Labour: its Dignities and Problems
Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you.…

How often has this Fourth Commandment been misinterpreted as dealing only with the question of rest, as inculcating the sanctity of worship and the beauty of Sabbatic peace! Does it not also lay down the universal law of labour? Does it not set forth the sanctity of toil and the beauty of holy activity?

I. FIRST, LET US THINK OF THE GREAT FACT OF THE UNIVERSAL NECESSITY OF LABOUR. "Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work": that is the one supreme, inexorable law for all the sons of men. "In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread," said God to Adam, and He has been saying it ever since to all the generations of men. There is no method by which life can be sustained, developed, ennobled except by the method of toil — either by hand, or foot, or brain. There is no endowment of Nature which ever brings anything to fruitfulness in human life without labour. Nature works; but when she works for man she only works with man. She will only minister to him when he, through constant toil, seeks to minister to himself. The general good of humanity — as well as the meeting of the wants of humanity — is effected by the labour of each individual. This necessitates at once not only division of labour, but degrees and diversities of labour. There is, first of all, the labour which is termed bodily labour, which tends to provide and then to distribute the resources of the world we live in. But we must add to this another sort of work — the work of the mind — ingenuity, thought, mental exertion, invention, before the organisation and progress of society can be effected. To ascertain and interpret the great vital and spiritual forces which this world half discloses and half conceals, is the work of the mental powers of men. The world of today, as we see it, and enjoy it, and use it, is the fruit of the labours of those who have lived in it in the past; and its beauties, its utilities, its wonderful ministrations to man's varied and increasing wants will only be maintained by the labours of those who live in it now, and who shall succeed us when we pass out of it and are no more.

II. I would speak now of THE DIGNITY OF LABOUR. And I base the term "dignity of labour" upon the fact that all labour is of Divine appointment. Not only has God laid upon us the necessity of labour, but He has so constructed us that without labour we fail to find any satisfaction in life. Like the strings of the harp and the lute, our capacities and powers only make music when they vibrate. The active man is not only the useful man, but if he is working on right lines and by right methods he is the happy man. We hear a great deal in low-class newspapers about the degradation of toil and the hard lot of the working man. No toil is of itself degrading; no work ought to be the producer of hardships. Nothing is low; nothing is mean if it be useful. Talk of degrading toil — there is no such thing. If there is one man more degraded than another it is the man who does nothing for the world but stare at it and suck the sweetness out of it. There is a common impression abroad that a gentleman is a man who has sufficient means to live without working. A gentleman is the man who does his duty in that sphere into which natural fitness has led him, or circumstances drawn him, honestly, purely, devotedly, and in the fear of God. It is a case of character, not of possession; of attainment, not of inheritance; of qualities of soul, not of a luxurious environment. Character is the crown of life. Deeds are the pulse of time. The sweat of honest toil is a jewelled crown on the brow of the toiler.

III. I pass now to consider, in the light of what I have been stating, some of THE PROBLEMS CONNECTED WITH THE LOWER PHASES OF LABOUR IN OUR MODERN LIFE. I say lower phases of labour, because, fortunately, the higher phases tend more and more to settle their own problems. In the law, in medicine, in art, in the great world of science, labour is not harassed, circumscribed, and hindered by the thousand and one questions that are keeping the labouring classes in the lower phases of labour in perpetual turmoil. There are three problems affecting the labour market at the present moment, on which I will endeavour to throw some light.

1. There is first the great problem of how to keep the labour market full at the bottom. Every man has a right to choose the calling in which he thinks he can best minister to his own and others' good; but the false notions as to the qualifications of elementary education, and the imaginary stigma which is attached to rough labour, are ruinous alike to the towns which they are filling, and to the country which they are emptying. There is no stigma attached to honest and useful labour; there is necessarily no disqualification for society, or for enjoyment in any occupation that is a source of benefit to the world. An honest, enlightened, educated farmer is equal to a man of the same qualities in any of the professions. These facts, if apprehended by the so-called "lower classes," would go far to solve one of the great problems of the labour question of today.

2. The second problem is that connected with the hours of labour. You know that there is a loud cry for an eight hours' day; and mere are some who think that Parliament ought to pass a Bill forbidding employers of labour in collieries, mines, and certain manufactories to work their employees more than eight hours out of every twenty-four. I do not so think. The remedy is to be found in fair combination and honest cooperation on the part of the men, and in a just and equitable temper on the part of employers. If you once employ, legislation in this matter, where are you to stop? Will you give an eight hours day to the clergyman — who oftentimes has to work (at least, I speak for myself) twelve and fifteen hours? Will you forbid the doctor to visit his patients, and to give medical advice for more than eight hours? Legislation, moreover, implies a certain amount of equality. But, as a matter of fact, there is nothing more unequal than men's capabilities for labour. What positively wearies one man to work at for six hours, another can stand cheerfully and unweariedly for twelve hours. An Act of Parliament compelling the lazy in all classes of the community to do some useful work every day would he of far greater benefit to humanity than any Government restrictions on the hours of labour.

3. There is one other problem which I will mention — the subject of livery; the badge of servitude. There is a strong feeling possessing certain classes of the community that humble labour ought not to he stamped with the regalia of its character; that a domestic servant, e.g., ought not to be compelled to dress in a manner which proclaims her a domestic servant. What does it mean? Just this. If it is a disgrace to be a servant no honest man or decent woman ought to engage themselves as such. If it is right, if it is honest, if it is consistent with one's freedom and all those things that pertain to manhood and womanhood, why object to be known as what you are — a servant There is nothing more degrading in a servant's cap than in a judge's wig. A respectable servant is as worthy of respect as her mistress. Service is no disgrace.

(W. J. Hocking.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.

WEB: "Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you.

How the Lord's Day is to be Sanctified
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