Sowing on the Waters
Ecclesiastes 11:1
Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.

This line contains a noble principle, which admits of many applications; we shall select one, and apply it to the Christian instruction of the young.

I. THE CHARGE is, "Cast thy bread upon the waters!"

1. Its first reference is to seed, for this is what is meant by "bread." Seed supplies poetry with a fit figure to illustrate anything mean which gives existence to anything magnificent. A seed is but a solitary grain, or a soft, and trembling flake of vegetation; yet from the seed gushes the bright flower — from the seed starts the towering tree — from the seed springs the bread of life. "Now, the seed is the Word of God." Christ supplies it. "Christ," writes John Milton, "gives no full comments, or continued discourses, but speaks oft in monosyllables, as a Master scattering the heavenly grain of His doctrine, like pearls, here and there, requiring a skilful and laborious gatherer."

2. A second reference in the charge is to the sowing: "cast" the seed. Weeds are self-dispersive, and have a frightful facility of growth; but fruits are God's blessing on labour. A distinction has been made between a radical reformer and a seminal reformer. The one strikes the axe at the roots of evil; the other sows the seeds of good. The first mode of action, though often a necessity, is frequently connected with disadvantage; for, in tearing up the ravelled roots of an ancient grievance, growing in a tangled place, we may rend and wither delicate interlacings that we wish to live; but sowing seed disturbs nothing — injures nothing; frets no weakling — startles no alarmist; and works a change the most complete, by a process soft as the flush of spring, and noiseless as the laws of nature. "Work while it is called to-day;" sow ideas, sow truths, sow thoughts suggested by God's own Spirit, whose blossoms will soon "make the wilderness rejoice, and solitary places glad."

3. The third reference in the charge is to the place where the seed is to be cast: "Cast it upon the waters." As the seed fell on the soft and porous soil beneath the water, your hints may drop into yielding and receptive natures. Part with your most precious knowledge, then; venture to sow it in faith on the waters of thought; it may find a lodgment, dart the fibres of life in secrecy, and in due time reappear in those practicalities which most beautify and bless the world.

II. THE PROMISE, "Thou shalt find it after many days." "Thou shalt find it;" therefore you may be at first inclined to think it lost; — after many days; therefore you need not be strengthless with the chill of discouragement if it should not be found at once. Here and there the spiritual life may spring and mellow early, but in most instances its appearance will be "after many days." While you speak in agony to save, you may seem speaking to vacancy — the young spirit is not listening — it is far away in chase of a merry fancy. Yet when, "after many days," that boy reaches some crisis of being, the sudden remembrance of this very word may startle him as if a sweeping spectre spoke, and save him from a crime.

III. WHAT EFFECTS should this charge and this promise have on our faith and practice?

1. We must aim to sow the right seed. We should make unceasing search for this till we find it, and be anxious not to fall into a mistake with reference to such a primary condition of success. What, then, is the right seed? It appears to be this alone — teaching in its history and its connections the fact that "Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners."

2. We should aim at the best way of teaching. The main and master principle is love. The secret of Dr. Arnold's ascendency as a teacher was the love that charmed his pupils into friends. Shining through many natural disqualifications for teaching, love will enlighten and enchant. Love will also, more than anything else, tend to overpower what disqualifies, and create efficiency. It will set mind in motion. It will "endow the plain-tongued man with heavenly eloquence."

3. We should aim to look to the right quarter for success. We are not to forget that "God gives the increase," and that man alone, like the cypher alone, is nothing. He is not able to manufacture a single seed, nor to give it a particle of vitality, but only to sow it.

4. We should aim to use the right rule for estimating success. It is true that "Bread cast upon the waters will be found after many days": but these words contain no assurance that it will be found on earth. It may not reappear in the earthly lifetime of the sower, but, as an unseen spirit, he may watch it spring from age to age.

(C. Stanford, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

WEB: Cast your bread on the waters; for you shall find it after many days.

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