Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

John Wesley's "Trilateral"

Perhaps you've heard of John Wesley's Quadrilateral? That's how Wesley proposed we decide if something is right or wrong. Wesley suggested there were four points we should visit before deciding. The four points are Bible, Tradition, reason, and experience. That is, to determine an issue we should ask (1)What does the Bible say?; (2)What has the church through two thousand years said?; (3)Does this make reasonable sense?; and,(4) Is it proven out in human experience. In a baseball sense, it is starting with the Bible, then testing an idea with tradition, reason, and experience, before returning again to "home plate" the Bible and making the decision.

Maybe you've heard of the "Quadrilateral." If not, don't worry, because this article is not about the quadrilateral, but, rather, about Wesley's "Trilateral." His quadrilateral related to decision making. His "trilateral" is about money.

Since John Wesley preached and wrote on Bible topics he dealt often with money and materialism. He preached on 1 Timothy 6:9, warning of the dangers of wanting to be rich. He preached on the hazards of increasing riches (from Psalm 62:10). When preaching and writing on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-23) he served up a tremendous amount of practical advice on what are legitimate expenses and what is excessive in spending. When preaching from this Matthew passage, and in his many letters, he offered considerable advice to people who were already rich. In one especially convicting sermon Wesley asks, "Why has Christianity done so little good?" and cites Christian's materialism as a major cause of the "inefficacy of Christianity." And, Wesley was not shy about mentioning the eternal consequences of materialism. In his sermon on the rich man and Lazarus he remind us all that gathering wealth and not using it properly can send a person to hell. In this Lazarus sermon he makes his well known practical statement, "it is no more sinful to be rich than poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression." Wesley believed a rich person could get into heaven... it was just harder. A "slippery slope" as he put it.

But, perhaps the most well known sermon of Wesley's on money was his "trilateral sermon," titled "The Use of Money." It was based on Luke 16:9. In this sermon Wesley set out three points about money, in a triangle sort of way. The three legs of the triangle: Gain all you can; Save all you can; Give all you can. What did he say about these?

1. GAIN all you can.
Wesley believed that when it came to making money, Christians had much in common with unbelievers and could "meet them on their own ground." We ought to make money. It was an argument for industriousness, hard work, cleverness. Wesley thought Christians should work hard and long and the result would be gaining all the money they could. To him there was nothing wrong with making money. Indeed, he argued that Christians had a "bounden duty" to gain all they could.

Wesley followed his own advice. He was one of the highest earning preachers of all times. In today's dollars he earned the equivalent of 1.4 million in his best year. $1.4 Million in a single year! And Wesley didn't have cassettes or videos! He earned his money from donations, speaking, books, and what he called 'Penny tracts.' Few people talk about it today, but John Wesley makes today's religious hucksters look like entrepreneurial slackers.

But, to Wesley there were some ways of gaining money which were wrong. Wesley cited five: (1) We are not to gain money at the expense of life or health. For instance, long before the dangers of lead poisoning was popularized, Wesley urged Christians working with lead to exchange their work as soon as they could, not exchanging life or health for gain. (2) Second, Christians should not gain money through any occupation which harms our mind. To Wesley this meant abstaining from any occupation where lying, cheating, or avoiding taxes was the norm. (3) Wesley argued that a real Christian would not "Gain all he can" by hurting his neighbor, which in his mind eliminated the possibility of gaining money through running gaming enterprises, pawn-broking, usury, or selling goods below market value to run the competition out of business. (4) Christians should stay away from practicing lucrative improper medicine. He condemned doctors who sometimes "play with the lives or heart of men, to enlarge their own gain." He particularly rejected doctors who lengthened pain or disease to make money, or who held hostage needed care until they could melt down a patient's fortune. Finally, (5) Wesley argued that a Christian has no business gaining money at the expense of his soul by running a tavern, play-houses or other establishments which lower the state human nature.

However, given these cautions on wrongful gain, Wesley wanted Christians to "gain all you can." Use your time well, be industrious, work hard, and make money!

2. Save all you can.
His second triangle leg was about saving. But it isn't what you think. Nine out of ten Christian today who quote Wesley's Trilateral miss his meaning of "Save all you can." It doesn't mean Christians should tuck away as much as possible into savings accounts. What he meant by "Save all you can" was be carefully in spending... be frugal. He warned that Christians tend to spend too much on the sensuous. He warned about extravagant spending on taste: expensive food which he felt was an "epicurism" which led to debauchery in other areas. Rather, Christians should eat plain simple food, not expensive delicacies. He warned us about appealing to the eye: expensive and gaudy clothing, elaborate homes, fancy gardens, extraordinary decoration, expensive paintings, and other showy things which appeal to the sense of sight. Wesley was condemning is extravagance and sensuousness. He chided Christians for saying, "I can afford it." Like Jesus (and most all serious religious groups since) Wesley called for simplicity and plainness. For "saving" all you can when buying food, clothing, shelter, equipment, and all other expenses.

Why would he say this? Why should Christians be so thrifty? It is so we can give.

3. Give all you can.
This was the motivation of his entire view on money. The trilateral stands on the giving base. We are to gain and save in order to give. Give how much? Wesley's answer: give it all Give to whom? Wesley gave a list: (1) First, give to yourself all you need for the basics. (2) Then give to your family and employees their fair share, or you are worse than an infidel. (3) Third, give to the "household of faith" -- other Christians, which we assume includes the organized work of the Lord in churches. (4) Finally Wesley says we are the give to all men in need, which includes the poor, the needy, even if they are not believers. To Wesley money was for giving. You made it, you saved, so you could give it. In fact, on this third point of his trilateral he actually switched the wording by the end of his message from "give all you can" to "give all you have." He meant it.

And he lived it too. In the year Wesley earned today's equivalent of $1.4 million, he lived on 2% of his income and gave 98% of it away. He did. He "tithed" 98%. In fact, during Wesley's lifetime he earned the equivalent of $30 million. When he died, left behind only a few miscellaneous coins and a couple of silver spoons. He had given away the rest. He practiced what he preached.

So what do you think?

To contribute to the thinking on this issue e-mail your response to Tuesday@indwes.edu

By Keith Drury, 1997. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.