John Wesley on the Use of Money
By observing three simple rules, we can become faithful managers of money.
Four years before John Wesley’s death he wrote Thoughts upon Methodism. In that work he said,
I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.1
Wesley often warned against the dangers of riches, and he frequently preached about the proper stewardship of material resources.
What Wesley preached, he modeled. It is estimated that he gave away at least £30,000 [over $50,000 U.S.] during his lifetime, an enormous amount of money by that day’s standards.
The sermon below is adapted from Wesley’s most concise articulation of his views on how to use money.
The Use of Money
We know that it is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil. The fault does not lie in the money, but in those who use it.
Money can be used wrongly — and what cannot be misused? However, money can also be used properly. Money is of indescribable benefit to all civilized nations in all the common affairs of life. It is a most condensed means to transact all kinds of business and of doing all kinds of good (if we use it according to Christian wisdom).
If humankind were in an uncorrupted state or if all people were filled with the Holy Spirit, there would be no misuse of money. In paradise, the use of money will be outmoded, and we cannot imagine that there is anything like money among heaven’s inhabitants.
In our present state, though, money is an excellent gift from God, working toward the most elevated purposes. In the hands of God’s children, money is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and clothing for the naked. For the pilgrim and stranger, money provides a place to lie down to rest. By the right use of money we can provide for others. Money can serve as a husband for the widow and as a father to the orphans. We can supply protection for the oppressed, a means of health for the sick, and comfort for those in pain. Money can become as “eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame” (Job 29:15, NRSV)2; and, indeed, money can lift up others “from the gates of death” (Psalm 9:13).
Therefore, it ranks among our highest concerns that all who fear God know how to use this valuable gift. It is important that we be instructed in how money can serve admirable ends to the highest degree. Perhaps all the instructions necessary for this goal can be reduced to three simple rules. By observing them, we can become faithful managers of money. These rules are gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.
Gain all you can
The first of these simple rules is: Gain all you can. Of course, it is certain that we should not gain money at the expense of life or health. Therefore, no gain whatever should prompt us to enter into, or to continue in, any lengthy or difficult work that will damage our health.
If we are not to harm our bodies, neither are we to harm our minds. Whatever the circumstance, we must maintain a healthy mind. Therefore, we cannot begin or continue in any sinful occupations, any of which are contrary to the law of God or the nation. In gaining money, we must not lose our own souls. We must all judge for ourselves and abstain from whatever we personally find harmful to our souls.
In gaining all we can, we must never harm others. Naturally, we will not and cannot do so if we love our neighbors as ourselves. Therefore, we cannot despoil a neighbor through gambling, collecting a debt owed to us, or extracting interest in excess of what the law allows. Therefore, we prohibit all loans based on pledged collateral. Whatever temporary good such loans might bring, all unbiased people see with sorrow that this kind of lending leads to more evil than good. Even if good would come from these kinds of loans, we are not allowed to “do evil so that good may come” (Romans 3:8).
We must not gain more by harming our neighbor’s bodies. Therefore, we cannot sell anything that tends to impair the health of others. At the forefront of such activity is the selling of that liquid fire commonly called “spirituous liquors.”3
All who sell alcohol to anyone who will buy it are masters of poison. They murder our citizens indiscriminately, and they do not pity or spare anyone. They drive others to hell like sheep.
This way of gaining money demands a high price. And so does everything that we acquire by harming our neighbor’s souls. We harm others when we directly or indirectly promote their immorality or debauchery. Certainly, no one who does these things fears God or has any genuine desire to please him.
Observe these cautions and restrictions: It is the solemn duty of all who engage in worldly business to notice the first and principal rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money: Gain all you can. Gain all you can by honest industry, and exercise all possible diligence in your calling. Make the most of the time. If you understand yourself and your relationship to God and others, you know that you have no hours to spare. If you understand your particular calling as you should, you will not have any time to waste.
Every vocation will provide enough work for every day and hour. Wherever you are placed, if you earnestly do your work, there will be no spare time for inane and empty amusements. Always, you have something better to do — things that will in some way benefit you. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Do it as soon as possible. Let there be no delay or putting off your tasks from day to day or from hour to hour. Never leave anything until tomorrow that you can do today.4
Furthermore, do your work as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it. Put your whole strength into your labor. Let nothing be done by halves or in a superficial and careless manner. Let nothing in your business be left undone if labor or patience can do it.
In gaining all you can, use common sense. That is, employ all the intelligence that God has given you. It is astonishing to observe how few people use all that God has given them. From the understanding of others and from your own experience, reading, and thinking, you should continuously learn in everything you do better today than you did yesterday. See to it that you put into practice whatever you learn, so that you can take full advantage of everything in your hands.
Save all you can
Here is the second rule of Christian prudence: As you gain all you can, by honest wisdom and tireless diligence, save all you can. Do not throw your precious gains into the sea. Do not waste your resources on trivial expenses, which is the same as throwing your money into the ocean.
Do not waste any of your precious resources merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh. Do not try to obtain any kinds of physical pleasures, especially in cultivating a taste for various foods. Cut out all these unnecessary expenditures. Despise delicacies and variety, and be content with the simple food that nature requires.
Do not waste any part of your valuable resources gratifying the desire of the eye with extravagant or expensive clothing or needless accessories. Waste no part of your money fancifully adorning your houses with unnecessary or expensive furniture. Avoid expensive paintings, portraits, decorations, books, and elegant (rather than useful) gardens. Let your neighbors who do not know any better buy these things. Jesus said, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” With regard to doing what others do, Jesus also said, “What is that to you? Follow me!” Are you willing to follow him? If so, you are able to follow him.
Spend no money to gratify the pride of life or to gain the admiration and praise of others. This reason for spending money is often connected with the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye. They also have an eye to their own vanity. Others praise you “when you do well for yourself” (Psalm 49:18). As long as you are “dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19), no doubt many will applaud your elegant taste, generosity, and hospitality. However, do not buy their applause at such a great price. Instead, be content with “the glory that comes from the one who alone is God” (John 5:44).
Would we spend anything to gratify these desires if we realized that when we cater to them we only increase them? Nothing can be more certain than this truth. Daily experience reveals that the more we indulge our desires, the more our requirements grow. Therefore, whenever you spend anything to please your tastes or your other senses, you are paying only to satisfy your sensuality.
When you lay out money to please your eyes, you are spending to increase your curiosity. You spend money to develop a stronger attachment to these pleasures, whereas they will only “perish with use” (Colossians 2:22). While you are buying things to gain human applause, you are paying for more vanity. Did you not have enough pride, sensuality, and curiosity when you began? Do you really need more things, and then be forced to support them with your own money? Would it not be a less devilish folly for you literally to throw your money into the sea?
Have pity on your children, and remove from their paths whatever you can easily foresee will increase their sins and consequently plunge them deeper into everlasting destruction. How amazing is it to see the obsession of those parents who think that they can never leave their children enough money? Think of that folly!
Give all you can
Do not imagine that you can have done anything merely by gaining and saving all you can. Do not stop here. Making and saving money is nothing if we fail to go forward to the final purpose. People cannot rightly be said to save money if they only store it away. You might just as well throw your money into the sea and bury it in the ground. Not to use your money is essentially to throw it away. Therefore, if you really want to make friends for yourselves by means of earthly treasures, add the third rule to the preceding two rules. First, having gained all you can and, second, having saved all you can, then give all you can.
In order to see the basis and objective of this rule, consider the following point. When the owner of heaven and earth brought you into being and placed you in this world, he positioned you here not as an owner. He placed you on earth as a steward or manager. As such, for a time he deposited various kinds of goods with you. But the sole ownership of these things still rests in God, and they can never be taken from him. Because you are not your own, neither are the possessions that you enjoy.
Even your soul and body are not yours — they belong to God. And your possessions in particular do not really belong to you. In the most clear and explicit terms, God has revealed how you are to employ yourself and your possessions. You are to use them in a way that becomes “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
If you want to be a faithful and wise steward of the things that God has presently put into your hands (with the right to take them back whenever it pleases him), do the following things. First, provide for your basic needs — food, clothing, and what is necessary to keep yourself in health and strength.
Second, provide these things for your spouse, children, servants, or any others related to your household. When you have done these things, if you have any surplus, do good for “those of the family of faith.” If you still have a surplus, “whenever you [we] have an opportunity, [let us] work for the good of all” (Galatians 6:10). In doing so, you are giving all you can. This gift to God includes what you give to the needy and what you give to provide for your own needs and those of your household.
If at any time a doubt should arise concerning what sum you should spend on yourself or any part of your family, there is an easy way to resolve the doubt. Ask these questions: (1) In spending this money, am I acting according to my character? Am I acting not as an owner, but as a steward of my Lord’s goods? (2) Am I giving this money in obedience to God’s Word? In what scripture does God require me to spend this money? (3) Can I offer up this action or expenditure as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ? (4) Do I have reason to believe that for this very work I will receive a reward at the resurrection of the righteous? You will seldom need anything more than these questions to remove any doubt that may arise.
If any doubt still remains, you can further examine yourself by prayer according to each of these four questions.
If your conscience bears witness to you in the Holy Spirit that this prayer pleases God, then you have no reason to doubt that the expenditure is right and good. As such, it will never make you ashamed.
By applying yourself with perpetual diligence, and by using all the understanding that God has given you, gain all you can without harming yourself or your neighbor in soul or body. Save all you can by cutting off every expense that only serves to indulge the foolish desires of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life.
In your living and dying, waste nothing on sin or on foolishness for yourself or for your children. And finally, give all you can. In other words, give to God everything you have. Do not confine yourself to this or that percentage of your income. Give to God not a tenth, a third, or a half. Be it more or less, give God all that belongs to God.
Brothers and sisters, can we be either wise or faithful stewards without managing the Lord’s goods in this way? No, we cannot. Both the Bible and our own consciences bear witness. Why, then, should we delay? Why should we any longer consult with flesh and blood or with people of the world? Our kingdom, our wisdom “is not from this world” (John 18:36). We follow others no further than they follow Christ. While it is still today, hear and obey God’s voice. Today and from now on, do the will of God. Fulfill God’s work in the use of money and in everything else.
The right use of money is no small part of the wisdom of the righteous. Give all you have and all you are as a living sacrifice to him who did not withhold his only Son from you. In doing so, you are “storing up for yourselves [themselves] the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that you [they] may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:19).
— Adapted from Kenneth Cain Kinghorn, John Wesley on Christian Practice: The Standard Sermons in Modern English, Volume 3 (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2003), 317–334. Â©2003. Used by permission. All Rights Reserved
1. Arminian Magazine (1787): 10, 100-102, 155-56.
2. All Scripture quotations arefrom the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright Â© 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3. “Spirituous liquors” refers to distilled alcohol.
4. Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (New York: Random House; London: Hi Marketing, 2000). Maxims prefixed to Poor Richard’s Almanack: “Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day.”