HOMILY AGAINST IDLENESS
AN HOMILIE AGAINST
FOrasmuch as man, being not borne to ease and rest, but to labour and trauaile, is by corruption of nature through sinne, so farre degenerated and growne out of kinde, that hee taketh Idlenesse to bee no euill at all, but rather a commendable thing, seemely for those that be wealthy, and therefore is greedily imbraced of most part of men, as agreeable to their sensuall affection, and all labour and trauaile is diligently auoyded, as a thing painefull and repugnant to the pleasure of the flesh: It is necessary to bee declared vnto you, that by the ordinance of GOD, which hee hath set in the nature of man, euery one ought, in his lawfull vocation and calling, to giue himselfe to labour: and that idlenesse, being repugnant to the same ordinance, is a grieuous sinne, and also, for the great inconueniences and mischiefes which spring thereof, an intolerable euill: to the intent that when ye vnderstand the same, ye may diligently flee from it, and on the other part earnestly apply your selues, euery man in his vocation, to honest labour and businesse, which as it is enioyned vnto man by GODS appointment, so it wanteth not his manifold blessings and sundry benefits.
Almighty GOD, after that he had created man, put him into Paradise, that hee might dresse and keepe it: But when hee had transgressed GODS commandement, eating the fruit of the tree which was forbidden him, Almighty GOD foorthwith did cast him out of Paradise into this wofull vale of miserie, enioyning him to labour the ground that hee was taken out of, and to eat his bread in the sweat of his face all the dayes of his life (Genesis 3.23). It is the appointment and will of GOD, that euery man, during the time of this mortall and transitorie life, should giue himselfe to such honest and godly exercise and labour, and euery one follow his owne busines, & to walke vprightly in his owne calling. Man (saith Iob) is borne to labor (Job 5.7). And we are commanded by Iesus Sirach, not to hate painefull workes, neither husbandry, or other such mysteries of trauell, which the hiest hath created (Ecclesiasticus 7.15). The wiseman also exhorteth vs to drinke the waters of our owne cesterne, and of the riuers that runne out of the middes of our owne well: meaning thereby, that wee should liue of our owne labours, and not deuoure the labours of other. S. Paul hearing that among the Thessalonians, there were certaine that liued dissolutely and out of order, that is to say, which did not worke, but were busibodies: not getting their owne liuing with their owne trauaile, but eating other mens bread of free cost, did command the said Thessalonians, not onely to withdraw themselues, and abstaine from the familiar company of such inordinate persons, but also that if there were any such among them that would not labour, the same should not eate, nor haue any liuing at other mens hands (2 Thessalonians 3.11-12). Which doctrine of Saint Paul (no doubt) is grounded vpon the generall ordinance of GOD, which is, that euery man should labour; And therefore it is to be obeyed of all men, and no man can iustly exempt himselfe from the same. But when it is said, all men should labour: it is not so straitly meant, that all men should vse handy labour. But as there be diuers sorts of labours, some of the minde, and some of the body, and some of both: So euery one (except by reason of age, debilitie of body, or want of health, he be vnapt to labor at all) ought both for the getting of his owne liuing honestly, and for to profite others, in some kind of labour to exercise himselfe, according as the vocation whereunto GOD hath called him shall require. So that whosoeuer doeth good to the common weale and societie of men with his industrie and labour, whether it be by gouerning the common weale publikely, or by bearing publike office or ministery, or by doing any common necessary affaires of his countrey, or by giuing counsell, or by teaching and instructing others, or by what other meanes soeuer hee bee occupyed, so that a profit and benefit redound thereof vnto others, the same person is not to be accounted idle, though he worke no bodily labour, nor is to be denyed his liuing (if hee attend his vocation) though hee worke not with his hands.
Bodily labour is not required of them which by reason of their vocation and office are occupied in the labour of the mind, to the succour and helpe of others. Saint Paul exhorteth Timothie to eschew and refuse idle widowes, which goe about from house to house, because they are not only idle, but pratlers also, and busibodies, speaking things which are not comely (1 Timothy 5.13). The Prophet Ezechiel declaring what the sinnes of the citie of Sodome were, reckoneth idlenesse to be one of the principall (Ezechiel 16.49). The sinnes (saith he) of Sodome were these, Pride, fulnesse of meat, abundance, and idlenesse: These things had Sodome and her daughters, meaning the cities subiect to her. The horrible and strange kind of destruction of that citie, and all the countrey about the same, (which was fire and brymstone rayning from heauen) most manifestly declareth, what a grieuous sinne Idlenesse is, and ought to admonish vs to flee from the same, and embrace honest and godly labour. But if wee giue our selues to Idlenesse and slouth, to lurking and loytering, to wilfull wandering, and wastefull spending, neuer setling our selues to honest labour, but liuing like drone bees by the labours of other men, then do we breake the Lords Commandement, we goe astray from our vocation, and incur the danger of GODS wrath and heauy displeasure, to our endlesse destruction, except by repentance we turne againe vnfaignedly vnto GOD. The inconueniences and mischiefes that come of idlenesse, aswell to mans body, as to his soule, are more then can in short time be well rehearsed. Some we shall declare and open vnto you, that by considering them, yee may the better with your selues gather the rest. An idle hand (sayth Solomon) maketh poore, but a quicke labouring hand maketh rich (Proverbs 10.4). Againe, he that tilleth his land, shall haue plenteousnesse of bread, but hee that floweth in idlenesse is a very foole, and shall haue pouerty ynough (Proverbs 12.11, 28.19). Againe, A slothfull body will not goe to plowe for cold of the winter, therefore shall he goe a begging in summer, and haue nothing (Proverbs 20.4).
But what shall wee neede to stand much about the proouing of this, that pouerty followeth idlenesse? We haue too much experience thereof (the thing is the more to bee lamented) in this Realme. For a great part of the beggery that is among the poore, can bee imputed to nothing so much, as to idlenesse, and to the negligence of parents, which do not bring vp their children, either in good learning, honest labour, or some commendable occupation or trade, whereby when they come to age, they might get their liuing. Dayly experience also teacheth, that nothing is more enemy or pernicious to the health of mans body, then is idlenes, too much ease and sleepe, and want of exercise. But these and such like incommodities, albeit they bee great and noysome, yet because they concerne chiefly the body and externall goodes, they are not to bee compared with the mischiefes and inconueniences, which thorow idlenesse happen to the soule, whereof wee will recite some. Idlenesse is neuer alone, but hath alwayes a long tayle of other vices hanging on, which corrupt and infect the whole man, after such sort, that he is made at length nothing else but a lumpe of sinne. Idlenesse (saith Iesus Syrach) bringeth much euill and mischiefe (Ecclesiasticus 33.27-29). Saint Bernard calleth it the mother of all euilles, and stepdame of all vertues, adding moreouer, that it doeth prepare and (as it were) treade the way to hell fire. Where idlenesse is once receiued, there the deuill is ready to set in his foote, and to plant all kinde of wickednesse and sinne, to the euerlasting destruction of mans soule. Which thing to bee most true, we are plainely taught in the xiii. of Matthew, where it is sayd, that the enemy came while men were asleepe, and sowed naughtie tares among the good wheate (Matthew 13.25). In very deede the best time that the diuell can haue to worke his feate, is when men bee asleepe, that is to say, idle: Then is hee most busie in his worke, then doeth hee soonest catch men in the snare of perdition, then doeth hee fill them with all iniquitie, to bring them (without GODS speciall fauour) vnto vtter destruction. Hereof wee haue two notable examples, most liuely set before our eyes. The one in king Dauid, who tarying at home idlely (as the Scripture sayth) at such times as other Kinges goe foorth to battell, was quickly seduced of Satan to forsake the Lord his GOD, and to commit two grieuous and abominable sinnes in his sight: adulterie, and murder (2 Sam. 11.1, 2 Sam. 12.9).
The plagues that ensued these offences were horrible and grieuous, as it may easily appeare to them that will reade the storie. Another example of Sampson, who so long as hee warred with the Philistines, enemies to the people of GOD, could neuer bee taken or ouercome: But after that hee gaue himselfe to ease and idlenesse, he not onely committed fornication with the strumpet Dalila, but also was taken of his enemies, and had his eyes miserably put out, was put in prison, and compelled to grinde in a Mill, and at length was made the laughing stocke of his enemies (Judges 16.1-25). If these two, who were so excellent men, so welbeloued of GOD, so endued with singular and diuine gifts, the one namely of prophesie, and the other of strength, and such men as neuer could by vexation, labour, or trouble, be ouercome, were ouerthrowen and fell into grieuous sinnes, by giuing themselues for a short time to ease and idlenesse, and so consequently incurred miserable plagues at the hands of GOD: what sinne, what mischiefe, what inconuenience and plague is not to bee feared, of them which all their life long giue themselues wholy to idlenesse and ease? Let vs not deceiue our selues, thinking little hurt to come of doing nothing: For it is a true saying, When one doeth nothing, hee learneth to doe euill. Let vs therefore alwayes bee doing of some honest worke, that the deuill may finde vs occupied. He himselfe is euer occupied, neuer idle, but walketh continually seeking to deuoure vs. Let vs resist him with our diligent watching, in labour, and in well doing. For hee that diligently exerciseth himselfe in honest businesse, is not easily catched in the deuils snare. When man through idlenesse, or for default of some honest occupation or trade to liue vpon, is brought to pouertie, and want of things necessary, wee see how easily such a man is induced for his gaine, to lye, to practise how he may deceiue his neighbour, to forsweare himselfe, to beare false witnesse, and oftentimes to steale and murder, or to vse some other vngodly meane to liue withall. Whereby not onely his good name, honest reputation, and a good conscience, yea his life is vtterly lost, but also the great displeasure and wrath of GOD, with diuers and sundry grieuous plagues, are procured. Loe heere the ende of the idle and sluggish bodies, whose hands cannot away with honest labour: losse of name, fame, reputation, and life, here in this world, and without the great mercy of GOD, the purchasing of euerlasting destruction in the world to come. Haue not all men then good cause to beware and take heede of idlenesse, seeing they that imbrace and follow it, haue commonly of their pleasant idlenesse, sharpe and sowre displeasures? Doubtlesse good and godly men, weighing the great and manifold harmes that come by idlenesse to a Common weale, haue from time to time prouided with all diligence, that sharpe and seuere lawes might bee made for the correction and amendment of this euill. The Egyptians had a law, that euery man should weekely bring his name to the chiefe rulers of the Prouince, and therewithall declare what trade of life hee vsed, to the intent that idlenesse might bee worthily punished, and diligent labour duely rewarded. The Athenians did chastice sluggish and slothfull people, no lesse then they did hainous and grieuous offenders, considering (as the trueth is) that idlenesse causeth much mischiefe. The Areopagites called euery man to a straite accompt how he liued: And if they found any loyterers that did not profite the common weale by one meanes or other, they were driuen out, and banished, as vnprofitable members, that did onely hurt and corrupt the body. And in this Realme of England, good and godly lawes haue bin diuers times made, that no idle vagabonds and loitering runnagates, should be suffered to goe from Towne to Towne, from Place to Place, without punishment, which neither serue GOD nor their Prince, but deuoure the sweet fruits of other mens labour, being common lyers, drunkardes, swearers, theeues, whooremasters, and murderers, refusing all honest labour, and giue themselues to nothing else, but to inuent and doe mischiefe, whereof they are more desirous and greedie, then is any Lyon of his pray. To remedy this inconuenience, let all parents and others, which haue the care and gouernance of youth so bring them vp either in good learning, labour, or some honest occupation or trade, whereby they may be able in time to come, not onely to susteine themselues competently, but also to releeue and supplie the necessitie and want of others. And Saint Paul saith, Let him that hath stolen, steale no more, and he that hath deceiued others, or vsed vnlawfull waies to get his liuing, leaue off the same, and labour rather, working with his hands that thing which is good, that he may haue that which is necessary for himselfe, and also be able to giue vnto others that stand in need of his helpe (Ephesians 4.28). The Prophet Dauid thinketh him happy that liueth vpon his labour, saying, When thou eatest the labours of thine hands, happy art thou, and well is thee (Psalms 128.2). This happinesse or blessing consisteth in these and such like points.
First it is the gift of GOD (as Salomon saith) when one eateth and drinketh, and receiueth good of his labour (Ecclesiastes 3.13). Secondly, when one liueth of his owne labour (so it be honest and good) he liueth of it with a good conscience: and an vpright conscience is a treasure inestimable. Thirdly, he eateth his bread not with brawling and chiding, but with peace and quietnesse: when he quietly laboureth for the same, according to Saint Pauls admonition. Fourthly, he is no mans bondman for his meat sake, nor needeth not for that, to hang vpon the good will of other men: but so liueth of his owne, that hee is able to giue part to others. And to conclude, the labouring man and his family, whyles they are busily occupied in their labour, bee free from many temptations and occasions of sinne, which they that liue in idlenesse are subiect vnto. And here ought Artificers and labouring men, who bee at wages for their worke and labour, to consider their conscience to GOD, and their duety to their neighbour, lest they abuse their time in idlenesse, so defrauding them which be at charge both with great wages, and deare commons. They be worse then idle men indeede, for that they seeke to haue wages for their loytering. It is lesse daunger to GOD to be idle for no gayne, then by idlenesse to win out to their neighbours purses wages for that which is not deserued. It is true that Almighty GOD is angry with such as doe defraud the hired man of his wages: the cry of that iniury ascendeth vp to GODS eare for vengeance. And as true it is, that the hired man, who vseth deceit in his labour, is a theefe before GOD. Let no man (saith S. Paul to the Thessalonians) subtilly beguile his brother, let him not defraud him in his businesse: For the Lord is a reuenger of such deceits (1 Thessalonians 4.6). Whereupon he that will haue a good conscience to GOD, that labouring man, I say, which dependeth wholly vpon GODS benediction, ministring all things sufficient for his liuing, let him vie his time in a faithfull labour, and when his labour by sickenesse or other misfortune doeth cease, yet let him thinke for that in his health he serued GOD and his neighbour truely, he shall not want in time of necessitie. GOD vpon respect of his fidelitie in health, will recompence his indigence, to mooue the hearts of good men, to relieue such decayed men in sickenesse. Where otherwise, whatsoeuer is gotten by idlenesse shall haue no meanes to helpe in time of need.
Let the labouring man therefore eschew for his part this vice of idlenesse and deceit, remembring that Saint Paul exhorteth euery man to lay away all deceit, dissimulation and lying, and to vse trueth and plainenesse to his neighbour, because (saith he) we be members together in one body, vnder one head Christ our Sauiour (Ephesians 4.15). And here might bee charged the seruing men of this Realme, who spend their time in much idlenesse of life, nothing regarding the opportunitie of their time, forgetting how seruice is no heritage, how age will creepe vpon them: where wisedome were they should expend their idle time in some good businesse, whereby they might increase in knowledge, and so the more worthy to be readie for euery mans seruice. It is a great rebuke to them, that they studie not either to write faire, to keepe a booke of account, to studie the tongues, and so to get wisedome and knowledge in such bookes and workes, as bee now plentifully set out in print of all manner of languages, Let young men consider the precious value of their time, and waste it not in idlenesse, in iollitie, in gaming, in banquetting, in ruffians company. Youth is but vanitie, and must bee accounted for before GOD. How merrie and glad soeuer thou be in thy youth, O yong man (saith the Preacher) how glad soeuer thy heart be in thy yong dayes, how fast and freely soeuer thou follow the wayes of thine owne heart, and the lust of thine owne eyes, yet be thou sure that GOD shall bring thee into iudgement for all these things (Ecclesiastes 11.9). GOD of his mercie put it into the hearts and minds of all them that haue the sword of punishment in their hands, or haue families vnder their gouernance, to labour to redresse this great enormitie, of all such as liue idlely and vnprofitably in the common weale, to the great dishonour of GOD, and the grieuous plague of his seely people. To leaue sinne vnpunished, and to neglect the good bringing vp of youth, is nothing els but to kindle the Lords wrath against vs, and to heape plagues vpon our owne heads. As long as the adulterous people were suffered to liue licenciously without reformation: so long did the plague continue and increase in Israel, as ye may see in the booke of Numbers (Numbers 25.8).
But when due correction was done vpon them, the Lords anger was straight way pacified, and the plague ceased. Let all officers therefore looke straitly to their charge. Let all masters of housholds reforme this abuse in their families, let them vse the authority that GOD hath giuen them, let them not maintaine vagabonds and idle persons, but deliuer the Realme and their housholds from such noysome loyterers, that idlenesse, the mother of all mischiefe, being cleane taken away, Almighty GOD may turne his dreadfull anger away from vs, and confirm the couenant of peace vpon vs, for euer, through the merites of Iesus Christ our onely Lord and Sauiour, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end, AMEN.
The Anglican Library, This HTML edition copyright 1999.