Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave…
It is not in his fallen state alone that industry is required of man. It may more properly be said to be the law imposed upon every creature; so that, of whatsoever God hath made, in earth, sea and air, He hath made nothing to be idle. A world without labour might be adapted to a race of angels; but we are sure that a world with much toil is the only fit one for a race of men. There are considerations in abundance which might furnish any thinking mind with matter for a eulogy on industry. It is industry alone which will preserve anything like a healthful content in the spirits. The unemployed man is always dissatisfied and restless; time is a burden; and after all, he is forced to be industrious — industrious in squandering what he will live to regret his not improving. And whilst so much may be said as to the advantages of industry, there are not wanting examples and patterns of the existence and culture of this virtue — the parent of every other, or indeed the main ingredient in every other. Turn where you will, and all is industry. Of course, we must limit the direction to lawful employment; we are not to "do with our might" — for we are not to do at all — what is in any sense or measure opposed to the known will of God. But the phrase must certainly include our various worldly callings.
1. It has passed into a kind of proverb amongst us that whatsoever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. You frequently meet with persons wile on extraordinary occasions, or stimulated by some special inspection, will exert much diligence and take great pains to produce something excellent and commendable, but who at all other times are slatternly and indolent, caring nothing, so long as a duty be performed, how slovenly may be the performance. It is against this temper that our text delivers its injunction, requiring the putting forth of "might," whether it be a great thing or a small which "the hand findeth to do." In place of being content, provided there be diligence where there is a loud call for diligence, it demands that the diligence should be actually the habit, and seems to argue that indolence must be wickedness, let it be ever such trifles on which we are employed. And it is not by reasons of mere human policy that we must defend this position; for our text reasons, as you perceive, exclusively from the future. But there is no difficulty in making the future — the world beyond the grave — demand diligence and denounce indolence even in trifles. The truth is that what a man is in one thing, that in the main will he be in another. If industrious only by fits and starts in business, he will be industrious only by fits and starts in religion. The habits which he contracts in an unconverted state will be almost sure to stamp on him corresponding habits when he is brought to the providing for eternity; so that having become sluggish and desultory, except on great occasions, in his worldly employments, he will in the main be sluggish and desultory in the high duties of piety. There cannot be an individual less fitted for the message or the business of religion than one who has formed habits of indolence and sloth; for the message is one which asks for its auditory a gathering and a centring of the mental faculties, which can hardly be obtained from the habitually indolent; and the business is one which is wholly impracticable, unless there be that individual putting forth of industry, which it is a contradiction in terms to expect from the slothful. There cannot, we are persuaded, be a greater mistake than that of dividing employments into secular and spiritual, if we mean by the division that the secular has no mixture of the spiritual, or that the spiritual would be defiled through association with the secular. The ordinance of labour, as we have shown you, is of Divine institution; and though, beyond question, our chief business on earth is the seeking the salvation of the soul, it is utterly insupposable that God would have imposed on us the necessity of labouring for the support of the body, if this business were unavoidably a hindrance to the chief — nay, if it were not even an auxiliary and an instrument. There cannot be inconsistency — there must be thorough harmony between the Divine appointments. God is served through the various occupations of life as well as through the more special institutions of religion. It needs only that a man go to his daily toil in simple obedience to the will of his Maker, and he is as piously employed, aye, and is doing as much towards securing for himself the high recompenses of eternity, as when he spends an hour in prayer, or joins himself gladly to the Sabbath-day gathering. I love to consider the manufacturer as he plies the shuttle, the statesman as he guides the wheel of government, the tradesman as he serves his customers, the sailor as he steers his vessel, the ploughman as he turns the ground, as each busied with an employment which may be virtually spiritual if he do not perversely frustrate its design: employment, which may be followed with a spiritual mind, and which, if so followed, has about it all the sanctity, and prepares for all the glory of heaven.
2. There are, unquestionably, duties which are more openly and visibly connected than others with the saving of the soul; and we may justly employ our concluding remarks in urging our hearers to industry in these. It is not the representation of Scripture, however it may be the imagination of numbers in the world, that religion is an easy thing: so that immortality may be secured with no great effort on the part of the sinner. The Christian life is likened to a battle, in which we may be defeated; to a race, in which we may be outstripped; to a stewardship, in which we may be unfaithful. Who, indeed, that thinks for a moment of the virtues required from us as Christians charity, temperance, meekness, patience, humility, contentment — will imagine that a believer may be idle, finding nothing in his spiritual calling to exercise his diligence? These virtues, we may venture to say, are all against nature; only to be acquired through strife with ourselves, and preserved by continued war. "Whatsoever," then, "thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Is temptation to be resisted? Resist it "with thy might": a half resistance courts defeat. Is prayer to be offered? Pray "with thy might": a languid prayer asks to be unanswered. Is a sacrifice to be made? Make it "with thy might": a tardy surrender is next akin to a refusal. Be industrious in religion. We can tolerate indolence anywhere rather than here — hero where an eternity is at stake, here where an hour's sluggishness may be fatal. An indolent Christian — it is a sort of contradiction. Christianity is industry spiritualized. The sluggard in religion would be the sluggard in escaping from the burning house or the sinking ship; and who ever loiters when death is at the door? Work, then, "with your might," if you profess to work at all; "giving diligence "as an apostle exhorts, "to make your calling and election sure." "There is no work, no wisdom, no device, in the grave." The separate state, into which you will enter at death, is a state, whatever it's employment, whatever its happiness, in which nothing can be done towards gaining heaven or avoiding hell. Your portion must be fixed here; your actions here, and these alone must determine on which side of the Judge you shall stand, and what your exact place in the kingdom, if you inherit it at all.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.