One of the most famous sermons on the subject of Christians and money in the 18th century comes from our own John Wesley. The father of Methodism, and thus the Methodist church, was not one to let a good sermon to go to waste. His sermon “The Use of Money” as printed in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, was the second most preached sermon in his arsenal. I thought this would be a good time for us to examine some of the things that Wesley had to say.
First let me set the context of these sermons. As the 18th century was coming to a close, Methodists were not only growing in numbers but also in economic power. Many were becoming prosperous as middle class workers and small business men. Thus the potential of abuse and idol worship of wealth (mammon) was becoming more likely. Wesley on the other hand maintained his strong puritan roots throughout his life.
His sermon starts out with the parable from the Gospel of Luke in Chapter 16:1-9. One particular verse is his focus: 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Wesley claims the children of the world are wiser than the children of light in that they are more consistent and more true to who they are. These children of light are those who see “the light of the glory of God in the face of the Jesus Christ.” What it boils down to our language is that Jesus was saying that the people of the world knew better the value of money than those whom God had chosen out of the world, in other words, us Christians. Thus, it would be a wise Christian who came to truly understand money as a gift or piece of providence given to the world by God.
Wesley notes that all sorts of wise men from philosophers to poets had expressed that money was the root of all evil in the world. He claims that one “celebrated writer” of his time even went so far as to proclaim that in order to save the world and “vanish all vice” all money should be thrown immediately into the sea.
Wesley could not disagree more with such arguments. He says the love of money is the root of evil not the money itself. Corruption should not be blamed on silver or gold. Instead “the fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it.” Wesley’s argument says that money is an excellent way for transacting all manners of business and when used with Christian wisdom capable of doing much good. Wesley then argues that money is an “excellent gift of God” considering the present state of man, not yet complete in our Christian perfection and not yet capable of living fully in God’s kingdom. Money “in the hands of his [God’s] children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We may be a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!”1
So it is the purpose of Wesley in his sermon to instruct his Christian brothers and sisters in how to fulfill the “glorious ends” for which God has given humankind the tool of money and be faithful stewards of “the mammon of unrighteousness.” This he believes can be succinctly reduced to three rules: make all the money you can; save all the money you can; and give all the money you can. We will explore each of these three rules over the next three weeks. I warn you there will be some surprises in Wesley’s wise words.
1 Outler, Albert C. Heitzenrater, Richard P. ed, John Wesley’s Sermons:An Anthology, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.347