Ecclesiastes 11:4
He who watches the wind will fail to sow, and he who observes the clouds will fail to reap.
Sermons
Difficulties VanquishedDavid Hughes, B. A.Ecclesiastes 11:4
Optimism and Pessimism Versus ChristianityCanon Liddon.Ecclesiastes 11:4
Sowing in the Wind, Reaping Under CloudsCharles Haddon Spurgeon Ecclesiastes 11:4
Sowing in the Wind; Reaping Under CloudsEcclesiastes 11:4
The True WorkmanW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 11:4
Too LateJ. A. Jacob, M. A.Ecclesiastes 11:4
Incentives to Christian WorkW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 11:1-4, 6
Provision for the FutureJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
Fulfill Duty and Disregard ConsequencesD. Thomas Ecclesiastes 11:4, 6
These statements and admonitions respect both natural and spiritual toil. The husbandman who labors in the fields, and the pastor and the missionary who seek a harvest of souls, alike need such counsel. The natural and the supernatural alike are under the control and government of God; and they who would labor to good purpose in God's universe must have regard to Divine principles, and must confide in Divine faithfulness and goodness.

I. THE DUTY OF DILIGENCE. Good results do not come by chance; and although the blessing and the glory are alike God's, he honors men by permitting them to be his fellow-workers. There is no reason to expect reaping unless sowing has preceded; "What a man soweth that shall he also reap." Toil - thoughtful, patient, persevering toil - such is the condition of every harvest worth the ingathering.

II. DISSUASIVES FROM DILIGENCE. If the husbandman occupy himself in studying the weather, and in imagining and anticipating adverse seasons, the operations of agriculture will come to a standstill. There are possibilities and contingencies before every one of us, the consideration and exaggeration of which may well paralyze the powers, hinder effective labor, and cloud the prospect of the future, so as to prevent a proper use of present opportunities. This is a temptation which besets some temperaments more than others, from which, however, few are altogether free. If the Christian laborer fixes his attention upon the difficulties of his task, upon the obduracy or ignorance of the natures with which he has to deal, upon the slenderness of his resources, upon the failures of many of his companions and colleagues, leaving out of sight all counteracting influences, the likelihood is that his powers will be crippled, that his work will stand still, and that his whole life will be clouded by disappointment. The field looks barren, the weeds grow apace, the enemy is sowing tares, the showers of blessing are withheld: what, then, is the use of sowing the gospel seed? Such are the reflections and the questionings which take possession of many minds, to their discouragement and enfeeblement and distress.

III. INDUCEMENTS TO DILIGENCE. It is not questioned that the work is arduous, that the difficulties are real, that the foes are many and powerful, that circumstances may be adverse, that the prospect (to the eye of mere human reason) may be somber. But even granting all this, the Christian laborer has ample grounds for earnest and persevering effort. Of these, two come before us as we read these verses.

1. Our own ignorance of results. We have not to do with the consequences, and we certainly cannot foresee them. Certain it is that amazing blessings have sometimes rested upon toil in most unpromising conditions, in places and among people that have almost stricken the heart of the observer with despair. "Thou knowest not whether shall prosper, this or that;" "With God nothing is impossible."

2. The express command of our Divine Lord. Results we cannot foresee. But direct commands we can understand and obey. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand." Such is the voice, the behest, of him who has a right to order our actions - to control and inspire our life. Whilst we have this commission to execute, we are not at liberty to waste our time and cripple our activities by moodily questioning what is likely to follow from our efforts. Surely the Christian may have faith to leave this in the hand of God! - T.







He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
The principle of the text is, that we ought not to be deterred from discharging our duties by trivial difficulties.

I. THE NATURE OF THE DUTIES TO BE DISCHARGED — SOWING AND REAPING.

1. They must be attended to in their own proper season. It would be useless for the husbandman to scatter the seed upon the ground in midsummer, or to go to reap at Christmas. It must be attended to in season or never. Now is the time.

2. They have but a short time allotted for their discharge. What is our life? A vapour, etc. Do not sell certainty for a perhaps.

3. They are works done with a view to futurity. No man seattereth the seed to the ground for the sake of scattering it — no man reaps for the sake of reaping; but the man sows for the sake of harvest, and reaps for his support during the year. The whole of life has a regard to futurity.

II. THE DIFFICULTIES IN OUR WAY WHILST DISCHARGING THESE DUTIES. Winds, clouds, difficulties within, without, from the world, from the devil. Doubts, fears, weakness.

1. They are the common lot of humanity.

2. They are powerful in their resistance against us.

3. They are changeable in the nature of their resistance. The wind blew to-day from the south, it may be to-morrow from the north; to-day from the east, to-morrow from the west. To-day it may be a tempestuous wind, to-morrow a salubrious breeze. So with the Christian; the tempest does not always blow in the same direction, nor with the same force.

4. They are all under the control of our Heavenly Father.

III. THE RESOLUTE MIND WITH WHICH THESE DIFFICULTIES MUST BE OVERCOME, AND THE DUTIES DISCHARGED.

1. We must not look upon the difficulties as things insurmountable. The wind, though it troubles the sower, does not actually prevent him from sowing, and the cloud, though it threatens to pour its contents upon the reaper, does not stop him. Our difficulties are not such as cannot be overcome.

2. We ought to add fresh vigour because of the difficulty.

3. In all our exertions we ought to depend upon God for strength and prosperity. Let us act and pray.

(David Hughes, B. A.)

Here we have a rule, or principle of life and conduct, which corresponds with, but which is more important than, the rules of good farming. We are not to spend the brief day of life in wistfully surveying those evil conditions or those calamities which surround our existence. We are to go forward; we are to do the utmost in, and to make the best of, that certain duty in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call us. If we suppose a man placed in this world without the light of revelation, how is he likely to look upon his existence — as an existence of happiness or misery, a blessing or a curse? This question will probably be answered in accordance with the deep-seated tendencies of individual temperament, but these tendencies when prolonged become a system of doctrines, and so it is there are two main ways of looking at human life and its surrounding liabilities. First of all, there is what is called Optimism — a production of the temperament which refuses to see in earthly human existence anything but sunshine. This kind of optimism lives at the West End of London, and forgets that the East End exists at all. It draws a veil over the miseries, the poverty and pain; it draws its curtains and pokes up its fire; ii has no patience with people who have human sorrows, and when they are forced on their attention, it protests with a good-natured smile that things do not look so gloomy as some people think, and it whispers to itself the familiar words, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry," and perhaps it fancies that it has got hold of the true meaning of Solomon and it is obeying him in not regarding the clouds. The objection to this optimistic theory is, that it is inconsistent with hard facts; it only belongs to the man who has good health, fair abilities, and sufficient income. Such a man may, for a certain time, keep the sterner realities of existence at bay, may dream that this is the best of possible worlds in which to live. But for the immense majority of human beings the language of optimism can never sound other than heart-deceiving. It has no will to play the fiddle like the Emperor of Rome, while Rome is burning, or to dance upon the deck of a sinking ship; even the buoyant spirits of the Greeks gave way before great calamities. In the solemn event of death there is needed some theory apart from this temper of refined and cultivated selfishness. In view of sights to be seen in this great city, with its vast accumulated misery, poverty and pain, the optimist well knows that there are things on earth, if not in heaven, which have not been duly allowed for by his smiling philosophy. And here the opposite estimate of human existence claims a hearing. We have, all of us, met with people who make a point of looking at everything on the darkest side, who fondle jealousy, and prize their groanings; who, as if under some strange pressure of conscience, do not allow themselves to recognize the happier features of their life or of the circumstances in which God has placed them. For them the sun never shines, the flowers never open, the face of man never smiles; they see everything through a thick atmosphere of depression and gloom. The pessimist has no eye for the creative and recuperative powers of nature. He lingers over its tendency to corruption and decay. He sees before him only death in life — never life in death; for him man's history is made up of unprofitable emerging from and sinking back into barbarism without any lasting gains for human progress and improvement. One of the incidental proofs of the Divine greatness of Christianity is to be found in its attitude towards these opposing estimates of human life. For the religion of Christ is by turns pessimist and optimist. Christianity quarrels not with the principles of these two ways of looking at life, but with their misapplication. Christ could not allow that human nature weakened and degraded by the Fall, exposed to the inroads of temptation and sin, subject to invasion by sickness and by death, is a fitting subject for light-hearted self-congratulation. Nor, on the other hand, is it consistent with faith in and respect for His finished work, to despair of souls or to despair of societies which He has redeemed, in forgetfulness of the new force with which He has endowed them. St. Paul is pessimist in his description of the state and prospects of the heathen world at the beginning of his Epistle to the Romans; but who more optimist than he — who more buoyantly confident of the splendid destinies reserved for the servants of Christ than this same apostle when he describes the effects working in the soul, and the working of the Spirit of Life, in his Epistle to the Romans; or of our incorporation with the Redeemer, in the Epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians? With human nature left to itself he could hope for nothing; with human nature redeemed and invigorated by Jesus Christ our Lord, he could despair of nothing. Of the one he says, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." Of the other he cries, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." And then we see how the birth of our Divine Lord into this human world was the consummation of optimism and the condemnation of pessimism. Pessimism, which is common sense in the heathen, is, in the Christian, disloyalty be Christ. Optimism, unlike that in the heathen, is in the Christian, who knows what Christ has done for him, mere common sense. The reason is because he knows that the Divine power has, at the birth of Christ, entered into human nature, has reversed his own downward inclination in his character, the warp towards evil, and that faith has endowed it with a vigour which comes from heaven. The Christian who regardeth the clouds, who looks long and wistfully at evils, or at threatenings of evil, which are beyond his power to remove or to correct, shall not reap the harvest of joy or work which lies already to his hand. For so regarding the clouds takes time and thought and effort, and our stock of these things is too small to admit of any wasteful expenditure. So to regard the clouds depresses the spirit, enfeebles the heart, and takes away the strength of purpose and resolute exertion which are wanted for the work of God. There are evils enough nearer the earth than the clouds, evils of our own causing, and evils springing from our own heart, evils lying right across our path, or by the side of it, and on these we cannot bestow too much attention. But the clouds, however much we may gaze at them, and wish they were really rain, or the reverse, the clouds are after all out of our reach. Let us not regard them; let us leave them to God.

(Canon Liddon.)

The writer of this book is unquestionably tempted to a Sceptical and despondent spirit. But there is something within him besides which saves him from hopelessness. And in the words before us he warns his hearers against that very habit of mind to which we might have supposed he was himself peculiarly inclined; the habit of observing the wind when it was time to sow, and of looking at the clouds when it was time to reap — i.e. in words divested of the figurative, to falter in the presence of duty from an exaggerated sense of the difficulties which beset it, to pause and speculate when the time has arrived to obey and to act. Now, this evil tendency takes one of two forms. First, it has a grosser and a commoner form, viz. when men falter and spend their time weighing and measuring difficulties, merely from the power of an indolent and self-indulgent nature. To them religion and duty seem chilling and gloomy, and they put off the decisive effort to the last possible instant, often, alas, so long that they hear the words "too late," at the journey's end. Of one thing I am quite sure, that amidst the blessings, so many and so undeserved, which God bounteously reserves for the sons of men, there are absolutely none for the indolent. I cannot conceive any fault of character so essentially fatal as indolence. But this tendency, condemned in my text, frequently takes a less contemptible, but not less injurious, form. Persons by no means addicted to self-indulgence waver in the presence of duty, and when there is a call to action, from a timid anticipation of difficulty. After all, it is very few of us who keep up the due balance between thought and action. It has sometimes occurred to me that thought and action, speculation and practice, are related to each other as melody and time in music. Beautiful sounds may by accident fall into beautiful combinations, and the breathings of an AEolian harp have a charm of their own; but until the element of time be added it is not music. Even so the unpractical speculator may have fine thoughts and fascinating experiences; his mental exercises may be as sweet as the notes of an AEolian harp; but they are as wild and meaningless. Time it is that makes music, and even so the music of life is beaten out by action as well as thought. Speculation and inquiry are safe and healthy, as far, and only as far, as they are conducted in connection with action. There need be no fear of courageous and unflinching investigation, if it go hand in hand with devotion to duty, and obedience to the light within, and work for others. We must, to use a forcible Scripture phrase, "do the truth," as well as think the truth, if we are to be true. Dreaming is a dangerous thing in tiffs working and struggling world under any circumstances, most dangerous of all when it is indulged in to the neglect of duty, and when it is but a form of criminal idleness. But I must try to bring these thoughts to a point, and so I shall warn you against this purposeless disposition —

1. In the greatest matter of all, our closing with the offers of God's love, and the surrender of ourselves to His service. The gloriousness of the prize will make the toil of winning it seem light. An enthusiasm, wrought by the Spirit of God, will bear us along; we shall count the hindrances along the road but trifling, because heaven and victory and Christ are at the end. Believe it. Accept God's salvation, and leave the future to Him. Start upon the way that leadeth to life, and trust Him that "as your day so will your strength be." But guard against this wavering and procrastinating temper —

2. In fulfilling the details of duty, and in the conduct of life. After all, life should be an economy; an economy of strength, of time, of opportunity. But we must watch against this wavering and procrastinating temper —

3. In our work for others. I do from my heart wish that in our efforts for the souls and bodies of men we would bear in mind two very elementary considerations. First that it is better to work with the tools we have than to spend our time in lamenting that they are not better; and next, that it is not permitted to us to dictate to God what amount of success shall follow our efforts, that our right state of mind is rather to be thankful that we have any success whatever.

(J. A. Jacob, M. A.)

I. NATURAL DIFFICULTIES MAY BE UNDULY CONSIDERED. A man may observe the wind, and regard the clouds a great deal too much, and so neither sow nor reap.

1. Note here, first, that in any work this would hinder a man. It is very wise to know the difficulty of your calling, the trial which arises out of it, the temptation connected therewith; but if you think toe much of these things, there is no calling that will be carried on with any success. Well new, if there be these difficulties in connection with earthly trades, do you expect there will be nothing of the kind with regard to heavenly things? Do you imagine that, in sowing the good seed of the kingdom, and gathering the sheaves into the garner, you will have no difficulties and disappointments?

2. But, next, in the work of liberality this would stay us. This is Solomon's theme here. "Cast thy bread upon the waters;... Give a portion to seven, and also to eight;" and so on. He means, by my text, that if anybody occupies his mind unduly with the difficulties connected with liberality, he will do nothing in that line.

3. Going a little further, as this is true of common occupations and of liberality, so is it especially true in the work of serving God. Now, if I were to consider in my mind nothing but the natural depravity of man, I should never preach again.

4. You may unduly consider circumstances in reference to the business of your own eternal life. You may, in that matter, observe the winds, and never sow; you may regard the clouds, and never reap. "I feel," says one, "as if I never can be saved. There never was such a sinner as I am. My sins are so peculiarly black." Yes, and if you keep on regarding them, and do not remember the Saviour, and His infinite power to save, you will not sow in prayer and faith. "I do not feel like praying," says one. Then is the time when you ought to pray most, for you are evidently most in need; but if you keep observing whether or not you are in a proper frame of mind for prayer, you will not pray. "I cannot grasp the promises," says another; "I should like to joy in God, and firmly believe in His Word; but I do not see anything in myself that can minister to my comfort." Suppose you do not. Are you, after all, going to build upon yourself? Are you trying to find your ground of consolation in your own heart? If so, you are on the wrong tack. Our hope is not in self, but in Christ; let us go and sow it. Our hope is in the finished work of Christ; let us go and reap it; for, if we keep on regarding the winds and the clouds, we shall neither sow nor reap.

II. SUCH UNWISE CONSIDERATION INVOLVES US IN SEVERAL SINS.

1. If we keep on observing circumstances, instead of trusting God, we shall be guilty of disobedience. God bids me sow: I do not sow, because the wind would blow some of my seed away. God bids me reap: I do not reap, because there is a black cloud there, and before I can house the harvest, some of it may be spoiled. I may say what I like; but I am guilty of disobedience. I have not done what I was bidden to do.

2. Next, we are guilty also of unbelief, if we cannot sow because of the wind. Who manages the wind? You distrust Him who is Lord of north, and south, and east, and west. If you cannot reap because of a cloud, you doubt Him who makes the clouds, to whom the clouds are the dust of His feet. Where is your faith?

3. The next sin is really rebellion. So you will not sow unless God chooses to make the wind blow your way; and you will not reap unless God pleases to drive the clouds away? I call that revolt, rebellion. An honest subject loves his king in all weathers. The true servant serves his master, let his master do what he wills.

4. Another sin of which we are guilty, when we are always looking at our circumstances, is this, foolish fear. God has commanded His people not to fear; then we should obey Him. There is a cloud; why do you fear it? It will be gone directly; not a drop of rain may fall out of it. You are afraid of the wind; why fear it? It may never come. Even if it were some deadly wind that was approaching, it might shift about, and not come near you. If you get fearing about nothing, the probability is that you will get something really to fear, for God does not love His people to be fools.

5. There are some who fall into the sin of penuriousness. Observe, that Solomon was here speaking of liberality. He that observeth the clouds and the winds thinks "That is not a good object to help," and that he will do harm if he gives here, or if he gives there. It amounts to this, poor miser, you want to save your money!

6. Another sin is often that of idleness. The man who does not sow because of the wind is usually too lazy to sow; and the man who does not reap because of the clouds is the man who wants a little more sleep, and a little more slumber, and a little more folding of the hands to sleep. If we do not want to serve God, it is wonderful how many reasons we can find. Oh, yes, yes, yes, we are always making these excuses about winds and clouds, and there is nothing in either of them. It is all meant to save our corn-seed, and to save us the trouble of sowing it. Do you not see, I have made out a long list of sins wrapped up in this observing of winds and clouds? If you have been guilty of any of them, repent of your wrong-doing, and do not repeat it.

III. LET US PROVE THAT WE HAVE NOT FALLEN INTO THIS EVIL. How can we prove it?

1. Let us prove it, first, by sowing in the most unlikely places. Cast your bread upon the waters; then it will be seen that you are trusting God, not trusting the soil, nor trusting the seed.

2. Next, prove it by doing good to a great many. "Give a portion to seven, and also to eight." Talk of Christ to everybody you meet with. If God has not blessed you to one, try another; and if He has blessed you to one, try two others; and if He has blessed you to two others, try four others; and always keep on enlarging your seed-plot as your harvest comes in.

3. Further, prove that you are not regarding winds and clouds by wisely learning from the clouds another lesson than the one they seem made to teach. Learn this lesson: "If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth": and say to yourself, "If God has made me full of His grace, I will go and pour it out to others. I will empty myself for the good of others, even as the clouds pour down the rain upon the earth."

4. Then prove it still by not wanting to know how God will work. Go out and work; go out and preach; go out and instruct others. Go out and seek to win souls. Thus shalt thou prove, in very truth, that thou art not dependent upon surroundings and circumstances.

5. Again, prove this by constant diligence. "Be instant in season, out of season." Sow in the morning, sow in the evening, sow at night, sow all day long, for you can never tell what God will bless; but by this constant sowing, you will prove to demonstration that you are not observing the winds, nor regarding the clouds.

IV. LET US KEEP THIS EVIL OUT OF OUR HEARTS AS WELL AS OUT OF OUR WORK.

1. And, first, let us give no heed to the winds and clouds of doctrine that are everywhere about us now. Blow, blow, ye stormy winds; but you shall not move me. Clouds of hypotheses and inventions, come up with you, as many as you please, till you darken all the sky; but I will not fear you. Such clouds have come before, and have disappeared, and these will disappear, too. Give yourself to your holy service as if there were no winds and no clouds; and God will give you such comfort in your soul that you will rejoice before Him, and be confident in His truth.

2. And then, next, let us not lose hope because of doubts and temptations. When the clouds and the winds get into your heart, when you do not feel as you used to feel, when you have not that joy and elasticity of spirit you once had, when your ardour seems a little damped, and even your faith begins to hesitate a little, go you to God all the same. Trust Him still.

3. Lastly, let us follow the Lord's mind, come what will. In a word, set your face, like a flint, to serve God, by the maintenance of His truth, by your holy life, by the savour of your Christian character; and, that being done, defy earth and hell. Only be strong, and of good courage, and do not regard even the clouds from hell, or blasts from the infernal pit; but go straight on in the path of right, and, God being with you, you shall sow and you shall reap, unto His eternal glory.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

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