Charles Vance Millar was a Canadian lawyer, businessman, bachelor, student of human nature, and practical joker (a rather lethal cocktail). One of his twisted joys was dropping a dollar bill on the sidewalk and watching people’s reactions at the discovery. He knew something about money and how it tugs at the human heart.
Millar’s life, however, is most fascinating because of is his final will; a document that became fodder for gossip, law courts, and the media for years after his death.
On October 31, 1926 he died of a heart attack. When his will was opened it continued his test of human nature: would greed win out over principle? He left three equal shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to three men: two
of which were moral pillars and vocal opponents of horse-racing and one who was such a shady character he would never have been allowed into the prestigious club.
He left the church ministers shares in the Kenilworth Jockey Club, forcing them into a moral dilemma even though it turned out all the agonizing was another cruel joke: the shares were worth a half cent each.
He also bequeathed $700,000 worth of shares in the O’Keefe Brewing Company to seven Protestant ministers who were voices of temperance and prohibition. This joke was all the better because O’Keefe was a Catholic-run business and Millar didn’t even own the shares.
To three lawyers who despised each other Millar left equal partnership in his Jamaican vacation home.
And, best of all, Millar kick-started what became known as the Great Stork Derby; a contest promising the bulk of his inheritance to the woman who gave birth to the most live children in the decade following his death. Millar didn’t know that within three years of his death the Great Depression would ravage the economy. So, by 1933, with a third of Canadians unemployed and families struggling, the Derby became more than fun and games.
In another inevitable revelation of human nature, the will was challenged in court by distant relatives. It withstood those legal challenges while families feverishly waddled toward the prize. By October 31, 1936 — ten years after Millar’s death — four women were tied with nine registered births each. Cha-ching! True to the will, each received $125,000 when the average weekly income was $12.50. And, this made Charles Millar, the childless bachelor, the “father” of 36 children!
Now, that’s quite a hoot! But, the true and troubling motivation for Millar’s playful will was revealed in this first line from his last testament: “This Will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependents or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime.”
Why do we only see this when it’s too late?
The point here is not to guilt you into giving. The point is what money reveals about us and draws out of us. What do dollar signs bring to light about our worship and principles? Jesus clearly indicated that even giving can be done selfishly (Matthew 6:2). The Apostle Paul reminded the Colossian Christians that greed was not just a moral issue, but actually idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Contentment is the greatest gain, he told his protégé (1 Timothy 6:6). Moses wrote that bribery twists us and blinds us (Deuteronomy 16:19). The Word of God wills us toward a deep consideration about the seductive power of money.
All this is absolutely relevant close to a century after Charles Millar’s death. Will Canadian Christian fellowships and organizations shrug-off their principles regarding the sanctity of life in order to secure government monies for summer intern grants? Will greed rule our homes even though it is impossible to live blind to the stark injustices of the world? Will the decisions about the mission of our churches be based first on whether or not we can afford it rather than faith-filled obedience to the Great Commission? What do we do when the cashier gives us more change than is right and our daughter is watching?
What will we do in the now? And, what will it reveal?