John Wesley: The Use of Money (1/2)

John Wesley: The Use of Money (1/2)

My favourite sermon is the 18th century sermon on “The Use of Money” by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church. His words are passionate, radical, simple, and practical. Upon reading it again, I even had wet eyes. The core message of Wesley’s sermon is: Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can. This sermon might possibly be the most EA kind of thing that has been written before Peter Singer came along.

The sermon is posted below (in an abridged version). The purpose of this blogpost is simply to put the sermon up for discussion. In case anyone would like to dig deeper: there is an accompanying and somewhat lengthy blog post here which does the work of filtering out how exactly Wesley’s sermon overlaps (or stands in tension with) Effective Altruism. It also quotes some touching facts on how Wesley himself put his words into practice.


“The Use of Money” by John Wesley

(Abridged and put into modern English by Richard Hall. The full-length version is here.)

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)

The right use of money is of the utmost importance to the Christian, yet it is a subject given too little attention. Wealth has often been regarded by poets and philosophers as a source of evil and yet the fault lies, not with money, but with those who use it. Indeed, money should be regarded as a gift of God for the benefits that it brings in ordering the affairs of civilization and the opportunities it offers for doing good. In the hands of God’s children, money is food for the hungry, clothing for the naked and shelter for the stranger. With money we can care for the widow and the fatherless, defend the oppressed, meet the need of those who are sick or in pain.

It is therefore most urgent that God’s people know how to make use of their money for his glory. All the necessary instructions can be condensed into 3 simple rules:

  • Gain all you can
  • Save all you can
  • Give all you can

Gain all you can

With this first rule, we sound like children of the world, and it is our bounden duty to do this. There are, however, limits to this rule. We should not gain money at the expense of life or health. No sum of money, however large, should induce us to accept employment which would injure our bodies. Neither should we begin (or continue in) any business which deprives us of the food and sleep that we need. We may draw a distinction between businesses which are absolutely unhealthy, such as those that deal directly with dangerous materials, and those employments which would be harmful to those of a weak constitution. If our reason or experience shows that a job is unhealthy for us, then we should leave it as soon as possible even if this means that our income is reduced.

The rule is further limited by the necessity not to undertake any employment which might injure our minds. This includes the pursuit of any trade which is against the law of God or the law of the land. It is just as wrong to defraud the king of taxes as it is to steal from our fellow citizens. There are businesses which might be innocent in themselves but which, at least in England at this time require cheating, lying or other customs which are contrary to good conscience, to provide an adequate income. These, too, we should avoid. There are other trades which many may pursue with complete innocence but which you may not because of some peculiarity of your nature. For example, I am convinced that I could not study mathematics without losing my faith, yet many others pursue a lifetime study in that field without harm. Everyone must judge for themselves and refrain from whatever may harm their mind and soul.

What is true of ourselves is equally true of our neighbour. We should not “gain all we can” by causing injury to another, whether to his trade, his body or his soul. We should not sell our goods below their market price nor should we entice away, or receive, the workers’ that a brother has need of. It is quite wrong to make a living from selling those things which would harm a neighbour’s health and physicians should not deliberately prolong a patient’s illness in order to improve his own income.

With these restrictions, it is every Christian’s duty to observe this first rule: ‘Gain all you can’. Gain all you can by honest work with all diligence. Lose no time in silly diversions and do not put off until tomorrow what may be done today. Do nothing by halves; use all the common sense that God has given you and study continually that you may improve on those who have gone before you. Make the best of all that is in your hands.

Save all you can

This is the second rule. Money is a precious gift. It should not be wasted on trivialities. Do not spend money on luxury foods, but be content with simple things that your body needs. Ornaments too, whether of the body, house or garden are a waste and should be avoided. Do not spend in order to gratify your vanity or to gain the admiration of others. The more you feed your pride in this way, the more it will grow within you.

And why should you spoil your children in this way? Fine clothes and luxury are a snare to them as they are to you. Why would you want to provide them with more pride and vanity? They have enough already! If you have good reason to believe that they would waste your wealth then do not leave it to them. Do not tempt them in this way. I am amazed at those parents who think that they can never leave their children enough. Have they no fear of hell? If there is only one child in the family who knows the value of money and there is a fortune to be inherited, then it is that one who should receive the bulk of it. If no child can be trusted in this way then it is the Christian’s duty to leave them only what will keep them from being in need. The rest should be distributed in order to bring glory to God.

Give all you can

Observing the first two rules is far from enough. Storing away money without using it is to throw it away. You might just as well cast your money into the sea as keep it in the bank. Having gained and saved all you can, then give all you can.

Why is this? You do not own the wealth that you have. It has been entrusted to you for a short while by the God who brought you into being. All belongs to him. Your wealth is to be used for him as a holy sacrifice, made acceptable through Jesus Christ.

If you wish to be a good steward of that which God has given to you on loan the rules are simple enough. First provide sufficient food and clothing for yourself and your household. If there is a surplus after this is done, then use what remains for the good of your Christian brothers and sisters. If there is still a surplus, then do good to all people, as you have the opportunity. If at any time you have a doubt about any particular expenditure, ask yourself honestly:

  1. Will I be acting, not as an owner, but as a steward of the Lord’s goods?
  2. Am I acting in obedience to the word of God?
  3. Is this expense a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?
  4. Do I believe that this expense will bring reward at the day of resurrection?

If you are still in doubt, put these questions as statements to God in prayer: “Lord, you see that I am going to spend this money on … and you know that I am acting as your trusted steward according to your design.” If you can make this prayer with a good conscience then you will know that your expense is right and good.

These, then, are the simple rules for the Christian use of money. Gain all you can, without bringing harm to yourself or neighbour. Save all you can by avoiding waste and unnecessary luxuries. Finally, give all you can. Do not limit yourself to a proportion. Do not give God a tenth or even half what he already owns, but give all that is his by using your wealth to preserve yourself and family, the Church of God and the rest of humanity. In this way you will be able to give a good account of your stewardship when the Lord comes with all his saints.

I plead with you in the name of the Lord Jesus, no more delay! Whatever task is before you, do it with all your strength. No more waste or luxury or envy. Use whatever God has loaned to you to do good to your fellow Christians and to all people. Give all that you have, as well as all that you are, to him who did not even withold his own Son for your sake.

Click here for part two.

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