On the Choice of a Profession
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
But as God has distributed to every man, as the Lord has called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.…

In seasons of unusual religious excitement and earnestness men are tempted to regard all political and social distinctions, and all ordinary secular employments, as abolished or suspended. This apostolic injunction may be considered as directed in principle against a twofold form of error prevalent at such times.

1. In the first place it is directed against the error of making religion a business or profession by itself, leaving us no time or thought for anything else. Who is the best Christian? Not he who makes the loudest professions of Christianity, nor he who gives the most time to thinking about it, nor yet he who best understands its principles; but he who best succeeds in applying these principles to his daily cares and duties, and in filling his place in society, whatever it may be, in a Christ-like spirit.

2. Again, the injunction in the text is directed generally, and in principle, against the kindred error of supposing that there are many lawful callings or professions in which it is impossible to lead a Christian life. More difficult it may be, but not impossible, the difficulty only enhancing the virtue which has strength and resolution enough to overcome it. On the other hand, the clerical profession, to those who are fit for it, is generally thought, in a moral and religious point of view, to promise best of all; because the special business and object of the calling coincide so entirely with what ought to be the highest business and object of us all. But here also there is difficulty and drawback, showing that the difference in the eligibility of the various professions on moral grounds is not so great as is often supposed. Where the profession is religious, the danger is that the religion will become professional. Then, too, looking merely at the effect of his labours, I believe it is often possible for a layman to do more for religion than a clergyman, from the very fact that he cannot be suspected of a professional bias or bribe. We arrive, then, at the conclusion that all the great professions are open to choice, and that there is nothing in any one of them, in itself considered, to hinder a good man in certain cases from choosing it. But it by no means follows that all professions are equally eligible in themselves; much less, that all are equally eligible to every person and under all circumstances. All are open to choice; but this does not exclude the duty of making a wise choice, as being that on which, more perhaps than on any other one thing, a man's usefulness and happiness will depend. Let me begin by observing, that if the time for choosing a profession has come, it is not well, as a general rule, to postpone it by unnecessary delays. If you say, your mind is unsettled; I reply, in the first place, that in practical matters the will has more to do in settling the mind than arguments; and, secondly, that the probable effect of another year spent without an object will only be to unsettle your minds still more. To enter on the practice of any profession without being duly prepared for it is, I admit, a great error; but this is a reason for beginning the preparation as soon as may be; certainly it is no reason for unnecessary delays. So much impressed was Dr. Johnson with the mischief of fickleness on this subject, that he is half inclined to recommend that every one's calling should be determined by his parents or guardian; at any rate, he does not hesitate to conclude, "that of two states of life equally consistent with religion and virtue, he who chooses earliest chooses best." Another preliminary suggestion is, that in choosing a profession we should take care not to allow too much weight to local and temporary considerations; — considerations which will have no bearing on our future progress, except perhaps to narrow and limit it. I suppose there are those who can give no better reason for being in one profession rather than another than this, that they found it easier to get into it. But certainly our success and happiness are to depend, not on our getting into a profession, but on our getting on in it; that is to say, on our being able to fill it honourably and well. I know the common excuse. It will be said, that we are often placed in circumstances where we must do, not as we would, but as we can. We talk about what we can do, and what we cannot; but, after all, this is, for the most part, an arbitrary distinction. What one man calls impossible, another man calls merely difficult; and, with minds which are made of the right sort of stuff, difficulties do not repel or dishearten; they only stimulate to new and greater efforts. Hence we conclude, that every young man owes it to himself, at any sacrifice consistent with virtue and religion, to find, as soon as may be, his proper place and calling, meaning thereby the place and calling in which, with his education and abilities, he is most likely to become useful and happy. But how is he to find it? that is the great question. I answer generally, By considering what he was made for, taking into view, at the same time, his intellectual aptitudes, and his moral needs and dangers. As regards intellectual or mental aptitudes, or what is sometimes called the natural bent of one's genius, two extreme opinions have found supporters, which seem to me to be almost equally removed from practical wisdom. The first is that of those who contend that a strong tendency to one profession rather than to another is to be considered; but only, that it may be crossed and overruled. Thus, if a person early manifests extraordinary talents for business and affairs, this is a reason why he should not be, by profession, a man of business and affairs, for he is enough of that already: he ought rather to go into the army or the Church, which will have the effect to call forth his latent qualities. I hardly need say that this doctrine, plausible as it may seem to some minds, is theoretically false, and practically absurd. It is theoretically false; for, though balance and harmony of character enter into the theory of what a man ought to be, these have nothing to do with an equal, or even with a proportionate development of his faculties. Moreover, to pursue this course would be practically absurd. Every man would do what he is least fitted to do; and the consequence would be, that the whole work of life would, be done in the worst possible manner and under the greatest possible disadvantages. Nor is this all; for the subject has its religious aspects. When we refer to a man's profession as being his vocation, or calling, we suppose him to be called. Every man is calmly and impartially to consider what he was made for, what by the constitution of his mind and character he is best fitted to become, and to look upon this as a call from God — the voice of God speaking in his own nature, which, when distinct and emphatic, he has no right to disregard. Often, however, and I suppose I may say generally, the call is not distinct and emphatic, at least as regards most professions; and this leads me to notice the other of the two extreme opinions referred to above. It consists in supposing that every man has his place, and that everything depends on his finding that particular place, a mistake here being final and fatal. No such thing. We are not born with adaptations, but with adaptabilities; and these are such in most men that they can fit themselves as well, or nearly as well, for one as another of several professions. Leaving out of view eminence in the fine arts, which seems to require at the start a peculiar nervous organisation, I do not believe there is one man in ten whom nature has endowed with aptitudes and predispositions so special and marked that he might not succeed perfectly well in any one out of several pursuits. In a large majority of cases the battle of life is won, not by natural, but by personal qualities; by those personal qualities which invite favour and inspire confidence and insure courage and persistency in whatever is undertaken. Neither your profession nor your circumstances, but the quick eye, and the strong arm, and the iron will must work out for you the great problem of life. These qualities, however, are little better than brute force, unless inspired and directed by a high moral purpose; and this high moral purpose little better than a breath of air, unless it rests on religious faith; and this religious faith "unstable as water," unless accepted as the revealed will of God. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

(J. Walker, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.

WEB: Only, as the Lord has distributed to each man, as God has called each, so let him walk. So I command in all the assemblies.

Liberty and Slavery
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