Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Getting and Spending

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen :—I thank you for this most kind and cordial greeting. These lights and flowers, this handsome entertainment and pleasant talk, represent to me the social side of Christianity. I do not wonder at the tendency of our population to the cities. The human heart feels the need of stir and sympathy. I am glad that when we get to heaven we are not to live in the country. The book of Revelation tells us that the New Jerusalem is a city, and I suppose our business is to make life here an earnest and type of that closeness of Christian companionship, and that intensity of loving activity, which belong to the city of God.

A Social Union cannot further this end in any better way than by encouraging the quiet and unpartisan discussion of social questions — especially such questions as the pulpit finds it difficult to treat. Well-to-do people have problems of their own. The answers which they give are not the same answers that were commonly given fifty years ago, but they are given just as conscientiously. What position shall we take with regard to new social customs which challenge either our acceptance or rejection? How shall we admit all the real sweetness and light of a refined civilization, while yet we keep our hearts safe from the serpent and the sting, that lurk beneath the flowers? How shall we keep an independent judgment amid the clamorous petitioners for our benevolent contributions, and yet never say: "Get thee behind me, God !" instead of "Get thee behind me, Satan?" We hear much about the trials of poverty. Something needs to be said about the trials of wealth. It is out of what I may, without much of jest, call a heart of deep sympathy for the rich, that I propose to speak to you for a moment or two of The Christian Law of Getting and of Spending.

It is a mistake to suppose that Christianity requires a man to be poor. Abraham was a good Christian,— at least, he was the father of all believers,— and yet he was very rich. Job had a large property, and, though he lost it all, it was all returned to him, and more. I have no idea that the young man in the gospels would have been compelled to sell all that he had, if he had been willing to sell all that he had. Riches are recognized in Scripture, not only as a good, but as a means of doing good. Men may misuse them, but wealth is a blessing, an opportunity, an honor, a power. It is not money, but the supreme love of money, that is the root of all evil. Christianity promotes the virtues that make wealth — temperance, industry, foresight, selfdenial. If all men were Christians, all men would be rich. Some day the meek will inherit the earth. The church is poor, mainly because she is

*An Address at the "Ladies' Meeting" of the New York Baptist Social Union, Delmonico's, November 1, 1883.

stingy. When she consecrates her all to God, God will give all to her; the kings of the earth — among whom are included capitalists — shall bring their glory and honor into her; the riches of the world shall be brought into her treasury, because her treasury and the treasury of Christ shall be one.

This is not only good Christianity, but it is good Political Economy. There is a certain dignity in the origin of capital, for it is the produce of past labor, and is the result of saving. Capital never could have come into existence, except through a sacrifice of present good for the sake of the future. It takes a certain measure of intellectual and moral development to make accumulation possible. Bagehot, the English economist, says that all the Bourses, Exchanges, Chambers of Commerce, ought to erect statues to the man who first taught his fellows to live a year in advance by casting seed into the ground,— for he was the most daring and original of all speculators. Our savings banks prove that large classes of people have advanced to what, economically considered, is a high level of patience and thoughtfulness and faith. You never heard of a savings bank among the Hottentots. And to accumulate great properties, and to hold them together, involve the exercise of these same virtues in a yet larger degree.

Capital has a dignity duo to its origin in labor and saving. But it has also a dignity derived from the use to which it is put. It is the help and support of labor. Everything saved from the produce of past labor, and made to help in new production, is of the nature of capital. Even the workman who merely owns his tools is an incipient capitalist. And the great capitalist is only a man who, as the result of his own or others' savings, has got into lus possession a larger set of tools. As no trade can be carried on without tools, so no business can be carried on without capital, and no great business can be carried on without great capital. Capital is a fund that employs workmen. The capitalist therefore is the greatest friend that the laborer has,— for you cannot have any more industry than you have capital to support it. It is for the interest of the world that some men should have great wealth,— for that wealth is productive to the owner only by performing, like the waters of the earth, a constant circuit. Now it is the rain that fertilizes the fields of agriculture; now it is the mountain stream that drives the mill-wheel of manufactures; now it is the broad sea that boars upon its bosom the fleets of commerce. Without the principle of accumulation, without aggregations of capital, without rich men, great public works would be impossible, the progress of the race would cease, and mankind would go back to barbarism.

It is well to be rich, and neither Christianity nor Political Economy has anything to say against it. But how rich is it well to be? What is the law an 1 limit of accumulation? I am not now asking with regard to limitations from without, in the shape of legal provisions, though John Stuart Mill thought that the excessive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few should be guarded against by limiting the amount which one can acquire by inheritance. This reminds me of Dr. Johnson's peculiar eulogy. Dr. Johnson praised the English system of primogeniture, because '' it made only one fool in a family,"— all but the eldest son had to work for their living. There is a tyranny over the markets which is as arbitrary as the rule of the Sultan, and it is a question whether this tyranny ought not to be rendered less dangerous to the public by practically limiting estates to the amount which each man can acquire by his own industry during a single life-time. Nor am I asking now with regard to the limitations imposed by merely economical considerations, such as the shortness of life, the decay of one's own powers, the increasing burdens that attend upon increasing wealth, and the uncertainty whether others who come after us, and who legally inherit our estates, will be able to manage the property which we get together. You remember the merchant in the Arabian Nights who let loose an imprisoned Genie, only to find that the Genie stood over him with drawn sword threatening his life. Should not this consideration that the wealth we create may become master instead of servant, to our children if not to ourselves, have something to do in determining when we should cease to accumulate, and should begin to give away?

But the question which I wish to ask is this: What limitations upon accumulation should a sense of our relation to Christ impose? I take it for granted that we all agree with regard to the spirit and aim with which the acquisition of wealth should be conducted. We are not to make money for money's sake. That makes a man an idolater, just as much as if he worshiped a god of gold. Nor are we to make money simply to gratify a selfish ambition. The love of power grows by what it feeds on; it would not be satisfied, even if the world lay at its feet; it is a consuming passion, and all the generous and spiritual elements of character melt in its fervent heat. We are equally agreed that a Christian man belongs, with all that he has, to Christ; that, as Christ has given him his talent for money-making, he is to use this talent in the interest of the Giver. I should say that he has no right to retire from business simply to save himself trouble, and no right to do a small business when he can just as safely do a large one. He is bound to make what he has of property and ability productive for the great Owner of whom he is only steward and trustee,— and, not only productive, but productive in the highest degree possible to the powers with which Christ has endowed him.

Some of you may think that, in saying this, I am removing all limits to accumulation. Not so. It is the utmost possible production, to which we are bound, notthe utmost possible accumulation. And production of what? Woolen goods and railroad dividends? Oh no! there was a higher sort of production to which you devoted yourself when you became a Christian man, namely, the production of holiness in the earth. Keeping your money going as capital is not enough, if you are a Christian. You might as well have it sunk in the sea, as to have it producing nothing in the way of the furtherance of the kingdom of God. And productiveness in this sense must limit the principle of mere accumulation.

Suppose we test this matter by applying the rule in other departments of human activity. Here is a man eager for knowledge. His temptation is to seclude himself from his fellow-men, and to forget both God and humanity in his avidity for learning. How much knowledge may he rightfully accumulate? You answer at once: Just so much as is consistent with a healthy recognition of God's claims upon his soul, and the world's claims upon his service. In other words, he must make his learning productive,— as Lord Bacon says, "a rich storehouse for God's glory and man's relief,"—or his learning will eat into his soul like a canker. Accumulation of knowledge, to be Christian, must be not only with a view to ultimate wider distribution, but it must be accompanied by continual distribution. The trustees of a hospital who should allow its funds to accumulate without end, instead of appropriating them to the relief of the wounded and the sick, would be unfaithful to their trust. So to accumulate knowledge without end is unfaithfulness to a higher trust, and to accumulate wealth without distributing is equal malfeasance in the office of a steward.

What I have said about capital will show you that I have no sympathy with the popular prejudice against capitalists which regards them as mere blood-suckers fastened upon the body politic. No, their money, whether lent out, or invested in stocks, or put into trade, is doing work, and in an economical sense is producing something continually, however little it may be producing in a spiritual sense. Every capitalist is a business man. When wo come, therefore, to the practical application of this doctrine of producing for God, the question is substantially this : What proportion of my property and its income may I properly use in business 1 how large a business may I conduct? how great a capital may I use? how great an estate may I gather? These questions are all practically the same. I have no doubt that the day of small things has gone by. Daniel Safford, that model of benevolence of whom we heard so much when we were boys, vowed to God that he would never be worth more than $50,000, and all that he made over and above that, he faithfully gave away. But by limiting his capital, he limited its produce, and so limited his gifts. If a man's powers are equal to the larger production, I have grave doubts whether he has a right to put the limits of his fortune where Daniel Safford put it. For some men, it would be wrong to stop even with $500,000 or $5,000,000. But let us be sure about our powers, and about our motive. Are we gathering for God, or for ourselves? Is production in an economical sense subserving the other sort of production — production in the religious and spiritual sense? Do not tell me that you intend to make it so by and by. You never will be any better than you are now,— at least you have no right to presume that you will be. Unless you make the principle of accumulation subservient to the principle of benevolence now, you have no right to believe that you ever will, or that your wealth will be other than a curse instead of a blessing.

Have I seemed to imply, in this address, that we are all millionaires? Well, we certainly look as if we were. But, lest there should be a single unfortunate exception, who has not yet received his portion of meat from this feast of reason, let me say a word or two about spending as I have already about getling. We all must spend. We are all consumers. It takes only a little while for the world to eat itself up. "Though full of useful and precious goods," says Dr. Walker, without constant new production "the world would be seedy within ten years, and beggarly within the life of man." And we consume luxuries as well as necessaries.— in fact, in our modern days a great many things once called luxuries have become necessaries. And this is perfectly right. God does not bring about a high development of our faculties without providing a corresponding nutriment and supply. The talk about "plain living and high thinking," is mostly talk. An active brain needs good food. A hard-worked man will live longer for having a good bed. Good fires and good clothes are diminishing the chances of death and are enriching the life insurance companies. And God cares for men's tastes, for he has created them in the image of his own. He himself loves beauty, and he has made us to love it — the beauty of nature not only, but the beauty of art—symphonies and statues, pictures and noble piles of architecture. It is just as right, within certain limits, to spend money for such things, as it is to spend it for daily bread. But as Christian people, it is very important to understand the principle and the limit of this luxurious consumption.

I hear a false principle frequently advocated. I do not say that any of us advocate it. I will illustrate it by the court of the third Napoleon. When a lady of the court appeared a second time in the same dress, the Empress Eugenie gently admonished her that she had "admired that dress before." And the wasteful extravagance of the Tuilleries was defended, upon the ground that it kept a great many silk manufacturers and milliners at work, and so encouraged industry. Well, it would keep men at work, to some extent, if we spread gold broad-cast over our walls, and had for our dinners, as the Romans did, dishes composed of the brains of birds of Paradise. But who does not see that it will keep more men at work, and for a longer time, to put the same sum into productive business? $1,000, spent in luxury, will pay $ 1,000 of wages. $ 1,000, employed as capital, will in ten years pay $20,000 of wages, and will go on increasing its power of supporting labor so long as it is thus employed. As a celebrated economist has said :— "Wealth spent in luxury is the fierce blaze of the burning house, which may warm a few for a moment, but which soon goes out, leaving only desolation."

And so we see the Christian limit of luxurious consumption. We must be able to show that our spending does the greatest possible good. Though we were worth a hundred millions, it never would be right to waste. We are stewards of God's estate; we own nothing in fee-simple; we are set to administer our earthly property for God. Now a temperate and well proportioned luxury, by which I mean a proper provision for the satisfaction of our tastes and social instincts, does bring forth fruit for God, both in ourselves and in others. Such luxury is a spring of beneficent activity; it stimulates men for life's toils; it repairs life's waste; it lets loose our higher powers ; it repays its cost many times over. The Athenian Stoic was content with "figs and philosophy." We need something more. I once saw a Christian home, where I thought luxury and principle went hand in hand. It was a solid, spacious, English-like structure. There were servants, and there was plate. There were pictures of worth, and costly books. But there was not the slightest ostentation. One would have thought the family had lived there a thousand years. And when the son of the family greeted me — a beautiful youth, six feet and two inches tall and straight as an arrow, ingenuous and modest, yet with a natural distinction of manner that showed that he was "to the manor born," I recognized the fact that wealth had not spoiled, but had helped, education.

You say I have not yet told you how far this expenditure may go. I will tell you now. Just so far as is consistent with loving God supremely, and your neighbor as yourself. No luxury can be Christian, that tends to lead my neighbor into sin. The traveler on one of the splendid steamers of the river Rhine sometimes observes that the engines have suddenly stopped. Looking ahead he perceives a low, grimy coal-barge, so heavily laden that her gunwales are near the water's edge. The swell in the wake of the great steamer, if she kept up her full speed, would be sufficient to wash over the sides of the barge and sink her. So the larger vessel stops her engines and, with the momentum already gained, glides quietly by till the barge is out of danger. We are to consult the interests of others, and not to please ourselves. Let us be sure that the swell and bravery of our display and indulgence does not sink some humbler craft, which otherwise might have reached its destined haven.

No luxury can be Christian, that hardens the heart against the calls of distress. When the heavy draperies of our curtains become so thick as wholly to shut out the wail of the great suffering and sinning race, then the curtains had better come down. No luxury can be Christian, which makes this life, with its glitter and its pleasure, the be-all and the end-all of existence.

"This life of mortal breath
Is ante-chamber to the life Klyslan,
Whose portal we call death."

The luxury that would persuade us to find our Paradise here, and to forget the Paradise beyond, is a false luxury, and full of poison to the soul. Beauty and pleasure are not ends in themselves, but means to a higher end—the production of the true and the good, and the preparation of our souls for heaven. As Bonar, the sweetest religious poet of Scotland, has sung :—

"'Tis first the true and then the beautiful.
Not first the beautiful and then the true;
First the wild moor, with rock and sedge and pool.
Then the gay garden, rich in scent and hue.

"'Tis first the good and then the beautiful,
Not first the beautiful and then the good;
First the rough seed, sown in the rougher soil,
Then the flower trellis, and the branching wood.

"Not first the glad and then the sorrowful.
But first the sorrowful and then the glad;
Tears for a day — for earth of tears is full,—
Then we forget that we were ever sad.

"Not first the bright and after that the dark,
But first the dark and after that the bright;
First the black cloud, and then the rainbow's arc,
First the dark grave, then resurrection light.

"'Tis first the night — dark night of storm and war.
Thick night of heavy clouds and veiled skies;
Then the fair sparkle of the morning star,
That bids the saints awake, and dawn arise."

And so Christianity bids us bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Are you rich? Then it would seem to me that you ought not to spend more upon yourself, than you spend on others. And if you are very rich why should you not use your opportunity to give all your increase to God, that with it he may send the gospel into the heart of some heathen empire, or build up some great institution that shall train the future teachers of the church? And still you wish to ask me further questions — about horses, and pictures, and yachts? Well, I am glad that I am not set to be the keeper of your conscience, or any other human being's but my own. God gives us his law of love and the example of Christ's sacrifice,— and he says to us: "As I have loved you, so love my cause. Do all to the glory of God. He that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly, but he that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully. As the Lord hath prospered yon, so give. Be good stewards of the manifold grace of God." It indicates the rank and dignity of each of us in the creation that, with these principles before us, we are left to determine our duty solitarily before God. Life is a probation,— our characters are revealing themselves,—-we are fixing our place and destiny for eternity. But nothing in our earthly life will better show what we are, and where we belong forever, than our getting and spending.