Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.