What Did John (Wesley) Say About It?

Nothing like ending a two-week hiatus from the blog with a controversy. And controversy there will be on the matter of economics, fairness, and justice. I think (hope) a fair-minded person would conclude several things from the discussion following the previous post. Let’s see if I can get agreement on this much:
1. There is an unequal distribution of wealth in the world and within our own nation.
2. The Bible is aware of the poverty of some people and the wealth of others. It condemns neither person because of their wealth or poverty, nor does it find those estates to be the source of their respective virtue.
3. When sloth is the cause of poverty, it is a deserved condition and one that is just; but not all poverty is so induced. When wealth is gained by unjust means it is a blight upon all and will bring oppression to any land; but not all wealth is unjustly acquired.
4. The hand is never to be closed toward the poor. And scripture does not restrict this message to the super rich.
5. Generational poverty is something which concerns God; hence, the Jubilee provisions by which land and other collateral was to be returned, so that fresh starts could be made.

How these observations and principles, which could obviously be expanded, are to be instantiated in today’s world is a difficult matter to discern, but it cannot be totally ignored simply because it is difficult. In trying to do so, we do not turn to a secular government. (This is something I thought I clearly did not advocate, yet some respondents assumed the contrary.) The government has no interest in discerning the message of scripture unless it can be turned to the state’s advantage for its own purposes. Someone mentioned John Wesley in the comments exchanged. I’d like to reference his formula for a just economics, independent of the state but under the guidance of the church.

The formula Wesley gave was simple and straight-forward: Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. On one hand, it is simply an expansion on the apostle’s encouragement to work with our hands so that we may have something to share with those in need. It goes farther than Eph. 5:28, however, in suggesting that there is a diligence with which one should go about making every possible effort to gain as much as one can gain, to use one’s given capacities fully in order to accumulate not just a little extra for a rainy day, but an abundance. That much sounds like any generic encouragement to put nose to grindstone and make hay while the sun shines (lots of good old sayings come to mind–and that’s the point).

But unlike the secular version of success, Wesley’s formula encourages the saving of what can reasonably be saved. This is not an economic stimulus package, geared toward spending and consuming so that others have something to produce for our further consumption, enjoyment, and comfort. Quite the opposite. He encouraged frugality, eschewed ostentation, and preached the value of saving what has been earned through all that hard work. No building of bigger barns, moving to higher-end neighborhoods, or otherwise displaying what one has accumulated. Then when the time and occasion would move one to do so, one should give all one can give in order to meet the needs of others, spread the gospel of Christ, and enter into the very character of God, who so loved that He gave. And gives.

That’s not a message we’ll hear from either party’s platform between now and November. Unfortunately, it is also one we will hear little of from our pulpits and “Christian” television. But it is one we should take to heart, not as a weapon with which to beat one another within the household of faith, but with which to challenge and encourage one another toward good works. I’m not an economist; but I wonder whether the church of Jesus will be bold enough to take its cues from its own story, knowing the end toward which it is focused, and allow those who are economists to speak to the wind.

Is Wesley’s formula too simplistic, too unworkable, or just too challenging for double-minded Christians?

2 thoughts on “What Did John (Wesley) Say About It?

  1. You are using Sermon 50 I believe, (I wrote a paper on this for your colleague), and i think that it is both very germain today and needs some extension, but you skipped a critical modifier to the actions “without hurting our neighbor”. Wesley of course existed before any of the financial constructions that I’ve enumerated, though he was familiar with some we have no experience with including debtor’s prison, and inter-generational debt (or maybe we do?).

    I’d like to quote from an earlier sermon….

    Sermon 28: “Lastly. We are not forbidden, in these words, to lay up, from time to time, what is needful for the carrying on our worldly business, in such a measure and degree as is sufficient to answer the foregoing purposes;— in such a measure as, First, to owe no man anything; Secondly, to procure for ourselves the necessaries of life; and, Thirdly, to furnish those of our own house with them while we live, and with the means of procuring them when we are gone to God.”

    Wow, that’s a bit different from die’ing with debt, and hopefully retired in Florida since the kids don’t deserve it…..

    I doubt whether he thought much about using a bank, stock portfolio, or mutual fund, he benefitted from the reform of the Royal Mint by Sir Isaac Newton, when a gold sovereign was a gold sovereign. tuck away some silver coins or gold under your floorboards for your bairns and they wouldn’t be inflated away. Neither would they be used by someone to be a consumer, they were a store of value. Now I take my ready cash put it in a bank to get my 1% and they loan it to my neighbor to buy some baubles that they don’t need, a BA in English for his daughter at Messiah, that she will never use, and in a small porn business on Rt22 to expand, etc… The velocity of John’s money was 0, and it couldn’t be turned into 10x through the fractional reserve system, but most importantly if he invested it, in a bit of land, a couple of sheep with his cousin Vinnie, he knew what he was getting.

    Now let’s take a look at those Adventists. They have their own banks, they invest in each other inside the accountable system, they eat veggies and take long walks, and none of them sit on the Board of PSU, none of them are NFL players, you certainly won’t see them at a Saturday College Football worship experience, etc. Mazel Tov to them.

    Join the revolution my captain.

  2. Yes, yes! Thank you for this post — putting into much clearer words the things I was feeling but couldn’t quite figure out.

    Still, I find this much more difficult now that I have children. Maybe it’s just because the actual necessities cost so much more now. (How can a two-year old eat so much food?!) But that’s the biggest challenge for me.

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