Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.
I. WHY DID GOD CREATE MAN? Many think that life is not worth living. Existence is so much pure misfortune. The denial of the Christian faith and hopeless pessimism seem ever to go together. But a preliminary question may be asked - Why did God create anything?
II. WE REPLY:
1. God is love, and one necessity of such nature is that he should find objects on which to lavish that love. It cannot remain unexercised. Creation, therefore, seemed to be a necessity of love.
2. But another need is that such love should meet with response. Love yearns for response, to be met by an answering love. But this involved the necessity of the creation of beings who should not be moved by mere instinct, but should possess mind, intelligence, and the capacity of love. Hence was requisite something more than any of the already created inhabitants of the seas, the air, or the land, could supply. A different, a higher being had to be brought into existence; man was needed, since he only could render the response the heart of the Creator desired. All other creatures could obey the laws of their being; man could love the Law giver.
3. And yet another craving of the Divine love, as of all like pure love, is for worthy response. It cannot bear that the response it yearns for should be given to inferior objects; it desires to be chosen and preferred above all these. But such worthy response of deliberate choice can only be made when counter objects of attraction are present. Therefore, that such choice may be possible for us, we are placed in a world where all around us are myriad lures and baits appealing to all sides of our nature, and many of them with mighty power. Hence is it that the love of his people is so precious in his esteem, for it means that they have turned their backs upon all these rivals of God, and have given to him the love he asks for and deserves.
4. And even this low is capable of enhancement in his esteem. It is so when, as with Job, it clings to God in spite of sorest trial and distress; when the man is in the very depths, when to all outward appearance everything is lost and thrown away by such clinging to God; when it has to hang on by naked faith, as at some time or other it has had to do in all God's saints, and with some of them, as in the martyr ages, it has had to be always so. But love like that, oh how precious is it! how grateful to the heart of God! We can understand somewhat of this when some dear child of ours, rather than grieve or disappoint us, has readily endured persecution and pain. What do we not think of that child? What proof of our love will we withhold from him?
5. But such proof of our love, or of that of God, cannot be given unless there has been the previous trial. And that is why we are placed in a world of trial, often cruel, prolonged, and severe. We are thus given the opportunity of winning the highest prizes of the kingdom of God. Hence man has to go "forth to his work, and to his labour until the evening" Life is no child's play for him, no place of mere sensuous enjoyment. If he chooses to make it so, he shuts himself out of the kingdom of God. No cross, no crown. Only so can we win back the image of God in which we were first created. This is "the prize of our high calling." - S.C.
I. WORK IS A DUTY. "Six days shalt thou labour," is as much a Divine ordinance as is the command to do no work on the seventh. He who is idle seven days is as out of harmony with God's law as is he who toils without a break. Paul's command, "That if any man would not work neither should he eat," represents the ideal to which society, as it grows perfect, will tend. The idle man is neither happy nor healthy. Says Carlyle, "To make some nook of God's creation a little fruitfuller, better, more worthy of God; to make some human hearts a little wiser, manfuller, happier, — more blessed, less accursed! It is work for a God."
Man goeth forth unto his work, and to his labour, until the evening.
I. WHY ARE WE HERE IN THIS WORLD AND WHAT FOR? Has the question never occurred to you? Rather has it not come up often in your experience? It has been at times only a vague and fleeting curiosity. Why are we here and what for? He is a little man in a little world who thinks that he can give a complete answer to this question. Why did the Creative power send forth man into this world at all? What if he were not and never had been? Can his work and labour in his brief mortal day count for much or anything in the universal plan? The mystery is great, but it is plainly the purpose of the mystery to challenge our courage and to lead the human mind onward step by step to the conquest of the unknown. We have not drifted to the place where we now find ourselves. We are not accidents, chance appearances in the world, a mass of solitary creatures unrelated to anything truly great and significant beyond and above ourselves. Of one thing we may be certain, that the whole purpose and order of the world must have some relation to our lives, and our lives some relation to the whole purpose and order of the world. We are here, must it not be? as parts of this great creation, to fill our place in it as faithfully as we can. In childhood many of us were taught that the chief end of man is to glorify God. It is a sublime answer to our question, and cannot be improved upon, if we only put the true meaning into it. We glorify God when we give ourselves to His purpose in the world and in our human life, to His will and work. St. Paul describes himself and his companions in service and sacrifice as fellow-workers with God. In his controversy with John Stuart Mill, the French philosopher Comte said, "My Deity (Humanity) has at least one advantage over yours — he needs help, and can be helped." Mill met the charge by saying that the theist's God is not omnipotent, "He can be helped, Great Worker though He be." But we are not compelled to doubt or deny the omnipotence of Deity before we can believe that our part in the Divine movement of the world is not a passive one, that we are not simple recipients and blind instruments, but allies and helpers of the Eternal Power. There prevails here and there a kind of belief in the power of God which makes all human effort appear to be unnecessary and superfluous, and which if acted on would deaden the sense of duty and be the paralysis of energy. On the other hand, what the philosopher described as the feeling of helping God, has always been cherished by the most sincere and earnest believers in the power of God over all. No one believed in the sovereignty of that power more than St. Paul, but his belief in it did not prevent him from putting forward the claim again and again, to be a fellow-worker with God. To be a fellow-worker with God may appear to be too vast and impossible an idea of the purpose of human life in this world; yet nothing is clearer and more certain than that He who made and meant man and sent him here to work and to labour until the evening has left many things for man to do in fulfilling His plans and completing His works. The Divine power in the world is not an abstract, impersonal energy, not an unembodied and wandering spirit. God in the world creating and perfecting it means His power and spirit dwelling in and working through industrious, righteous, faithful, beneficent lives. The unit of power in the world is not God isolated from man and not man isolated from God; but God and man united, working purposely and continuously together; God quickening and inspiring man and man opening his life to be a part of the Divine life of the world. How we have lost sight of this truth! And what confessions and miseries have come of our searching and effort to field God in the world outside of and apart from man; from placing God and man over and against each other as though their spheres of activity were separated by the chasm of an infinite difference! Deity has been conceived as a majestic Being dwelling apart from the universe, over-seeing it and intervening now and again by special acts, but working as a rule in profound and mighty isolation, outside of and apart from the world, outside of and apart from His children. Men have sometimes wrought and fought against the evil of the world as if they had no Divine companion at their side, and felt no need of any other help than their own. Again, at other times, they have imagined that God would do it all, that they had no place in the Divine work, that it was their place to stand by and wait and pray. In this vast order of things we often count ourselves of little worth and significance. But our littleness is only seeming. We can think the Creator's thoughts, be conscious of His purpose, and take some intelligent part in fulfilling that purpose. It must surely be more honouring and pleasing to Him who made us to pray and strive to be something. Our unreal and morbid self-depreciation cannot be acceptable to Him. We were not made to be nonentities, and the pietistic cry to be "nothing, nothing," must be hateful in the ear of Him who created us in His own image and sent us forth to work and to labour until the evening.
II. WE ARE HERE TO SHARE THE WORK OF GOD IN CREATING THE WORLD — called not only to subdue and control, but to create. "God made the heavens and the earth," said the ancient seer; but when God made the world He did not finish it. Creation is not finished, but is always proceeding. We stand in the midst of an unending Genesis. We do right to expand the six days of the Hebrew story into the whole life of the world. "My Father," says Jesus, "works continuously, and I work." And in this continuous and never-ceasing work of creation man can help or hinder, develop or retard, the creative purpose and process. Things have been made possible, but man has to make the possible into the actual. The world into which he is born has all the raw material prepared to his hand, but he is here to work it into new and nobler forms. Nature is a wilderness; he must work and labour to make it a garden. Some of you are familiar with the pathetic picture which Plutarch draws of a man of the earlier period addressing the men of a later ago: "O how you are cherished of the gods, you who live now! How fortunate is your time! All Nature is engaged in giving you delights. But our birth-time was mournful and barren. The world was so new that we were in want of everything. The air was not pure, the sun was obscured, the rivers overflowed their banks, all was marsh and thicket and forest; we had neither inventions nor inventors, our misery was extreme." The immense change which has taken place in the environment of man since the time Plutarch recalled has been due entirely to the co-operation of successive generations of mankind with God. What we behold as we look back is God creating through man, improving and completing His world, making it more habitable and home-like, less rude and barren, fairer and more fruitful. The one great teaching of modern knowledge is that not anything above a certain low level of excellence comes by natural law unaided by man; that all best things in the world of Nature to-day are the result of his thought and toil. An eminent geologist has written a book that bears the title, "The Earth as Modified by Human Action," and one has only to read it to see the wide range of human power and to discover how closely man is in partnership with God in carrying out and completing the creative process which is still going forward on a vast scale. True! he can do nothing without God; he can create no new force; neither sun nor soil, nor plant nor seed are of his making; all the material with which lie works Nature has furnished him; but what can he not do with that material, and what has tie not done? He has modified climate, made the rivers change their course, the ocean its shore, made forests grow and made new ground for them to grow in, made the parched ground a pool and the thirsty land springs of water, changed useless ore into iron and sand into glass clearer than Nature's crystals. Eight hundred years ago, for example, there was no such country as the Holland of our day; God had made it possible, but men had to give it frame and form. The map of Holland now is not even what it was at the beginning of last century. It has about 120,000 more acres of land than it had then. Thus does man work with God, thus does God work along the lines of human life, thus is the ancient miracle of creation repeated — "The waters under the earth were gathered together and the dry land appeared." Man is not only a factor in evolution but an instrument. Not without him does Nature evolve. He has his contribution to make towards the finishing and perfecting of the material universe. The message of evolution to man is, "Thou art God's fellow-worker." Through the animal world we see him working with creative touch, carrying out the Creator's purpose, improving the type and elevating in the scale of being the creatures God has made. To bring flowers and fruits to their perfection the labour of man must be joined to the labour of God, and man must improve and finish what God begins.
III. IN HIS OWN MAKING AND SAVING, IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF PERSONAL FACULTY AND CHARACTER, MAN IS CALLED TO WORK AND TO LABOUR UNTIL THE EVENING. What he can do for the earth and for the creatures and things which live upon it, he can do for himself — fulfil and finish the Creator's purpose and plan. God makes nothing right-away and perfect at once. Like the rest of His work man was left unfinished that man himself might complete what God began. All creation moved by steady gradation up to man, and from age to age man has been moving upward, slowly finding himself, becoming more and more an intellectual and moral being, more and more a son of God able to know the truth, to discern and do the right, and to love and serve the Infinite God. Not alone and not out of nothing has he created language, literature, art, science, society, religion; but with the help of God and out of capacities which were hidden in him from the beginning and which contained the promise and potency of his future development. Faith in man, in what he can do and achieve, and in his power to create character, does not exclude but include God as the ground of all power, the giver of all good, and the helper of all endeavour. Our knowledge is knowledge of His ways in those laws which to the religious mind are His will. We can do nothing for ourselves without God, but God can do nothing with us, cannot bring us to ourselves, without our cooperation. To an extent practically unlimited we can make or mar ourselves. "Work out your salvation," says the apostle. We cannot be passive recipients of the divinest blessings of life. But the work of God for and with man is identified not only with the salvation of individual souls and lives, but with all work we respect, honour, and rejoice in; with art, science, literature, politics, trade, with every activity that makes for the good of the community and the civilization of nations. We must not think of Him with whom we have to do as if we only had to do with Him in parts of our life and not in the whole of it; as if He were only interested in ministers of religion, missionaries, itinerant evangelists, in supplying theological colleges with students, in starting revivals, in the size of congregations and the amount of collections. His kingdom ruleth over all. Not long ago I read in the biography of an eminent business man that he would never engage in any commercial enterprise which he did not think to be beneficial to the community. That is what it means to work with God in the ways of common life. It is working in accordance with His will. The great duties, believe me, are never at the ends of the earth. Let us idealize our daily tasks and put them on the side of the Power who is working for righteousness and love in human society.
IV. IN THE SAVING OF THE WORLD GOD SEEKS TO JOIN MEN WITH HIMSELF AND HIS CHRIST, AND CALLS THEM TO WORK AND LABOUR WITH HIM UNTIL THE EVENING. In the New Testament the work of reconciliation or atonement is spoken of as in a peculiar sense the work of God in our human world. We cannot conceive of the Eternal Goodness ever being insensate and passive, or as other than ceaselessly compassionate and helpful. The life of sacrifice is the law of love for heaven as for earth. It was not a new and strange work which His beloved Son came to do, but the work which He knew His Father was doing continuously. It is the Father's work into which the Son enters. In redeeming the world, even more than in creating it, God works through men and in human ways. God the Saviour must be helped even more than God the Creator. And we — if we have the spirit of sonship to God and live in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, — cannot help sharing in the ministry of reconciliation and in the sorrow and sacrifice of that cross in the heart and life of God, which was shadowed forth in space and time in the crucifixion on Calvary. God needs strong men. His Kingdom will never come in this world without them. Men and women! what are we doing in the way of helping God to create and redeem His world? Fellow-workers with God! This is what you and I are here for in this world; this is why we are endowed with various gifts and why we ought to train them to the utmost and make the best of them; this is why we are placed in different spheres and stations, with different opportunities and duties. Fellow-workers with God! This is a vision of life at its prophetic best. and when one realizes its meaning it becomes his greatest inspiration. There is no dead line in that man's work and no slackening of effort. He keeps his faith, his freshness of spirit, his enthusiasm unto the end.
(J. Hunter, D.D.)
I. "Man goes forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening" — in the first place BECAUSE THE VERY EXISTENCE OF GOD MAKES WORK A UNIVERSAL AND ETERNAL ORDINANCE. The first chapter of George Gilfillan's "Alpha and Omega" is entitled, "The Solitary God Inhabiting Eternity." But that is unthinkable. The first essential conception of God is activity. "My Father worketh even until now, and I work," said Christ. And in my conception of God work must be a universal and eternal law. He is the God of the tiniest mote dancing in the sunbeam, as much as of the archangel standing in His presence; and in the creative design each was meant for the other, and all meet in and answer to something in man. God's plan is one, and unity is the reigning idea. Thus all existence is in indissoluble connection with Eternal Being: and the law of work is stamped upon mineral, vegetable, animal, man, and angel — all work, led on by the great Eternal Father who is for ever working with all the ceaseless energy of almighty and unslumbering love.
II. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening," BECAUSE NOT TO WORK IS SIN. Idleness, indeed, often makes a business for itself. But the first blush of eternity will turn this seriousness about trifles into shame and contempt. Paul speaks of some who were "learning to be idle." They were learning to be fussy about nothing — to be talkers and busybodies. For idleness is not mere inaction. Every life without power and effect is an idle life, and every work is an idle work in proportion as it is not done as well as we can do it. The idler sins at once against himself, the creation, his fellows, and his God.
III. "Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening," and IS BLEST IN AND BY HIS WORK. There is a close connection between the habit of industry in secular and in spiritual things; and when our daily work is performed in the spirit of love to God and man it becomes the business of eternity. All faculties are given to be cultivated for ever, and all powers to be used at their best; therefore let your best to-day be but the starting-point for something better to-morrow. Sir Joshua Reynolds sat at one time thirty-six hours before the canvas that he might bring out in beauty "the human face divine." You are doing more and greater than painting a human face; you are "putting on Christ," making an immortal soul divine, and therefore you are under obligation to "Adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." He who does this finds his very creed steeped in love.
IV. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening." THIS ORDINANCE FINDS ITS HIGHEST DEVELOPMENT IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. There could be no saving religion without duties to perform, powers to develop, sacrifices to make, and a personal God to love and obey. One of the greatest preachers of the past century is reported to have said that "Salvation could be secured between two ticks of the clock." Now, while that is true, it requires so much explanation to guard it from misconception that perhaps it were better it never had been said. Salvation in the sense of the pardon of sin is a free gift bestowed the moment the sinner believes in Jesus Christ. But it is one thing to get into the way that leads to heaven, and another to pass through life's dangers, fulfil life's duties, and accomplish life's work, so that the verdict of the God of Truth shall be, "Well done, good and faithful servant." True success only comes with all-round endeavour of head, hand, and heart. Half-heartedness is wasted power. Only at the Cross do we obtain motive power enough to do our work well. But here being is more than doing. "If," says one, "you do a great thing and lose your temper in doing it, you are like a man who toils up a hill to find a shilling and loses a sovereign on the way." If we would do more, we must be more. Do you know this high and holy meaning of life? The Kingdom of God has come nigh unto you, but have you entered into that Kingdom? Our opportunities are great and precious, but the better the opportunities the worse the waste. The prodigal was ruined by the portion of goods falling to him. God's gift of time is sufficient; there is plenty of time for work, but not an hour for waste.
V. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening." YES, MAN. "More than men," says John Pulsford, "you cannot be; and if you are less, your own nature will never forgive you." And forget not that the greatest thing we shall ever see in earth or heaven is a man — "a Man upon the Throne." "Until the evening," for after all no man is given to see his work through. Until the evening bell call the worker home. Soon, and sudden as a tropical night, may the shades of the evening fall. Then, I would rather be found working than resting.
II. WORK IS A RIGHT. While some will not work, many who would cannot get it to do. And men and women are in poverty, and near to starvation, who would gladly toil had they the chance. We need to have the teaching of Christ applied more broadly to this than it has ever yet been. No employer has a right to think simply of getting all he can out of his men, and then to discharge them when trade is slack, while he himself is living luxuriously on the fruit of their toil.
III. WORK HAS, OR OUGHT TO HAVE, A LIMIT. "Until the evening." "Come ye apart," said Christ, "and rest awhile." That is a need of life. No labour is right that does not allow it. No man does himself justice or gives God His due service when he lets his work monopolize his life.
IV. WORK MUST HAVE A TERMINATION. Just as the hours hastening on limit opportunity, and the shadows lengthen until the evening comes and work is ended; so life's days go, carrying with them openings that can never be ours again, and the shadows draw out, and the sun sets, and the day is at an end, and its work is done — good or bad it must stand for ever. How man will toil when he knows that on it depends home with its rest and happiness. And shall not we toil earnestly in the Master's service when we know that on our faithful labour depends the home beyond with its bliss.
Homilist.I. HUMAN LABOUR IS A DIVINE INSTITUTION; AND THEREFORE NON-WORKING IS AN EVIL.
1. Nature does not supply man with what he requires, independent of his own agency.(1) As a mere physical existence, does he not require food, raiment, and a dwelling? But does nature yield these to him as he requires them, either for his physical well-being, or his physical preservation, without his effort? No.(2) As an intellectual being, it is the same. Man must work for the knowledge he requires.(3) As a moral being, having obligations to discharge, spiritual powers to develop, a God to love and serve, he must inevitably perish without labour — agonizing labour.
2. Man is endowed with working powers admirably fitted to get from nature whatever he requires. There is the investigating and planning intellect; and there is the executive hand; and there is the varied impulse of animal appetite; social affections, and progressive aspirations, rising every moment like a tidal force in the soul, pressing the faculties of the mind, and the members of the frame, into action. He is made for the work required.
3. The Bible teaches that human labour is the ordination of Heaven.(1) Non-working is a moral wrong. Inaction, where there is the power of action, is a crime.(2) Non-working is a positive injury. To the individual himself. Muscular inactivity enfeebles the body, mental the intellect, moral the soul. To others. The idle person is a social thief.
II. MAN'S LABOUR HAS ITS PROPER LIMITATIONS, AND THEREFORE EXCESSIVE WORK IS AN EVIL.
1. Overwork involves an infringement of the laws of health. The spring will bear so much pressure and no more without danger or ruin. Too much weight will bend the lever and strain the engine.
2. Overwork involves a violation of the claims of mind. Over the door of every room, office, shop, warehouse, manufactory, where excessive labour and long hours prevail, you may write, "Within, are intellects fitted to tread in the footsteps of illustrious sages, explore new regions of truth, and enrich posterity by their discoveries, losing their vision and their vigour; — within, are hearts containing germs of sentiment and wells of sympathy, the sublimest gifts of Heaven, undergoing the terrible process of ossification; — within, are souls that must outlive the stars and yet be young; sacrificed to matter and to mammon."
3. Over-work involves a wrong to humanity in general. The advancement of the race depends upon each individual contributing his part to the general intelligence and virtue — the two great uplifting forces. Society advances by the increase of these Divine elements, and in no other way. Every true thought from every brain, every noble sentiment from every heart, every honest word and deed, serve to augment these elevating forces of the world. But what opportunity have the over-worked men and women of England to do their part in a mission so indispensable and glorious?
I. WORK IS THE TRUE SACRAMENT OF LIFE. It has been truly said, "a man cultivates himself by working." Very plainly God has put us into such a universe that He only can shape us by, — destiny only Spins its purpose out of us by, — work. Every toil may be the platform for a higher toil; and all toils point to the consummation and perfection of the worker, the invisible, but living, personal soul. Work! it never ends with its act; it has a great beyond, and there is a great beyond to thee. It is from brave labour that life rises, "rises the God-like force, the sacred life-essence breathed by God. It is by labour, by work you rise to all nobleness — you rise to all knowledge." This is the Work of nature, to which, man goes forth. In the kingdom of grace there is work too. Understand, as has been said, the Gospel does not abrogate works, but it provides for them. Man goeth forth to his work and labour from the morning of the world to its evening.
II. I turn from the thought of the work as a fact, to THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT SHOULD BE ENGAGED. A nobleness of soul looks out from the words, "go forth!" The view of labour is not only great objectively, it is subjectively also. Some men's souls are like a French drawing-room, all looking-glass, whichever way they look they see themselves. It is not so with noble souls; they see their work, and not merely the little piece which lies before them, they see its end. So man goeth forth. The blessed glow of labour spreads over the man. "He goeth forth"; and it means that he calls to patience, courage, perseverance, and to that simple, weak-looking little faculty, good temper, to wait upon him. "He goeth forth"; then what to him are the doubts and difficulties that beset him? "Doubt of any kind — it is extinguished by action," and difficulties retreat as the man goeth forth. As the ploughman drives his team through the stubble, and knows it is for the harvest, — the sailor waves a farewell to the shore, and knows it is for the freightage, — as the builder rears the scaffolding and knows it is for the building, so man goeth forth; so the Christian goeth forth, refreshed by prayer; "the crooked becomes straight" before him, "the rough places plain," "the valleys are exalted," "the mountains brought low." Have you not heard in some of those old wild legends of the Middle Ages, how, while men slept, some of the old church towers and spires rose in the night — invisible builders working in the air: so rise the towers and the spires of our life — a mystic building: so it is also with our life. Or, say it is like a building, the design of the architect hidden behind the scaffolding; but, at last, the building is complete, the scaffolding falls, and all stands revealed.
(E. P. Hood.)
I. HUMAN LABOUR IS UNIVERSAL. Let a tribe be just clear of the grade of savagism: you find the men, with fishing-net, or fowling-gear or rude implements of husbandry, earning a regular livelihood by labour, while the women fill up the blanks in the daily toil by the lighter occupations which befit them. Let a people be rising in civilization: you find fewer idlers, less of wandering, less of mere sport or mere fetching of food, and more of settled labour. And let a people be standing high in the ranks of humankind: you note that labour has become general, varied, skilful, steady, honourable, more evidently a thing which speaks of manhood at its best. "Man goeth forth unto his work."
II. HUMAN LABOUR BELONGS TO THE REGULAR SYSTEM OF THINGS. Man was made for work; he did not fall into it. He fell into sin, and sin has cast its shadow upon his work as upon all else that concerns him. "The curse of labour," then, means no more than that particular part of the shadow of the general curse of sin which lies upon labour, as one of the most important and essential and radical elements in human existence. For labour, work, belongs to humanity as humanity, and not to merely sinful humanity or to human sin. We may be tempted often to sigh for a life that has no labour in it. But do not permit your work to overbear and oppress you thus. In the best sense of the words, you must keep above your work, and must keep your work beneath you. You must never feel it a thing you have to endure, to put up with, to slave to or to serve. Do not degrade your work to task-work. Let it be work to you still — a thing honourable, a thing appointed, a thing human, a thing amid which you are able to lift up your head in God's creation as a being who is thus, and now, claiming and affirming your likeness to the Divine.
III. HUMAN LABOUR HAS UPON IT GOD'S EYE AND GOD'S SMILE. He sets our work for us, and He looks on continually while we do it, with no indifferent gaze, but with His great fatherly approval when we do it well. He would have us to seek His help in it, and His blessing upon it. Every day, it is certain, He knows well what we are doing, what we have done, and how we have done it. His interest in our work, in ourselves as workers, is deep and unwearied. We wrong Him and ourselves if we think of our daily work as being of no account to Him — if we cut it off from Him because we deem it too lowly, too secular, too common, too much our own needful affair, for Him to trouble Himself, or to be troubled by us, concerning it. It is the balsam of a labouring life — it is oil to every wheel in our daily round of toil — this felt interest of God in it all, and this unearthly geniality touching it all with a holy sweetness of dignity and peace.
IV. Human labour is MAN'S ORDINARY METHOD OF SERVING AND GLORIFYING GOD. Men speak of doing "God's work" when they are doing work which bears closely upon the spiritual welfare of their fellow-men; and worthy work it is, and momentous, when done in wisdom and love and humility. Men talk of "Christian work" when they mean the definite doing of good around them upon plans and motives that recognize the kingdom of Christ in the world; and all success to every one who puts his hand to it thoughtfully for the Lord's sake. But really, ought not all our work to be made "God's work"? "Christian work"? It shall be just this if it be done for God and for Christ. Let us "go forth unto our work" when the morrow breaks, let us stay our labour when the morrow closes, let us go forth and return as morning and evening pursue each other along our little life, making each day a day of Gospel work, of evangelic labour, "until the evening" of our earthly sojourn itself closes in, and we "go forth" into our Lord's eternity, at our Lord's bidding still — go forth to "our work," our true life-work, which has so little of "labour" in it, and so much of rest — the work of the day which shall always be brightening in its happy perfectness, and always be fresh in its cloudless peace.
(J. A. Kerr Bain, M.A.)1. The world in its peace and gladness is a compound of many activities set in motion by God: the seasons, night and day, sun and rain, and the labour of man.
2. Our labour, springing from our free choice, is most closely connected with the moral order, for which the physical order was established.
3. This daily toil may include, as a part of it, a direct attempt to join hands with God in His moral and providential work.
4. This was meant to bring out our humane and religious character.
(F. Noble, D.D.)
1. One good end served by work, and served most effectually when work is felt most hard and painful, is this: it all goes to keep us in mind that we are fallen creatures, — to keep us in mind of the evil of sin. Man was at first intended for work; and afterwards, when he fell, doomed to work. The distorted form of the miner, labouring in peril and darkness that we may have our cheerful fires; the stiffened limbs of the sailor, drenched with the wintry spray; the lined face, the grey hair, the frail unmuscular body, which speaks of the over-driven brain; what do all these remind us of, but that sin is bitterly hateful in the sight of God? Sin brought all suffering, and all suffering should remind us of the evil of sin.
2. A second reason why our Saviour has set "to every man his work," doubtless is, that in so doing He provided effectually for the health and sound estate of our bodies and our minds. We cannot be happy when we are idle. The machine, body and soul, is made for working, and in a little, the appetite for occupation revives again. Many of us would be lazy enough if we had it in our power: let us thank God that He has saved us from that temptation. Where is it that we shall find the grossest forms of vice and folly, but among those who by their circumstances are freed from the necessity of labour?
3. A third advantage to the Christian of having suitable work to do is this: that in faithfully doing his work, and doing it in a right spirit, he is doing what tends to make him grow in grace: he is working out his salvation all the while. Our Redeemer has appointed us to labour as we do: and so labour must be the right thing. It has its temptations, like everything on earth: but the Holy Ghost wilt help us through them, if we do but earnestly ask His blessed guidance.
(A. K. H. Boyd, D.D.)
I. WORK. Wise men, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero taught that it was unworthy of a free-born citizen to engage in trade or commerce; and agriculture which, with the sanction of , held longest an honourable place among civic avocations, came also at last to be regarded with contempt. Any profession that exchanged its products for money was despised. Even intellectual work, done for money, was counted unworthy of respect. "The freeman was degraded by acting as tutor or schoolmaster. Only the liberal arts, such as medicine, philosophy, architecture, commerce on a large scale, were regarded as honourable and suitable to the position of citizen." But, in contradistinction to this pagan teaching, our Bible puts the highest dignity on work. Our first parents, even in their innocency, were "to dress and keep" the garden. The Lord of Glory Himself worked as a carpenter. St. Paul — the free-born Roman citizen — deigned to soil his hands at tent-making. In his epistles he again and again comes down, as with a shattering sledge-hammer, on the idleness of some professing Christians. "If any will not work, neither let him eat." The law of work is, moreover, stamped on our being. The anatomy of our body shows that work is a necessity for its health and vigour. "It is not work," says Beecher, "that kills men; it is worry. Work is healthy; you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear." Work is not only a negative good, saving us from the "mischief" which "Satan finds for idle hands to do," but it is also a positive good. Besides keeping us physically healthy, it also calls out our intelligence; and when done honestly, it strengthens us in many a virtue such as patience, courage, endurance, fidelity. These moral gains we may find as readily in sweeping the street or performing trivial household duties as in sowing our grain or in attending to a piece of delicate machinery.
II. LEISURE. By many a voice God says to each of us in the words of the poet, "Work like a man, but don't be worked to death!"
1. The leisure of the evening is appointed for rest. The machinery of our body is such that it soon wears out under too lengthened physical toil; and the balance of our mind is such that it is liable to give way under the monotony and overstrain of too many hours of application.
2. The leisure of the evening is appointed for wholesale recreation. The bent mind, like the bow, needs to be occasionally unbent for a while. And innocent amusement for the man who has been working hard is as a strengthening medicine. But alas for the recreations of some! It is more killing than their work.
3. The leisure of evening is appointed for spiritual improvement. Were we only physical beings, then it were right that we should only live to eat — to secure the comforts and luxuries which are dear to our animal appetites. Or were we only the social creatures of a day, then it were pardonable that we should give the great bulk of our leisure hours to gratify our selfish taste for exciting amusements and companionships. But if it be true that we are undying souls in need of salvation, and of that sanctified fitness which must be acquired for the heavenly state, then surely there ought also to be daily leisure for spiritual meditation and private prayer.
(T. Young, M.A.)Revelation 14:18). Now, it is not necessary to prove that the Christian, as such, has a work to do. But it is, perhaps, a less familiar thought, that the Christian's work, being that of man here in this world, is not a work only, but a labour also; that it is not easy nor light; that it is hard to do, and costs, like all labour, much toil and fatigue, and weariness of heart and flesh; not because the service of our Master is, in itself, intrinsically, a hard and painful one, but because we make it such, and cannot help making it such, by that native opposition to it, and reluctance to do it, which every life exhibits. If any one finds it sweet, delightful and easy, to bear the Cross, and mortify the flesh, to resist temptation and school himself in silence and submission, to practice self-denial, and feel the burden and heat of the day, to go and come in season and out of season, where good is to be done; let him be thankful; but, with most of us, it is not so. In all our work, whatever intention hallow it, we find labour; and it seems hard, in certain respects, and sometimes so very hard, that we are all but ready to give out; and this is so whether we be working for ourselves or for others. And yet we dare not rest, or cease from work, until the end come: because the work is to live and to be imputed to us, eternally, for weal or woe. We must endure the pain and weariness, as knowing that without these, as accompaniments, the work cannot be done; and that, unless the work be done, we shall have nothing to follow us at the last, nothing to show when we are called to account, and therefore nothing to reward. For the sake of the work that shall remain, we must sustain the labour which is to end. This is, of course, the practical conclusion, which they should be urged to consider who find it a great effort to do their duty, and who think perhaps that they will never improve. To them we say: You ought to know, that it is of the nature of things that your struggle is what it is. Labour, pain, toil, and everything most repugnant to your self-indulgent spirit, attend upon, and are inseparably united to the work which is set before you to accomplish. It is so, it must be so, it always will be so. We must accept our lot, and do what we can, and wait for the hour when the labour and the work shall be separated, and the former shall cease and be forgotten, and the latter shall remain with us, the proof of our fidelity and the guarantee of an eternal reward.
(Morgan Dix, D.D.)
(J. Thain Davidson, D.D.)
(Joseph Cook.)ennui that life has lost all relish for them; and some have grown so tired of pacing the irksome daily round that they have put an end to it by violent means. But surely it gives a new zest to life if we realize that all this constant doing of the same things, this constant going round and round the same little circle of daily duties, is not a treadmill penance, a profitless labour like weaving ropes of sand, but is designed to bring out and educate to the utmost perfection of which we are capable all that is best and most enduring in us. And surely it heightens the interest immeasurably to be assured that God has not merely ordained this long ago as part of His great providential plan for the world, but that He is daily and hourly superintending the process of our discipline and education by His personal presence, compassing our path, going round with us in the circle of life's toils and duties, and causing all our experiences, by His blessing, to work together for our good.
(H. Macmillan, D.D.)
Christian Weekly.A celebrated divine has said, "If it were not for industry, men would be neither so healthful nor so useful, so strong nor so patient, so noble nor so untempted. There is no greater tediousness in the world than want of employment. Time passes over the active man lightly like a dream, or the feathers of a bird; but the idler is like a long sleepless night to himself, and a load to his country."
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