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:
1. In spending this money, am I acting as if I owned it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee?
2. What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
3. Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
4. 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.
This blog post was written by Ted Shroder. You can find his original post (with more information) here: http://www.virtueonline.org/john-wesley-money