Ecclesiastes 11:2
Divide your portion among seven, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may befall the land.
Works of CharityD. Thomas Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2
Incentives to Christian WorkW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 11:1-4, 6
Provision for the FutureJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

There can be little doubt that these admonitions apply to the deeds of compassion and beneficence which are the proper fruits of true religion. Especially in some conditions of society almsgiving is expedient and beneficial. In times of famine, in cases of affliction and sudden calamity, it is a duty to supply the need of the poor and hungry. At the same time, the indiscriminate bestowal of what is called charity unquestionably does more harm than good, especially in a state of society in which few need suffer want who are diligent, frugal, temperate, and self-denying. But there are many other ways in which benevolence may express itself beside almsgiving. The Christian is called upon to care both for the bodies and for the souls of his fellow-men - to give the bread of knowledge as well as the bread that perisheth, and to provide a spiritual portion for the enrichment and consolation of the destitute.

I. THE NATURAL EMOTION OF BENEVOLENCE IS RECOGNIZED AND HALLOWED BY TRUE RELIGION. It may be maintained with confidence that sympathy is as natural to man as selfishness, although the love of self is too often allowed by our sinful nature to overcome the love of others. But when Christ takes possession, by his Spirit, of a man's inner nature, then the benevolence which may have been dormant is aroused, and new direction is given to it, and new power to persevere and to succeed in the attainment of its object.

II. RELIGION PROMPTS TO A PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF BENEVOLENT FEELING. Too often sympathy is a sentimental luxury, leading to no effort, no self-denial. The poet justly denounces those who, "Nursed in mealy-mouthed philanthropies, Divorce the feeling from her mate - the deed." But the spirit of the Savior urges to Christ-like endeavor, and sustains the worker for men's bodily, social, and spiritual good. The bread must be cast, the portion must be given.

III. BENEVOLENCE MEETS IN ITS EXERCISE WITH MANY DISCOURAGEMENTS. The bread is cast upon the waters. This implies that in many cases we must expect to lose sight of the results of our work; that we must he prepared for disappointment; that, at all events, we must fulfill our service for God and man in faith, and rather from conviction and principle than from any hope of apparent and immediate success.

IV. A PROMISE IS GIVEN WHICH IS INTENDED TO URGE TO PERSEVERANCE. What is, as it were, committed to the deep shall be found after the lapse of days. The waters do not destroy, they fertilize and fructify, the seed. Thus "they who sow in tears shall reap in joy." In how many ways this promise is fulfilled the history of the Christian Church, and even the experience of every individual worker for God, abundantly show. In places and at times altogether unexpected and unlikely, there come to light evidences that the work has been cared for, watched over, and prospered by God himself. He does not suffer the efforts of his faithful servants to come to naught. The good they aim at, and much which never occurred to them to anticipate, is effected in God's time by the marvelous operation of his providence and his Spirit. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." - T.

Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt 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!

(Brooke Herford.)

This passage may be regarded as an invitation to work of a special kind — work not likely to be popular, but, nevertheless, essential.

I. It is a call to UNAPPRECIATED WORK. Our bread is to be cast upon the waters. We are to render service — service that often costs much — to thankless people. We must be content to work when our work is unacknowledged, unrequited — nay, when it is despised. Much of the highest, painfulest service wrought for the good of men — work of brain and heart — is least appreciated. Let us work in the spirit of a noble faith and consecration, knowing that what we give and suffer will be lightly esteemed among men, and knowing also that it will be accepted before God and become immortal in the life of the world.

II. It is a call to UNOBTRUSIVE WORK. Seed sown on the waters suggest silent forms of service. Mark the way of the Master. In all His work there was an utter absence of theatricality and advertisement. Said His brethren: "If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world." How truly human such a request, as it all was lost that was not shown! But Christ declined the tempting publicity. He sowed the bread of heaven on dark waters So softly that history hardly noticed Him or His sowing. Did not our Lord, in following this course, intend to teach His people that the establishment of His kingdom would depend most of all upon modest evangelism? And, indeed, ever since Christ's day His cause has chiefly grown out of noiseless, unobtrusive work. The history of the Christian Church wonderfully corresponds with geological history; it is the history of the snowflake, the demonstration of the prevailing efficacy of modest personal sacrifice and influence. All tourists love to tell of the cataract of Niagara, of its thunder, foam and rainbows; but, after all, cataracts like Niagara do little for the fertility of the world. The thousand little streams that go softly in the grass fill the earth with fruit and beauty.

III. It is a call to UNPROMISING WORK. TO SOW the seed upon the waters looks hopeless; little good seems likely to come of such toil and sacrifice. So work for the world's good sometimes seems sadly unpromising; the giving of money, time, influence, feeling, seem only like ploughing the sands, throwing treasure into the sea. But we must hope in hopeless work, or what to the carnal eye looks like hopeless work. The most unpromising ground sometimes yields the richest results. The finest grapes in the world are not grown on fat soil, but on sand deserts and barren shingle that would not afford nourishment to a patch of oats; and the lover of man not rarely gets his richest clusters on the most unpromising ground. It has often been so with the missionary. Who, looking at ancient Britain, would have thought that it would become the vineyard of the Lord? It is often thus in families — the careless, undutiful children turning out the parents' strength and joy.

(W. L. Watkinson.)

There are in this book aspects of truth that we are very apt to forget, an emphasis put upon certain out-of-the-way duties that are as essential to a proper, natural, and religious life as those doctrines and principles that we bring to the forefront of our evangelical preaching. Prudence is a virtue, but a man may be too prudent. Economy is an excellent habit, but a man may by penuriousness spoil his fortunes as much as if he were a spendthrift. There is a certain audacity in business, in love, and in religion that is essential to success. There is a certain scattering that brings increase, and there is a withholding more than is meet that tends to poverty. It is true of the world, it is true of the Church; true of your body, true of your fortune, true of your soul. Cast thy bread upon the water. Put your money into a number of ventures; do not be too timid, do not be too cautious; use a large-hearted, statesmanlike breadth and liberality in your enterprise and in your activity, and in the end your bread will come back to you — it will come back in large and wide profit. Again, in your benevolence, in your readiness to help a partner or a client, or even to do a good turn to a poor neighbour, do not be calculating just. whether you must do it or whether you must not. Ecclesiastes says, "Give to the seventh, do a good turn to the eighth." And it appeals to common sense. Do not call it unevangelical, do not call it selfish. There is a reasonable recognition of the law that connects causes and effects, results and those forces and actions that lead to them, that is of the very essence of nature, and it is perfectly justifiable that a man should look to it. Says Ecclesiastes: If you go always looking at the clouds, if you are always peering out to see where the cat's-paw wind is coming, you will never sow your field, and you will never reap. You had better sow every year. Sow when the spring looks black; sow when the early summer seems to forecast a stormy autumn; sow year by year — that is the right thing to do. Some years you will lose, but at the end, when your life is done, you will have made a large gain, a great profit. Yes; there is a looking at that part and side of the world that is out of our control, that God holds in His own hands, that paralyzes human endeavour; and the Book of Ecclesiastes warns us, as men of the world, as men of religion, against concerning ourselves with God's share in the transaction. Send your ships there and there, send them far and wide over the world, and in the end — that is your wisdom — leave the results to God. Do your duty at God's bidding. Strike out into the world; sow on all waters, cast your bread far and wide; do good deeds here, do them there, and in the end you will reap a rich harvest. It is not difficult to gel people to make up their minds to be good; the real difficulty is to get them to carry it out. Nothing more easy than to stir men and women to start well in life; the job is to keep them going on. It is not just the first volley of cannon-balls against the fortification that will break the wall down; it is keeping at it day after day till the breach is made and the stronghold can be taken. You know what momentum is. Aye, a man has got to be good; he has to speak the truth to-day, to-morrow, the day after, the week after that, and on and on, if he is going to form within himself such a mass of light and honourableness that men may speak as if some great and noble monument had fallen: "That man's word was better than his bond; that man never spoke a dishonest, untruthful word." Oh, the power of momentum! the thinness, the weakness, and the poverty-stricken character of that goodness that comes in gushes, and then steps in fragments, in shreds and patches! What is it that makes our goodness so broken, so interrupted, so parenthetical? I think the commonest and chief cause is that we do good upon impulse, not upon principle. We set out to do right, riding upon a great wave of ardent emotion, not upon a serious, calm; earnest determination of will. A great many of us make another mistake. We misunderstand a wise principle; we say to ourselves that we ought to calculate profit, that we ought to look out for results; and so, mistaking this fact that we ought to choose to do our goodness in the wisest and likeliest way, we mistake that wise habit of prudence, judgment, and we turn it into a petty trafficking attempt to secure certainty that every little thing we stingy do is going to bring us a definite and special return. Now, you cannot do that in business. Fancy a farmer aa he goes across the field sowing corn, taking it out grain by grain, and saying, "I wonder whether this grain will be eaten up by a bird, whether this will rot in the ground; I do not know, and therefore I will not sow it." That would be about as silly as to be always calculating whether the penny you put into the plate is going to convert a heathen, or whether that Bible is going to convert a sinner, or whether going to that meeting will do any definite good. My friend, you have got to sow in faith, with a great prodigal generosity. Blessed those busy lives that are always at it, always working — working when it promises well, working when it promises ill, standing in the pathway of duty, of Divine service, in the pathway of blessing to others, in the pathway of certain blessing to themselves! It is not easy to be good; it is terribly hard to keep on doing right; you get awfully tired of it, and then you wonder and think that you cannot be really good when you are so sick of being so self-sacrificing, so sick of forgiving that brother or sister that always irritates you, and you feel that you really ought to get a little rest from it, to take an interval of not being good; and then you turn upon yourself and upbraid yourself. Not a bit of it, my friend. There is nothing more fatiguing and wearisome than being good. It is a crucifying of oneself to be good. How could it be but that you should be weary many a day? St. Paul says, "Be not weary," because he knows you will feel it, — "Be not weary in well doing; if you are weary keep on doing right; if you faint not, in the end you shall reap." Lift up thy heart and do not faint. In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou canst not tell whether shall prosper, this or that, or whether, since all rests at last with the great, big-hearted, loving God, both alike, beyond your very utmost dreams and hopes, shall be prosperous.

(Prof. Elmslie.)

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!


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.


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.)

I. THE DUTY RECOMMENDED. In general it is, to do good with our property. It is the glory of true religion that it inspires and inculcates a spirit of benevolence. Christ went about doing good.

1. That with which we do good must be our own. "Cast thy bread." As there are some who withhold more than is meet, so there are others who, from ostentation, give what is not their own.

2. We are to do good liberally. "Give a portion to seven, and also to eight." It is a great, obstacle to many, and a Common objection, that cases are so numerous.

3. For the sake of doing good we should deny ourselves. "Thy bread." It is a notion of many that they are required to give only superfluities; but this is treating God and the poor with only a dog's portion — the crumbs, as it were, which fall from their table. Emulate the Churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8.), whose deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality.

4. We are to do good, notwithstanding discouraging appearances in Providence. Give as the Lord hath prospered you, and leave another day or another year to take care for itself.

II. The motives by which this duty is enforced.

1. The reward which awaits you. "Thou shalt find it again." What, we do for the poor is not, thrown away, though it may seem to be so. It is sowing the seeds of immortality, and, if done right, we shall find it, though it may be "many days" first. God so orders it, that merciful men meet with mercy in this life, and their children after them (Psalm 112:20); and who knows what ours may need? Or, if we never find it here, we shall find it in a dying hour, and still more at the judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Yea, it will add to our joy hereafter, else it could not be called "laying up treasure in heaven."

2. The impending ills that threaten us. "Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth." Covetousness would turn this to another use: "We know not what we shall want; we must every one look to himself." No! that which you now possess may be taken from you: foes may consume it, floods may sweep it away, enemies may invade it, or internal changes may strip you of your all. Do good while you have it, in your power — by and by you may be unable.

3. The design of God in affording us what we have — not that it may be hoarded, but communicated. "If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth." Inanimate nature is brought in to provoke us. We are but stewards after all, and must give account of our stewardship.

4. The near approach of death, when all our opportunities will be for ever at an end.

(A. Fuller.)

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.)


1. God worketh all. His wisdom plans, His power executes, and His love reigns over all.

2. The method is unknown.


1. Man's agency is subordinate. There are things certain belonging to man as the subject, minister, interpreter, symbol of God and of Providence.

(1)Activity is the distinction of man.

(2)The world must go back unless man will work.

2. Man must work according to certain laws. "Cast thy bread upon the waters," etc. It is not certain you shall reap all you sow, but it is absolutely certain you cannot reap unless you sow.

III. THERE ARE CERTAINTIES IN REFERENCE TO SOCIETY. "Give a portion to seven, and also to eight," etc.

1. That men have certain moral and spiritual duties to discharge.

2. That the latent evil of the human heart is liable to explosion.Conclusion: —

1. Cultivate as much as possible your thinking powers.

2. Let not She uncertainties connected with Providence tempt you either to indolence or to despondency.

3. Work in faith through the power of God.

(Caleb Morris.)

All men, whatever their creed, character, or conduct, have a social agency. "No man liveth unto himself." The text indicates the kind of agency that a thoroughly good man exerts upon his race.

I. DIVINELY TRUSTFUL. Faith in God and His eternal laws is the mainspring in all the efforts of a good man's life. He is ruled by principles, not by results. He looks, "not at the things that are temporal, but at those things that are eternal": he "walks, not by sight, but by faith."

II. EMINENTLY BENEFICENT. What he gives out is not stones or chaff, but bread, corn, the life of the world. Like a seed —

1. His every act has life in it. His every effort is an embodiment of a living conviction. The efforts of others are mere chaff.

2. His every act has propagating power in it. It is a seed that will germinate, multiply. One really good act has proved the seed of millions of noble efforts.

3. His every act has a helpful power in it. It supplies moral bread for the world.

III. INEVITABLY REMUNERATIVE. "Thou shalt find it after many days." The reward will not come at once. You cannot force moral vegetation. But, though slow, it will come. "Thou shalt find it." "A good man," says Carlyle, "is ever a creative mystic centre of goodness. A good thing done 3,000 years ago works now, and will work through all endless times and years." No good effort has ever been lost, or ever can be. It is a Divine incarnation, and more imperishable than the stars.


I. A PRECIOUS DEPOSIT. That which is to be parted with is not "seed" merely, but "bread," i.e. in an anticipative and inclusive sense. If the husbandman would have increase he must sow again in faith, and commit himself to a watchful Providence. In commerce, too, it is exemplified: a man invests in land or in bonds which have no present market value; but his business sagacity tells him they will have in the course of years, and if he himself may not benefit by the venture, his son will. The capital the manufacturer sinks in plant, etc., has the same significance. It is in the realm of ideas, in fact, that the saying is most manifestly verified. The thinker stakes his reputation, comfort, life even, upon the realization of his doctrines, which are the most cherished embodiment of his spirit.

II. AN UNCERTAIN RECEPTACLE. "Upon the waters." The text seems to encourage an almost wanton openhandedness in beneficence. Is it so? If there is one phase of traditional alms-giving which the modern spirit deprecates more than another, it is its indiscriminateness. We not only desire to certify to ourselves the fitting objects of our compassion, but to follow them into the actual surroundings of their daily life, that the ultimate aim of our assistance may be secured. "When the starving man has been relieved, modern charity inquires whether any fault in the social system deprived him of his share of nature's bounty, any unjust advantage taken by the strong over the weak, any rudeness or want of culture in himself wrecking his virtue and his habits of thrift." To this we have to reply that —

1. Neither this nor any other Scripture forbids inquiry. It would, on the contrary, be true to the genius of Christianity to satisfy ourselves as far as possible that our alms is well bestowed, and that it is given in such a way as to secure the utmost advantage to the recipient.

2. When every practicable security has been taken charitable help and spiritual service will still be attended with much uncertainty. The methods of the mathematician are not applicable to Christian enterprise to any appreciable extent. No one can pretend to be an infallible reader of char-actor.

3. It is often the duty of the Christian to work and to give even when he cannot be certain as to results.


1. "After many days" — a sober promise, but true to the law of Moses. Even in this life, according to the Decalogue, the reward was at least to begin. Late or soon it is sure to come to all who are earnest and unselfish. God never loses sight of our "work of faith."

2. "Shall find" — therein consists the romantic interest of the spiritual venture. What will it be for some who have laboured in the Church on earth with scarce any visible result, but whose welcome to heaven will be from the tips of one born here and another born there through services that seemed without fruit!

(A. F. Muir, M. A.)

There can be nothing clearer from the Bible than that, though man can deserve nothing from the Creator, so that his best actions, if tried by their own worth, would procure him only wrath, nevertheless he will be tried by his works, and receive a recompense of which those works shall determine the extent. God, in His infinite condescension and love, has resolved to deal with us as though we had been able to deserve at His hands; proportioning what He bestows be what we have done in His cause, though all the while it is only as a free gift that we receive the least of those elements which constitute future happiness. And when this principle has been settled — the principle that, though we cannot merit from God, our actions are to decide our condition — we may speak of good works as hereafter to be rewarded, because they are as inevitably to regulate our portion as though that portion were a recompense in the strictest sense of the term. And if, then, it be lawful to speak of reward, we may certainly speak of the bread "cast upon the waters" as "found after many days." It will very frequently happen that we have no moans whatever of ascertaining that any beneficial results have been produced by our most earnest and disinterested labours; and it is quite possible, moreover, that no such results have yet followed, and that none will follow. The utmost which many of the most devoted servants of God can affirm when they come to die is, that they have been diligently casting bread upon the waters. They have received no testimony of the usefulness of the bread which they have thus east — no testimony that the examples they have set, the exhortations they have uttered, the Bibles they have distributed, have been instrumental to the adding a single member to the visible Church. And are they on this account to conclude that they have made a wholly fruitless outlay of zeal and exertion? It were indeed a most erroneous impression. The attempt to benefit others, even if it spring from a pure love to God, may utterly fail, as far as its professed objects are concerned; but it cannot fail to be beneficial to ourselves. And when at the last those who have gladly spent and been spear in the service of God, and whose toils and sacrifices have never been sweetened by the knowledge that they were effectual in accomplishing the ends for which they were endured — when these men shall receive their portion from their Judge, there will be given the most effectual demonstration that "God is not unrighteous to forget their work of labour and love." To every man will be allotted a recompense, to every sacrifice a compensation. But we have thus only vindicated the statement of our text on the extreme supposition, namely, that our labours to do good are so wholly ineffectual, that they produce no advantageous results to those whose benefit was their object. And we call this the extreme supposition, because we believe that ordinarily where God has prompted to exertion and to sacrifice He crowns them with some measure of success, though He may not always allow that success to be known. The quantity of good wrought by this or that agency is commonly amongst those secrets which only the future can unfold. And we can believe that this unfolding will be one of the most surprising and animating transactions of the last judgment. The minister who has been oppressed up to his dying hour by the melancholy conviction that his warnings, his entreaties, his expostulations, have been lost on his congregation, may be hailed by many, as the instrument of their conversion. And parents who have had to struggle with that heaviest of trials, the ungodliness of children, and who have not had the least ground to hope that their remonstrances and tears and prayers have wrought any effect upon their reprobate offspring, they may be met hereafter by the sons or the daughters whose contempt of religion entered as iron into their souls, but into whose hearts their admonition had sunk notwithstanding the apparent insensibility. Now, this naturally leads to our taking that view of the text which is practically of the greatest importance. We wish you to regard the text as a promise — a promise which is admirably fitted to guard you against becoming "weary in well-doing." When considered under this point of view, the words are of extraordinary value, for they just meet that feeling of despondency which those who labour for God are often tempted to entertain. It is evident that we might apply the words to every endeavour to benefit our fellow-men by imparting to them that bread which came down from heaven. The text contains a decisive assertion that such endeavours shall not be unavailing. But, at the same time, by speaking of "many days," it warns us alike against impatience and despondency. And it should lead us, in every case in which there seems to be no result from our labours, to examine whether we have faithfully complied with its precept; whether there have been diligence in casting the bread; and whether it has really been bread that we have east. Of course if there have been a defect in either of these particulars, it is no marvel that the promise has not been made good, and we cannot but think it in a high degree probable that much of the apparent failure in the fulfilment of this promise must be traced to non-compliance with its conditions.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

It does not seem to be a very lofty precept in the Preacher's sense of it. He does not intend by it what we might mean by Christian charity, but rather a doing what you can with your own interests in view. Make your kindness a sort of investment. Be kind in every way you can, even in most unlikely ways, because they may turn out unexpectedly to be profitable to yourself. But we shall take the precept in a higher light, in the light of our Lord's teaching, as when He said, for example, "He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it."

1. No work done in Christ's name is ever in vain. The tenor of all Scripture is in harmony with that. God's word shall not return unto Him void. And Jesus said that the giver even of a cup of cold water in His name should not be without his reward. The great waste of loving labour in human history, labour spent on unworthy causes, has often been remarked upon. Mark Rutherford gives as an instance the love and sacrifice that were lavished on the Jacobite cause. The devotion to that cause on the part of many was wonderful. The Jacobite songs still live because they breathe a fervour of loyalty and a strength of attachment which were vividly real in their day. But the cause is a lost one. It is all love's labour lost, and it is pathetic to think of the waste of love connected with it. Not so is it with the cause of Christ. What an amount has been spent on that cause in the course of the ages! What an amount of sacrifice made and suffering borne and loving labour endured! Useless, fruitless, we might have said many a time and oft. But not one of Christ's countless followers would have recalled one jot or tittle of it all — not in the midst of their toil and travail, not in their final hour, and not assuredly now when they stand around the throne. From the very first it brought to them an immediate return in soul-satisfaction. It brought what the world could neither give nor take away. It was a saying of Cromwell's that "he goes furthest who knows not where he is going." It is not business-like to know not whither you are going, and he is not likely to go far who should enter upon business in that fashion. But in the spiritual realm it is different. The great thing there is to follow the Divine leading, and to sow even though it be in tears, trusting Him, who gives the command, that all will be well, and that in His own good time there shall come a reaping time of joy.

2. The text suggests to us also the blessing that may be hid in delay. It is not best for our spiritual life that we should always get immediate returns for our labours. The transaction which is done to-day, and whose results can be pocketed to-morrow, is not usually of the kind that gives strength and beauty to the character. Macaulay objected to school-prizes because the reward was too immediate. The true reward of hearty study comes to be realized only after many days. Is it not so also in business? The man who prospers too easily is not likely thereby to develop the finest type of character. In spiritual work immediate and abundant reaping tends sometimes to be productive of spiritual pride, to a man's own undoing and to the undoing, probably, of the work itself. The noblest Christians are those who most markedly have in their patience won their souls.

(J. S. Mayer, M. A.)

Some think that this image is borrowed from sea-trading. The merchant sent his ship over the waters, he lost sight of it altogether, and in those days the quickest passage on record was unknown. Solomon had a navy, and once in three years it returned, bringing gold and silver, apes and peacocks. The merchant of that period had to wait long, to scan the horizon oft, before he was greeted with the sight of his returning barque. So if we do good to men, it is like launching some precious craft on the deep, which at best must be long before its return gladdens the eye. And some of the work we do seems specially doubtful, and calls for exceptional patience; it is not so much as if we sent a ship to India or China, but rather as if we put our heart and treasure into a fleet which must dare the dark and icy seas of the North Pole. But even then it shall return. "Thou shalt find it after many days." Your work shall not be unavailing, your barque shall not be shipwrecked. To do any work with ardour and thoroughness and perseverance we must have a strong assurance that it will succeed, and in the noblest work we have that assurance. The seed that was sown generations ago is bearing fruit to-day, and it shall be so once more with the seed we sow. The ship we send forth with trembling, that is never reported from any foreign port, that is never spoken with by a passing sail, that sends no message in sealed bottle on the waves, that is frozen fast in abysses of frost and darkness, shall nevertheless return, bringing treasure beyond all ivory, pearls, or gold. On celestial cliffs we shall hail argosies that we fitted out and sent over stormy seas. Every kind word, every unselfish act, every true prayer, tells, and tells deeply, abidingly.

(W. L. Watkinson.)

Disaster, Divide, Eight, Evil, Misfortune, Occur, Portion, Seven, Yea, Yes
1. directions for charity
7. death in life and the day of judgment
9. in the days of youth

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Ecclesiastes 11:2

     1656   numbers, combinations
     6182   ignorance, human situation

A New Years Sermon to the Young
'Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.... Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.'--ECCLES. xi. 9; xii. 1. This strange, and in some places perplexing Book of Ecclesiastes, is intended to
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Sowing in the Wind, Reaping under Clouds
"He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap."--Ecclesiastes 11:4. SOW when the time comes, whatever wind blows. Reap when the times comes, whatever clouds are in the sky. There are, however, qualifying proverbs, which must influence our actions. We are not to discard prudence in the choice of the time for our work. "To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." It is well to sow when the weather is propitious. It is wise
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 38: 1892

Of Confession and Self-Examination
Of Confession and Self-examination Self-examination should always precede Confession, and in the nature and manner of it should be conformable to the state of the soul: the business of those that are advanced to the degree of which we now treat, is to lay their whole souls open before God, who will not fail to enlighten them, and enable them to see the peculiar nature of their faults. This examination, however, should be peaceful and tranquil, and we should depend on God for the discovery and knowledge
Madame Guyon—A Short and Easy Method of Prayer

Curiosity a Temptation to Sin.
"Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away."--Proverbs iv. 14, 15. The chief cause of the wickedness which is every where seen in the world, and in which, alas! each of us has more or less his share, is our curiosity to have some fellowship with darkness, some experience of sin, to know what the pleasures of sin are like. I believe it is even thought unmanly by many persons (though they may not like to say
John Henry Newman—Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VIII

1872-1874. Letter from Rev. A. M. W. Christopher --Letter from Gulf of St. Lawrence-Mrs. Birt's Sheltering Home, Liverpool --Letter to Mrs. Merry --Letter from Canada --Miss
Letter from Rev. A. M. W. Christopher--Letter from Gulf of St. Lawrence-Mrs. Birt's Sheltering Home, Liverpool--Letter to Mrs. Merry--Letter from Canada--Miss Macpherson's return to England-- Letter of cheer for Dr. Barnardo--Removal to Hackney Home. Though human praise is not sought, we cannot but feel peculiar pleasure in giving the following testimony from a servant of the Lord so much revered as the Rev, A. M. W. Christopher of Oxford:-- "Of all the works of Christian benevolence which the great
Clara M. S. Lowe—God's Answers

How the Slothful and the Hasty are to be Admonished.
(Admonition 16.) Differently to be admonished are the slothful and the hasty. For the former are to be persuaded not to lose, by putting it off, the good they have to do; but the latter are to be admonished lest, while they forestall the time of good deeds by inconsiderate haste, they change their meritorious character. To the slothful therefore it is to be intimated, that often, when we will not do at the right time what we can, before long, when we will, we cannot. For the very indolence of
Leo the Great—Writings of Leo the Great

Jesus Attends the First Passover of his Ministry.
(Jerusalem, April 9, a.d. 27.) Subdivision A. Jesus Cleanses the Temple. ^D John II. 13-25. ^d 13 And the passover of the Jews was at hand [We get our information as to the length of our Lord's ministry from John's Gospel. He groups his narrative around six Jewish festivals: 1, He here mentions the first passover; 2, another feast, which we take to have been also a passover (v. 1); 3, another passover (vi. 4); 4, the feast of tabernacles (vii. 2); 5, dedication (x. 22); 6, passover (xi. 55). This
J. W. McGarvey—The Four-Fold Gospel

How those are to be Admonished who Decline the Office of Preaching Out of Too Great Humility, and those who Seize on it with Precipitate Haste.
(Admonition 26.) Differently to be admonished are those who, though able to preach worthily, are afraid by reason of excessive humility, and those whom imperfection or age forbids to preach, and yet precipitancy impells. For those who, though able to preach with profit, still shrink back through excessive humility are to be admonished to gather from consideration of a lesser matter how faulty they are in a greater one. For, if they were to hide from their indigent neighbours money which they possessed
Leo the Great—Writings of Leo the Great

Jeremiah, a Lesson for the Disappointed.
"Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord."--Jeremiah i. 8. The Prophets were ever ungratefully treated by the Israelites, they were resisted, their warnings neglected, their good services forgotten. But there was this difference between the earlier and the later Prophets; the earlier lived and died in honour among their people,--in outward honour; though hated and thwarted by the wicked, they were exalted to high places, and ruled in the congregation.
John Henry Newman—Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VIII

The Wrath of God
What does every sin deserve? God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and in that which is to come. Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.' Matt 25: 41. Man having sinned, is like a favourite turned out of the king's favour, and deserves the wrath and curse of God. He deserves God's curse. Gal 3: 10. As when Christ cursed the fig-tree, it withered; so, when God curses any, he withers in his soul. Matt 21: 19. God's curse blasts wherever it comes. He deserves also God's wrath, which is
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments

It is not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes had a struggle to maintain its place in the canon, and it was probably only its reputed Solomonic authorship and the last two verses of the book that permanently secured its position at the synod of Jamnia in 90 A.D. The Jewish scholars of the first century A.D. were struck by the manner in which it contradicted itself: e.g., "I praised the dead more than the living," iv. 2, "A living dog is better than a dead lion," ix. 4; but they were still more
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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