This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
I stood one day beside a Hindu shrine. It was a holy day, and the people were sacrificing young kids. The officiating Brahman, stripped to his loins, held a broad-bladed sword. One by one the worshipers approached, leading the young animals by a cord, or, sometimes, carrying them in their arms. The Brahman priest would place the young kid, facing toward the shrine, and fasten the cord securely about its neck. The worshiper would draw the cord taut, and hold it firmly, while the dumb animal, as though by instinct, would brace itself against the blow. One whizzing stroke was enough; the head lay on the ground with twitching eyelids, and a vessel was ready for the spurting blood. I remained beside the Brahman all that weltering day, and preached to the people; and the soil whereon I stood was red with sacrifice.
What shall we say? Was it all a brutal butchery? Was there nothing fine at all? Was the preacher wrong when he beheld here, not a reeking shambles, but a people reaching after God? And, when he pleaded, as Paul pleaded at Athens, "Whom therefore ye worship not knowing, him declare I unto you," was it all a grotesque fancy in the preacher's mind? Should the missionary have been stirred that day because of the blasphemy of the people, or was it right that he should have been moved by their religious devotion? These questions are fundamental to all natural and revealed religion upon the earth.
But these questions root still deeper. Is it possible for a thoughtful man to offer a material sacrifice to the unseen and spiritual God? Can such an offering ever signify intelligent worship? There are two things that must be said.
First, material offerings in religious worship are not the sign of mental inferiority. It is easy to look upon the bloody rites of a heathen sacrifice and affirm that this is the product of ignorance, but the human facts will not warrant the affirmation. The age of Pericles was the most brilliant period of the Athenian state. Its influence upon civilization is felt until this hour. During this period Athens gave to the world poets, philosophers, statesmen, and artists who have made the name of Greece immortal. Yet the age of Pericles, more than any other period in Grecian history, is distinguished for the splendor of its material offerings to the gods. Temples and statues arose on every hand, hecatombs of burning victims obscured the sun, and garlanded processions moved toward all the shrines with votive offerings. Thus, the most brilliant people of the ancient world, during the most brilliant period of their history, found no intellectual barrier to the offering of grain and fruit, together with animal sacrifices, upon the altars of unseen deities. But the strangest part is this: the modern scholar, contemplating that ancient world, can write and speak with sympathy concerning those same material offerings. As a teacher he can project himself and his pupils into the religious atmosphere of the Greeks, he can feel the human sincerity of Homer's forgotten faith, and yet without sense of mental degradation.
Second, material offerings are the most natural and therefore the most persistent human tokens of a pure and spiritual worship. A moment's thought will show how true this is. Human love is the finest and most spiritual element in human life. One would say that love—just love itself— is the only possible token of love. And yet what human lover has failed to bring the tender tokens of affection, the glistening ring, the bunch of violets in April, roses in June, fringed gentians in October? And what mother ever dreamed of forgetting the "things" that delight the heart of childhood? One would say that when a man thinks of God in reverent meditation the thought itself is the highest worship possible. But is this true? The thought of worship intuitively drives the soul to an act of worship, and to neglect that act, or to express it in mean or ignoble ways, is the violation of our purest human instinct. Religion has ever brought forth the choicest gifts, the finest literature, and the noblest art. This is the open history of the race, for God only can inspire the best.
When man first recognized his Maker he acknowledged him. That first acknowledgment was a material offering, dedicated to God in sacrificial worship. Would it have been a more spiritual service if the first worshiper had taken with him words, and ascribed unto God majesty and dominion and power? Would that worship have been still more acceptable if he had stood forth beneath the sun, and played upon a harp of strings, or a pipe of water-reed, or chanted with his voice a psalm of the creation? Did human worship wait for Jubal, who, we are told, "was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ"? In truth, pure worship began upon the earth when men first gathered corn from the field and fruit from the tree, that they might sustain their life, and when they remembered the flesh of kids and butter of kine and all pleasant food. For then it was they knew that without these gifts of God their life was forfeit. And then it was they builded an altar and offered to the unseen Creator the tokens of their titter dependence upon him, even an offering from the herd and from the flock and from the field. More pure and spiritual worship there has never been upon the earth, nor shall be.
Training tends to complexity. The educated mind moves from the lesser to the greater values.
For this reason it is not easy to keep the emphasis on the broad elemental facts of life. Nevertheless, failure to do so obscures not only those elemental facts but the higher values as well. An offering given back to God, from a man's material substance, was the one perfect acknowledgment that he was dependent upon his Maker. An angel of light could render a finer and more enduring acknowledgment, but, for a man upon the earth, whose breath is in his nostrils, there could be no other. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment, yet when the ascetic denies or the spiritual mind forgets the rightful place of food and clothing, those simple needs of human kind, then the mind wanders from the simplicity of the truth, and loses the larger meanings of life itself. Jesus Christ understood the limitless meaning of life, but he did not forget its whole divine perspective. The Son of man came eating and drinking.
Worship is necessity for a man; it therefore cannot be an indifference to God. Would not the Spirit of God brood over a man when first that man bowed down before his Maker? Would not that Spirit guide him in devotion, and instruct him in worship, lest he mar the beautiful service which he would render?
In the oldest written record there is an account of a human incident which culminated in a tragedy. The incident shows conclusively that men were already instructed, and understood the significance of material offerings. It is written that "Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof"—or, as we should say, "the fat ones." If the offering of his brother was the first fruits of the ground, or if it showed any other mark of thoughtful selection and care, that fact is certainly not recorded. On the other hand, the whole story indicates that it was an irreverent and careless offering. The rebuke to the crestfallen Cain is spoken in love, "Why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?" Thus early in human history was the law of the "firstfruits" known and observed.
When, in those early days, man learned that the firstlings of the flock and the firstfruits of the ground were "holy unto the Lord," he learned his first lesson in spiritual values, and it was this: Self-preservation is less to be desired than confident trust in the Preserver. He would wait to receive his own portion, for the first fruits were not for him. He would himself eat the imperfect fruit, if need be, but he would not "sacrifice unto the Lord a corrupt thing." This fundamental fact in human life, so marvelously expressed in the divine dedication of the firstfruits and the firstlings, is basal to all pure religion. God must be acknowledged first, for God alone is the preserver. Self-preservation is a conceit of human pride.
But there was a second lesson in spiritual values for men to learn, and these two shall abide together as long as men shall remain upon the earth. For, although nations and dispensations change, the spirit of a man and the sovereignty of God do not change. The second lesson was the meaning of possession, and it was this: Possession is the right to hold and to use material value, but it can never be identified with ownership; God alone is the owner. And this a man learned when he recognized that a definite and fixed proportion of his increase, as well as the firstfruits and firstlings, was likewise "holy unto the Lord."
For consider: The offering which I return to God must signify his ownership. The proportion or extent of the sacrifice to be laid upon the altar is, therefore, not of my own choosing—the ratio is fixed for me. Were I to determine this ratio for myself, the offering would signify personal authority over my possessions—shall not a man do what he will with his own! A worshiper might bring an offering unto God, even his choicest and best, yet still it would be "his" offering. "The corn and fruit came to me from the hand of God, and upon God I am therefore dependent; but, now that this property and wealth are in my hands, they belong to me"— this is the instinct of proprietorship, and, like the instinct of self-preservation, this too is manifest in all flesh beneath the sun. But the base and animal quality of it appears upon a moment's reflection. An offering from one's "own possessions" would signify dependence upon God, but the motive of that offering would signify fear and not fellowship. This is hard to believe of so beautiful an act as human worship, and yet the hard facts of human history cannot be evaded. Men have everywhere acknowledged their dependence upon God the preserver, and yet have sunk into the monstrous illusion that God must be appeased! This is the very heart of heathenism itself. Vishnu, the preserver, is known in a hundred forms in the polytheism of the nations. The Greeks knew him as Prometheus, the Titan friend of humanity; the Norsemen as Odin, the god of victory. But, though God may be acknowledged as the Preserver, his worship is not thereby exalted. He is the Mighty One who holds the fate of men in his hands. If he is angry, he must be appeased; if he is friendly, his wrath must not be awakened. The whole dreary worship of the Greeks was based upon the propitiation of angry or indifferent deities. Fear is the central motive in heathen sacrifice to-day. On the revival of Greek learning, this hideous and heathen conception actually entered into Christian teaching, and the mediaeval theology of the Christian Church centered in an angry God, propitiated by the death of Jesus Christ.
To acknowledge dependence upon God by offering in sacrifice a portion of "my" possessions, thus thrusting a proud human conceit into the very face of Deity, at once debases the whole meaning of religion. Nor is the irreverence relieved that I have offered "my best" and "my first." The firstfruits alone do not signify a perfect sacrifice. Recognition of dependence must be enlarged by the recognition of stewardship. When I follow a ratio determined for me I acknowledge that God is Sovereign Lord, and that I have no will, except to do his will. The quality of the offering is determined by myself, and signifies the spontaneous love and depth of my devotion, but the extent of the offering is determined by God, and signifies his unquestioned authority. Thus human freedom and divine sovereignty are symbolized in a perfect act of worship. At once the very conception of propitiation disappears, and the conception of stewardship takes its place. Fear is forgotten. Communion, fellowship, partnership now becomes the exalted motive of human worship.
No man can tell when these two conceptions, human freedom and divine sovereignty, were first taught upon the earth. In a sense these truths are intuitive; but that is only another way, a crude modern way, of saying, "They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." We have already seen that the offering of the firstfruits goes back to times immemorial. The first record of human worship is evident illustration that men were instructed from the beginning. If God is to be worshiped at all, He must be worshiped "first." If things are to express that worship, they must be first things. As to the proportion or extent of an offering which would be an acceptable acknowledgment of God's sovereignty (we do not touch here the broad subject of special sacrifices, thank offerings, etc.), there is no human way of determining what that proportion ought to be. Though, in the mind of God, there may be, and surely must be, an inherent reason for naming one ratio rather than another, yet, so far as men are concerned, any ratio that God might name would be perfect, whether a half or a quarter, a fifth or a fiftieth. In observing this ratio the worshiper signified that he had no choice of his own, that God was sovereign Lord, and man his loyal and trusted steward. There is no hint that any ratio was ever named, save one, a tenth. What mystic meanings may be attached to numbers, why the number ten should so constantly recur as the symbol of human completeness, and why the decimal system is a perfect instrument for scientific measurements, rooting back in an unseen spiritual law—these are fascinating themes, but we may not turn aside for their discussion. We are considering but one vital fact—the ratio of material offerings devoted to God as an acknowledgment of his sovereignty.
That the law of the "tenth" is as ancient as the law of the "firstfruits" cannot be proved. That these two were known and honored together in most ancient times is certain; that they developed side by side from the beginning is inherently probable. The setting apart of a tenth for religious offerings was recognized in very early centuries among the Egyptians and Assyrians. This is evident from the records found and deciphered by modern archaeologists. There is direct written record that this custom was well established among the Chaldeans. The history of one of the greatest of the Chaldeans, known afterward as the patriarch Abraham, indicates how deeply rooted this usage had become as early as the reign of Chedorlaomer, son of the Elamite conqueror, Kudur-Nakhunta. Chaldean scholars place his reign at about B. C. 2250. When, shortly after the great patriarch had forsaken his own land of Chaldea, there came to him a unique opportunity to acknowledge God as the victor over a Chaldean prince, and the preserver of the material possessions of his family, he knew what proportion should be set apart as a fit acknowledgment. He had no need to be instructed. The incident is related with such perfect directness it is evident that the proportion to be given was already recognized and expected. A tenth part was given to Melchizedek, "priest of the most high God" (Gen. 14. 18). Traces of this ancient law are found among the later nations. The same proportion, a tenth, was dedicated in the religious offerings of the Greeks. In Homer's verse the heroic offering for heroic men was the hecatomb, the "ten times ten." As might be expected, the same proportion was known and observed among the nations influenced by Greek thought, as the Arabians and the Romans.
But heathenism, at its best, is a dreary waste and ruin. One does not need to dwell long in the midst of pagan people to understand why God must separate from the nations a chosen race, that they might be instructed in righteousness, and hold fast "the oracles of God." The instinct of religion is as wide as humanity. In a heathen land one sees it in its naked strength and unmeasured pathos. Prayer is there, and worship, and mystic meditation, and, with these, the material offerings to the gods—milk and grain and flowers and bleeding victims. But unbridled human sin is there also, for in the heathen world religion and morality bear no relation to each other. And so it was among the ancient nations. Religion and worship were everywhere upon the earth. Altars smoked with sacrifices, temples and shrines were the centers of social life. Tradition kept alive some germ of truth, and custom preserved it in somewhat its original form. But, under the corrupting influence of idolatry, religion lost all power to stay the tides of human wickedness. Religion itself was blasphemed by becoming sponsor for evil.
One turns, therefore, to the religion of the Jews with a sense of hope and expectation. The very fact that Jesus Christ came from among the Jews, and often quotes the Jewish Scriptures, awakens a certain anticipation that the Jewish people must have had a higher conception of God and his worship than can be found among the other nations of antiquity. One expects that he will find among the Jews the same elements of religion that he finds in all the ethnic faiths—the sacrifice, the priest, the temple, ceremony, prayer, worship. But he expects also to find—what these do not reveal—pure conceptions of spiritual things and unblemished holiness. Nor is he disappointed. He finds the altar a type of cleansing, the temple a symbol of purest reverence, worship and prayer a fellowship with the unseen and spiritual God. He looks for the law of the "firstfruits" and finds it the center of the Jewish ceremonial. He looks for the law of the "tenth," and, as he would expect, finds it woven into the economic structure of the Jewish state. On every page he finds that the great lawgiver of Israel has fitted statute laws into the enduring truth. Long centuries after the Mosaic law should have passed away, it would still be quoted as a perfect illustration of unchanging principles. The student of spiritual things will be held and fascinated by the Hebrew Scriptures as long as he continues to believe in one holy and spiritual God. To him they will continue to speak with undiminished authority, for they are not centered in Jewish statutes; they rest in spiritual and eternal law.
What, then, in this modern world, shall a man render unto God? Spiritual worship has not vanished from the earth. What human acknowledgment will be suitable to the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity? God is still the sovereign owner of material things, and of the value proceeding from them. Man still possesses them, and uses them. How, then, shall his acknowledgment be rendered, and the fact of his stewardship recognized ? Two things are evidently true: The physical constitution of the world is unchanged since the beginning; the acknowledgment of human dependence and human stewardship must, therefore, continue to be made "in kind." Again mark the word acknowledgment. A thousand offerings may be given in a thousand ways, but only one acknowledgment. In the genial words of Emerson, "Farmers will give corn, poets will sing, women will sew, laborers will lend a hand, the children will bring flowers." Yet all this glad company of worshipers, when noontime comes, will be hungry. The poet's song will cease, laborers will drop their hands, withered flowers will fall from the fingers of crying children. It is the old, old fashion of human dust upon the earth. When men are hungry they know the last man is even as the first, and they know the human acknowledgment of God's sovereignty and man's dependence remains unchanged through all the years. The knowledge of it humbles us, even as the confession of it exalts us.
Nor will the modern worshiper be hindered because the ways of men are changed. Value is the essence of things, and value can be quickly and accurately measured. There is still a way to offer unto God, in literal observance, both corn and oil, and firstlings from the flock. The worshiper today, as in ancient days, desires to acknowledge both dependence and stewardship. The ancient worshiper learned that a fixed proportion of his increase was a suitable acknowledgment of the divine sovereignty, and he learned what ratio it was that God had named. When the modern worshiper remembers that, in all the world, no prophet, whether pagan, Jew, or Christian, has yet arisen to name a different ratio, but a tenth has been observed through all the centuries, he will not believe that some other proportion is wiser than that already named. He will observe it with honor and intelligence. He will understand the administration of stewardship in ways which the ancient worshiper could never know, but the acknowledgment of stewardship he will continue to render as men did in the beginning.