TEXT: Exodus 28:36
This afternoon, with the Lord's help, we'll start a new monthly study on the Puritans. The Puritans have been called many things-not all of which are flattering. To most people Puritan means fanatic, hypocrite, or persecutor. Someone has defined a Puritan as "A man whose greatest fear is that someone somewhere might be having a good time".
But is that how they were? It isn't. The Puritans had a remarkably positive outlook on life. The early ones were criticized by the Catholics for being too.jolly! Their hymns, for example, were scorned as Geneva Jigs. Rather than denying life in this world, they wanted to sanctify it. Our text served as a motto for them,
Holiness unto the LORD.
Were the Puritans perfect? Of course not. But they were good examples. Their way of life is worth learning. And, for the most part, following.
On the third Sunday afternoon of each month, I hope, we'll look at one aspect of Puritan life. Though I'll draw from many sources, we'll follow the outline of a fine book by Leland Ryken. It's called,
The Puritans as
They Really Were.
If you don't have a copy, I encourage you to get one-but not mine!
Today's topic is The Puritans on Work.
When you hear the term, Puritan work ethic, what comes to mind? Ryken says it is.
"Used today to cover a whole range of current
ills: the workaholic syndrome, drudgery,
competitiveness, worship of success,
materialism, and the cult of the self-made
Is this how the Puritans really were? Did they work impossible hours, neglect their families, worship money, and look down on people who weren't successful?
They didn't. In fact, the picture we've drawn of the Puritans looks a lot more like us than it does them! It is we who work ourselves to death on jobs we hate to buy things we don't need while our children grow up alone or in daycare.
When it comes to working, we have a lot to learn. The Puritans can help us.
THE SANCTITY OF WORK
The first thing to say about the Puritan view of work is also the most important: They believed that all work was God's work.
This means that God's Work is not limited to being a pastor, a theologian, a Christian school teacher, or a missionary nurse. Every job is equally sacred! Here's a list of quotes,
"If we look externally, there is a difference
between washing dishes and preaching the
Word of God, but as touching pleasing
God, none at all" (William Tyndale).
"The action of a shepherd keeping sheep
is as good a work before God as a
minister in preaching" (William Perkins).
"This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior
of the world and the king above all kings,
was not ashamed to labor, and to use so
simple an occupation. Here He did sanctify
all manner of occupations" (Hugh Latimer).
If the Puritans were so godly, why would they equate washing dishes with preaching the Gospel? Here's why: Because every job is a Divine calling. In other words, flipping burgers is no less a calling than pastoring a church.
"God doth call every man and woman
to serve Him in some peculiar employ-
ment in this world.The Great Governor
of the world hath appointed to every man
his post and province" (Richard Steele).
"A vocation or calling is a certain kind of
life, ordained and imposed on man
by God" (William Perkins).
"God is the General, appointing to every
man his particular post.God Himself
is the author and beginning of
callings" (William Perkins).
This means we don't stumble into our jobs, but God gives them to us. And because He gave us the job, the job must be sacred.
This is what the Puritans believed. But is it true? It is-the Bible says so. The key passage is Colossians 3:22-24,
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according
to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men pleasers,
but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever
you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward
of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ".
The people spoken to here were not serving men, but the Lord. What were their occupations? Apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers? No. They were slaves. They were plowing fields, milking cows, slopping pigs, washing dishes, and cleaning out chamber pots! Yet their jobs were God's Work!
If all work is sacred, three things follow:
with contentment. Contentment is no little
part of your homage to that God Who hath
placed you where you are" (Cotton Mather).
would have His gifts improved to their
best advantage" (Cotton Mather).
fall out with his calling" (Cotton Mather).
The first two points cannot be denied. But the third-some think-is arbitrary and legalistic. Is it wrong to bounce from job to job? Inherently, it isn't. But there are often sins behind the constant moving. What are they? Cotton Mather says,
"Many a man, merely from covetousness and
discontent, throws up his business".
William Perkins adds two more,
"Ambition and envy.when we see others placed
in better callings and conditions than ourselves".
To the Puritans, all work is good, because every job-from curing cancer to sweeping floors is from the Lord.
THE GOALS OF WORK
The Puritans differed from us-not only on the sanctity of work-but also on its goals. What is work for? Most people would say it's for money. If they had enough money, they'd never work again. Others are a little nobler than that-they work for the love of it. Or to support their families. All of these things are legitimate. We need money; we need something to do with ourselves; we need to take care of our loved ones. But as necessary as these things are, they're not the highest goals of work. William Perkins writes,
"Must we not labor in our callings to maintain
our families? I answer: This must be done:
but it is not the scope and end of our lives.
The true end of our lives is to do service to
God in serving man".
The two chief goals of work, therefore, are: (1) the glory of God, and (2) the welfare of other people.
The Puritans have a lot to say on the first goal-but you've heard about that a million times. Mather says,
"A man ought to pursue a calling
so that he may glorify God".
Let's spend most of our time on the second point-working for the welfare of other people. In the 1960's there was a strong emphasis on Public Service. Many young people joined the Peace Corps and other groups to help the poor, and so on. Now, let's not be romantic about those days. A lot of men were joining to avoid the draft or to show off or to meet girls!
But having said that, I wonder if we haven't gone to the opposite extreme? How many students do you know who are going to college in order to help others? Very few. The most popular majors are the big money ones! Business, computer science, engineering, pre-law, pre-med, and so on. There's nothing wrong with these things, of course-they too can be of great public service. But how many people are studying them to be of public service? Not many, I suspect.
The Puritans thought otherwise. Here are some quotes,
"We must labor, not for our own good,
but for the good of others" (John Preston).
"The public welfare, or the good of the many
is to be valued above our own. Every man,
therefore, is bound to do all he can for others,
especially for the church and commonwealth"
"We may not aim only at our own, but at
the public good. Therefore, faith will
not think it hath a comfortable calling
unless it will serve, not only its own turn,
but the turn of other men" (Cotton Mather).
To these Puritan quotes, Leland Ryken adds,
"What is noteworthy about such statements
is the integration among God, society, and
self that converges in the exercise of one's
calling. Self-interest is not totally denied,
but it is definitely minimized".
The Puritans, therefore, worked-not mostly for money or prestige-but for God and other people. In doing that, they were but obeying the Two Great Commands,
"You shall love the Lord your God
with all of your heart, soul, and mind.
And your neighbor as yourself".
If this is what work is for, you've got to choose your work carefully. Richard Baxter says,
"Choose that employment or calling in which
you may be most serviceable to God.
Choose not that in which you may be most
Rich or honorable in the world, but that in
Which you may do most good.
"In choosing a trade or calling, the first con-
sideration should be the service of God
and the public good, and therefore, that
calling that most conduceth to the public
good is to be preferred".
WORK AND SUCCESS
How did the Puritans view success? They came to America with nothing, and within a generation or two, created a society that was well off financially. Many of them became rich. And not only in America. English Puritans often did well, and so did their counterparts in Scotland, France, the Netherlands, and other places too.
Did they attribute their success to their hard work or thrift? No they didn't. They saw it as a gift of God.
"In our occupations, we spread the nets,
but it is God who brings into our nets
all that come into them" (Cotton Mather).
"Neither covetousness nor hard work
can make men rich, since God alone
blesses with success" (Robert Crowley).
Two modern Puritan scholars put it this way,
"Calvinism does not tech an ethic of self-reliance,
as the work ethic does. It is instead an ethic of grace:
whatever tangible rewards come from work, they
are the gifts of God's grace".
"No direct correlation exists between wealth
and godliness. It is not riches, but faith
and suffering for the Gospel that are
signs of election".
This means: When the Puritans did well-and they often did-they didn't congratulate themselves; they thanked God, James 1:17.
It also means: They didn't look down on poor people as being stupid or lazy. Richard Baxter says riches are given to some so that they can,
"Relieve our needy brethren".
RULES FOR WORK
Finally, we have two rules for work.
The first is Work Hard,
"Religion does not seal warrants to idleness.
God sets all His children to work.God will
Bless our diligence, not our laziness"
The second rule is Don't Work Too Hard,
"Take heed of too much business" (John Preston).
How do you know when you're working too hard? Philip Stubbes says,
"Every Christian man is bound in conscience before
God not to allow his immoderate care to surpass
The limits of true godliness".
In other words, if you're working too much to pray or read the Bible or take care of your family or come to church, you're working too much.
Richard Baxter says the same thing in another way,
"Take heed, lest under the pretense of diligence
in your calling, you be drawn to earthly-mindedness,
or excessive cares or covetous designs for rising
in the world".
Well, there you have it: The Puritans on work. How did they see it? They believed all work was sacred-from preaching the Gospel to changing diapers, every job matters. Including yours. They also believed the goals of work are the glory of God and the good of other people. They believed success depends on God's grace-and not just our efforts. They believed we work, work hard, but to remember work isn't everything.
We might not agree with every detail of their vision, but they got the Big Picture right! This is what work is and what it's for.
Now go to work tomorrow morning as though you believed it.
By Guest Contributor,
Pastor Michael Phillips
Michael Phillips is a pastor at Grace Baptist Church-Fremont. Serving since 1983 as the primary teacher at Grace Baptist, his special interests are Biblical Theology, Redemptive-Historical Preaching, and Church History. He is married to Gladys and they have three adult sons.