken away, yet she follows after Christ (Canticles 5:7). Desire is the weight of the soul which sets it a going; as the eagle which desires her prey makes haste to it. ‘Where the slain are, there is she’ (Job 39:30). The eagle has sharpness of sight to discover her prey, and swiftness of wing to fly to it. So the soul that hungers after righteousness is carried swiftly to it in the use of all holy ordinances.

4 The hypocrite’s desires are cheap. He would have spiritual things, but will be at no charges for them. He cares not how much money he parts with for his lusts; he has money to spend upon a drunken companion; but he has no money to part with for the maintaining of God’s ordinances. Hypocrites cry up religion, but cry down maintenance of ministers. But true desires are costly. David would not offer burnt-offerings without cost (1 Chronicles 21:24). An hungry man will give anything for food; as it fell out in the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:25). That man never hungered after Christ who thinks much of parting with a little silver for ‘the Pearl of price’.

5 Hypocrites’ desires are flashy and transient. They are quickly gone, like the wind that does not stay long in one corner. Or like an hot fit which is soon over. While the hypocrite is under legal terror, or in affliction, he has some good desires, but the hot fit is soon over. His goodness, like a fiery comet, soon spends and evaporates; but true desire is constant. It is observable that the Greek word in the text is in the participle: ‘Blessed are they that are hungering.’ Though they have righteousness, yet they are still hungering after more. Hypocrites desire it like the motion of a watch which is quickly down. The desire of a godly man is like the beating of the pulse which lasts as long as life. ‘My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath to thy judgements’ (Psalm 119:20). And that we might not think this pang of desire would soon be over he adds, ‘at all times’. David’s desire after God was not an high colour in a fit, but the constant complexion of his soul. In the temple the fire was not to go out by night. ‘The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar’ (Leviticus 6:13). There was, says Cyril, a mystery in it, to show that we must be ever burning in holy affections and desires.

6 Hypocrites’ desires are unseasonable. They are not well-timed. They put off their hungering after righteousness till it be too late. They are like the foolish virgins that came knocking when the door was shut (Matthew 25:11). In time of health and prosperity the stream of the affections ran another way. It was sin the hypocrite desired, not righteousness. When he is to die and can keep his sins no longer, now he would have grace as a passport to carry him to heaven (Luke 13:25). This is the hypocrite’s fault. His faith is too early and his desires are too late. His faith began to bud in the morning of his infancy; he believed ever since he could remember, but his desires after Christ begin not to put forth till the evening of old age. He sends forth his desires when his last breath is going forth; as if a man should desire a pardon after the sentence is passed. These bed-rid desires are suspicious; but true desires are timely and seasonable. A gracious heart ’seeks first the Kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33). David’s thirst after God was early (Psalm 63:1). The wise virgins got their oil betimes before the bridegroom came. Thus we see the difference between a true and false hunger. They who can find this true hunger are blessed and may take comfort in it.

But some may object: My hunger after righteousness is so weak, that I fear it is not true.

I answer: Though the pulse beats but weak it shows there is life. And that weak desires should not be discouraged, there is a promise made to them. ‘A bruised reed he will not break’ (Matthew 12:20). A reed is a weak thing, but especially when it is bruised, yet this ‘bruised reed’ shall not be broken, but like Aaron’s dry rod, ‘bud and blossom’. In case of weakness look to Christ your High Priest. He is merciful, therefore will bear with your infirmities; he is mighty, therefore will help them.

Further, if your desires after righteousness seem to be weak and languid, yet a Christian may sometimes take a measure of his spiritual estate as well by the judgement as by the affections. What is that you esteem most in your judgement? Is it Christ and grace? This is good evidence for heaven. It was a sign that Paul bore entire love to Christ because he esteemed this Pearl above all. He counted other things ‘but dung, that he might win Christ’ (Philippians 3:8).

But, says a child of God, that which much eclipses my comfort is, I have not that hunger which I once had. Time was when I did hunger after a Sabbath because then the manna fell. ‘I called the Sabbath a delight’. I remember the time when I hungered after the body and blood of the Lord. I came to a sacrament as an hungry man to a feast, but now it is otherwise with me. I do not have those hungerings as formerly.

I answer: It is indeed an ill sign for a man to lose his stomach, but, though it be a sign of the decay of grace to lose the spiritual appetite, yet it is a sign of the truth of grace to bewail the loss. It is sad to lose our first love, but it is happy when we mourn for the loss of our first love.

If you do not have that appetite after heavenly things as formerly, yet do not be discouraged, for in the use of means you may recover your appetite. The ordinances are for the recovering of the appetite when it is lost. In other cases feeding takes away the stomach, but here, feeding on an ordinance begets a stomach.

The text exhorts us all to labour after this spiritual hunger. Novarinus says, ‘It is too small a thing merely to wish for righteousness; but we must hunger for it on account of a vast longing making itself felt.’ Hunger less after the world and more after righteousness. Say concerning spiritual things, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread. Feed me with this angels’ food’. That manna is most to be hungered after which will not only preserve life but prevent death (John 6:50). That is most desirable which is most durable. Riches are not for ever (Proverbs 27:24) but righteousness is for ever (Proverbs 8:18). ‘The beauty of holiness, never fades (Psalm 110:3). ‘The robe of righteousness’ (Isaiah 61:10) never waxes old! Oh hunger after that righteousness which ‘delivereth from death’ (Proverbs 10:12). This is the righteousness which God himself is in love with. ‘He loveth him that followeth after righteousness’ (Proverbs 15:9). All men are ambitious of the king’s favour. Alas, what is a prince’s smile but a transient beatitude? This sunshine of his royal countenance soon masks itself with a cloud of displeasure, but those who are endued with righteousness are God’s favourites, and how sweet is his smile! ‘Thy loving-kindness is better than life’ (Psalm 63:3).

To persuade men to hunger after this righteousness, consider two things.

1 Unless we hunger after righteousness we cannot obtain it. God will never throw away his blessings upon them that do not desire them. A king may say to a rebel, Do but desire a pardon and you shall have it; but if through pride and stubbornness he disdains to sue out his pardon, he deserves justly to die. God has set spiritual blessings at a low rate. Do but hunger and you shall have righteousness; but if we refuse to come up to these terms there is no righteousness to be had for us. God will stop the current of his mercy and set open the sluice of his indignation.

2 If we do not thirst here we shall thirst when it is too late. If we do not thirst as David did ‘My soul thirsteth for God’ (Psalm 42:2) we shall thirst as Dives did for a drop of water (Luke 16:24). They who do not thirst for righteousness shall be in perpetual hunger and thirst. They shall thirst for mercy, but no mercy to be had. Heat increases thirst. When men shall burn in hell and be scorched with the flames of God’s wrath, this heat will increase their thirst for mercy but there will be nothing to allay their thirst. O is it not better to thirst for righteousness while it is to be had, than to thirst for mercy when there is none to be had? Sinners, the time is shortly coming when the drawbridge of mercy will be quite pulled up.

I shall next briefly describe some helps to spiritual hunger.

1 Avoid those things which will hinder your appetite: As ‘windy things’. When the stomach is full of wind a man has little appetite to his food. So when one is filled with a windy opinion of his own righteousness, he will not hunger after Christ’s righteousness. He who, being puffed up with pride, thinks he has grace enough already will not hunger after more. These windy vapours spoil the stomach. ‘Sweet things’ destroy the appetite. So by feeding immoderately upon the sweet luscious delights of the world, we lose our appetite to Christ and grace. You never knew a man surfeit himself upon the world, and at the same time be ’sick of love’ to Christ. While Israel fed with delight upon garlic and onions, they never hungered after manna. The soul cannot be carried to two extremes at once. As the eye cannot look intent on heaven and earth at once, so a man cannot at the same instant hunger excessively after the world, and after righteousness! The earth puts out the fire. The love of earthly things will quench the desire of spiritual. ‘Love not the world’ (1 John 2:15). The sin is not in the having, but in the loving.

2 Do all that may provoke spiritual appetite. There are two things that provoke appetite. Exercise: a man by walking and stirring gets a stomach to his meat. So by the exercise of holy duties the spiritual appetite is increased. ‘Exercise thyself unto godliness’ (1 Timothy 4:7). Many have left off closet prayer. They hear the Word but seldom, and for want of exercise they have lost their stomach to religion. Sauce: sauce whets and sharpens the appetite. There is a twofold sauce provokes holy appetite: first, the ‘bitter herbs’ of repentance. He that tastes gall and vinegar in sin hungers after the body and blood of the Lord. Second, affliction. God often gives us this sauce to sharpen our hunger after grace. ‘Reuben found mandrakes in the field’ (Genesis 30:14). The mandrakes are an herb of a very strong savour, and among other virtues they have, they are chiefly medicinal for those who have weak and bad stomachs. Afflictions may be compared to these mandrakes, which sharpen men’s desires after that spiritual food which in time of prosperity they began to loathe and nauseate. Penury is the sauce which cures the surfeit of plenty. In sickness people hunger more after righteousness than in health. ‘The full soul loathes the honeycomb’ (Proverbs 27:7). Christians, when full fed, despise the rich cordials of the gospel. I wish we did not slight those truths now which would taste sweet in a prison. How precarious was a leaf of the Bible in Queen Mary’s days! The wise God sees it good sometimes to give us the sharp sauce of affliction, to make us feed more hungrily upon the bread of life. And so much for the first part of the text, ‘Blessed are they that hunger.

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