The Virtue of Industriousness

By John J. Blanchard

August 11, 2012

Good morning, brethren.  If you recall, we are into a four-part series.  This is the second part of the four founding virtues.  This virtue is one that we have to start by looking back on the United States’ history and indeed the West, but I am going to focus mostly on the United States.  I am more familiar with our history here and the impact that America has had on the world.

If you look back on the last 236 years and you go back to 1776, our nation looked very, very different from what it does today.  Basically America was a vast trackless wilderness with the population concentrated on the East coast.  Maybe a few hundred miles into the country it turned into almost impenetrable wilderness, basically using rivers as highways and Indian trails to navigate through.  It was very, very difficult.  They used to call it the dark continent.  It was just wilderness.

There were very few roads even in the settled areas, and what they had were very primitive roads.  There was nothing paved.  There was no concrete or asphalt.  There were very few buildings of quality.  People were living in very tiny frame houses and in some places sod type houses or little log homes.  There were a few nice homes in Philadelphia and Boston but not very many.

Most people earned their living with their hands.  By far the vast majority of people were into agriculture farming and that sort of thing, but there were also tradesmen working with their hands as carpenters or smiths of various sorts.  That’s how people made their living.  They made their living by the sweat of their brow.

The people were free.  They were free to govern themselves, but the government was very weak.  When the United States first formed, the government was very weak.  As a matter of fact, during the revolution our government was constantly fleeing from place to place. The army was basically an impoverished group of volunteers that were underfed.  It was the largess of farmers to feed them and our women in the country to make them clothes.  They had to hide them on occasion.  Our country was broke.  The government had no money.

The government relied on the people to rely on themselves. America provided a place that was free for people to rely on themselves.  The government depended upon the people much more so than the people depended on the government, but the government provided a free country in which people could use industriousness to get ahead.

Ben Franklin said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”  That was very true of theUnited Statesat the very beginning.  People had to get along and had to survive by their hands, by the sweat of their brow, and by getting along and helping each other during the difficult times that were extant then.

This virtue of industry, or industriousness as we would call it today, was incredibly important to the future success of the United States.

I want to quote from Charles Murray’s book, and I will read a few passages from it.  It is called Coming Apart:  The State of White America 1960 to 2010.  But he actually goes back to the very founding principles of the United States in his book.  In his book Coming Apart on page 131 he says, “…the bone-deep American assumption that life is to be spent getting ahead through hard work, making a better life for oneself and one’s children.”  The focus of Americans was to work hard and get ahead for yourself and your children to make a better future for them.

Of course, freedom allowed that virtue to blossom.  Freedom gave people a place to actually work hard and get ahead.  You get ahead and provide for your family starting at the bottom.

Murray in his book identifies four founding virtues.  We mentioned that in sermon number 1.  They were accepted as essential by earlyAmerica.  The four virtues were industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion.  In the first sermon I dealt with religion.  Today we are dealing with industriousness.

Industriousness requires freedom to be able to be of profit to the individual.  If you don’t have freedom, might makes right.  People take away your hard work.  They take away the fruits of your labor.  But in a free country and a free society, you can work to produce more to get ahead to provide better for your family.  It is a principle that goes together.  Freedom and industry go together.

In 1825 Francis Grund, the son of a German baron, moved to America.  This was in that book as well.  He wrote a two-volume treatise about the United States.  It was titled Americans in Their Moral, Social, and Political Relations.  In his opening paragraph he summed up the extraordinary American work ethic.  He summed it up this way:  “Active occupation is not only the principal source of [the Americans’] happiness, and the foundation of their natural greatness, but they are absolutely wretched about it…  [It] is the very soul of an American; he pursues it, not as a means of procuring for himself and his family the necessary comforts of life, but as the foundation of all human felicity.”

He says, Americans without work are wretched.  They feel they must work hard.  It is a part of their soul.

That term “felicity” isn’t used much today, but according to the New American Heritage Dictionary felicity is great happiness, bliss, an instance of great happiness or the cause or source of happiness.  For Americans happiness came from work.  You could go through many phrases and sayings of the time that were extant right up until when I was a child.  An example would be “whistle while you work.”  There was a song they taught us as children Whistle While You Work. Your happiness comes from your work.  Singing behind the horse and plow was a common thing.  As you went around you would hear older people from the previous generation saying a farmer would be plowing behind his horse and plow working all day singing or whistling in his fields.  People really derived happiness and a sense of well-being from work.

Industry turned out to be something they could pass on from generation to generation.  You learn how to be industrious.  You’re not born with it.  You learn it.

Mr. Murray also quotes a man by the name of Henry Adams.  He wrote a history of earlyAmericaas well about the effect of freedom and industry on poor people.  Here is what he had to say about Americans:  “Reversing the old-world system, the American stimulant increased in energy as it reached the lowest and most ignorant class [the stimulant being work], dragging and whirling them upward as in the blast of a furnace.  The penniless and homeless Scotch or Irish immigrant was caught and consumed by it; for every stroke of the axe and the hoe made him a capitalist, and made gentlemen of his children.  The instinct of activity, once created, seemed heritable and permanent in the race.”

In other words, he said Americans felt like every swing of the axe was getting their house built, their barn built, and their fences built.  Everything they did with their hands was an improvement, so they were into capitalism and getting ahead by hard work.  This trade, he said, was so common that it took the poor people and energized them to move up like a blast furnace.  It was just like hot air rising.  They came as poor immigrants, and they went out and worked all day hard in the fields.  They knew every stroke of the axe and everything they did with the hoe planting and taking care of their gardens was advancing them.  Indeed it did.  They made each generation better and better, and that is why he calls it a heritable trait.  It is something that could be passed on.  This knowledge of how to work hard and the blessings that one gets from it is something that could be passed on.

It was passed on from generation to generation, and look at what the virtue has wrought.  When you look around yourself, you see roads and bridges.  You see fantastic buildings, especially if you go to our bigger cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  You see these beautiful buildings and airports.  By hard work in theUnited States starting with poor people who wanted to get their lots improved, they could help their children have a better future.  They worked hard generation after generation, and in just a couple hundred short years they made the richest most advanced country the world had ever seen.  In effect, they helped the entire world lift their boats by trading and selling and showing how freedom works, and freedom spread.  Freedom spread to more and more countries as people realized that in a free country they could be set free to work hard and get ahead.  But industry was based upon religion with early America.  That is what we talked about in the first sermon, with the Bible in particular as the foundation.

I want to turn to a few Scriptures now.  Let’s go to Ecclesiastes 9:9-10.  These two verses could have been the slogan for earlyAmerica.  Ecclesiastes 9, verse 9:  “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”


That speaks of two of the founding virtues:  marriage—living happily and providing for your wife—and whatever you find to do, do it with your might.  That’s what Americans lived by.  They knew that what they would be measured by before they died was how much work they did in their life that was for the good.  That was how you measured men and women in early America.  You could say that was more or less a slogan.

I want to turn to Proverbs now because Proverbs talks so much about our hard work and the blessings that hard work affords.  There is a lot of wisdom about industry in the Bible, but I want to focus a few minutes on Proverbs by going from Proverb to Proverb.  We will start in Proverbs chapter 12, so please turn back a few pages.  We will glean some wisdom about industry or industriousness.

Proverbs chapter 12, verse 11:  “He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding.”

Here is wisdom of not to waste one’s time.  We are not to be involved in frivolous pursuits, but to till the soil and work the ground.  Produce what is needed for bread.

Dropping down to verse 14 of Proverbs 12:  “A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth, and the recompense of a man’s hands will be rendered to him.”

In other words, what you do with your hands would provide.  Use your hands the way God intended to work.

Verse 24 of Proverbs 12:  “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor.”

Indeed you can look around the world, and in many countries where there is a lot of forced labor and people have no wealth, the people tend to be lazy.  I am not putting down any nationality or culture.  I am just saying, if you can reverse that and work hard, you will see that people rise up.

Let’s go to Proverbs chapter 13, verse 4:  “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.”

The soul of the lazy man desires.   In other words, the desire is there but nothing is produced, so they don’t have anything.  But if you are diligent, you can work your way up in life and then hand something to the next generation that they indeed can take and continue to work and produce with.  This is how wealth grows within families, within cultures, and within nations.

Proverbs chapter 14, verse 4:  “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.”

Whether it was a horse or an ox in the old days that was pulling the plow, you had to have that animal to do the work, but it needed the plowman behind it.  It needed the farmer to till the ground in the spring, plant the crops, and then harvest the crops.  If you don’t have that combination, it does not work.  You need the hard work of the man, the tools, and the oxen or today a tractor.  Or you need whatever the tool of the trade is.  Otherwise the trough is clean.  In other words, there is no food in the pantry.  Hard work and food in the pantry go together.

Proverbs chapter 14, verse 23:  “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty.”

We all have to talk and communicate.  That is obviously a very important characteristic, but to wile away the day in useless chatter, yields no profit.  You have to buckle down.  There is an old saying, “Put your nose to the grindstone.”  I heard a very wealthy man one time tell me, “Keep your nose to the grindstone and your hands out of other people’s pockets, and you’ll get ahead.”  It was a good saying.  It was a very pithy phrase.  In other words, produce for yourself.


Proverbs chapter 15, verse 19:  “The way of the lazy man is like a hedge of thorns, but the way of the upright is a highway.”

In other words, laziness can become a habit.  We all have a day where we want to relax and take it easy.  We need to do that.  My father used to always say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” which is very true, but by the same token, one needs to use the work ethic to get ahead.  If one allows themselves to fall into the habit of laziness, it becomes like a hedge of thorns.  It holds you in.  It holds you back from producing what you need to produce.

Turn to Proverbs chapter 19.  As I said, Proverbs is full of wisdom about work.  Proverbs 19, verse 4:  “Wealth makes many friends, but the poor is separated from his friend.”

In other words, if you work hard enough to produce something, you can share with other people, and that’s what friendship is about.  If you extrapolate on this phrase, it makes friends.  In other words, you can share.

Proverbs chapter 20, verse 4:  “The lazy man will not plow because of winter; he will beg during harvest and have nothing.”

In other words, when you first get out there in the spring and the snow is just receding, you have to break up that ground.  You have to till the sod underneath, work the soil, and make it soft.  It is still too early to plant, but you know you are getting ready for spring, so you can put the seeds in the ground.  That’s what gives you a beautiful harvest in the fall.  It requires work even when it is uncomfortable.  You work in the cold and the rain getting things done, so that there can be a harvest in the fall.

Turn to Proverbs 20, verse 13:  “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.”

We all need rest.  It is absolutely essential.  A good seven or eight hours of sleep every night will keep you healthy.  There is another saying by Ben Franklin:  “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  You have to get enough sleep, but there are cases where people do not push themselves to get up.  They do not get out there into the work force.  They do not get out there into the field and plow the field to get ready for the harvest.  This is harmful to them and to their families.

Proverbs chapter 21, verse 25:  “The desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.  He covets greedily all day long, but the righteous gives and does not spare.”

There again, the two go together.  If a person is not producing, he is harming himself and his family.  But it also says in verse 26 that if a person is producing, he can give.  He can share, because he has an abundance.


Let’s read just a few more verses from Proverbs.  Proverbs 22, verse 13:  “The lazy man says, ‘There is a lion outside!  I shall be slain in the streets!”

Obviously, we don’t say in America there is a lion outside.  This is an excuse.  It is showing excuses.  It’s cold outside.  It’s raining outside.  I hurt my finger yesterday, or whatever it is.  Obviously there can be good excuses.  If someone is severely injured or they have fallen on really rough times through no fault of their own, there can be a good excuse for the situation someone’s in.  We understand that. I am talking about the principles of hard work.

We could make up excuses, and the excuse is not real, like there is no lion outside today.  I could finish my sermon and come to town.  I could deliver this sermon to you.  If I came here and said, there was a lion on my front porch this morning, and I couldn’t get the sermon done and get here on time.  You would say what is John doing?  There is no lion out there.  It is whatever the excuse is.  If an excuse is an excuse, it has to be real.  It has to be severe enough to prevent work.

Turn to Proverbs chapter 24.  I will never forget this example.  I have to be careful here.  I don’t want to ever name names.  This is someone you don’t know, and this is years ago.  It was about an employee we had.  I got a call about how sick he was.  He really sounded sick on the phone.  I said, you better go ahead, and take the day off.  It was payday.  I felt bad that the person worked two weeks, and he needed his check.  I thought I will take it to him, so that he can go cash his check as soon as he is feeling well.  I got there, and the wife answered the door.  She said, he’s fishing!  I said, he went fishing?  Yes, he went fishing.  I said, here’s his check.  Make sure you tell him the boss was here while he was gone fishing, and I feel so bad that he is sick today.  There was a pretty sheepish employee come Monday.

Anyway, it has to be a real excuse.  Tell the truth.  If you need a day off because your best friend is here to go fishing, tell the boss the truth.  That way you are credible the next time you are really sick.  I never forgot that experience.


Turn to Proverbs chapter 24, verse 30:   “I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction:  a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.”

There is a lot in here.  We understand that the Bible has its main import of spiritual growth.  We are God’s garden.  We want to keep the thorns out and the stones out, as Christ said.  We want the word of God to fall on good ground and produce.  But we show that attitude of production and good use in our physical life as well.  The Proverb here is about looking and observing how one person will prosper and another person won’t, by paying attention to what is getting done and the result.  This you can see.

You can go downstate and see beautiful orchards when you get around Petoskey and Traverse City.  There are cherry, apple, and peach orchards.  Every now and then you will see one orchard that has been totally let go.  It is just weeds for whatever reason.  There are weeds, and there are untended and unpruned trees.  You can tell either the person is sick or having really hard times, or they are not attentive to their land.  They are not taking care of their garden, so to speak.  It says something about their character, if it is indeed not sickness or some accident.  If it because they do not care, it says something about their character.  They are probably not working too hard on having good character as well.


These are the principles we can draw from the Bible.  The Bible has a lot to say about industriousness and work.  Work is to be viewed from the point of view as close as we can get it to what God does. God is the example of how to work hard and do it right.  We are going to read a few Scriptures that God indeed does work.

We could go back to Genesis chapter 2 at the end of creation, but we won’t turn there.  Everyone knows at the end of God’s work and the end of His seven days He rested.  That is why we have the Sabbath on the seventh day at the end of six days of work, so God is a worker.

Let’s go to Psalms 111, just over a few pages.  Turn back a few pages in your Bible to Psalm 111.  This shows us what God’s work ethic is about and what He is working hard for.  We are going to read Psalms 111, beginning in verse 1:  “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them.  His work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever.  He has made His wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.”

We see how it is tying work and effort to righteousness, honor, grace, and compassion.

Verse 5:  “He has given food to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant.  He has declared to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.”

In other words, He will ever be mindful of His covenant—His agreements, so when we make an agreement, we need to be as good as our word.  God is as good as His word.  He takes care of His people, and He uses His power to be helpful to mankind.

Continuing in 7 of Psalms 111:  “The works of His hands are verity [truth] and justice; and His precepts are sure.  They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.  He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name.”

In other words, God’s work and His efforts go into producing righteousness, to being compassionate and kind, to be caring for mankind, and to use His power for the good of mankind.  Because of that His name is holy and righteous.  It is the same if a person works hard to provide for their family.  They work hard to provide for their employer.  They make sure that the employer is making money through their efforts.  When a person is a good citizen in these ways and paying their taxes, it all comes together to make a person of good character.  That means you have a good name.  God’s name is one that we should attain to to be like Him.  Our work is to do good.

Turn to Mark chapter 6.  God knows we are physical.  He knows that our works can only be similar to God. We cannot be a creator of all things, but we can be a creator with what’s been made from what He has already created.  We can be a maker.  We can use our time wisely.  But He shows us that when He came here as Jesus Christ, He was not afraid of hard work.  Let’s look at Mark chapter 6.

Mark chapter 6, verse 1 where it is speaking of Christ:  “Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.  And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue.  And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things?  And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!  Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary…’”

In other words, people were witnessing the mighty works by His hands, but they said, isn’t this guy just a carpenter?  Isn’t He a carpenter’s son?  It shows you Christ was not afraid of physical work, but He was probably doing His work as a carpenter for the good of His family.  He was giving a good example and sharing with others.  He was not selfishly trying to get ahead.  It would not be part of His character.  He was getting ahead to help mom and dad feed the family perhaps.  He would have been the eldest.  He was helping provide for Himself and to be able to provide offerings.  In other words, He would have been working to give offerings for the Church.  I’m sure He was doing what work is intended for because of His character.

Turn to John chapter 6 where Christ is speaking about His work again and His Father’s work.  John chapter 6, verse 28:  “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’  Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You?  What work will You do?  Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’  Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”

He said His work was to come down from heaven and give life to the world at the instruction and direction of the Father.  He said, if you want to do My works and join the works of God, believe Me and do the same thing.  Do the same thing.  Share bread—the truth of life, and your physical produce because faith without works is dead, according to James.  It all goes together.  He was a physical carpenter first, and then He was the Savior of all mankind.  His example was always singular and upright, and His purpose was always to get the work of God done to help mankind.  His purpose was to use work for righteousness’ sake and for the good of mankind.


We have to be careful when we focus on work even if we are using the Bible as a focus.  We have to be careful not to go astray and make work our idol.  Jesus Christ did not do that.  He always had time to talk with the poor people, the lame, and the sick and to encourage.  He would never turn away someone in need.  We need to make work a tool for righteousness.  It should be a tool to get ahead and grow in character.

You have all heard the term “workaholic.”  There are people who can just work, work, work.  Christ could have just been a carpenter twenty hours a day with four hours of sleep and skip the ministry.  What would that have shown anybody?  There are people doing that right now.  They are workaholics.  Their job means everything to them.  That would not have been right.

We need to realize that work is important.  I am going to read a little bit from this book.  It was too much to write into my notes.  This is from Coming Apart once again.  Not everyone who came to America and visited America in the early days was really impressed with all the work getting done.  They saw a downside to it as well.  I am on page 132 of Coming Apart.  “Not all visitors thought this American industriousness so very admirable, because it was closely linked with what they saw as an undesirable obsession with money.”  The author Charles Murray quotes another history that he must have read somewhere.

“‘An English shop keeper is a tradesman all morning, but a gentleman in the evening,’ wrote one English visitor approvingly, whereas the Americans—New Englanders were especially egregious offenders—never put aside business.  ‘Mammon has no more zealous worshipper than your true Yankee,’ he continued.  ‘His homage is not merely that of the lip, or of the knee; it is an entire prostration of the heart; the devotion of all powers, bodily and mental, to the service of the idol.’”

In other words, he is referring to the idol of money.  Work can become a cruel task master if it is only to get more money.  If it is to provide for your children, to better your lot, to share with others, to be able to teach others in a righteous way how to get ahead and provide, these are all good purposes of work.  But if work is to become rich, to have more and more money, that is the downside.  We have to be careful.  Christ said you cannot serve both God and mammon.  You cannot make work for money’s sake your goal.

There are a few other Scriptures I want to read on that line.  If you would, turn to Proverbs chapter 23, verse 4:  “Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease!  Will you set your eyes on that which is not?  For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”

It says, do not overwork to become rich.  That is not the purpose of work.  It is not just to become wealthy. If by one’s work one becomes wealthy, just be grateful that you can share so much more and to help others so much more.  Don’t constantly be trying to increase and increase.  It seems like once someone gets bit by the greed bug, it is very hard to turn it off.  Their goal is to make more money and more money no matter who they trample or who they beat in deals.  We will be talking more about that in the third sermon in this series about honesty, so we won’t get into that too much at this time.

Then there is also I Timothy which is probably the cardinal verse about money in the Bible.  I Timothy chapter 6, verse 10:  “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Notice it says the love of money.  Money itself is not evil.  We need it.  We can do a lot of good with money.  The love of money is a root of much evil.  When people love money too much, they get pierced with many sorrows.  That is an important lesson to keep in mind.


Industriousness is something that needs to be tempered by faith, by the Bible, by the proverbs that we can read about and the psalms.  Temper industriousness, so that it is used for righteousness’ sake to be a better person.  Industry must be tempered by religion, but it also must be tempered by the other three founding virtues that we will talk about:  religion, marriage—if marriage is in one’s cards or family, and by honesty.  It takes all four of these founding virtues working together in harmony to produce a sound nation that will be blessed, to produce sound families that can continue to carry the heritage forward, to use industriousness wisely, and to produce an ever-more prosperous country.

We need to keep that wonderful virtue industry alive and well in our life.  Keep it growing and keep using it, but use it wisely as a tool to do good.  By doing so, we will be developing the character like God has and a wonderful name that we can take with us after we die. We cannot take wealth with us.  We cannot take things with us.  But our name we do take with us.  At the resurrection it is our name and our character that God will measure as the true value of how industrious and how profitable we were as a servant of God.