Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
1. To combine business with religion is one of the most difficult parts of the Christian's trial. It is easy to be religious in church, but not so easy in the market-place; and passing from one to the other seems often like transition from a tropical to a polar climate.
2. So great is this difficulty that but few set themselves honestly to overcome it. In ancient times the common expedient was to fly the world altogether; the modern expedient, much less safe, is to compromise the matter. "Everything in its place." Prayers, etc., for Sundays, practical affairs for weekdays. Like an idler in a crowded thoroughfare, religion is jostled aside in the daily throng of life as if it had no business there. But the text affirms that the two things are compatible; that religion is not so much a duty as something that has to do with all duties, not for one day, but for all days; and that, like breathing and the circulation of the blood and growth, it may be going on simultaneously with all our actions.
3. True, if we could only prepare for the next world by retirement from this, no one should hesitate. But no such sacrifice is demanded. As in the material world, so in the moral, there are no conflicting laws. In the latter there is a law of labour, and as God has so constituted us that without work we cannot eat, so we may conclude that religion is not inconsistent with hard work. The weight of a clock seems a heavy drag on the delicate movements of its machinery, but it is indispensable for their accuracy; and there is an analogous action of the weight of worldly work on the finer movements of man's spiritual being. The planets have a twofold motion, in their orbits and on their axes — the one motion being in the most perfect harmony with the other. So must it be that man's twofold activities round the heavenly and earthly centres jar not with each other. And that it is so will be seen from the following considerations —
I. RELIGION IS A SCIENCE AND AN ART, a system of doctrines to be believed and a system of duties to be done.
1. If religious truth were like many kinds of secular truth, hard and intricate, demanding the highest order of intellect and learned leisure, then to most men the blending of religion with the necessary avocations of life would be impossible. But the gospel is no such system. The salvation it offers is not the prize of the lofty intellect, but of the lowly heart. Christianity affords scope indeed for the former, but its essential principles are patent to the simplest mind.
2. Religion as an art differs from secular acts in that it may be practised simultaneously with all other work. A medical man cannot practise surgery and engineering at the same time, but Christianity is an all-embracing profession — the art of being and doing good, an art, therefore, that all can practise. It matters not of what words a copy set a child learning to write is composed; the thing desired is that he should learn to write well. So when a man is learning to be a Christian, it matters not what his particular work in life may be, the main thing is that he learn to live well. True, prayer, meditation, etc., are necessary to religion, but they are but steps in the ladder to heaven, good only as they help us to climb. They are the irrigation and enriching of the spiritual soil — worse than useless if the crop become not more abundant. No man can become a good sailor who has never been to sea, nor a good soldier by studying a book on military tactics; so a man by study may become a theologian, but he can never become a religious man until he has acquired those habits of self-denial, gentleness, etc., which are to be acquired only in daily contact with mankind.
II. RELIGION CONSISTS NOT SO MUCH IN DOING SACRED ACTS AS IN DOING SECULAR ACTS FROM A SACRED MOTIVE. There is a tendency to classify actions according to their outward form rather than according to their spirit. We arbitrarily divide literature and history into sacred and profane; and so prayer, Bible reading, public worship, etc. — and buying, selling, etc., are separated into two distinct categories. But what God hath cleansed, why should we call common? Moral qualities reside not in actions, but in the agent and his motive. A musical instrument may discourse sacred melodies better than the holiest lips, but who thinks of commending it for its piety? Just as there is no spot on earth but a holy heart may hallow, a base one desecrate; so many actions materially great and noble may, because of the spirit that pervades them, be ignoble and mean, and vice versa. Herod was a slave though he sat on a throne, but what kingly work was done in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth! A life spent among holy things may be intensely secular, and a life spent in the throng may be divine. A minister's preachings may be no more holy than the work of the printer who prints Bibles, or of the bookseller who sells them, and public worship may be degraded into work most worldly. But carry holy principles with you into the world, and the world will become hallowed by their presence. A Christlike spirit will Christianise all it touches. Marble or clay, it matters not with which the artist works, the touch of genius transforms the coarser material into beauty, and lends to the finer a value it never had before. Rude or refined as our earthly work may be, it will become to a holy mind only material for a godlike life. Your conversation may not consist of formally religious words, but if it be pervaded by a spirit of piety it will be Christian nevertheless. To promote the cause of Christ by furthering every religious enterprise is your duty, but you may promote it as effectually in the family and society. Rise superior, in Christ's strength, to all equivocal practices in trade; shrink from meanness, and let the abiding sense of Christ's love make you loving, and then, while your secular life will be spiritualised, your spiritual life will grow more fervent.
III. As bearing on the same topic, note THE MIND'S POWER OF ACTING ON LATENT PRINCIPLES.
1. In order to live a religious life every action must be governed by religious motives. True, we cannot always be consciously thinking of religion, yet unconsciously we may be always acting under its control. As I do not think of gravitation when I move my limbs, or of atmospheric laws when I breathe, so with religion and daily work. There are undercurrents in the ocean which act independently of the movements of the waters on the surface: so there may dwell the abiding peace of God beneath the restless stir of your worldly business.
2. Remember, too, that many of the thoughts and motives which govern our actions are latent. While reading aloud, e.g., we are often carried along by the secret impression of the presence of a listener. So while business is being prosecuted may there not be a latent impression of the presence of God?
3. Have we not all felt anticipated happiness blending itself with busy work? The labourer's evening release from toil, the schoolboy's coming holiday, may illustrate that rest which remaineth for the people of God, the anticipation of which intermits not but gives zest to faithful service.Conclusion:
1. The true idea of Christian life is not periodic observances, or acts of heroism. It is a great thing to be ready to die for Christ, but it is equally great to live for Him.
2. All who wish to live that life must —
(1) Devote themselves heartily to God through Christ. Life comes before growth. The soldier must enlist before he can serve.
(2) Continue with Christ. You cannot live for Him unless you live much with Him.
(3) Carry religious principle into everyday life. Then will your life be —
(c) Permanent. No work done for Christ ever perishes.
(J. Caird, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;