A Summary of the Puritan Work Ethic

The following principles are extracted or distilled by myself after trying to digest chapter 2: “Work” and chapter 4: “Money” from Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were.

Jost Amman’s The Book of Trades

1. Jesus was a bachelor and a carpenter, which means he set the economic example for single men (Mark 6:3). Glassdoor says of carpenters in 2021 that their annual income is an average of $53,000. Most modern economists would say that a child’s yearly expenses should be around $10,000 for a middle class family. Parents for a family of four, therefore, might reasonably aim to earn about $83,000 a year.

2. God calls us to specific job vocations, not so much by voices, dreams and visions, but more often through reoccurring emotional impressions and the working situations we find ourselves in.

3. Telecommuting, it seems, is the most reasonable way to work with a “heavenly mind” and the way to “best escape sinning.” A Christian businessman will refuse to cuss, lust, and compete with employees. He will be honest with customers and co-workers; and will only sell good and useful products that benefit mankind. He will sell them at more than reasonable prices; and will provide excellent customer service, aimed at glorifying God in his business. He will not lie, extort, or practice usury: he will not seek profit at the expense of decency. He will avoid ill-gotten gain; and only allow himself to work with well-gotten gain. The ghost of Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol said, “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Competitive-minded, greedy, cussing, lusting businessmen, all packed into an office, will become a pack…of wolves. Avoid such things! Use your phone and computer to treat customers and co-workers with the respect God requires you to.

4. Working in the daytime from Monday to Saturday; and resting on the seventh day, which is Sunday: is the Biblical work schedule. Exodus 20:9: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work,” notice it does not say to work nights. From dawn (which may be as early as 7am) until dusk (as late as 6pm), depending on the seasons: from sunup till sundown, in other words. It is not meant for men to work when it is dark outside. One exception may be the industrious housewife who makes products in her home at night before bedtime: “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers” (Proverbs 31:18-19). Working on Sunday may be temporarily acceptable in case of a financial emergency: “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” (Luke 14:5).

5. Acknowledge and remember that it is God “who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). If you forget to remember and praise God for your successful financial results—God’s providence, then some enormous failure will eventually follow. Since business has a way of drawing the mind to earthly things, it would be good to meditate on eternal realities from time to time, such as the fate of Dives in John Bunyan’s Sighs from Hell. Materialism has the ability to distract us from theology and prayer. Avoid disobedience to God’s Word, pride of success, self-reliance instead of God-reliance, and overall becoming a snob that is obsessed with status and who despises the poor.

6. Diligence and thrift: the simple Puritan formula for financial growth. The combination of hard work, productivity, industrious activity, and diligence combined with a reluctance to spend money on unneeded pleasures of the world; and to only use money on essential family provisions and occasional philanthropy: such activity could eventually generate prosperity, if the business conditions are right. Money is not meant for pleasures and pride, but for provision and philanthropy.

7. Detachment from worldly possessions is necessary, because God requires happy giving and charitable philanthropy to the poor, not in a begrudging manner. Think of giving to the poor through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; and to godly preachers like Ray Comfort with Living Waters. Another great charity is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Have mercy on the poor and do not despise them (Prov. 14:21; Jas. 2:1-8).

8. Don’t let yourself get distracted by theological and spiritual thoughts while working at business activity, but try to remember that living a holy life is more important than being rich.

9. Parents should save money for their children if they can—such as for their education.

10. It should be a goal to acquire land and private property: it can provide security.

11. Aim for the middle class, if you are a family man: living neither in poverty nor in wealth (Prov. 30:7-9).

12. Governors’ mansions and a White House for the president. Such things cannot be avoided you work in a job that requires government leadership. But if you are a godly Christian, living in luxury goes against your general life principles. All the more reason to run from public office! But if necessity puts it upon you, as it did for Oliver Cromwell, then seek God’s will.

Further Reading on Puritan Economics

1603 – Perkins, William. A Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Men in Puritan Political Ideas (ed. Edmund Morgan).

1673 – Baxter, Richard. Chapters from A Christian Directory (ed. Jeannette Tawney).

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