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AND THIS WORLD.
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world,
but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. — John xvii. 15.
RELIGION has generally been regarded as something foreign to man’ s nature and hostile to this world, as something to be superinduced upon him or added to him to supply a want which is not inherent in his nature. It is not regarded as an outgrowth and normal development of his faculties as he was created in the image of God, but rather as something to get, as a criminal obtains a pardon and a release from the penalty of crime, or a favor which he receives as a gift. It is regarded as something distinct from his daily life. It is a sentiment, or a creed. Religion is not infrequently spoken of as especially useful to woman and adapted to her nature and wants, while men have not so much need of it, implying that it is not an essential factor of human nature. Its essential use is supposed to consist in obtaining a remission of the punishment of our sins and securing our happiness in the future life. It looks more to the future than the present, mainly to the spiritual world rather than to this world. Its exercises and duties have only a remote connection with the common labors, duties, and enjoyments of this life.
What help does religion give to the great majority of Christian people in their daily labor? Does it sustain them in it? Does it make useful labor honorable? Do its doctrines, as they are generally understood and taught, tend to make the ordinary duties of life pleasant and a means of expressing our love for others ? On the contrary, is it not true that useful labor is generally regarded as a curse ? that there is thought to be something ignoble and degrading in it ? and that those who are able to live without it are the favorites of fortune ? How is a woman regarded who is compelled to support herself by sewing or teaching or domestic service ? Compare her lot with the lot of one who is under no necessity of doing useful work ; whose delicate hands are never soiled and hardened by contact with the implements of domestic service, and whose face is never exposed to the sun unless in travel, or lawn tennis, or some form of amusement ; who spends her time in reading novels, or embroidery, or chatting with companions about the last party or the next one. How fortunate and enviable is the position of such a one compared with her poor sister ! She has escaped the primal curse. Like the lilies of the field, she toils not neither does she spin, but is delicately dressed.
How often we hear it said of a young man who has money, that he is independent! He is not laid under the necessity of doing any useful work. He is in perfect freedom to go where he pleases. He can travel ; he can amuse himself He has no exacting necessities, no hard taskmaster to call him up early and compel him to work late. He, too, has escaped the curse of useful and regular labor with his hands. This is the verdict of the world, of the poor as well as the rich, of the saint as well as the sinner. A laborer spoke the general sentiment when asked what he would do if a fortune were left him, when he said, “I would throw down my spade and never do another stroke of work.” Consider the meaning of the word ” fortune.” One man has lost his fortune ; another has become heir to a fortune. Does it not mean riches, freedom from the necessity of daily labor for a living, freedom from obligation to perform any use to others except it may be some polite social service ? The church is in a great measure responsible for this mistake and its unhappy consequences. It teaches that labor is a curse. The error originated in part in an entire misunderstanding of the curse pronounced upon man, ”In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” and of the meaning of labor and rest in the Scriptures.
Labor is supposed to mean useful work, and rest cessation from it. But this is not their meaning. If it were, could our Lord have said, ” My Father worketh hitherto and I work’ ‘ ? By labor is meant conflict between good and evil in our minds, and by rest the cessation of the conflict. But the Christian world has understood rest to mean cessation from all useful service. Consequently heaven is regarded as a state of eternal idleness, only relieved by the diversion of song, and possibly by some social intercourse between the shadows of human beings in the shadow of a world. This freedom from the necessity of all useful action is regarded as the highest ideal of happiness. One of the common and absurd misconceptions of the doctrines of the New Church is, that they teach that we shall pursue the same employments in the other life that we do in this world. That would be impossible in the nature of things. But we do believe that the widest field will be opened for the exercise of every good affection and orderly intellectual faculty ; that every one will have some employment in which he can perform some use to others and make it the means of expressing his affection and of communicating and receiving delight. I can conceive of no more terrible fate than to be compelled to eternal idleness, or to feel the stirring and impulse of immortal affections with no power of expressing them in useful service. All delight, all happiness consists in some form of action. The reverse of conscious action is death.
The same fatal error has been made in religious teaching concerning the material world as in respect to labor. It has been regarded as a poor, mean, bad world, hostile to man’s highest interests, a world to be despised and rejected and trampled under foot. Yet the very act of departure from it, which men call death, is thought to be the greatest curse and the severest punishment ; there are few who are eager to leave the world. But there is no imperfection in the world. When the Lord created it He pronounced it very good. It is perfectly adapted to the purpose for which it was created. It is not the world that is at fault, but the people who dwell in it, and the misuse they make of it. Religious teachers have mistaken the material world for the supreme love of it, the Lord’s hostility to error and sin for hatred of the sinner, and the immutable principles and methods of the Divine wisdom for an arbitrary and almighty willfulness. The Lord is represented as being above law, which is impossible in the nature of things, because He is law in its origin, and to act contrary to it would be to act contrary to Himself.
These mistaken views of the Lord’s character and relations to men, and the purpose of man’s life in this world, have cast a gloom over human minds. They have filled the heart with groundless fears. They have reversed the true order of all man’s relations to the world and to the Lord. They have robbed man of his best Friend and the most powerful means of gaining his highest good. They have mixed bitterness in the cup of all natural delights, turned light into darkness, confidence into distrust, hope into doubt and despair. The New Church entirely reverses this mistaken view of life in this world. It corrects groundless misapprehensions and places them where they belong ; it dispels baseless fears and reveals the true cause for real ones ; it shows man his true relation to the Lord and the Lord’s aspect to man. It dispels the appearances and illusions of the senses, and shows man how to get the greatest good out of this life and at the same time prepare for future happiness. It gives him the knowledge and power to get rest out of labor, comfort out of suffering, joy out of sorrow, a substantial and permanent good out of transitory possessions, help even from his’ enemies, success from his failures,—in a word, to make all things and all beings work together for his highest good. Let us see in some particulars how the New Church helps us to find light in darkness, blessings in curses, friends in enemies, and good in everything.
First let us look at labor, which is generally regarded as the primal and bitter curse. By labor I mean every form of it, from work with the hands to work with brain and heart. How much of it is basely servile ! How much of it is done from compulsion ! How much of it is repulsive to natural taste and feeling ! The limbs are weary, the heart faints, the brain aches, and body and mind pray for rest. The chief attraction of heaven is its promised rest. How can the curse of labor be escaped? Not by abolishing labor. The most miserable beings in the world are those who have no useful and steady employment. They lose their health for the want of regular exercise, or from dissipation and excesses into which they plunge to find relief from the monotony and weariness of an idle life. The mind becomes weak, the purpose aimless, the thoughts confused, and all the faculties of mind and body become so relaxed and weak that a grasshopper is a burden. It requires then more effort to step into a carriage than it would for a person in robust health to walk a mile. So essential is physical labor in some form to health and happiness, that when men and women are not compelled by necessity to engage in useful labor they will seek exercise in sports, in travel, in hunting and fishing, in playing ball or tennis, or in other ways which they tax their ingenuity to invent. The history of the world shows that no human being can be happy without labor in some form, whether it is from the necessity to gain a subsistence, or an effort to escape from monotony and find pleasure. Action is a law of life and the essential means of happiness. Idleness is a curse from which every one seeks to escape.
Useful labor is more conducive to happiness than that which is sought merely to escape from e7tnui or in the pursuit of pleasure. To carry stones from one pile to another and then carry them back again would weary one more than to build them into a useful wall. To water a garden and see the freshness and beauty of the growing plants would give one more pleasure than to draw water from a well and pour it back again. Exercise for the sake of exercise, without the stimulus of some delight and the reward of something accomplished, is dreary work. It is better than inertness, but it lacks the present pleasure, which is a great stimulus to action. The pleasure which labor gains from the enjoyment of some present or future good, however, only in part relieves the burden. The pleasure is not so much in the labor as in the reward we hope to gain. Most persons would prefer the reward without the labor.
But the way to take the whole curse out of labor and to make it an unmixed blessing, is to perform it from love to the Lord and man. We must put a spiritual and heavenly love into it. The desire to do good to others, to be useful to them and to contribute to their comfort and happiness, must be the primary and central motive of our action. This does not mean that we are to have no regard for ourselves, and are not to receive a just compensation for our work, but it does mean that the supreme and governing motive and aim that enters into all our employments must be the desire of being useful to others ; and they must be so conducted, as far as possible, that there will be use in the performance of them as well as in their results. Let us look at some of the common and useful employments as illustrations of this principle.
Take agricultural pursuits of every kind as an example. The farmer can till his ground and raise his crops from love to the Lord and the neighbor. He can plough and reap and gather his harvests with the distinct purpose of co-operating with the Lord in carrying His purposes of love to man into effect. The Lord has so constituted man’s material body that it must be constantly supplied with food, and He has provided the means of supplying it. He has created ground composed of elements suited to this purpose ; He has provided the seed, and the sun to quicken it into growth with its heat and light ; He sends the rain to dissolve these material substances and present them in a proper form to feed the hungry plant and quench its thirst. He causes it to grow, “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” But He needs the co-operation of man to prepare the ground, to plant the seed, to cultivate the soil, to gather the harvest and prepare it for the market.
Suppose the farmer, while he is engaged in his work, keeps this fact in his mind. The Lord has honored me, he says, by taking me into His counsels, by permitting me to assist Him in carrying His purposes of love into effect. Would not this elevate his labor from the exercise of mere animal strength, like that of the horse and the ox, to a spiritual and human plane of life and make it honorable ? He is co-operating with the King of kings and Lord of lords, in building up His kingdom on the earth, and forming His heaven in the spiritual world. Can you call the labor of this use a curse ?
While the farmer sees his corn and wheat and fruit growing in the sunshine and the rain which the Lord sends, suppose he thinks of the use to his fellow-men which this food will render. How much hunger it will appease ! How much physical strength it will give to men and women to render a service to the Lord in some other form ! It will satisfy the keen appetites of the children, whose cheeks will grow rosy and whose limbs will grow strong with the nourishment which he has been an essential factor in providing. Would not his own heart grow warm with this love of the neighbor? Would not his brown face grow bright with the thought that the currents of the Lord’s love had flowed through his heart, softening, enlarging, and enriching it, and that he had been an instrument in the Lord’s hands of distributing His bounty to men, women, and children ? Is such a position mean, degrading ? Is such labor a curse ? If it is a curse for man to render this service, must it not be a curse for the Lord to do His part of the work ? If it is love, mercy, grace, and kindness in the Lord to provide food to supply human wants, does not man partake of the same nature by freely co-operating with Him ?
As another example, take mechanical employments of all kinds. What does the mechanic do ? He takes the woods and metals and earths, which the Lord has created for human use, and builds houses to give shelter from cold and storm, and to be a home for infancy and childhood, for the culture of domestic affections, and to be the theatre of quiet and exquisite joys. He constructs implements for his neighbor to use in cultivating the ground ; he weaves his cloth and makes his garments. He constructs engines to carry men and the products of their labor over land and sea and bring the wealth of all climes to every door. If the miner in the dark chambers of the earth, the smith and tailor and shoemaker in their shops, the merchant in his store, the sailor on the sea, and the cook in the kitchen, could know and acknowledge the grand truth that they are helping the Lord to carry out His purposes of love and mercy and tender regard for men, would it not lighten their labor and make it a joy rather than a task ? They are doing a work which the Lord cannot do directly with His own hands. He can create the wood and the iron, but He cannot build the houseand construct the engine. He can create the corn, but He cannot grind it and make it into bread. He can cause the flax and cotton to grow and the silkworm to spin its fine thread, but He needs our help to prepare the fibre, to weave the cloth, and to make the garment. He has given to man the ability to do this work, and made it the means of the development of his intellectual and spiritual faculties, and of filling his heart with delight. He has placed us in the midst of these manifold uses, given us the ability to perform them, and rewards us in doing them, with health and strength and increase of capacity to receive more life from Him, and crowns us with honor for doing them. Here, as in the work of the husbandman, every one can gain the comfort and receive the delight of knowing that he is rendering a service to the Lord and to man. He is clothing the naked, he is feeding the hungry, he is healing the sick, he is carrying the weary on his journey, he is providing homes for the homeless, he is instructing the ignorant, he is contributing to the common good according to the kind and measure of his use, and the knowledge of this fact will strengthen his arm and encourage his heart.
Take the employments of woman as another illustration of the principle. Many of her employments are monotonous and in themselves contain but Htde to awaken interest or call forth intelligence. Her work is perpetually recurring. When one meal has been prepared and the wants of nature supplied, another must be provided. The cook and the chamber-maid and the mistress go the daily round with little variety and apparently with little permanent result. Wants perpetually recur and must be perpetually supplied. What does the labor amount to if it is performed from necessity ? What permanent reward is gained for the care, the weariness, the anxiety, the frequent failure, if there is no purpose but simply to do what necessity compels ? I am not surprised that women grow weary and feel life to be a burden. Many of them are loyal to duty and natural affections. But what help do they get from their religion ? Do Christian women bear these burdens more cheerfully and find more comfort and delight in their work than others ? On the contrary, are they not taught that their labor and care and sorrow are a curse which they inherit from the first mother ? Now, suppose they grew up under the influence of the truth that all their employments and relations are forms of use and are means of calling spiritual affections, love to the Lord and man, into exercise. Suppose the mother and the nurse and the cook and the teacher and the seamstress thought and felt that they are working for the Lord and co-operating with Him in accomplishing His purpose in creating the human race, would not that thought fill their hearts with a peaceful and heavenly pleasure ? Would not they see that every word spoken, every meal prepared, every garment made, every provision for health and comfort and the development of the physical, intellectual, and moral nature has a permanent value ? The deed is ended, but the effect remains. The burden of life is lifted, and the sense that some permanent good is accomplished fills the heart with satisfaction and delight. Working so, we are not working merely for to-day. We are laying up treasure in our own minds which neither moth nor rust can corrupt. We are doing a permanent good to every one to whom we minister in these natural things. If we put love to the Lord and man into our work, if it be no more than giving a cup of cold water to one of the little ones, we cannot lose our reward. The heavenly motive glorifies the work. The heavenly worker glorifies the Lord. “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” The Lord glorifies us. We are working for the Lord and with the Lord. We are doing His work here in this world ; but it is the same in final purpose that He and the angels are doing in the spiritual world. We are working for humanity and placing ourselves in such relations to the Lord and the angels and all good men that they can work for us. There is unity of purpose and unity of interest which draws us together, which ennobles the most trivial deed, and sanctifies the heart.
All the principles and doctrines and the whole spirit of the New Church tend to this result. It is a maxim of the New Church, that all religion has relation to life, and that the life of religion consists in doing good. We do not mean by this that we are rewarded for our good works with heavenly joys, as men receive money for their work. We are not rewarded in an arbitrary way for what we do, but the reward is in the doing. We are rewarded in the heavenly affections called into play, in the heavenly characters formed, in cherishing the unselfish affections, in thinking truly and acting kindly. The daily duties which we perform with our hands minister to our spiritual and eternal good, because we put a spiritual and heavenly motive into them.
Finally, the doctrines of the New Church give us a true conception of the nature of this world and of the purpose of the Lord in regard to it. It is a grand and beautiful world, and perfectly adapted to man’s nature in the first stages of his existence. It is our home for a few years, and our Heavenly Father has furnished it in the greatest variety and abundance with all the means necessary for our support, our instruction, our comfort, and our delight. How lovely it is ! How varied and beautiful its forms ! How glorious the colors in which He has painted it ! How delicious the substances He has provided for the nourishment of the body ! How nicely adapted its forms and forces to call into play the latent possibilities of our affections, our intellectual and spiritual faculties, and all those powers and qualities which will fit us for our eternal home in the spiritual world !
You know how much is said against the world. It is generally regarded in the churches, at least by the doctrine of the churches, as hostile to man. Religious devotees flee from the world, or try to do it, by shutting themselves up in cloisters, by denying themselves its pleasures, and despising its beauty and manifold uses. But this is a great mistake. The Lord probably knew what He was about when He made the world. It is not the world that is wrong. It was created to supply our needs and minister to our delights. It is not the love of the world that is wrong. The Lord made it to be loved, and He gave man the capacity for loving it. It was necessary that it should be lovely and charming to attract our attention and call our natural and spiritual faculties into play by its delights. It is not the love itself of the world that is wrong and deadly in its influence, it is the supreme love of it. It is when the world becomes the end, instead of the means of gaining a higher end ; it is when we make it our god and the object of our worship that it becomes a deadly curse.
This distinction the doctrines of the New Church clearly teach. While they show the danger and the fatal consequences of making the world and its possessions and delights the object of supreme affection, more clearly and forcibly than any other doctrines have ever done, at the same time they teach us that its good ought not to be despised. The Lord created the world for our instruction and delight, and it is as ungrateful and wickedto despise and reject His natural, as it is His spiritual, blessings. Innocent amusements and social pleasures and natural delights are good and useful in their place ; the enjoyments of the earth are as harmless and useful in their place as the enjoyments of heaven. We can eat and drink to the glory of God.
From this point of view, and in the light of these principles, this world has a new meaning, a new use, and a new glory. Everything which ministers to our comfort, instruction, and delight is a form and token of the Divine love. The power to see the beauty and enjoy the good which the Lord provides is also a provision of the Lord’s love. In the light of this truth we can appreciate His blessings more fully. It gives a keener relish to our food ; it fills our social and domestic life with a more interior delight. It gives a new beauty to the flowers, and a new glory to the heavens. We are the children of our Heavenly Father. It is His love which creates, His wisdom which forms, His hand which brings us these tokens of His love, His loving thought and tender care which provide them for us to-day.
These doctrines bring the Lord near to us ; they tend to call forth our affections and our gratitude, our trust and confidence, and a sense of security from harm while we remain under the shadow of His wings. They show us the deadly evils of the supreme love of self and the world ; they give us power to resist temptation, patience and hope in trial and suffering ; they make our labor an honor and a delight ; they give us a just estimate of the value of this life and a foretaste of the life to come. Suppose, when you go to your work to-morrow, you say to yourself, ” I am going on an errand for the Lord ; I am going to do a work which He has commissioned me to perform ; I am going to render a service to one of His children ; I am His agent ; I am employed in His office ; I am commissioned to assist Him in His work.” Would not such thoughts and the consciousness of such a purpose fill your heart with delight? It is of but litde consequence what your mission is, so it is a useful one.
Would not the thought throw a splendor over the day ? Would it not give you a supreme motive to do your work well ? Would you not be happy in it ? Would you not feel it an honor and a joy to help the Lord and to add to the comfort or alleviate the suffering or minister to the wants of a human being ? Try it, and you will see and know by blessed experience how such a purpose will lighten the burden of labor, how it will raise it from a drudgery and a curse to the high level of an honorable service for the Lord and the neighbor. And in doing it you will find that the Lord is working for you, and rewarding you with enlarged affections, with keener perceptions of His goodness and mercy. You will find all your spiritual faculties expanding and growing into the beauty and harmony of the Divine order, because you are doing a heavenly work ; for every work is measured by the love we put into it.
All the doctrines and principles of the New Church tend to raise us up to this high plane of action. They teach us the principles of this life of heaven upon the earth, and they show us how to put them in practice. They reveal the Lord as a Being who loves us with an infinitive love, and who has no thought or purpose with reeard to us but to save us from sin and sorrow and bestow upon us eternal life. A knowledge of these doctrines and a life according to them will help every one in every condition to get a higher good out of daily duty, and will prepare him for greater happiness through eternity.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895