“For Quakers in colonial days, going into business was often less a choice than a process of elimination. Although they enjoyed very high literacy rates for the period, seventeenth-century Friends were excluded from most universities and from positions in public office. Their testimony against war kept them out of the military and politics. Establishing a small business became a popular option for people devoted to independence, hard work and thrift. Because Friends always shunned luxury and frivolous spending, the small businessmen of early years focused on providing a limited range of necessities. They were tailors, hatters, printers, booksellers, undertakers. Since trading by ship involved using guns for the protection of goods, they rarely became exporters or importers. Quaker inronmongers refused to make weapons and manufactured much-needed cookware instead. …And because some dyes were the product of slave labor, many Quakers refused to wear or make clothing of colored cloth. Despite these limitations, most of these small businesses prospered. And when they did, Quaker tradesmen began to worry about letting an interest in commerce dominate their lives. Early merchants often wrote of reducing or refusing to expand booming businesses because their enterprises were taking too much time from their spiritual and communal responsibilities. John Woolman, the saintly Quaker abolitionist, was a successful tailor, merchant, and grafter of fruit trees who suffered great anxiety about his worldly success. As he wrote in his journal, ‘The increase of business became my burden.’ He struggled with the problem for some time and finally put the question to God, who ‘gave me a heart resigned to His Holy will; I then lessened my outward business.” Robert Lawrence Smith
“So I strive always to keep my conscience clear
before God and man.”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Much has changed since these Quakers lived, but they didn’t “fit in” any more then than they would today. In their day, as in ours, conscience-less business deals and exploiting others was simply doing business. Has your Christian faith kept you from certain business investments, labor practices or careers?
- Before reading about these Christian businessmen, did taking a moral stand in your business dealings that would cost you money, seem simply impossible or hopelessly impractical?
- Have you ever wrestled with whether God may want less “worldly success” for you?
Jesus, may we follow you with integrity in all the parts of our lives – no compartments!
For More: A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith
These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest! – Bill (Psalm 90:14)