Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Not Live by Bread Alone
To labor, to be busy, to work is our high human calling. For though it is true that God the Lord, after the fall, has said: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen. 3:19), yet in this saying the emphasis and stress fall on “the sweat of the face” and upon the “eating bread.” With wonderful accuracy of expression the word labor, orwork, does not occur in this punitive judgment.
To have to work in such a way that it exhausts our strength and forces sweat from the body, and to have to do this to keep the mouth open, has come upon us by reason of sin.
But by itself work is so little an outflow of sin that Christ rather glories in the fact: My Father works hitherto and I work.
To be able, to be permitted, and thus to be obliged to work is the privilege that comes to man because he is created after the image of God. What Jesus said was spoken far less after His divine than after His human nature. He worked as our Mediator, i.e., as the man Jesus Christ.
One speaks sometimes of a right that comes to man by reason of work; and surely in the sense here given, there is such a right.
Because the Lord your God is a God who always works, and you are created after His likeness, the right, the high privilege of being permitted to work, is your due as a man.
This is what every Sabbath declares unto you anew in God’s name.
In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, with all that in them is, and because the Lord your God so worked, therefore you must labor six days and do all your work, and only in connection with this does the Sabbath have a meaning as a day of rest, so that there be no other rest in your life, than in the life of your God.
They who picture blessedness to themselves before the throne of God as consisting in the fact that all labor shall then be ended and all work be fallen away, that in a dolce far niente, i.e., in a blessed doing nothing, one might taste heavenly joy, neither know their God, nor His angels, nor life as it shall be in heaven.
For your God works always.
And the angels are ministering spirits.
With a view to blessedness Christ says to His elect: “Over a few things hast thou been faithful, I will make thee ruler over many things” (Matt. 25:23).
But this beautiful ordinance of creation has also been broken up by sin.
Not to work has now obtained a charm. And sinner after sinner dies, of whom it must be confessed with sorrow, that really, all his life long, he accomplished as good as nothing.
Such as these, God’s Word points to the small, insignificant ants, and asks: “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11).
The sinner indeed knows well that he receives his day from God to labor, but in his heart he says, “I shall be wicked anyway, why then should I labor in vain” (Job 9:6, Dutch version). Or when he has labored, in his selfishness he says, “He that laboureth laboureth for himself, for his mouth craveth it of him” (Prov. 16:26).
When there is no bread in the cupboard, and no money in hand, one cries and longs for work. But when hunger does not sting, and our portion is secure, idleness seems preferable, laziness to be human wealth, and even in the early Christian churches you see such do-nothings corrupt the life of believers in such wise that the holy apostle is forced to make threat: “He who will not work, shall not eat” (II Thess. 3:10-12). And again: “Even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy-bodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”
Not in Paradise, neither before nor after the fall, but by Christ Himself it is said: “Are there not twelve hours in the day, so then let us work while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”
So the entire Scripture is opposed to being busy doing nothing, in which so many among us spend their days rising and dressing themselves, walking hither and thither and chatting somewhat, eating something and drinking something, looking into the fire or through the window, and then lying down again, to return to their friend, a long loved sleep.
God in His Word knows that work is a blessing, that idleness is the root of all evil, and therefore that Word always warns against idleness and indolence and urges one to work.
Even of the wealthy housewife in Proverbs 31is it said: “She riseth also while it is yet night, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”
Converted or unconverted therefore makes here no difference, here or hereafter. Always to work is our glorious human calling, because we have been created after the divine likeness of Him who alwaysworks.
We must rest from our sinful works. On the Sabbath we may rest from our slavish labor, to be spiritually more richly engaged. After death we shall rest from our earthly labor; but always to work is and remainsthe calling which in our patent of nobility as man we received from our God.
And the outcome shows that a people, a family, a person, that works is happy. But that indolence works ruin to a people, breaks up the family, and unnerves your personal life.
Yet there is a considerable difference between him who is converted to Christ, and the other who still wanders about without his Savior.
First, of course, in that a converted man who plays the sluggard and spends his days in idleness is far more guilty before God.
But this is so self-evident that it scarcely bears mention, even though many confessors of the Lord will do well to pay heed to this.
But there is still another difference, which is more significant, namely, that the unconverted works for the meat whichperisheth, and that the converted man at least can work for the meat which abideth unto eternal life.
The sinner as such works, and must work, to have bread wherewith to sustain life.
He stands in the humiliation.
He knows that, as to worth, his body is subordinate to his soul; and yet, almost all his life is spent in the care to feed and maintain the body.
This is now done in terms of money, but that makes no difference. In almost every family almost all the money that comes in is spent on the body. To give the body shelter, to clothe and to maintain it.
So one works for wages, one works for money wherewith to buy bread and clothing, and with millions and millions of our race it is still the rule of life: “In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread.”
This ordinance is God’s ordinance over the sinner, and mankind does not escape it.
For what is said, that many people in the higher walks of life do not labor for their living is untrue in part. Labor with the mind is also labor. Far heavier labor even. When at sea the storm arises, and amid the howlings of the wind the sailor must go in the rigging to take in sails, while the mate stands quietly on the bridge, no one will say that the sailor works but not the mate.
And as regards that small group of rich people who live on their income and have bread and to spare, even though they do not work, God’s judgment awaits them also, in case they have not understood their calling of being, even in the enjoyment of wealth, the more zealously engaged in the interests of people and in the things of the kingdom of God.
But for the converted man God the Lord removes this humiliation from labor.
He is become God’s child again.
And as in the family the child renders assistance and co-labors, without thinking: “by doing this I earn my bread,” but works simply because mother tells him to work and because assisting mother is a pleasure, so it has become for the Christian.
Care for his living he has none. What should he need to be troubled about, saying: What shall I eat, or wherewithal shall I be clothed? Do not the heathen the same? And when he sees the birds of the heavens, that they sow not, neither spin, and yet are fed of his God, can he lose confidence in his Father who is in heaven?
We do not say that such is the case with every Christian, but that such it ought to be.
As a child does not care for himself, but lets his father care for him, and now works for father with spirit and love and in obedience because he is his father, so also does a child of God leave the care for his living to God, and meanwhile works all the hours of the day in the service of his God.
Hence, what he works for is not wages, not money, not bread, but the good pleasure of his God.
He is at home with God. He is in God’s service. And in his divine calling he is all day long at work, because God has placed him in it, that therein he might please God.
So he works not to make his living, i.e., not for the meat which perisheth, but to enjoy the good pleasure and the favor of God, i.e., for the meat which endureth unto eternal life.
Thus is the humiliation overcome.
It is no more all of life spent in the care for the body. For even the most slavish and material labor is included in the service of God and therefore sanctified in Him.
Every morning, as a new day begins, his inquiry and prayer is: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” And every evening, when the day’s work is done, he brings the same as an offering to God, giving God the glory.