Is Sleeping on the Floor Crossing the Frugality Line?

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A week ago I had no idea who Robert Arthington was.

If you already know who he is, then I officially congratulate you for being smarter than me.

Anyways, while doing some research for a sermon, I came across the one paragraph description of his life:

Robert Arthington of Leeds, a Cambridge graduate, lived in a single room, cooking his own meals; and he gave foreign missions 500,000 pounds on the condition that it was all to be spent on pioneer work within twenty-five years. He wrote these words: “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.”
—The Wesleyan Methodist

As quoted in: Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Intrigued, I decided to do some heavy research.  It’s Google time Smile (I would provide you with the links, but I figured you could get to Google just as easily as I can).

What Arthington is best known for is how he coexisted with both extreme wealth (at his death his estate was worth around 5 million dollars) and his ‘extreme’ simplicity.  He was rumored to wear the same coat for 17 years even though he could obviously afford so much more.

Why?  Why live so simply?

So he could give more money to missions so that the heathens could be reached.

I suspect people like Robert Arthington cause some of us to say, “amen” and some of us to say, “Oh no.”  The reason for the different impressions of what he did in his life is because he exemplifies certain ascetic tendencies.  Ascetics are people who assume that owning things in the physical world is immoral.  Part of the righteous identity comes from their willingness to stay away from the stuff of this world.

But, yet, he is also an encouragement because he clearly could have indulged in so much more, but he was passionate about freeing up so many of his resources for God.

So, what say you?  Should we challenge ourselves to become more like Arthington, or would that do more damage than harm?


  1. says

    I’ve thought about this before, and it’s something my wife struggles with from time to time. Her family is still poor in Paraguay, and she feels like a queen in the US. We aren’t rich by any stretch of American standards, but we always have what we need, often what we want, and never lack for anything.

    We both feel that God wants to use us to bless others, and obviously we could be used more if we didn’t spend our money on ourselves. I think, though, that a person would need to be called to live a life like that. I have specifically asked God to bless my efforts so that I can use what He gives me to give others, but I don’t feel a calling to live in extreme minimalism in order to have more money to send places.

    That said, He *has* been working on me in terms of needs and wants and even taking away desires for new Stuff. If I don’t need it, even in the American sense, my money can be used for other purposes like debt reduction or giving.

    I think we *should* challenge ourselves to live more simply. Maybe God wants to send you to a place where you’ll have to, but you’re too attached to your current style of living. That’s the possibility I’m constantly preparing for.


    • says

      I think you’re right. I don’t think too many of us have gone to far and should (as you say) stretch ourselves to love more simply.

  2. says

    Well, Craig, you know from our conversations that I have to watch myself for ascetic tendencies in my mindset – not so much in thinking material things are evil, but certainly in thinking that we (Christians) should all be living very simple lives so we can give more generously. That in itself is not a bad idea and I believe it is indeed supported by Scripture and the life that Jesus led as an example for us. But I also have a lot to learn about what that looks like, how it might differ for different people, and how best to discuss the similarities that should be common to all of us trying to follow Jesus.

    So I think we should certainly be challenging ourselves to give more generously even (especially) if it means denying our own wants. But it should never be out of a desire for self-righteousness. Love is the only motivation for giving that is truly honorable in God’s sight.

    But I think the bigger problem for most of us (including myself) is that we’re so possessed by our possessions that we can’t possibly imagine giving them up to help someone else. I think that’s why I push so hard toward what some see as asceticism even though I don’t believe in that either. Really, I just think we need a drastic wake-up call from what the world has been telling us is the “good life” so that we can take hold of the life which is truly life.

    • says

      You made me think about the importance of placing our selves on a scale of ascetic, simple, and extravagant. Clearly we don’t want to be on either end of the spectrum but seek to move in the direction of simplicity.
      One of the things I did like about his story is that he did sacrifice in his giving. I don’t do that as much as I should!

  3. says

    Very thoughtful post. I would agree with Arlington–that we should do anything in our possible power to stop men from perishing. However, God has given us resources and they are blessings. If we were to ever withhold them and cling to them in the place of God then I think we have a problem. We ought to be willing to keep our hands open to having our material possessions taken from us, but I don’t think there is any reason why we can’t enjoy what God has given us.

  4. says

    My wife and I have adopted four children. One from China and three from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We met your wife yesterday and she gave me your site info. We wish to live our lives simply so that we can continue to build our family through adoption. This is the first article that I have read since signing up.

    • says

      My wife mentioned that she met you guys. Thanks for stoping by. I love the fact that you have such a good mission for your resources – the ministry of adoption. Keep up the good work.

  5. says

    I believe that anyone, myself included, attempting to think of this subject through the lens of American Christianity would struggle deeply with the simple and even ascetic frames of mind. I for one believe that I do not have a proper perspective of discomfort or suffering especially when viewed from the “Health and Wealth Gospel” that is preached in most American churches today. I pray that God would once again bless America but that blessing is not one of comfort and wealth blessing but of a true heart for those who are without Christ or have less. Oh God, Open my eyes to see you.
    Thank you for your eye-opening blog.

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