What Were the Puritans' Views of Work and Worldly Success?

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For the Puritans, work and holiness were closely interrelated concepts. Indeed, because God gave every person his vocation, work was seen as a way of doing homage to the will of God itself, regardless of the line of work involved. Thus, financial success, generally speaking, was viewed as the natural result of executing one's religious duties in daily life.

This sense of all jobs being holy is sometimes known as the Puritan doctrine of vocation. This doctrine had the twofold effect of making common work sanctified and of integrating a person's spiritual life with his life in the world. As all work was considered holy work, it was equally important that Puritans performed it with a sense of joy, gratitude and purpose. Alternatively, idleness was viewed with utter contempt and was actually regarded as a manner of robbing God of his due, not to mention depriving the entire community of needed labor.

Concerning the development of earthly wealth, this too was seen as resulting from divine favor and judgment, not from merit, for God alone was capable of granting the gifts of faculty needed for gaining wealth. The Puritan distinction between grace and merit here is consistent with larger theological concerns that pitted early Calvinist theology against Catholic belief in the power of good works. Thus, to reject riches that were achieved lawfully and that were warranted through God's grace was to cease being his responsible steward and to reject his predetermined judgment.