At Work

15 Quotes to Deepen Your Understanding of Vocation

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One of the topics IFWE devotes more space and attention to than almost any other on this blog is vocation. When we write about it, though, we are not pulling ideas out of thin air.

Quite the contrary: the doctrine of vocation has a long history in Christian theology. Today we feature a small portion of that history.

The fifteen quotes featured here are taken from Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation, edited by William C. Placher.

The Universality of Calling

Every person, of every degree, state, sex, or condition without exception, must have some personal and particular calling to walk in.

–William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations

God has a definite life-plan for every human person, girding him, visibly or invisibly, for some exact thing, which it will be the true significance and glory of his life to have accomplished. Many persons, I am well aware, never even think of any such thing. They suppose that, for most men, life is a necessarily stale and common affair. What it means for them they do not know, and they scarcely conceive that it means anything. They even complain, venting heavy sighs, that, while some few are set forward by God to do great works and fill important places, they are not allowed to believe that there is any particular object in their existence. It is remarkable, considering how generally this kind of impression prevails, that the Holy Scriptures never give way to it, but seem, as it were, in all possible ways, to be holding up the dignity of common life, and giving a meaning to its appointments, which the natural dullness and lowness of mere human opinion cannot apprehend [emphasis in original].

–Horace Bushnell, Sermons for the New Life

It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the “spiritual estate”; princes, lords, artisans, and farmers the “temporal estate.” That is indeed a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy. Yet no one should be frightened by it; and for this reason —namely, that all Christians are truly of the “spiritual estate,” and there is among them no difference at all but that of office.

–Martin Luther, Three Treatises

What We Are Called To

All vocations are intended by God to manifest His love in the world.

–Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

The common good of men stands in this, not only that they live, but that they live well, in righteousness and holiness, and consequently in true happiness. And for the attainment hereunto, God has ordained and disposed all callings, and in his providence designed the persons to bear them.

–William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations

Some man will say perchance, “What, must we not labor in our callings to maintain our families?” I answer, this must be done, but this is not the scope and end of our lives. The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving of man; and for a recompense of this service, God sends his blessings on men’s travails, and he allows them to take for their labors.

–William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations

How God Calls Us

God [calls people] two ways. First, by himself immediately, without the help of any creature… Secondly, God calls mediately by means, which be of two sorts, men and Angels. By an Angel was Philip, being a Deacon, called to be an Evangelist; and the set or appointed callings in Church and Commonwealth are ordinarily disposed by men, who are in this matter the instruments of God [emphasis in original].

–William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations

Be an observer of Providence; for God is showing you ever, by the way in which he leads you, whither he means to lead. Study your trials, your talents, the world’s wants, and stand ready to serve God now, in whatever he brings to your hand.

–Horace Bushnell, Sermons for the New Life

Our vocation is not a sphinx’s riddle which we must solve in one guess or else perish.

–Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Calling as Fulfillment

A man’s work is not only the price he pays for the right to fill his stomach. In his work he expresses himself. It is the output of his creative energy and his main contribution to the common life of mankind. The pride which an artist or professional man takes in his work, the pleasure which a housewife takes in adorning her home, afford a satisfaction that ranks next to human love in delightsomeness.

–Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis

I think we can measure the distance we have fallen from the idea that work is a vocation to which we are called, by the extent to which we have come to substitute the word “employment” for “work.” We say we must solve the “problem of unemployment” — we reckon up how many “hands” are “employed”; our social statistics are seldom based upon the work itself — whether the right people are doing it, or whether the work is worth doing.

–Dorothy Sayers, A Christian Basis for the Post-War World

The Value of All Callings

If now we could have faith enough to believe that all human life can be with divine purpose; that God saves not only the soul, but the whole of human life; that anything which serves to make men healthy, intelligent, happy, and good is a service to the Father of men; that the kingdom of God is not bounded by the Church, but includes all human relations — then all professions would be hallowed and receive religious dignity. A man making a shoe or arguing a law case or planting potatoes or teaching school, could feel that this was itself a contribution to the welfare of mankind, and indeed his main contribution to it.

–Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis

That a man’s vocation is exhausted in his profession is no more true than that God’s calling which comes to him is simply an impulsion to work. He will always live in widely different spheres if he receives the divine calling and is obedient to it.

–Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

Married people…instead of lamenting their supposed “lack of vocation,” should highly value the vocation they have actually received….The married man and the mother of a Christian family, if they are faithful to their obligations, will fulfill a mission that is as great as it is consoling: that of bringing into the world and forming young souls capable of happiness and love, souls capable of sanctification and transformation in Christ.

–Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

No task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.

–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

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