John Wesley’s sermon “The Use of Money” is a remarkable piece of practical Christianity.
It begins in what may seem an unlikely place for a sermon about money. It begins by turning back the arguments that would say money is bad.
For, let the world be as corrupt as it will, is gold or silver to blame? “The love of money,” we know, “is the root of all evil;” but not the thing itself. The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well: It is full as applicable to the best, as to the worst uses. It is of unspeakable service to all civilized nations, in all the common affairs of life: It is a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good. … in the present state of mankind, it is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveller 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!
What Wesley intended to teach the Methodists was the proper way to use this blessing for the good that God intends. In this, he exhorts them to diligent and productive labor, frugal spending, and wide-ranging generosity. Far from speaking evil of money, Wesley intended to teach people how to use money in ways that would glorify God and demonstrate the fruits of their own salvation.
He advises these things not merely as good ideas for people who want to get along well in the world, but as positive duties for the Christian who will one day stand before the Lord. For Wesley, this was a matter of eternal significance.
“Render unto God,” not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s, be it more or less; by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all mankind, in such a manner, that you may give a good account of your stewardship when ye can be no longer stewards; in such a manner as the oracles of God direct, both by general and particular precepts; in such a manner, that whatever ye do may be “a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour to God,” and that every act may be rewarded in that day when the Lord cometh with all his saints.
Even in Wesley’s day, the people did not take well to this message. He was continually fretting about the failures of Methodists in this regard. Like we often do, they ignored his doctrine without bothering to argue against it.
Today, United Methodists continue to ignore Wesley’s doctrine while revering his name. We do not bother to argue why or how he was wrong on biblical grounds. We merely act as if neither he nor the Bible had much to say on the subject, which is, of course, ridiculous.
This whole state of affairs raises for me issues that I do not know how to work through.
Is Wesley’s doctrine sound? Is it biblical?
Is — to quote Wesley from another place — wasting the Lord’s goods a sin?
How can we best teach and preach about these matters?