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JOHN WESLEY ON MONEY

JOHN WESLEY ON MONEY

By Ted Schroder
October 23, 2005

Recently, at a neighborhood gathering, a lady complained to me that since she had joined the Chapel she had heard about nothing but money. Since we have been involved in a building project I can understand if she had received the impression that the subject of money was important.

Churches have a certain rhythm about their life, and we have been in the stewardship mode these past couple of years, as we have expanded our facilities. Just as our homes have to be purchased, built, renovated, and expanded from time to time, so must our church home. We are going through such a time in the life of this congregation as our spiritual family grows in its needs and ministries. Such growth results in the need for additional space, and the budget to support our activities. What guidance is there in Scripture and the history of our faith to give us wisdom about how we are to be good stewards of all that God has given us?

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached a wealth of words about money. Wesley made enormous sums from the sale of his writings. In an age when a single man could live comfortably on $60 a year, his annual income reached $2,800. As a child Wesley had known grinding poverty. Samuel Wesley, his father, was the Anglican rector in one of England's lowest paying parishes, and he had nine children to feed and clothe. John rarely saw his father out of debt, and he once saw him marched off to debtor's prison.

John's position as a fellow of Lincoln College in Oxford University paid him well. He noticed that one of his chambermaids had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold in winter. He found that he had little to give her after he had paid his own expenses. He felt that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. Beginning in 1731 he began to limit his expenses so he would have more money to give away.

Despite his increasing income he lived off the same amount every year, so that he was giving away 75 percent. He preached that Christians should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, the Christian's standard of giving should increase, not his standard of living. When his income rose into the thousands of pounds, he lived simply and quickly gave his surplus money away. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in income.

He gave his followers clear biblical guidelines for the right use of money.

1. Provide things needful for yourself and your family. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Timothy 5:8) The believer should make sure that the family has the necessities and conveniences of life: food to eat, and clean clothes to put on, as well as a place to live. The believer must also ensure that the family has enough to live on if something were to happen to the breadwinner. Pension and insurance payments would be included in things needful.

2. Be content with the basics in life. "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (1 Timothy 6:8) How should Christians decide how much to spend on themselves and their families? Where should they draw the line? Wesley answers by quoting Paul's words to Timothy. "Whatever is above the plain necessities, or at most convenience of life, is, in the sense of the Apostle, riches. Whoever has sufficient food to eat, and raiment to put on, with a place to lay his head, and something over, is rich." Wesley, like St. Paul, also owned books, which he regarded as necessary tools of his trade. He also owned a horse, which served as his means of transportation. What is for one person a necessity, is for the other, a luxury.

3. "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." (Romans 12:17) "Let no debt remain outstanding." (Romans 13:8) Wesley says that the next claim on a Christian's money belongs to the creditors, and adds that those who are in business for themselves need to have adequate tools, stock, or capital for the carrying out of that business.

4. "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers." (Galatians 6:10) After the Christian has provided for the family, the creditors, and the business, the next obligation is to use any money that is left to meet the needs of others. Wesley says that God gives his children money so that their reasonable needs will be met, and then he expects them to return the rest to him by giving it away. The Lord will then enquire:

"Wast thou accordingly a general benefactor to mankind: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, assisting the stranger, relieving the afflicted, according to their various necessities? Wast thou an eye to the blind, and feet to the lame, a father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow?"

Besides giving these four biblical principles, Wesley also recognizes that some situations are not clear-cut. It is not always obvious how the Christian should use the Lord's money. Wesley offers four questions to help his hearers decide how to spend money:

· In spending this money, am I acting as if I owned it, or am I acting as the Lord's trustee?

· What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?

· Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?

· Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?

Finally, for the believer who is perplexed, Wesley suggests this prayer before making a purchase:

Lord, thou seest I am going to expend this sum on that food, apparel, or furniture. And Thou knowest I act therein with a single eye, as a steward of thy goods, expending this portion of them thus, in persurance of the design thou hadst in entrusting me with them. Thou knowest I do this in obedience to Thy Word, as Thou commandest, and because Thou commandest it. Let this, I beseech Thee, be an holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ! And give me a witness in myself, that for this labor of love I shall have recompense when Thou rewardest every man according to his works.

He is confident any believer who has a clear conscience after praying this prayer will be using money wisely.

Wesley especially warns against buying too much for children. People who would never waste money on themselves might be more indulgent with their children. On the principle that gratifying a desire needlessly only tends to increase it, he asks these well-intentioned parents to not contribute to their temptations.

While his principles are sound, Wesley may seem to be abnormally ascetic in his attitude to money. This may have contributed to his estrangement from his wife. It is to be remembered that he never had any children of his own, and was constantly on the road, traveling from one preaching engagement to another, staying in the homes of his followers.

In 1776 the English tax commissioners inspected his tax return and wrote back, "We cannot doubt but you have silver plate for which you have hitherto neglected to make entry." They assumed that a man of his prominence certainly had silver dinnerware in his house, and they wanted him to pay the proper tax on it. Wesley wrote back, "I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread."

We live in a culture of affluence which Wesley would have found uncomfortable, and perhaps even intolerable. His ministry had profound effects upon eighteenth century society. It is said that his example and influence in England, and the Evangelical Revival it fostered, prevented the radical revolution that France experienced, and instead, fostered the legislation to alleviate the burdens of the poor and the working classes. Methodists became active in the Labor party. The most recent Methodist to become Prime Minister of Great Britain was Margaret Thatcher.

John Wesley's principles about money remain to challenge us about our expenditures and our giving. There is no doubt that we can use some challenging for there is always a tendency for us to indulge ourselves, to pander to our own needs, and to have little over to give away. It is important for us to be reminded of the simplicity of the lives of people like John Wesley. He was attempting to follow Jesus in his own way, Jesus who said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20) We have food, clothes, beds, and dwellings in abundance. Can we be less generous in our giving?

(Much of this material comes from Charles Edward White: Four Lessons on Money From One of the World's Richest Preachers, Christian History, Volume VII, Number 3, Issue 19.)

An audio version of this sermon is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

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