Ignorance and Knowledge

Arthur Pink
April, 1944

"Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight—for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land." Ecclesiastes 11:1-2

These words enunciate a broad principle which is of general application, intimating our ignorance of future providences. But they also have a more specific meaning, as may be seen from their setting. The context contains an exhortation unto generosity, and cultivating acts of benevolence. For the gardener to cast seed, which he could ill spare, upon a marshy soil, especially if covered by waters; might seem improvident and unwise—but assurance is given him that he shall find it again after many days—the autumn harvest will vindicate his springtide faith and labor. From this, a practical application is made, "Give portions to seven, yes to eight." Do not selfishly hoard up what God has so freely bestowed on you—but distribute a goodly proportion among those who are not so well provided for. Consider the poor and needy and minister to their needs—do not think that it will all be wasted upon them and come to nothing.

But unbelief may object, "The outlook is far from being favorable, and therefore I should lay up more and more against my own rainy day." The miser says, "I do not know what the future has in store for me, so it is the part of prudence to accumulate while I may." No! says our passage, we should reason the very opposite, "For you do not know what disaster may come upon the land." Since you know not how calamitous the times may shortly be—then do all possible in the present—and you will not be the loser in the future. The instability of human affairs and the possibility that our riches may soon take to themselves wings and fly away, furnishes a sound reason why we should do as much good with them as we can while we have them—and leave the outcome with God. He will not allow the liberal soul to starve. He who has been wisely charitable to the indigent—is likely to be the recipient of most kindness if an evil day should come upon him; but the miser makes no friends and is left alone when misfortune strikes.

The exhortations of Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2 are by no means to be restricted unto the disbursement of temporal charity—they have also a spiritual import, with a particular application unto the minister of the Gospel. As Faith is needed by the farmer in order to the discharge of his duties—so it is with the evangelical gardener. He must not be discouraged by the lack of response he meets with, and the absence of immediate fruitage to his labors. If he is faithful in casting the Bread of life upon the human "waters" (see Rev. 17:15), particularly "your Bread"—those portions you have personally received from God and which have proved a blessing to your own soul—the sure promise is "you shall find it again after many days." Therefore be not slack or exclusive, but "give portions to seven, yes to eight," for if you prayerfully seek opportunities and carefully observe the openings which Providence makes—you will be brought into touch with hungry souls. There is many a starved sheep wandering about today—who will deeply appreciate the ministrations of one of Christ's shepherds.

Not only so—but "for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land" supplies a further incentive to fidelity. Things are indeed bad enough today—but the shrewdest is quite incapable of foreseeing how much worse they may become. When the restraining hand of God is removed, lawlessness abounds with increasing rapidity and intensity. When the sluice-gates are open, wickedness floods the whole land, carrying everything before it. When God speaks in judgment to a nation—and it refuses to heed His voice—His judgments increase in severity, as did His plagues upon Egypt of old. Therefore it is the part of wisdom—to redeem the time and make the most of the privileges which are ours today. "Work while it is called day—for the night comes when no man can work" (John 9:4). Since we have no guarantee about the future "upon the earth" utilize to the full the present.

"You do not know what disaster may come upon the land." A generation ago there were men with spiritual discernment, who seeing the trend of things then, gave warning that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse." Those with anointed eyes perceived the blight which had attacked the churches—the decay of vital godliness and family worship—the children growing up without any pious and little moral instructions. They knew that such an awful "falling away" must result in fearful consequences. Even statesmen and unregenerate leaders with natural acumen, had dark forebodings of what lay ahead for the world, "Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world" (Luke 21:26). But who among the most foreseeing, or even the most pessimistic, would have believed that things would come to the awful pass they now have! The Spirit largely withdrawn, morality almost disappeared, the whole world in a state of chaos, and the vials of God's wrath are being poured out on the earth. And the end is not yet—nor has the worst by any means been reached. The next generation will reap a still more horrible harvest, from what is now being sown.

Black indeed is the outlook for this poor world. But over against this "you do not know what disaster may come upon the land," let us place "Yet surely I know that it shall be well with those who fear God" (Eccl. 8:12). Glorious contrast! Blessed assurance! No matter what may yet come "upon the earth"—it shall not harm the saints. Though it may overturn their carnal plans and unpleasantly affect their circumstances, yet it shall not injure their souls. Rather will such temporal afflictions be sanctified unto them—to the drawing of their affections more and more unto things above—thereby causing them to regard more lightly and hold more loosely, the things which perish. The plagues which God sent upon Egypt—issued in the deliverance of His people from the house of bondage. The casting of the Hebrews into Babylon's furnace—issued in the burning off of their bonds of slavery. However long protracted the Divine judgments upon an apostate Christendom, however much they may yet increase in their severity—yet "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

"Surely I know that it shall be well with those who fear God." This is the knowledge of faith—and not of reason. It is the assurance that fills the soul of him who rests with implicit confidence on the Divine promises. God has said to His covenant people, "I will not turn away from them—to do them good" (Jer. 32:40). He has not in the darkest hours of history. When His wrath burst upon the antediluvians, shelter was provided for Noah and his family in the ark. When the long-protracted drought was upon Samaria with its attendant famine, the Lord provided for Elijah by the brook Kerith, and later in the home of the Zarephath widow. When Jezebel determined to stamp out the worship of Jehovah and slew His prophets, one hundred of them were hidden in caves, and fed with bread and water (1 Kings 8:13). When the Dragon "persecuted the woman" which brought forth the Man-child, "a place was provided for her in the wilderness." And when the Serpent sought to destroy her with a flood of water, "the earth helped" her by opening its mouth and swallowing up the flood (Rev. 12:13-16).

But let due attention be paid to the description here given of those to whom this assurance belongs, "I know that it shall be well with them those who God—who fear before Him." The added clause renders it most emphatic, that there may be no mistaking their identification. It is not merely those who make a religious profession, and associate themselves with His saints—but only the ones who genuinely fear God. To "fear God" is to have a reverential awe of His authority, a filial veneration of His majesty, a heart realization of His omniscience and omnipresence, a soul subjection to His scepter. Those who fear God are regulated by His revealed will, have respect to His commandments, are afraid of displeasing Him. Those who fear God will not trifle with Him, or deliberately act the part of hypocrites. Concerning them, and them only may it be said, "Surely I know it shall be well with them"—well for time and for eternity!