Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink…
It is concerning Labour in its broadest sense that I wish to speak. The navvy with his shovel, the ploughman with his team, the weaver with his loom, the clerk with his pen, the "commercial" with his order-book, the domestic with her scrubbing-brush, the designer, manager, inventor, writer with his brain and brilliant gifts, the minister with tender heart and cultured mind — these all are sons of Labour, who, in their striving to do true work, can realize a responsibility so great as to declare their brotherhood with Him who declared, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work."
I. THE RIGHTS OF LABOUR.
1. Has not the labourer a right to expect some degree of pleasure in his labour? To some this may seem somewhat fanciful, but they cannot deny its justness. To eat, to drink, to sleep, to think, to speak, are pleasurable sensations; why should so natural and necessary a function as toil be otherwise? Yet we know it is to many. Multitudes are brutalized by work, simply because they find no satisfaction in it. They work in order to live, and die in order to find rest.
2. Equally just is it for Labour to assert its right to an honest reward. Adam Smith, in his "Wealth of Nations," got to the root of the wage question when he said that the wages of labour were the fruits of labour. And the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, had he been able to hear that sentiment, would have said "Amen! for it is his portion." Amid the complex tangle of modern mercantile transactions it would be an impossibility to assign to the hand-worker the exact product of his individual labour, after deducting the wages of the brain-worker who designs, organizes, or superintends, and the other expenses involved in production. But should it not be the striving of a Christian employer to secure to every worker as near an approximation to his true reward as can be ascertained? Should it not be frowned upon as a deadly sin for men to grow rich on "the hire of the labourers, which they keep back by fraud"?
3. Further, it is surely Labour's right to have the fullest liberty in seeking these ends. The work done by our trade unions is a splendid monument to the sturdy self-restraint of the workers, and whilst in the future the principles taught and the methods adopted by them may undergo considerable change, yet the intelligent association of men for purposes of educating public opinion, and influencing the legislature will remain the most effective of means for realizing Labour's ideals.
II. THE DUTIES OF LABOUR. Let Labour, whilst seeking for justice to itself, seek to deal justly with others. If "capital" be the miserable abstraction of which the proverb says it has "neither soul to save, nor heart to feel, nor body to kick," it is no reason why workers should deal unfairly with the individual "capitalist," who often is as much the victim of an evil social system as the worker himself. If it be the maxim of commerce to buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest, blind to all considerations as to whether thereby one obeys or disobeys the law of Christ; if to take advantage of a brother's necessity is not condemned as a breach of commercial ethics, there is no justification whatever for any worker adopting similar principles in his life work. Because a man does not believe in the justice of our present system of doing business, it is no reason why he should play ducks and drakes with his employer. Assuming that the principle of competition is a cruelly oppressive one, and that many employers are heartless tyrants, a sensible worker will, nevertheless, while those evil conditions remain — and they may for some time yet — make the best he can of them. To worry employers for concessions that it would be suicidal to grant is, at best, a short-sighted policy. Better to attack the system to which both masters and men are victims. Employers of labour are sometimes made unnecessarily hard by the foolishness and inconsiderateness of workers. It may, for instance, be quite legitimate for a mill-hand to grumble over the poorness of his pay, but the justice of his plea becomes miserably weakened when he "plays" for a couple of days when work is abundant, with the consequence that that work is driven elsewhere. It may be quite lawful for a man to take a holiday at any time he pleases, but not expedient. Even in such a matter the higher law of brotherliness should prevail. In the ranks of manual labour, though not these exclusively, we find a lamentable "want of thought," which in its results is often as bad as "want of heart." It has been asserted that the British workman is the hardest of all masters when he reaches that position; that in his co-operative societies his "divvy" is often larger than it should be because of underpaid labour. Not difficult would it be to prove that the overwork of multitudes of shop assistants is caused by thoughtless working-folk who "shop" late when it would be as easy to "shop" early. A man's religion is seen in the byways of conduct, and if in these movements he is not above suspicion, he loses all claim to be called a Christian, for the spirit of Christ's Gospel says, "Deal with all men as with your brother, as with children of God, whose necessity is your sorrow, whose strength is your joy."
(T. A. Leonard.).
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
WEB: Behold, that which I have seen to be good and proper is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, in which he labors under the sun, all the days of his life which God has given him; for this is his portion.