Project Canterbury

A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter XII. Religion and Business

"RELIGION is religion, and business is business." One frequently hears this rather trite aphorism, and where it is not in so many words thus stated it is quite evident that it is often acted upon as a working theory of life. It has its origin in the utterly false conception that a man's business is something entirely separate and distinct from his religion. In the popular mind the world of business and the world of religion are two different worlds. The province of the one must not invade that of the other. A man's business is supposed to concern itself with the affairs of this life. Its function is to enable him to make a living. It is the means whereby he gains his food and clothing, the support of his wife and children and those dependent on him. It is the particular form of activity by which he expects to acquire a competency for old age and the honorable and praiseworthy independence to which he thinks himself fairly entitled.

As to religion, that, too, as men generally regard it, is by no means unimportant. But it has to do chiefly with another world for which this life is a preparation. Its sanctions and inspirations, its motives and its rewards, have in the average mind little to do with the buying and selling and getting gain which so largely occupies us here. Shakespeare brings out this idea in a very picturesque way when he describes old Falstaff on his death-bed. In the agony of his suffering he cries out, "O God, God!" His nurse, Mrs. Quickly, is rather shocked that he should make such an appeal, and replies: "O, do not say that; you are not that badly off. You are very ill, but it has not come to that point." Her thought was evidently that religion was only good to die by, but of very little service to live by. This practical and almost complete divorcement of business from religion we have characterized as a false conception. We might safely go further and say it is positively wrong and in its effect most baneful both to business and religion.

As we think of this separation in daily life we are tempted to say, "That which God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."

It is of the very essence of religion that it claims the man's whole life, and if it does not succeed in permeating and reaching the entire man it has failed in its mission. To divide a man's life into compartments, separate and distinct, and then to label them, and to say, "This is business," and "This is religion," is to misconceive utterly the scope and power and meaning of Christianity. Religion and business do not belong to different worlds or hemispheres. They are intended to be one. Business, when at its highest and best state of development, is religious, and when it is conducted on principles other than religious, when it ignores the precepts of honesty and fair dealing, of justice and mercy, of brotherhood and humanity, it ceases to be good business, and is on the road to disintegration and ultimate ruin. So too religion, when it fails to interest itself in men's daily lives, in their conduct toward each other, in the way they are clothed and fed and paid, in the kind of houses in which they live, and the sanitary conditions of their streets, in the opportunity given to their children to develop their bodies and minds as well as their souls, it ceases to be the religion of Christ, and then becomes a religion of a privileged class, and is already doomed to failure and decay.

Jesus Christ is Christianity, and Christianity is wanting where the spirit and genius and teaching of the Christ are not present. Our business, whatever form of activity it may take, is for a Christian man supposed to be controlled and inspired by a Christian spirit and conducted with a due regard to the law of Christ. A man's business can be carried on in just as truly a religious spirit as his prayers or church-going. It is not so much religion and business that the world needs to-day as religion in business. To make all business in its spirit and method essentially religious, because essentially Christian--this is the great victory yet to be won. This means that in the world of business, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report," will at last prevail. Then will men no longer say, "Business is business, and religion is religion," but "My business is the field or arena in which I can exercise my faith and carry out my religion and make good my claim to be a disciple of Christ." Plainly it is in entire harmony with the divine plan, as revealed in the life and teaching of Christ, that business and religion should be one, and not two; that business in all its varieties and forms should supply the atmosphere in which the life and power of religion may manifest itself. It is high time that this harmful distinction in the popular mind between things secular and things religious were ended, and that men should realize the possibility of infusing into all life the religious and altruistic spirit.

Christianity is not only a practical religion, but its entire aim is to ennoble and dignify all life, and fill it with the momentum and dynamic of a worthy purpose. The Apostle Paul urges us not to be slothful in business, but to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Another inspired writer bids us: Whatsoever we do, whether we eat or drink, to do it heartily unto the Lord, giving God thanks. Indeed, a business career may be made as high and holy a calling as any other. Even the ministry itself cannot lay claims to higher sanctions. The Apostle reminds us that every Christian is to be a priest of God. In the long honor-roll of God's Saints the Church delights to call the names of thousands who, as business men, have served God with a devotion beyond all praise.

The place and claims of business are clearly recognized in the divine economy of the Christian system. Indeed, nearly all the Epistles of the New Testament are addressed, not to clergymen, but to men and women toiling at their various tasks, to business people who had to make their own living in the world. You will notice that the burden of much they have to say is how to help us to reconcile the just and reasonable demands of business life with the high and imperative and uncompromising claims of Christ.

The Gospel has invested labor and toil and service with an infinite dignity, and thrown round the lot of the working-man a halo of charm and moral beauty it never possessed before. It has proclaimed the law that if a man will not work, neither shall he eat, and reminded us that if a man provide not for those of his own household he is worse than an infidel, and has denied the faith. Before our Lord came upon earth, to work with one's hands at daily toil was considered a disgrace. It was a badge of dishonor and an ignominy reserved for slaves and criminals. But He came, proclaiming, "My father worketh hitherto, and I work." In His own person He labored at the carpenter's trade by the side of His adopted father, and we can think of Him as making window-frames and doors for the houses of His poor neighbors. His first disciples were either laboring-men whose brows were browned by exposure to the summer sun and whose hands were hardened by daily work, or they were men of business like Matthew the Publican or Luke the Physician. Christ knew all human needs, and in establishing His Kingdom on earth He could foresee that inevitably, for all time to come, the overwhelming majority of His disciples would be the workers of the world. It is the divine plan that in the world of business, by the men of business, the great problem of human redemption is to be wrought out.

Let no man, therefore, be ashamed of work. Let no man hesitate to throw himself enthusiastically into his business and thus promote it and develop it and make it more and more fruitful and serviceable to his fellow-man. Always assuming that our business is clean and honorable and worthy, one need not entertain the least scruple in giving it his very best devotion and endeavor. The man who ought to be ashamed in this world of wonderful opportunity is the man who will not work, for just as in the days before Christ came a man was disgraced who toiled, so in these days of light and knowledge of His will the time is surely coming, if it has not already arrived, when the man who can and does not work will be accounted among those who are dishonest.

The law of work is a law of universal obligation. If a man through the inheritance of his father or the success of his own efforts is happily exempt from the necessity of laboring for his own bread, that fact does not emancipate him from the operation of the law of service. He is then called just as imperatively as before to labor, if not for himself, then for his brother-man, for the purity of his city, for the good of the state, for the betterment of social and religious conditions, for the salvation of the world.

It is one of the encouraging developments of modern Christian civilization that this law of service is becoming more and more recognized. This fact bears impressive witness to the gradual emergence of the spirit and power of the life of Christ. There was a time when a man was supposed to have a right to do what he wished with his own. If wealth came to him, or leisure, he could horde the one with impunity or squander the other in self-indulgence. No longer is this possible. Wealth is now considered by the community and by the state as a trust, a stewardship. It has always been so considered by the Gospel of Christ. But it is a new thing comparatively to see the man of wealth held morally responsible in the eyes of his brother-man for the use to which he puts his money. One great philanthropist of our day, still living, has said that a man who dies rich dies disgraced. In other words, society has now reached, by the law of Christian evolution, the stage when money is regarded as a sacred trust committed to a man, who must faithfully use it for his brother-men. "Mine are the silver and the gold, saith the Lord God of hosts." If only men could remember that solemn fact and act under its inspiration, what a great uplift would come into the world of business! The money is all God's. We are His trustees to use it for Him, and to account to Him for the disposition we have made of it. If we have made it honestly it is ours as against the claims of any other man, and the law of the land protects us in our guardianship of it. But in the last resort it belongs to Another. The brains, the opportunity, the good luck, if you please, or even the inheritance, which put it into our hands--all these came from God, the sole Proprietor, in whom at last is the title-deed.

Here, of course, we come into the presence of that which all thoughtful men recognize as the danger of business life--namely, regarding our occupation as the end rather than the means. We are persuaded that the fascination of an active life devoted to the building up of a fortune lies rather in the gain or pursuit itself than in the mere satisfaction of possession. "The love of money," says the Apostle, "is the root of all evil," and by this he means that spirit of selfish greed of which money is so often the symbol. But it is to the credit of human nature that innumerable instances are now forthcoming to show that, while men love money, they love other things far more. Men are realizing with increasing clearness the impotency of money alone to satisfy the highest and noblest claims of the human heart. They willingly part with their money for the sake of those they love. They make generous sacrifices of their worldly goods for causes which appeal to their hearts.

In the business world to-day it is almost impossible to point to a man of large leadership and influence and power in the commercial life of the nation who is not also a conspicuous example of Christian beneficence. The vast majority of our great captains of industry are devoted Christian men who give not only of their money, but of their time and personal service to the extension of the Kingdom of God. Such examples are full of hope, and are a significant and auspicious omen of our time. If such men, in the midst of their heavy responsibilities and exacting calls, can make time to discharge their Christian duties and to take their places in the Church as active workers on our vestries and teachers in our Sunday-schools, it is an evidence that the leaven of the Gospel is working mightily.

The attitude of the Christian layman toward his business, therefore, should be that of one who regards it as his vocation or calling, in the exercise of which he can be a loyal servant of Jesus Christ. He will not lay such emphasis upon it as to neglect his religious obligations, but will so far regulate its details, if possible, as to enable him and those connected with him to be worthy examples for others. He knows that his Master will provide what he shall eat and drink and wherewithal he shall be clothed if in obedience to His command he seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and in a life of confident faith asks Him day by day for His gracious help and blessing.

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