From HOW eNews Issue 1, Volume 3|
Biblical Principles of Business
By Stephen McDowell, 2011 HOW Convention Speaker
Exemplified in the Life of Cyrus Hall McCormick, a Reaper in the Kingdom
He Advanced Civilization and Destroyed Famine by Fulfilling His Kingdom Business
In the parable in Luke 19:11-27, Jesus instructs us in how we should live on the earth as we wait for, and assist in bringing forth, His kingdom. Jesus related this parable because “they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” Among other things, He wanted to correct their view of how the kingdom would come.
He told us to “do business with this until I come back” (vs. 13). The this are minas, which certainly speak of wise money usage, but in a broader sense represent the talents, skills, and abilities God has given each of us. God created us for a purpose (Gen. 1:26-28). He wants us to work as partners with Him to take dominion over the earth by using the talents He has given us. These talents express themselves in the business or work He has called us to perform. Our work is a vital part of God’s plan for us and the nations. As we are faithful to labor hard and multiply what He has given us, we will be taking part in bringing forth His Kingdom on earth and being a blessing to the nations.
Those who develop and multiply their talents will also be given authority over cities (vs. 17,19) in the future kingdom (and often in this life). If we do not use the talents and abilities God has given us and give Him back a return, we are in big trouble (vs. 22-24, see also Matt. 25:30). God commands us to increase what He puts into our lives and hands.
Cyrus McCormick was a faithful servant who utilized the talents God gave him, and in so doing elevated the position of farmers and common laborers, helped provide abundant and affordable bread to the nations, and lay the foundation for the advancement and prosperity of America and many other nations. He fulfilled his Kingdom purpose.
Providential Preparation of Cyrus McCormick
His birth in America at the given time in history
Cyrus Hall McCormick was prepared by God to accomplish his specific purpose in history. God brought him forth at just the right time and place. Cyrus was born in 1809 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Just one generation before Cyrus was born, America had become a free nation unlike any the world had seen. This freedom, which was rooted in Christianity, provided the atmosphere necessary for McCormick to succeed. Such a man could not have been in any other nation. His work was dependent upon those who came before him – without the pilgrims, patriots, and founding fathers of America, there would have been no Cyrus Hall McCormick, the “reaper man.” He played an important role in the advancement of man – an advancement brought about due to the spread of the gospel in history according to the plan of God.
Our founders gave us freedom. This freedom provided an environment necessary for the development of inventions, like the reaper, which allowed for the expansion of the agricultural base of America. The growth of the agriculture base led to the prosperity of our nation.
His home and upbringing
McCormick biographer Herbert Casson writes:
Cyrus McCormick was predestined, we may legitimately say, by the conditions of his birth, to accomplish his great work. From his father he had a specific training as an inventor; from his mother he had executive ability and ambition; from his Scotch-Irish ancestry he had the dogged tenacity that defied defeat; and from the wheat-fields that environed his home came the call for the Reaper, to lighten the heavy drudgery of the harvest.1
Cyrus’ father, Robert McCormick, had worked to invent a reaper from the time Cyrus was a child. He tried his first machine when Cyrus was seven in 1816, but it failed. Subsequent attempts also failed, and the jests of his neighbors forced Robert to carry on his experiments in secret. Robert would allow no one in his workshop except his children. Cyrus was often in his father’s workshop, which helped inspire him with the vision of inventing a working reaper, one that cut and then properly handled the grain.
From his youth, Cyrus was inspired to invent, and he did. Before the invention of the reaper, he had devised a new grain-cradle, a hillside plow, and a self-sharpening plow. The back-breaking work of harvesting grain was also a great motivation for Cyrus to invent a reaper.
Cyrus’ first successful reaper was tested in July 1831 on a small patch of wheat on his father’s farm. Cyrus gave a public exhibition a few days later at the nearby town of Steele’s Tavern. He cut six acres of oats with his reaper drawn by two horses in an afternoon, which was an amazing feat for it was equal to the work of six laborers with scythes or 24 peasants with sickles.
In 1832, he gave a large-scale public exhibition to one hundred people in the town of Lexington. This brought a wider recognition of his invention and praise from many sources. A noted professor declared that “this machine is worth a hundred thousand dollars.” No praise was more encouraging than the words of his father who said, “It makes me feel proud to have a son do what I could not do.”2
Many other people had attempted to invent a reaper—Cyrus was the 47th person to secure a patent for a reaper—but none of them worked properly or could have developed into a successful machine for they lacked the proper operational design. His invention combined for the first time the seven mechanical elements necessary for a working reaper. Those who built their own reapers after this time copied McCormick’s basic design.
Cyrus Hall McCormick is remembered as the inventor of the reaper. But he did much more than that—he also invented the business of making and selling reapers, and he did it in a Biblical manner, with Kingdom fruit. His work impacted the world. “He did more than any other member of the human race to abolish the famine of the cities and the drudgery of the farm—to feed the hungry and straighten the bent backs of the world.”3
Building His Business
McCormick had built a successful reaper, but no one knew about it. Promoting the value and importance of the reaper was just as important as building it. He built the machine, so now he had to build the business. Cyrus worked harder and longer to build his business than he did to build his reaper. “His whole soul was wrapped up in his Reaper,” said one of his neighbors.4
In the summer of 1832 while looking out over rolling fields of wheat the thought came to him, “‘Perhaps I may make a million dollars from this Reaper.’ This thought was so enormous that it seemed like a dream-like dwelling in the clouds—so remote, so unattainable, so exalted, so visionary.”5 For years it appeared only that, a vision. In fact, it was nine years before McCormick found anyone with enough money and courage to buy a reaper from him. During that time he struggled greatly and instead of making any money toward his vision of a million dollars, he actually lost money, and even had to give up his farm to creditors. But he held on to his reaper, and his indomitable spirit would not give up on his vision.
In 1839 he opened the first of the world’s reaper factories in the little log workshop near his father’s house and begin to make reapers. But even so it was not until over a year later that he sold his first reaper to Abraham Smith. During those first years of failure “Cyrus McCormick hung to his Reaper as John Knox had to his Bible.”6 In the next decade as he traveled around the country and promoted his reaper, he became so identified with his invention that he was often called “the Reaper Man.”
During the 1840s, he gradually begin to sell more and more reapers, but as he looked to expand his business he recognized Virginia was not the place to do it, so he traveled to the midwest and opened up a factory in Chicago, then a little mud-town. As he looked for ways to sell his reapers throughout the states he created “a new species of commercial organization which is by many thought to be fully as remarkable as his invention of the Reaper.”7
His Christian Faith
Before looking at principles of his business, we should first look at his faith, for his faith and his business were inseparable. There would have been no McCormick the businessman without McCormick the Christian. In 1845 he wrote: “Business is not inconsistent with Christianity; but the latter ought to be a help to the former, giving a confidence and resignation, after using all proper means.”8 His faith was a product of the Protestant Reformation. Two fundamental ideas that supported his character sprang from the Reformation. These were the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the individual.
McCormick understood that God calls people in the business realm and gives them the talents, gifts, and grace they need to accomplish His purpose for them. During one of his struggles with manufacturers who had broken their contracts, he wrote:
If it were not for the fact that Providence has seemed to assist me in our business, it has at times seemed that I would almost sink under the weight of responsibility hanging upon me; but I believe the Lord will help us out.9
His belief that a man must not violate his own conscience, but be a good steward of it, gave him the strength and courage to fight many battles. He was constantly in the courts seeking to obtain protection for his invention. He also fought the Pennsylvania Railroad for 23 years when they acted irresponsibly—losing his luggage—and refused to make amends. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a settlement of about $18,000, and that came after his death.
Cyrus’ Calvinistic faith was instilled in him by his parents and grandfather from boyhood. He first learned to read from the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. His home-life, schooling, and church infused into him the faith that his forefathers had practiced for generations. His parents were strict Presbyterians, and the whole family faithfully attended the New Providence Church.
At the age of 10, Cyrus started attending the Field School in a nearby log schoolhouse where he was taught the “3-Rs”, geography, and religion. About 30 boys and girls would be schooled here a few weeks out of each year using the Bible, Webster’s Speller, Murray’s Grammar, and a few other books. Cyrus displayed his inventive nature during this time by making a wooden globe that revolved on a metal stand. The teacher had seen nothing like it and marveled at its detail. Cyrus loved to learn and read every book he could obtain. In addition, he learned Latin from his minister. During his teen years he learned to survey, and at age 17 he made his own surveying instruments.
His public profession of faith
In 1834, when Cyrus was 25 years old, he attended a series of meetings at the church on his grandfather’s farm. At the end of the four days of meetings, where three ministers preached all day, those who were not Christians or who had not made a public profession were given the opportunity to acknowledge their faith. Herbert Casson writes:
Cyrus McCormick was there, and he was not a member of the church; yet he did not stand up. That night his father went to his bedside and gently reproached him. “My son,” he said, “don’t you know that your silence is a public rejection of your Saviour?” Cyrus was conscience-stricken. He leapt from his bed and began to dress himself. “I’ll go and see old Billy McClung,” he said. Half an hour later, old Billy McClung, who was a universally respected religious leader in the community, was amazed to be called out of his sleep by a greatly troubled young man, who wanted to know by what means he might make his peace with his Maker. The next Sunday this young man stood up in the church, and became in name what he already was by nature and inheritance—a Christian of the Presbyterian faith.10
Biblical Principles of Business and Work Exemplified in Cyrus’ Life11
1. Work is a holy calling and, therefore, we should love it and work hard.
Our work is a part of our calling and is a primary way we will extend God’s kingdom on the earth. Work is not merely a secular activity that is unimportant in God’s purposes, nor is it a necessary evil that we must endure to obtain the necessities of life. God commissioned work before the fall and shows us by His example how we should view work.
God loves to work, and so should we! Wherever He is, there is work. John 5:17 states: “But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’”
Heaven is not a place where we sit around the pool all day and drink lemonade. We will be working, and we will love it. Remember, those who faithfully use and multiply the talents God has given them will be put in charge of cities, now, but more so in the life to come. Work gives us the skills we need to govern well.
God has been working from the beginning of the creation. We first know of Him as the Creator. Romans 1:20 reveals that God’s power, attributes, and nature are revealed through the creation—through His work! This is true for us as well.
Dennis Peacocke writes:
Work is the incarnation of my intangible “soul” out into God’s Cosmos. . . . Work allows what is inside of me to be revealed in the outside world. That is why God created the concept of work and loves it so much, because what is inside God is so spectacular it must be externally revealed. It is through His work that we see who He is! . . . No wonder so many people hate work: It is revealing externally what is inside of them.12
The Bible teaches that what is inside of us will come out in our words, attitudes, and actions. This is most evident in our place of work and, consequently, the real you can be seen by your boss, co-workers, or employees more easily than by your pastor. You are at church a few hours a week and are on your best behavior. You are at work 40 or more hours a week and express all your conditions. What an opportunity Christians have to minister to those at work!
The Christian religion is essential for the prosperity of a nation, for it teaches a philosophy of work and a theology of labor, unlike other religions. By precept and example, God and His Son Jesus communicate to us a love of work, a desire to be good stewards, entrepreneurship, and the principle that work is a holy calling.
Cyrus saw his work as a holy calling and, therefore, loved to work. He rarely recreated. “He was the most laborious worker I ever saw,” said one of his secretaries. In his latter life, Cyrus McCormick remarked that “I expect to die in the harness, because this is not the world for rest. This is the world for work. In the next world we will have the rest.”13 His strategy for work was: one thing at a time, and the hardest thing first. “He followed the line of most resistance. If the hardest thing can be done, he reasoned, all the rest will follow.”14
Work was so much a part of his nature, that when he lay on his death bed in 1884, some of his last words, uttered as he regained consciousness for one of the last times, were: “Work, work!”15
2. Business is a means of serving and blessing others.
Cyrus built his business upon a number of unique ideas. One was a written guarantee. McCormick first “warranted the performance of the Reaper in every respect” in 1842, which helped him to sell seven of them that year. In 1848 the guarantee was printed like an advertisement and if the machine did not perform according to the written agreement, he would take the machine back and refund the total price. This idea of a free trial and refund to dissatisfied customers was new then, but quite common today. This reflected the Biblical ideas of serving and trusting the customer, seeking not chiefly personal profit, but providing the farmer with a machine that saved him labor and produced greater profit for him. He was caring for others and desired them to benefit from his invention.
A second idea he used: Reapers sold at a known price. Since the bargaining method was norm during his day, the seller would seek to get the highest price he could for his items. Contrary to this, Cyrus announced his price in ads, and the buyer knew exactly what he would pay beforehand and that it would be the same for everyone. He treated all men equally, showing no partiality to any.
A third idea of McCormick’s business: The customer’s good-will. Foremost of the concerns of McCormick was the well being of the farmer. While he never sought the praise of the public or other businessmen, he always stood well with the farmers. He wanted them to prosper and saw his reaper as a way to fulfill this desire. That is one reason why he extended them credit and allowed them to pay for a reaper with the money that was saved during the harvest. He said, “It is better that I should wait for the money than that you should wait for the machine that you need.”16
This policy caused him to lose much in some instances, as when drought forced early settlers in the Dakotas to leave without being able to pay their debts. But for the most part, McCormick and the new immigrants in the mid-west prospered, thanks to his reaper and his desire to get one into the hands of every farmer. Many date their prosperity to obtaining a McCormick Reaper. One example of this follows.
In 1855 a poor tenant farmer, who had been evicted from his rented land in Ayrshire, Scotland, arrived with his family at the banks of the Mississippi. There was then no railroad nor stage-coach, so the whole family walked to a quarter section of land farther west, not far from where the city of Des Moines stands today. The first year they cut the wheat with the cradle and the scythe, and the following year they bought a McCormick Reaper. They prospered. The father went back for a visit to Ayrshire and paid all his creditors. And the eldest son, James, became first Speaker of the Iowa Legislature, then a professor in an agricultural college, and finally the founder of the Department of Agriculture.17
A business will grow by caring for people and seeking to serve your customers. Another way McCormick served his customers was by servicing the machines he had sold in the past and carrying spare parts to replace any worn or broken. This was a new idea, and the spare parts business grew with the reaper sales. It began with a desire to serve.
Serving employees and co-workers
The focus of a successful and godly business will be to develop human beings—their character, talents, stewardship, etc. “Good leaders help their people become better stewards.”18 Christian businesses should be helping workers practice stewardship and assume more responsibilities because this produces growth and self-government necessary for the production of wealth and riches. Socialism robs man of this, and so impoverishes him and his nation. In contrast, private property and free enterprise are of great benefit to man because when you give property to people to manage and steward, it develops the character in them necessary for them and the nation to prosper.
Our policies as a nation, businessman, or parent should encourage individual enterprise and should not reward non-biblical action. Our government today pays people when they have babies out of wedlock and when they do not work. If a crime is committed, instead of making restitution, criminals are put up in prison with TV, sports, and education at tax-payers expense of $25,000 per year. The stay is even nicer for white-collar crimes. This treatment is done in the name of compassion, but “the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov. 12:10).
People should not be shielded from the rewards or penalties of their actions, for this is one way they learn reality. Those that shield others from failure in life cause those that fail to become dependent upon them instead of God. The state is doing this today and becoming god, the provider, for many. If we spare people from the consequences of disobedience, we will destroy them.
Having a servant’s heart
Matthew 20:20-28 and Luke 22:25-27 reveal that kingdom businessmen should have the heart of a servant. In business we should be seeking to serve those who work for us or with us and help build in them the character and skills they need to fulfill God’s plan for their lives. We should gradually give others more responsibilities, which will help to develop the skills they need to grow. If we do, everyone will benefit, including our business.
3. Business must be built on integrity and godly principles.
All that we do in our life should be done as unto the Lord. As a business leader or employee we should certainly carry out our work in a manner that reflects godly character. As everyone involved in a business, especially the leader, does this, it will provide a foundation for success. McCormick displayed many godly traits in his personal life and in his business. He also sought to provide the best product possible to his customers.
Any job Cyrus set out to do, he did with great thoroughness. He labored diligently to be exact in his labors and did not settle for second best or 90 percent. He did not seek to patent or sell his reaper for many years because he had improvements he wanted to make before doing so —he wanted it as good as possible. He exerted the same amount of labor over all his endeavors, large or small. He even took great care in writing letters to his family members, making sure that all sentences were formed correctly and that there were no misspelled words.
Cyrus’ foremost character quality was his tenacity or strength of will. When he set his mind on a project, every ounce of his being would be exerted toward the endeavor. “He was so strong, so dominating, so ready to crash through obstacles by sheer bulk of will-power, that smaller men could never quite subdue a feeling of alarm while they were in his presence.”19
Yet, if the outcome was not in his favor he was not crushed, but got up and continued on in his life. In 1877 he made a run for the United States Senate. After a long hard struggle that ended in his defeat he said: “Well, that’s over. What next?”20
While he was strong in his will, he was kind and tender in his relations. One of his cashiers said, “I had only one brush with him in thirty-five years.”21 He always treated his parents and family with the greatest respect. His tender heart is revealed in a letter he wrote to his brother after his father’s death in 1846: “Many a sore cry have I had as I have gone around this place and found no father.”22
Cyrus required complete integrity of his employees. One young man lost his chance of promotion for he had put a two-cent stamp from the company on a private letter. Yet, once McCormick had tested a man, he trusted him completely, and they trusted him. He loved to talk of the loyalty of his agents and workmen. It was one of his favorite topics.
Once when some of his agents were pressing McCormick for higher salaries and seeking to get others to join with them, one agent in Minnesota refused saying, “I don’t want to force Mr. McCormick. I have worked for him for nearly thirty years, and I know that he is a just man, and that he will do what is right.”23 Shortly after this, Cyrus showed his appreciation to this man by giving him a gift of a carriage and team of horses.
Another of McCormick’s unique business ideas—the field test—reveals his integrity. Cyrus wanted the customer to see the product up front, to know what they were getting. As a means of bringing to the people a knowledge of the value of the reaper and allowing farmers to compare rival manufacturers, McCormick initiated the field test. People were invited to come and witness two or ten or even more machines compete against one another. His first test was in 1844 in Richmond against a practical mowing machine built by Obed Hussey. McCormick’s Reaper was judged better in all ways.
4. Business growth comes from encouraging individual initiative and seeing that all involved benefit from the fruit of their labor.
As individuals grow, business will grow.
A business will grow from the inside-out. It will grow as you learn to handle problems and operate affairs properly. The process of growth produces the character necessary to support continued growth. As Dennis Peacocke puts it: “Power is guarded by problems” where “power . . . [is] sharing knowledge, ability, and authority with God over some portion of His creation.”24
Handling problems produces character, which is necessary as the foundation for long-term permanent growth. As we are faithful to persevere, work hard, be creative, solve problems, and steward our resources, we will develop the capacity to oversee growth in our business. As we develop this in others who work with us, they and the whole business will grow.
The prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is an example of what happens when someone gets power before they have been prepared to handle it. Power should come on the basis of faithfulness. As employees show their faithfulness and ability through handling problems, they can then be given more power and responsibility. Problems are a form of property of which we must be good stewards. Learning to handle problems produces good character, which causes all to profit.25
Cyrus’ field representatives were partners.
A fifth unique idea McCormick built his business upon was a responsible agent and regional warehouses. McCormick enlisted agents who went out to the people and “flooded the country with his machines,” as one of his competitors complained in an 1848 lawsuit. His agents were not mere employees, but partners who were in charge of their own area and benefitted or suffered based on their performance. They reaped what they sowed. This helped greatly in the expansion of the enterprise.
An important part in the success of a business is for the employer to seek to develop the talents of his employees and to impart to them the proper vision of business. If each person is performing the function they enjoy and are best suited for, everyone will benefit. While employees will work harder if they benefit from the fruit of their labors, they must also have a higher vision than merely making a quick profit. Cyrus sought to train responsible agents, who not only benefitted from hard work, but also had a desire to serve the customer.
Government should recognize that freedom encourages inventiveness.
The reaper was the product of a free republic. It could not have been the product of Russia or Austria for at this time farm laborers received no wages—they were serfs. The land owners had no economic reason for reapers for they could get all the free labor they needed.
In the free nation of America, various factors were forcing wages higher during the time of the growth of the reaper. Land was cheap and readily available, so few would want to work for others when they could work for themselves. Gold prospecting drew many potential workers further west. This kept the labor supply small and more costly, and limited the amount of grain a farmer could plant. When it came time to harvest the grain, it all had to be reaped within about two weeks or it would be lost. Therefore, the number of laborers greatly affected how much grain was planted. The reaper came at just the right time. A farmer could plant ten times more grain and feed not only his family, but many others as well.
Bismarck once asked why reapers could not be produced in Germany. To fully understand the answer he would have had to read the history of the United States. “He would have seen that the Reaper can be produced only in countries where labor receives a high reward, where farmers own their own acres without fear of being despoiled by invading armies, and where the average of intelligence and enterprise is as high in the country as in the city.”26
Freedom produces new inventions and tools which produce prosperity for all.
Tools allow productivity to increase greatly. The McCormick Reaper allowed one man to cut more wheat in a day than ten men by hand. But men were still needed to bind the wheat after it was cut. The next step was a self-binding reaper. McCormick began a large scale production of these in the mid-1870s. Now one man could sit on a self-binder and harvest a whole wheat field on his own. Comparing hand-harvesting to the self-binder shows a dramatic decrease in the time cost per bushel of wheat—three hours by hand versus ten minutes by machine!27
The nation prospered as well from foreign trade. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the reaper was the number one machine export of America. Four-fifths of all the harvesting machines in the world were made in the United States, and at least one-third of these were made in the factory McCormick had started in Chicago in 1847.
The invention of the reaper changed the life of the farmer and the nation. With one man able to produce food for many, others were able to specialize to produce other goods and services. The amount of capital and leisure time increased for everyone, and with this the people had more time to pursue education and development of other inventions, which led to more prosperity and leisure.
5. Incorporating the family into your business is a means of building wealth generationally.
The parable in Luke 19:11-27 tells us that whoever uses what he has will be given more, and he who does not will lose what he has. This is why many who inherit riches lose them, for they have not developed the capacity to multiply or even hold on to what is given them. They have not gone through the process to get the character and talents they need to produce riches. George Gilder writes: “The vast majority of American’s fortunes are dissipated within two generations.” This is because, “When the money is actually passed on, [much of it] ends up among large numbers of prodigal sons and daughters. . . The receipt of a legacy, it turns out, often erodes the qualities of entrepreneurship that are needed to perpetuate it.”28
In his book, Doing Business God’s Way!, Dennis Peacocke differentiates between riches and wealth. Riches are perishable assets and can be inherited or gotten by illegal means. Wealth is much different. Wealth is “primarily achieved through the skills, spiritual knowledge, and character developed in obeying God’s way or approaching resource management.”29
Many rich people have no real wealth. Real wealth entails having a Biblical view of life and living according to that view. It involves understanding your purpose in life. It includes relationships, good health, and material contentment. While capitalism is riches oriented, Kingdom economics is wealth oriented. Godly stewardship motives Kingdom businessmen to be productive as opposed to greed, envy, and discontent, which motivates many.
The family is the pipeline of wealth development in the earth. Genesis 12:3 tells us that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed. The skills to produce wealth come primarily from the homes of a nation. If they are not produced there, they will not be produced in the schools or businesses or by the government or media. The economics of a nation is rooted in the the families of a nation.
We are to pass on our wealth to our children (i.e., develop in them what they need to accomplish God’s mission for them). Proverbs 13:22 says, “a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”
Cyrus’ family produced wealth in him who, in turn, passed it on to his family.
The atmosphere of Cyrus’ family produced Cyrus the inventor and businessman. His father worked with him in his early years on the farm factory. After Cyrus started his company in Chicago, he quickly made his brothers partners with him. When his son became old enough, he was brought into the business, and after that his grandson. Cyrus and his wife passed on their wealth and riches to their children.
McCormick’s son, Cyrus H., worked for years to get the leading men who made farm machinery to join together, enabling them to be more productive. He finally succeeded in 1902, when five leading manufacturers joined to form the International Harvester Company.
We Need a Biblical View of Business and Work.
Cyrus had a vision of business as a means of advancing God’s Kingdom and purposes.
The reaper was essential for the advancement of civilization and the growth of the industrial age. It provided a means of harvesting a large supply of cheap food which was necessary to feed all the people who began living in cities and working in factories. It was the means of bringing prosperity to many. One of McCormick’s competitors said, “It seems as though the McCormick Reaper started the ball of prosperity rolling, and it has been rolling ever since.”30
Cyrus saw his reaper as a means of blessing and prospering others all over the world. In 1851, he traveled to Europe to introduce his machine. Beginning with England, some of the European nations had abolished serfdom; therefore, cheap labor was no longer readily available. It was the ideal time to introduce the reaper.
Over the years many reapers were sold in Europe, and McCormick received many honors for his contribution to agriculture. His significance could be summed up by the French Academy of Science, who elected him a member in 1878 for the reason that he “had done more for the cause of agriculture than any other living man.”
His life work was the abolition of famine. But this was not accomplished by using resources that others produced and channeling them to the needy in the world. Rather, he set out to make all men more productive so that the total food supply would greatly increase and potentially mean an abundance for everyone. Casson writes:
He instructed the wheat-eating races how to increase the “seven small loaves” so that the multitudes should be fed. He picked up the task of feeding the hungry masses—the Christly task that had lain unfulfilled for eighteen centuries, and led the way in organizing it into a system of international reciprocity.31
McCormick paved the way for a new era in the advancement of mankind. No longer would man be forced to exert most of his effort in obtaining the basic necessities of life. Much more of his time could be given to pursuing many of the noble causes God had set before him. The reaper was indispensable in the advancement of America and numerous other nations.
To McCormick, work was not a secular pursuit that had no spiritual value. Nor was it a necessary evil he had to endure in order to make money to finance the real work of God in missions and church activities. To McCormick, his work was his calling through which he fulfilled His divine mission and manifested God’s Kingdom on earth.
You do not have to be like Cyrus McCormick and invent something great to fulfill your divine mission. But as you are providing mankind with necessary goods or services and are helping to order and maintain God’s creation, then that is sacred work. This can be done as a farmer, teacher, parent, manufacturer, carpenter, doctor, store clerk, etc.
Work and business must be kept in balance with all our responsibilities.
We have responsibilities in many spheres of life besides work, including our family, church, and nation. We must not neglect any of these.
McCormick fulfilled his duties in every sphere of life.
Throughout his life, Cyrus not only was faithful to extend God’s Kingdom through his business, but he also sought to bring godly change in many other spheres. In his early travels through the mid-west, he noticed many of the new settlements were rough and immoral. He wrote in 1845, “I see a great deal of profanity and infidelity in this country, enough to make the heart sick.”32 He recognized the best means to deal with this problem was to have more trained ministers available for these towns, so he resolved to help when he was able. Fourteen years later he had made enough money to contribute $100,000 to establish Northwestern Theological Seminary (later called McCormick Theological Seminary) in Chicago. Thousands of men were trained for the ministry through this college.
He did many other things to further “the cause” (as he called it) in the northwest. As another means of educating the people toward godliness, McCormick bought The Interior in 1872. He turned this Christian weekly into a magazine of the highest rank.
His godly vision for his nation also inspired him to enter politics. This he did with the same zeal and determination he showed in business and religious affairs. He not only actively supported others to run for government, but sought office a number of times himself. Cyrus ran as a statesmen, not as a politician. He had no time to play the game of politics. This may have been why he was never elected. He talked of “fundamental principles” and often turned a party speech into a sermon on national righteousness. He was too sincere and straightforward to follow the path that his political consultants laid out for him. If the opposition was a man of merit, he did not hesitate to publicly speak in favor of him. He arose above party interests to look down at the nation as a whole to consider what was best for it.
Cyrus gave much time and money toward godly reform in the public sector, usually with no personal reward and often with seemingly little fruit. Yet, his involvement was not motivated by personal benefit but out of a desire to serve his nation. His action was based upon the principles that governed his life. Someone once asked him why he bothered himself with political things since it brought him no glory or benefit. His response was: “I am in politics because I cannot help it. There are certain principles that I have got to stand by, and I am obliged to go into politics to defend them.”33
As with his business, it was his faith that had shaped his view of political responsibilities. He had been trained in the views of John Knox and other preacher-patriots who saw it as their duty to fight for both civil and religious liberty.
While fulfilling his destiny through a Biblical view of business, Cyrus kept His faith.
The rise of America and the rise of McCormick’s business go hand in hand. From the time of the invention of his reaper until the time of his death (1831 to 1884), America went from an insignificant nation to a great nation. Cyrus’ invention had as much to do with this as anything.
The invention of the Reaper was the right starting-point for the up-building of a republic. It made all other progress possible, by removing the fear of famine and the drudgery of farm labor. It enabled even the laborer of the harvest-field to be free and intelligent, because it gave him the power of ten men.34
It also played a key role in the settlement of the west. It was said that the reaper extended the frontier fifty miles a year.
Cyrus’ favorite Bible passage was Romans 8. He certainly proved to be more than a conqueror in all the trials he faced by trusting in his Lord Jesus Christ. His favorite hymn, which he sang often, begins:
O Thou in whose presence my soul takes delight,
On whom in affliction I call,
My comfort by day, and my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all.
Cyrus expressed and exuded hope and optimism throughout his life, whether it involved his business or his efforts at godly reform. His last speech, given at the laying of the cornerstone of a new building at the college he helped found, reveals this.
I never doubted that success would ultimately reward our efforts, and now, on this occasion, we may fairly say that the night has given place to the dawn of a brighter day than any which has hitherto shone upon us.35
His last words occurred on May 11, 1884. Early that morning he gathered his family around him where he led them in prayer and in singing several old hymns. Before lapsing into unconsciousness for the last time, McCormick quietly uttered, “It’s all right. It’s all right. I only want Heaven.”36 Two days later he died. The man who had faithfully done business and multiplied the talents God had given him—the man who had done so much to extend the Kingdom of God on earth and who had reaped an abundance for himself, his family, and untold multitudes was now going to reap his external reward as a good and faithful servant.
May God grant us the grace to do business with the talents He has given us and to multiply them many-fold, so as to fulfill our divine purpose in the earth, and, to prepare us to rule and reign with Him forever.
1. Cyrus Hall McCormick, His Life and Work, Herbert N. Casson, Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909, p. 25.
2. Ibid., p. 40.
3. Ibid., p. 47.
4. Ibid., p. 53.
5. Ibid., p. 54.
6. Ibid., p. 58.
7. Ibid., p. 79.
8. Ibid., p. 160.
10. Ibid., pp. 159-160.
11. Some of these principles are adapted from Almighty & Sons, Doing Business God’s Way!, Dennis Peacocke, Santa Rosa, Cal.: Rebuild, 1995, p. 22.
12. Ibid., p. 53.
13. Casson, p. 140.
14. Ibid., p. 141.
15. Ibid., p. 187.
16. Ibid., p. 85.
17. Ibid., pp. 86-87.
18. Peacocke, p. 22.
19. Casson, p. 154.
20. Ibid., p. 151.
21. Ibid., p. 179.
22. Ibid., p. 181.
23. Ibid., p. 180.
24. Peacocke, p. 25.
25. Ibid., pp. 25-26.
26. Casson, pp. 136-137.
27. Ibid., p. 210.
28. quoted in Peacocke, pp. 37-38.
29. Peacocke, p. 32.
30. Casson, p. 230.
31. Ibid., p. 202.
32. Ibid., p. 162.
33. Ibid., p. 169.
34. Ibid., p. 190.
35. Ibid., p. 163.
36. Cyrus Hall McCormick, Harvest, 1856-1884, William T. Hutchinson, New York: D. Appleton–Century Co., 1935, p. 771.