The Business of Life
Setting: St. Amos’ Church, in the heart of London, the very capital of world commerce
Preacher: Mr. Fuller
My friends, is it not strange that with all the old church-yards lying about in London, unbusiness-like spots in the midst of shops and warehouses, ‘and all the numberless goings on of life,' we should yet feel so constantly as if the business of the city were an end in itself? How seldom we see that it is only a means to an end!
I will tell you in a few words one cause of this feeling as if it were an end; and then to what end it really is a means. With all the reminders of death that we have about us, not one of us feels as if he were going to die. We think of other people—even those much younger than ourselves—dying, and it always seems as if we were going to be alive when they die: and why ?
Just because we are not going to die.
This thinking part in us feels no symptom of ceasing to be. We think on and on, and death seems far from us, for it belongs only to our bodies—not to us. So the soul forgets it. It is no part of religion to think about death. It is the part of religion, when the fact and thought of death come in, to remind us that we live forever, and that God, who sent his Son to die, will help us safe through that somewhat fearful strait that lies before us, and which often grows so terrible to those who fix their gaze upon it that they see nothing beyond it, and talk with poor Byron of the day of death as “the first dark day of nothingness.” But this fact that we do not die, that only our bodies die, adds immeasurably to the folly of making what is commonly called the business of life an end instead of a means. It is not the business of life. The business of life is that which has to do with the life—with the living us, not with the dying part of us. How can the business of life have to do with the part that is always dying ?
Yet, certainly, as you will say, it must be done—only, mark this, not as an end, but as a means. As an end it has to do only with the perishing body; as a means it has infinite relations with the never-ceasing life. Then comes the question, To what end is it a means? It is a means, a great, I might say the great, means to the end for which God sends us individually into a world of sin; for that he does so, whatever the perplexities the admission may involve, who can deny, without denying that God makes us? If we were sent without any sinful tendencies into a sinless world, we should be good, I dare say; but with a very poor kind of goodness, knowing nothing of evil, consequently never choosing good, but being good in a stupid way because we could not help it.
But how is it with us? We live in a world of constant strife—a strife, as the old writers call it, following St. Paul, between the flesh and the spirit; the things belonging to the outer life, the life of the senses, the things which our Savior sums up in the words, “what we shall eat, and what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed,” forcing themselves constantly on our attention, and crowding away the thought and the care that belong to the real life—the life that consists in purity of heart, in love, in goodness of all kinds—that embraces all life, using our own life only as the stand-point from which to stretch out arms of embracing toward God and toward all men.
For the feeding and growth of this life, London city affords endless opportunity. Business is too often regarded as the hindrance to the spiritual life. I regard it as among the finest means the world affords for strengthening and causing to grow this inner real life. For every deed may be done according to the fashion of the outward perishing life, as an end; or it may be done after the fashion of the inward endless life—done righteously, done nobly, done, upon occasion, magnificently—ever regarded as a something to be put under the feet of the spiritual man to lift him to the height of his high calling.
Making business a means to such end, it will help us to remember that this world and the fashion of it passeth away; but that every deed done as Jesus would have done it if he had been born to begin his life as a merchant instead of a carpenter, lifts the man who so does it up toward the bosom of Him who created business and all its complications, as well as our brains and hands that have to deal with them. If you were to come and ask me, “How shall I do in this or that particular case?" very possibly I might be unable to answer you. Very often no man can decide but the man himself. And it is part of every man's training that he should thus decide. Even if he should go wrong, by going wrong he may be taught the higher principle that would have kept him right, and which he has not yet learned.
One thing is certain, that the man who wants to go right will be guided right; that not only in regard to the mission of the Savior, but in regard to everything, he that is willing to do the will of the Father shall know of the doctrine.
From Guild Court: A London Story, originally published in 1868.
Sunrise Centenary Edition: pages 245-6
Johannesen Printing & Publishing: pages 284-6