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Lawful Wealth

Lawful wealth is that wealth which comes to man as he abides by God’s law and applies work, thrift, and forethought to his activities.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the question of acquiring wealth is directly related to the eighth commandment:

Q. 73: Which is the eighth commandment?
A: The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.
Q. 74: What is required in the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.
Q. 75: What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbour’s wealth or outward estate.

Answer 75 had in mind the love of pleasure, drunkenness, gluttony, laziness, and theft and cited Proverbs 21:17; 22:20; 28:19, and Ephesians 4:28. Alexander Whyte saw this commandment as covering “all matters connected with the earning, saving, spending, inheriting and bequeathing of money and property.”1 Whyte added,

All a man’s possessions, go back to the beginning of them, go down to the bottom of them, will always be found to represent so much self-denial, labour, industry. Obscure as may be the origin, history, and growth of this or that particular estate, yet it must in its beginning have been due to some man’s obedience to the Creator’s law of labour and reward. “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” This is the original charter of the right of property.2

Whyte further added, “Akin to the habit of industry is the sister habit of frugality and forethought.”3

Capitalization is the accumulation of wealth, the conversion of work, savings, and forethought into tangible working assets. No progress is possible without some measure of capitalization. It is a serious error to assume that socialism and communism are opposed to capitalization or to capitalism; their opposition is simply to private capitalism, but their dedicated policy is to state capitalism. For the state to plan any program of progress, public works, or conquest, work, frugality, and forethought are necessary. The work is exacted from the people by force; the frugality or savings is again forced out of the people by means of wage controls, compulsory savings and bond-buying programs, and slave labor, the forethought is provided by the state planners.

State capitalism is seriously defective for a number of reasons. Most notably, first of all, it represents theft. The private capital of the people is expropriated, as well as their work and savings. It is thus a radically dishonest capitalization.

Second, forethought is divorced from work and frugality, that is, the planners are not the ones who provide the work and the sacrifice. As a result, the planners have no brake of immediate consequences imposed upon them. They can be prodigal in their waste of manpower and capital without bankruptcy, in that the state compels the continuance of their non-economic and wasteful planning. The consequence is that, wherever planning is separated from work and savings, instead of capitalization, the result is decapitalization. Socialism is thus by nature imperialistic, in that it must periodically seize or annex a fresh territory in order to have fresh capital to gut by expropriation. State capitalism is thus an agency of decapitalization.

Private capital is acquired basically in three ways, excluding private theft as an illegal and immoral means. These three ways are by work, inheritance, and gift. Private capital must then be utilized by planning, and the loss is the planner’s loss, so that there is an incentive to efficiency in private capital, even where received by gift or by inheritance, which is lacking in state capitalism. The immediacy of consequences, the direct liability of the private capitalist to loss, makes private capital more responsible even where the private capitalist is a thief. Where criminal syndicates like the Mafia enter into business, they do so with a ruthless eye towards profits and efficiency which is lacking in state capitalism.

Lawful wealth is that wealth which comes to man as he abides by God’s law and applies work, thrift, and forethought to his activities. Lawful wealth is a covenant promise; hence the warning by Moses in Deuteronomy 8:11-20, culminating in vs. 18 with the statement, “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is to this day.” Man must not say in his heart, “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” vs. 17). Wright’s comment on this is good:

The pride is most terrible and insidious because it flouts the plainest of facts, by asserting the virtual deity of self: “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (vs. 17). Yet Israel must remember that the wealth is by God’s power, not her own, and it is given in accord with his covenanted promises, not in payment for what the nation deserves (vs. 18). This is one of the strongest and most powerful passages in the Bible on this characteristic and distressing problem of human life. Wealth here is not by natural right; it is God’s gift. Yet man must beware of the terrible and self-destructive temptation to deify himself which comes with it.4

True wealth, godly wealth is a product of covenant blessings on work, thrift, and foresight; it is inseparably connected with the law. The commandments are given “that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land” (Deut. 8:1).

Scripture distinguishes throughout between godly wealth and ungodly wealth. Wealth in itself therefore is not a sign of God’s favor; it can be a witness to theft and fraud. Wealth can be, however, a sign of God’s favor and an evidence of covenantal blessings where accompanied by lawful means and godly faith.

To return to the matter of capitalization, capitalization in a society requires a background of faith and character. In every era of history, capitalization is a product of the Puritan disposition, of the willingness to forego present pleasures to accumulate some wealth for future purposes. Where there is no character, there is no capitalization but rather decapitalization, the steady depletion of wealth. Society becomes consumption centered rather than productive, and it begins to decapitalize the centuries-rich inheritance which surrounds it.

Thus, decapitalization is preceded always by a breakdown of faith and character. Where men feel that private happiness is man’s purpose and goal rather than serving and glorifying God, and finding joy in Him, where men feel that life owes them something rather than seeing themselves as debtors to God, and where men feel called to fulfil themselves apart from God rather than in Him, there society is in rapid process of decapitalization.

To return now to Deuteronomy 8:1, 18, the purpose of wealth is the establishment of God’s covenant; its goal is that man prosper in his task of possessing the earth, subduing it and exercising dominion over it. The means to lawful wealth is the covenant law, the law of God. Capitalization is thus a radical and total task. Man must seek to subdue the earth and gain wealth as a means of restitution and restoration, as means of establishing God’s dominion in every realm. Wherever godly men establish their superior productivity and gain wealth, they thereby glorify God. Wealth in itself is good, and a blessing of the Lord. It is trust in wealth rather than God which Scripture condemns (Ps. 49:6, 7). We are told that, “When Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him” (II Chron. 12:1). “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as a high wall in his own conceit” (Prov. 18:11; cf. 10:15; BV, “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city and as a high wall—so he thinks”).

Godly wealth is basic to God’s purposes for the earth. It is a vital link in the task of restoration.

Benjamin Franklin, in his Memoirs, mentions a merchant named Denham, who failed in his business at Bristol, compounded with his creditors, and went to America. In a few years he accumulated a plentiful fortune, returned to England in the same ship with Franklin, called his creditors together to an entertainment, and paid the full remainder of his debts, with interest up to the time of settlement.5

Personal restitution is godly, but much more is required. Man must restore the earth, must make it truly and fully God’s kingdom, the domain in which His law-word is taught, obeyed, and honored. Man must gain wealth and use it to the glory of God, but, to gain lawful wealth, man must know and obey the law. Godly wealth is to be acquired, held, and used in good conscience; it is a happy result of the covenant of God.

1. Alexander Whyte: A Commentary on the Shorter Catechism (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961: reprint), p. 145.

2. Ibid., p. 145 f.

3. Ibid., p. 146.

4. G. Ernest Wright, “Deuteronomy,” Interpreter’s Bible, II, 389.

5. John Whitecross: The Shorter Catechism Illustrated from Christian Biography and History (London: Banner of Truth Trust, [1828] 1968), p. 114.

Taken from Institutes of Biblical Law, Volume 1, pgs. 522-525

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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