This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
In entering upon the particular study which is now before us it will be of interest, and, we dare say, of profit, to review in brief summary the attitude heretofore maintained by the average man toward the doctrine of stewardship which we have named. We have no purpose to be scholastic, and shall attempt no full historical statement, which, whatever its interest, would have slight if any bearing upon our own generation. It will, however, have a very significant bearing to note the attitude of the average man at the beginning of the first century, at the beginning and middle of the last century, and at the present time. The very suggestion of a glance into the first century brings us at once to those marvelous days in Jerusalem when the Christian doctrine of property received its first recognition and acknowledgment in human society. With that let us begin.
At the end of an intense though brief public ministry Jesus Christ left behind him a handful of disciples. But he left more. The air of Palestine was permeated with a new ideal of life. Men rejected the Teacher, but they could not escape from the teaching. Fifty days after the crucifixion of the lonely Teacher the air grew vibrant; the Spirit of the Man had come back to men, to abide with them forever. At thought of the Pentecostal church the pen leaps to a hundred fascinating themes. But we eliminate them all, and hold rigidly to our one subject—Property.
Property and Pentecost—can it be that they are related? Is the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit capable of such crude and common interpretation? But loyalty is not crude, and fidelity is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. Property is not a sordid thing; it is a messenger of the covenant intercepted in its royal ministry by human covetousness. Pentecost restored it to its rightful place in the kingdom of God. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit thousands of ordinary men were lifted out of pettiness and selfishness, and began to understand, by actual experience, what every righteous man has seen in fleeting glimpses, namely, that property is a trust. Concerning these men, it is written: "Not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own."
Much has been spoken and written concerning the so-called "communism" of the Jerusalem Christians. Whatever else it was, the financial program of the Pentecostal church was no formal attempt to "level up" and "level down" the property holdings of its members. It was a stewardship and not a communism of possessions. There was no least compulsion among them, neither was there any general conversion of possessions and goods into money, for the purpose of general distribution, but only "as every man had need." This last statement is twice repeated, and wholly discredits various attempts to make the New Testament sponsor for communistic schemes of property division. Nor, on the other hand, was the practical brotherhood of the Jerusalem Christians a mere experiment of enthusiasts, and without further divine sanction. We do equal violence to a thrilling human narrative when we seek to erect it into a formal program for society, or when we discount it as "unusual." The written record of that first expression of Christian stewardship is the epic of human brotherhood. It was unusual only as the acceptance of the unfeigned grace of God was unusual, but the human facts are readily understood.
Jesus Christ had exalted the brotherhood of men. But the men of his nation hated and crucified him. Nevertheless, thousands of them remembered all too well those clear, calm words of the Great Teacher. When, therefore, their meanness and sordidness had been swept away by the mighty inflowing of the Divine Spirit, the most convincing proof of a genuine repentance was their immediate and whole-hearted response to those same noble teachings of human brotherhood, for which their Lord had been crucified. And the way of it was most reasonable and natural.
Jerusalem was crowded with multitudes who had come up to the annual feasts. The conversion and baptism of these Jewish pilgrims meant profound life changes. Any missionary of experience, and others familiar with the facts of modern missions, will appreciate how this would be inevitable as the result of a "change of religion." Many of them could return no more to their provincial homes, but would have to make new plans for themselves and for their families. It is no dream of idle words when a man gives up all for conscience' sake! These men were not poor because of thriftlessness. The fact that they had made long journeys to reach Jerusalem would indicate that many of them had surplus means. But they were in extremity. They were in actual need of food, having expended their ready funds, and being alienated from former friends and relations because of the "Way." The picture is a familiar one, this very year, in southern and eastern Asia.
In such circumstances the Christians, whose homes were in or near Jerusalem, recognized their unique responsibility of stewardship, and, to their lasting honor, they met it loyally and with no shadow of evasion. Gladly they threw open their homes to these homeless ones, their new brethren. They had all things common. But generous hospitality, even such as this, could not meet the exigencies of those momentous days. The converts multiplied. Persecution seemed not to hinder them; it was indeed the first mass move ment of the Christian Church. God was calling out a new people, and the men who had been trained in the school of Christ were keen to recognize it. Stewardship must now mean more than hospitality; it must go farther than gifts and offerings. The blood-red doctrine of Jesus Christ was preached again, and the magnificent response of the Jerusalem church was a royal proof that these men had been "born again" in very truth.
The first Christians in Jerusalem were all Jews; this must not be forgotten. They had already tithed their possessions in acknowledgment of the divine ownership; they had also paid the customary second tithe to provide for the expense of the Jewish feasts of Passover and Pentecost. But now had come the real test of their stewardship; they must recognize the unmeasured emergency of the present hour, and prove the meaning of Christian brotherhood. To provide bread for the hungry, that the gospel of their Lord be not a stumbling-block, their goods and possessions must now be turned into money. And why not! No man among them said "that aught of the things which he possessed was his own." He was administering for Another. In the ordinary course of his stewardship a wise man would hardly be justified in selling a possession which was to be used for capital. But here was an opportunity which had come once in the generations, and might not come again. Even though they impoverish themselves (which in fact they did), the Jerusalem Christians would enrich the world for all the coming centuries.
As many, therefore, as were possessors of lands and houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. No wonder that the history of those days records this word: "Great grace was upon them all." Such fidelity of stewardship, more than the preaching of the apostles, more than the miracles which were wrought, proved beyond controversy that the Spirit of Jesus was alive in the world. Mutual love knit that multitude of men, recently strangers to each other, into one heart and one soul. Jews from the provinces, who were still able to control their property, sold their distant possessions and made common cause with the Jerusalem Christians. Such a man was Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus, and doubtless there were many others of like mind. Even the black perfidy of Ananias served only to emphasize the new fact of brotherhood. This very tragedy shows how free from official constraint were all their financial dealings. The one and only compulsion was this: God's ownership. All else was the outflow of faith and loyalty.
Such is the noble record of the first believers. In the annals of Christian stewardship it remains the undimmed classic. The spirit of those mighty days has never wholly disappeared out of the world, and the remembrance of them, to-day more than ever before, is a tonic to jaded loyalty. That no other group of Christians, recorded in the New Testament, equaled or even approached the Jerusalem church in the faithful stewardship of their possessions is not surprising. What city of the Gentiles had been shot through as Jerusalem had been shot through with the lofty teaching of Jesus Christ? In all the heathen provinces where Paul the apostle preached the gospel and planted Christian churches, what group of believers had been grounded from childhood as the Jewish Christians had been grounded, in the absolute confidence that God is the owner of all things? And without God's ownership fundamentally recognized, how could there be any just understanding of the claims of stewardship? The churches of Macedonia were indeed praised by Paul, when he sought, by their example, to stir up the laggard benevolence of the Corinthians, but it was at best a weary and unpromising task to teach the duties of stewardship among the Gentiles, steeped, as they were, in the pagan doctrine of ownership. To the Jewish Christians stewardship was a natural evolution. It came as the logical result of their ingrained habit of tithing. There is no record of any particular "teaching" on this subject in the New Testament. The Pentecostal baptism took an ancient law of God, even as Jesus said, and "fulfilled" it—filled it full of intelligent, unselfish love, and then poured it forth in lavish streams of human helpfulness. But no Greek or Macedonian, except perchance he were a Jewish proselyte, had ever learned to acknowledge the divine ownership by a systematic tithing of his possessions. Hence, to these Gentile Christians, responsibility for stewardship was a new conception, and came to them with great difficulty. Paul's teaching on this subject is explicit and clear, and yet, as he himself said, he was writing to "babes" rather than to strong men. His painful appeal to the prosperous Christians of Corinth that they would be willing to bear some share in the offering which he was seeking to provide for the mother church at Jerusalem is a signal contrast to the joyful outpouring of that same mother church thirty years before. But it could hardly have been otherwise, for the Corinthian Christians (excepting the Jewish Crispus and his house) were struggling with inborn pagan notions, and paganism, as any missionary of experience well knows, yields but slowly to Christian teaching. The Christian doctrine of property is not appreciated until the real knowledge of God has destroyed the "reprobate mind." The "babes in Christ" must first become "men." It is therefore evident that, while we may look to the letters of Paul for supplementary suggestions, the underlying principles of stewardship must be found in the Jewish Scriptures and in their luminous interpretation by Jesus Christ. For this reason the churches of Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth, and other pagan cities, gave forth no commanding instance of the Christian law of stewardship. In the very nature of the case this was impossible. The church of Jerusalem has preserved for us the full meaning of that law, even, as was fitting in the city of Golgotha and Gethsemane, unto the uttermost farthing.