The Idealization of Labour
Homiletic Magazine
Genesis 3:17
And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying…

The conception of labour as the creative intention, or "end" of human nature, is a comparatively late one, due to revelation or to philosophic reflection upon an already lengthened experience. And the feelings of persons born in these later ages of the world are not to be taken as an infallible guide as to what may have been the primitive instinct, the motive that impelled to human activity and invention. Carlyle, for instance, in a letter to his mother, when he was at the commencement of his career (1821), asks the striking question, "Why do we fret and murmur and toil, and consume ourselves for objects so transient and frail? Is it that the soul, living here as in her prison house, strives after something boundless like herself, and finding it nowhere, still renews the search? Surely we are fearfully and wonderfully made!" Now, as the process of idealization in respect of the aims of labour is closely connected with the sense of its influence upon temporal well-being, we cannot be far wrong in concluding that it is largely due to the experience of the advantages it secures. Work is the most direct and certain avenue to the satisfaction of bodily wants, to the acquisition of wealth, and to the social consideration and general influence that attend the possession of wealth. Upon the industrial energy of its people a city or a nation in the main builds its prosperity and its political power. Another source of dignity and consideration consists in the tendency labour reveals to enlarge the scope and the possibilities of life. In this respect it meets and fosters the growing, expanding faculties of our nature. To the young it opens up many a vista for vague longings and ambitions; and the great centres of industry are invested with a romantic, indefinite fascination, because of the careers they hold forth. Not only the legitimacy, but the social consideration of trades, professions, and occupations, is determined by their perceived tendency to promote civilization. Were it not for this criterion the secondary products of human skill and effort would go to the wall. So much of their value, their worth, is relative only to the circumstances and culture of their owners, that it would otherwise be all but impossible to appraise them. When the day's task is seen to be a Divine appointment (Psalm 104:23) equally with birth and death, then shall a man rejoice in it, and labour on "as in the great Taskmaster's eye," looking diligently the meanwhile for the message it may enshrine, the glimpse of higher things it is sure to give, and waiting patiently for the last, the sure reward. In the great book manifold histories and teachings set forth for us the ideals of labour, and the commonest occupation is seen to have some spiritual significance. The diligence and faith of the husbandman, the daring quest of the miner (Job 28), the far venture of the mariner, the thoroughness of the builder, the care and compassion of the shepherd, are all given in illustration of the qualities and duties of our heavenly service. But not until that service itself is, according to our gifts and adaptation, revealed as our individual vocation, is the idealization of labour perfected."That is a new day, the dawn of a new life to the boy, when he has taken himself out of the routine of the child, and resolved to be something in lessons, or play, or conduct; and the thrill with which the young man puts his hand on his earnest life work tingles yet along the very nerves of age. It makes us almost a giant to feel the birth throe of a living purpose. The lioness reproached because she gave but one at a birth, replied, 'Yes, but that a lion.' And the one lion purpose born to a man, to grow into the one thing of life, is a birth to be proud of and never forgotten. After it we are never the same. It has lifted out of old conditions, limitations; it has put a new spirit in us, as the new inspiration towards a broader life, the quick play of whose pulses, vibrating through the whole man, impels us to thought and deed....It is a proud, a solemn, a sublime moment that sees the soul register its purpose and write it as with imperishable letters, 'This one thing I do, come weal, come woe, come ban of man or shock of time, come sorrow and distress and loss, though I stand alone, here I stand, this I do'; and the life of slow, earnest, arduous toil that follows partakes of the grandeur of the birth."

(Homiletic Magazine.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

WEB: To Adam he said, "Because you have listened to your wife's voice, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

The God of Nature
Top of Page
Top of Page