The Lord's purposes are not the purposes of men. He did not design that men should live in idleness. In the beginning, He created man a gentleman; but though rich in all that the Owner of the universe could supply, Adam was not to be idle. No sooner was he created than his work was given him. He was to find employment and happiness in tending the things that God has created; and in response to his labour, his wants were to be abundantly supplied from the fruits of the garden of Eden.
While our first parents obeyed God, their labour in the garden was a pleasure; and the earth yielded of its abundance for their wants. But when man departed from obedience, he was doomed to wrestle with the seeds of Satan's sowing, and to earn his bread by the sweat if his brow. Henceforth he must battle in toil and hardship against the power to which he had yielded his will.
It was God's purpose to alleviate by toil the evil that was brought into the world by man's disobedience. By toil the temptations of Satan might be
made ineffectual, and the tide of evil stayed. And though attended with anxiety, weariness, and pain, labour is still a source of happiness and development, and a safeguard against temptation. Its discipline places a check on self-indulgence, and promotes industry, purity, and firmness. Thus it becomes a part of God's great plan for our recovery from the fall.
The public feeling is that manual labour is degrading; yet men may exert themselves as much as they choose at cricket, baseball, or in pugilistic contests, without being regarded as degraded. Satan is delighted when he sees human beings using their physical and mental powers in that which does not educate, which is not useful, which does not help them to be a blessing to those who need their help. While the youth are becoming expert in games that are of no real value to themselves or to others. Satan is playing the game of life for their souls, taking from them the talents that God has given them, and placing in their stead his own evil attributes. It is his effort to lead men to ignore God. He seeks to engross and absorb the mind so completely that God will find no place in the thoughts. He does not wish people to have a knowledge of their Maker, and he is well pleased if he can set in operation games and theatrical performances that will so confuse the senses of the youth that God and heaven will be forgotten.
One of the surest safeguards against evil is useful occupation, while idleness is one of the greatest curses; for vice, crime, and poverty follow in its wake. Those who are always busy, who go cheerfully about their daily tasks, are the useful members of society. In the faithful discharge of the various duties that lie in their pathway, they make their lives a blessing to themselves and to others. Diligent labour keeps them from many of the snares of him who "finds some mischief still for idle hands to do."
A stagnant pool soon becomes offensive; but a flowing brook spreads health and gladness over the land. The one is a symbol of the idle, the other of the industrious.
In God's plan for Israel, every family had a home on the land, with sufficient ground for tilling. Thus were provided both the means and the incentive for a useful, industrious, and self-supporting life. And no devising of man has ever improved upon that plan. To the world's departure from it is owing, to a large degree, the poverty and wretchedness that exist to-day.
In Israel, industrial training was regarded as a duty. Every father was required to see that his sons learned some useful trade. The greatest men of Israel were trained to industrial pursuits. A knowledge of the duties pertaining to housewifery was regarded as essential for every woman. And skill in useful duties was looked upon as an honour to women of all stations in life.
In the schools of the prophets, various industries were taught, and many of the students supported themselves by manual labour.
The path of toil appointed to the dwellers on earth may be hard and wearisome; but it is honoured by the footprints of the Redeemer, and he is safe who follows in this sacred way. By precept and example Christ has dignified useful labour. From His earliest years, He lived a life of toil. The greater part of His earthly life was spent in patient work in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. In the garb of a common labourer the Lord of life trod the streets of the little town in which He lived, going to and returning from His humble toil; and ministering angels attended Him as He walked side by side with peasants and labourers, unrecognised and unhonoured.
When He went forth to contribute to the support of the family by His daily toil, He possessed the same
power as when on the shores of Galilee He fed five thousand hungry souls with five loaves and two fishes. But He did not employ His divine power to lessen His burdens or lighten His toil. He had taken upon Himself the form of humanity, with all its attendant ills, and He did not flinch from its severest trials. He lived in a peasant's home; He was clothed with coarse garments; He mingled with the lowly; He toiled daily with patient hands. His example shows us that it is man's duty to be industrious, and that labour is honourable.
The things of earth are more closely connected with heaven, and are more directly under the supervision of Christ, than many realise. All right inventions and improvements have their source in Him who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. The skilful touch of the physician's hand, his power over nerve and muscle, his knowledge of the delicate mechanism of the body, is the wisdom of divine power to be used in behalf of the suffering. The skill with which the carpenter uses his tools, the strength with which the blacksmith makes the anvil ring, come from God. Whatever we do, wherever we are placed, He desires to control our minds, that we may do perfect work. Christianity and business, rightly understood, are not two separate things; they are one. Bible religion is to be brought into all that we do and say. Human and divine agencies are to combine in temporal as well as in spiritual achievements. They are to be united in all human pursuits, in mechanical and agricultural labours, in mercantile and scientific enterprises.
There is but one remedy for indolence, and that is to throw off sluggishness as a sin that leads to perdition, and go to work, using the physical ability that God has given. The only cure for a useless, inefficient life is determined, persevering effort. Life is not given us to be spent in idleness or self-pleasing;
before us are placed great possibilities. In the capital of strength a precious talent has been entrusted to men. This is of more value than any bank deposit, and should be more highly prized; for through the possibilities that it affords for enabling men to lead a useful, happy life, it may be made to yield interest and compound interest. It is a blessing that cannot be purchased with gold or silver, houses or land; and God requires it to be used wisely. No man has a right to sacrifice this talent to the corroding influence of inaction. All are as accountable for the capital of physical strength as for their capital of means.
The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, and those who are diligent in business may not always be prospered. But it is "the hand of the diligent" that "maketh rich." And while indolence and drowsiness grieve the Holy Spirit and destroy true godliness, they also tend to poverty and want. "He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand."
Judicious labour is a healthful tonic for the human race. It makes the feeble strong, the poor rich, and the wretched happy. Satan lies in ambush, ready to destroy those whose leisure gives him opportunity to insinuate himself under some attractive disguise. He is never more successful than when he comes to men in their idle hours.
Among the evils resulting from wealth, one of the greatest is the fashionable idea that work is degrading. The prophet Ezekiel declares: "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy." Here are presented before us the terrible results of idleness, which enfeebles the mind, debases the soul, and perverts the understanding, making a curse of that which was given
as a blessing. It is the working man or woman who sees something great and good in life, and who is willing to bear its responsibilities with faith and hope.
The essential lesson of contented industry in the necessary duties of life, is yet to be learned by the larger number of Christ's followers. It requires more grace, more stern discipline of character, to work for God in the capacity of mechanic, merchant, lawyer, or farmer, carrying the precepts of Christianity into the ordinary business of life, than to labour as an acknowledged missionary in the open field. It requires a strong spiritual nerve to bring religion into the workshop and the business office, sanctifying the details of every-day life, and ordering every transaction according to the standard of God's word. But this is what the Lord requires.
The apostle Paul regarded idleness as a sin. He learned the trade of tent-making in its higher and lower branches, and during his ministry he often worked at this trade to support himself and others. Paul did not regard as lost the time thus spent. As he worked at his trade, the apostle had access to a class of people that he could not otherwise have reached. He showed his associates that skill in the common arts is a gift from God. He taught that even in every-day toil God is to be honoured. His toil-hardened hands detracted nothing from the force of his pathetic appeals as a Christian minister.
God designs that all shall be workers. The toiling beast of burden answers the purpose of its creation better than does the indolent man. God is a constant worker. The angels are workers: they are ministers of God to the children of men. Those who look forward to a heaven of inactivity will be disappointed; for the economy of heaven provides no place for the gratification of indolence. But to the weary and heavy-laden rest is promised. It is
the faithful servant who will be welcomed from his labours to the joy of his Lord. He will lay off his armour with rejoicing, and will forget the noise of battle in the glorious rest prepared for those who conquer through the cross of Calvary.