Posted by Richard on  UTC 2016-05-01 07:45

The success of the individual's activity for the glorification of God on earth, the plan, in other words, might bring riches and honour. That was the confirmation of the individual's elected status. God was not waiting for the afterlife to reward the elected, that fate had already been decided, but using the elected to glorify Him through his works on earth.

This doctrine, my friends, is reason and wisdom; but, after all, do not depend too much upon your own industry, and frugality, and prudence, though excellent things; for they may all be blasted, without the blessing of Heaven; and, therefore, ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present seem to want [=lack] it, but comfort and help them. Remember, Job suffered, and was afterwards prosperous.[1]

Even when this success came there was no respite, no point at which you rested and enjoyed your riches and basked in honours: until your very last breath there was work to be done for the glory of God.

Methinks I hear some of you say, ‘Must a man afford himself no leisure?' I will tell thee, my friend, what Poor Richard says, Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure; and, since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; for A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. Many, without labor, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock; whereas industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect. Fly pleasures, and they will follow you.[2]

The true Elect never stopped. There was no point at which you could say 'I am rich enough, I shall retire and enjoy my wealth'. If you thought that, you were not one of the Elect. Once prosperity had been attained, honours and status would still be spurned. 'The use of money is all the advantage there is in having money.'[3]


The true elect scorned worldly honours, titles and rank:

Fading is the worldling's pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show:
Solid joys and lasting treasure,
None but Zion's children know.[4]

In contrast, such titles and baubles were at the heart of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire. The extent of their use is a symptom of the static, feudal organization of its states, inimical as they were to all forms of social mobility. What mattered was not what you did or achieved, but what you were.

Visitors to modern Austria are often surprised or amused at the ubiquity of titles used in everyday speech. Although the Austrian Empire officially ceased to exist after the end of the First World War its culture – its characteristic and charming Austrian flavour – has been propagated down to the present day.

What would be a respectful and innocuous reference to 'Herr Zankl' in the rest of the German-speaking world is regarded in Austria as impolite if Herr Zankl has a master's degree. In this case the polite address would be 'Herr Magister Zankl'. Politeness also requires that job titles be included when addressing people – 'Frau Abteilungsleiterin Zankl', 'Herr Direktor Zankl' – and everyone has to have at least one of them, even those at the bottom of the pile: 'Herr Compositeur Schubert'!

We should note in passing that the German word for polite, höflich, could be literally translated as 'courtly'. We may be physically in 21st century Vienna, but we are acoustically in the glittering court of the Habsburgs.

Franklin would have none of this:

In old Time it was no disrespect for Men and Women to be call’d by their own Names: Adam, was never called Master Adam; we never read of Noah Esquire, Lot Knight and Baronet, nor the Right Honourable Abraham, Viscount Mesopotamia, Baron of Carran; no, no, they were plain Men, honest Country Grasiers, that took Care of their Families and their Flocks. Moses was a great Prophet, and Aaron a Priest of the Lord; but we never read of the Reverend Moses, nor the Right Reverend Father in God, Aaron, by Divine Providence, Lord Arch-Bishop of Israel: Thou never sawest Madam Rebecca in the Bible, my Lady Rachel, nor Mary, tho’ a Princess of the Blood after the Death of Joseph, call’d the Princess Dowager of Nazareth; no, plain Rebecca, Rachel, Mary, or the Widow Mary, or the like: It was no Incivility then to mention their naked Names as they were expressed.[5]

Honesty the best policy

Finally, there was a further, extremely simple factor that favoured the business ventures of Calvinistic-style Protestantism: honesty. Unlike Catholicism, where dishonesty could later be erased from the record, in most Protestant flavours it was an absolute requirement for the health of the soul. The Protestant merchant may drive a hard bargain, but the bargain and the word on which it rested would always be kept. His was a business one could rely on.

We will [...] see that the specific form that this worldly asceticism took for the Baptists and particularly for the Quakers, already present in the judgement of the 17th century, was in the practical maintenance of that important principle of the capitalist 'ethic' formulated as: 'honesty is the best policy' and which found its classic expression in the Franklin tract we have already quoted.[6]

Even today many of those brought up in the Protestant countries of Europe still make assumptions about dishonesty and corruption in Catholic – or formerly Catholic – countries.


  1. ^ Benjamin Franklin, 'The Way to Wealth' (1758). Source: The Works of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Jared Sparks. Vol. 2. (Boston, 1836), 2:92-103, IV, p. 33.
  2. ^ Benjamin Franklin, 'The Way to Wealth' p. 16.
  3. ^ Benjamin Franklin, 'Necessary Hints To Those That Would Be Rich' p. 165.
  4. ^ The author of this famous hymn (Olney Hymns, Book 1, Hymn 60), John Newton (1725-1807), had the Methodist John Wesley as a friend and, although he was, strictly speaking, an Anglican cleric, he was at ease with Protestant dissidents of many flavours. He was renowned for his practical good works and he himself worked to his last breath. This hymn, which he titled 'City of God', was written in 1775 and published in 1779.
  5. ^ Benjamin Franklin, 'On Titles of Honor', The New-England Courant, February 18, 1723, p. 51.
  6. ^ Weber p. 160.
    Wir werden dann – um wenigstens dies vorwegzunehmen – sehen, daß die spezifische Form, welche jene innerweltliche Askese bei den Täufern, speziell den Quäkern, annahm, schon nach dem Urteil des 17. Jahrhunderts in der praktischen Bewährung jenes wichtigen Prinzips der kapitalistischen 'Ethik' sich äußerte, welches man dahin zu formulieren pflegt: 'honesty is the best policy', und welches ja auch in Franklins früher zitiertem Traktat sein klassisches Dokument gefunden hat.

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