1. Sloth is that love of indolence, or dislike to exertion, which induces man to neglect his duties.
The will is given to man as a determining faculty to impel him to action in the right course, and to hold him back from activity in the wrong direction. Sloth is that inertness which holds back the will from forming a determination, and therefore usually holds man back from fulfilling his duties. It may hold him back from doing what is wrong, and so may be of a negative advantage, and yet it so saps the life of the will as to make it incapable of doing any good, that it would in some cases be better in the end for a man to have chosen what is wrong, and to have repented, than to have remained inert in the presence of a question set before him to decide upon.
It cannot be sufficiently impressed on Christians that they have positive duties, that they are not called on to be a kind of moral jelly-fish, but to a life of activity, and of activity healthy and well-directed. It is in order that they may live this life of healthy, well-directed activity, that Conscience is given them. Nor can any man shirk his duties without mortal sin, for he is going contrary to the Will of God, and frustrating the intention of God in sending him into the world. There is a place for every man, there is work for every man, a line for every man to walk along, and Conscience to direct, and will to determine, are given to every man to enable him to take his place, do his work, follow his course. He may take the wrong place, do the wrong work, and follow the wrong road, and he sins when he so does. But he also sins, and sins quite as gravely, when he refuses through indolence to take his proper place, and fulfil his predestined duties.
2. Every man has faculties of some sort, and for some end. He has intellectual powers, manual dexterity, a sensitive eye or ear, and so on, and it is the duty of every man to come early and clearly to a perception of what his special abilities are, and then to cultivate them to his utmost. So is he fulfilling God’s will. But if he says, “I am a man of private means, there is no occasion for me to exert my intellect to acquire knowledge, to work at painting, study music, follow mechanics,” and so he does not develop his natural gift, he sins against God, he is wasting his talent, through sloth.
Again, no man is justified in half doing what he is set to do. A good many men and women are content to obtain a smattering of knowledge, and to dabble in the fine arts, to trifle with science, merely so as to be able to chatter in society about these things. But if anyone has a faculty enabling him to do anything; if anyone has a task set him to do, he must do it thoroughly; do it “as unto the Lord, and not unto men.” The servant must not half do his work, the tradesman leave the article he turns out unfinished off, nor the man of culture be content with a smattering of knowledge. All must alike make full exercise of their talents. What their hands or minds find to do, they must do well, or they sin through the vice of sloth.
3. Sloth is hateful to God. “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence,” said Christ. The violent, i.e., the active, take it by storm. The unprofitable servant is condemned because he did not put his talent to usury.
The barren fig-tree was cursed because it produced no fruit.
4. Sloth is the fruitful mother of vicious children.
(a) Indolence, and loss of time, and for the use of our time we must give account.
(b) Cowardice, which makes us shrink from doing what is right because we fear it will give us trouble or inconvenience.
(c) Inconstancy, which is the changing about from one course to another, to avoid present discomfort, instead of acting directly in accordance with the principle.
(d) Deadness of heart to God’s calls.