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  • Money and Morals​—A Lesson From History
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    ON April 7, 1630, about four hundred people in four ships set sail from England for the New World. Many among them were highly educated. Others were successful businessmen. Some were even members of parliament. The economy back home was in a slump, made worse by the ongoing Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618-48). So taking a chance, they left homes, businesses, and relatives and set out in search of better opportunities.

    That hopeful company was not simply a group of opportunistic traders, however. They were zealous Puritans, running from religious persecution. Their real goal was to establish a godly community where they and their descendants could prosper materially without having to compromise the Bible’s standards. Shortly after landing at Salem, Massachusetts, they laid claim to a small plot of land down the coast. They called their new home Boston.

    An Awkward Balancing Act

    John Winthrop, their leader and governor, did his best to promote private wealth and public good in the new colony. He wanted the people to have both money and morals. But this proved to be an awkward balancing act. Anticipating challenges, he spoke at length to his companions about the role of wealth in a godly society.

    Like other Puritan leaders, Winthrop believed that the pursuit of wealth was not wrong in itself. The chief purpose of riches, he argued, was to help others. Thus, the wealthier a person was, the more good he could do. “Few subjects agitated the Puritan mind more than

    wealth ,” historian Patricia O’Toole observes. “It was both a sign of God’s blessing and a powerful temptation to the sin of pride . . . and to the sins of the flesh.”

    To avoid the sins that can be spawned by

    wealth and luxury, Winthrop urged moderation and temperance. All too soon, however, the entrepreneurial spirit of his fellow citizens tended to clash with his attempts to force them to practice godliness and to love one another. Dissidents began challenging what they saw as Winthrop’s heavy-handedness in their private affairs. Some began agitating for an elected assembly that would share in decision making. Others simply voted with their feet by moving to neighboring Connecticut to pursue their own interests.

    “Opportunity, prosperity, democracy,” O’Toole says, “all were potent forces in the life of Puritan Massachusetts, and all tended to fuel individual ambitions at the expense of Winthrop’s collective ideal.” In 1649, Winthrop died almost penniless, at the age of 61. Though the fragile colony survived despite many hardships, Winthrop never lived to see his dream come true.

    The Search Continues

    John Winthrop’s idealistic vision of a better world did not die with him. Hundreds of thousands each year emigrate from Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, hoping to find a better life. Some of them are inspired by the hundreds of new books, seminars, and Web sites produced each year that promise to share the secret of how to get rich. Clearly, many are still striving to have money, hopefully without forsaking moral values.

    Frankly, the results have been disappointing. Those seeking wealth all too often end up sacrificing their principles and sometimes even their faith on the altar of Mammon. Therefore, you may rightly ask: “Can one be a true Christian and also be rich? Will there ever be a God-fearing society that is prosperous both materially and spiritually?” The Bible answers those questions, as the following article shows.

    [Footnote]

    The name Puritans was given in the 16th century to Protestants within the Church of England who wanted to purify their church of every shred of Roman Catholic influence.

    [Picture Credit Lines on page 3]

    Boats: The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration/J. G. Heck; Winthrop: Brown Brothers

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