[A January 1864 sermon of Rev. Henry Frost Wadsworth, pastor of First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY. Found among the historical papers of the church.]
Rom. 12:11 – Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
There are some who entertain the idea that industry is in competition with religion. Such claim that a person cannot have his time occupied with worldly employment and occupations and in the meanwhile perform his whole duty to God and man since some religious denominations or sects have built convents, monasteries, cloisters, for retirement or seclusion from the world or ordinary temporal concerns.
Now all such countries abound with beggary and want and crime. Their theory is in direct opposition to the teachings of the Bible. The text was addressed by the apostles to Christians at Rome and the advice therein contained a profitable subject for consideration to Christians of every age and of every land that those who entertain the idea that Christianity is opposed to industry are laboring under a great mistake. Even in the fourth commandment labor is enjoined as a duty, six days shalt thou labor and do all they work. Hence Christianity is not only concerned with future life but with every day affairs. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God. This is the great end of our existence, for this we were created, after this we should aspire.
And in order to do so, it is not necessary that we should employ so many hours each day in the public worship of God or in the study of his word or even in wrestling by prayer with him in our closest or in the prayer and conference meeting. These all have their place and importance and should be so regarded and observed, but they are not designed to set aside secular pursuits altogether.
Except on the Sabbath. These duties are not necessarily to interfere with the labors of the mechanic, the merchant, the tiller of the soil. The earth will not bring forth spontaneously, it must be cultivated in order to produce a harvest. God has not promised to supply the wants of mankind in the absence of labor and toil. The products of the earth which furnish subsistence to a larger portion of our race, are the fruits of industry. Nor is the pursuit of science or literature or of arts necessarily opposed to the service of God since some of the most devoted Christians are pursuing these callings. There is nothing unreasonable or burdensome imposed on the followers of Christ. My yoke, says our savior, is easy, my burden light.
The text points out “a royal rule of life” and if heartily adopted it would consecrate all our work. And the declaration in the text is in harmony with all other details of Christian duty. In diligence not slothful, in spirit enthusiastic, serving the Lord. A man is first as much in the line of duty in the hay or harvest field or securing his crops or in the shop except on special occasions, as he would be if he were reading his Bible or in closet devotions.
Be diligent in business. What is business. It is nothing more nor less than the occupation a person follows. Yet while our daily business is largely secular and much of it may seem to others trivial still it is necessary for ourselves and those who are dependent upon us for a living. So that industry is not incompatible with Christianity.
Our first parents and the patriarchs were commanded to till the soil. So were the inhabitants that lived in the days of the prophets. The Israelites as a general rule were husbandmen. And we know of no calling outside of the ministry that is calculated to bring us so near to the creator as the waving fields of grass and grain and the trees and vines burdened with luscious fruit. There is an unseen power and skill, as manifested in the growth, or the vegetable world, such as no human being could exercise. No human ingenuity devise. Slothfulness is not only condemned by revelation but by the active and progressive state of nature.
The earth is in constant motions. So are the heavens above us – the sun, moon, and stars. Indeed, activity seems to be natural to man. He does violence to his own natural and physical being and nature when he seems not to be in accord wit the other works of God. The admonition of Solomon is very pertinent as addressed to this class – go to the ant thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise; which having no guide, overseer or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer and gathereth her food in the harvest.
Now often, indeed in the Bible are irrational creatures employed to admonish the rational. Not only by their doing but by their abstaining from things hurtful. And hence on every side we are admonished to be diligent in business as well as enthusiastic in spirit serving the Lord. Indolence seems incompatible either with temporal or spiritual prosperity.
The same zeal with which men of active habits pursue their earthly callings they should evince in promoting the cause of their redeemer. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for “God worketh in you to will and do according to his good pleasures.” The text was first addressed to men or more obscure lives than any of ours. It was not addressed to Roman Senators charged with the affairs of the sate nor to the philosophers engaged in profound investigation or poets breathing out humble or lofty musical numbers but to the abject Jew and servile slaves that livd in Rome or to men and women in humbler walks of life. Hence industry instead of hindering progress in holiness is often a powerful auxiliary how many by it are kept out of the tempters way and escape the snares of the adversary who goeth about seeking whom he may devour.
Many a one presented or yielding to the temptation by such exposures are ruined for time and eternity. How many a noble youths prospects are blasted by forming love habits in early life. To be busy then is itself a security against a thousand ills and a passport to a thousand blessings. And as the young are inexperienced, or as the road they have to travel is a new road, they will necessarily be encompassed wit difficulties of which they have had no previous acquaintance and compelled to mingle in scenes with which they had no previous experience.
But to be more particular industry is favors piety because religious character is formed by the active use of the powers of the mind. I tis what we do that educates us rather than what we read. We may read our bibles and yet if we do not practice its precepts we are no wiser nor better that we should have been without our bibles.
The bible commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves but if we do not love our neighbor then we do not obey the divine precept but live as we should have done without it. We are commanded to do unto others as we would have others do unto us and if we do not heed the command or instruction of the Bible of what service is its instruction. We are commanded to pray for our enemies, but if we do not pray for them then we practically ignore the teachings of God’s word. But says ones, I am professor of religion – that may be, but do you possess the spirit and practice the duties of religion – if not what good does a profession do? What weight has it with good especially if you disobey the rules the Christian religion enjoins. The professor of such, if there by any of this class, is nothing more or less than mockery.
Christ was a workman. We can not say that his work developed holiness in him because we was every holy but it continually illustrates and developed the holiness of his soul. The glory of his divine nature shone out in the smallest as well as in the largest and most important acts of his life. He taught that he who was faithful in the least would be faithful in that which was the greatest and he illustrated it by saying that he who gave a cup of cold water for his sake and to a needy disciple should be rewarded. As the roots of the oak reach down and out in the soil to the very end so the strength of character is found in those small and unseen acts of life that run through the hours and moments of each day.
The thousands that some men give for establishing institutions of learning or of charity are of no greater worth in the sight of God nor no more deserving of divine approbation and reward than the mite that some poor and obscure Christian casts modestly in to the Lord’s treasury. So the strength of character is formed more by small and insignificant acts than by large and perhaps ostentatious deeds. It is not by one stroke that the sculptor chisels the marble into artistic beauty or by one touch that the painter puts upon the canvas the glowing conception of his fancy. So heaven is not reached by a single bound, but we build the ladder by which we rise from the lowly earth to the vaulted skies. And we mounts is summit round by round.
But diligence should not be confined to ordinary secular pursuits. Nor should earthly gain be the great end for which we toil in the pursuit of knowledge of the acquisition of property. The end of all right living is to glorify God in all we do. So we should employ our means, influences, and learning as to meet with divine approval even though by so doing we must needs crucify self and say to it – get behind me Satan. It should not be allowed to divert our attention from the accomplishment of those ends for which I and we were created.
Again we cannot fully understand and realize and be deeply impressed with the teachings of the Bible without mental application. Fidelity in work and a fervent enthusiasm and the temper will invigorate our faculties and give tone and balance to the mind. The crazy fancies which have shattered or darkened communities came not from persons engaged in any of the legitimate occupations of life but from some secluded recluse deluded by some morbid habit or imaginary wrong whose disposition has become sound and mind crazed by laboring continually under some mental delusion until he reaches a point in which his hands are against every man and every mans against him. On the other hand healthful honorable work strengthens the mind and prepares it to discern and feel the claims and needs of the Gospel. Besides by habits of industry our influence upon others is for their good. A good example is set before them – one that will keep them out of the path of the tempter – one if strictly followed will not only make them successful in business but will gratify them, for spheres of usefulness and of happiness you seldom hear of an indolent person succeeding in any of the callings of life. Much less is he competent to perform heroic acts or deeds. When he passes away society sustains no loss. Not good enterprise is checked in its movements neither the interests of community of the church of the world are not in the least impaired by his removal.
From this subject we learn first, that industry is not antagonistical to a holy life, but on the other hand honorable industry tends to promote good morals by diverting the attention from evil thoughts and ways and by occupying the mind with useful and profitable subjects. A negligent and careless person may cause disaster in the ship and imperil the lives of all on board of the unfortunate vessel. Be diligent in business yet fervent in spirit.
Lastly diligence promotes usefulness and usefulness promotes happiness. These are closely allied to each other as much so as cause and effect. Of what service to the farmer or mechanic or merchant are the indolent. And the same holds true in respect to the service of Christ. And hence we have addressed to us the ????ing Christian.