ASPECT 6, PART 3: DEALING WITH OUR INFERIORS: ECCLESIASTES 11:1-6
This section explains how we are to deal with poor: By giving liberally to succor them in their need.
1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. 3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. 4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. 5 As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. 6 In the morning sow thy seed, and 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.
So much of our carraige towards superiors; now follows in the third place our demeanor towards inferiors.
Inferiors in one particular kind, viz, the poor and needy: twoard whom the principal virture which wisdom teacheth us to exercise is liberality, here to shew wherein one special use of riches )so much doted upon( doth consist; quite contrary to men’s conceit, who would be happy by treasuring up, not distributing abroad. This duty of charity and liberality to men in necessity is
First, proposed and commended to us in the first verse, Cast thy bread upon the waters, i.e, give alms of thine own substance to the poor. Bread is put for all things whatsoever, whereby our neighbors wany may be relieved. By waters are meant the poor that cannot recompense thee, upon whom whatsoever is bestowed is in the opinion of carnal and covetous wretches cast away, and employed to as good purpose, as if a man should hurl his bread down the river, or into the sea to feed fishes. It seems the precept is a proverbial speech used by niggards to defend their over-sparing which proverb Solomon here crosseth: It is but bread cast inot the water, saith the covetous: yet cast it there, saith Solomon, and this precept he confirms by a reason, directly opposing the carnal conceit of loss, for thou shalt find it after many days, thou shalt be rewarded, and reap the fruit and benefit of thy liberality in due time it may be not presently, yet after many days, when thou hast patiently expected a while, verse 1.
Second, amplified and further urged on us, by the extent of our liberality, that we sow not sparingly a little, and that to a few, but give a portion, a liberal gift, to seven and also to eight, i.e., to many, to all as their need deserves & our ability permits. The reason to move us to this largess is here again quite contrary to the covetous man’s conceit. I see, saith he, the forepart of my life, but not the latter end, I may come to want that which I now give: Nay, therefore, saith the spirit of God, “give because thou knowest not what evil will be on the earth, thou mayest come to poverty, and stand in need of others’ help; now then thou art rich, do good to the poor, and make thee many friends against an evil time, who may then succour thee, verse 2.
The extent of liberality is further confirmed by the similitude from natural things, which are communicative of their goodness. If the clouds be full, they empty themselves upon the earth. Clouds have their moisture not for themselves but for the benefit of the earth, the more they have within the more they pour down, and that not upon some one man’s land only, but over the whole of the country. Such should rich men be with their riches.
Liberality is also commended by prevention of an objection, some are wicked and unworthy persons and what a man look for by relieving of such? Yea, Solomon answers, be he worthy or unworthy that receives thine alms, thou that givest it with an honest heart, shalt not lose thine reward. Which is set forth by a simile of a tree which is felled, which if it falls towards the south or towards the north, in the place where it falleth, their shall it be, however it fall, yet still is the owners and he may have commodity by it, verse 3.
Response to Objections:
Prevention of such objeciton and doubts as carnal men may frame, out of their covetous and distrustful hearts: O, I am in debt, I have rents and purchases to pay, money is scant, it’s a hard time, I am young, I’ll tarry till I have got more wealth, I am old and everybody pulls from me, I am not sure what reward I shall have when I am dead, and I see no likely means to save any recompense for my liberality on such persons: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; and how, when, which way will God doe thus for me and mine? While the grass grows, the horse starves, and et cetera. To these and thousand like objections, Solomon opposes two answers:
First answer: Against pretences of unseasonableness in doing good. The vanity, whereof he confutes by comparing it with the like in matter of husbandry, He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. He is a foolish and unprovident husbandman that will delay and put off his seed time and harvest upon every change of weather: it is too dry, or too moist, too hot, or too cold, ‘tis like to snow or rain, the wind will be too high & c. Therefore let’s tarry another and another day; we would think him to be lewd and lazy, that for such idle fears would forego his season. As foolish are men in this spiritual earing & harvest of good works, who put off upon simple excuses till a more convenient seaons, so long till time and season be all past, verse 4.
Second answer: Against distrust and diffidence in God’s providence, because we see not the means how we shall be recompensed. This doubt Solomon removes, by putting us in the mind of God’s unsearchable wisdom: and our ignorance in the course of his proceedings. And that therefore we are not to limit his powers, to prescribe time and means and manner to his wisdom.
Our ignorance of God’s wonderful working in a civil affairs, is expressed by our want of knowledge in natural things, comparing both together? As thou knowest not the way of the spirit, either of the wind, the nature whereof we know not, John 3, or with reference to that which follows, of the soul: how a living, reasonable soul is bred or brougth into conception, Nor how the bones or body synecdoche, do grow is fashioned, and increaseth in the womb of her that is with child as in these, so in other things, Thou knowest not the work of God who maketh all, wherefore it is good to commit thyself to his wisdom and providence, and not to trust thine own, verse 5.
From these answer is inferred a horatory conclusion of this whole business touching charity76, therefore, do good upon all occasions, seeing thou knowest not whcih will bring home the greatest blessing and reward, or whether all will prove alike beneficial to thee. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand, i.e., be liberal at all times early and late, in youth and age: he continues the allegory of sowing and plowers sow in the evening as well as mornings, For thou knowest not whether shall prosper, shall bring in the better crop, either this or that, the late or the early sown seed, or whether both shall be alike good. Take all opportunities, and some certainly will hit home77, verse 6.