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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

II.—There is a Limit to the Law of Labour

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 nut 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! Rest! 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 stare 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.

'Toil 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 existenec, 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 he 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.:—