This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
Stewardship covers a very wide field of obligation. But we are not to consider the whole of it. That would be to write a treatise on "The Christian Life." Our subject is confined to the field of economic value; the Stewardship of Possession is our sole theme.
Economic value, like all other value, comes from God, and passes, as a trust, into the hands of a man. When he recognizes that the value in his possession is indeed a trust, two thoughts form themselves, consciously or subconsciously, in his mind. Honor says, "Acknowledge it," and fidelity says, "Administer it." Under pressure, or from sheer negligence, the average man may fail of both these intuitive duties, nevertheless he knows that both of them are there. The acknowledgment of the trust we have already considered; the administration of it is now before us.
First of all, the average man must know that he is a steward. Such a man is not misled by the pagan doctrine of ownership. Indeed, he is convinced that it is time for Christian civilization to cut loose from pagan doctrines and pagan practices altogether. The scandal of it has been with us long enough! Such a man exults in the expanding sense of stewardship that characterizes our own generation. Never was it so hard for a man to think he "owns" the things which he is permitted to possess; never was it so easy to understand the basal meaning of Christianity, which is stewardship—the stewardship of life, the stewardship of privilege and opportunity, and, of course, the stewardship of possessions. The social and political conscience of our generation is actually mirroring itself in a new business conscience. The commercial spirit, which men have heretofore regarded as opaque selfishness, is finding peculiar and unexpected pleasure in considering "the things of others." Business is discovering that stewardship—planning and providing a fair chance for "the other fellow"—is actually a profitable thing to do! Whatever may have been the trend in other days, the doctrine of stewardship to-day shows the unmistakable marks of popular approval. The average man may take his cue of stewardship from the daily press, and he will not be far wrong.1
In the second place, righteous stewardship must rest upon rightful possession. If the possession of value is unrighteous, the very name of stewardship becomes a mocking—like a burglar's "fence" seeking to make honest disposition of his goods!
1 The loathing with which Americans regard the present European war has but emphasized the advance of stewardship, at least in this country.
At this very point, if the broad theme of stewardship were to receive commanding treatment, we should be compelled to pause. What constitutes the rightful possession of value, and who shall judge the case? Have the millionaires of our generation a moral right to distribute their vast benefactions? What part of these colossal fortunes is justly the property of other men? How can there be any rightful stewardship at all in our generation! These questions drive to the very core of our subject. Before we could fairly claim that we had canvassed the situation it would be needful to examine the whole fabric of our social, industrial, and financial structure. The social reformer must be allowed to deliver his message, even though his blade should pierce the joints of our comfortable complacency. The fierce invective of the poor must be heard with patience. The meaning of wages must be canvassed, and its rightful place determined in the production of wealth. Profit-sharing as a correct method of industrial cooperation must be weighed both in ethics and expediency. The correct basis of taxation cannot be omitted from such a survey. The ethics of unearned increments, and how such increase shall be divided, the ethics of corporations and of trusts, in a word, the whole wide range of modern finance, together with a just judgment of industrial problems—these challenge the thought of any man who would write of stewardship with breadth and discernment.
Certainly we shall attempt no such sweeping survey. Nor is there any need. Experts in all these departments have wrought sincerely, and the libraries of the land are enriched with the results of honest thinking; the atmosphere indeed is tonic with a new sense of human responsibility. But no sincere student of social, industrial, and financial problems claims to have reached final conclusions. Solutions are in the making. Perhaps, therefore, it is a sufficient service merely to have named the broad setting in which stewardship must be studied. One can establish the perspective of his survey, even though he may not complete the detail of it. Stewardship itself is the only foundation on which a Christian social order can rest. Therefore the recognition and observance of the principles of stewardship will help to lift finance out of the slough of suspicion into which it has fallen, and will add a tremendous emphasis to the wide movement of industrial and social betterment. Christian stewardship is the widest and sanest social service.
Concerning stewardship and possession, we are now ready to say three things. First, righteous stewardship is established when possession is the result of honest thrift. Though business and industry, as such, may be passing through muddy waters, and those who are responsible for this misdirection shall be held to a rigid reckoning, nevertheless the individual worker may keep himself clean; he need not plunge into corrupt and corrupting methods. Notable names among philanthropists stand out, not mostly because of their generous benefactions, but because their creation and distribution of value is itself a stewardship. They are in truth stewards of trade and commerce. In the business world to-day there are untarnished men who prefer a less conspicuous success than some of their competitors seem to attain, when success must be purchased with the fine gold of honor. The wage of the working-man, the profits of the merchant and the farmer, the salary or fee of the professional man—every penny of the value possessed by such men ought to be subject to a righteous stewardship. If any dollar of this value is a sordid and unrighteous dollar, the title to which is illegitimate and dishonest, it is the man himself who made it so, and not the conditions of his work.
Second, a righteous stewardship may be maintained if the value in one's possession is the result of honorable legacy. Value itself is never tainted, even though the men who control it may be themselves corrupt. If such value is bequeathed to heirs, it reaches them without moral infection. When ill-gotten fortune is followed by social and family disaster it registers God's verdict even "unto the third and fourth generation." Nevertheless, the inheritance remains stainless, though the social organism suffers. The curse is in the blood; it does not follow the fortune. If the legacy itself is rightfully inherited, it becomes a righteous basis of stewardship. The first righteous act of the new steward may be, and, in some cases, must be, to restore value which had been wrongfully acquired by the testator. But such restoration of value, if performed by an heir, would be an act of high and noble stewardship, whereas if it had been performed by the testator before his decease (as it should have been), it would merely have marked the fact that he purposed to be honest. If possession, wrongfully acquired, carried hereditary taint, stewardship would be a practical impossibility at the hands of most men now living. The ancient curse of the Saxons would still haunt the heirs of Norman invaders, and the bulk of English property would still be "tainted." Indeed, no family in central or northern Europe could escape the infection, for feudal Europe was one vast field of pillage. That many of the American Indians were fraudulently deprived of their rightful lands is an American scandal which nothing can condone. Nevertheless the present heirs of those freebooting frontiersmen hold unblemished value in their possession, and may maintain an honorable stewardship of it all. Like a running stream of water, value is purified by use. Each generation is a judgment day unto itself.
Finally, righteous stewardship may be maintained when the acquirement of value is the product of sheer ability. The fact is, some men "can," and that is the whole of it! They are quick to recognize changing conditions. They behold cities where other men see swamps. They have the gift of financial prophecy, and courage. Theirs is not superior thrift; it is not wholly true to say they have superior intelligence. But they certainly have a gift, a "knack," which may become in very truth a calling. They are able in honor to create economic value where other men behold financial chaos. They are the men who can. Their gift of "making money" is not only a righteous basis for stewardship; it may become a throne of power. It is more than a human offense when such a throne becomes a sordid money chest or a gaudy stage for the display of vanity. The statesmen in finance, no less than in government, are debtors to their generation. What they have they owe. Their stewardship of value increases with their power to create it.