Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Means of Management
However spiritual the note that from God’s heaven is sounded in the everlasting gospel, it never went so high but that in Holy Scripture the very prosaic “account of income and outgo” also could come to its own (Phil. 4:15, Dutch Version).
Altogether different from what you find with visionary people.
With them it is said that writing books of poetry and keeping account of one’s finance cannot go together.
To keep book, to write down everything, to plan in advance and in the end examine results, is deemed proper for ordinary souls that do not rise above the prose of life. But it will not do for freer spirits, for men of larger talent, for those who drink the cup of poetry, and while they do not eat the bread of the mighty, yet eat the bread of ideals.
To count and keep book is fit for the grocer. It is the flat art of the miser. But he who has wings and learned their use, and who on mountaintops has breathed other air than that of the dull marshes, feels heartily averse to dealing with stiff figures and keeping troublesome accounts.
No, he who lives in higher spheres despises ledgers and takes no part in bookkeeping. Or if he does keep book, he outwits the evil spirit of figures by making entries as he likes and somehow making totals agree. But real bookkeeping,precise according to right and truth, accurate and painstaking bookkeeping, such an higher spirit does not.
He leaves this to others. He leaves this to his inferiors. He spends, so long as he has money in the bank or in the house. When it is gone, he begs or borrows, and pays back or not, as suits his convenience. Or he does not borrow, but buys on credit, and lives on the money of his creditors, and when they dare to dun him for what is coming to them, he calls them cruel.
In this way, from the old, lived the men of art, students at the academy, thinkers and philosophers, men of the sword and of the pen.
Not infrequently women in these circles took part in this guilty slovenliness of life.
And they who also at times, andthis is the worst, took part in this, were mystically-minded Christians who deemed earthly cares too unspiritual to concern their soul about.
History even relates of spiritual leaders who fell into this same error.
This sin also is rebuked by the Word of God, and punished afterward by much financialloss, if not by financial ruin, of which the slovenly handling of money is oftentimes an unavoidable result.
God’s Word teaches us to attach value to money, not because gold glitters with such yellow brightness, not because money buys almost everything, but because it is a talent, entrusted to us of God, primordially His property, put into our hands but for a time, obliging us, not to use it in our service, but in His service, once to give to Him an account thereof.
This is the first foundation on which a Christian’s financial structure must rest.
In addition to this is the second, that God’s Word demands accurate, strict honesty, and condemns all dishonesty as despicable sin. He to whom it belongs is master of the money, and Holy Scripture callstheft every act of yours by which you prevent money from going back to its master. Prompt payment on the day, punctual return of what is borrowed, never postponement of payment of wages or of what has been guaranteed. On these three depends the right of yourexpenditure. And in addition to this, equally sternly demanded with respect to your account of income, the other commandment, that under no circumstances at any time anything may flow into your bank or purse that has been gained by lottery, by unrighteous dealings, or by dishonest practices.
As a third foundation comes this, that according to the demand of God’s Word you shall manage and direct your expenses, not as you desire, but according to God’s will. Not for sinful use, but for what is expedient. Divided with respect to the present and to days that are to be, even when wife and child are here and you are gone. Also, that with your account of income and outgo, as with everything else, you shall “love God first and then yourself and your neighbor”; and thus notsay: first for all earthly needs, and, if anything is left, a bagatelle for the cause of God. No, first the gift for the cause of your Lord, and after that for your own needs. Think of the poor widow, she gave all her living, and thereby won the approval of the Lord.
Finally, to these three foundations there is added still this fourth, that Scripture demands order and rule in all things, and for this reason claims from every one who has money at his disposal that the account of income and outgo be at all times so accurately in order that, should you die this very day, everything would be found accurately recorded and in perfect correspondence.
The fathers in our Reformed churches have always insisted in practical matters that is it not spiritual, but overspiritual and therefore unspiritual, when in his accounts of income and outgo one does slovenly work.
It should not be the soul for God and the purse for self.
Soul and purse must both be God’s.
So punctiliousness, preciseness, tenderness of conscience demands it.
Scripture designs least of all to be hard. She defies you to find tenderer compassion for shortage in income than she offers.
To see expenses increase by sickness or accident or dearness of food, and then to learn that income does not suffice, yea, in times when there is no work to be had, is for those who must themselves live and carry the care for others a bitterness of soul; and which cannot be borne when you feel your faith give way, your faith in Him who has numbered the hairs of your head, and in the love which He wakens in the brother-heart.
With respect to such trying conditions you never find in God’s Word one hard expression. On the contrary, words of tenderest compassion.
What Scripture condemns is every life lived at random; every expenditure in advance of money that has not yet materialized; prodigality in expectation of inheritances still to come; use of capital laid up against the rainy day; the so-called stopping up of one hole with another; recklessly spending without forethought or care; wasting money as long as it lasts, that, when it is gone, one may live on the good graces of another.
And what is no less condemned, and in which so many err, is spending more than one receives, not because one cannot live on it, but because he says he cannot live on it according to his imagined rankor his imaginary needs.
House, clothes, and food are indispensable, and when the income does not suffice for this, seeking help incurs neither loss nor shame. Then indeed you may call in help. Then according to God’s will you must be helped.
But to what is above and beyond this, when God does not give it you, does not put it at your disposal, does not send it to your house, you are not entitled.
You cannot fit your income to your outgo, you must direct your outgo according to your income, and he who did this punctiliously and strictly from his youth up has never come to want and has never felt himself poor.
One must cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth.
A merchant must practice regular bookkeeping, because human law demands it. But every Christian also must keep book, because the law of his God lays it upon him, and that presently the name of his God be not slandered on account of his dilatoriness.
So must the man do as head of his family, and the wife in her housekeeping, and the servant in the kitchen, and every child of his small earnings.
Always keeping count, and never allowing carelessness.
You have to put this into practice yourself, and instill it into your children, so that with the coming generation the flabbiness of life go no further, and still more pitiful victims be sacrificed.
For do not forget that that very light-hearted dealing with account of income and outgo has already brought many a family first trouble and sorrow, and then ruin in the end.
And what you should not forget either is that, in the last instance, all account and responsibility are one.
Therefore our Confession and our Catechism have so much to say about the account we have with our God.
Spiritual flabbiness has made a mockery of the idea that with God you should mention payment, since His love is far too exalted and His compassion far too infinite than to apply the flat idea of payment to your relation to the Holy One. But does not Scripture itself speak of a ransom?
And these two hang together. He who makes light of this accounting and paying among men, as a rule does not take his account with God seriously. He wants indeed to be pious and mystical and holy, but God’srighteousness has no hold on him. And what it is to bejustified by faith he does not understand. But by this very emphasis which our fathers put upon that justification, they have strengthened the right, have deepened the sense of right, among men, and have advanced righteousness.
And, therefore, do not deem that account of income and outgo a light matter. For whether you come to tenderness and compunction of conscience; to standing just before your God; to the payment for you of the ransom that saves you eternally; or to the account of your income and outgo among men—all is at heart governed by only one all-decisive question, namely: Whether you are your own lord and master, or whether you stand under God, and as such have to reverence Hisordinances, and owe Him an account.
He who is truly pious keeps account of his money in the first place for God.