Tom O'Jack's Wealth

Tom O’Jack’s Lad is the 1892 biography of Tom Harrison, a poor but tough Lancastrian converted to Christ by John Wesley. Raised as a ruffian, his first encounter with Wesley was to jump on him, severely winding the great evangelist. He helped found a Methodist circuit in Manchester who eventually set up in business. As his reputation for godliness grew, so too his commercial skills and customer base. He died a wealthy shopkeeper and wholesaler, ensuring his children had a better start in life than he. The author, ‘Uncle Jacob’, was probably a descendant who claimed that Tom’s progeny included gentry and aristocrats. The gospel and the clean living particularly encouraged by the Methodist Societies, transformed many vulgar inhabitants of the eighteenth-century into prosperous and affluent ancestors of Victorian gentlefolk. The good news of Christ is not about making us healthy and wealthy, but it is often an unintended consequence of conversion. Paul tells the Ephesians in 4:28:

Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

Evidently, some former thieves had received Christ at Ephesus. From now on, commands the apostle, they will forsake their dishonest living and engage in hard work. He anticipated that this would create a surplus with which the former thief could help support those unable to work. Max Weber’s seminal The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) attributes the development of Western capital to the rise of evangelical Christianity. We who work hard but reject self-indulgence and frivolous living will necessarily have greater spending power than our careless and ungodly neighbours. Unlike Tom Harrison, we may not go from rags to riches in one lifetime, but we should have enough to see us through. This is God’s provision, but remember that regardless of one’s income, the Christian gains immeasurable wealth on the day of his death- the time when most others lose it.

The cover picture of Schmul’s republishing Uncle Jacob’s work in 2001 is unfortunate. I’m sure Mr Harrison was not the kind to go about strangling women, even before his dramatic conversion.


Top image by Kevin Schneider from Pixabay