The Law and the Limit of Labour. A Sermon
(Preached on Behalf of the Early Closing Movement,)
"Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening"— Psalm civ., 23.
Dunedin: Printed by Fergusson & Mitchell, Princes Street. 1867.page break
This Sermon was preached on last Lord's Day evening, April 14th, in the Hanover-street Baptist Chapel, with special reference to the efforts now being made in Dunedin to shorten the hours of shop labour; it is now published, just as it was preached, in deference to the request of the Committee of the "Grocers' Early Closing Association," who are kind enough to think it should speak to a wider audience than that which heard the preacher's voice. It was written, of course, without the slightest thought of publication, and the writer must bespeak a lenient judgment of its many faults, and marks of evident haste. If it, in any degree, helps forward a movement that has his warmest sympathies, he will be more than satisfied.
April 13th, 1867.
The Law and the Limit of Labour.
"Man Goeth Forth unto his Work and to his Labour Until the Evening."—
Psalm civ., 23.
You will not meet with a sublimer ode than this 104th Psalm in all the wide range of poesy, sacred or profane. It is a grand, sustained strain of praise to the All-mighty and All-wise Creator and Preserver. The language is of the richest poetical beauty, and the images employed, whether we isolate them or regard them in their groupings, are surpassingly lovely; while the description is as faithful as it is eloquent. Though the Psalm has n0 title and no author's name prefixed, it has been ascribed by many expositors to Israel's sweet singer, David. Its close connection with the 103rd Psalm greatly strengthens this opinion; though it must be acknowledged that many—Hengstenberg amongst the number—are against the Davidic authorship. Undoubtedly the Psalmist's object is to set forth the majesty and might of Jehovah in the work of Creation, and His beneficence and bountifulness in Providence. He seems to behold the Almighty clothed in a glistening garment of light: he seems to hear His authoritative commands—done as soon as spoken: he seems to see His plastic hand moulding matter to the fair designs of His will: and he marks the lavish profuseness with which all things needed for the sustenance and comfort of His creatures have been provided. With such a theme it is not to be wondered, at that he whose harp had many notes, and whose soul was capable of passionate adoration, should almost surpass himself.
Careful critics have detected a plan in the composition well worth a passing remark. The author's model is the first chapter of Genesis. He recounts the six periods of God's work, viewing them as perpetually prolonged in the preservation of all; and at the close he appropriately hints at the seventh period of rest, wherein the Lord rejoices in His works. If you will turn for a page 6 moment to the Psalm, you will see the justness of this principle of interpretation. Verses 3—8 refer to the first and second "days"—as we call them—when the Light was created, and the firmanent was built up and called Heaven. Verses 9—13 refer to the third "day" when the earth and sea received their appointed bounds, and the grasses, the herbs, and the trees clothed the barren land with a raiment of many-hued loveliness. Verses 14—19 refer to the fourth "day," when the two great lights were hung on high—the sun to rule the day, the moon to rule the night—and when the stars were sprinkled through the wastes of space. Verses 20—30 refer to the fifth and sixth "days," when the fowls of the air, the fish of the sea, the living creatures of the field and forest,—and man, their monarch—were placed in their prepared, homes. And in verse 31 there is an allusion to that Sabbatic rest, which some identify with this lengthened dispensation of grace, wherein God waits for the return of prodigal wanderers to His love and His bosom.
Now, set in the very heart of this Psalm, which is almost wholly about God and His work, we have something about man and his work. God is spoken of as working and working always, because His work is without weariness, because the pouring forth of His energy is without exhaustion. But man, because of his frailty, because he is liable to fatigue, though under the law of labour, yet has a limit assigned to his labour. He is not to be, like the Eternal Jehovah, ceaselessly working; nor is he to toil by day while the stork is making her house in the fir trees, while the wild goats are gleaning their food on the tops of the high hills, and by night, too, when all "the beasts of the forest do creep forth." Man has a time for labour, and that time is the day. Man has a limit to his labour, and that limit is the evening. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening." We have here, then—
I.—The Law of Labour.
"Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour." He goeth forth, mark you, not by his own choice—for man has little love for work, He goes forth in obedience to a law. The existence of this law can be proved from Scripture, from reason, and from necessity. I do not prove it here, because I have neither time nor need to do so. The character and obligation of this law may be seen from the following considerations:—
1. It is Divine. And we get some grand and cheering thoughts from the remembrance of this fact. Let all workers note it. By working you follow a divine example, and obey a divine law. Light up your places of toil and irradiate your common tasks with that reflection. See a higher model than the most skilful craftsman—see God working for evermore, doing all things well, making all things perfect. Obey a higher law than the law which comes from the lips of an earthly master—the law of Him page 7 whose name is Love. and whose nature is what His name declares. No man will see what dignity, what nobleness, what consolation there is in work, until he grasps that, until he feels: "I am doing, faultily, what He does perfectly, it is true—but still I am doing what He does. Ho has laid upon me no severer law than Ho obeys himself."
It is necessary, also, to free labour from that false association with the curse into which it has been wrongly dragged. Labour is not the result nor a result of the curse. Men do not work because Adam fell. Men would not have been free from labour if our first parents had kept their first estate. Adam was not an idler during those days at whose cool eventide he heard the voice of the Almighty among the leafy lovelinesses of Eden. It is wholly a mistake to say we work because of sin. For in the 15th verse of the 2nd chapter of Genesis—before our common mother, who was the first in the transgression, was formed—it is written: "And the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to dress it, and to keep it." Now the word there rendered "to dress" (ghabadh), is the root of the very word which in my text is translated "work." And by that word the meaning of the Hebrew would be more clearly expressed:—"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and to keep it."
It is not labour then that divides us from God, and it is not labour that marks the difference between man's state in innocency and man's state under condemnation. It is sin which has cut us off from God; and it is sin which has made labour a curse, so that that which before was man's pastime and privilege is now regarded as the sign and seal of his lapse, the irksome necessity of his lot. It was these words which flung a dark shadow upon toil and made it bitter: "Cursed be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; …. in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." There you have the cause of all man's weariness and dislike for work. Still, with the sweat beading upon the brow as a result, the law of labour is Divine. God has ordained it for us. It is His decree. And the organs, the faculties, the limbs with which we are endowed—the planning brain, the far-reaching mind, the cunning right hand—all confirm the written command, and teach that man was made "to go forth unto his work and to his labour."
If you need further proof, we have the law repeated in the New Testament: "If any man will not work neither shall he eat." If you need further attestation you have it in the fact that the "Father worketh hitherto," the Son toiled at his craft in despised Nazareth, the Holy Ghost intereedeth incessantly, and the angels, "are they not all ministering Spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
2. This law is Universal. All men work. Work is manifold—of page 8 many kinds. We have contracted the meaning of the word work, until the hand-labourer is supposed to be the only working man. But all men are workers. Even those we call idlers work. Their pleasure—the filling up of their aimless days and vacant hours—is a work indefinitely more wearying than that of the ploughman who walks in the furrow from day dawn to shut of eve; than that of the backwoodsman who wields his axe from morn till night against forest trees; than that of the brawny smith who swings the heavy hammer on the anvil, before a flaming forge. Idleness, indeed, is the hardest of all work.
But there are many toiling labourers besides those who work with their hands: and there is other sweat than that of the brow. There are the men who work the mine of thought, who gather the wisdom of the ages, who solve life's problems, who unravel earth's mysteries, who plan our gigantic works, who lessen by artificial means the severity of toil, who manage our commerce, who write our books, who expose the false and teach the true. These are true workers though their palms are unhardened, and their brows are dry. They work with mental implements, and their sweat is the sweat of the brain. There are pitying ones, upon whom human sorrow rests as a burden, whose hearts yearn over the outcast and the destitute; on whom there rests a woe if they do not go forth redressing wrongs, striking off fetters, opening prison doors; if they are not devising how to teach the ignorant, lift up the fallen, and reclaim the criminal. Their hands are soft, and, thank God, their hearts are softer still. You will not refuse them an entrance into your ranks; you will not be ashamed to stand side by side with these gallant leaders of forlorn hopes, in your "lordly chivalry of labour"—for the sweat they sweat is the sweat of the heart, and the work they do is likest His who went about doing good. We are all working men—some with hand, some with brain, some with heart, some with all three combined. Let neither class despise the other, but like a triple-stranded cord, be all the stronger by being woven indissolubly together.
3. This law is Necessary. Some measure of physical work—to narrow the meaning—is needful for our general well-being. It is needful for the body else the sinews relax, the muscles become flaccid, the nerves grow over sensitive. It is needful for the mind else the over-wrought brain flags, and the tension of thought destroys the balance of the intellect. Every wise man, therefore, who wishes to keep a sound mind in a sound body works with his hands or his feet—for no better tonic can be found for the mind than physical fatigue. But labour is necessary for other reasons than these. If we are to get the good there is in nature, if we are to be surrounded with comforts, we must work for them personally or in order to pay those who have worked. Nature supplies man with material, but it is in the rough. She furnishes the elements, but they are uncombined. To combine page 9 and polish them is man's necessity, If man is to be fed, the soil must be broken up, the seed must be sown, the harvests must be reaped and garnered; the fruit-bearing bushes and trees must be planted and pruned; the flocks must be tended, the herds pastured. If man is to be clothed, the wool must be shorn from the sheep, the flax fibre and the down of the cotton plant must be collected, the cocoons of the silkworm must be preserved; the spinner must spin them, the weaver must weave them, the dyer must dye them, the sewer must sew them. If man is to be housed, the quarryman must quarry the stone, the woodman must fell the trees, the architect must plan, the builder must build. If man is to have in his house luxuries that delight the eye and charm the ear, the painter must paint, the sculptor must ply his chisel, the musician must construct the instruments of music, and the cunning workman must use his deft and nimble fingers to produce what the ingenious brain of the inventor has designed. It is most plain the law of labour is a necessary one. We cannot have what we need, what God has provided for us, without work.
4. This law is Beneficent. Labour is not only of divine institution, universal and necessary: but it is also the best law there could be for us, fashioned as we are and hemmed in as we are by other laws. Idleness is an evil, and the prolific cause of numberless evils besides itself. Wherever a man or nation of men has given up honest, earnest toil—wherever pleasure has been made the only work—it has invariably ended in ruin. Idle periods in nations histories have always been improvident and vicions periods. An idle man with no occupation save the gratification of his restless spirit and hungry heart, is ever as unhappy as he is injurious. There is something both preservative of good and preventive of evil in the discipline of severe, faithful work, whether it be of the hand or the brain. It gives stability and width to the character, it checks the rank growth of evil that quickly overspreads the unoccupied mind, it gives a level beat to the heart, it gives an accurate skill to the motions of the hand, it gives a zest to needful food better than the best of tonics and more provocative of appetite than the choicest condiments, it gives a sweetness and a soundness to sleep which nought beside can furnish, so that the labouring man closes his eyes, and "tired nature's sweet restorer" folds him in her arms, and hushes him to a deep and dreamless slumber, upon a hard and an unpillowed couch, while pampered idleness tosses wearily upon eider down and within silken curtains. Let the idlers and workers both declare if the law of labour is not beneficent as well as divine, universal and necessary.
II.—There is a Limit to the Law of Labour.
"Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour Until the evening." He is not to prolong his toil, nor is he to have it pro- page 10 longed indefinitely. He is not to work by day and by night too. He is not to labour both during the light and the darkness—or the time when it would be darkness but for artificial light: light, which in every jet and flame of it reads like a complaint of man's greedy heart, that God has not given time enough to buy, and sell, and get gain. I make no appeal to your feelings, however; at any rate just now. One sentence of argument, one authorative proof, is worth more than pages of appeal and declamation. I said Labour has a limit: I say further that Limit is the Evening. For proof I appeal:
1. To Scripture. But at the outset, because it is necessary to the understanding of the passages I shall quote, I must ask you to note the Scripture definition of Day. In Genesis i., 5, we find "God called the Light Day." We start then with that understood—the Day is the duration of Light. And now what saith the Scriptures? If you turn to Genesis iii., 17—19, you will find the sentence upon man runs thus: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . . all the days of thy life." In Deuteronomy xxiv., 15, we have the Mosiac Law: "At his Day thou (the master) shalt give him (the hireling) his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it " In Judges xix., 16, we have a casual reference which shows the custom during the time of the Judges; "And, behold, there came an old man from his work, out of the field, at even." In Job xiv., 6, we have life compared to the term of labour: "He shall accomplish as a hireling his day." In Psalm civ., 23,—the text—we have the length of the working period fixed for the great human family: "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening." In Isaiah xxviii., 24, we have the question: "Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? "In Matthew xx., 2—8, we learn by a parable our Lord's will concerning labour: "The householder agreed with the labourers for a penny a day; and when the even was come, the steward gave them their hire." Then, in John ix., 4, we have the duration of toil definitely settled—Christ says: "I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is Day; the night cometh when no man can work."
No doubt these references point to a primitive period, and to primitive occupations; but the last one quoted and the text are to be understood in the widest sense. If we accept the teaching of Scripture at all, we are not to set up our modern customs against it as either invalidating or rendering its sanctions obsolete. If, then, the Bible be of any authority, its utterances are plain, emphatic and consistent throughout that the limit of labour is the evening.
2. Nature is another witness. Her testimony is unmistakeably on the side of early hours. She enforces her law in her own domain. "The sun knoweth his going down;" and "the day spring knows his place." The sun has his appointed time, and page 11 with undeviating regularity, according to the season, he slopes down to the west, "upgathers his spent shafts, and puts them back into his golden quiver," and sets. And, though an unwearied and unresting worker, he goes to shine on other lands, and light other men to their toil, he seems to pause and say, as he rays out his last farewell beam: "Rest! Rest! Res! oh earth-children; I have given you light for your work, even as He ordained who appointed me for seasons. Let the busy rest, for there cometh another day to-morrow. Let the idle rest, and be admonished to rise betimes and have no more reason to say, 'I have lost a day.' Let the successful rest content, and care not to lay up treasure on earth, nor grow greedy of golden gains. Let the disappointed rest, and sleep a tranquil sleep, knowing there is a blessing in failure, and that all things work together for good to them that love God." And, I think, when the silver moon rides, in her white beauty, up the skies, and the tender, throbbing stars come forth like sentinels to keep their watch, they take up the strain, and whisper with a wondrous melody "in reason's ear:" "Pause till the morrow ye who are weary with toil, we keep a faithful guard. Put away your finished and unfinished tasks. Like him who waited for his bride, go forth and meditate at eventide.
'Toll comes with the morning,
And rest with the night.'"
It may possibly be objected that this is poetical and consequently most unpractical. It may be said the difference between the length of summer and winter days renders the following of nature's rule most inconvenient, for at one time it is too long, and at another too short." My reply is: "Take then, the long and the short, add them together, draw the line at the average, and you will find seven o'clock outside the due and proper limit.
3. Reason's utterance is in strictest agreement with that of Scripture and Nature. Man is a compound creature. He is not all body. He is body, intellect, and spirit. The body in fact, because of its mortality, and the brevity of its existence, is confessedly of incalculably the least value. Reason, therefore, protests against the monopolizing of nearly all man's time for the benefit of the body alone. Reason claims that the intellect and the spirit shall both have their fair share, their due proportion of the three score years and ten. How can they have this if twelve and fourteen hours are greedily grasped for providing the body with the bread that perisheth, and if eight hours more—and few men who work twelve or fourteen hours can do with less—if eight hours more are to be given to rest and sleep, to enable the body to endure its protracted labour? If you take the lesser number, if a man works twelve hours and sleeps eight, you have Five-Sixths—if you take the larger number, if a man works fourteen hours and sleeps eight, you have Eleven-Twelfths of the six working days wholly devoted to the body. What can the jaded mind, what can the deadened page 12 spirit do with the miserable fragment that is left? They can do nothing, but seek a short excitement that will spur them into an unnatural and harmful activity. Is that right? Is it wise? Is that as it ought to be? Is it answering the end of man's creation? No; for it is written "Man shall not live by bread alone," and Reason adds that an estimate of the comparative values of the intellect and the body, and the soul and body, gives vehemence to the demand that a wider margin of hours should be left for the culture and informing of the mind, and for preparing the soul to loose its moorings from the anchorage of earth, and float out to that great ocean of eternity, the boom of whose waves are heard in the farthest inland spaces of our being.
There is a Law of Labor. Let no man neglect it, or ask for pity because he has to work, and work hard. But it is a Law with a Limit. Let no man habitually pass it, or compel others to pass it. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor;" yes, but he goes forth "Until the evening," and then be should return to his home, or devote his hours to his mind and his soul.
I have no time to do more than hint at what might have been a very long division, viz.:—
III.—The Evils that Result from Excessive Labour.
I could say much upon the physical evils that ensue The stunted stature; the undeveloped and impaired constitution; the exhausted, because overtaxed, frame; the premature feebleness that comes before age—for Nature is rigourous in her exactions, and demands the uttermost farthing. Youth may draw bills on the strength of the future, but age, and oft times middle age, must pay them. Nature suffers no dishonour.
I might have dwelt upon the mental harms that follow. The forgetfulness of what once was learnt: the fading out of facts and principles from the memory; the blunting of the keenness, the crippling of the nimbleness of the intellect; the gradual lessening and narrowing alike of the capacities and aspirations of the mind, until little is known beyond prices current, and ignorance covers it like green weeds cover a stagnant pool, shutting out even the reflection of light and beauty,
'For men must work and women must weep,
And the sooner it's over the sooner to sleep;
And good-bye to the bar and its moaning.' "
And the end of such a godless life is a godless eternity of unending and unintermitted misery.
I have but touched on these things in passing. I trust that I have said enough to make all who hear me feel that the subject has a solemn as well as a practical side to it.
Now I must hasten on, for I have kept you long, to point out
IV.—Our Individual Duty in Relation to this Subject.
Till the brain begins to swim,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
* * *
From weary chime to chime,
As prisoners work for crime.
* * *
It's oh to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this be a Christian's work."
Employers should, further, as far as practicable, pay their wages on Friday instead of on Saturday night. Then there will be some hope of putting an end to that most pernicious of all practices—late shopping on Saturday nights. The very night when because "the Sabbath draws on," toil should be over earliest, is the very one when it is the most prolonged. The result is, that some are so worn out as to be unable to attend the house of God, and others are so jaded as to be unfit to profit by its hallowed exercises. This accounts for empty pews, and nodding hearers. Then, further still, employers should generously give those in their employ time during page 14 the day to make their purchases, that they who enjoy the blessings of short hours should not be compelled to inflict long ones upon others.
2. I now pass to the Employed. Their duty is to be patient. They are to be subject not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to the froward. It is better to make no mention of force. Anything like a strike invariably places the employed in a false and worse position than the employers. I am well aware the Association on whose behalf I am preaching needs no counsel to orderliness. The members of it have shown they not only know how to plead their cause, but that they know what to do with their time. While, therefore, I urge the general principle of judicious measures, I am far enough from bidding the employed to be content with what has been aptly called "White Slavery." On the contrary, I would say to them, "Work, and work hard, till you get your right. Agitate! Agitate! Agitate! Endeavour by every proper means to obtain remedy and redress. The prayers and hearty sympathies of every philanthropist are with you."
3. And now I come to what I may term the General Public, to which many of us belong. You and I then are to act as if the downfall of the long hour system wholly depended upon us individually. There must be no shirking of personal responsibility. There is no putting an end to any social abuse unless every member of society rises to the dignity of his position, and individually wages war against it. We are not to mind what others do; we are to do right, and use every effort to induce them to do right also. We are not to find refuge in the flimsy excuse that it is a small matter, or that we are very unimportant units of the great whole. It is quite enough that we are units—and what the units do that the whole does If each individual does his duty, society will do its duty.
In this particular case, I have no hesitation in saying that it is the clear duty of every faithful friend of his kind, to withdraw his support from every man who refuses to comply with the reasonable request to close at a reasonable hour; and to give that suppor to those who think that to do what is right, and fair, and equal, is better than to get pelf. Specially they who themselves know the benefit of early hours—specially they—should be foremost to emancipate those who are still doomed to late hours. I hope no working man who leaves off with the bell, goes himself or permits his wife to go buying at eight and nine o'clock. Then ladies who must have their new bonnets and dresses to wear on Sunday, should give their orders early instead of late in the week; and so offer no premium to wrong, no bribe to conscience. We must not expect too much from employers, we must not ask them to be too heroic, we must bear our own part in the work.
I venture to recommend that all purchases of every kind should be made Before Six O'clock. I ask that those who have domestic page 15 servants will grant them time to do their shopping before that hour. If we, the public, enter into a compact to do no buying after that hour, it will be worth no one's while to try and sell. For I desire that not one trade but all trades should share in the benefits of the movement—that even those employed in hotel-bars and chemists' shops should be set free from their interminable work, and in one city in the world at least be permitted to go out in the daylight.
And now I must finish. I have been plain, practical, and pointed, for without particularising I should do no good. I have said but little in the way of appeal to your feeling's. Yet I could find materials for a pathetic appeal. There are the sighs of the weary to echo. There are the wrongs of the dumb to give voice to. There are the rights of the timid to plead for. I could appeal to you on behalf of men, women, children—fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. I could plead for their bodies, their minds, their souls. I fervently pray, though I have not pleaded, you may be persuaded, and nobly, unitedly act.
In conclusion, remember that life itself is but one long day. We are accomplishing it. Evening comes on apace. The night when no man can work draws nigh. Take care—Oh! take care—that none neglect the one thing needful. Life has but one all important work. If that be left undone, all besides is vain and worthless. And this is the work, to believe on Jesus Christ whom God hath sent to save us from our sins, and bring us to that rest which remaineth for the people of God. May it be so when our life's evening comes, when the evening deepens into twilight, and the twilight darkens into night, we may each close our eyes in peace, and then open them where there is no night, and where an eternity of service will bring no weariness.—Amen.