By John Flavel
Another excellent performance of providence, respecting the good of both your bodies and souls, concerns that employment and calling it has ordered for you in this world. It has not only an eye upon your well-being in the world to come, but upon your well-being in this world also, and that very much depends upon the station and vocation to which it calls you.
Now the providence of God with respect to our civil callings may be displayed very takingly in the following particulars.
In directing you to a calling in your youth, and not permitting you to live an idle, useless and sinful life, as many do who are but burdens to the earth, the wens of the body politic, serving only to disfigure and drain it, to eat what others earn. Sin brought in sweat (Genesis 3:19), but now, not to sweat increases sin. He that lives idly cannot live honestly, as is plainly enough intimated (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12). But when God puts men into a lawful calling, in which the labour of their hands or heads is sufficient for them, it is a very valuable mercy; for in so doing they 'eat their own bread' (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Many a sad temptation is happily prevented and they are ordinarily funished by it for works of mercy to others, and surely 'it is more blessed to give than to receive.'
In ordering you to such callings and employments in the world as are not only lawful in themselves but most suitable to you. There are many persons employed in sinful trades and arts, merely to furnish other men's lusts. They do not only sin in their employments, but their very employments are sinful. They trade for hell, and are factors for the devil. Demetrius and the craftsmen at Ephesus got their estates by making shrines for Diana (Acts 19:24, 25), i.e., little cases or boxes with folding leaves, within which the image of that idol sat enshrined. These were carried about by the people in procession in honour of their idol. And at this day, how many wicked arts and employments are there invented, and multitudes of persons maintained by them, merely to gratify the pride and wantonness of a debauched age!
Now to have an honest and lawful employment, in which you do not dishonour God in benefiting yourselves, is no small mercy. But if it is not only lawful in itself, but suited to your genius and strength, there is a double mercy in it. Some poor creatures are engaged in callings that eat up their time and strength, and make their lives very uncomfortable to them. They have not only consuming and wasting employments in the world, but such as allow them little or no time for their general calling, and yet all this does but keep them and theirs alive. Therefore, if God has fitted you with an honest employment in which you have less toil than others, and more time for heavenly exercises, ascribe this benefit to the special care of Providence for you.
In settling you in such an employment and calling in the world, as possibly neither yourselves nor parents could ever expect you should attain to. There are among us such persons as, on this account, are signally obliged to divine Providence. God has put them into such a way as neither they nor their parents ever planned. For look how the needle in the compass turns now this way, then that way, and never ceases moving till it settles to the north point; just so it is in our settlement in the world. A child is now designed for this, then for that, but at last settles in that way of employment to which Providence designed him. How strangely are things wheeled about by Providence! Not what we or our parents, but what God designed shall take place. Amos was very meanly employed at first, but God designed him for a more honourable and comfortable calling (Amos 7:14, 15). David followed the ewes, and probably never raised his thoughts to higher things in the days of his youth; but God made him the royal shepherd of a better flock (Psalm 78:70, 71). Peter and Andrew were employed as fishermen, but Christ calls them from that to a higher calling, to be 'fishers of men' (Matthew 4:18, 19). Pareus, when he was fourteen years old, was by the instigation of his stepmother placed with an apothecary; but Providence so wrought that he was taken off from that and fitted for the ministry, in which he became a fruitful and eminent instrument to the Church. James Andreas was, by reason of his father's inability to keep him at school, designed for a carpenter, but was afterwards, by the persuasion of friends and assistance of the church- flock, sent to Stuttgart, and thence to the University, and so attained to a very eminent station of service to the Church. A master builder Cecolampadius was by his father designed for a merchant; but his mother, by urgent entreaties, prevailed to keep him at school, and this man was a blessed instrument in the reformation of religion. I might easily cite multitudes of such, but a taste may suffice.
In securing your estates from ruin. 'Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and all that he hath?' (Job 1:10). This is the enclosure of Providence, which secures to us what by its favour we acquire in the way of honest industry.
In making your calling sufficient for you. It was the prayer of Moses for the tribe of Judah: 'Let his hands be sufficient for him' (Deuteronomy 33:7), and it is no small mercy if yours be so to you. Some there are that have work, but not strength to go through with it; others have strength, but no employment for it. Some have hands, and work for them; but it is not sufficient for them and theirs. If God bless your labours, so as to give you and yours necessary supports and comfort in the world by it, it is a choice providence, and with all thankfulness to be acknowledged.
If any that fear God shall complain that, although they have a calling, yet it is a hard and laborious one, which takes up too much of their time which they would gladly employ in other and better work, I answer that it is likely that the wisdom of Providence foresaw this to be the most suitable and proper employment for you; and if you had more ease and rest, you might have more temptations than now you have. The strength and time which is now taken up in your daily labours, in which you serve God, might otherwise have been spent upon such lusts in which you might have served the devil.
Moreover, hereby it may be your health is the better preserved, and natural refreshments made the sweeter to you. 'The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep' (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
And as to the service of God, if your hearts are spiritual, you may enjoy much communion with God in your very employments, and you have some intervals and respites for that purpose. Have you not more spare hours than you employ to that end?
'But all my labours will scarcely suffice to procure me and mine the necessaries of life. I am kept short and low to what others are, and this is a sad affliction.'
Though the wisdom of Providence has ordered you a lower and poorer condition than others, yet consider how many there are that are lower than you in the world. You have but little of the world, yet others have less. Read the description of those persons (Job 30:4, etc.). If God has given you but a small portion of the world, yet if you are godly He has promised never to forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Providence has ordered that condition for you which is really best for your eternal good. If you had more of the world than you have, your heads and hearts might not be able to manage it to your advantage. A small boat must have but a narrow sail. You have not lacked hitherto the necessities of life, and are commanded 'having food and raiment (though none of the finest) to be therewith content.' 'A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked' (Psalm 37:16): better in the acquisition, sweeter in the fruition, and more comfortable in the account.
Well then, if Providence has so disposed of you all, that you can eat your own bread, and so advantageously directed some of you to employments that afford, not only necessities for yourselves and families, but a surplus for works of mercy to others, and all this brought about for you in a way you did not plan; let God be owned and honoured in this providence. Will you not henceforth call Him: 'My Father, the guide of my youth' (Jeremiah 3:4)? Surely it was the Lord that guided you to settle as you did in those days of your youth; you reap at this day, and may to your last day, the fruits of those early providences in your youth.
Now see that you walk answerably to the obligations of Providence in this particular; and see to it in the fear of God that you do not abuse any of those things to His dishonour which He has wrought for your comfort. To prevent this, I will here drop a few needful cautions, and conclude this particular point.
Do not be slothful and idle in your vocations. It is said that Augustus built an Apragapolis, a city void of business; but I am sure God never erected any city, town or family to that end. The command to Adam (Genesis 3:19) no doubt reaches all his posterity, and Gospel-commands bind it upon Christians (Romans 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:11). If you are negligent, you cannot be innocent.
And yet do not be so intent upon your particular callings as to make them interfere with your general calling. Beware you do not lose your God in the crowd and hurry of earthly business. Mind that solemn warning: 'But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition' (1 Timothy 6:9). The inhabitants of Oenoe, a dry island near Athens, bestowed much labour to draw in a river to water it and make it fruitful. But when the sluices were opened, the waters flowed so abundantly that it overflowed the island and drowned the inhabitants. The application is obvious. It was an excellent saying of Seneca: 'I do not give, but lend myself to business.'
Remember always the success of your callings and earthly employments is by divine blessing, not human diligence alone. 'But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth' (Deuteronomy 8:18). The devil himself was so far orthodox as to acknowledge it: 'Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands' (Job 1:10). Recommend therefore your affairs to God in prayer. 'Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass' (Psalm 37:4-5). And do not meddle with that which you cannot recommend to God in prayer for a blessing.
Be well satisfied in that station and employment in which Providence has placed you, and do not so much as wish yourself in another. 'Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called' (1 Corinthians 7:20). Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.