"All true work is sacred," said Carlyle; "in all true work, were it but true hand-labor, there is something of Divineness. Labor, wide as the earth, has its summit in Heaven." And this is the gospel which has consciously or unconsciously inspired all the noble lives of the Christian era. Work is, and must be, divine: because it is a manifestation of the life-principle which the Prophet of Nazareth promised to give in fuller abundance to those who would fashion their lives according to the Eternal Laws which it was His mission to reveal.
There are, nevertheless, to speak with all reverence, degrees of Divineness in work; and these depend not so much on the nature of the work as on the motives that underlie it. The meanest occupation, followed unselfishly, has infinite value both to the agent and the recipient: but the loftiest intellectual and spiritual efforts are contemptible when they are marred by self-seeking and greed for gain.
Work is, in no unreal and imaginary sense, its own reward.
How much happier is the honest worker, walking unharmed and unheeding amongst the irritations and obstacles which at times come to all, than the man or woman who lives a butterfly life pursuing pleasure and growing continually more dependent on outward circumstances! There is no room for boredom in a life that is inspired by a noble aim. The difficulties of an honest worker's lot are to him but as the angry mob, bent on His destruction, was to Christ. He, passing through the midst of them, goes his way.
There are, however, certain conditions of success in work which demand consideration apart from motives altogether.
A man who would accomplish much must himself be calm. With an eye ever fixed on the end to be attained, he must stand, unmoved, immovable, like the center-line on which the axle of the greatest wheel turns. The worker must have energy it is true, but it must be potential energy, so to speak, making him capable of vast efforts and yet chary of wasting power. This is the energy that produces patience and strengthens determination, both of which qualities are essential to success in work.
It is well to remember that no work done from a right motive is ever lost. What the world calls failure is, to the Divine element in man, a flash of enlightenment—albeit following destruction—a starting-point into new ways. Success, on the other hand, is not a mere resting place for self-congratulatory desires: it is rather a renewal and increase of power to work. The applause of crowds, wealth, dignity, honor; these are but incidents in the life of a true worker; they are not his rewards.
The world does not always recognize the fact just stated. Hence Browning's care in explaining the distinction between earthly and heavenly awards.
Called work let sentence pass.
Things done, that took the eye and had the price:
O'er which, with level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straightly to its mind, could value in a trice.
But all the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet
Swelled the man's account.
Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into at narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped.
All I could never be,
All men ignored in me,
This I was worth to God,
Whose wheel the pitcher shaped.
—Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra
—J. R. Miller, D. D.