John Wesley – The First Moral Capitalist?

The other day, I ran across a sermon by the Methodist founder, John Wesley, on the use of money. Many years ago, when dean of a law school at a Methodist university, I had heard the university chaplain quote Wesley to the point of “Earn as much as you can; save as much as you can; give away as much as you can,” but had never been given the text of his sermon making that case.

So, when I read his sermon No. 50 on the use of money, I had two quick thoughts: 1) this is a classic statement of the Protestant ethic, which German sociologist, Max Weber, accepted as the formative drive behind modern capitalism and 2) his sermon was an early version of moral capitalism.

Wesley led a movement within the Church of England focusing not on churches and rituals, but on inner spiritual awakening. Wesley was an Arminian who generously believed God to be lovingly open-minded about people and prepared to welcome all who had deep and abiding faith into a heavenly hereafter.

Wesley was theologically comfortable, including moral concerns for others in our seeking out a living in this word. He did not juxtapose money against morality, but called on good and true Christians – actually on all people of all faiths – to use money with moral awareness.

This is the ideal of moral capitalism.

Today’s efforts to include stakeholders in business models, to find a purpose for companies and to care for the environment (ESG, sustainability, stakeholder capitalism, etc.) logically follow from Wesley’s advocacy of creating worldly wealth and then using it to better the world.

Wesley presumed with the Judeo-Christian Book of Genesis that God was sincere in judging his creation to be “good” and with Jesus that “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.” (Luke 6:45)

You may read excerpts from Wesley’s sermon here.