Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.
The text applies to all attempts which are made to benefit the immortal part of man. In our charities towards the soul, we have need of patience; and it is evident that spiritual benefit is chiefly here intended. I wish to direct your attention to some of the important objects which the text places before us.
I. A LARGE AND LIBERAL BENEVOLENCE IS ENJOINED UPON US. Selfishness is at once the degradation, and part of the misery, of our nature. It shuts up some of the finest feelings of which we are capable. That which has separated man from God has also separated man from man. The doctrine of stewardship is peculiar to our religion. This is a fine principle which the Gospel has brought to light: it teaches us that, though God is the fountain of all good, He has made creatures the instruments of good to man.
II. Some motives to the exercise of benevolence.
1. Here is a motive addressed to our hope. What appalling spectacles presented themselves to the view of the missionary who first trod our Shores! He listened to the din of noisy festivals; he beheld obscene and lascivious rites; he saw the effect of the whole system of worship on the wretched people by whom he was surrounded; but he cast in the seed; and has it not been found "after many days"? You, with your religious assemblies, your faith in God, your love to our Lord Jesus Christ, your hope in heaven — you are proofs that seed cast upon the waters may be found "after many days." Oh, then, go on: future ages shall call you blessed; and the glorious results of your labour shall be found in that day, when "they shall come from the east, and the west," etc.
2. A motive addressed to our prudence and foresight: "Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth." This may apply, first, to ourselves. Who can tell how near evil may be to us, how near may be sickness, how near the final call of death? Well, then, "cast your bread upon the waters." If your tongues must be so soon employed in groaning and in complaints, let them now, at least, be employed for God. But let us view the subject on a larger scale. The prospect of evil has always been a motive for exertion to good men. They have endeavoured to meet the coming evil by laying up a store. The apostles, in the midst of their great and Successful exertions, prophesied a fatal apostasy. It might be supposed that this would have operated to check their exertions. But they acted on the principle of the text; they "cast their bread upon the waters": they "gave a portion to seven, and also to eight": they spread the seed freely and largely; and, amidst a great apostasy, seed sprang up, of which we are now some of the pleasing fruit.
3. A motive drawn from the fitness of the thing. "If the clouds be full of rain," etc. Like the clouds in the spring of the year, which require no great effort to make them pour forth their waters, but tremble at the lightest breeze, and impart their living springs to the earth; so let Christian men be to the thirsty soils of this parched world.
4. A motive drawn from the consideration of human mortality. "If the tree fall toward the south," etc. If those who are now within our reach, if those who are now in darkness, be not benefited by an application of the means God has given us in His providence, "a great gulf" will soon be fixed, over which no pity, no exertion, can step. How important it is to do the work of the day in the day I to "cast our bread upon the waters"! to "give a portion to seven, and also to eight!" to sow our seed "in the morning and in the evening"! We are dying, and the world is dying around us!
III. SEVERAL OBJECTIONS ARE IMPLIED IN THE TEXT.
1. The first seems to be, that the opportunity is not favourable to such exertions (ver. 4). What then? Are we to withhold the seed, or to sow it? We are to sow it — to sow it in faith — faith in the commission of Christ, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature": faith in the promise of the Saviour, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world": faith in the irreversible covenant, "Ask of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance," and all these dark, ferocious savages, all these unwholesome, inhospitable climes, yea, "and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."
2. A second objection seems to be that, even if we apply ourselves to works of this kind, very frequently the manner in which God carries on His work is very different from the conceptions which we had formed (ver. 5). God acts not by any man's plans, but leaves it to us to say, "Thou knowest not the works of God."
3. A third objection is, that there will be a partial failure. "Thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that." Part of the seed will perish. We admit this; it is a fact that part of the seed will perish, and that the condemnation of men is increased by the hearing of the Gospel. But what is your duty? Why, as to yourselves, it is to "give the more earnest heed to the things that you have heard, lest at any time you should let them slip": and, as to others, to do all you can to give effect to the administration of the Gospel, by renewed exertions, and by more fervent prayers.
IV. SOME REASONS FOR DILIGENCE AND CONSTANCY.
1. The first reason is taken from the quality of the seed (ver. 6). The seed you sow is good. The seed hero referred to is that of bread, in which man's vitality, nourishment and strength all seem to be bound up. So in the Word of God there is all that, can bless and dignify man here, and prepare him for everlasting glory.
2. Consider the small portion of the world which, after all, has been sown with this blessed seed.
3. Remember that you all, without exception, have it in your power still more largely to promote this good work.
(R. Watson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.