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How Christians Lifted Dublin Out of the Slums

Series: Arthur Guinness and the Call to Create
Devotional: 3 of 4
Published: February 22, 2021

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

If God is the one “who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” then He gets to dictate what we do with financial excess, whether it’s abundance from a paycheck or profit from a business. 

As I’ve studied the life of Arthur Guinness and his descendants, it’s clear that they understood this truth deeply. Generation after generation, the Guinnesses have been marked by their generosity to the communities inside and outside of their breweries. But it’s their generosity towards their own team which stands out most to me.

In addition to paying wages 10-20% higher than average, Guinness has been known to provide employees with “everything from subsidies for funeral expenses, educational benefits…and a guaranteed two pints of Guinness beer a day.” These types of benefits might seem standard today, but Guinness has been providing many of these things since the 1700s, at a time when such corporate generosity was unheard of. In the words of one Guinness biographer, “the generosity of Guinness seemed unlimited.” 

Nowhere is this more evident than in what the firm did in the late 1800s. At the time, “Dublin was the Calcutta of its day, a city…beset with filth and disease.” One young Christ-following doctor named John Lumsden believed Guinness could be a part of the solution. 

Lumsden had “radical ideas about public health care and the duty of corporations to the poor,” so the Guinness Board hired him as the firm’s Chief Medical Officer. 

That’s when Lumsden proposed something unthinkably audacious. Understanding that “in the crammed slums of Dublin, housing was the key to public health,” Lumsden proposed that the Guinness Board allow him to visit the home of every Guinness employee and report back with a recommendation for what the company could do to help solve the public health crisis. 

With the Board’s approval, Lumsden visited 1,752 homes in 60 days, representing nearly 10,000 employees and dependents. In his final report, Lumsden recommended the Board take seven incredibly costly actions, including building quality homes the company’s staff could rent at subsidized rates allowing them to escape Dublin’s slums.

Most corporations wouldn’t see public housing as a problem they were responsible to fix. Even if they did, wasn’t Guinness already generous enough with their people and their community? 

Guinness didn’t think so. Due to the faith of their founders and their understanding that they didn’t create their wealth in the first place, the Guinnesses approved most of Lumsden’s recommendations and were credited for lifting untold Dubliners out of poverty.

You may not have financial excess the size of a corporation like Guinness. But most of us will see some financial abundance as a result of the work God does through us. May we be people who, like Guinness, allow the recognition that God alone produces wealth shape how we steward that abundance.

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