Essential James E. Talmage
James P. Harris, editor
The Lord’s Tenth
(Salt Lake City: Office of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1923)
[p.201]”The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” [Ps. 24:1]
In acknowledgment of the supreme possessorship so declared, the great Landlord required of His tenants a rental of their time and substance. In acknowledgment of our relation as tenants, to Him as Owner, we are commanded to devote specifically oneseventh of our time, one day in seven, to His exclusive service. Of our substance and the increase thereof, the Lord calls for a tenth. This is the tithe.
Abraham a Tithe-Payer
Payment of tithes was so prominent a feature of the Mosaic Law that the yet earlier practice may be easily lost sight of. Tithing is older than Israel. Thus we read in connection with the account of Abraham’s return from his victorious pursuit of the marauding and murderous enemies of his people:
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
“And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
“And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.” (Genesis 14:18-20.)
In this connection it is interesting to consider the New Testament comments relating to the same incident and extolling the greatness of Melchizedek, the high priest, in that even the patriarch, Abraham, paid tithes to him:
“For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
“To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; ***
“Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the [p.202]patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
“And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
“But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.” And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
“And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” (Hebrews 7:1, 2, 4-8.)
The law of the tithe in ancient Israel was well understood. We find it especially enjoined, and plainly it had been recognized before the exodus. Call to mind the incident of Jacob in distress, seeking his way back to his father’s house, and how he covenanted with the Lord. This is the scriptural record:
“And Jacob vowed a vow, saying If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
“So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:
“And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Genesis 28:20-22.)
Tithing in the Mosaic Code
If the sanctity of the tithe as a tenth part had not been fully understood in that day, one may well inquire as to why Jacob specified the tenth rather than some other fraction, such as the fifth or the seventh or the twelfth. But he vowed to give unto the Lord the tenth of all that he would receive, and this was in accordance with the proportion paid by Abraham before that time, and with the precise specification of the tenth part in the law given later under the administration of Moses. Let us remember that the very word “tithe” means a tenth, no more, no less. This was the requirement made of the people of Israel after they had been brought out from Egypt:
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.
“And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithe, he shall add [p.203]thereto the fifth part thereof.
“And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.
“He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy, it shall not be redeemed.” (Leviticus 27:30-33.)
Following the development of the children of Israel into a theocratic nation, the practice of paying tithes in kind became one of the features by which they, the worshipers of Jehovah, were distinguished from all other people.
As long as the Israelites faithfully complied with the law of the tithe they prospered; and when they failed the land was no longer sanctified to their good.
Holy prophets admonished, rebuked, and reproved with sharpness as the people time and again fell into transgression, forgot the Lord, and neglected to give of their substance as required by the law which they professed to observe.
Hezekiah (see 2 Chronicles 31:5-10) and Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 13:10-13) were particularly forceful in their efforts to arouse the people to the jeopardy that threatened as a consequence of their neglect of the law of the tithe; and, later, Malachi, voiced the word of Jehovah in stem rebuke, forceful admonition, and encouraging promise relative to the payment of the Lord’s tenth.
In the Meridian of Time
At the time of our Lord’s personal ministry in the flesh, the law of the tithe had been supplemented by innumerable rules, comprising unauthorized exaction often based upon mere trivialities. Christ approved the tithe, but made plain the fact that other duties were none the less imperative. See Matthew 23:23.
The law of the tithe was still professedly observed during the apostolic period of old, and for a considerable time thereafter, more or less completely. Gradually, however, the practice of the tithe was robbed of its sacred character and it was made to serve as a means of state and secular taxation.
Under Secular Law
Early in the ninth century Charlamagne undertook to collect the tithe by force and made it a part of the state revenue; and thus was the sanctity of the tithe further obscured. In England the tithe was imposed [p.204]by authority of the civil law. Of land rental and all the produce a tenth was collected, whether willingly paid or otherwise; for the tithe was held to belong to the established church. Under the act regulating the tithe-rent charge it is made possible to pay the rental in money; though until comparatively recent years the tithes were to be paid in kind. The “great tithes” were those levied upon corn, wood and certain other produce of the fields and forest, and the “lesser tithes” came from specified secondary earnings. By a strange construction it was argued that that which is in the earth is not to be considered as produce, and, therefore, coal and the precious metals were not to be tithed for there was no increase therein. Turf, which does grow visibly, is exempted also, while wood that is cut with the ax is to be tithed. Such strange inconsistencies arose through man’s attempt to tamper with the law of God and to administer the same without divine authority.
Admonition and Promise
As already pointed out the observance of the law of tithe was periodically neglected or ignored by the Israelites of old, of whom it was especially required, and prophets raised their voices in proclamation of the Lord’s displeasure. Consider the severe reproof and the encouraging promise voiced by the Lord through the mouth of Malachi:
“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 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.
“And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:7-12.)
Law of the Tithe Today
The Latter-day Saints profess to be observers of the law of the [p.205]tithe. The requirement thus made of them is not directly based upon the fact that tithe-paying was part of the Mosaic code, but because the law has been re-established in the Church in this dispensation of restoration and fulness.
Concerning the duties of the people relating to the tithe in this day the Lord has definitely spoken.
In a revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet at Far West, Missouri, July 8, 1838, in answer to the supplication: “Oh, Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing,” we read:
“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 ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen. (Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 119.)
Authority, to Administer the Tithes
As of old, so in this day, the tithe is the Lord’s and therefore is holy. Tithing funds or properties of any kind paid as tithes are not to be administered by unappointed hands. The priests of ancient Israel were charged with this sacred duty; and in the present dispensation the same order prevails. Responsibility for the handling of the tithes is placed upon the bishops today, and they, thus officiating, act in their capacity as presiding officers of the Aaronic Priesthood. Again, as of old, so now, the tithes are to be paid at the places appointed and to the duly ordained and commissioned receivers. Today the Bishop of the Church, who is known as the Presiding [p.206]Bishop, is assisted by many ward bishops, and to these as representatives of and assistants to the Presiding Bishop, the tithing is to be paid and is to be by them forwarded to the office of the Presiding Bishop. The order of the Church as at present constituted provides that the several bishops may convert into cash the produce paid as tithing in kind, and deliver the proceeds to the Presiding Bishop.
It is an interesting fact that during recent years, particularly during the two decades last past, attempts have been made by many sects and denominations to revive the ancient practice of the tithe. Churches are organizing from among their members societies or clubs of “tithers,” who voluntarily pledge themselves to pay to their respective churches a tenth of their individual incomes. Among some of these societies the tithers are permitted to indicate the purpose to which their contributions shall be applied. The great difficulty which our sectarian friends find in re-establishing the practice of the tithe amongst their numerous sects is—and they realize it in part—that they have no priests nor Levites amongst them authorized to receive the tithe and administer it strictly in accordance with divine command. The authority of the Holy Priesthood is essential to the regulation of the tithing system of the Lord. Tithing is the Lord’s revenue system, and He requires it of the people, not because He is lacking in gold or silver, but because they need to pay it.
Voluntary Yet Required
Tithe-paying must be a voluntary, free-will sacrifice, not to be exacted by secular power, nor enforced by infliction of fine or other material penalties. While in one sense the obligation is self-assumed, it is nevertheless one to be observed with full purpose of heart by the earner who claims standing in the Church and who professes to abide by the revealed word given for the spiritual development of its members.
It is essential that men learn to give. Without provision for this training the curriculum in the school of mortality would be seriously defective. Human wisdom has failed to devise a more equitable means of individual contribution for community needs than the simple plan of the tithe. Every one is to give in the amount proportionate to his income, and to so give regularly and systematically. The spirit of giving makes the tithe holy; and it is by means thus sanctified that the material activities of the Church are carried on. Blessings, specific and choice, are placed within the reach of all. In the Lord’s work, the widow’s penny is as acceptable as the gold piece of the millionaire.
[p.207]The Latter-day Saints believe that the tithing system has been divinely appointed for their observance; and they esteem themselves blessed with thus being permitted to have part in the furtherance of God’s purposes. Under this system the people have prospered severally and as an organized body. It is the simple and effective revenue law of the Church; and its operation has been a success from the time of its establishment. Amongst us it obviates the necessity of taking up collections in religious assemblies, and makes possible the promulgation of the Church’s message through the printed and spoken word, the building and maintenance of Temples for the benefit of both the living and the dead, and phases of service to mankind too numerous to mention.
There is an important distinction between tithes and other offerings. While the observance of the tithing law must be willing and voluntary, tithe-paying is nevertheless required, demanded in fact, by the Lord of those who, by their own free will, have become His covenant children by baptism.
A great and all too common mistake is that we consider the paying of tithes as the giving of a gift unto the Lord. This does not express the whole truth. Provision is made for freewill offerings as any man may choose to make; and if he offers with pure purpose of heart and is himself an approved giver, his gift shall be accepted and be counted unto him for righteousness; but such is not the tithe; the tithe is rather a debt than a gift.
The Tithe as a Rental
As the matter presents itself to my mind, it is as though there had been a contract made between myself and the Lord, and that in effect He had said to me: “You have need of many things in this world—food, clothing, and shelter for your family and yourself, the common comforts of life, and the things that shall be conducive to refinement, to development, to righteous enjoyment. You desire material possessions to use for the assistance of others, and thereby gain greater blessings for yourself and yours. Now, you shall have the means of acquiring these things; but remember they are mine, and I require of you the payment of a rental upon that which I give into your hands. However, your life will not be one of uniform increase in substance and possessions; you will have your loses, as well as your gains; you will have your periods of trouble as well as your times of peace. Some years will be plenty unto you, and others will be years of scarcity. And, now, instead of doing as mortal landlords do—require you to contract [p.208]with them to pay in advance, whatever your fortunes or your prospects may be—you shall pay me not in advance, but when you have received; and you shall pay me in accordance with what you receive. If it so be that in one year your income is abundant, then you can afford to pay me a little more; and if it be so that the next year is one of distress and your income is not what it was, then you shall pay me less; and should it be that you are reduced to the utmost penury so that you have nothing coming in, you will pay me nothing.”
Have you ever found a landlord of earth who was willing to make that kind of a contract with you? When I consider the liberality of it all, and the consideration that my Lord has had for me, I feel in my heart that I could scarcely raise my countenance to His Heaven above if I tried to defraud Him out of that just rental.
A Privilege to All Alike
Consider further how therein and thereby He has provided that even the humblest may receive abundantly of the blessings of His house. The wealth of heaven is not reserved for the rich people of earth; even the poorest may be a stockholder in the great corporation of our God, organized for the carrying on of His purposes, in spreading the Gospel, in the building of Temples and other houses of worship to His name, and in doing good to all mankind.
Let it not be forgotten that the present is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of all who profess to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ, to whom the promise is given that they shall be preserved in the day of burning incident to the second advent of the Christ. See Doctrine and Covenants 64:23; compare Malachi chapter 4.
After all, the prime or great purpose behind the establishment of the law of the tithe is the development of the soul of the tithe payer, rather than the providing of revenue. The latter is an all-important purpose, for so far as money is needed for the carrying on of the work of the Church the Lord requires money that is sanctified by the faith of the giver; but blessings beyond estimate, as gauged by the coin of the realm, are assured unto him who strictly conforms to the law of the tithe because the Lord hath so commanded.