( Originally Published 1908 )
Be not slothful in business; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.—Paul.
By common usage a distinction is made between the term business and the term work. When, singly or in groups, persons toil for some end with brain or muscle their activity is called work. If a certain amount of capital is involved with the effort of mind or hand, which, by being managed is expected to yield a profit, the activity is called business.
This distinction is somewhat arbitrary and, except for convenience, is unnecessary. Used broadly, either word may be made to include all human activities that are directed toward a useful purpose.
He who has trained mind or muscle may regard this discipline, this accumulated knowledge and energy and facility as so much capital invested upon which reasonable returns may be expected. He has a right to study conditions and ascertain the probable buying and selling price of his kind of labor in the general market of the world. He should know something about the source from which his special commodity comes ; what is the probable supply and demand ; and what per cent of profit he should realize on his investment. Thus, whether a man digs ditches or teaches Greek, he is, in some sense, a man of business. When there are three pieces of work and only two workers these two may mark up the price of their special possessions. Thus, for the time, they are in business. They control the market.
On the other hand, he who invests a surplus of money in a product or in an enterprise, with the expectation of realizing more money from the venture, must work. If he, himself, does not do the details of buying and selling and accounting and managing he must see that they are done. There are times in which his whole energy must be concentrated upon the solution of some troublesome problem with the intensity of those rays which pass through a burning glass. Thus the business man is also a working man. Hence, in a general way, the terms are interchangeable. Either one may be so enlarged as to include all pursuits and all the practical affairs of a complex civilization.
Answer to the inquiry as to why there are so many diverse occupations is found in the multitudinous wants of society. The needs of all persons much surpass the powers of any one person. It requires all mankind to supply the demands of the individual. He needs food, clothing, house, fire, furniture, books, roads, carriages, bridges, music, law, schools, church-es, banks,—a numberless collection of things which he cannot himself supply. As a result of this condition each person must follow some special pursuit and exchange the product of his efforts for those things which others produce. Thus all the many occupations arose in turn. All are necessary; and, in themselves, all are honorable.
In one of the classic books there is a passage which, once read, is not easily forgotten. It pictures the building of a city. A company of men, having escaped from burning Troy, and seeking to found a new empire, one day, in their wanderings, came to the top of a hill and the whole scene of a rising city lay before them. This is what they beheld :
"All were toiling. Some extend the walls and raise a tower to push along the unwieldly stones ; some choose out the ground for a private dwelling and enclose it with a trench. Some choose a place for the courts of justice, for the magistrate's halls, and the venerable senate. Here some are digging ports; there others are laying the foundations for lofty theaters and hewing huge columns from the rocks, the noble decorations of future scenes. Such their toil as, in summer's prime employs the bees amidst the flowery fields, under the sun, when they lead forth the full grown swarms of their race, or when they press close the 'liquid honey and distend the cells with sweet nectar ; or when they disburden those that come home loaded, or in formed battalion drive the inactive flock of drones from the hives and, in every way, the work is hotly plied."
But this scene of activity is only a small picture of the great world. Instead of a single Carthaginian city, with a few hundred toilers moving to and fro at their varied tasks, many millions are seen busily engaged in constructing a thousand cities. How much selfishness ; how much scheming to outwit others and advance private interests at the expense of the public welfare ; how much bad faith, violation of promise and slighting of work,—covering up inner defects of construction by fair exteriors; how many dishonest contractors; how many bribed city officials ; how many walking delegates, inciting workingmen to demand fewer hours and higher pay ; how many trades unions combining to interfere with the plans of employers there may have been in that far off community of workers there is no way of knowing. Being only poor, benighted pagans, perhaps they had not learned how to practice these things. The only scene presented to us is that of each one toiling for the good of all. The value of the individual's work was not lost in making it contribute to the welfare of the community. Its value was thereby increased. The silence of the writer concerning fraud and the hero's cry,
"O happy city whose walls thus rise !"
give probability to the conclusion that no worker and no class of workers was trying to live an unrelated and lawless existence. However this may be, in this respect the likeness between that poetic and the larger actual scene ceases. From the modern, Christian scene mutual good-will, honesty, and the common benefit are too much absent. A recent magazine contains this sentence:
The story of Graft is accustomed; our nation is permeated with it; our body politic is built upon corruption."
Doubtless this is a greatly exaggerated statement. But if it be one-half, or even one-quarter true, there would be enough to fill us all with solicitude. If, after so many years of effort in the upbuilding of a nation, this is the result ; if this is the outcome of freedom and popular government; if the structure which our forefathers laid with so much care and maintained with such sacrifice of life and treasure is now permeated with falsity in its business and politics, sad, indeed, is the condition ! No matter how wide may be our national power and how great the volume of our business, if they are not founded upon honesty and general human welfare they are a. hollow mockery and will lead to ruin. We trust, therefore, that the condition lacks much of being as bad as it is painted by the magazine writer. But we must all make the shameful confession that it is worse than it ought to be.
The moral law is subject to the same process to which every human possession is subject. It has unfolded as the mind unfolded. Therefore, neither as a theory nor as a practice, has it ever reached perfection. It has needed many amendments. Man could always think of a law higher than the established code ; and he has always pictured the possibility of bringing his conduct more nearly into harmony with the law which his mind sees. How the perception of right originally came may awaken discussion. Some think it came as a direct impression upon the human from a Divine mind. It is a revelation. Others think it is inwrought in the nature of things. It belongs to human nature as crystallization belongs to rocks and gravitation belongs to stars. Still others think it came by way of experience. It is the result of balancing one line of conduct against another and finding that one which brings the greater happiness. It is a product of a long and careful study in profit and loss. Thus theories concerning it vary all the way from divine inspiration to human calculation.
But there can be no debate as to the fact itself. The moral law is actually here and it is all inclusive.
Its pressure is universal. Everything, whether it be paving a street, laying a brick wall, selling groceries, governing a city, making the constitution of a state, or making the creed of religion, must finally be judged by it. Beholding its universality and authority a Greek poet said the gods must obey it. Zeus must do right. An eastern sage said that, if any injustice lurked under the sky at the Judgment Day, the blue vault would, at last, shrivel to a snake-skin and cast it forth by spasms. The moral Law is Sovereign of all sovereigns; God of all gods; Sun from which all suns receive light; eternal Dawn whence days and ages emerge fresh and strong.
Thus in thought ;in practice how different! Coming in contact with affairs its pressure is unequal. It is compelled to accommodate itself to circumstances.
Unobstructed, the sun pours light upon every place. A king has no better sunshine than a peasant or a child. A genius has no more than a common toiler. Only when a prism is placed in the path of one of its beams is it deflected and broken up into colors. So, moral light should fall upon all alike. But it is not so. Its beams are deflected and unequally distributed.
Here the illustration must cease ; for broken light-beams are beautiful, while broken right-beams only make a deformity. There is one set for a king; another for a subject. One for a genius; another for an ordinary mortal. One for the rich ; another for the poor. One for him who steals a railroad; another for him who steals a hat. One for men; an other for women. Not only so ; but sometimes contradictory codes are permitted the same person to be used as the occasion may demand. It is reported that there is one for a man as member of a trust and another for the same man as member of society. One for a man who, by fraud, every year adds mil-lions to his fortune, and another for the same man endowing universities. One for a man as relentless destroyer of weak competitors ; another for him as member of a church. One for the stock exchange ; another for the family pew. There are more double personalities abroad than that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The origin of the moral sentiment may be concealed from human knowledge. But all sane minds confess its universal presence. Every workshop, every house of merchandise, every industry, every profession, no less than every home and every sanctuary is surrounded by the philosophy of right. It is as omnipresent as air, as light, and arches over all like the blue sky. Thinking of it we cannot mend the saying of Anchises to his son Eneas :
"This heaven, these lands, these liquid plains, the white ball of the moon, the Titanic stars are all occupied by an inner spirit. It feeds them ; poured out through all the members of space it quickens the large mass and mingles with the entire volume."
Thus the spirit of morality infuses itself through-out the world. It is absent from no throne, no cottage, no field, no shop, no office, no class, no heart.
If so, then what a mistake it is to break it up into fragments and adjust it to meet the demands of occasion and circumstance and convenience ! Sometimes a stock of commodities is advertised to be sold in lots to suit the purchaser. It is to be regretted that the same kind of accommodating and commercial arrangement is made in the disposition of morals. No one need be embarrassed by having to take the whole stock. He need not take any more honesty than he can profitably use in his special line of business.
Broken and distributed sunlight makes a picture on the cloud that is full of beauty. By it the dark and forbidding sky is suddenly glorified. Beholding it, children clap their hands in delight and men and women are overtaken by silent wonder. It is not so when right is deflected and distributed. No child is made glad, for it causes a part of childhood's unhappiness. If older hearts are silent when they see it, it is the silence of sadness rather than of unutterable joy. It forms no bow of hope; it is more a back-ground of despair. It does not glorify so much as it adds to the blackness of the threatening cloud that hangs over earth.
A nation so busily engaged in its many honorable pursuits is a spectacle that challenges the attention of every awakened mind. How tremendous is the scene of activity ! Perhaps never before was its equal beheld. Ships passing to and fro over the lakes and rivers. Trains rushing in every direction over the land. Colossal transactions in financial centers, by which millions of dollars change owners by the stroke of a pen. Dakota wheat and Kansas corn moving eastward in quantity sufficient to feed an empire ; moving westward, machinery for planting and reaping and threshing, whose whirr in action would silence the roar of an elemental tempest. Woolen mills of New England ; cotton mills of Georgia; iron mills of Pittsburg; copper mills of Michigan ; gold and silver mills of Montana and Colorado ; flour mills of Minnesota; lumber mills of Oregon and Washington, whizzing and pounding and grinding and ripping. Drafts and bills of exchange, more numerous than leaves of Vallambrosa, flying and falling all over the land. Men at counters; at desks ; handling tools ; writing briefs ; writing books ; writing newspapers; visiting the sick; teaching; preaching; making laws ; holding office—what an amazing scene of activity it is! No one can accuse our nation of being slothful in business.
But with diligence in business the Testament writer couples fervor of spirit in serving the Lord. Let the term "Lord" be a symbol of the highest right the mind can conceive. How nearly does all business conform to this high portrait? To what extent is business brought up to the requirements of the moral law, and to what extent is the moral law brought down and adjusted to the demands of business?
It would be wild exaggeration, a gross libel to say that business is all dishonest and is conducted in defiance of morals. There are employers who trans-act business, not from the standpoint of profit alone, but from the standpoint of the Golden Rule. There are some workmen who are not only imbued with the desire to earn a living, but also with the desire to earn it honestly. There are merchants who are as honorable in their stores as they are in their churches. There are lawyers who have regard for justice as well as for winning their case. There are politicians who have care for the interests of the city or nation, as well as for their own official success. There are physicians whose presence is a help to the soul as well as to the body. There are teachers who do their work as if the eye of God were upon them. There are preachers who are sincere ; who place their mission above their own personal popularity and whose public utterances are a perfect reflection of their private thoughts. In all pursuits there are high-minded, honest persons. But there must be something radically wrong in the conduct of affairs when a reputable magazine sends forth the report that "the nation is permeated with dishonesty; the body politic is built upon corruption." The homely proverb says : "Where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire."
In themselves all the great pursuits are necessary and all may be honorable. But the highest one of them may be dragged down and made dishonorable. What shall be said of that lawyer who encourages litigation, or who purchases testimony and verdicts with money? Such a man is not a lawyer. Society does not need him. The honorable pursuit has been transformed into something dishonorable. The grocery business is necessary and worthy of respect. So is the preparation of food. But what a comment upon the manufacture and selling of food is the fact that laws had to be enacted to prevent its adulteration ! When a merchant cheats a purchaser he ceases to be a business man. He becomes a criminal. The erection of public buildings is a noble art. The con-tractors are valuable members of society. But the following incident shows that some of them could be well spared : Last year a church in this city was partially destroyed by fire. In taking down the remaining walls as preparation for rebuilding it was discovered that they were mere imitations of what they ought to have been by the terms of the contract. It is regarded as a fortunate thing that the interior of the church was burned, for its sham masonry might have caused the whole building to collapse and bury the worshipers in its ruins. Those men who, from time to time, wreck the depositories of money and scatter the earnings of those who have placed them there for fancied security, do not deserve to be called bankers. The word banker has given way to the word thief. Thus any pursuit may pass down from its high estate. He who says, all is fair in politics, may be a friend to himself or his party, but he is an enemy to his community or his country. Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr might have said as much. He who accumulates hundreds of millions of dollars at the expense of public rights is not a business man. He is a buccaneer. When Mr. Baer said his company put as "high a price on coal as the traffic would bear," his conduct may have fallen within the bounds of morals, as interpreted by a corporation; but it lacks much of being in conformity with the demands of real morals. In the sixteenth century a French philosopher wrote :
"The mercenary sacrifice of the public good to a private interest is the eternal stamp of vice."
Marcus Aurelius was only a Pagan, but he said :
"He alone is moral whose aim or motive may become a universal rule binding on all intelligent beings."
If this be true, how immoral are some of our great captains of industry ! Caveat emptor,—let the buyer beware, is a maxim of law. The maxim is doubtless an expression of some principle of right. Its aim is to subserve justice. But in its practical application in trade it is greatly abused. The seller too often says : "It is not my business to tell the buyer that this sugar is partly sand; this honey is partly glucose ; this horse is going lame or blind ; these stocks are worthless ; this gold brick is gilded clay; this European nobleman offering himself for sale to an American heiress is a rake. Let him find it out for himself after the deal is put through"—all of which is very clever and sharp ; but it is also very contemptible. Over against it set these tonic words :
"Every man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But when will the day come when he begins to care that he will not cheat his neighbor? Then all will go well. He will have changed his market cart into a chariot of the sun !"
No words of despair need be pronounced over society. Things will not be mismanaged forever. The remedy for all our ills is within ourselves. Public conscience may become weak, but it never dies. After every decline is an arising. We may hope that the time of awakening is not far away. Already society is becoming uneasy. Perhaps there is a religion coming to us which will be, not of Sabbath and church alone, but of week day and market place no less. It will teach us to confess the presence and yield to the sovereignty of a law of right in our business as well as in our prayers. Its faith and fervor will not be put to shame by its practice. But being a form of conduct we need have no fear that high motives and spiritual aspirations will be lacking. For it inspired poets will write hymns. Prophets will arise to declare the beauty, the sublimity of ethical law. New Sinais of heaven commanded right, new Horebs of transfigured humanity shall appear. Thus its message will be :
"O ye sons and daughters of Time. Workers are ye, indeed, but workers who can think and love and aspire. Behold truth and justice and friendship are as real as business and production and profit. Ye live in a world in which only that is done well which is done honorably. Your imperishable success, your lasting happiness, your warrant for heaven is that, while ye work diligently among all earth's needful affairs, ye have care that all your doings are in harmony with the Power which was, which is, and which shall forever be."
Sermons By Reed Stuart:
Nature As A Means Of Grace
A Perpetual Gospel
The Palestine Philosophy Of Life
A Twenty Years Pastorate
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