Ecc_11:1. Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
WHILST, in the purity of its precepts, the inspired volume exceeds all other books upon the face of the earth, it excels all other compositions in the variety and richness of the images under which it exhibits our duty and urges the performance of it. The image under which liberality is here inculcated is well understood in countries where the heat of the climate, uniting with periodical inundations, enables the husbandman to proceed in a mode of agriculture unknown to us in the colder regions of the globe. In Egypt, for instance, where the Nile overflows the country periodically to a vast extent, it is common for men to cast their seed, their rice especially, upon the waters, whilst yet they are at a considerable depth. This might seem to be folly in the extreme: but experience proves, that, instead of losing their seed, they find it again, after many days, rising into an abundant crop. Such shall be the return which we also shall find to our efforts, if we exert ourselves,
For the relief of men’s bodily wants—
Liberality to the poor is strongly insisted on in the Holy Scriptures. It is inculcated,
In a way of precept—
[Exceedingly clear and strong were the injunctions which God gave on this subject to his people of old [Note: See Deu_15:7-11 and cite the whole.] — — — So, under the New Testament dispensation, we are enjoined to “labour with our own hands;” and to “lay by us weekly, in proportion as God has prospered us,” for the purpose of relieving others [Note: Eph_4:28. 1Co_16:2.] — — — Nay, so obvious is this duty, that the man who lives not in the practice of it must be an utter stranger to the love of God in his soul [Note: 1Jn_3:17.]: for “if he love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen [Note: 1Jn_4:20.]?”]
In a way of example—
[The good Samaritan shews us how we ought to exercise generosity, even towards those who, by reason of particular differences and distinctions, may appear to be most remote from us [Note: Luk_10:33-37.]. The widow, in giving her mite, which was all that she possessed, might be thought to have acted a very wild and extravagant part, especially when she gave it for a purpose to which it could bear no proportion, namely, the repairing of the temple: yet is that commended to us, by our Lord himself, as an example highly to be admired, and universally to be followed [Note: Mar_12:42-43.]. As for the Macedonians, who were proposed as an example to the Corinthians, their generosity exceeded all belief: for when in great affliction, and in a state of deep poverty, they abounded unto the riches of liberality, and of their own selves, without any solicitation on the part of the Apostle, besought him with much entreaty to take upon him the distribution of their alms [Note: 2Co_8:1-4.]. Nothing can give us a higher idea of the excellence of charity than this.]
In a way of encouragement—
[God assures us, that “whatever we give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord; and that he will, in one way or another, repay us again [Note: Pro_19:17.].” He will repay us, even in a way of temporal prosperity: for the giving of “the first-fruits of all our increase to the poor is the way, not to empty our barns, but to fill them with plenty, and to make our presses burst out with new wine [Note: Pro_3:9-10.].” Still more will he repay us in a way of spiritual prosperity; since, “if we draw out our soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, he will satisfy our souls in drought, and make fat our bones, and make us like a watered garden, or like a spring of water, whose waters fail not [Note: Isa_58:10-11.].” Even with eternal rewards will he repay us, “recompensing, at the resurrection of the just,” the smallest services we have rendered his people [Note: Luk_14:14.], and not suffering “even a cup of cold water to be left without its appropriate reward [Note: Mat_10:42.].”
I say then, with assured confidence in reference to this matter, “Cast your seed upon the waters; and you shall find it after many days.”]
But we may understand our text as encouraging our exertions also,
For the advancement of men’s mental improvement—
To this the same image is applied by the prophet Isaiah; who gives us this additional information, that persons, previous to their casting of their seed upon the waters, send forth their oxen and their asses to tread the ground with their feet, in order the better to prepare the earth for its reception: “Blessed are ye who sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass [Note: Isa_32:20.].” Now this refers to the publication of the Gospel in every place, however untoward the circumstances, or hopeless the appearance. And we can bear witness to the truth of the prophet’s observation: for in many places, and on many hearts, where there has been as little prospect of success as could well be conceived, God has given efficacy to the word of his grace; and the handful of corn sown upon the top of the mountains has sprung up, so that the fruit thereof has shaken like the woods of Lebanon; and those of the city where it has been cast have flourished like the piles of grass upon the earth [Note: Psa_72:16. If this be a subject for Missions, this idea must be enlarged, and all that follows it be omitted.].”
To Infant Schools, for the promotion of which I now more immediately address you, the text is peculiarly applicable; since nothing can be supposed more hopeless than any attempt to benefit the rising generation, from the ages of two to five or six. But I must say, that, if you cast your seed upon these waters, you shall find it again, in very abundant benefits conferred on all the poorer classes of society—
[What a relief is it to the mother to have her infants duly attended to through the day; whilst she, instead of having her hands tied by the care of them, is enabled to earn bread for their support! What a benefit, too, is it to her elder daughter; who would otherwise have her time occupied in attending upon her younger brothers and sisters, and be thereby deprived of education for herself, whilst she was discharging that important office! This is of immense importance, because it secures to all the children of the poor the same advantages; the elder and the younger being alike partakers of the benefits thus freely accorded to them.
But to the children themselves the benefits are incalculably great. We cannot but have seen, times without number, what depraved habits are contracted by the children of the poor when playing about the streets or lanes of a town without control. At home, for the most part, they see nothing but evil; and abroad, they practise it in every way with sad proficiency, lying, swearing, quarrelling, the very pests of the neighbourhood wherein they dwell. As for any thing good, they learn it not; having no good principles instilled into them, and no good examples set before them. But by being brought into a school at the early age of two or three years, they are kept from all those temptations to which they would otherwise be exposed; and have their conduct watched over, their tempers corrected, their habits restrained, their principles improved, their whole deportment brought into subjection to good instruction and to well-ordered authority. They are insensibly taught, by the example of others, what could not have been infused into them by mere abstract precept; and they acquire, by imitation, habits of order and docility, which they could not by any other method have obtained. Now, then, who shall estimate the value of this to the children themselves? or who shall say, What benefit shall, in a course of years, arise to the whole community from such institutions as these, if they be generally established and well supported? I have not spoken respecting religious advantages accruing to the children, because it may be supposed that they are not at that early age capable of religious instruction. But is it nothing, to prevent the soil being overrun with briars and thorns, and to have it improved by the infusion of moral principles? In fact, a child’s religion consists chiefly in the fear of God, and in an habitual regard to his all-seeing eye: and this is implanted in their minds to vast advantage, by the entire system of discipline to which they are subjected, as well as by the distinct instructions which are given them. And though it is but too probable that they may afterwards lose the impressions which are then made upon their minds, yet they can never forget the general idea, that it was well with them when they were so disciplined and so instructed. Nor is the influence which they may carry home into their domestic circles, a trifling matter: for when their parents hear them giving an account of the lessons they have learned—lessons of meekness and patience, of truth and honesty, of purity and love—they may themselves be put to shame, and acquire very important hints for their own improvement.]
I beg leave, then, to recommend to your support this important institution—
I would recommend it,
[First, for the sake of the rising generation, on whom it will confer so great a benefit — — — Next, for the sake of those who have set on foot this benevolent plan. None but persons of very enlarged minds could ever have devised such means of benefiting the poor. To instruct such infants would, to any common understanding, have appeared as hopeless a task as that of “casting bread upon the waters.” Yet experience has proved its vast utility; and shewn, that if such institutions were to prevail in every town, a most extensive benefit would be conferred on the whole community. Shall, then, persons capable of adorning and instructing the highest ranks in society not meet with support, when they employ their talents in contriving means for benefiting the poor? Surely every person ought to bear testimony to the worth and excellence of such designs; and to give them, the beat tribute of applause, their active concurrence, and their most liberal support.
Lastly, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, I would urge upon you the support of this beneficent institution: for he counted not little children beneath his notice; but took them up in his arms, and put his hands upon them and blessed them, and declared that every attention that was paid to such infants would be regarded by him as paid to himself [Note: Mat_18:2; Mat_18:5.]. If, then, you have any love to the Saviour, who himself assumed a state of infancy for you—yea, and died upon the cross for you—shew it by your liberality on this occasion. Let all endeavour to cultivate the ground. Let him that hath an ox, “send forth his ox;” and let him that hath an ass, “send forth his ass.” Let every one, according to his ability, contribute to help forward this good work, without intermission and without despondency. To every one amongst you I would say, “In the morning sow thy seed; in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good [Note: ver. 6.]”]