Many look upon useful labor as a curse originating with the enemy of souls; but this is a mistaken view. Judicious labor is indispensable to both the happiness and the prosperity of the race. God ordained it for man as a blessing, to occupy his mind, to strengthen his body, and to develop his faculties. Industry makes the feeble strong, the timid brave, the poor rich, and the wretched happy. Adam labored in the garden of Eden, and he found in mental and physical activity the highest pleasures of his holy existence. When, as the result of his disobedience, he was driven from that beautiful home, and was forced to struggle with a stubborn soil to gain his daily bread, that very labor was a relief to his sorrow and remorse, a safeguard against temptation.
Idleness is one of the greatest curses that can fall upon man; for vice and crime follow in its train. Satan is never more successful than when he comes to men in their idle hours. He lies in ambush with his temptations, ready to surprise and destroy those who are unguarded, whose leisure gives him opportunity to insinuate himself into their favor under some attractive disguise.
The greatest curse following in the train of wealth is the fashionable idea that work is degrading. “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, in the words of Holy Writ, the terrible results of idleness. It was this that caused the ruin of the cities of the plain. Idleness enfeebles the mind, debases the soul, and perverts the understanding.
The rich often consider themselves entitled to the pre-eminence among their fellow-men and in the favor of God. Many feel above honest labor, and look down with contempt upon their poorer neighbors. The children of the wealthy are taught that to be gentlemen and ladies they must dress fashionably, avoid all useful labor, and shun the society of the working classes. They dare not shock their fashionable associates by putting to a practical use the talents which God has given them. But such ideas of useful industry are wholly at variance with the divine purpose in the creation of man. What are the possessions of even the most wealthy, compared with the heritage given to the lordly Adam? Yet Adam was not to be idle. Our all-wise Creator, who understands well what is for man’s happiness, appointed Adam his work. The Son of God honored labor. Though he was the Majesty of Heaven, he chose his earthly home among the poor and lowly, and worked for his daily bread in the humble carpenter shop of Joseph. Christ is our example. He came to earth to teach us how to live. Is it too great a humiliation for us to walk in the path of useful industry, where the King of glory has led the way?
God ordained labor for man; but misguided parents are trying to improve upon his plan. Many send their children away from home influences and home duties, to some boarding-school or college, to obtain an education. There, deprived of parental care, they spend precious hours that should be devoted to useful study and useful employment, in novel reading, in frivolous amusements, or in studying the adornment of their person, that they may outrival their companions. For such pursuits, their duties to God and their fellow-beings are neglected.
This false education leads young ladies to regard uselessness, frivolity, and helplessness as proofs of gentility. They are merely fashionable butterflies, having nothing to do for the good of others, at home or abroad. Here may be found the secret of many of the unhappy marriages, and the flirtations ending in shame, that curse our world today.
Young men as well as young women manifest a sad lack of earnest purpose and moral independence. To dress, to smoke, to talk nonsense, and to indulge their passion for amusement, is the ideal of happiness, even with many who profess to be Christians. It is painful to think of the time which is thus misspent,—of the hours that should be given to some useful employment, to the study of the Scriptures, or to active labor for Christ, that are worse than wasted.
Those who possess wealth and leisure, and yet have no aim in life, have nothing to arouse them to either mental or physical activity. Yet life was given for a true and holy purpose, and is too precious to be squandered. There is work to be done, and it is not physical labor alone that is called for. There is the mind, with all its capabilities, to strengthen and store with the treasures of divine wisdom. There is a Heaven to win; there are souls to save; there are battles to fight. Young friend, Christian reader, you may come to the front in the warfare against the hosts of evil. In the strength of God you may do a good and noble work for the Master.
God designed that all should be workers. Our varied trusts are proportioned to our various abilities, and our Creator expects corresponding returns for the talents he has intrusted to our keeping. Upon those whose opportunities and abilities are greatest rest the heaviest responsibilities. Upon them also will fall the heaviest condemnation if they are unfaithful to their trust. Yet a large class refuse to think or act for themselves. They have no disposition to step out of the old ruts of prejudice and error; and by their negligence and perversity, they block up the way of those who would make advancement, and occasion the overwork of the few earnest, devoted laborers. These often fail for want of a helping hand, and sink beneath their double burdens.
The true glory and joy of life are found only by the working man and woman. Labor brings its own reward, and the rest is sweet that is purchased by the fatigue of a well-spent day. But there is a self-imposed toil which is utterly unsatisfying and injurious. It is that which is done to gratify unsanctified ambition for display or notoriety. The love of appearance or possession leads thousands to carry to excess that which is in itself lawful, to devote all the strength of mind and body to that which should occupy but a small portion of their time. They bend every energy to the acquisition of wealth or honor; they make all other objects secondary to this; they toil unflinchingly for years to accomplish their purpose; yet when the goal is reached, and the coveted reward secured, it turns to ashes in their grasp; it is a shadow, a delusion. They have given their life for that which profiteth not.
Yet all lawful pursuits may be safely followed, if the spirit is kept free from selfish hopes and the contamination of deceit and envy. It is the working men and women, who are willing to bear its responsibilities with courage and hope, who see something great and good in life. But the business life of the Christian should be marked by the same purity that held sway in the work-shop of the holy Nazarene.
Patient laborers, remember that they were sturdy working men whom Christ chose from among the fishermen of Galilee to labor with him in the work of salvation. And from these humble men went forth a power that will be felt through all eternity.
The angels are workers; they are ministers of God to the children of men. Those slothful spirits who look forward to a Heaven of inaction will be disappointed, for the Creator has prepared no place for the gratification of sinful indolence. But to the weary and heavy-laden, rest is promised. It is the faithful servants who are welcomed from their labors into the joy of their Lord. Gladly will they lay off their armor, and forget the tumult of battle in the peace that shall be the inheritance of the saints.
The path of the Christian laborer may be hard and narrow; but it is honored by the footprints of the Redeemer, and he is safe who follows in that sacred way.