Gospel Patrons: People Whose Generosity Changed the World

John Rinehart. Reclaimed Publishing 2013. [184 pages].

Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is regularly understood as encouraging Christians to build the Kingdom using whatever resources they have at their disposal. There re usually thought of in terms of our skills, passions and abilities. This isn’t wrong, but ‘talents’ in the ancient world were a large unit of currency, and the tone of this parable is patently entrepreneurial. John Rinehart’s easy-to-read Gospel Patrons enthusiastically highlights the way in which Christians from the past with an entrepreneurial bent have used their wealth to promote the cause of the gospel, and sets out the vision he has for Christians continuing to do so today.

At the outset of his book Rinehart presents two questions he seeks to answer: “How has God worked through people to change the world?” and “How do we become these kind of people?” The kind of people in particular that he has in mind are people willing to enable others, using their own wealth in order to make possible the important work of others who have the gifts and calling, but not the platform nor the means.

The bulk of the book is made up of three stories of “backstage VIPs” (p. 22) who made possible the work of celebrated Christians who have made great impacts for evangelic faith. Rinehart has done much of his own work in sifting through historical letters, lengthy biographies and academic articles in order to present his own telling of the stories, in simple, modern idiom.

William Tyndale and Humphery Monmouth

William Tyndale (early 1500s) is remembered for his dangerous work in giving the English people a Bible in their own language. But his efforts to translate, teach, publish and distribute the English Bible were made possible by a wealthy London cloth merchant named Humphery Monmouth. Monmouth believed in the value of Tyndale’s work, and used his money, trade networks and influence to assist him. This came at great personal cost to himself – he spent a year imprisoned in the Tower of London on twenty-four charges for his assistance. He died soon after his release. But even without seeing the far-reaching impact of Tyndale’s English Bible, Monmouth was willing to pay the price of being his patron.

“Humphery Monmouth called Tyndale off the bench and put him in the game. What drove people like that? What made them so different from the average church-goers of their day and ours? They weren’t content to be spectators; instead they engaged.”

page 22.

George Whitefield and Lady Huntingdon

George Whitefield (1700s) played a defining role in the revival of Christianity in Britain and America, and is remembered as one of the greatest evangelists who ever lived. He lived in an time when Christianity was in an uninspiring state, having little influence on either the rich or the poor of the nominally Christian population. Between the efforts of himself and the Wesley brothers, and the Methodist movement they began, this began to change. But much of what Whitefield did would not have been made possible if it were not for the support of the wealthy heiress Lady Huntingdon.

“Blunt, opinionated, and constantly in motion, Lady Huntingdon was a rare English aristocrat. She rubbed shoulders with royalty, enjoyed a pinch of snuff, and really believed the Bible.”

page 62

Through her friendship and support, Whitefield was able to continue his long ministry as a travelling preacher, rather than needing to take a settled (and funded) pastoral ministry. Furthermore, she brought Whitefield and his ministry to the upper class aristocrats who would not have come to him.

“Together they persuaded many of England’s nobility that God was not a dull idea, but a living Saviour who could be known and felt”

page 88

Beyond her work with Whitefield, she funded much of the evangelicalisation of eighteenth century Christianity by financing the training, sending, and support of Methodist ministers and missionaries, and new spaces (not necessarily chapels) for them to gather congregations in. Lady Huntington used her wealth and her position in society to play her part in the revitalization of Christianity in her time and beyond.

John Newton and John Thornton

John Newton (1700s) is best remembered as the writer of the hymn, “Amazing Grace”. He was also a minister and a former slave-ship captain, and he had a life story worth sharing. A pre-released copy of his autobiography found its way into the hands of the man who would be an enduring friend and patron of his work: John Thornton.

Thornton an international trader who built up a vast fortune at a young age. He was known as the wealthiest businessman in England, and later became the director of the Bank of England. Like Lady Huntingdon (whom he also assisted), Thornton was interested in seeing Christianity in England revived and renewed. He used his wealth and influence to see gospel-preaching ministers put in churches, sponsored the publication of Newton’s hymns, invited Newton to meet and speak to the businessmen and MPs that dined at his home. He also encouraged and supported many preachers, as well as the young William Wilberforce. He was a generous giver, and used much of his wealth to support charities and make possible causes and ministries that promoted living faith in Jesus.

Few of us will ever be the wealthy and influential Monmouths, Huntingdons and Thorntons of our age. But that doesn’t mean we miss out on being gospel patrons. This ministry is not reserved for the rich. Rinehart makes this point clear (p. 28). Jesus’ Parable of the Talents features servants entrusted with only a small amount of money as well as those entrusted with much. We are all responsible to do what we can with whatever the Lord has entrusted to us.

Rinehart’s book closes with a reminder that the ministry of carrying the name of Jesus to all people is not for pastors and missionaries only. It is part of the plan and purpose of God’s plan for every Christian. To step into them, Rinehart identifies three things we need to do.

First, we must be willing to give. Rather than always seeking to receive or to take, we must consciously make the choice to be givers.

Second, we must be personally involved. Gospel patronage is about more than money – to be a patron is to be a partner as well as a sponsor.

Third, we must be doing it for the gospel. There are plenty (albeit insufficient) of humanitarian efforts being made in the world, but efforts for the promotion of the gospel of Jesus is a unique and understaffed privilege for Christians.

The growing gap between the rich and the poor is regularly noted today. Some people – and organisations – do not earn enough to fund their needs. Others get by just fine, while some have more money than they really need.

Gospel Patrons challenges us to rethink how we use wealth.  

Rather than spending our money on something fun for ourselves, why not find a way  to ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour’? (cf. Titus 2:10).

Rather than saving to buy that first investment property, why not invest in something that will further the spread of the gospel in some way?

“What if a movement of young professionals decided that Jesus’ mission was the real business of life? What if an older generation determined that retirement was a wide open door to be invested and involved in the spread of the gospel?”

page 168.

One challenge might be that you don’t see anyone around you that needs investing in. From my experience, there are in fact plenty of eager Christian workers who faithfully perform splendid service to the gospel. They may just not move in the Christian circles you know. Seek and you will find.

Perhaps these are Christians to befriend and pray for. Perhaps you could help them in their work. Perhaps you could be their ‘gospel patron’. One way of doing this could be by setting aside the funds (whether on your own or with a few others) to enable them to reduce their working hours at their regular job, while you support them financially to do more of what they have already taken upon themselves to do for the Lord.

That is one way you could become a gospel patron. Rinehart aims to stir and inspire you to that end. This book is an easy and enjoyable read. The three stories it tells deserve to be heard, and exemplify the partnership of gospel service. Anyone wishing to see the gospel spread widely, establishing strong roots and producing good fruit will be glad for the challenge of Gospel Patrons to be heard and taken up.

Gospel Patrons is available at Book Depository, and was priced at $36.95 on March 21, 2020. John Rinehart has also written a short article on this topic which can be read here. Another book on the subject of gospel patronage is discussed here.


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