Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > XIX. Economy of Time and Expenses

The American Woman's Home

XIX. Economy of Time and Expenses.

The value of time, and our obligation to spend every hour for some useful end, are what few minds properly realize. And those who have the highest sense of their obligations in this respect, sometimes greatly misjudge in their estimate of what are useful and proper modes of employing time. This arises from limited views of the importance of some pursuits, which they would deem frivolous and useless, but which are in reality necessary to preserve the health of body and mind and those social affections which it is very important to cherish. Christianity teaches that, for all the time afforded us, we must give account to God; and that we have no right to waste a single hour. But time which is spent in rest or amusement is often as usefully employed as if it were devoted to labor or devotion. In employing our time, we are to make suitable allowance for sleep, for preparing and taking food, for securing the means of a livelihood, for intellectual improvement, for exercise and amusement, for social enjoyments, and for benevolent and religious duties. And it is the right apportionment of time, to these various duties, which constitutes its true economy.

In deciding respecting the rectitude of our pursuits, we are bound to aim at some practical good, as the ultimate object. With every duty of this life, our benevolent Creator has connected some species of enjoyment, to draw us to perform it. Thus, the palate is gratified, by performing the duty of nourishing our bodies; the principle of curiosity is gratified in pursuing useful knowledge; the desire of approbation is gratified, when we perform general social duties; and every other duty has an alluring enjoyment connected with it. But the great mistake of mankind has consisted in seeking the pleasures connected with these duties, as the sole aim, without reference to the main end that should be held in view, and to which the enjoyment should be made subservient. Thus, men gratify the palate, without reference to the question whether the body is properly nourished: and follow after knowledge, without inquiring whether it ministers to good or evil; and seek amusement without reference to results.

In gratifying the implanted desires of our nature, we are bound so to restrain ourselves, by reason and conscience, as always to seek the main objects of existence—the highest good of ourselves and others; and never to sacrifice this for the mere gratification of our desires. We are to gratify appetite, just so far as is consistent with health and usefulness; and the desire for knowledge, just so far as will enable us to do most good by our influence and efforts; and no farther. We are to seek social intercourse, to that extent which will best promote domestic enjoyment and kindly feelings among neighbors and friends; and we are to pursue exercise and amusement, only so far as will best sustain the vigor of body and mind.

The laws of the Supreme Ruler, when he became the civil as well as the religious Head of the Jewish theocracy, furnish an example which it would be well for all attentively to consider, when forming plans for the apportionment of time and property. To properly estimate this example, it must be borne in mind, that the main object of God was, to set an example of the temporal rewards that follow obedience to the laws of the Creator, and at the same time to prepare religious teachers to extend the true religion to the whole race of man.

Before Christ came, the Jews were not required to go forth to other nations as teachers of religion, nor were the Jewish nation led to obedience by motives of a life to come. To them God was revealed, both as a father and a civil ruler, and obedience to laws relating solely to this life was all that was required. So low were they in the scale of civilization and mental development, that a system which confined them to one spot, as an agricultural people, and prevented their growing very rich, or having extensive commerce with other nations, was indispensable to prevent their relapsing into the low idolatries and vices of the nations around them, while temporal rewards and penalties were more effective than those of a life to come.

The proportion of time and property, which every Jew was required to devote to intellectual, benevolent, and religious purposes, was as follows:

In regard to property, they were required to give one tenth of all their yearly income to support the Levites, the priests, and the religious service. Next, they were required to give the first-fruits of all their corn, wine, oil, and fruits, and the first-born of all their cattle, for the Lord's treasury, to be employed for the priests, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger. The first-born, also, of their children, were the Lord's, and were to be redeemed by a specified sum, paid into the sacred treasury. Besides this, they were required to bring a free-will offering to God, every time they went up to the three great yearly festivals. In addition to this, regular yearly sacrifices of cattle and fowls were required of each family, and occasional sacrifices for certain sins or ceremonial Impurities. In reaping their fields, they were required to leave unreaped, for the poor, the corners; not to glean their fields, oliveyards, or vineyards; and, if a sheaf was left by mistake, they were not to return for it but leave it for the poor.

One twelfth of the people were set apart, having no landed property, to be priests and teachers; and the other tribes were required to support them liberally.

In regard to the time taken from secular pursuits, for the support of education and religion, an equally liberal amount was demanded. In the first place, one seventh part of their time was taken for the weekly sabbath, when no kind of work was to be done. Then the whole nation were required to meet at the appointed place three times a year, which, including their journeys and stay there, occupied eight weeks, or another seventh part of their time. Then the sabbatical year, when no agricultural labor was to be done, took another seventh of their time from their regular pursuits, as they were an agricultural people. This was the amount of time and property demanded by God, simply to sustain education, religion, and morality within the bounds of one nation. It was promised to this nation and fulfilled by constant miraculous interpositions, that in this life, obedience to God's laws should secure health, peace, prosperity, and long life; while for disobedience was threatened war, pestilence, famine, and all temporal evils. These promises were constantly verified, and in the day of Solomon, when, this nation was most obedient, the whole world was moved with wonder at its wealth and prosperity. But up to this time, no attempt was made by God to govern the Israelites by the rewards and penalties of the world to come.

But "when the fullness of time had come," and the race of man was prepared to receive higher responsibilities, Jesus Christ came and "brought life and immortality to light" with a clearness never before revealed. At the same time was revealed the fatherhood of God, not to the Jews alone, but to the whole human race, and the consequent brotherhood of man; and these revelations in many respects changed the whole standard of duty and obligation.

Christ came as "God manifest in the flesh," to set an example of self-sacrificing love, in rescuing the whole family of man from the dangers of the unseen world, and also to teach and train his disciples through all time to follow his example. And those who conform the most consistently to his teachings and example will aim at a standard of labor and self-denial far beyond that demanded of the Jews.

It is not always that men understand the economy of Providence, in that unequal distribution of property which, even under the most perfect form of government, will always exist. Many, looking at the present state of things, imagine that the rich, if they acted in strict conformity to the law of benevolence, would share all their property with their suffering fellow-men. But such do not take into account the inspired declaration that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth," or, in other words, life is made valuable, not by great possessions, but by such a character as prepares a man to enjoy what he holds. God perceives that human character can be most improved by that kind of discipline which exists when there is something valuable to be gained by industrious efforts. This stimulus to industry could never exist in a community where all are just alike, as it does in a state of society where every man sees possessed by others enjoyments which he desires and may secure by effort and industry. So, in a community where all are alike as to property, there would be no chance to gain that noblest of all attainments, a habit of self-denying benevolence which toils for the good of others, and takes from one's own store to increase the enjoyments of another.

Instead, then, of the stagnation, both of industry and of benevolence, which would follow the universal and equable distribution, of property, some men, by superior advantages of birth, or intellect, or patronage, come into possession of a great amount of capital. With these means they are enabled, by study, reading, and travel, to secure expansion of mind and just views of the relative advantages of moral, intellectual, and physical enjoyments. At the same time, Christianity imposes obligations corresponding with the increase of advantages and means. The rich are not at liberty to spend their treasures chiefly for themselves. Their wealth is given, by God, to be employed for the best good of mankind; and their intellectual advantages are designed, primarily, to enable them to judge correctly in employing their means most wisely for the general good.

Now, suppose a man of wealth inherits ten thousand acres of real estate; it is not his duty to divide it among his poor neighbors and tenants. If he took this course, it is probable that most of them would spend all in thriftless waste and indolence, or in mere physical enjoyments. Instead, then, of thus putting his capital out of his hands, he is bound to retain and so to employ it as to raise his family and his neighbors to such a state of virtue and intelligence that they can secure far more, by their own efforts and industry, than he, by dividing his capital, could bestow upon them.

In this view of the subject, it is manifest that the unequal distribution of property is no evil. The great difficulty is, that so large a portion of those who hold much capital, instead of using their various advantages for the greatest good of those around them, employ them for mere selfish indulgences; thus inflicting as much mischief on themselves as results to others from their culpable neglect. A great portion of the rich seem to be acting on the principle that the more God bestows on them the less are they under obligation to practice any self-denial in fulfilling his benevolent plan of raising our race to intelligence and virtue.

But there are cheering examples of the contrary spirit and prejudice, some of which will be here recorded to influence and encourage others.

A lady of great wealth, high position, and elegant culture, in one of our large cities, hired and furnished a house adjacent to her own, and, securing the aid of another benevolent and cultivated woman, took twelve orphan girls, of different ages, and educated them under their joint care. Not only time and money were given, but love and labor, just as if these were their own children; and as fast as one was provided for, another was taken.

In another city, a young lady with property of her own hired a house and made it a home for homeless and unprotected women, who paid board when they could earn it, and found a refuge when out of employment.

In another city, the wife of one of its richest merchants, living in princely style, took two young girls from the certain road to ruin among the vicious poor. She boarded them with a respectable farmer, and sent them to school, and every week went out, not only to supervise them, but to aid in training them to habits of neatness, industry, and obedience, just as if they were her own children. Next, she hired a large house near the most degraded part of the city, furnished it neatly and with all suitable conveniences to work, and then rented to those among the most degraded whom she could bring to conform to a few simple rules of decency, industry, and benevolence—one of these rules being that they should pay her the rent every Saturday night. To this motley gathering she became chief counselor and friend, quieted their brawls, taught them to aid each other in trouble or sickness, and strove to introduce among them that law of patient love and kindness, illustrated by her own example. The young girls in this tenement she assembled every Saturday at her own house—taught them to sing, heard them recite their Sunday-school lessons, to be sure these were properly learned; taught them to make and mend their own clothing, trimmed their bonnets, and took charge of their Sunday dress, that it might always be in order. Of course, such benevolence drew a stream of ignorance and misery to her door; and so successful was her labor that she hired a second house, and managed it on the same plan. One hot day in August, a friend found her combing the head of a poor, ungainly, foreign girl. She had persuaded a friend to take her from compassion, and she was returned because her head was in such in a state. Finding no one else to do it, the lady herself bravely met the difficulty, and persevered in this daily ministry till the evil was remedied, and the poor girl thus secured a comfortable home and wages.

A young lady of wealth and position, with great musical culture and taste, found among the poor two young girls with fine voices and great musical talent. Gaining her parents' consent, the young lady took one of them home, trained her in music, and saw that her school education was secured, so that when expensive masters and instruments were needed the girl herself earned the money required, as a governess in a family of wealthy friends. Then she aided the sister; and, as the result, one of them is married happily to a man of great wealth, and the other is receiving a large income as a popular musical artist.

Another young girl, educated as a fine musician by her wealthy parents, at the age of sixteen was afflicted with weak eyes and a heart complaint. She strove to solace herself by benevolent ministries. By teaching music to children of wealthy friends she earned the means to relieve and instruct the suffering, ignorant, and poor.

These examples may suffice to show that, even among the most wealthy, abundant modes of self-denying benevolence may be found where there is a heart to seek them.

There is no direction in which a true Christian economy of time and money is more conspicuous than in the style of living adopted in the family state.

Those who build stately mansions, and lay out extensive grounds, and multiply the elegancies of life, to be enjoyed by themselves and a select few, "have their reward" in the enjoyments that end in this life. But those who with, equal means adopt a style that enables them largely to devote time and wealth to the elevation and improvement of their fellow-men, are laying up never-failing treasures in heaven.