This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
When, at the close of the significant decade from 1840 to 1850, an awakening Christian Spirit looked out upon an open world the call to service was immediately answered. Intuitively the leadership of the churches recognized the vital relation between money and the kingdom. Said Dr. Abel Stevens in that same clarion call already quoted: "We think we mistake not when we say that the next great idea to be brought out, and made prominent in the church, is its true standard of pecuniary liberality—the right relation of Christian men to their property. A change, amounting to a revolution, must come over Christendom in this respect before Christianity can fairly accomplish its mission in our world. And does not the providence of God present the solution of this question as precisely and inevitably the next great duty of the church ? A series of providential dispensations have followed each other, in her modern history, until she has been brought to confront directly this problem; and here she stands—hesitating, shall we say? No— we trust not hesitating, but preparing to solve it, and to derive from it a new, and, as we believe, a transcendent dispensation of success."
In the closing sentence, just quoted, Dr. Stevens was referring to a unique movement, projected by the evangelical churches of Great Britain and America. Through the generous liberality of great-souled laymen, the tract societies on both sides of the Atlantic were able to offer liberal cash prizes for the best short treatises on the subject of systematic beneficence. It was expressly stated that the purpose in view was to stir up the thought of the churches to a wide study of the Christian principles of stewardship, or, as Dr. Stevens phrased it, "the right relation of Christian men to their property."
It was the strong conviction of thoughtful ministers and laymen that the custom of taking "collections" was pitifully inadequate, even for the present enterprises of the church; while, as for furnishing a regular revenue for the vast program of the Christian conquest of the world, it was a hopeless handicap. By directing the thought of the people to the ethical basis of giving and the underlying meaning of ownership, the originators of the prize essays were confident that very many would be lifted out of narrow notions into the large life of Christian stewardship.
And so the event proved. Deep interest was aroused and the adjudicators received many manuscripts in competition for the prizes that were offered. All the great Protestant denominations were included in the movement. In the Methodist Episcopal Church the first prize of $300 was awarded to Dr. Abel Stevens himself, the author of a brilliant essay entitled "The Great Reform." The second prize of $200 went to Lorenzo White, who contributed a strong Scripture study entitled "The Great Question." The third prize of $100 was won by Benjamin St. James Fry for an incisive essay on "Property Consecrated." The distinction which each of these names carries in later Methodist history is a criterion of the worth of the three studies. The winning essays were published by the Methodist Tract Society and were widely read. Another essay by James Ashworth, entitled "Christian Stewardship," though not among the prizewinners, was considered by the adjudicators worthy of special mention. This also was printed. But the publication of these essays, each of which was, in fact, a closely studied treatise, was not the principal result of the competition. Ministers and laymen in all parts of the church were directed to the broad theme of the stewardship of material possessions, as a mark of Christian character, and sermons and discussions on this fruitful theme were the order of the day.
Although the Methodist Episcopal Church was particularly awake to this stewardship revival (and it was needful that she should make reparation for that first calamitous generation), it should not be inferred that other churches were backward. The surest token of God's outpoured blessing was that Christian leaders, in many churches, and on both sides the Atlantic, projected similar prize competitions. As a matter of fact, the movement in the north of Ireland preceded the movement in America, and greatly influenced it. It was distinctly a spiritual awakening, and moved swiftly among the churches. The tremendous events of those days, some of which have been briefly outlined, came upon many spiritual minds as the call of God to his people. Scriptural and ethical standards of stewardship were felt to be the one compelling need of Protestantism.
The plan of prize competitions, already described, proved an effective method elsewhere. The ''Ulster Prizes," offered by a group of Evangelicals in the north of Ireland, brought out a notable response. A prize of fifty pounds was the honorarium offered for the most "able and persuasive statement of the scriptural argument in favor of giving in proportion to means and income." A second prize of twenty pounds was also offered. More than fifty manuscripts were sent to the adjudicators, who, after careful investigation and consultation, finally agreed to merge the two prizes into five, equally distributed. The five essays were published in one large volume under the suggestive title, "Gold and the Gospel." Three editions of ten thousand each were quickly sold, and this volume proved of great permanent value to the churches.
The success of the Ulster prizes stirred up the Presbyterians of Scotland, among whom generous men provided the "Glasgow Prizes." Two premiums, of one hundred and fifty pounds and seventy-five pounds respectively, were offered "for the best papers on the duty and privilege of Christians in regard to the support of the ordinances of the gospel." Members of all evangelical churches in Great Britain were invited to send in their best contributions. Again the hearts of Christian people were stirred, and their minds enlightened, by the sermons, addresses, articles, and tracts that fairly inundated the churches. Many things spoken and written were no doubt superficial; this was to be expected. But the wide discussion of Christian stewardship, and the underlying conviction that the very possession of property or money implied an unequivocal duty of stewardship, was a marked advance in practical Christian ethics.
The Glasgow Prizes are noteworthy for the men to whom the awards were given. Dr. J. A. Wylie, of Edinburgh, received the first prize, and the second was awarded to Joseph Parker, then a young preacher at Banbury. His prize essay on "Stewardship" introduced him to a wider English audience, and, presently, to his throne in the London City Temple.
Meantime the Presbyterian, Congregational, and Baptist Churches on this side the Atlantic felt the influence of the unique stewardship revival. Representing a very wide constituency in these churches, the American Tract Society adopted the plan of prize competition, now thoroughly tried and very popular. The Society announced a premium of $250, to be awarded "for the best approved treatise on the importance of Systematic Beneficence, and of statedly appropriating certain portions of income for benevolent objects." The Committee of Award received and examined one hundred and seventy-two manuscripts. Among these were several large treatises, while a number of the contributions were of exceptional value. The committee found it impossible to select the "best," and, the premium having been increased to $400, four essays were selected for an equal award of $100 each. These essays were published by the American Tract Society, and added their full quota to the remarkable literature on Christian stewardship, which was produced from 1850 to 1855, and widely read throughout Great Britain and America.
It is our purpose, in later chapters of this writing, to discuss at length the principles of Christian stewardship; therefore we shall not dwell further on this interesting period, nor attempt any full exposition of the subject matter produced by these various prize competitions. Three points were clearly named in nearly every essay published at this time, and brought out with varying degrees of emphasis: (1) The absolute ownership of Almighty God, and man's stewardship as a necessary result; (2) The setting apart for benevolent uses a definite proportion of income; (3) The scriptural authority for designating one tenth as the proportion to be thus set apart. All the essays were free from narrow or sectarian bias, their authors, without exception, having a large and generous view of the world-purpose of the gospel.
The results which followed this remarkable stewardship awakening are a significant part of nineteenth-century history. In the first place, as was to be expected, the material resources of the churches were tremendously increased. A more generous basis of support was provided for Christian ministers. It became a period of enlargement in the whole field of education. New colleges and other institutions of learning were founded in many parts of the country. Men recognized the call for consecrated wealth, and sought opportunity to advance philanthropic enterprises. The increased gifts to missions were particularly noticeable. For instance, it had required forty-four years of the most patient and persistent toil to bring the annual income of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the sum of $251,862, which it reached in the year 1850. During the next seven years the annual income of that Board leaped to $388,932, and, in the eight years following, to $534,703; that is, in the short period of fifteen years the income of the American Board was considerably more than doubled. But the significant part is this. Prior to the year 1850, and included in the returns of that year, there were six contributing constituencies united together in the work of the American Board. During the fifteen years under review, four of these constituencies withdrew their support and formed separate missionary societies, leaving only the Congregational Churches and the Palestine Missionary Society as contributing supporters of the American Board. Though there are no extant records from which to compute the ratio of individual giving, yet it is evident that the per capita giving among the Congregational Churches was remarkably increased.
The American Baptist Foreign Mission Society shows a considerable advance, though it was not so pronounced as in the other churches. In 1850 the receipts of this Society were $ 104,837, which, in 1857 had increased to $111,288, and in 1865, to $152,685. The Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church has a remarkable record, increasing from $126,075 in 1850 to $207,489 in 1857, and to $271,701 in 1865. That is, as in the case of the American Board and the Congregational Churches, the Presbyterian Churches had also considerably more than doubled their offerings in the short space of fifteen years.
Even more significant than these remarkable advances is the record of the Methodist Episcopal Church. It had taken thirty-one years of patient pulling against the stream to bring the income of
RENAISSANCE OF STEWARDSHIP 115
the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to the sum of $104,579, which it reached in the year 1850, that is, an average of fifteen cents per member. During the next seven years the income of that society had risen to $268,890, an average of thirty-two cents per member, and, in the eight years following, to $631,740, an average of sixty-eight cents per member, that is, a net increase in fifteen years of $527,161, or an average increase of fifty-three cents per member for this period.
When it is remembered that the period under review from 1850 to 1865, included the years of fierce public debate on the question of slavery, as well as the appalling years of the Civil War, when business was disorganized and millions of money flowed into vast public and private charities, the percentage of increase, represented by the above figures, is a revelation of the high ideals of stewardship which had begun to reach the American churches. A vital influence touched every spiritual movement on both sides of the Atlantic; it marked an epoch in the progress of the kingdom of God. It is impossible to measure, or even estimate, the profound spiritual forces which had their rise in those prolific years, and still flow forth to bless humanity.
Out of that stewardship revival came those great-visioned laymen of the last generation, whose magnificent response to every call of the church and of humanity has been the glory of our age. It is these princes of Israel who have built churches, laid educational foundations, enlarged the scope of missions at home and abroad, and set the standards of generous giving for the younger generation that has now followed them. A few of them still linger, in feebleness and age, but the greater number are passed into the heavens.
But material advance was the least result of the renaissance of stewardship. In the prophecy of Malachi these familiar words are written: "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." This promise is a plain word to plain men. The "tithes" are material possessions; they can be weighed and counted and valued. It is exegetical malpractice to speak of our affections and desires and volitions as our "tithes" which are to be brought into the "storehouse." Such juggling with words creates biblical confusion; plain dealing with homely human facts leads directly into light, for when a man acknowledges God's sovereignty over his material possessions he will not withhold obedience in the realm of his desires and affections.
In a marvelous way God again proved himself the God of truth. This was the glorious culmination of the stewardship revival which we have been reviewing. The principles of stewardship, as we have seen, were faithfully proclaimed. Between the years 1850 and 1855, hundreds of churches in Great Britain and America felt the glow of the movement. Books and tracts multiplied. Sermons and addresses exalted God, the "Owner" of all things. It was no ephemeral enthusiasm. Men and women accepted sane and Christian standards of property, which both recognized and acknowledged the divine sovereignty. Thousands formed life purposes of stewardship, which they began immediately to fulfill by material gifts to the work of the kingdom of God. The movement continued to grow both in scope and intensity. There can be no accuracy of statistics, for none but the recording angel ever knew the number of those who, during the fifties of the nineteenth century brought their "tithes" into the storehouse. But the Father knew, and the Father's heart was rejoiced. He beheld an earnest of those larger days (nearer now!) when the City of God shall be builded, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.
Early in 1857 the Spirit of God began to call the people to prayer. The set time had come to favor Zion—the "time" that can always be "set" when an obedient church makes it possible for God to pour out his blessing. How many a heartsick minister has called his people to prayer; but the people have been robbing God, they "are cursed with a curse"—the curse of spiritual deadness. They have literally misappropriated trust funds, and the minister's voice has fallen upon dead ears. But when Jeremiah Lamphier, a lay missionary in New York city, called a meeting for prayer, on September 23,1857, in the North Dutch Church, Fulton Street, it was like a match to oiled tow. The place soon became too strait for the crowds who came together. There was no exhortation, no preaching—prayer, only prayer. The movement leaped to Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Cincinnati, Chicago, until, in hundreds of towns and cities throughout the land, tens of thousands were gathered in daily meetings, and the voice of prayer was as the sound of many waters. The Spirit of God fell upon unrighteous men, until they felt the most poignant conviction. Professional men, capitalists, and working men confessed their sins and entered with joy upon the Christian life. The power of prayer was marvelously illustrated. The spirit of revival grew tenser and deeper; it swelled as a pent-up tide at the flood, until it burst, wave upon wave, over the rejoicing land.
As though a channel had been cut for the swelling tides of God, the revival of 1858 followed the pathway of the stewardship campaign that had preceded it. The north of Ireland, and the Scottish and English Churches were visited with extraordinary awakenings, which spread to the Colonial possessions oversea. Not since the days of Wesley and Whitefield had England seen such manifestations of genuine religious interest; and, in America, all the churches shared together in the blessing that was poured out upon the land.
The revival of 1858 was God's tender and strong girding of the American churches. The dark days of the Civil War were just ahead. The tragedy of those years might easily have darkened into hopeless catastrophe. If ever a nation needed strong, courageous churches, and Christian men of faith and prayer and loyalty, that was our own loved nation in the years 1860 to 1865. How marvelously and how quietly God had prepared us for our bitter struggle! How the revival rains, that preceded the war, filled the trenches of the field with stored-up streams of blessing! And how, like a blithe and intelligent workman, the stewardship campaign from 1850 to 1855 digged the trenches across the field, and prepared the way of the Lord! For it is ever so that "tithes" come before the "blessing."