« PreviousContinue »
live without it must live by bodily labor. But the injunction is more general, and includes all kinds of labor and toil, or study, by which men may be serviceable to themselves and others and it may properly be asked, how far this duty extends? And it will, I conceive, be no unseasonable digression to inquire, whether only such are obliged to labor who cannot live without it; or whether those who have enough to support themselves without either stealing or begging, are not likewise obliged to turn to some honest calling and employment?
Man, I think, was not made to be idle; God has not given him sense and understanding to sit still and do nothing. If man was made only to eat and drink, then indeed it would follow that those who have enough to eat and drink, need dọ nothing else; but if he is made for and is capable of nobler employment, then it is a very absurd thing to ask, whether a man may be idle, provided he wants nothing? for if he is not made merely to serve his own wants, then his wanting nothing can never be a reason for his doing nothing. The necessary affairs of the world cannot be managed by the labor of the hand only the head must be employed in all matters of policy and government, in preserving peace and order in the world; and in all matters that concern the future and present well-being of mankind. These are matters of higher moment than to fall under the direction of artificers. These are things of the last consequence, and must be regarded; and therefore it is the duty of some to qualify themselves for these purposes. And every man owes it as a duty to God and his country to render himself serviceable according to the station he is in, and to qualify himself to discharge such offices of trust and power as generally fall to the share of men of his rank and degree; that when he is called on by authority to take any office on him, he may be able to discharge it with credit to himself and benefit to others. Those of the highest degree among us reckon it among their titles of honor that they are born counsellors of the kingdom: the consequence, I think, is extremely plain, that it is their indispensable duty, by labor and study, and knowlege of the laws and constitutions of their country, to fit themselves to be what they say they are. The
men of estates among us are generally intrusted with the execution of the laws in their country; and can it be a doubt, whether they ought to be fit for their employment or no? From these, and such like considerations, it appears that all men are obliged to that kind of labor and work which is suitable to the station in which God has placed them. We generally say that God has made nothing to no purpose; and yet, pray tell me what the rich man is made for if his business be only to eat and drink, and spend his estate? Can you justify the wisdom of Providence in sending such a creature into the world? There is work cut out for all creatures, from the highest to the lowest; all things in nature have their proper business, and are made to serve some wise end of God. The angels are his ministering spirits, they attend on and execute his commands. The inanimate things of the world have their office; the sun duly performs his course, and rules the day; the moon and stars rule the night: and if there be a man in the world who has no work, but was formed to be idle, he, among all the works of God, is the only thing that is so. sense and reason great gifts of God? And if he has exempted your hands from labor and toil, by supplying you with necessaries and conveniences of life, will he not expect that you should improve your nobler parts? Will he not exact an account from you, how you turned your better talent, and what use you made of his more excellent gifts? Is it reasonable that a poor man should be accountable for not getting bread for himself by the labor of his hands, and that the rich man should be liable to no judgment for not getting understanding, which is a more valuable possession, by the work and labor of his mind? Bread is the nourishment of the animal, but knowlege is the food of the man: by one we grow to the world, by the other we reach to heaven. And has God made it an indispensable duty to labor for the meat which perisheth, and not required an equal concern and labor for the food of life and immortality?
I PROCEED now to the third thing, which is the limitation by which we are confined to work only the things which are good, foregoing all unlawful means of supporting ourselves: Let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good.'
Had not this condition been expressed, it might have been collected from the nature of the command; for if the law of God be superior to our necessities in any point, it must be so in all points. The reason why we must not steal, but labor, is this that we must not do evil, or transgress the laws of God, to supply our wants or necessities. And if for this reason we must not steal, neither must we lie or perjure ourselves, or do any thing else inconsistent with the principle or maxim on which this law is built. Our Saviour tells us that' man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." If so, then must we not for bread transgress any part of the word of God: for if the word of God be as necessary to the life of man as bread; then to transgress the word to get bread, is really to destroy life on pretence of preserving it; it is sacrificing life and immortality to the belly, which must perish together with its meat. As we are men, we are the servants of God; and therefore to serve him is the law of our nature, which is of the highest obligation: as we are poor, we must serve men, which is the law of our condition, which can never take place of the law of nature; and therefore no necessity can dispense with the service of God, or justify us in the breach or contempt of his laws. Our Saviour's argument against covetousness holds likewise in this case; Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?' You may by the service of men get food and raiment, but by the service of God you hold your very life and being. When you have done your utmost to provide necessaries and conveniences for the support of life, you must depend on God for the continuance of it; for at his displeasure we all
perish he can render all your care abortive, by shortening the life which you take such care to provide for; and therefore the wants and necessities of life can never be a justifiable excuse for transgressing the laws of God. For no man would give his life for bread; and yet he that disobeys God for the sake of any present or temporal advantage, does indeed hazard life itself for the sake of the conveniences of life. Since then no necessity can be great enough to excuse the neglect of our duty to God, it follows that the Apostle's limitation must always take place, and we must labor, working the thing which is good.'
From hence we may learn what value there is in the excuse, which servants and poor men usually make for themselves, when they are sensible that they are employed otherwise than they ought to be. They dare not, they say, desert the service of their master, on whom they depend for their livelihood; the work they do is his, and not theirs, and therefore he ought to be considered as the person acting, and not they; and consequently the guilt should be all his, from whose choice and will the evil flows, in which they are only instruments, not acted by choice, but by the necessity of their condition. The first part of this excuse is evidently false, on supposition that God is superior to man; for if God be your supreme master, then is it no excuse to say you served another master, when you disobeyed him. The excuse is likewise ridiculous; for though you depend on man for your livelihood, yet you depend on God for your life; and life is more than meat; and therefore to disobey the Lord of life to get a maintenance is impious and foolish. But neither will the other part of the excuse do any better service; for though we allow that the evil you do is not of your own choosing or contriving, but that you act as an instrument of another's will, yet will not this clear you of the guilt of the evil you do. This excuse may serve for a horse, but it will not serve for a man; for to man God has given reason and judgment to govern and direct all his actions; and that reason will make you a principal in all the evil you do. Poverty neither divests you of reason, nor exempts you from the rule and government of it; and therefore the poor man must live by reason as well as the rich, and must be judged by it too, and consequently can never be excused for acting con
trary to what his own sense and reason direct. From what has been said, it is manifest, that as the law of your condition obliges you to work and labor for your support and maintenance; so the law of reason and nature, which is a superior law, obliges you to work only the things which are lawful and honest, that you may preserve a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man.'
But you may ask perhaps, what are lawful and honest employments? In answer to this it must be considered that the work and labor of the poor depends on the wants and desires of the rich for if a poor man spends his time in doing what nobody desires him to do, he may go unpaid for his pains; and when he has done, be as far to seek for bread as he was before. From hence it follows that you must be confined to some work which may answer to the wants or desires of life. Now the things which men want are either the necessaries, or conveniences, or pleasures of life; and all trades or callings are subservient to one or other of these.
God has made nothing necessary to us which is not lawful and honest; and therefore it is lawful to provide whatever is necessary to life; and therefore all trades and employments which arise from the necessary wants of life are lawful trades. Under this head come all the works and labors of husbandry, which supply the world with food, and nourishment, and clothing; and all other trades, which furnish us with such things as we cannot well be without.
When men are furnished with necessaries, they then look out for conveniences and if rich men may lawfully desire and enjoy the conveniences of life, then poor men may lawfully provide them by their labor and industry: and this is a large field of work. Whatever is useful or ornamental in life may be reckoned under this head and conveniences must be estimated according to the degrees and quality of men; and as long as men seek the conveniences which are agreeable to their station, and bear proportion to the plenty of their circumstances, they are blameless: if they exceed this measure, they fall into pride and extravagance, and the sins consequent on them, such as ruining themselves and their families, and misspending the substance which God has given them. But since