Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.…
This saying takes us to the banks of the Nile, where, every year, as the flood subsided, while the level lands were still all ooze and mud, the farmer went forth, and, without any ploughing, just cast the grain over the mud, and, simply trampling it in with his flocks of goats, knew that he should "find it after many days" in those fruitful harvests which madeEgypt the granary of the ancient world. Only, mark what it means. It is not a mere lesson of sowing. It is not cast thy "seed" upon the waters. It is cast thy "bread" — cast of thy bread-corn, that which you might use for bread — cast that on the waters, spare even of that to sow for the days to come. You see, it is a lesson not merely of sowing, but of self-denial and self-restraint in order to sow. There is a lesson here which is always needed, but which was never, perhaps, more needed than to-day. For, if I mistake not, the marvellous advances of our age, the quickening of .the whole speed of life, have had this effect — to produce a sort of eager impatience and eagerness for the utmost immediate results, a remorseless sort of draining of the present of everything that can be got out of it. People want to make all their harvest into bread — yes, or into cake, if it can be — are not willing to forego any of it for seed, or to be put into the sinking fund of the future. Why, look at this even in what one may call the using up of life itself. All this marvellous advancement of our age should have given people — even the hardest-worked and busiest — a little more leisure for simple, happy living — living for its own sake. I asked a dressmaker once ii the invention of the sewing-machine had not lightened her labour. "Not in the least," she replied. "Ladies only want so much the more work putting on to their dresses; and so they take just as long making as ever." Is not that a good deal true, all through life? Every gain of time has been used up right away m new wants — none of it saved for those quieter uses and higher uses which would be the seed of a nobler, fuller future. You see illustrations of this in every direction. You see it in trade and the various material arts of life. In the older times it was the ambition of a business man to establish a business, — a concern that might stand, a business that his sons might be proud to take up and maintain the prestige of it. But such an ambition involves some foregoing of present advantage; and that is where modern life is so weak. Besides, men do not look to their sons to take up their business as they used to do. If they are successful their sons will hardly need any business! So what able men try to do is to make the utmost possible for a few years; and, to do this, there cannot be much sparing of bread-corn to cast on the waters, not much restraint in the use of opportunity. They must just drive the keenest trade they can, wring the last cent out of all dealings. It is all this excessive living for to-day: men haven't patience, they haven't faith, for the steadier, slower business which would build up character and reputation and last into long years to come. Or take another illustration, in the houses which are everywhere being built about our cities, for the housing of this hand-to-mouth generation. The building of a house was a serious business in our grandfathers' time. What strong foundations they laid! What massive timbers you find in those old houses! Something to last, there! But now — well, to begin with, there is not the same desire to have a house; there is not the same idea of living steadily on in one place. So houses are built less solidly, but more showily. It seems to me that it is not houses only, but the whole fabric of society which is being built up thus flimsily and temporarily. Look at literature. There is such a demand as never in the world before for light sketches, superficial reading. It is not any lasting good that men want from books, but an hour's excitement or relaxation. These are some of the conspicuous ways in which the hand-to-mouth spirit of the time is shown. But the thing, to take to heart is this: that it appears in these greater ways, because it is in common fire in all sorts of lesser things. You see it in home life, in society, in the education of children. The greatest lack of modern society, I do believe — all through, from children up to grown men and women — is thoughtful self-restraint, the willingness to forego the gratification of to-day for the sake of the days to come. People will go to the opera, even if they don't know how they will pay next week's board-bill — yes, often enough, even if they can't pay last week's! Now, if there is one thing which our religion ought to teach us, it is this spirit I have been trying to show the need of — of living not just for to-day, but for days to come, of casting one's bread upon the waters — the spirit of patient, thoughtful permanence in life and doings. Why does "the law" stand in that noble emphasis at the beginning of the Hebrew religion? Simply, that is the first thing — thoughtful obedience and self-restraint. So spare even of thy bread-corn to east upon the waters; "for thou shalt find it after many days." Yes I we shall find it. I do not believe we ever sow for future life; I do not believe men ever exercise a noble reserve in the use of comfort or luxury, or put their manhood into thoughtful efforts for mankind, without finding the harvest of it after many days, perhaps — yet still they find it, and, after the law of God's true harvest, "thirty" or "sixty" or "a hundred-fold." So with all pleasures, all indulgences — use them not to the uttermost, not as many as ever you can get hold of: let your principle in such things be a noble reserve. And, in all work, faith and patience!
Parallel VersesKJV: Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.