Ellison R. Purdy
[Smith, Roy, ed. The Minneapolis Pulpit, A Collection of Sermons. New York and Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1929, pages 132-141.]
This document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
[P133]"If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." -- Matthew 4:3
IT is a short step from hunger to some moral test. Often the bread-and-butter question becomes
the bread-and-butter temptation. "A man must live, you know," is the popular form which that
temptation takes. But the very lives of many people are, in themselves, a vigorous protest against
this subtle insinuation. The fireman, the physician and the nurse, the life-saver on the stormy coast
-- all who in their allotted service in life follow the way of hazard, refute this statement. These
must perform their duty. The plea, "A man must live," has been to them in all ages an arch-heresy.
They may die, but all the world forbids them to be recreant to their trust.
Satan is forever meeting the breadwinner in the wilderness, and his temptations are always at
heart the same: some stroke of genius, some favour of fortune, well-directed cunning, potent
magic--anything to make a man a devotee of the easy way, anything to turn him away from unity
with God's great law of bread-winning. Our social well-being depends today upon the decision.
Jesus, on the threshold of His life's great work, confronts this bread-and-butter temptation. There
He stands, desperately hungry, famishing for food. Perhaps there are stones at His feet which look
like bread. [P144] The Son of God, but He has not yet wrought a miracle. His temptation is: "Use
your undoubted power, minister to yourself, command these stones to be made bread."
The humanity of Jesus was not fictitious; he was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He lived
on our street. The temptations that came to Him were not with hoofs and horns, labeled for
instant recognition. His temptations came as ours come, under the cover of the sensible: the
seemingly reasonable act of a hungry man, the opportunity for valuable publicity, the shortcut to a
success big with the possibilities of splendid human service. What suggestion could be more
reasonable than these? It is proverbial in business that one must heed them if he would be
This brother-man of ours met the temptation to make bread of stones promptly and decisively,
met it out of the sacred Scriptures. "Man shall not live by bread alone," He quoted, "but by every
word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Bread is the symbol of all good things that come to the lives of men. God's way of getting bread is
the way of patient toil, the way of ploughing and sowing and reaping. A beautiful way, a holy
way. A way that, rightly followed, would turn the world into a temple, toil into worship, and
reaping into a chorus of hallelujahs.
God's way makes partners of toil and intelligence. The more crude instruments are dropped here
and there on the upward path of progress. The sickle gives way to the self-binder, the flail to the
thresher; and the women of old with their crude grinding-stones step aside for the Gold Medal
process. The best thought of our brains and the toil of our hands are wedded in God's way of
The good things of life come by labour. There are [P135] those who seem to gain success by
genius or by the smiles and favours of fortune, who, if we but knew it, give their lives to arduous
labour. Their genius is but another name for hard work. Some, it is true, seem to secure good
things by their cunning, to get their bread by the sweat of their fellow-men. While others toil,
these seem by some easy word to turn stones into bread. At the very best they get only things.
They themselves are not richer, but by their very success grow daily meaner and poorer in life. All
such must be carried as a dead weight by society, for society has only one way of adding to its
store of goods -- that is by the way of labour. There is no other way. Everlastingly man has
sought to make bread out of stones, but it cannot be done.
Bread is the symbol of all good things. Friendship, self-respect, the confidence of men, strength of
character, peace of mind and holiness of life -- God's royal highway to these is along the
It is true that the best things of life are those for which we pay no price. They are never quoted in
the markets of the World. Wall Street cannot deal in them. Our greatest pleasures, our deepest
joys, our sweetest possessions, come to us freely without money and without price, at the
bountiful hands of men and of God; but who will say that any of these are found at the end of the
way of least resistance -- that they are ever the sequence of the idler's dream? It is not by any
work of righteousness that we have done that life's best comes to us; yet he who, void of the spirit
of venture and the hands of service, dawdles at home in the lap of ease does not find it.
It is comparable to the thrill of the scenery upon the mountain top. Near and far the snow-capped
peaks, [P136] the stately pillars of rock, the winding river, and the far-stretched vistas of the
valley. When these change from a panorama before the eyes to a symphony in the soul, who dares
to say, "This is the reward of my labour, this is the work of my hands?" But the heart beats fast,
the legs are weary, and the feet are sore; for that which has come to you has come at the end of a
long, long climb -- and that is God's way.
My friend, have you found your inner life thin and meager and unsatisfactory? If so, have you
chosen God's way? Or have you fondly thought that by some magic power as touching the nurture
of your soul you could turn stones into bread? The measure of your life and mine depends upon
the sincerity and earnestness and tenacity with which we fix our attention upon worth-while
things, and the persistence with which we cultivate them. If the rich farmer of the Parable had
cultivated his field as poorly as he did his soul, he would have had no need to tear down his barns
and build greater.
God's way of getting bread is the way of co-operation with Him. We are to be, not only workers,
but fellow workers with God. His answer to the hunger of man is spread out in the laws of sky
and soil, of seed time and harvest. We read that when Jesus hail resisted the three temptations and
elected his Father's way, angels came and ministered to him. This is always so. The angels of
sunshine and shower, the angels of life's mystic power of increase, bring to God's fellow-workers
the wholesome loaf on the platter of grace.
"Back of the loaf is the snowy flower;
Back of the flour is the mill.
Back of the mill is the wheat and the shower,
And the sun, and the Father's will."
[P137] The essence of religion is a life co-operating with God; a life running so close to God that
He can whisper into its very center the divine ideals; that He can speak out through it, and work
with it as with an instrument pulsating with life.
Christianity is not a set of opinions, not a program of forms; it is a personal loyalty to a divine
Master. It is the indwelling presence in the soul that can be as thoroughly tested as can any of the
verities of the universe. It is living by a great law of life as majestic and immutable as the laws of
seed-time and harvest. Under the power of the Spirit of God, something takes place in the soul of
man which is as truly in harmony with the universal order, as is the action of a chemical in a
This lifts the whole theme of religion from the fitful and uncertain to the orderly and steadfast;
from the realm of abnormalities to the realm of sanity and health. The Creator planned for a
harmony of the soul as well as a harmony of the spheres. G.A. Studdart Kennedy tells of his Aunt
Jane, very deaf, who went to walk with her sister one May morning. As they drew near to the
railroad track, a locomotive gave a frightful shriek. Aunt Jane smiled sweetly and said to her
sister, "My dear, I'm sure I heard a lark sing." "All morning that lark had been singing in her soul,"
says Kennedy, "and she interpreted the first sound that reached her poor old shriveled ears,
according to the picture in her mind." Inaccurate enough as to outward sounds, she had a spiritual
instrument finely adjusted to the inner harmonies.
Jesus proclaimed a new order of living, the way of love and brotherhood. The way of service and sacrifice. The essential of Christianity is the presence of His Spirit in the heart.
[P138] God has His laws of seed-time and harvest; His laws of fruitful happy men and women;
His program of an ideal society which is the kingdom of God. The secret of all true success is
co-operating with Him.
"But," someone is saying, "I am sick and weary. should love to be a fellow-worker with God in
some great enterprise. I cannot work; it wearies me to think. How may I co-operate with Him?"
My friend, there are many thousands like yourself. Surely, the great Master Workman has not left
them all out of His program! He who, when He would draw out the depths of a woman's love, put
a tiny infant on her bosom, making the babe a co-worker with Himself this sublime task; He who
has commended the care of the aged and the weak to the well and the strong, and made that very
care a safeguard and a blessing, surely He has a place for you in His program! Nothing in all the
world fits more exactly than your weakness into His strength.
Even the radio draws you forth from your seclusion, makes a pathway from the speaker to your
sick room and makes you a part of a great invisible congregation. Is not God greater than one of
His unthinking instruments ?
"So sometimes comes to soul and sense
The feeling which is evidence,
That very near about us lies
The realm of spiritual mysteries.
The sphere of the supernal powers
Impinges on this world of ours."
Perhaps someone, too, listens in bitterness of heart. You have failed. You have made some
grievous mis [P139] take. You are a defeated man or woman. To such I would say: our faith is in
a great redemptive love and power. When we say "I believe in the forgiveness of sins," we declare
that the sinner's defeat and the divine Saviour's power belong together. God's way is the way of
restoration. Do not try to make bread out of stones --co-operate with God.
God's way of getting bread is by the co-working of men. If one of us could, by some magic word,
turn stones into bread, he would at once step into a class by himself. He would become a different
order of being independent of his fellow-men. But according to God's way of getting bread, we all
stand in the same breadline, all draw from the same bounty, all depend upon faithful toil,
someone's toil, for our daily portion.
The Almighty has written in His bread-and-butter program the solidarity of humanity, each for all
and all for each; and insofar as we cultivate the "superiority complex" in church, or class, or
nation, or race -- insofar as we exploit the weak, push off the different, or despise any son or
daughter of our common Father, we are turning to the foolish, futile, fatal attempt to make bread
out of stones.
Our hatreds have failed, always failed; they have spread hunger and misery over the world.
Wherever unselfish service and kindly advance have been tried, the returns have been most
bountiful. "Like begets like." "Hatred begets hatred." "Love begets love." "Whatsoever a man
soweth, that shall he also reap."
Co-operation, and co-operation alone, is economically sound. Someone likens humanity to two
hens fighting for a worm. Each finally gets a tiny bit; the bulk of it is lost. If they had put in their
time scratching, the returns would have been far greater. There is too much [P140] scrapping and
too little scratching in the world today. The world suffers in all kinds of goods for [apparent
omission of words here -pds] the divine method of co-operation.
"Jesus believed in men to the limit. He believed that one man was worth more than a whole world
full of things. Jesus did not so much launch a theory as to the importance of people, as He
launched Himself into the center of human problems and relations. He spent Himself upon
Jesus talked much of the kingdom of God on earth, the kingdom that He proposed to establish.
He had one plan and one plan only for bringing in this kingdom; the co-operation of men and
women with Him, and with one another.
However people may differ on the person of Christ, it cannot be denied that He stood for
co-operation; that His Spirit was the spirit of conciliation and brotherhood, of sacrifice and
service. His call to the world today, ringing out over widespread failure and confusion, is to its
best intelligence, its noblest statesmanship -- a call to focus its energies, the richest and best of its
thought, upon the task of ushering in a better day.
And what about the Church? The great company of those who profess to stand for what Christ
stood for? Is it not time to put away foolish fussiness, petty bickerings, pride of opinions, bitter
tongues, and bad names -- time to work for those things which a host of people of goodwill have
in common, those great verities for want of which the world perishes?
Ghandi, the Hindoo mahatma, says that if we would naturalize Christianity in India, Christians
"should live more like Christ"; that they should "practice their religion without adulterating it and
toning it down"; [P141] that they should "put the emphasis upon love, for love is the central thing
Here is the call to a great adventure -- the appeal to the heroic! This is no "presto, change!" that easily transforms stones into bread; this is God's way. This is living by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.