The Story of God and Guinness

How the faith of Arthur Guinness inspired the vision for his famous beer.

[Editor's note: Hear more about Guinness' story on this week's podcast]

Picture a young man sitting in a large cathedral in Ireland with his wife and small children. He lives around the time of our founding fathers and is a rising entrepreneur in Dublin. His name is Arthur Guinness, and he is a brewer, and it is hard to exaggerate just how important beer was to the people of Guinness’ day.

Guinness lived at a time when no one understood micro-organisms and how disease is spread. They routinely drank from the same waters in which they dumped their garbage and their sewage. Unknowingly, they polluted the rivers and lakes around their cities. People died as a result, and this made nearly everyone in Guinness’ day avoid water entirely. Instead, they drank alcoholic beverages.

Usually, this was done in moderation and all was well. Occasionally, though, excess set in and drunkenness plagued the land. This is what happened in the years just before Guinness was born, in the period historians call “The Gin Craze.” Parliament had forbidden the importation of liquor in 1689, so the people of Ireland and Britain began making their own. It was too much temptation. Drunkenness became the rage. Every sixth house in England was a “gin house,” many of which advertised, “Drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing.” It was a terrible, poverty-ridden, crime-infested time.

To help heal their tortured society, some turned to brewing beer. It was lower in alcohol, it was safe—the process of brewing and the alcohol that resulted killed the germs that made water dangerous—and it was nutritious in ways scientists are only now beginning to understand. Monks brewed it, evangelicals brewed it and aspiring young entrepreneurs like Guinness brewed it. And they were respected and honored for their good works.

“Give all you can”

So as Arthur Guinness sat in church on the day we are imagining, he was a successful brewer in Dublin, selling a drink throughout the city that made people healthier and helped them avoid the excesses of the hard liquor that had done so much damage for so many decades.

What makes this Sunday in Guinness’ life so important is who he is about to hear, because on this day John Wesley is in town. Wesley is the founder of the Methodist church, the man who started a small group at Oxford University from which a great revival grew. Wesley and his friends wanted simply to be good Christians—to “perfect holiness,” as they said—and so as they preached the Gospel, they gave to the poor and visited prisoners and raised money to serve the needy. Whole cities were changed by the preaching of John Wesley, his brother Charles and the famous George Whitefield. And now John Wesley had come to Dublin and was preaching at the soaring St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And Arthur Guinness was there.

We do not know exactly what Wesley preached, but we can know a few things. Wesley would have called the congregation at St. Patrick’s to God, of course, but he also would have had a special message for men like Guinness. It was something he taught wherever he went. “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can,” he would have insisted. “Your wealth is evidence of a calling from God, so use your abundance for the good of mankind.”   

On this Sunday and on other occasions when he heard Wesley speak, Arthur Guinness got the message. He also got to work. Inspired by Wesley’s charge, Guinness poured himself in founding the first Sunday schools in Ireland. He gave vast amounts of money to the poor, sat on the board of a hospital designed to serve the needy and bravely challenged the material excesses of his own social class. He was nearly a one man army of reform.

The legacy of Guinness

If the Guinness story was only about Arthur Guinness, it would be a small footnote in the pages of history. But Arthur Guinness added to all his good works by teaching his children the values he learned. His children, then, built the Guinness corporation on the strength of their father’s vision and faith. This is what became the great legacy of the Guinness family.

The Guinnesses decided, first, that they could better society by bettering the lives of their employees. They started by paying better wages than any other employer in Ireland. Then they decided they should provide an entire slate of services to improve the lives of their workers. With the passing of decades, they became one of the most generous, life-changing employers the world had ever known.

At the start of World War II, Guinness promised every British soldier he would have a bottle of Guinness with his Christmas meal. There was a problem, though. Guinness’ manpower was depleted because so many of its workers were serving in the military abroad. Still, they were committed to giving the men and women in uniform a taste of home. The brewery operated around the clock, but there simply weren’t enough employees. Soon, though, retired workers showed up to volunteer their time. Then workers from competing breweries were sent to help. By Christmas, every soldier had his pint, but not until the unselfish efforts of the brewers of Ireland were celebrated throughout the British Isles.

Deeds like these fill the Guinness story and are almost as inspiring as the character of some of the Guinness family members themselves. One Guinness heir received 5 million pounds sterling for a wedding gift, but then moved his new bride into a poor neighborhood to draw attention to the blight of poverty in the land.

Perhaps, though, the greatest lesson to be learned from the Guinness tale of faith is found in a truth that one of the great Guinnesses borrowed from Prince Albert of England. “Gentleman,” he instructed, “find out the will of God for your day and generation, and then, as quickly as possible, get into line.”

This is what Arthur Guinness did when he claimed the highest purpose for his wealth and his beer. It is what Guinness heirs did as they built on their legacy of good and achieved astonishing prosperity through their craft while also doing massive good through their generosity. And it is what is possible today for those who are willing to go outside the four walls of the church and apply a fiery Christian faith to the needs of their times.

The Guinness tale is not primarily about beer. It is not even primarily about the Guinnesses. It is about what God can do with a person who is willing and with a corporation committed to something noble and good in the world.

Stephen Mansfield is the author of The Search for God and Guinness. Read the full version of this article from RELEVANT magazine and make sure to check out an interview with Mansfield on this week's RELEVANT Podcast.



Crecarbonaro commented…

I like your theology Hank. You should plant a church so I have somewhere to go that doesn't make me want to drill into my eyeballs.


chaoskampf101 commented…

by biblical principle alcohol in moderation is acceptable (key word being principle)and i have no doubts about that
..but in reality it is far more complex than that.There's no denying that as Christians the parameters defined by society and our culture matter. Sure back in day of arthur guiness, beer was a healthier alternative and in jesus' society and jewish culture..wine was a celebratory drink.
but whether we like it or not..we live in a society where alcohol in general is associated with alot of things christians arent supposed to be associated with.
its not as simple as saying 'we take our cues from the bible and nothing else matters'

Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. -1 corinthians 8:!3
if we are to live as light in the darkness it is imperative we draw the line at least at places society frowns upon.
maybe in another time another place.....but lets not use this wonderful example of Gods work in a mans life to advocate alcahol.

Paul Sohn


Paul Sohn commented…

Arthur Guinness and his legacy continues to provide inspiration as a marketplace minister. He did the unthinkable and utterly transformed the use of alcohol to witness Christ. His vision and mission was undergirded by a Christocentric worldview which transformed the society. Here's a good article that complements this one. Thanks for sharing. http://paulsohn.org/god-and-guinness-the-missional-drink-changed-the-world/



hank commented…

This is great that a non clergy man wanted to help people. However we don't need to promote beer, the Bible is clear on this.
Matthew 11:19 states "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children".

They "said" Jesus was a winebibber, and Proverbs 23:20 states "Be not among winebibbers", and obviously Jesus stated in Matthew 12 that he was greater than Solomon. proverbs further states it is not for Kings to drink wine, and we know Jesus is the King of Kings (Revelation 19). So we have to decide if we belive the Bible, or a man writing a book about God and wine to which people comment we will drink this beer in heaven.

The fact of the Bible is that it states Jesus refused wine! He knew this would take some of the pain away from his suffering, however Jesus took our pain.

Mark 15:23
And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.

Jesus REFUSED wine, but did drink vinegar only for his thirst.
Matthew 27:34; 48
34) They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
48) And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

See the gall (as it was an intoxicating concoction to relieve suffering), as Proverbs 31:6 states,

"Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.",

Then we see also in Matthew a few versus later Jesus accepted vinegar, again only for his thirst, and also amazingly to fulfill prophecy,

Psalms 69:21
"They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink".

So you see the Bible stated 'gall' and also specifically 'vinegar'.

When writers like Stephen Mansfield, although a writer, and although a former pastor in Texas and Tennessee, guys like him are not theologians, and they start saying things that are not accurate, and this gets people confused. Stephen Mansfield also wrote the "Faith of Barack Obama" and states our president is a Christian. This is really a poor judgment on Stephen Mansfield's part as a former pastor. A Christian should not promote abortion, homosexuality, Muslim etc.

Jesus was called a Nazarene, and why would a Nazarene drink wine?

Amos was a prophet, and you need to listen to prophets. Amos stated this....

Amos 2:10-12
"Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. 11) And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the LORD. 12) But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not".

So you see God was upset that they gave the Nazarites wine to drink. So would Jesus sort of decide since he is the son of God that he can drink wine as a Nazarene, and tell everyone do as I say, and not as I do??

Just note that most Christians who try and follow what I posted here will get lost, that is due to the Devil from the beginning challenging what God says, as he told Eve,

"Hath God said", so most Bible's put wine vs. where it should be vinegar. Even the NKJV is wrong here. Here is the KJV and it is correct, as I just put the prophecy from Psalms above that states both vinegar and wine in it. Here is how John reads in the KJV.

Jn. 19:28-30
28) After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. 29) Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. 30) When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Again the NKJV and NIV et al. are all wrong. Jesus told the disciple he would not drink of the FRUIT of the vine with them again until the kingdom of God should come.

The Devil is so happy that all of the Christians have different translations that get everyone confused, and you don't catch little things like vinegar, gall, wine etc. and we don't study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15) since the new versions don't say to study anymore. The Devil is loving this.

Wine and alcohol are not good for Christians, unless it is Christians that are deceived and slumbering, and ready to perish. Stephen wrote a book about a nice man who helped the poor, and I will let God be the judge of other's, however I will still hold up the truth about what the Bible teaches about wine, and alcohol.

Wine many times is the word used for juice, and other times the same word for the drink that had alcohol in it, and God never sanctioned this. Aaron's son's were devoured by fire from heaven, and they were drinking wine if you study it, (not the juice kind). Noah got drunk, and look what happened, nothing good. When men married multiple wives, this did not turn out for the better, it is the same today, marrying and divorcing and having multiple wives and children never promotes harmony in a family.

Learn to study the Bible, and let's point people to Jesus, and let's not point people to getting excited to drink beer and read their Bible's on a buzz, but instead get drunk in the Spirit of God, and not wine!

Scott Goodson


Scott Goodson replied to hank's comment

Foolishness. Picking amongst a scad of verses and throwing them into a temperance movement context is not being scholarly. For one, alcohol was immensely important to ancient peoples as it was very calorie dense, which is rather important when you live at a subsistence level. Also, to say alcohol is inappropriate for Christians is to cast a stone at Martin Luther (amongst countless others). Additionally, there is the anecdotal fact that the temperance movement never really caught on great guns with any other group of Christians outside American influenced revivalism...particularly during the 19th century. Your comment on Obama displays a dogmatic obsession with certain Christian mandates at the behest of others, and your tether to the KJV is also laughable as it was a poetic translation and hardly as literal as we may like to imagine.
What's more, Jesus was not a Nazarite, he was a Nazarene...one born in Nazareth. Jesus did not partake of the cup prior to the crucifixion in order to symbolically show himself to be a Nazarite...or generically, one set apart and consecrated for a purpose.

Word to Life by Gareth Evans


Word to Life by Gareth Evans commented…

I did a blog post on the topic of alcohol and drinking, I also did a YouTube video on the question of alcohol. Find the links below. God bless Gareth
Blog: http://theonegaz.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/rugby-beer-and-god/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXEqQA5361c

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