Lesson Helps: Tithing (John Taylor Lesson 19)

Abraham H. Cannon on the temporal blessings of obedience:
 
Take, for instance, the principle of tithing. If you announced that to the world and asked them to observe it, would they not consider it one of the most burdensome taxes that could be inflicted upon them? Yet every Latter-day Saint is my witness that those who follow strictly this law of tithing among the people of God do not find it a burden, but rather find it a temporal as well as a spiritual blessing; for their property has been abundantly blessed, so that they have not missed the tithing which they have given to the work of the Lord. Take, again, the missionaries which we send into the world. If a man in the world was called to leave his business for two years or more to preach the Gospel, he would think it was ruinous to all his temporal affairs. But here are Elders who go out and spend year after year, and the very men who have spent the most time in the missionary field, and who stand at the head of the Church today, are the men who are the most prosperous and the most free from debt. And so the Lord will show forth the wisdom of the course which He presents to the people through the results which follow the efforts of the Latter-day Saints. We can do no better than to observe strictly every command that is given us by the servants of the Lord, however much they may conflict with our present ideas, and God will bless us in pursuing this course.
 
(Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 3: .)
 
 John A. Widtsoe on blessings from the Lord:
 
Obedience to the law of tithing is certain to bring blessings in return, even of a temporal character. Yet, it must ever be remembered that the blessings of life come according to the Lord's will. Material property may not be the blessing we most need. If we can trust the Lord enough to pay Him a tenth of our increase, we must trust Him to bless us according to our needs. Material, earthly property does not have the same value before God as before man. Love of property is often nothing more than covetousness, which is a deadly sin. "What is property unto me? saith the Lord." (D. & C. 117:4) Let man do his best to provide for himself and his family, gather property around him, pay his tithing, obey all other laws of God, and accept, with joy, such blessings as the Lord may vouchsafe him.
 
Now, after all this has been said, it is interesting to note that the very great majority of tithe payers, perhaps all, succeed in finding sufficient for their temporal welfare. The group of tithe payers within the Church are not only more spiritually active, but generally they are more prosperous than the non-tithe paying group. Tithing is not a factor that works against economic prosperity. In most cases material as well as spiritual blessings follow obedience to the law of tithing.
 
 (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era], 293.)
 
Hugh Nibley on owing everything to God:
 
The first rule, and one never to be forgotten, is that everything you have or ever will have, individually and collectively, is a gift from God, something that he blesses you with, has blessed you with, or will bless you with—you owe it all to him. Throughout the book, the refrain is repeated at the end of almost every pronouncement: You must do this in recognition of your dependence to God, because first and foremost he has given you your lives, he rescued you from Egypt, and he redeemed you—that is, he paid the price for you that you could not pay yourself: "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and Jehovah thy God redeemed thee [brought you free, paid the price, for nothing], . . . and therefore I command thee this thing today" (Deuteronomy 5:15). You are not to turn to any other source of life and guidance; "do not look to the sun or the moon or the stars" to represent me. "It is to me directly and to me only that you must turn: The Lord who brought you out of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 4:19- 20). Remember that he "is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible" (Deuteronomy 10:17); all persons are equal to him, and he cannot be bought. How can you make a deal with him when you have nothing to offer? "Behold, everything in heaven and earth belongs to him" (Deuteronomy 10:14).
 
(Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, edited by Don E. Norton [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989], 179 - 180.)
 
 Legrand Richards on temporal obligations to the Church:
 
In trying to think what I might say today that could be an encouragement or help to you, I thought I might say a few words on our financial and temporal obligations to the Church because they are many, and there are some among us who feel that they are heavy. One stake president said: "It costs a lot to be a member of this Church," and I have thought a great deal of it. I have thought of the payment of our tithing, our fast offerings, our welfare contributions, our ward budget, our great missionary work, the building of our chapels and temples and places of worship, the temple work we are doing, and genealogical work, and I feel as many of you do that when we consecrate all that we have to the building up of the kingdom of God it really is a substantial thing as far as our temporal obligations and responsibilities are concerned.
 
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that he had never given a temporal commandment unto his children, that all of his commandments were spiritual, for they all have a spiritual meaning and a spiritual development and a spiritual purpose, because behind all that the Lord is attempting to do in the earth, he has indicated that
 
. . . this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39.)
 
And hence, all of his commandments have been given for the achievement and the accomplishment of that great objective.
 
(Bishop Legrand Richards, Conference Report, October 1948, Afternoon Meeting 41.)
 
George H. Brimhall on Tithing:
As the Mosaic Law was "a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ"-a means of training for the higher gospel order; so the law of tithing is a lesser law by which we may learn to conquer selfishness and prepare ourselves for the higher order of consecration and stewardship.
 
Are we progressing in the training?
 
The five articles following are distinct discussions on tithing; each writer or speaker treating the subject in his own peculiar way.
 
HISTORICAL ASPECT.-Tithing is older than Israel. It was practiced by Abraham, who paid tithes to Melchizedek. Jacob's first contract, after leaving his father's house, was with God, with whom he covenanted at Bethel, saying, "And of all that thou shalt give I will surely give a tenth unto thee."
 
Tithing as a law and ordinance was known and practiced and neglected by ancient Israel. Through his prophet Malachi, the Lord rebuked his people for neglecting the payment of their tithes. Christ recognized the existence of the law of tithing among the Jews and commended it. Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for neglecting judgment, mercy and faith, at the same time declaring they should not leave the tithe paying undone (Matt. 23:23). The law of tithing was known to the Nephites. Tithing is essentially a part of Christian civilization.
 
The Law
 
THEOLOGICAL ASPECT.-Tithing is a law of God to man with promises of rewards and punishments. God said to ancient Israel, through Malachi, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house. Paul said to the Hebrews, "They that are of the sons of Levi who receive the office of the priesthood have a commandment to take the tithes of the people, according to the law."
 
Following is the revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on this subject:
 
"Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my Church in Zion.
 
"For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.
 
"And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
 
"And after that, those who have thus been tithed, shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
 
"Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.
 
"And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.
 
"And this shall be an example unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen."
 
In the above revelation, the use of the words "require" and "shall" leave no room for doubt that the revelation is mandatory. If tithing were a mere matter of privilege, or ethics, we might expect the use of other terms. Tithing is, first of all, one's surplus; and secondly, one-tenth of one's income thereafter. There is no room for quibbling on these points.
 
The law makes no provision for tithing that is less than one-tenth, either in quality or quantity. For an explanation of what one-tenth of one's interest means, we turn to the living oracles-the progressive constitution of the Church, whose decision is that one-tenth of one's interest means one-tenth of one's income. A part of one-tenth of one's income is a part tithing.
 
TEMPORAL BLESSINGS.-Through obedience to the law of tithing, we become the financial elect of God, or business partners with the Lord. If it is true that giving to the poor is lending to the Lord, then paying one's tithing is investing with the Lord. Jacob's covenant was a business contract with God. Was it not one of the elements of his business success? Is not the Lord's call to ancient Israel, to test tithing as a business venture, applicable to us as a people?
 
The words of the Prophet Malachi are of such great importance that Jesus quoted them to the Nephites, declaring them to be the words of the Father, at the same time giving a command that they be written, after which he expounded them to the people on this continent:
 
"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 devourer 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." (Mal. 3:10, 11. Also Book of Mormon, 3 Ne. 24:10, 11.)
 
SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS.-Leaving the temporal blessings, which are not the greatest, we find tithing to be the best insurance against the worst of fires. The Lord declared to the Prophet Joseph that this is a day of tithing for his people, and that he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming (Doctrine and Covenants, 64:23). That burning may be subjective, objective, or both. The Lord said to Israel through Malachi the Prophet, "And all nations shall call you blessed; for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of Hosts."
 
The temple ordinances are placed within the reach of the tithe payer who is otherwise worthy of the blessings of the house of the Lord. While the living of any one law of the gospel adds to one's power to live and enjoy every other law, the living of no one law will secure salvation. Faithful tithe paying makes the humble wage earner and the drawer of large dividends equal on the Lord's ledger. Each has fulfilled the law; neither has done more. While tithe paying alone is not sufficient to keep a man in the Church, yet he cannot retain his standing to the end without it.
 
PENALTIES.-Neglect of tithe paying lists a man on God's books as a robber. The Father asks the question, through his prophet Malachi, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings." Should we not try so to live that in our getting, neither God nor man can say, Ye robbed me to obtain it? The Lord declared to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the overthrow of those who pollute their inheritances (D&C 103:14). We speak of tainted money, is not an untithed inheritance tainted?
 
To the investigator, be he ever so earnest and desirous to come into the kingdom, rejection of the law of tithing is a bar to his entrance. The Lord declares that the names of such are not to be found on the records of his Church (D&C 85:3).
 
To the non-tithe payer, the doors of the temple are closed, and the privileges of sacred ordinances cut off. On what ground can one claim the right to be trusted with the most sacred spiritual privileges of the kingdom, when one is not true to one's trust in material things? How can one claim the blessings of the temple if one refuses to help and maintain it?
 
Does not non-tithe paying unfit man for partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation unto himself." To be unworthy in this respect is to be conscious of one's conduct not being in harmony with the sacramental prayer, or one's part in the sacred ordinances not being a true representation of one's life. How can a member of the Church who is not willing to pay tithing partake of the bread, in which act he witnesses before God and men that he is willing to keep the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ? The sacred covenant entered into is found in the following prayer:
 
"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen."
 
Where is the worthiness of a non-tithe payer to partake of the water, when in so doing he witnesses unto God in the presence of his fellows that he does always remember the Lord Jesus Christ? Following is the prayer on the water:
 
"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen."
 
Is non-tithe paying a serious forgetting of the Lord?
 
Apostasy is the inevitable end of persistent non-tithe paying. The Lord has declared that those who abide not the law of tithing, shall not be found worthy to abide among the Saints. Who would attempt to make the Lord a liar?
 
Formal action of excommunication for non-tithe paying may never come. The man may not be cut off, but he will die out. The steps of decay are usually these: (1) diminution in payment of tithes; (2) excuse-hunting that does not satisfy the soul; (3) cessation of tithe paying; (4) fault-finding concerning the use of tithing one does not pay; (5) laxity in other duties; (6) general indifference concerning Church interests; (7) positive attitude against the word of the Lord. Every one may not go in just this order of retrogression, but the decline is sure and the end is certain. The Lord has declared it, and history has recorded it of individuals and communities.
 
SOCIAL ASPECT.-Tithe paying is the most equitable and natural distribution for public support. Behind it stands the principle enunciated by the Lord Jesus Christ, that "to whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." Tithing is an income tax divinely assessed and paid as a free-will offering. The payment is free from all coercion, except such coercion as material, social and psychological consequences may impose.
 
The giving of the surplus on entering the Church is of the highest sociological value. It is a sort of new financial birth. We all come into the physical world objectively equal. We enter the Church by baptism with equal spiritual privileges before us, each one with what he needs, but no surplus. We are tithed, and enter the Lord's financial realm relatively equal. Jesus evidently wished to impress this upon the young man who boasted of common ownership of moral wealth. Then the Master put him to the test of financial leveling, a coming to the plane of needs, and this seeker of eternal life refused to be born into that life financially. His surplus owned him, and he went away sorrowing. Compare the system of providing men according to their needs with that of providing them according to their "greeds."
 
Tithing is a law of perfect financial liberty. Tithing to a believer is a debt of honor, the highest social and individual honor. Debts of honor are the first to be paid. The unsecured creditor is deserving first consideration. As a rule, men in the Church who will not pay their tithing do not pay their debts. Tithe paying begets communitive confidence. False to man, false to God, is true; but no more so than, true to God, true to fellowmen.
 
I was once approached by a non-"Mormon" gentleman of considerable wealth, who made inquiries concerning the possibility of inducing a certain "Mormon" financier to handle thirty thousand dollars. I expressed the opinion that the person referred to made it a practice of handling his own money only. However, I made inquiries as to the foundation for the unbounded confidence which the stranger expressed in my "Mormon" friend. His reply was:
 
"First, he is honest. I know this from the fact that he scrupulously pays his tithing. A man who is financially true to his God, whom he has not seen, will be true to his fellow-men, whom he has seen.
 
"Second, there is no question as to his financial ability. He has worked his way up."
 
"Yes," said I, "with the help of the Lord."
 
I had occasion to discuss "Mormon" finances with a banker who had no religious affiliations with our people. In the course of our conversation, he said:
 
"It is my experience that, among you people, a faithful tithe-payer is a safe man to lend money to."
 
Another testimony, that of an assessor, is to the effect that honest tithe payers are the most frank in listing their property, and as a class do the least grumbling about taxation.
 
The paying of tithing prevents the growth of egotism in the giver, and guards against humiliation in the receiver.
 
"How much tithing have you paid this year?" asked a non-believer of his "Mormon" neighbor.
 
"Two hundred dollars," was the reply.
 
"You are a fool," said the skeptic, "I shall get more free advertising from the distribution of one beef and a few tons of coal at Christmas time than you will from the entire amount you pay."
 
Now let us examine the sociological effect on the individuals in this case. One pays what he considers to be a divinely imposed obligation for the public good the distribution of which is through what the receiver recognizes as a God- planned system of public benefaction. He is helped and is grateful to the system and to its Author. He is under obligation to no individual. Man-praise is out of the question. In the other case, help is rendered in such a way as to feed the vanity of the giver, and to place the receiver under obligation. Personal honor and praise are inevitable, gratitude for a system impossible.
 
People who insist upon the distribution of their own tithing are either distrustful of the Lord's agents, or ultra-anxious concerning the getting of glory.
 
Tithe paying, or the neglect thereof, cannot fail to affect the greatest of all social units, the family. Under the law of heredity, what will be the tendency in offspring where the parents are conscious of not dealing honestly with the Lord? On the other hand, what results may parents look for in the bearing and rearing of children under the consciousness of being fair and honest in their dealings with their Father in heaven?
 
PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECT.-Tithing is a self-imposed obligation by the acceptance of the law.
 
It is one of the most reliable guarantees against the "greeds."
 
It prevents one from being owned by the external. The tithe payer owns his property, it does not own him.
 
Tithe paying is a source of encouragement, in that it makes possible a feeling in each individual of a financial equality before God.
 
It is a system of developing generosity, unalloyed by vanity.
 
The persistency of the pressure of tithe paying brings into play ideas, emotions, and activities of fidelity, that give strength to character and endurance of nobility in the ego, or self.
 
Tithing is one of the progressive activities demanding a living, increasing faith. It is an exercise of the faithfulness of the divine within to the divine without. It tests and trims one's ability to stand at the post of honor with every opportunity to desert it. It builds up an individual acquaintance with God. It brings about a sort of comradeship with Divinity, which fosters a financial faith, necessary to an ideal feeling of ease-not an inactive ease, but an energetic ease.
 
In the lexicon of the faithful tithe payer, there is no such word as penury. His self-reliance is so reinforced by his reliance on the Lord that his very spiritual, intellectual and financial attitude demands confidence and creates resources.
 
By the gate, or seeking the welfare of the kingdom, is the only way to eternal possession and increase. Knowing through doing is more than a mere knowledge of; it is an acquaintance with. It is truth tested, it is light plus warmth. It is intellectual assent transmuted by action into character fibre. The principle or law of tithing can only partly be known to the learner of the word. To know fully the doctrine, the work must be done.
 
The law of laws from a Latter-day Saint point of view is stated by the Prophet Joseph Smith as follows:
 
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-
 
"And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:20, 21.)
 
We want blessings.
 
We want this to continue to be a land of Zion unto us.
 
We want to be Zion-the pure in heart.
 
We want to succeed as a superior social unit.
 
We want to prove by our lives that the gospel is a God-made plan to reach the highest joy for man.
 
We want inheritance with unclouded titles.
 
We want to maintain a school system that will place us as a community, foremost in education.
 
We want to be a city on a hill, a candle on a candlestick, that men seeing our good works may glorify our Father which is in heaven.
 
We want to make history that will sublimely inspire posterity.
 
Tithing is one of the laws upon which each of these blessings is predicated.
 
(Handbook of the Restoration: A Selection of Gospel Themes Discussed by Various Authors [Independence, Mo.: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1944], 426.)
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