How sad the story of the heathen world! The instinct of religious tradition kept alive the germ of truth. Customs preserved somewhat the original form, but under the corrupting influence of idolatry, pagan religion lost all power to stay human wickedness. And the very religion itself became the sponsor for evil. Read it in Romans 1:21-24:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up.
When men "knew God," He was to them "Wonderful" and "Counsellor." But when they knew not God, they "glorified him not as God"; that is, they did not recognize the sovereignty of His dominion but became the alleged owners. Neither gave they thanks; that is, they consciously received the good gifts but refused to acknowledge the Giver. Moses warned Israel against this when he admonished them not to say, "Mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deut. 8:17). So the pagans became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. They changed the glory of the Creator into the likeness of creatures that were the figment of their imaginations. Then came the sad finale—"God . . . gave them up."
Principle of Tithing a Protection From Idolatry
What a contrast to the experience of Israel! Trace swiftly the continual iteration and reiteration of divine ownership, human stewardship, and consequently of human accountability all through God's dealings with His special people. Begin first at the Exodus: "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine" (Ex. 19:5). Then in the statutes: "The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine" (Lev. 25:23). "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's" (Lev. 27:30). "Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is" (Deut. 10:14).
Next at the dedication of the Temple:
Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come to thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. . . . O Lord our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee an house for thine holy name cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own (1 Chron. 29:11-16).
Then in the Psalms:
The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Ps. 24:1). Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle, upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof (Ps. 50: 10-12).
Among the prophets: "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:8).
So, divine ownership of the land meant dominion over the fruitage of the land, acknowledged in the tithes, which were a perpetual guarantee that it was held only in trust. Such is the record of the Mosaic dispensation. The truth of one God destroyed idolatry in Israel. The acknowledgment of one God through the paying of tithe gave vital force to that truth, for the tithe was an expression of that belief.
It is not because God is either a pauper or a beggar that He asks us for money for the extension of His kingdom. It is that we may become more like Him in character. And through giving rightly, character, which is made up of right choices, can be developed as in no other way. There really is no substitute. The right use of money for religious purposes tends to the promotion of piety. Giving is a grace, just like love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and the other virtues. It embraces fellowship with Him who gave His all for us. The grace of giving includes the giving of self, of money, of time, and all. Read it in 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, noting how grace and giving are identified.
No Giving—No Blessing
It is impossible for a man whose heart is full of the grace of God to keep his pocketbook closed. Where there is no giving, there can be no blessing, for giving is the Christian law of living. Paul, speaking to the assembled elders at Ephesus, quoted something Jesus had said that is not recorded in the four Gospels, but doubtless was passed on to him by Luke. He cited this expression: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). This does not imply bargaining with God. But genuine love, responding to the love of Jesus, demands an opportunity of expressing itself in a practical way.
Embedded deep in the human soul is the sense of indebtedness and dependence upon God for the natural comforts and benefits of life. This law of indebtedness, or obligation, works alike upon pagan, heathen, Jew, and Christian. All normal persons are intuitively conscious that mere verbal expression is not sufficient. They are cognizant that they owe something definite, tangible, that can be measured. My love lor my wife and children must be more tangible than mere words. We love to give good gifts to our dear ones. This is simply love's finding normal expression in concrete ways.
Likewise, material expressions are due the dearest One in the universe—our Redeemer, Saviour, and Friend. The value all centers in the motive, and that involves such questions as: Is my giving really the offering of thanks or does it merely indicate that I expect thanks? Is it tendered as a sort of conscience money, or is it a conscientious distribution of the property of another? Again, a child delights in giving to his parents a birthday present or a holiday gift, and it is nonetheless appreciated because paid for by money first given the child by the parent. It is accepted as the expression of sweet love and cherished thoughtfulness.
In a way, this parallels our gifts to our heavenly Father. It is the heart of love that God desires and recognizes back of our gifts. The law of the tithe has its root in this inborn spiritual sense. The conclusion that it comes do^vn from the very gates of Eden is irresistible. It started from one common source before the dispersion of the races.
God Determines Proportion to Be Returned
There is implanted within us all a spirit of worship. No nation or race exists where this does not obtain. Along the track of history are countless altars and offerings as evidences of worship. But worship is the acknowledgment of sovereignty. And in true Christian worship, ownership must be acknowledged as God has designed, and God Himself must determine the proportion to be returned to Him. As with the Sabbath, it is impossible to know the ratio except by divine revelation. Intuition could not discover it. And it is incredible that God would ordain such a distinct duty and obligation and give no measure or standard by which it should be performed.
Ownership carries with it the prerogative of stating what proportion shall be returned. In the very nature of the case, only God can declare it; we simply accept it. If we could determine it, it would signify our personal authority over our possessions. But when we follow the ratio of the tenth, or tithe, laid down for us, we fully acknowledge the authority of God as sovereign lord, and thus indicate that we will do His will. Thus human freedom and divine sovereignty blend in a beautiful act of worship.
At once the heathen concept of propitiation or merit disappears, and the principle of Christian stewardship takes its place. Fear gives way to communion, fellowship, and partnership. With the pagan the tithe offering is to benefit himself. Although it is an act of religious devotion, its essence is a transmutation of merit to himself. Its design is also to placate the gods. The heathen world has sunk into the monstrous illusion that deity must be appeased. This is the very heart of heathenism. Thus fear is the central motive. It is an effort to propitiate the angry gods with an offering or sacrifice. How different from God's stewardship provision! Surely God's plan is just and reasonable.
The limited rights of human ownership, so called, are recognized by all mankind. We are always compelled to hold our possessions subject to the will of some higher authority. To illustrate: Take your taxes. If not paid, your house will be sold over your head to satisfy the demands of the government. Again, the state may buy any man's property to any extent at appraised value without his consent. Or, if a conflagration is threatening the city, the fire department may dynamite your home if deemed necessary. And if you are just building one, you must have the approval of the city for the plumbing, electric wiring, et cetera.
So, even among men the rights of society supersede the rights of the individual. We expect to pay a tax to the government that gives protection to life, liberty, and property through courts, police, et cetera, for money is needed to maintain these protective forces.
Of course, there is basically no such thing as actual, full human ownership. Ownership means absolute control, sovereign authority, and supreme dominion. Possession, on the other hand, is actual; but it is temporary, not perpetual; relative, not absolute. To confuse human possession with ownership is to obscure the fact of divine ownership and the transcendent fact of the Divine Person, the Creator. Here also the confusion of Babylon has gripped the world.
God the Owner, Not "All Mine"
There is an absolute connection between the idea of ownership and the exaltation of self. It is said that the late Hugo Stinnes, the German financier, delighted to produce a huge bankroll, invite inspection of its size, then restore it to his pocket and say, "All mine." Those two words are alleged to express the guiding maxim of his life. Starting in poverty, he became the richest man in Germany, and one of the richest in the world, controlling coal, iron, navigation, sixty newspapers, potash deposits, and countless other interests. The larger part was amassed by exploiting the people. He was reputed to be egotistical, miserly, unscrupulous. For four years he was a member of the Reichstag, and is said to have spoken only once, so indifferent was he to its proceedings; and that once was when his financial interests were concerned, leading him to participate in an effort to force longer hours upon the working man. His whole philosophy of life was well embraced in those two words, "All mine."
And there are millions who believe that wealth, once in their possession, is theirs to use precisely as they see fit. But man is not the absolute owner of anything; it all belongs to God. This Divine Being, who is all-sufficient unto Himself in infinite attributes, nevertheless counts it His chief glory to administer His resources for the benefit of man.
Back of everything we have that is worth having, and back of everything we are that is worth being, is the love and power of God. Since God made these hands to grapple with life's tasks, this mind to solve life's problems, this heart to beat in loyalty, and this soul to reach upward toward Him, surely it were meanest robbery to withhold the required portion of the money He gives to us. For it is God "that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18).
The Tithe a Debt, Not a Gift
The tithe is not a gift we make but a debt we owe. There is a fundamental difference. You do not give your landlord his rent—you pay it. You do not give the banker his interest note— you pay it. You do not give the government its taxes—you pay them. There is not a minimum, not a maximum, but a fixed rate. And remember, we must pay what we owe before we can talk about giving. Tithe is a debt, and offerings or gifts do not begin until that debt is paid.
That was the trouble with ancient Israel in the days of the prophet Malachi. Thus we read:
Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the de-vourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts (Mai. 3:7-12).
This is a startling statement, but it is the word of Jehovah, not of Malachi. God puts His finger on their plague spot. He gives the reason for their failure. He does not here refer to their idolatry or unbelief, their forbidden alliances or disastrous neglect, which were so grievous. Their most conspicuous failure, the prophet averred, was on the point of tithes and offerings. Yet, to His appealing to them to return from backsliding they plead "not guilty," and say, "Wherein?" Then He scathingly arraigns Israel for wanton violation of this basic provision of stewardship, upon which the divine blessings are contingent.
They had robbed God, embezzled His goods, defrauded the Most High, misappropriated His funds, defaulted with the treasury of heaven. It wasn't petit larceny or even grand larceny. It was a robbery—a hold-up—in broad daylight, the Lord looking on! Yes, sacrilege, the worst of robberies. It was ungrateful, unjust, unkind. If one diverts the funds of an estate for which he is trustee, he is a robber. When we misappropriate the funds we owe God in tithes, He brands us as thieves. And thieves do not enter the eternal city. No wonder it touches vitally the spiritual life of the church. Prayer, testimony, service, self-denial— these are no substitutes. We must first be honest and pay what we owe.
A Blessing Promised—"Prove Me"
And if faithful, then what? He will "pour" upon us spiritual blessings, material prosperity is His promise, and the reproach will be removed. It is an inundation that is pledged, with no room to receive the flood. The Lord issues a challenge. He sets up a test case. "Prove me," He invites. His word is either true or untrue, genuine or false. It is a direct, positive challenge. And the sole condition is that God be put first. "Prove me now," He insists—not next year or next month. "I will . . . open [to] you," He continues; it is personal blessing. And not a single blessing but a succession.
Have we faith in the immutability of God's Word? Have we confidence sufficient to put God first, and thus place ourselves in line for His promised blessing? Are we bold enough to prove Him? Nine tenths plus divine favor will go farther than ten tenths minus divine favor. What we return to God never lessens our own. That is the key to His promised blessings. The only sure rule of a blessed life is to observe the known laws of God. And from Eden onward He has asked one seventh of our time and one tenth of our income.
Some profess to be shocked that God should offer a reward of material prosperity. They claim it is appealing to a mercenary motive. But it is impossible to conceive, under the stewardship arrangement, of real material blessing apart from the favor and blessing of God. When we are really blessed materially, it is so interwoven with spiritual blessings that we cannot say this is material and that is spiritual. "Return unto me" is God's gracious entreaty to His children.
Remember that our sonship does not cancel the obligation of faithfulness in dealing with the Father's resources. The child is just as much a thief if he steals from his father as from a stranger. We are to return as a traveler who has missed the way or as a soldier who has run from the colors. Come back, He invites. How good God is.
"That There May Be Meat in Mine House"
Why return? "That there may be meat in mine house." Meat instead of emptiness. The great, needy world is starving for the bread of life, and there is not enough in "mine house" —the treasury of the church—to supply the need. Many a man gives generously in response to the cry of physical hunger who is numb to the cry of spiritual hunger. Think of the hungry hearts and outstretched hands in South America, the Philippines, Africa, and elsewhere. Shall we give them a stony answer? Has God made a mistake in opening up the heathen world in these last days? Has He miscalculated our resources? Let us quit stealing from God. He has established the tithe as an adequate plan for financing His remnant work, and the proper recognition of stewardship would finance our world enterprise. In witness of this, observe this quotation from the Spirit of Prophecy:
Should means flow into the treasury exactly according to God's plan,—a tenth of all the increase,— there would be abundance to carry forward His work.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 150.
If professing Christians would faithfully bring to God their tithes and offerings, His treasury would be full.—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 338.
If systematic benevolence were universally adopted according to God's plan, and the tithing system carried out as faithfully by the wealthy as it is by the poorer classes, there would be no need of repeated and urgent calls for means at our large religious gatherings.—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 409.
If the plan of systematic benevolence were adopted by every individual and fully carried out, there would be a constant supply in the treasury. The income would flow in like a steady stream constantly supplied by overflowing springs of benevolence.—Ibid., pp. 389, 390.
I wonder whether many of our devices are not the expedients of desperation, developed because of our failure to follow the divine plan? (To be continued)