July 11: John Wanamaker, Merchant

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Sharing  Faith by Word and Deed

Everyone has heard of the name John Wanamaker, especially those in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That is where this retail giant began his department stores at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.  But everyone may not know that John Wanamaker was a devout Presbyterian who shared his wealth and his Christian faith by word and deed.

Born on this day July 11, 1838, he began to work as an errand boy and shopkeeper’s helper.  At age 18, he became a Christian and began to attend Sunday School and church.  His congregation was Bethany Presbyterian church in Philadelphia.  In fact, at twenty-five, he was ordained as a ruling elder in the church.

He had some ideas which were unorthodox in the retail marketing field.  Using four principles, which were honesty, a fixed price for goods, a money back guarantee, and happy contented employees, he thought (and thought rightly) that customers would come. Workers were given free medical care, free education, recreational facilities, pensions, and profit-sharing plans. No wonder that unions could not get a foothold in his stores.

As his businesses grew with more and more stores in more than one city, he began to give large portions of his wealth to religious and moral causes.  The Young Man’s Christian Association and the Sunday School movement were among those receiving large support. He said once “I cannot too greatly emphasize the important and value of Bible study — more important than ever before in these days of uncertainties, when men and women are apt to decide questions from the standpoint of expediency rather than the eternal principles laid down by God Himself.

Words to Live By: 
When you consider the last sentence about Bible study, we might think that he had made it in the current year in which we find ourselves instead of back in the late 1800’s.  But a faith and life lived in the light of God’s Word the Bible makes everything relevant to every age.  Bible study still has its place in every believer’s life walk.  Buy a faithful Bible study, like the Reformation Study Bible, with a good biblical commentary, like Matthew Henry, and (oh yes) a notebook to record what the Spirit reveals to you through His Word, follow everything up with prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplications (A.C.T.S), and you will be able to decide questions from the standpoint of God Himself.

Through the Scriptures:  Isaiah 13 – 15

Through the Standards: The manner of sanctifying the Lord’s Day according to the Catechisms

WLC 117 — “How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified?
A.  The sabbath or Lord’s Day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.”

WSC 60 “How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?
A.  The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”

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  1. Bob Hemphill’s avatar

    Thanks for these good histories. I knew little about John Wanamaker and nothing about his Christian profession.


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