Luke 16:13
We$ley and Hi$ Methodi$t$
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

For this sermon, I am indebted to Dr. Charles White, Professor of Christian Thought and History at Spring Arbor (Michigan) College. He distilled Wesley’s prodigious writings about money down to some of its most helpful lessons.

Luke 16:13 (Holman) “No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.”

Blunt. To the point. In your face. Jesus never minced words when He talked about money. When discussing finances, I’ve never been bold like Jesus, but John Wesley was.

As we study John Wesley’s teachings about money, we will deem some of it too radical to implement. I ask us to keep an open mind, to be willing to ponder his opinions.

When John Wesley was born in 1703, four million of Britain’s five million people lived in absolute poverty. Starvation had to be fought off daily.

When Wesley died in 1791, at age 87, a million people had come to Christ because of his ministry. In 1962, the historian Elie Haley theorized the Wesleyan revival created England’s middle class, thereby saving England from a bloodbath similar to the French Revolution.

The Gospel brought people lift as well as redemption. As the poor were converted, they wasted less money, learned to read, found better jobs, and championed social causes. God used Methodism to prove to people all over the world that Jesus helps not only individual souls, but also bodies and families, yea even whole societies.

The accumulation of wealth caused the Methodists to become influential in society. As they moved up the financial ladder, their cultural clout increased.

Wesley’s vast influential writings about money can be summarized under three headings. Gain all you can. Save (we would say economize) all you can. Give all you can.

One, gain all you can. Methodists were encouraged to make as much money as they possibly could through honest, safe, hard work. Wesley acknowledged wealth’s potential for misuse, but also believed there was no limit to the good that money could accomplish: “In the hands of [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 a 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.”

Two, save (economize) all you can. By this Wesley meant the Methodists should cut back on their spending, and refuse to gratify their personal material desires. He urged people to be content with plain living, to avoid expensive food, fancy clothes, and costly furniture.

He believed gratifying desires for things not needed not only did not satisfy the desire, but actually increased it. He felt we would be better off to throw our money into the sea than to damage ourselves by increasing our desires.

Three, give all you can. Wesley adamantly believed Christians should tithe. He told people who did not tithe, “Thou dost undoubtedly set thy heart upon thy gold,” and warned, “It will eat thy flesh as fire!”

Christian giving was to begin with the tithe, but not end there. Wesley taught that all of a Christian’s money belongs to God, not just the first tenth. Believers were to use 100 percent of their income as God directs. Wesley believed money should be spent only in ways God would reward on Judgment Day.

Wesley encouraged Christians to give their incomes away in four ways. First, provide essentials for the family (I Tim. 5:8). Second, be content with food and raiment (I Tim. 6:8); he felt “raiment” included a place to live.

Third, “Owe no man anything” (Romans 13:8). Wesley believed creditors have a prime claim on our money. Borrowed money is not ours. It’s theirs. They are to be paid. “The wicked man borrows and does not repay” (Psalm 37:21a). Fourth, meet the needs of others (Gal. 6:10), especially the poor.

Wesley lived to see his teachings on wealth positively affect families and a whole nation, but also lived long enough to see his instructions being neglected by his followers. Wesley grew discouraged with Methodism as he watched its adherents become more self-centered. He had seen them start poor and rise to wealth, but as time passed, he felt they began squandering their wealth on themselves, and started neglecting the poor, the sick, and the needy, the very kind of people the Methodists had once been themselves.

He felt God had abandoned the Methodists due to one obsessing sin. He preached more sermons against this sin in his last three years than in his previous fifty combined. What was this awful sin? Love of money. In his later years he preached more and more about the dangerous temptation people faced to justify spending a lot on themselves.

Wesley boiled this evil down to one word he developed an intense hatred for. He described this word as nonsensical, stupid, miserable, vile, and diabolical. He said this word was “the very cant of Hell”. He believed no Christian should ever utter it. What was this evil word? Afford.

Wesley felt the words “I can afford it” were the vehicle through which the demise of Methodism happened. He argued no Christian can ever, under God, afford anything beyond the bare essentials required for life and work. Even when they could buy things without incurring debt, Wesley admonished them to consider, will the Lord someday ask, “Couldn’t you have spent that money better?”

As we ponder Wesley’s staunch position on money, we need to ask, what made him this way? Why did he adopt such stern beliefs? The answer lies largely in his younger, more impressionable years, the time in life when events can happen that affect us a lifetime.

While at Oxford, an incident forever changed Wesley’s perspective on money. He had finished paying for some pictures for the walls of his room when a chambermaid came to his door. It was a cold winter day, yet she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward”? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy!–Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”

A final question: did Wesley practice what he preached? This is a pertinent question because Wesley was one of the highest paid men in England due to the sale of his writings.

In Wesley’s day a single man could live comfortably on 30 pounds a year. His annual income peaked at over 1400 pounds. Living the life he preached about was not a slam dunk for him. He certainly had ample opportunities to either be hypocritical or to put his principles into practice. Fortunately, he chose the latter.

At age 28 Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have money to give to the poor. His income that year was 30 pounds, his living expenses 28 pounds. He gave two pounds to the poor.

The next year, his salary doubled to 60 pounds. He still lived on 28 pounds. Thus he gave 32 pounds to the poor. In the third year he made 90 pounds; he lived on 28 pounds, and gave 62 to the poor. The fourth year, He made 120 pounds, of which 92 went to the poor. The most he ever made was over 1400 pounds. You guessed it. He lived on 28, and gave 1400 away.

To the end he feared disobeying Jesus’ command, “Lay not up treasures for yourself upon earth” (Matthew 6:19 KJV). This fear caused his money to go out as quickly as it came in.

Wesley reportedly never had in his possession more than 100 pounds at any given time. He once wrote, “[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds. . .you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”

When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the 30,000 pounds he had earned in his lifetime he had given away, fulfilling his prediction, “I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but, in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.”

Wesley left as his legacy a few coins, the Methodist Church, a million souls, and the preempting of a bloody revolution. He also left teachings about money we need to hear again.