This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
Life is a trust. To have is to owe, not own. Christianity repudiates the pagan doctrine of ownership, and recognizes possession, honorably acquired, as a token of confidence on the part of the Divine Owner, and as its own pledge of fidelity in return.
Stewardship is not a natural human conception. The unaided human instinct will not discover it. The recognition of stewardship marks the supremacy of spiritual man. It begins with the acknowledgment of God the owner, for human stewardship is the necessary correlate of divine ownership. That the Creator of the universe must be the owner of all things, is, in some sense, an intuition; nevertheless, this intuition cannot of itself produce a sense of stewardship. Heathenism is proof enough of that. There must be the intelligent acknowledgment of ownership as well. The meaning of such acknowledgment is clearest seen in the Hebrew Scriptures.
There was once an honorable and ancient nation whose descendants, to the number of many millions, still survive, though now scattered among the various peoples of the earth. This nation dwelt in western Asia, in a land of great natural resources. In their economic history the people of Israel passed through succeeding stages of development—the nomadic, the pastoral, the trading; and the Levitical law of property is perhaps an idealized synthesis of all of these. But, even so, throughout their national life, the Israelitish people cannot be dissociated from the land in which they dwelt, and from this came their fundamental conceptions of property and its ownership. They clearly recognized that the land did not belong to them, though it had been freely given to them for a possession, for it was written in their sacred Scriptures, "The land shall not be sold forever, for the land is mine; I am the Lord your God." The divine ownership of the land meant primary dominion over all the fruitage of the land, and this dominion was fully recognized. Every year, as an acknowledgment of the divine ownership, the people set apart a portion of their increase—a tenth—for the support of one of their tribes, whose duty was to instruct the people, and maintain the worship of Jehovah. This was a solemn trust, committed to them by the Divine Owner of the land.
After the holy tithe had been set apart as a perpetual guarantee of the divine worship, there were certain social and charitable duties enjoined upon the people, duties that grew out of Jehovah's great blessing upon them in the land which he had given them. They were required again to tithe their annual increase in order to provide the expense of certain great religious and social festivals whose purpose was to maintain patriotism and friendship among the people. But, next to the sacred first tithe, the most solemn and beautiful obligation laid upon this ancient nation was their care for the poor and unfortunate. For the Lord their God had said unto them, as it were a forecast of our whole human family, "The poor shall never cease out of the land." Therefore most compassionate allowance was made for them at all times. Every third year a tithe of the crops was set apart for them, and every seventh year (when the land "rested" by authority of Him who sent the rain and the sunshine) the poor were permitted to gather the natural produce of the fallow ground, together with the grapes and the olives. Then, in the fiftieth year, the year of jubilee, in order that every man of every generation might have at least one complete opportunity to secure the blessings of prosperity, liberty was proclaimed throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; every debtor was discharged of his debt and every bondman returned unto his own family. Besides these stated offerings and legal releases for the poor, the duty of personal charity for destitute neighbors was constantly enjoined. The corners of the fields and the gleanings of the harvest must always be left for them, and, in years of distress and famine, the worship of Jehovah was an insult unless the poor had first received special consideration; for
Jehovah spake unto them and said, "I am the Lord your God, and ye are Israel, my people." In such manner was this ancient nation taught the meaning of ownership and the duties of possession.
And the lesson is for all men and for all the days, for "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Through the living force of Christianity this great truth is often seen in the Christian nations. In the face of ingrained human selfishness, the outflow of human sympathy in response to human suffering has become a beautiful thing in the world. Flood, famine, fire, earthquake—they are almost sacramental, so surely do they unlock the streams of human beneficence which bless both him who receives and him who gives. This help to the unfortunate, spasmodic though it may be, is the earnest of that larger human brotherhood when the divine ownership shall be fully recognized. That men will seldom give unless their sympathies are aroused, and that few men, in administering their possessions, have a definite financial program that both recognizes and acknowledges the divine ownership, is a humiliating confession that the ethics of property has wandered far from instinctive righteousness.
The Jewish people learned to acknowledge, as a nation, the sovereignty of one God. Though they passed through bitter punishments, because of lapses into idolatry, they finally escaped this
blight of surrounding nations. When Jesus Christ was born Israel was free from idolatry. The Prophet of Nazareth did not need to rebuke his generation for that hideous sin of heathen races. The divine ownership was fully recognized and acknowledged. The law of the tithe, with subsidiary financial and property statutes, had established this. Therefore Jesus Christ's message was not to establish but to interpret the divine ownership, and the people "wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth."
For the first time in human history it was established that men are to hold all their possessions, as a steward holds the possessions of his master, absolutely subject to the call of the Owner. He is expected to know the mind of his Master, so that he may administer his possessions wisely and with joy—not as a servant, "for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth," but as a friend. The core of stewardship, as Jesus interpreted it, is partnership. His words entered into the mind and heart of his own generation, and they abide until this hour upon the earth. His doctrine of possession we are now briefly to survey. It is a doctrine that has been sadly mutilated during the Christian centuries. The average Christian conscience of to-day is warped from the truth, because the average Christian mind remains caught in the pagan conception of ownership. The new (and yet how old!) "social" gospel, widely preached in our own generation, is handicapped to the point of defeat because men cannot adjust their economic notions of possession so as to harmonize with a really Christian order in society. Socialism, as a political and economic program, is estopped at this very point. Perhaps, for the sake of its own human ideals, it were better that it should be estopped. Men reverence its noble teaching of brotherhood, they may even accept its theories of communal ownership, but any attempt to realize actual Christian brotherhood in present human society will continue to be day-dreaming unless men first recognize the ethical compulsion of individual stewardship.
In the present survey and development we have no purpose to discuss the far-reaching implications of stewardship, which must end, frankly, in a regenerated social order. These implications are too vast and too complex to be casually sketched in some concluding chapter. They require separate and extended major treatment. They follow but do not form a part of the fundamental thesis of this writing, namely, the ownership that inheres in God, the trusteeship that proceeds from man. They will therefore be suggested but cannot be discussed, for we are confident that if Christian people will accept the root principles of stewardship, not as an academic theory, or philosophy, but as an actual working program for the days, the present social order will surely be reborn. And we suspect that human stewardship is the cure for nearly all the unbrotherly attitudes and institutions of human society. Stewardship is a tree of very ancient planting, but a pagan fungus has fastened at its root. If this can be uncovered, the ax is ready to be laid to it.