After the historical end of the Reformation with the 1648 signing of the Peace of Westphalia, political turmoil still brewed in England. Civil war between the Royalists (Cavaliers), supporters of King Charles I, and Parliamentarians (Roundheads), under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, began in 1642. The war resulted in the beheading of King Charles I on January 30, 1649. The English nation was still divided and after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, the monarchy was re-established under Charles II in 1660. This was also a time of conflict between the Church of England and rival Protestant denominations (Presbyterians, Congregationalist, Baptists, Quakers, and Levellers).
Dr. William C. Placher, previously the Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College, and author of Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pages 278–285), highlights the moderate Puritan vocational theology of Richard Baxter (1615–1691) who lived during this tumultuous period of English history. He supported the parliamentary forces against Charles I, but later supported the return of Charles II to the throne. “Baxter tried to find grounds for cooperation and mutual respect” within the various Church factions. Today, the same moderation is needed in a divided nation and Church.
Baxter gave instructions on vocation in Chapter X: Directions for the Government of the Body. He outlined three primary directions for a calling. The first is service to God and the public good. “The principal thing to be intended in the choice of a trade or calling for yourselves or children, is the service of God, and the public good, and therefore (caeteris paribus [other things being equal]) that calling which most conduceth to the public good is to be preferred.” He stratified callings which countered Martin Luther’s doctrine of equal callings. Occupations such as teachers, doctors, lawyers and agriculture workers were the most useful callings. Next on the vocational pecking order were selected trades, such as mariners, tailors, and booksellers, that made “things most necessary to mankind”. He believed that lawful trades, such as hatmakers, tobacco sellers, and feather-makers, had “little good at all to others.”
The second primary direction for a calling is the personal benefits of the worker’s labor. Puritans and Calvinists considered idleness and sloth to be a sin. “1. Outside of a calling a man’s labors are but occasional, or inconstant, and so more time is spent in idleness than in labor. 2. A man is best skilled in that which he is used to. 3. And he will be best provided for it, with instruments and necessaries. 4. Therefore he doth it better than he could do another work, and so wrongs not others, but attains more the ends of his labor. … Therefore some certain calling or trade of life is best for every man.”
Baxter was quick to point out that certain callings, while perhaps lawful, are sinful. “An unlawful act is bad enough, but an unlawful calling is a life of sin. To make sin a man’s trade, and work, and living is a most horrid, desperate course of life.” He places mercenary soldiers, drunkards, gamesters, and prostitutes within sinful callings.
After serving the public good and receiving personal benefits from a calling, Baxter allows for “the commodity of your calling.” He approved of gains from self-actualization and competency. “You may labor in that manner as tends most to your success and lawful gain. You are bound to improve all your master’s talents, but then your end must be that you may be the better provided to do God service and may do the more good with what you have.”
Baxter gives another useful direction: “Choose no calling (especially if it be of public consequence) without the advice of some judicious, faithful persons of that calling.” I find much wisdom in seeking counsel from older, faithful persons working in an occupation of interest. I received advice and direction during my formative years from experienced professionals in engineering and business. I was able to work three college summers for energy companies to better understand my vocation choices. Students today seek internship and mentoring while navigating vocational options. This greatly helps match service to the community and an individual’s vocational skills.