What Duty Comes First? by J R Miller
All the passages below are taken from J R Miller, “Intimate Letters on Personal Problems.”
Let me answer at once one of the points in your letter, by saying that I have no question whatever about duty when it comes between one's daily occupation and what may seem to be religious tasks. Our first work is the work which comes to us in our ordinary vocation. Putting it directly, you find it necessary, as I suppose, to have your daily work in the telegraph office. You have to be faithful to this. You cannot abridge your hours nor lighten your work. So long as this is the way you earn your livelihood, it is plainly the duty which God gives you to do. This work is as much part of your Christian life — as your prayer meetings or your Sunday services. You cannot be less than diligent.
God wants us to do whatever we can, besides the tasks of our daily vocation. So long as you had strength for it, and had the opportunity, it was your duty evidently to conduct a certain religious work — your King's Daughters and other societies and your church work. But if you are not strong enough to do both, there is not the slightest doubt as to which one you should give up. You cannot lay down your daily tasks — for it is by these that you earn your daily bread. The others are to be done only in case you have time and strength for the doing of them.
I know some people might say that this is a little irreligious. Some people interpret the Master's word, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness," as meaning that our religious duties are first. But this is a mistaken way of interpreting the instruction.
Only a few Sundays ago, I spoke on this subject in a sermon and said distinctly that there are times when one would commit a sin even to go to church. I instanced the case of a physician with patients who needed his attention at the hours of church service, and said that the doctor would commit a sin, if he neglected his patients, that he might attend to communion service. Another instance I gave, was that of a mother whose sick child needed her attention all day on Sunday, and I said that she would also commit a grievous sin against God, if she left her child to attend a missionary meeting or any other kind of religious service. The "kingdom of God" which we are to seek first — is the duty of the hour.
I am not preaching to you — I am not your pastor; but what I have said, I am sure is true. I want to help you to see that you will commit no sin, if you lay down certain work which you have been doing and which you have loved to do. If you cannot do it without injuring your health and unfitting you for your ordinary duties — then it is not your duty at all — but some other person's.
I was talking last Saturday with a young woman who is a teacher in the high school, and has a class of boys in a Sunday school. She works very hard in teaching, for she is also taking a special course of instruction herself, to fit her better for her work as teacher. This special course fills some of her afternoons and part of her Saturdays. The result is that she really is not strong enough to teach a class of rollicking boys on Sunday afternoons. She has tried it now for six months, and each Monday feels unfit for her school work after the strain and pressure of the Sunday. I told her that very clearly her duty is to give up her Sunday school class, as much as she loves it. The other she cannot give up — it is the work which God has given her to do, by which she earns support for herself and her mother.
I am very glad to know about your life, and I want to assure you of the deepest interest. I never shall forget you. It must be ten or eleven years now, since I was in California — but I remember vividly the time when you spoke to me at the Western Union Telegraph Office in the Palace Hotel. I remember well, the talks I had with you then during the few days I was in San Francisco. I remember your visit to Philadelphia the following summer. I have kept you in my heart all these years among my closest and best friends. Your life has been full of good things. You have been a benediction to many young people. You have guided many steps into the paths of truth and right. I want to assure you of loving remembrance and the deepest interest in all that you are doing. I am always glad to have you write — but I must not burden you with requests to write frequently, when you have so much to do.