I Promise to Pay the Bearer on Demand

Few of us carry about gold and silver coins. Instead, we use paper bank notes or plastic cards which divert invisible wealth out of our bank accounts. On the £20 bank note, there is an assurance given: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of twenty pounds”. It is signed by one Chris Salmon, the Chief Cashier at the Bank of England. I looked him up. As well as sporting a very fine quiff and a warm smile, we are told:

Chris Salmon was the Bank of England's Executive Director for Markets from June 2014 to 2018. He was responsible for all Bank operations in financial markets; management of the Bank’s balance sheet and the UK's official foreign exchange reserves…Chris had worked at the Bank for over twenty years, previous positions include: Executive Director, Banking & Chief Cashier (2011 – 2014). Chris studied undergraduate Economics at Bristol University and postgraduate Econometrics and Mathematical Economics at LSE.

All very encouraging. There are several causes for concern, however. He stepped down as Chief Cashier in 2014; two others have since filled his place. Are those bank notes with his signature still valid? Furthermore, what is he offering to pay in exchange for this voucher? The promise was originally an offer to swap the promissory note for a sum of gold or silver bullion from the Bank of England’s vaults. Twenty pounds would have meant twenty gold sovereign coins. Their price as of 1st May 2019 is £241.30 each. Twenty of them are worth over £4,800, so exchanging a £20 note for £4,800-worth of gold would be a bargain for me, but ruption for our central bank. Since September 1931, the British pound has been independent of the gold standard; Mr Salmon’s promise does not ring fully true. I therefore have to trust the note’s value as a unit of wealth. 

I also have to hope that my note’s issuer does not print too many of them, which would significantly reduce its value. The British rate of inflation was around 2% at the start of 2019. So if I keep my £20 note in my pocket for 12 months, it will have lost 40 pence of its purchasing power. In other words, our money is slowly losing its value, which is why goods were often cheaper in the past. Some countries’ paper money loses its value far quicker that this, which we call hyper-inflation. In Zimbabwe in July 2008, the annual inflation rate was 231,150,888.87%. A Zimbabwean funeral in that year cost 1 billion Zimbabwean Dollars and the currency was quite literally not worth the paper it was printed on. By 2015, the government decided to stop printing its own money and use US dollars instead.


So back to my £20. I cannot exchange it for shiny metals (not at the Bank anyway), and inflation nibbles away at its value. Even Chris Salmon’s smile and signature cannot give absolute peace of mind. Hebrews 13:5 says Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Wealth is like sand. You may scoop it up, but you cannot stop it from trickling through your fingers, leaving nothing but a dirty palm. Yet that promise made by the Lord in Hebrews is surely worth far more than much gold, and certainly more than the sheets of Chris Salmon’s printed paper we chase so enthusiastically. We might lose our wealth, but not our Heavenly Father. When He makes a promise, He has both the desire and ability to keep it.

Images: Wikipedia