“I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you unto everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9)
The right use of money is a part of Christian wisdom. Money is a subject discussed often by men of the world, but not sufficiently considered by Christians. These do not sufficiently consider the value of this excellent talent. Neither do they understand how to take full advantage of it.
It has been the way of poets, orators, and philosophers, in almost every age and nation, to decry money as the corrupter of the world, the enemy of virtue, the pest of human society. One writer urges his countrymen, in order to banish all evil at once, to throw all their money into the sea. But is there any wisdom in this? Not at all. Though the world is corrupt, is gold or silver to blame? “The love of money is the root of all evil,” but not the thing itself. The fault does not lie in the money, but in those who use it. It may be used wrongly, but it may likewise be used well.
If we use money according to Christian wisdom, it is a means of doing all kinds of good. In the hands of God’s children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothes for the naked. It gives to the traveler and stranger a place to lay his head. It enables us to provide a defense for the oppressed, a means of health for the sick, a relief to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame, even a rescue from the gates of death!
It is important then that all who fear God know how to use this valuable talent in order that it may fulfill these glorious purposes to the highest degree. Perhaps all the instructions which are necessary may be summarized in three clear rules, which show us how to be faithful stewards.
I. Gain All You Can
Here we may speak like the children of the world. It is our duty to gain all we can. But it is certain that we should not gain money at the expense of our lives, nor at the expense of our health. Therefore, no gain should influence us to work at any employment requiring labor which will impair our physical nature. Neither should we begin or continue in any business which continually deprives us of proper times for food and sleep. Some employments are entirely unhealthy; such as those which require working with arsenic, or other harmful minerals, or breathing air tainted with the steam of melting lead, which will eventually destroy even the firmest physical nature. Others may not be absolutely unhealthy except for persons whose bodies are already weakened. We may not submit to anything that is destructive to health or strength; since “the life is more” valuable “than meat, and the body than raiment.” If we are already engaged in such employment, we should, as soon as possible, find another which, even if it lowers our income, will not lessen our health.
Second, we are to gain all we can without harming our mind. Therefore, we may not engage in any sinful trade; any that is contrary to the law of God or our country. These necessarily imply robbing the king of his lawful customs. For it is at least as sinful to defraud the king of his right, as it is to rob our fellow subjects. There are other businesses which, however innocent in and of themselves, cannot be followed innocently at the present, such as those which require cheating or lying, or conformity to some custom which is not consistent with a good conscience. These are to be avoided, for in gaining money we must not lose our souls. There are still others which many are able to pursue innocently, without hurting either their body or mind; while you, however, cannot. Either they may entangle you in those evil influences which would destroy your soul, as you have found by repeated experiments, or there may be something in the makeup of your soul which makes that employment deadly to you, but which another may safely pursue. Therefore, no one can decide for anyone else; but every man must judge for himself, and keep away from whatever he finds to be harmful to his soul.
Third, we are to gain all we can without harming our neighbor. We cannot, if we love everyone as ourselves, defraud anyone of his possessions. We cannot devour his possessions by gambling, by overcharging him, or by taking excessive or illegal interest. This prohibits all pawnbroking, since whatever good we might do by it is exceeded by the evil. And even if it were otherwise, we are still not allowed to “do evil that good may come.” We cannot, to be consistent with brotherly love, work to ruin our neighbor’s business in order to advance our own; nor can we lure away any of the workmen he relies on. No one can profit by swallowing up his neighbor’s possessions without gaining the damnation of hell!
Neither can we gain by harming our neighbor’s body. Therefore we may not sell anything which will impair health. Such is that liquid fire, alcoholic liquor. It is true that it may have a place in medicine. Therefore, those who prepare and sell it only for this purpose may keep their consciences clear. But who prepares it only for this purpose? Do you know ten such distillers in England? Then excuse these few. But all who sell it to any that will buy are poisoners. They murder His Majesty’s subjects. They drive them to hell like sheep. And what is their gain? Is it not the blood of these men? Who would envy their large estates and luxurious palaces then? A curse is in them: the curse of God clings to their stones, timbers, and furniture! The curse of God is in their gardens, walks, and groves; a fire that burns to the deepest hell! Blood is there: the foundation, the floor, the walls, the roof, are all stained with blood!
Partakers of the same guilt, though to a lesser degree, are those surgeons, pharmacists, or physicians, who purposely lengthen the pain or disease which they are able to relieve quickly, in order to rob the patient of his money. Can any man be innocent before God who does not shorten every illness as much as he can, and relieve all sickness and pain as soon as he can? He cannot, for it could not be more obvious that he does not “love his neighbor as himself;” and that he does not “do unto others, as he would they should do unto him.”
This unjust gain is too costly. And so is whatever is gained by harming our neighbor’s soul; by appealing to his impurity or lack of self-control. All should consider this who have anything to do with taverns, opera houses, playhouses, or any other places of public, popularly-accepted entertainment. If these are beneficial to the souls of men, your work is good, and your gain is innocent; but if they are either sinful in and of themselves, or are natural inlets for sin of various kinds, then you will have a sad report to make. Beware, or God will say in that day, “These have perished in their sins, but I require their blood at your hands!”
Observing these cautions, it is the duty of all who are engaged in business to follow that first rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, “Gain all you can.” Gain all you can by honest effort. Be diligent in your calling. Waste no time. If you understand yourself and your relation to God and man, you know that you have none to spare. The business in which you are placed, if you pursue it earnestly, will make no allowance for silly, unprofitable distractions. You will always have something better to do that will profit you. And “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Do it as soon as possible. Never leave anything until tomorrow which you can do today. And do it as well as possible. Do not grow weary or lazy in doing it. Put your whole strength to the work. Let nothing be half-done or done carelessly. Let nothing in your business be left undone if it can be done by labor or patience.
Gain all you can by common sense, by using in your business all the understanding which God has given you. It is amazing how few do this; how men continue on in the same dull rut as their forefathers. But regardless of what those godless men do, this is to be no rule for you. You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experienced reading and reflection, to do everything you have to do better today than you did yesterday. And see that you put into practice whatever you learn, so that you can make the best of all that is in your hands.
II. Economize All You Can
Having gained all you can by honest wisdom and hard work, the second rule of Christian stewardship is, “Economize all you can.” Do not throw the precious talent into the sea. Do not throw it away in unnecessary expenses, which is just the same as throwing it into the sea. Spend no part of it simply to satisfy the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life.
Do not waste any part of such a precious talent by gratifying the desires of the flesh; by indulging the pleasures of sense, of whatever kind; but especially the pleasure of tasting. I do not mean only that you should avoid gluttony and drunkenness. An honest heathen would condemn these. There is, however, a popularly accepted sensuality which does not immediately sicken the stomach, nor impair the understanding; and yet it cannot be maintained without great expense. Cut off this needless expense! Reject delicacy and variety and be content with what the simplicity of nature requires.
Do not waste any part of this precious talent by gratifying the desire of the eye, by unnecessary or expensive clothing, or by needless ornaments. Waste no part of it adorning your houses in unnecessary or expensive furniture; or in costly painting, gilding, pictures or books; or in elegant gardens rather than useful ones. Let your neighbors who do not know any better do this.
Spend nothing to gratify the pride of life, to gain the admiration or praise of men. Men are expensive in diet, clothing, and furniture, not only to please their appetite, or to gratify their eye, or their imagination, but their vanity too. As long as you are “clothed in purple and fine linen, and farest sumptuously every day,” many will applaud your elegance of taste, your generosity and hospitality. But do not spend your money on their applause. Instead, be content with the honor that comes from God.
Who would spend any amount to gratify these desires if he realized that gratifying them only increases them? Experience teaches that the more they are indulged the more they increase. Did you not have enough vanity, sensuality, and curiosity already? Was there need of any more? And would you pay for it too? What manner of wisdom is this? Would literally throwing your money into the sea not be less foolish?
And why should you throw away money for your children’s sake any more than for your own, in delicate food, in colorful or expensive clothing, in luxuries of any kind? Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity, or foolish and harmful desires? Why should you pay to increase their temptations, and to pierce them with more sorrows?
Do not leave it to them to throw away. If you have reason to believe that they would waste what is now in your possession, for the sake of your soul and theirs, do not set these traps in their way. Have pity on them, and remove whatever you see would increase their sins, and consequently plunge them deeper into everlasting ruin! And to think there are parents who believe they can never leave their children enough! What! Can you not leave them enough foolish and harmful desires? Not enough of pride, lust, ambition, and vanity?
If I had a considerable fortune to leave and had one child, older or younger, who knew the value of money, one who I believed would put it to good use, I would consider it my absolute duty to leave that child the bulk of my fortune; and to the others just enough to allow them to live in the manner they had been accustomed to. But if all my children were equally ignorant of the true use of money, I would give each one that which would keep him from poverty; and give the remaining sum in a manner I would judge to be most for the glory of God.
III. Give All You Can
But do not let any man think that he has done anything by going this far, by gaining and economizing all he can. All this is nothing, if a man does not go forward, if he does not aim all this at a farther purpose. A man cannot properly be said to save anything if he simply stores it away. You may as well throw your money into the sea or bury it in the earth. And you would do just as well to bury it in the earth as to put it in your chest or in the bank. Not to use it is essentially to throw it away.
In order to see the reason for this, consider that when the Possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here, not as an owner, but as a steward. And He has told you clearly how you are to use your possessions for Him, that it may be all a holy sacrifice, acceptable through Christ Jesus. And He has promised to reward this easy task with an eternal glory.
The directions which God has given us concerning the use of our possessions as faithful stewards are as follows: first, provide things needed for yourself; food to eat, clothing to wear, whatever nature requires for preserving your body in health and strength; second, provide the same for your wife, your children, your servants, and any others you consider part of your household; third, if there is a surplus left when this is done, then “do good to them that are of the household of faith;” and last, if there is still some remaining, “as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.” In doing this, you give all you can; even everything you have. For all that is spent this way is really given to God. You give to God the things that are God’s, not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you spend in providing things needed for yourself and your household.
If a doubt should arise in your mind at any time concerning what you are going to spend, either on yourself or any part of your family, you have an easy way to remove it. Calmly and seriously consider,
- In spending this money, am I acting according to my proper responsibility, not as an owner, but as a steward of my Lord’s possessions?
- Am I doing this in obedience to His word? Where in Scripture does He require me to do this?
- Can I consider this expense a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?
- Do I have reason to believe that I will have a reward for this work at the resurrection of the just?
If any doubt still remains, you may further examine yourself by prayer. See whether you can say to the Searcher of hearts, with a clear conscience, “Lord, you see I am going to spend this amount on that food, clothing, or furniture. And you know I act in this as a steward of Your possessions. You know I do this in obedience to Your word, as You command it. Let this, I pray, be a holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ! And give me a witness in myself, that for this labor of love I will have a crown when you reward every man according to his works.” Now, if your conscience bears witness in the Holy Spirit that this prayer is pleasing to God, then you have no reason to doubt that the expense is right.
This is the nature of Christian stewardship as it relates to the use of money. Gain all you can, without harming either yourself or your neighbor in soul or body, by working diligently, and with all the understanding which God has given you. Save all you can, by eliminating every expense which serves only to indulge foolish desire; to gratify either the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; waste nothing, during your life or at your death, on sin or foolishness, whether for yourself or your children. Then, give all you can; that is, give all you have to God. Do not limit yourself to some percentage. Give to God, not a tenth, not a third, not half; but all that is God’s, by using all on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all of mankind, in such a way that you may give a good account of your stewardship.
Brothers, can we be faithful stewards, unless we manage our Lord’s possessions in this way? We cannot, as not only the Word of God, but our own conscience, tells us. Then why should we delay? Why should we confer any longer with men of the world? Our kingdom, our wisdom, is not of this world. Heathen customs mean nothing to us. We follow no man any farther than he is a follower of Christ. From this moment forward, do His will. I urge you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, to live up to the dignity of your calling! No more laziness! No more waste! Use whatever God has entrusted you with to do all the good that is possible, both to the household of faith, and to all men! Give all you have, as well as all you are, as a spiritual sacrifice to Him who did not withhold from you His only Son.
This sermon by John Wesley, edited for conciseness and readability, was originally published in A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century, edited by Stephen Gibson.