“Cast Thy Bread upon the Waters” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)

By George Welsh Tyler

Along the Nile River the civilization of the Pharaohs flourished many centuries. It was the very heart and center of a remarkably great prosperity. The great historian, Herodotus, described it in these words: “Egypt is the Nile.” The Nile’s course sweeps four thousand miles down to the Mediterranean Sea its floods carrying rich alluvial deposits into the lower valley and the delta. It was into this delta that Jacob and his sons went and that his people remained there four hundred years because food and grain were there.

The Nile floods twice each year. In ancient times it was the custom to sow seed by casting it from boats into the overflowing waters, or in the marshy ground, so that when the flood waters receded, the grain would be planted in the flood deposits of the valley. Isaiah evidently refers to this in Isa. 32:20 when he wrote: “Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters.” And the message from Ecclesiastes pertaining to the grain being cast upon the waters brings to our minds several items with reference to the sowing of seed, and the gaining of the harvest.

The Seed Is the Word

The mission of the church is to cast the seed; or the gospel, into the human currents of the world. The divine promise of spiritual returns is not at all empty, but real. In 1 Pet. 1:23 “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Word of God, which liveth and abideth.” Here, the Word of God is described as the seed to’ be sown-the seed capable of producing abiding results.

Returning to the figure suggested in Ecclesiastes relative to the casting of the grain upon the waters, let us turn our attention to the eternal values which accrue in sowing the seed which brings forth Christian men and women.

There seems to be two phases to this venture that are worthy of consideration at this time. The first has to do with the seed, the Word of God, which is to be sown broadcast to the whole world. Matthew and Mark both give us versions of the Great Commission given by Christ to His apostles and Luke tells us where and when they were to start. Acts 7:1,4 tell us how the church of the first century put the Savior’s command into practice. This seed is described by the writer of Hebrews as “the word of righteousness” (Heb. 5:13); It is called “seed” (1 Pet. 5:13); “Oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). It is also described by a number of other different terms.

From Heb. 5:13 and other like-passages of scripture we are impressed with the fact the seed is the Word of God and not something developed by man. It is not something that may seem to be right in human eyes, but, rather, that which God has ordained for us to speak to dying men as the message of salvation. We find a statement back in the Old Testament: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6) and Judg. 21:25 reads the same way. Too often that same attitude prevails today concerning the Word which is preached to men under the title of the gospel. The seed of righteousness can be only God’s Word.

The Word of God is also described as the “word of reconciliation.” In 2 Cor. 5:19 we read: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” This sentence might be better understood if punctuated as follows: “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” It was through Christ that God created the world; it was through Him that God was reconciling the world unto Himself. Paul was the ambassador of Christ working together with God. This in no way contradicts the plain teaching of the Scripture as to the deity of Jesus. His mission was to reveal the Father and save the lost. Paul wrote: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the God-head bodily” (Col. 2:9). See also Phil. 2:5-11. The Gospel of John was written to show how Christ revealed the Father. John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (Jn. 1:18). At the height of his ministry, Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it will suffice us.” Jesus said: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the father in me; or else believe me for my very works sake” (John 14:10 to 12). Paul wrote: “And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight” (Col. 1:21,22).

Again, the seed, or Word is known as the “word of life.” Speaking of the “word of life,” Paul said, “Holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labored in vain” (Phil. 2:16). Just as physical seed is sown in order to gain the harvest of daily bread, so must also the seed of eternal life be sown abroad so that the divine bread of life may be had by all men.

After the seed has been planted, we shall expect the harvest. Not only is it promised to be a good harvest (in case of the Word of God), the gospel seed, like any other seed, will produce only after its kind. The Gospel only, makes Christians Only. The pure and unadulterated Gospel has never been known to produce a denominational church. Too, the Word of righteousness produces a character of righteousness in those who obey it.

Sowing the Seed

The second phase – the planting of the Word of God – is the actual proclaiming of the gospel, and supporting those who preach it. Paul wrote, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things” (Rom. 10:14,15). A preacher is a Christian who knows something about God’s Word and is able to tell it to others. In order that his efforts may be effective he must “practice what he preaches.” One does not have to be a full-time preacher to do evangelistic work. The Christians of the first century gave us the example. “They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

The preacher has no “divine call” above any other Christians. He has no special code of morals to live by above that of other Christians. If he has talent for speaking and teaching, the church may ask him to devote all his time to the work. He will work under the elders, and the church will meet his living expenses because “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7). A church in California, with which both this writer and editor of Truth Magazine are both well acquainted, is doing this kind of work and has already sent one young man out into the field and is training another who is now preaching for a small church a few miles away and continuing his training. We pray that more of our churches will follow this example.

We hear much these days about what sort of a world we should have today had the gospel been more completely broadcast to the world two or three hundred years ago. Well, this may be an interesting subject for research, but the thing that ought to concern us right now is the next century or two. What are we doing right now to guarantee the gospel a chance to change the nature of the world’s course or that of our own nation in the next century? Because of the nature of things, we must plan today for the next century. It is high time just now to cast the gospel seed upon the waters so that the tomorrows will be far better than the todays!

Finally, outside, of the need already mentioned, is there any other reason for casting our bread upon the waters? In answer, let us remember that sowing of the seed is a divine command. That ought to be reason enough for any sane man to obey. God not only gave us the command to sow the seed of the kingdom but also gave us His reasons. In His Word we are informed that the gospel is given to build men up. Acts. 20:32 reads: “And now, brethren I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.”

Not only does the Word of God build men up, it sanctifies them as well. John 17:17 reads: “Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth.” The term “sanctify” means “to set apart for a holy use.” Thus one man with the gospel may sow the seed that will be instrumental in setting apart a whole nation for God’s holy purpose! This is the secret of the amazing program of investment to be realized in the proclamation of the gospel. In no other enterprise in the entire world are the potential rewards so great. Paul could not see how effective his preaching would be in the long years to come. His word yet echoes around the globe. He took the gospel from Asia to Europe and from there it reached to America. We are confident that Paul is still reaping the joys of his gospel sowing, even as every real Christian living here now or in the next world is made happy in the knowledge that his influence through the gospel never ceases!

Truth Magazine XIX: 49, pp. 778-779
October 23, 1975