John Wesley’s Three Rules Concerning Money

In a sermon entitled “The Use of Money,” John Wesley laid down his three easy-to-remember rules that he thought should direct every Christian’s attitude toward money: gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.

Gain All You Can

In the first part of his sermon, Wesley exhorted Christians to work diligently and honestly in their earthly vocations. This section was mostly dedicated to explaining where to draw the line: don’t do work that would jeopardize your health, that would influence others to sin, or that would entice you to sin or to lose your faith.

Regarding that last category Wesley left a lot of room for interpretation. Each person is different, he said, and the work that some could do well would cause others to suffer loss, spiritually. He then offered himself as an example—a bizarre example that I still can’t understand. He said that too much math would turn him into an atheist.

I would think that he was joking, but he didn’t joke in his sermons, especially about something so serious.

“There are yet others which many pursue with perfect innocence, without hurting either their body or mind; And yet perhaps you cannot: Either they may entangle you in that company which would destroy your soul; and by repeated experiments it may appear that you cannot separate the one from the other; or there may be an idiosyncrasy, a peculiarity in your constitution of soul, (as there is in the bodily constitution of many,) by reason whereof that employment is deadly to you, which another may safely follow. So I am convinced, from many experiments, I could not study, to any degree of perfection, either mathematics, arithmetic, or algebra, without being a Deist, if not an Atheist: And yet others may study them all their lives without sustaining any inconvenience . None therefore can here determine for another; but every man must judge for himself, and abstain from whatever he in particular finds to be hurtful to his soul.”

Save All You Can

The part of the sermon that dealt with saving all you can was mostly about not wasting money on things you don’t need.

The apostle Paul said, in Galatians 6:8, that those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption from the flesh. I think that the reaping he was referring to happens, or at least begins to happen, in this life. It’s not limited to Judgment Day.

Wesley made a similar point in this part of his sermon: spending your money on pointless, frivolous things is not only a waste of money, but will also increase your appetite for such things. It’s a bad investment in yourself.

Economists are fond of saying that whatever a government subsidizes, it will get more of. What is true of government spending is true in your personal life as well. You can use your money to endorse certain appetites, and thus increase them. You can do that with your spiritual appetite or your appetite for pointless distractions.

“Who would expend anything in gratifying these desires if he considered that to gratify them is to increase them? Nothing can be more certain than this: Daily experience shows, the more they are indulged, they increase the more. Whenever, therefore, you expend anything to please your taste or other senses, you pay so much for sensuality. When you lay out money to please your eye, you give so much for an increase of curiosity, for a stronger attachment to these pleasures which perish in the using. While you are purchasing anything which men use to applaud, you are purchasing more vanity. Had you not then enough of vanity, sensuality, curiosity before? Was there need of any addition? And would you pay for it, too? What manner of wisdom is this? Would not the literally throwing your money into the sea be a less mischievous folly?”

Give All You Can

Your money is an extension of your life, and like your life, it is entrusted to you by God. When we understand this, Wesley said, we will see that giving is not optional; it is simply our duty. If we have an eternal perspective, however, we will not see it as a difficult duty, but as a “light, easy service.”

“In order to see the ground and reason of this, consider, when the Possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward : As such he entrusted you, for a season, with goods of various kinds; but the sole property of these still rests in him, nor can be alienated from him. As you yourself are not your own, but his, such is, likewise, all that you enjoy. Such is your soul and your body, not your own, but God’s. And so is your substance in particular. And he has told you, in the most clear and express terms, how you are to employ it for him, in such a manner, that it may be all an holy sacrifice, acceptable through Christ Jesus. And this light, easy service, he has promised to reward with an eternal weight of glory.”