The above caption will immediately raise in the mind of our readers the thought of a certain point of discussion that was for some time coming to the foreground in our Christian life.
The history of the individual Christian life and of the Christian church has a way of bringing such points to the foreground, and to draw then into the focus of discussion. And this is undoubtedly because the thoughts of God are so rich that they are one after the other in turn brought into the center for a full consideration and development. This is no less true of the awfulness of sin of course, which is also given its different seasons and times through the different ages and centuries of history in order that its many sides may develop and be seen.
Today we are undoubtedly living in a time of great doctrinal development. Is it because the Lord is stimulating His people to bring their doctrines and understanding of the Scriptures into vital touch with the fast changing times; to awaken their consciousness and understanding so that they can live their Christian calling in 1953? So that their Christian armor and their Christian equipment is up to date for the awful things of today and tomorrow?
It is sometimes said of certain doctrines that they can become the object of discussion only within the Reformed faith. Outside of that circle they are no problem, but are simply taken for granted. The examples are well known, such as human freedom, good works, justification, prayer and others.
And so it is with the concept of responsibility. Its problems are most acute in the field of the vigorous Reformed faith. But it is also there that in the light of the Word of God we receive the answer.
The problem usually comes up in the form of two correlated concepts, that of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, or God’s sovereign council and human responsibility.
And the calling of the Church and the path of her healthful life in the service of God wherein she reveals and extols His great saving righteousness and— wisdom and glory is that she keeps these two in their proper relation to each other. She may not lose either of these two concepts which are given her in the Bible. If she has a distorted view of either, or if she minimizes the importance of either she has a distorted view of the whole and is going astray.
Now it should be plain that of the two poles in this correlation, the positive pole, the ruling pole is the sovereignty. This is simply plain from such passages as Rom 11:36, “For of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever, Amen,” or Rev. 4:11, “Worthy art thou, O Lord and our God to receive the glory and the honor and the power, for thou hast made all things and because of thy will they are and were created.”
Hence we might be inclined to say that thus it appears the sovereignty of God, the ruling pole in this correlation is everything and therefore the other, namely that of responsibility is really of no account, and is quite dispensable.
But we see that we can only say that in the abstract. We can only say that if we think of God without His creation, if we can separate Him in our thoughts from all that exists. But of course we cannot do that. Our texts above have already said too much. He made, he created, there are creatures; and further, He receives, yes He receives from them homage. We cannot think of Him without His creatures for in our thinking we are creatures ourselves, and we cannot think of Him without His creatures, because He has thrust Himself upon us and our perception through His creation which reveals Him.
But let us also notice that the highest form, the crown of that creation is man, the creature that bears His own image, the responsible creature, destined is such to become the Body of the Son of God Himself. That is the aspect of the created things that receives the emphasis in the Bible, in the plan of God. It is on the life, on the doings, on the reaction on the forming of this creature in his responsible relation that God gives His chief attention through the six thousand years of history and through the endless ages of eternity, of the righteous who serve Him in heaven and the disobedient in hell.
And then we can also say that the things that receive the emphasis in respect to them is their responsibility. Not that they are flesh and bone, not that they are creatures of time, not that they are subject to deep adversity or great delight of prosperity, but that they are responsible creatures is the focal point.
What this means we have already intimated above. It means, (1) that man is made so that he is the image of God. He is moral, ethical, rational, reasoning and all relations to the rest of created things, he can give the service and homage and glorification that is delightful to God. (2) that according to all the revelation that comes hand in hand with his creation and position, according to all the intimations and conclusions he is expected to fulfill this task and calling, (3) it means that this is reasonably asked and expected of him, because everything in his construction and adaptation, and all around about him to which he is related argue the reasonableness, the equity of his purpose and calling, (4) that when he fulfills this task he experiences the pleasure and approval and blessing of God to reveal that God has great pleasure in His own glorification as the Highest Good; and conversely by default the creature is punished and made miserable to reveal that God has an eternal displeasure in the denial of His glory.
That is the implication of the responsibility of man. Thus it appears too that it is exactly the Bible-believing Church that can really understand the meaning of the concept. And thus the more we see creation as planned by and formed by God, see man as God’s image bearer, and history as God’s history, will we also more and more understand the tremendous meaning of responsibility.
But then conversely we will also against the background see more fully more in its meaning and implication the idea of God’s sovereignty. For the sovereignty of God is not the abstract idea that He is endless in force and can do anything. But it is the prerogative that arises out of His infinite perfections of goodness and wisdom and righteousness, to will, create, administer and dispose over the creature for His own glory. This virtuous sovereignty comes to its clearest expression in His dealing with man in his responsible position.
But we must hasten to add the next thought here. For since also this arrangement of responsibility is out of God and for God’s sake, therefore it also reaches its highest manifestation not in man. This plan of responsibility reaches its highest function when the Son of God Himself enters into it.
I think we can say that this arrangement was eternally conceived especially with a view to Him. He comes into the flesh in the awful consciousness that all his brethren have lived in this wonderful iframe and have completely defaulted and fallen into death in its gripping frame. And He himself comes into this plan of responsibility, born under the law in all human relationships except sin, and as faithful servant in the awful sense of responsibility he labors and suffers and toils to conform to His assignment.
It is in this frame that the glory of God in the Servant-Christ with His Church will eternally shine.
From this we can also see the importance of the law for the Christian. It is only the Christian who can really feel his responsibility for a walk in holiness and for his sinful life.
A clear illustration of the latter is the great prayer of Daniel 9:4, “O Lord, the great and dreadful God keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him and to them that keep his commandments, we have sinned . . . righteousness belongeth to thee, but to us confusion of face, therefore the curse is poured out upon us . . .
A New Testament instance is that of the Apostle Paul; I am the least of the Apostles, not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God, I Cor. 15:9 and of a similar more general awareness he speaks in the passage of Romans 7:7, 13ff. In which passage every progressing step emphasizes his being carnal and sold under sin, and that with the flesh he serves this law of sin. Therefore the Catechism also says that God will have His commandments so sharply preached to us that we more and more learn to know our sinful nature.
It is this heightened sense of his sin and his sinful nature that drives the sinner to Christ so that by faith he can say, I am not my own but I belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ who paid completely and delivered me. Thus the freedom and solvency from sins past present and future, which was eternally decreed for us in Christ and completely merited become our actual possession and enjoyment by faith in time.
Thus it is also the Christian who knows his responsibility to live in all the commandments of God. Again we may recall that man is created and adapted to that purpose, it is the revealed will of God that he shall do this, and this causes “the wrath of God to be kindled”. But in the kingdom of salvation the obligation is greatly heightened. Now it is said, Because of the great grace of Christ we are debtors to live after the spirit, Rom. 8:12 and again, If God so loved us, we are owing (wij zijn schuldig) to love one another. I John 4:11. The exhortation makes use of the sense of fittingness and obligation. For Christ came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Hence it is still operative.
It will be the standard according to which the wicked shall be judged in the day of Christ. It shall be the frame in which He stands with His people in that day and His works and merits are openly accorded to them so that they may be rewarded in His works of righteousness and He Himself thereby fully rewarded and in Him the saving wisdom and power of God may be seen.
The above caption is the title of a book written about a hundred years ago in the Netherlands, by the Christian statesman and author, Groen van Prinsterer.
It was written in connection with the very concrete historical struggle of unbelief and its consequences in the economy of the state as it appeared in the terrible French Revolution.
There were in the life of the author some very favorable circumstances that made such a work possible and successful. Groen van Prinsterer lived in the most intimate connection with the terrible seething revolutionary developments of his time.
Born in 1801 of wealthy and cultured parents he had the choicest education of his day and in his early twenties he already used the classic languages with great adeptness and spoke the European languages as readily as his own native tongue.
He was a young man of only 26 years when he already became secretary of the King’s cabinet and in this position he was required to travel to the neighboring countries as minister extra-ordinary.
It was in connection with this office that he received the responsible task of editing the Archives of the House of Orange-Nassau, a task that occupied him for some 25 years (1835-61) yielding a work of thirteen volumes, known at that time as one of the most fruitful and informative sources of history and statesmanship, in which Groen was also several times elected to the Dutch Parliament, a great mass of writings issued —series of articles, instructions and advices, documented proposals of legislation, eloquent parliamentary speeches and debates, and several, yes, many books.
And since the same spirit that manifested itself in the French Revolution inevitably drifted over the borders into Netherland, Groen was led to hold a series of readings with a group of his personal friends in his private study.
The content of these readings was published in 1847, in the book entitled “Ongeloof en Revolutie”, and a second publication in 1868.
It is to be regretted that such a book is not available in our English language. It is a book of which Dr. Bavink, borrowing the old simile, says in the foreword to the Second Edition, “. . . there are a few books which, just as the staff of Moses among the staves of the magicians, have a devouring power. This book has such a devouring power that it consumes other books.”
The book in its present form is uninviting to the reader. It is known that Groen as a Christian statesman and forerunner of Dr. Abraham Kuyper was a general without an army. He did not have the gift of writing for the common people. Anyone who reads this book will understand this. The organization is not perspicuous; the style carries the stamp of his aristocratic spirit. It is overloaded with tedious parenthetical over-dignified reflections, with cumbersome qualifications made enpassable and it carries the mark of its surroundings with its German and French documentation.
But there is, of course, something else that makes this book so valuable for us today. It is not merely because it is a great source on the history of the revolution. Rather it is because of the ringing Christian testimony that sounds thru it. It is the book of a Christian historian and a Christian statesman. At the age of twenty-eight years the author saw the impossibility of a mediating to a deep principle change that grew through the years. It is echoed in the theme of his humble motto: Not a statesman am I, but a witness of the Gospel.
And as a real Christian statesman, pioneering a path through the confusion of his own time he was a lone figure. There were Christian statesmen of a fashion in his day, and he repeatedly refers to them with appreciation. Among them Friedrich Stahl, a Christian with a ‘“Lutheran view of the state; and Francois Guizot who as a Christian, and a first-rank statesman nevertheless, unbelievable as it may seem, supported the French Revolution for 30 years “before the lightning-stroke of 1848 opened his eyes.”
In such a world Groen wrote his book.
And now the ruling theme of the book is that the abandonment of faith in the God of the Scriptures must inevitably bring the dissolution of order and law in life and society and the state. That is the theme supported with great masses of material and true Christian insight.
And that is a wonderful thing for us to hear and see in our day of growing Atheism, and at the same time of hopeful clinging to the back-log of conservative, traditional forms.
There is much in this work that causes us to open our eyes in the day in which we live with its constant agitation for change, for radical reconstruction.
Groen takes great pains to show that the revolution and Reign of Terror was not really caused and necessitated by the evils and wrongs and maladministrations of the foregoing years and generations. Many of the goals which ancient statesmen, philosophers and social leaders had envisioned for a happy world had been approximated. And many of the evils which were ascribed to the late ages were grossly exaggerated. Certainly the authority of princes had not degenerated into boundless despotism. The mutual relation between the provinces and crown was far from senseless and intolerable. He makes the strong statement that the 18th Century was free from the feudal burden of the 10th and from the religious wars and the princely tyrannies of the 16th. The griefs were to a great extent unreal and existed only in the imagination of those whose memories were systematically refreshed regarding this distant past by revolutionary leadership. Had the evils been much greater than they really were, they would still not have caused the revolution.
These things are worthy of our consideration in our own world where hand in hand with a climbing standard of living there is always the complaint of injustice, inequality, oppression, enslavement.
And over against this trumped-up cause for the anarchy and reign of bloodshed and pillage and incendiarism, Groen asserts and defends with great masses of documentation the judgment that the true cause was the unbelief in God, the reign of reason, the glamor of individualism and a new false freedom for all and every one.
And his pervading emphasis is that this outcome was inevitable. It was the logical outcome of a principle. “We are inclined to launch the charge of anarchy and despotism against leaders such as Robespierre and Napoleon, and of Atheism and rebellion against such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. And rightly so. But they were also the tools of the spirit of their time (Tijdgeest). They were the mouth-piece rather than the teachers of the populace; leaders to urge a step farther that which could not be halted.”
But he goes farther than this by pointing out that even the most horrible of the terrorists were not really men naturally more vicious and cruel than those who hesitated and checked themselves, but were only more courageous in carrying out the fundamental principles which all alike held essentially.
This principle could not rest until that vaunted freedom, in which all were to enjoy the wealth and riches of all, should become a reality.
And so one of the leaders of the revolution, most lusciously enriched by the socialistic “equalization” closes his “History of the Revolution” with the statement, “The freedom has not come; it will come.”
It is a mirage by which man is stimulated to strive, to hope. But it is a vain hope that ends in destruction.
In a moving close our author holds before his friends the call of the hour. “We may have little power and that is also our guilt and shame. But let us not pause there. Let us rather point each other to the only fountain from whence freely flows all the strength we need…at the foot of the cross which has by God’s mercy become for us a tree of life … peace through the blood of the cross, an offer which has paid the ransom for many, working a change of heart and issuing in love and good works, of which the Saviour Himself testified, “I thank thee Father, Lord of heaven and earth that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to babes” … In this humble submission we shall not strive after high things but condescend to men of low estate, and shall cast down every high thing and lead our thoughts into the obedience of Christ. And let us remember that no work of ours is of any value to Him who knows our hearts unless it is sanctified by these two places, “God be merciful to me a sinner” and the other “my soul cleaves to the dust, make me alive according to thy Word.”
I wonder how well we are aware of the pertinence of this testimony in our day in our lives, with its turmoil in home and abroad, in society and in government.
The forsaking of God brings destruction of the state inevitably.
And we are seeing the forsaking of God on every hand before our eyes…
Do we know where we stand and how to stand in such an age?
Under the above title we have occasion to reflect upon some of the problems that confront the young Christian who is called to give a part of his time and life in the service of the army.
There are two distinct elements in this problem that stand out for our consciousness, namely, that of the soldier, and that of the Christian.
In the idea of a soldier we are confronted with various deeply important relations to which it is our duty to give constant attention, if the idea and the—duty of military service is not to degenerate into a base brutal libertinism.
As soon as we speak of the soldier in the accepted sense, we are implying that such a person is a member of some nation, or at least has placed himself in connection with some nation through becoming a member of her army.
We have here the idea of citizenship.
And this idea is a thoroughly Biblical one, for it implies that in the providence of God we have been set into the organism of a people so that in some sense we are a part of it. This inclusion may be either voluntary by the fact that we have come to a certain country and adopted it as our country. Or it may be that we are a member of such a country by birth and thus were born in the relations that are implied in this citizenship.
Now this relationship implies certain privileges and certain duties.
The privileges consist in the fact that one has the right to the protection which the organism grants to its members. It also means that he shares in the goods, the prosperity, the good fortunes of the body of which he is a member. This is one of the great purposes of organization, of incorporation. This is very evident in the great corporations of which the Scriptures speak so much, namely the corporation of Adam and that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But now the membership in this body, or nation, also implies duties. The privileges are possible through the fulfillment of the duties that are fulfilled in the communion. Also this is abundantly expressed in the great organization of the Church of Jesus Christ. Serving one another, submitting to one another, edifying one another unto the building up of the body until all come to the full stature of the blessed knowledge of God, and also here it applies first of all to the Christ Himself. His calling and His honor are balanced hand in hand.
I do not think there is any question about this relationship as the Bible teaches it.
Because of this principle it may also be regarded as very doubtful whether one may ever drift on through life without becoming a citizen of some country where he assumes the duties and enjoys the privileges.
It is evident that also here we have to do with the command of the law of God: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
To express it in the relation which we are now discussing we shall have to say that a man must love his country, his nation. This may seem strange at first, for our thinking in the past decades has gone through a whole cycle of attitudes and reactions. We know of times when patriotism, love of country was almost an idolatry, expressed in the words to show the absurdity, “My country right or wrong.” And we have also seen a period of cynical criticism in which the idea of love for country became a huge joke.
Evidently both of these are wrong. And the one as well as the other betrays a lack of balanced biblical thinking.
Also here the Word of God is the light for our thinking. It teaches that we shall love our neighbor as our self. And this also applies to our neighbor as he is related to us in the bond, the organism of the nation. As we are exhorted to love servant or master in the implied relation, and as we love our family and its members in the relations that grow up out of that family organization so also as a citizen in the state.
If this presentation of the facts is correct then with respect to the Christian soldier, it means that he is a soldier in love to his country. In this particular relation he carries arms for the purpose of seeking the welfare of his country. Also here we have the guiding word of Scripture. The ordained power carries the sword as the execute of revenging wrath upon the evil for the good of the citizenry (Rom. 13:1-10).
I am well aware of the fact that the realities of life make this situation so complex and confused that there is a great tendency simply to become bitter and indifferent, because nothing makes sense any more.
Perhaps we will say that love is impossible, because this country has simply become a mass of atheism and wickedness. Yet we know that the Bible does not teach us to love only the righteous neighbor, but also them that hate, curse, persecute us. Wickedness does not absolve us from the duty of love.
Or we may say that the whole foolish war makes no sense. Also here we must be careful. We do not know all the facts that would form the basis for a sane judgment. In general we may consider that it is the duty of our nation to administer and protect the territories and peoples that it had on its hands at the termination of the war in which it was involved and victorious.
That there is possibly much corruption and foolish involvements in the whole situation is a part of the world of decay in which we live, and to which we always contribute our part and bear the responsibility. But as to the essential issue of right or wrong in the war as a-whole we can poorly judge.
Or a soldier may even go so far as to say that he cannot possibly fulfill this duty of love to his country, when that very country is in war against his own Christian brethren, and is harassing the very church of God.
However here we must also remember if that our Christian brethren on the opposite, side may, in spite of their Christian hearts, be supporting a wrong cause. And conversely, a nation of unbelievers may well be defending a righteous cause, a defense of country or a rectification of crooked international relations.
I think this only shows how terribly complicated our life and calling can become in this sinful world. For situations could arise in which we would be convinced that our own nation is carrying an unjust war against an innocent Christian people.
Then there would be two possible alternatives.
There would be the possibility of withdrawing from our commitments to the nation. The possibility would be open of renouncing our citizenship in such an unrighteous nation, and casting our lot in with what we considered the righteous Christian nation. But of course there are situations where such transfer of allegiance would be far from easy both physically and from moral considerations and perhaps wholly impossible. Then we would simply have to recognize that our de facto government is over us in the providence of God and we are committed to obedience.
And this also involves tremendous spiritual consequences. Who of us is sufficient to these things.
For under a situation so averse to the Christian sensitiveness the Christian soldier would still be bound to do his duty to his own nation. He would be in duty bound to carry his sword with zeal. He could not be a robot, that marks time. In such a case as above it would still be the duty of the Christian soldier to give himself with all his talents, gifts, and energies night and day to further the task assigned him, namely to wield the weapons by which God executes order and restraint and vengeance among the nations.
In all these dire complications it will always give strength to remember that government is an institution of God and the sword power has been instituted by him.
Government is a gift of God. Obedience to it is a recognition of the wise provisions of God. On the other hand rebellion and anarchy is the rejection of the provision of God. Bad government is better than anarchy which spoils the destruction of orderly life.
This also shows us how serious is our walling not to be passive and cynical when we think to see and know the general rule of right and equity also as these apply to government, and as we would urge our government to honor these.
We cannot be passive on-lookers. We are members of the body-politic. We are neighbors one of another. We stand under the will of God and under the law of righteousness also as citizens of the state and as Christian soldiers.
If what we have said in previous articles about labor and the accompanying curse is true, then the question arises, how is there still sense and inducement for the Christian to be interested and faithful in his work?
Of course we can point to the precept of the Bible to direct our decision. The Bible teaches us that we shall do the good, seek the earthly welfare and advancement of our neighbor, that we shall also remember the poor and needy. And then to a certain rather large extent we do this quite spontaneously, without even knowing the Scriptural precept. It is very natural for the father and mother to labor and plan and exert themselves to establish their home and provide for the continual needs of their children to toil with boundless effort when they are sick or in danger. It is very natural and spontaneous when the government labors and toils to plan and provide the welfare and security -and development of the nation.
How plainly this is given with the very nature of the creature, may surely appear from the fact also, that even the non-rational creature does this. Bird and beast go to great effort and pains to provide for and advance the welfare of their offspring, and also use great effort to preserve and advance their community, their colony or herd.
This also explains to some extent why the curse that is in the world does not destroy the creature or make impossible its development. There is an increated urge, an operation of law through which God provides for the maintenance and development of life in the historical process even when the creature is not conscious of it, or also as in the case of man when this law is not consciously, willingly, obediently heard, observed and followed.
But now this law which we have seen to operate in the providence of God has a very definite meaning for man as servant of the Lord and as Christian. It means that he shall see and know this law especially as it is verbally inculcated through God’s spoken revelation.
To love thy neighbor as thyself, to seek his advantage, welfare, comfort, to labor with the hands to provide for self, the neighbor, the poor is the revealed will of God.
In many simple relations of life this is rather easy to discern and honor. It is quite simple for a father and mother to see the good of caring for their children, quite simple for a government official to be concerned for the welfare and prosperity of his constituency, also for a doctor serving his patients, for a nurse comforting and relieving her charge. And of course this can be extended to food production and distribution, clothing, housing, fuel-supply, and many more things.
However when we come to our more luxurious enjoyments this does not seem so simple. Can we also here apply the principle of doing good to our fellow man?
Is it really so that we must work with devotion and love in all these things. Is it out of love to our neighbor, out of the urge to do the good when as draftsman I toil with hand and mind and heart to make an even more luxurious car, an ever more palatial style of home? Is it by the urge of the law of God to love my neighbor and serve him, that I conceive and create new delicacies, new dazzle in clothing or even that I find my field of labor in things that are ultimately injurious, such as in the liquor industry, in questionable pleasures?
When we approach the question at this phase it evidently raises difficult problems.
For there are surely many Christians who are in some form or other engaged in these industries. And what is the motivation of their work? There are several possible answers or combinations of answers here. Can they say, “Well, I do the work for the wage it offers, for the means to support my family, my church, the poor, the kingdom of God?” Or shall we say that we work simply because it is expected of us for the wage we command, it is a matter of equity, of labor and pay, pure and simple, and we desire to give testimony in our honest effort for value received?
Or can we possibly take the attitude that it belongs to our calling in the culture mandate of history to develop all things and all of life so that the culture in history, the course of sin and grace can reach its full end also by our personal participation in labor?
These are apparently some of the possible attitudes that the Christian can assume in his labor in his life’s calling.
And here is surely a field for serious Christian reflection. It is hardly possible that our whole field of daily work activity is not concerned with these questions. Insofar as the answer is hard to give we may be inclined to say these are indifferent things which are left to the individual conscience of the free Christian. However, it has been well said that the existence of indifferent things in the field of moral conduct is not a privilege, but a rebuke to our ignorance and insensitivity. God’s law knows of no indifferent things. And in the measure that God’s people grow in sanctification, the circle of indifferent things grows smaller, or rather shifts over so that the grosser fall out, as being spiritually solved by an enlightened choice, and new issues not noticed before, now enter the circle of serious moral consideration.
So it is with the question, the daily question, of our work.
Why do we engage in it? How do we fulfil the law of God in it, even in activities that seem to us rather useless, fruitless, vain?
Perhaps it is rather natural to turn to the Scriptures on the institution of servants and slaves, for this at least in part can shed light. There are also undoubtedly other light-rays in the Bible on this point. For it is not only the servant that works but also the master, the employer.
In a following article we hope to explore these Scriptural materials.
As we have seen according to Genesis 3:17-19 our daily labor is burdened with a curse which God has pronounced: Cursed be the ground for man’s sake. The application is plainly also to the Christian even though we have been redeemed from the final curse. That this curse embraces also the Christian, the servants of the Lord, may also appear from such passages as Ps. 90.
Now the question will arise, if this is true that the how is still the possibility for the continuation of life, of development, of history of culture, how can our daily labor and exertions still have sense and meaning if it is negated by a curse of God.
Answering to this we may observe on the one hand, that such a curse appears inevitable in God’s method of government. Man could not be king any more over creation in such a way that he always overcomes it, and completely rules it. Especially in the sense mentioned last in the above text: until thou return to the ground from whence thou wast taken, man could not possibly be ruler, and retain his dominion, for then he would resist death and not humbled and removed from his arrogance.
And also for the saint this failure and defeat is necessary, because also for us death is a necessity to deliver us from the body of sin and unholiness, and, moreover, it is a necessary phase of our discipline, of our child training. The approaching, threatening disintegration of our earthly existence and its catastrophic finality is a means for the perfecting of the saints in faith and trust.
Now on the other hand this curse could not so operate that immediately all of life in all its relations would be destroyed. For that would make impossible the very program that is here announced, namely, the triumph of the holy seed of the woman over the serpent’s usurpation.
This is not necessarily a limitation or restraint of the curse but rather its form, its norm of operation.
Dr. Schilder points out this relation somewhere in his exposition of the Heid. Cat. on our utter depravity. He emphasizes that depravity of man is not mearly checked in some, in various instances, but it is checked and controlled in all instances. That is, it is brought up short against and by the solid order of nature. This nature is preserved in its constitution and even rejuvenated continually so that man’s depravity is held in a bridle and does not destroy life on earth. This is also evident from the fact that sinful men do not have such control over the situation of life that their sin can destroy the materials of life. To use an extreme illustration first of all, man uses the heavenly bodies in his service of sin, he studies them, admires them, makes valuable geographic or navigational calculations from them, writes poetry on-them, worships them. But even when they are subjected to vanity of use they are not impaired or effected. So it is with oceans and mountains. So it is with seasons. So, relatively, with the soil and its vegetation, the powers of the atmosphere, light, heat, electrical, radio, radar activities, and so forth. So it is even in the realms that lie closer to our control. Man cannot destroy even his own race, for in spite of and even by means of its sin it is preserved, rejuvenated: continues to serve its purpose.
Sn is not the destruction of nature, but its perversion in relation to God.
And so history is not only possible, but assured; and development, culture, variety of life are possible and sure.
In the midst of sweat, thorns, and decay we eat, till and live and develop.
And so it is that the laboring of the Christian has meaning, purpose, fruitage and reward. While the Christian is in this world, and dispensation of sin and grace, his labor so far from being meaningless is conscious laboring along with the plan of God.
It is the Lord’s plan that this world —mall be preserved and developed so that the fullness of human life may be seen sinfulness in ever different cultural forms of sin, and faith and obedience in ever new and different forms of Christian faith and life.
It is also the Lord’s will that we as Christians shall let his light shine, so that men may see our good works and glorify the Father. If we believe that all the works of God are a revelation of Himself, then we know that the Christians industry is such our faithful diligence, our careful craftsmanship, our fruitful productivity, the resultant helpfulness, beneficence, human welfare is a revelation that God is in the order of His works, that He is wise and good.
It is a revelation that when life and society derail and decay it is not the fault of God who made all things good and useful nor the fault of His saints in so far as they are faithful.
But it is the sinful perversion of the good that then calls for judgment and vengeance, and the faithful use and cherishing that justifies a blessed reward.
In closing this article let me state that I would welcome any questions that can evoke some practical reflections.
I say this because there is a great opportunity here for cooperation and supplementation. The man who works in a shop, office or store necessarily has firsthand knowledge of the practical problems. On the other hand I am necessarily led to seek for the Biblical, spiritual light in which those problems must be approached.
Hence any questions would be welcomed.
What if we have said in the foregoing articles about labor is true then we can indeed speak of the joy of labor.
Think of what we have found as the truth!
From the first pages of the Bible reporting the creation of man we learn that we are made to have dominion over the created things, and that by the work of our hands and of our mind we are to cultivate it for the development of its riches and beauties.
We also learn that the Lord set man, that is gave him the position, that he might dress, cultivate the garden, and keep, have custody over, preserve it. Some commentators suggest that this keeping was already an attitude of defense and protection against alien power, others see in keeping an activity of preserving it from running wild through natural degeneracy, or from exuberant disorder. Thus his activity over the creature in relation to God is pictured to us.
And then we also learn that God instructs man unto the cultivation of the created earthly things by placing the appropriate laws in and about them so that the manner of their successful cultivation and the stewardship over them is as it were pointed out and suggested to man.
From this we would certainly conclude that labor would be an unmixed pleasure and joy. Everything is conducive to success and joy. Unmixed this joy should be because the dominion, the adaption and the success and goal would be fully assured and realized.
But the revelation on this point as we have it in Genesis 3 immediately warns us that this is not realized. And it warns us that we shall have to re-evaluate labor on that score.
This revelation (Gen 3:17-19) gives us a very startling warning.
We read as follows:
“The ground shall be cursed. In misery shall man eat his bread all the days of his life. Thorns and thistles shall the earth bring forth. In the sweat of his face shall he eat his bread. He shall return unto this ground from whence he was taken.”
Taking these different phrases together to make up the one picture of the bitter turn in man’s lot we can make a few remarks to clarify them.
In the first place we may remark that they apply to our life as it is in the present dispensation of sin and grace. In position in the record they come after the curse over the serpent has been pronounced, and also after the victory of the cause of Christ has been promised. This surely means that it is not an expression, of the final curse, nor of an unrelieved curse, but of a curse as it presses upon Adam and Eve, the heirs of the redemption already promised, that is, as Children of God and saved by His mercy they shall still have to bear this curse.
Secondly we may note that it is so expressed that the simple elementary representative features stand for the entire circle and range of earthly activity and culture. The simple key-word in the picture pertains to the eating. His disobedient eating brings his further eating under the curse. Because he did not rule over his eating, did not exercise his delegated lordship in the name of God over his eating of the fruits of the garden, therefore he shall with great difficulty and much more sorrow feel in his eating the loss of his lordship, and shall experience that in his simplest activities and needs there is a recalcitrance, a stubbornness, a balkiness over against him from the part of the creature. God has freed them from his control to a great extent.
Thirdly there is in the listing of elements, a progression that is instructive for us.
As a general abstract heading it is said, “Cursed is the ground on account of you, because of you.” Because he has own his disobedience and mismanagemnt with respect to the soil and its product over which he was placed, therefore the Lord causes him to feel the divine displeasure through the same relation in which Adam stands to the soil. The soil which he mismanaged now brings him his punishment. And this curse becomes clear from the instances of its use further in the Bible. Instead of being fertile and productive, lush and pleasant, it becomes barren, stubborn unyielding, dreadful When the earth is blessed it yields in abundance (Potiphar’s house under Joseph, the southland under Isaac—Gen. 26:12—; Israel in the land of milk and honey, and Ps. 107 in the various sections) and when it is cursed it is blasted, barren, famine ridden (Israel under the covenant curse in the desert, also Ps. 107).
This curse of God is further, the cause of the misery expressed. Then this misery reveals itself completely in the persistence of thorns and thistles, and in hard sweating labor over the rebellious nature.
And after so toiling with the rebellious unsubjected nature he finally succumbs to it completely, returns to the dust from whence he came. Actually man loses his struggle to hold dominion over the creature and is finally overcome by it because God has set it against him.
And now fourthly we can say that what is presented here at Paradise in its elementary primitive simplicity under the form of food production, is essentially maintained and is true of all things in relation to man.
Nature is cursed and brings misery upon man.
It may even be true that the primeval somewhat symbolical, form is not always starkly maintained. It may be true that the first simule, primitive struggle with bare hands against a sterile, barren soil with torturing thorns and thistles has somewhat receded out of sight. For the Bible indeed speaks of fruitful fields, the pastures are clothed with flocks, the valleys are covered with corn, they shout for joy they also sing (Ps. 65:14) and not only in the Israel of God’s favor but also in heathendom there were fruitful seasons filling men’s hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14: 17). Yet the word there spoken in Genesis remains in general application. Man’s work-material is cursed because of his disobedience, it is unamenable to his dominion, and his struggles with it issues in vanity until he returns to the dust completely vanquished.
But how does this compare with the actual situation as we see and know it today? Can we say that the threat of Genesis has been mitigated and lightened? Are there not many pleasant productive, seasons and regions and do not many people enjoy their work so that they say, the longer I do this work the more I enjoy it
What must be our answer to these questions:
First we may point out that we cannot operate with a grace that has somehow entered in to relieve the burden.
It is sometimes said that a certain grace entered in so that the threat of the probationary command was not executed. But that cannot apply here either, for we are here already beyond the probation and this threat imposed. That would have to mean a second change and lifting of a threat by an intervening grace.
It seems therefore that also this curse of Gen. 3:17-19 remains in force. Notwithstanding the apparent prosperity and pleasure this word remains in operation. We know of no Biblical notification or suggestion that it is lifted.
How then must we harmonize this curse with the apparent prosperity and pleasure?
In order to have a right understanding of the reality of this curse we shall first of all need spiritual sense to read the word of God. We shall have to realize what the blessed, normal, happy relation of a sinless world with a sinless man was. We must surely not forget that comparison when we look at the present world.
We shall also have to look at the present world with that same spirit-taught mind. And then the Bible teaches us that this misery and woe and defeat is actually our lot. Jacob was a successful shepherd-prince but he confesses at the end, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Gen. 47: 9). “The best of our years is labor and sorrow” (Ps. 90:5-10). “Every man at his best estate is vanity, walketh in a vain show, heaps up riches in vain” (Ps. 39:5-6).
And certainly history substantiates the fulfilment of this dark curse.
Think of the struggle of our first fathers in their primitive, barehanded struggle with the stubborn earth, to eke, out food and clothing and shelter.
Think of the famine, pestilence, war slavery, subjugation, that has harassed the human race.
Think of the groans and moans that arise from the human race under the development of civilization, under serfdom and exploitation.
And think even of the inevitable misery which the mechanization of our life brings with it in the form of regimentation, and deadening specialization.
After all the struggle of man to gain ascendency over the forces of nature the word of Genesis remains in power, for he loses the battle and falls back under the dominion of the dust from whence he issued and is completely vanquished
How then can we speak of the pleasure and joy of labor?
In our previous article we tried to face the problem that confronts us as Christians in the field of Labor—in that field with all its carnal strivings, with all its perversions of the meaning of the work of our hands.
Certainly for the Christian whose lot is cast into a daily first-hand contact with this sphere of life the problems must be overwhelming, the perplexities the temptations, the confusion would seem to make impossible any intelligent attitude toward it all.
And yet we believe that for the Christian the guidance also for this sphere is given in the Scriptures.
Do we not believe that the Christian is saved from the whole dominion of the devil over his entire creaturely human life? Do we not believe that the Christian is sanctified and redirected by the Holy Spirit so that his whole existence is changed? We believe that we are created unto Good works, we believe that we are thoroughly equipped unto these good works, we believe that all Scripture is given for this purpose of equipping us and that the Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
If this is our confession then we certainly believe that it covers every hour of our day. We cannot assume that the largest part of the Christian’s life, the eight or ten working hours of his day is somehow left outside of this redemption and restoration. Thus they would be left in the tangle of a crooked world, rather futile, rather meaningless, with no guidance or direction.
Also this part of our life as Christians has meaning, purpose, direction.
Is it not remarkable that the ordinances for this sphere of life can be traced and that they give direction in this respect.
I will not forget that on this point we have been especially warned in recent years. We have been set on our guard against natural theology, natural law, natural ethics, and have been pointed back to the word, to the written revelation of God as it is booked for our guidance.
Calvin said that God has revealed Himself to us through two means of revelation, namely thru nature and thru the Scriptures. But then he added that they are used in such a way that the Bible must first be taken and understood, and it must be the spectacles through which we look at nature and gather its God-inscribed thoughts.
Thus then we can learn from nature, its ordinances for life. In this work material which God has given to man for cultivation, the Most High has Himself interwoven the laws by which it must be cultivated.
In the prophecies of Isaiah we have a classic passage for this principle. In order to illustrate with a parable the wisdom and equity and timeliness of God’s deeds of judgment and salvation, the prophets refer to the farmer’s methods. He says, “Doth he that ploweth for sowing plow continually, doth he continually open and harrow his ground? When he has leveled the face thereof does he not broadcast the fitches, and scatter the cummin and put the wheat in rows and the barley in its appointed place and the spelt in the borders? For his God doth instruct him aright and doth teach him”. The prophet continues to show that the same wise care and discretion is used in threshing and preserving the various kind of grains. And again he comments, “This also cometh from Jehovah of Hosts who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. (Isa. 28:23-29).
God instructs man how to labor intelligently, purposefully.
In the creatures, in the working material itself, the laws and ordinances for purposeful culture are given. If it is used in one way it gives usefulness and profit. If it is used or treated in another way it causes complications and trouble and loss.
This principle is true all along the line. If the farmer simply kept on plowing and harrowing without end it would get too late for sowing. And if he plants too deep or two shallow he will get only half a crop, but if he carefully strikes the right depth he gets a well-nigh perfect stand. And each grain requires its own particular kind of threshing implement and its own particular kind of treatment.
Delitzech in his Commentary translates the conclusion as follows: This also, it goeth forth from Jehovah of Hosts. He gives wonderful intelligence, high understanding.
And so there is no question but that our work, our daily occupation with the creature,, that God has placed in our hands that we should cultivate it and develop it, carries in itself the laws by which it must be developed.
This, which can be seen in the simple task of sowing and harvesting also extends through the more complicated forms of activity. The new Christian philosophy developed in the Netherlands is wont to emphasize that all human effort in the cultivation of the creature in the history of men is kept in certain bonds by the inherent laws which God gave it. Man is restrained by the very laws that lie in the creature that he handles. He is restrained from going to excesses which make life and society and development impossible. Thus life is hedged in and stays more or less in the middle of the road and moves on toward the end of history and development.
We understand that this has nothing to do with grace, common grace. It is God’s way of giving man his task and holding him to it.
Now if it is true for the natural man, the man without God, how much more true it is for the Christian.
If it is true that the rebellious sinner who does not with his cultivation of the earth, with his cultural activities, want to arrive at the goal, at the end station which God has set, how much more true is it of the Christian who desires to arrive, with all that he has and is, at the end which God has set before him.
Once more, if it is true that the rebellious sinner is for a long way restrained and held down the middle of the road, how much more will it not be true for the Christian whose conscious purpose is to follow this road of obedience and love and service of God to the very end consecrating all that God has placed under his hands and superintendence.
Now in earlier articles we have pointed out that the Christian takes this simple elementary knowledge of sowing and harvesting, of processing and developing and puts it to work in a higher plane. We as Christians carry this into the life of social relationships. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. We shall work with our hand the thing that is good, advance our neighbors welfare, feed the poor, clothe the naked, whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also likewise unto them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12).
To be sure even for the Christian with the light of God’s word shining on his pathway and on the work of his hands, this becomes a very complicated task in this world where also the field of labor seems completely dominated by the distortion and perversion of sinful men.
In a following article we shall advance a step in tracing this path of purposeful, beneficent, Christian labor.
We have seen in the preceding article that the divinely ordained purpose of labor lies in its beneficent productivity.
Now in the sinless creation in which this fundamental ordinance was first announced we can quite readily imagine the pursuit and realization of this purpose. We can imagine Adam and Eve occupied with the cultivation and development of the created paradise-world, where they would bring forth children, create a family life and altogether experience and enjoy the riches of God’s beautiful, wonderful world and on an ever richer level experience the life of communion, fellowship, neighbor and brother virtues, so that all their activity ended in the acknowledgement and praise of God out of whom all these wonderful things issue.
But what must we say of this after sin has entered into the situation to blast and disrupt all these relations?
In essence we shall have to hold that this same principle and ordinance is still the rule, even though it seems to dash against the facts that seem to contradict it.
For there are indeed such facts.
We can think of the slave who is simply made to do work regarding which he has nothing to say and which seems utterly valueless as to production. Then there is the fact that the earth is subjected to the curse of vanity and does not escape the ultimate decay of all its products and developments.
How many are doomed to work merely for pay so that the ultimate value of their work hardly appears or occurs to the mind.
And then there is the evil fruit that a work, in itself good, brings forth, or there is finally the cursed fruit that a valueless work brings about.
Can we in the light of all this still hold to the principle that our work must be motivated by the beneficent fruit?
We are forced to ask this question seriously in the light of the above objections. And still we must answer it positively.
Just as well after the fall in paradise as before it, the purpose of labor is its beneficence. Not destructive but constructive work is the calling and the pleasure of the servants of the Lord. Not ruin and waste, but building, healing, helping is the direction still.
That is the law of God, more specifically the second table of the Decolag, also as this is worked out in detail in the Mosaic legislation, which provides that man shall work toward the welfare, security, comfort and life of his neighbor. And this is carried out in the New Testament by many precepts that teach, that man must “labor with his own hands to produce the good” Eph. 4:28, that he may also have something to distribute to the poor (idem). It is prescribed that he who will not work shall not eat. And men working with quietness shall provide their own bread. II Thes. 3:6-13. Here the principle is that a man may not be unnecessarily burdensome to his fellowmen, but that he must provide the good for himself and others.
The teaching of the Saviour points in this same direction, namely to give to the needy, food, clothing and shelter, and to feed even the enemy if he is hungry.
That is the principle involved in the action of the merciful Samaritan and likewise it is testified of the Savior that He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the Devil. He challenged the opponents with the question: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm; to save a life or to destroy it. And likewise, the question, Who of you will not help his sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath? Matt. 12:12; Luke 6:9.
We may not forget here that these works were done by the Son of God as a testification of His saving power and mission, but this testimony lay exactly in the presupposition that they are good, desirable, helpful restorative healing, and as such pleasing to God and worthy of honor by men.
This is not of course a matter of debasing the great works of the Son of God in order to find support for a (Liberalistic) social gospel, but it is in line with the second table as expounded by our Catechism. According to it, the Sixth Command implies, “ … mercy and all kindness toward (the neighbor, and preventing his hurt as much as in us lies, and that we do good even to our enemies”. So on the Eighth Command (L.D., Q. Ill) “That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may.”
And once more this is the conduct becoming to the children of the Heavenly Father who causes His beneficent rain and sunshine to come on all alike (Matt, 5:44) who does good from heaven giving rain and fruitful seasons filling men’s hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17).
When this is the goal of the Christian’s labor and service it reaches its purpose in the glory and honor of God. For it bears testimony that the Law of God is good and that God is good in all His requirements. In the words of Romans 12:2 it proves and demonstrates what the will of God is, that it is good, that it is well-pleasing, that it is perfect. And thus it is evident that when the outcome is ruin and misery, then it is not because God’s will and ordinances are wrong, but it is because of the perversion of these good ordinances by depraved man.
It is remarkable that in our practical life we follow this principle more or less. In the most obvious cases we all accept that.
In a nurse, for example, we naturally expect that she shall do her best to alleviate suffering, to heal, to restore to health. That certainly is the minimum.
In a school teacher we apply the same standard. We expect her to do everything reasonable to teach the children in the best way possible. We are not at all thinking of a certain amount of hours a certain number of chapters in a book, a certain amount of words that she must speak, or sentences she must write. That she shall strive to teach the children is the accepted minimum.
So it is with a custodian of a public building, likewise with a house-keeper in a home. (Should it be home-keeper?)
That is why many people are employed on the basis of their special aptitudes, the reward for their work implies this and they are placed on their own initiative with the words, “You just use your own judgment in an unforeseen incident, do your best, deliver as good a work as you can and we will be satisfied.” Here the goal is presupposed, regardless of the processes and steps that reach it. That goal is the good, the efficient.
There is one thought that we must now add as arising from this principle.
This principle, namely, implies that we cannot just retire because we have accumulated “a comfortable little roll.”
If it is the principle of labor that we must do good, help the wretched, feed the hungry, be sons of the Heavenly Father in this that we do good as He does, then certainly he that has good health and special gifts of service (whether of labor or craft, or management or business) may not roll these gifts in a napkin. He has these gifts to use, to do good, “to promote the advantage of the neighbor in every instance he can or may. . . faithfully labor so that I may be able to relieve the poor.”
If the dignity of labor must be viewed in the way that the Reformers following Scripture, have indicated, then we will immediately understand that this noble function runs into many complications in this sinful world.
We have seen that the dignity of labor lies in its purpose, in its worthy product, in its abiding fruitage.
In this world of crooked and perverted relations and situations this principle is constantly trampled underfoot of course.
It appears in the promise made by political leaders, “a job for every able bodied adult” or similar ideals.
Now taken all by itself such a motto, such an ideal could mean, the goal at which we aim is the most efficient application to the task that God has laid upon us as a race, namely, to subdue the earth and its potentialities, to cultivate and enhance our existence and manifestation as servants and friends and covenant co-workers of our Creator and Redeemer in the glorification of His name.
And to be sure if the motto would mean that then it would express a very beautiful thought to say “a job for every man”.
But of course it is hardly more than an amusing oddity to mention such a principle even, and much more ridiculous still to suggest such an ideal.
For the bitter fact is that such a motto actually toys with a purely selfish motive.
It usually does not imply the inherent joy of being worthily, productively engaged, but simply the thought of getting something for the self.
Whereas under the divine idea of labor and under a spiritual motivation the idea of “a job for all” would mean an opportunity to be productively engaged to be helpful, to be able to give of your gifts, your talents, your energies, to be able even, if need be, to toil, to undergo weariness, hardship, sacrifice for the welfare of our fellow men and for the service and glory of God, now in reality the sad meaning and implication is that it offers a chance to get a wage, a pay check, an accumulation of dollars.
Now someone will resent this as being very idealistic, and will quite boldly counter with the cross assertion, “Give me the pay check, brother, and just let some other do-gooder strive for your dreamy ideal.”
But the simple facts of life give his crass assertion the lie, and sustain the ideal. And these simple facts are the unconscious testimony of sinful men to the beauty of God’s ordinances.
We may adduce a simple example from the family life. The classic illustration is the unstinting toil and care and sacrifice of a mother to help her ailing needy child on the way to health and welfare. It is the example of noble, self-sacrificing, long range, purposive, productive, beneficent toil. The element of remuneration and dollar gain is completely out of sight.
On the other hand there is the instance that is so well known to many of us, namely, the W.P.A., the governments “Work Program Administration” of recent depression times.
In two directions that instance illustrates the above indicated divide ordinance.
The purpose of this program was to level down somewhat the wealth of the economy into the levels of the unemployed and needy.
Then in the first place the purpose of the Work in the Program was to remove and avoid the demoralizing sense of the dole, the hand-out, and on this other hand, the demoralizing burden of the arrangement was the relative uselessness and non-productivity of the work.
As far as the actual tangible gain and product was concerned it might have been better to spare the wear on wheel barrows, shovels and shoe-leather, and to simply have delivered the dole to the man in his easy chair.
Thus the point of the divine ordinance is clearly sustained by the testimony of that famous work program—both by the attempt to create a feeling of being productively engaged, and by the demoralizing consciousness that the employment was not productive—the point namely that the divine purpose of labor lies in its productivity, its accomplishments, its beneficence.
Now it is the forgetting, the trampling under foot of this divine principle that aggravates the woes of our time. And it is also the calling of the Christian to see and live by this principle.
One of the most glaring examples of forgetting this principle appears in a wartime prosperity so called.
In a high spiritual sense a war can of course be thought of as the implementation of good righteous government and in so far we could think of cooperation in a war effort as rewarding occupation. That high ideal is abstractly conceivable of course.
But in actual fact a war effort is little more than a production only to see its products destroyed in complete fruitlessness.
The prosperity of war-time is a false prosperity. There is nothing left to show for all the effort and industry put forth. All its product goes into the holocaust of war or into the dump of decay.
And yet the general feeling easily rules us that the great exchange of dollars involved in this fruitless wartime round of activity means prosperity, welfare, progress, good times.
It is the false illusion that the purpose of labor is to bring us money, dollars, regardless of its production, beneficent value.
It is the self-deception of a false prosperity.
We could illustrate this self-deception by an imaginary family.
They have one communal purse, these parents with their children, and after a period of poverty and need a cyclone strikes the home and by a miracle a prosperity begins to appear. The father pays mother for clearing the wreckage, the mother pays father for repairing the structure, and both parents from their feeling of financial progress pay the boys a stimulating wage to bring in wood from the wood-lot and to rustle up vegetables and fruits from the garden and orchard. The girls are paid to stimulate sewing and knitting for the family.
We would say: happy days have come at last! Prosperity has entered.
And, marvelous to say, it was by the tragedy of a cyclone!
But it is a self-deception, it is a false prosperity.
That which could not be set agoing by a sense of duty of communal obligation of gratitude, of helpfulness was finally is stimulated by the circulation of jingling money.
The machinery of prosperity seems spinning again, but only as long as the money jingles, and as long as no hitch occurs anywhere along the line or in the cycle.
But the sense of joy in duty, of affectation, of well doing and helpfulness fast disappears in this household.
There is nothing to span the inevitable lapses in the giddy round of selfish self-deception.
Woe to the family whose lot hangs on such a motive—the feel of money.
It is a simple illustration. But it points the direction in which God has ordained that we shall live our lives also in this mad world of labor-problems.
In our previous article we pointed out that men through the ages have pondered upon and struggled with the question of the basic motive and incentive to labor.
Here the happy wit will interject that he has the problem completely solved: He labors for the cash. That is simple enough. To this we could counter with the lame witticism that he can hardly write a sellable book on that theme, whereas men will continue writing books on some aspect of that problem and collecting royalties.
And indeed, it is a tremendous problem and deeply involved in the political-social- economic woes of our time.
And so we may well expect that men’s minds in reflecting on this, problem will be greatly affected by their attitude to the wisdom of the Bible.
One authority on the history of Labor and Wage theories, himself a Liberal, heads a section in his book with the words, “Religion Dignifies Labor: Aquinas and Calvin”. After a paragraph on Aquinas he continues: “It was, in the theological writings of John Calvin (1509-1564) that the religious incentive to labor reached its most compelling form. Recognized as a necessity by almost everyone, and dignified in the Christian tradition because almost all of the religious leaders had themselves worked, it remained for Calvin to give work its moral force. Labor became a Christian obligation. To labor industriously in a calling was God’s command to man. Men should not choose a calling because of the riches, to be obtained; but once in a calling, they should not be unmindful of the wealth to be obtained by a close application to duty, since an increase in wealth could be used for Christian purposes. Men were admonished to shun luxury and to be thrifty. Success was, accepted as a mark of God’s favor and of personal predestination.” John W. McConnell, The Basic Teachings of the Great Economists, 1943, p. 67.
Now although Calvin left no work that treats specifically of this economic problem, yet it can be safely said that Calvin did so judge of the dignity of labor. Apart from the rather fanciful meaning that the author gives to the connection between economic success and the assurance of personal predestination in the thinking of Calvin, it is certainly true that Calvin advocated labor for the Christian as a noble assignment from his God, and considered faithful performance of his duty, menial or arduous, as the experience of God’s favor and nearness. This is evident from his incidental treatment of various texts, that touch this point, such as Eph. 4:28: which reads: Let him that stole steal no more but let him rather labor (toil), working with his own hands the thing that is good, that he may have to give to him that has need.
His treatment of other texts is instructive, such as of II Thess. 3:10; Ps. 127:2 128:1, and of Gen. 2:15.
From the above it is evident that we will have to be guided by Scripture in our reflection on the problems of labor, and that we will be greatly influenced by its, light in our conclusions.
We may first ask, what is the essential purpose of labor?
The Bible from the very beginning gives us some very fundamental principles in this respect.
First of all we may refer to Genesis 1:28 where this principle of labor is expressed when it is said that God spoke the word of blessing over man whereby he received the urge and the power to populate the earth and to subdue it, and to have dominion over the creatures. Here the task, the working-task is assigned to man, namely, that he shall take control of the fullness of the created earthly things to use them to serve his Maker.
Further we have in Genesis 2 a description of the entire system of created things. But, so we read, there was no man to till (to expend labor on) the ground. (2:5) Unto this task, however, the Lord created man a living soul and then further for this man He planted a garden in Eden, and there He set the man (2:8) more particularly to dress and keep it (2:15) assisted by his helpmeet and wife (2:16).
In this divine revelation we are taught that man as he came forth from the Creator, immediately stood in an environment that called forth labor and that he was created competent for that labor.
The expression, “to dress and keep it” as applied to the perfect unimpaired state of paradise, means not “to weed and control” but rather “to foster, to train, to beautify” and thus man’s calling and assignment was to exert himself in the labor that he might develop, enhance and reveal the beauty and wonder that God had laid in His works.
And this same urge to be constructively, productively engaged has remained in man. Just as the irrepressible urge to multiply and populate the earth remains in man as impressed by the word of divine blessing, so also the urge to subdue the earth, to have dominion, to dress, train, develop the creature remains in man and continues to drive him.
Also after the fall we can still readily discern this urge in man.
How clearly it is distinguished from the slaves labor, from the drudging routine, from the “mechanical” job.
The child is absorbed in the delightful undertaking of building a block house or dressing a doll; later in building a snow-house or shanty, a cart, a raft, or a boat so called.
The young man comes home wearily from his job, and yet easily spends additional hours building or “improving” his car, so absorbed that he is unconscious of the speeding hours.
So it is with all purposive, productive, creative labor in distinction from routine, perfunctory, aimless work, be that ever so easy and simple.
From this it is evident that the fruit, the product of labor gives it its meaning, its stimulation, its joy.
The Dutch economist, Nederbragt says, “The socializing idea has not been able to guard us from the terrible evil that the crisis and the low conjuncture of economic circumstances has brought, namely, the evil of unemployment. He that realizes the great value of labor for man, will also realize what a scourge unemployment is. The painful barb of this unemployment is not the deprivation of an income—for that evil is well-nigh remedied by the social security provisions—but that barb is the lack of an opportunity to employ the potencies that God has given to man.”
And Luther says somewhere that man needs work as a fish needs water.
In a future article we shall try to apply this more specifically to our contemporary scene.
As we worked our way through the middle chapters of Genesis in December, we saw the Lord establish a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants and give them prosperity in the land of Canaan. But in these final chapters of Genesis, God providentially uses the dramatic events of Joseph’s life to guide the family […]
Who am I? What is my purpose on this earth? Why is everything the way that it is? These are the kinds of questions that often trouble young people as they become more independent from their parents, enter the world of college or career, and make major life decisions such as choosing a spouse, a […]
The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]
The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]
As we examined the first eleven chapters of Genesis last month, we took note of the fact that the book of Genesis is theological, meaning it helps us to grow in our knowledge of God. In addition, we noted that the book of Genesis is historical, meaning that the events chronicled in it are the […]
The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]
This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]
Although it’s been a couple of months since we’ve been immersed in news coming from Japan about the 2020/2021 Olympic games, it’s still worth considering how these events are understood in the modern worldview of our country. The “Top Story of the Day” on Monday, August 9 (at least according to my newsfeed), was how […]
One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]
At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]