Our Daily Life
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
The idea is very general, that the ordinary duties of life are not favorable to the highest developments of character; and we often hear it said, how much we might learn, and how much good we might do — if we only had the leisure time. People think that all our time is wasted in supplying the ever-recurring needs of the body; those base physical needs — eating and drinking and clothing. We accomplish nothing. It is like pouring water into the sand. The round of yesterday is the round of today, and will be the round of tomorrow. And thus life passes; and, when the month or the year has completed its circle, we are just where we commenced; we have nothing to show for all our toil and care.
Who has not felt so? and who has not, at some time, envied those who seem to have the leisure time to cultivate their minds — to help forward plans of public and general interest? Who has not wished that they could be Howards, or Frys — that they might devote their lives to the welfare of their fellows?
And then again, there is a deep-seated feeling that the time, strength, and thought we devote to these temporal things is so much abstracted from the spiritual and eternal; and thus there is a perpetual conflict between what we must do or starve — and what we think we ought to do; or, in common phrase, between the world and God. The consequence is, we perform the greater part of our duties as slaves; these duties are task-work imposed upon us by the hardest of task-masters, necessity. And, what is still worse, we divest ourselves of the very strength which we need; we put off our heavenly armor, throw away our weapons of heavenly temper, and descend naked and nerveless into the conflict with base cares, strong necessities, physical needs and desires.
This feeling of incompatibility between higher and lower duties, has no doubt led thousands to leave the common duties of life, and give themselves up to seclusion, to contemplation, and prayer. But all these mistakes are founded in false notions of religion, of the real nature of natural duties, and the designs of Infinite Wisdom in making them necessities.
We are planted amidst these cares, as the seed is planted in the ground; and for the same reason, that we may come in contact with, and gain access to, the very materials necessary for our growth. These cares, these common duties and employments, are the very stuff out of which the web of life is woven; and the analogy between the growth of the seed and our own development is most perfect.
Our life is rooted in natural things; not to lie dead and buried beneath them, but to grow up out of them, and to be rendered stable and abiding by them. The seed cannot grow, unless it is planted; it will dry up or decay; neither can goodness, unless it matures into act. One may weep over fictitious woes, and indulge in idle fancies of what he would do, if he were not bound down to the earth by burdens and cares. But there is no goodness in such thoughts and visions; they never bear any fruit.
I acknowledge that we often enslave ourselves unnecessarily. Vanity, and avarice, and pride, and ambition, and envy impose burdens upon us, and make slaves of us. They rob us of our strength, our time, and our golden opportunities. But, after making all due allowances for these, the principle remains the same.
If the Creator, in his wisdom, had seen fit, He might have so formed us that we should need no clothing, and no food, and no habitation. But, in his wisdom, He has so formed us, and placed us in such circumstances, that we need all of these; and our highest duties, and noblest life, grow out of these very necessities. They were made conditions of our being, that they might become the instruments of a higher life. There is nothing in them incompatible with the highest culture, and the loftiest attainments in spiritual life. Every natural use is designed to be the basis of a spiritual use which is to be rooted in it, and grow out of it. And the highest wisdom consists in changing these natural things into spiritual; in making our common duties, our every-day employments, those which grow out of the needs of the body, the life of the family, the church, and society, of friendship, and the relations of the individual to communities, and nations — the embodiment of heavenly affections. We must anoint them with the precious ointment of unselfish love. That will preserve them from decay, inaugurate them into new life, and give to that which is as fleeting as shadows, and which seems born only for the present — something of permanence and immortality.
The ancient chemists searched long for the philosopher's stone, whose magic power would change the baser metals into gold; and for an elixir of life, which would arrest the progress of decay and make man immortal. They searched long and laboriously for it; they explored the secrets of nature, decomposed and compounded her elements, and sought far and near for that which lay within them.
This unselfish love is the power which transmutes everything into gold, and distills from the lowliest uses, the very elixir of life.
Let us not pass this by as a mere figure of speech, for it is a great truth, and it has an intimate bearing upon the happiness and highest well-being of all. The most of our time is necessarily occupied with duties which seem temporary and unrelated to our highest wants and aspirations. If we could see that they are the very materials out of which the noblest and truest life is built up — we would all be more contented with our lot, and would use the opportunities we have to better advantage. We are all too prone to overlook or undervalue the means we have — and to wish for some great occasions, or extraordinary opportunities.
Our Heavenly Father has not dispensed his favors so unequally as we often suppose; as He has furnished air, light, and water, heat and food, the great elements essential to our physical life, in such measures and forms that there can be no monopoly of them; so he has given to us the means necessary to lay the foundation and commence the superstructure of our spiritual life, in fuller measure than we often think.
There is no useful employment which does not afford the means and opportunities for the formation of a virtuous and excellent character. The youth of either gender, whether at home or abroad, at school or at a trade, as a clerk or apprentice, or student of a profession, has the means of forming the noblest virtues.
There is at all times, an occasion for exact truthfulness and fidelity — the foundation of all the virtues. There are difficulties constantly occurring which tax the patience and perseverance, and which call forth all the energies. There are unpleasant duties to perform, causes of irritation and trouble, which tax our adherence to principle and self-control. There are constant opportunities for the exercise of forbearance, kindness, affection, self-culture, generosity, self-denial, modesty, respect to superiors, obedience, true loyalty, and indeed the whole catalogue of the virtues.
If we follow the youth, until he has entered upon the duties of adult life, we find the materials for the highest uses more abundant. There is no virtue which is not called into requisition in the family circle. In the marriage relation, there is room for the exercise of every excellence which brightens the life and gives zest to the happiness to the relationship — the most patient forbearance, the gentlest kindness, the strictest justice, the purest innocence, the most loyal fidelity, and the most unselfish affection. And when you add to this relation the helplessness of infancy, the sweet innocence of childhood — where is there a more favorable condition for the exercise of the noblest qualities of man or woman? It is not in the council chamber, or senate, or executive chair; it is not as leader of armies, and conqueror or ruler of nations. There is no more favorable condition on earth for the growth of Christian virtue — than in the everyday domestic life.
But these relations do not end in the domestic life. Each family is linked to others. There are social duties of a more general nature, which call for their appropriate virtues. Besides, there is the business. As a mechanic, merchant, or laborer, or as a professional man; as a competitor in the arena of life for the same honors or positions; as the master and employer; as the builder of houses and engines, and all manner of production; as the artist and artisan; as a buyer and seller — every man can make his business instrumental to the highest ends of life.
There is no virtue embraced within the circle of God's requirements, which we all may not find occasion to practice in everyday life; and to confirm the principles of heavenly life by practice, is the very object for which we live in the natural world, and are planted, as it were, in the soil of so many duties and cares. Every workshop, and store, and office, and domestic hearth, should be consecrated to these high purposes; they should be anointed with the holy oil of love, and the love of usefulness — and thus they will be inaugurated into a higher office, and will become the representatives of the noblest qualities, and be the instrumental means of attaining them.
So long as we look to ourselves, in our relations to others — all employments become service, slavery. Our domestic relations are cares, and anxieties, and a weary round of profitless labor; our daily employments — are so many tasks, imposed upon us by hard necessity, and we aim to avoid them as much as possible. Hence so many strive to gain the reward — without performing the labor? And he who receives the most for the least service, is considered the most fortunate. Possessions are deemed the real good, without much regard to the means by which they are obtained. But possessions acquired in this way, have no living connection with us; they are but dead carcasses which have not been embalmed, and they will return to dust.
But the person who performs his duties from the love of being useful to others, anoints them with the precious spikenard, and changes them from cares and anxieties, and perplexities, and slavish toil — into gifts and pleasures, into peace and rest, into strength and virtue, and true holiness.
The farm and workshop, store and office, and domestic hearth of such a worker — become a temple consecrated to the holiest uses, and he himself, though covered with the smoke of the forge, or hardened and soiled with honest industry — becomes a priest offering acceptable worship to the King of kings and Lord of lords. The very instruments of his labor are changed into forms of spiritual beauty, into vessels of gold and silver, fashioned after the similitude of heavenly affections, and made receptive of their life. The fleeting is changed to the permanent, the temporal becomes eternal, and the mere inanimate matter, the dead wood and stone, and merchandise — are changed into living, spiritual substances. Men long for real and substantial. Here it is! the very stuff of which it is woven, is strewn around our pathway, as thick as the stones in the paved streets. Whatever we love with an unselfish affection lives, becomes a part of our being, and is as deathless as our souls!