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The Beneficent Goal of 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.”