This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
When the average man speaks of the law of God, what does he mean? Perhaps it would be fairer to ask, "What ought he to mean ?" for there is no little confusion at this very point.
The Mohammedan, for instance, is the type of many people. Now, the Mohammedan is a verbalist. Show him the words and he asks for nothing more. The words are the law. If the words can be changed, the law can be changed. His mental training for centuries has been such that it is difficult for him to enter into the temple of the truth. He is forever climbing over a scaffolding of words outside the truth. It is for this reason that Mohammedans are the most difficult problem of modern missions. They believe uncompromisingly in one God, they accept Moses and the prophets, they honor Jesus Christ as the greatest —though not the last—of the prophets. With so many points of actual contact it would seem that Islam ought readily to accept the higher truth of Christianity. But it is not so. Literal and carnal interpretation of spiritual things separates the Mohammedan pole-wide from Christian conceptions. His only point of contact is words, and words divide men rather than unite them. Islam, indeed, among all the ethnic faiths, is the one vital foe of Christianity.
The Jewish lawyers in the days of Jesus were men whose intellectual training was almost identical with that of modern Mohammedans. They certainly magnified the law, and without doubt many of them were sincere. But how they vexed and harassed the soul of the Master! They were versed in the Scriptures, and could quote the statutes by roll and number, yet the law itself, the heart of it, was hidden from their eves.
Jesus Christ did not teach the words of the Book; he taught the core and heart of things which were hidden in the depths of the Book. That is why the people said he taught with authority, and not as the scribes, who were mere copyists. Hate in the heart is murder; a lewd look is adultery; love is the fulfilling of the law—teaching like this gets into the marrow of things. This is Christianity. It can never be of the letter; it is always of the spirit. Therefore when an intelligent Christian speaks of "the law of the Lord," he always means that hidden but vital element of truth which proceeds from the very nature of God himself. The form of God's law may be expressed in words, but not the living heart of it; for that there is no speech nor language; its voice cannot be heard.
A sure conclusion follows. When a Christian man finds in the Holy Scriptures a law of the Lord, expressed in words, he is to seek with knowledge and judgment to discern the wide meaning of that law. It is not an adventitious growth. It is not an accident. It is a due expression of the divine nature. There is depth to it. The outward form of it may change, but the core of it will remain.
Such, for instance, is the law of the Sabbath. To debate of specific days, as the seventh day of the week, or the first day, is to exhibit a pitiful ignorance of real Christian values. "One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike; let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind"—thus speaks the great apostle of Christian liberty. Is a man, therefore permitted to ignore the Sabbath of rest ? By no means. He is required the more to observe it with uncompromising honor, for, as a Christian, he has entered into the law of the Sabbath ; he recognizes its broad and spiritual sweep. He knows (though he may not know why) there is a Sabbath law deep hid in the divine nature, and he accepts it as "the law of the Lord." He partly discerns the working of that law in the world about him. He observes that men and animals, brain and muscle, come to their best development when, at intervals of seven days, they rest from their labors. The land recovers tone when it lies fallow for a sabbatic year. All life springs up refreshed after a season of quiet. To say that a seventh day of rest is merely "the law of nature" gets nowhere, for, even so, the Sabbath law is the law of the truth, that is, the law of the Lord. A Christian man will therefore honor the Sabbath, and permit other men to honor it, because he honors and adores the Lord of the Sabbath. He will not observe it with slavish fear, for he is not a slave; but he surely will not desecrate his liberty by the undiscerning exercise of it. As to the specific "seventh" which shall thus be set apart, what folly to quibble and debate! If the first day of the week, the resurrection day, seemed a fitting "seventh" for rest and worship, and was thus designated in the early Christian centuries, why should he insist upon, or even suggest, some other "seventh"? He could not select a better. If the President appoints the fourth Thursday in November for "thanksgiving," why should I and my family insist upon the third Thursday? My private and family thanksgiving may be sincere, but the quality of my discernment is strained to the breaking point. The Christian man must be free, but he is not required to be a freak.
Here, then, is the law of the tithe. Like the Sabbath, the tithe did not "happen"; it was appointed. Like the Sabbath, the tithe is not arbitrary ; nevertheless it is fixed. A seventh of days and a tenth of increase are alike "holy unto the Lord." In neither case is it possible to name the ratio to be set apart except by direct revelation. Why not, for instance, designate every tenth day as a day of rest, or every new moon ? Ten is easy of computation, and the lunar month is a natural division of days. The "week" is unknown in heathen lands. Why, then, should a seventh of days be named? There is absolutely no reason that appeals instinctively to a man's mind. It must be revealed. In the same way there is no reason, which appeals instinctively to a man's mind, why a tenth of increase should be set apart. It likewise must be revealed.
Now, when intelligent and reverent men recognize that certain numerical ratios have been named, such as the seventh and the tenth, they accept them, not because these ratios are written in the Book, but because, being written in the Book, they must therefore represent deep and actual values in the mind of God. Part of these values may be discerned by men, part remain hidden in the mystery of Deity. When, therefore, the tithe is named as one of the primal laws of God, the reference is not to designated words of Holy Scripture, but to the being and nature of God. The authority of God's law is not arbitrary, it is necessary; it is not statute law but fundamental law. It inheres in the truth itself. This is what some good people mean when they suggest that, for a Christian, the law of the tithe can be no other than the law of "loving expediency." To be sure, if by expediency one means a shift or a convenience, the suggestion drops from consideration by its own paltriness. But if expediency signifies (as in this connection it surely must) fitness or suitableness, then expediency is the very core of God's law of the tithe. To set apart a tenth in acknowledgment of God's ownership is fitting, it is suitable, as a Sabbath day of rest is fitting and suitable; it is God's way; that is, it is his law. To the intelligent Christian this is final. The Jew looked for a statute, but the Christian finds a law.
The law of the tithe is exceedingly simple. Like other primal laws of God, it is intended for universal observance. It is therefore direct, comprehensive, and complete. No law of the Creator has been hackled by the hands of friends and enemies as this same ancient and gentle law of God. Its fiercest foe is now, and always has been, legalism. God's law of the tithe makes its sole appeal to the hidden man of the heart. It was therefore peculiarly obnoxious that this law among the Jews came to be used for the display of legal righteousness. Under such misuse hypocrisy and cant were the infamous fruitage. In later centuries the Christian Church so far misconstrued the purpose of this gentle law that a tithe-tax was wrought into the civil code, first of France and then of England, for the legal support of the church. Men have been often imprisoned and their goods seized because they refused to pay tithe to the minister. Within the past eighty years, in unhappy Ireland, men have been actually shot to death by the police because they resisted the "tithe proctor" who came from the parish clergyman to serve tithe warrants against them!
It is therefore little wonder that patriotic Englishmen have striven vehemently that so galling a yoke as "the tithe" shall be wholly removed from the statutes of the realm. The thing is obnoxious both to personal liberty and spiritual religion. For the same reason it is entirely natural that the average man should receive somewhat charily the suggestion that he "owes a tenth to God." It is certainly right that he should resist most emphatically any attempt to bind him to legalistic "tithing." Such legalism in free and evangelical churches is only less obnoxious than a tithe-tax required by the civil law.
Nevertheless, God's law of the tithe means absolute and unalterable coercion! For what is coercion? Is it outward and physical compulsion? Does it mean some irritating and legal requirement? Sir Walter Scott required no other coercion than the knowledge of his debt to make him leave Abbotsford and "fair Melrose" and shut himself in dingy Edinburgh lodgings, working night and day, until the last pound was paid. "Mark Twain" endeared himself to the public whom he had long amused, when, bowed with years, he voluntarily assumed the crushing debt of a publishing house to whose enterprise he had given the prestige of his name. There is not an honorable business house between the oceans where a just obligation does not receive prompt and courteous acknowledgment. If, therefore, general business in our day can assume the average honor of the average man, it is a weariness and a scandal that legal sanctions and statute laws should be named in the churches. There is a coercion which is absolute and unalterable, but it needs no pressure from without. It is the coercion of honor. It is spiritual, and can be no other.
Let it not be suggested that we are railing against books, and tracts, and sermons, whose purpose is to study the biblical teaching of the "tithe." On the contrary, there is urgent demand for the scholarly and sane exposition of those ancient statutes. They are full of suggestions which Christian men cannot afford to overlook. But there is an essential law, more binding than code or statute. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib—shall not a man with the breath of his Creator in him, though there be neither book nor parchment, recognize that God owns the world? He does recognize it, and that is the whole of it; he needs correct information and frank dealing, that he may acknowledge it.
The Bible statutes should be known and understood, but it is a dull intuition that will put forward these statutes as the reason why a man should acknowledge the divine ownership. Such dullness breeds confusion. "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." If a man is lawless, that same enlightening word may become for him a sword of fire, but it always brings confusion, and often revolt, when undiscerning zeal flashes that sword in front of honest eyes. Tithing is often taught as a commandment of the law, enforcing the will, whereas it is a commandment of the Lord, enlightening the eyes; it makes clear and plain what intuition has already apprehended. If a Christian man is informed that he ought to set apart a tenth of his income because it is thus written in the Scriptures, at such a chapter and such a verse, it is like a grocer sending in a statement of account accompanied by a marked copy of the penal code. Average Americans pay their bills without aid from the sheriff!
But did not the prophet flash the sword of the law before an entire nation ? Did he not scourge them with the question, "Will a man rob God?" (Mal. 3. 8.) Surely, this is the truth. But to whom were such biting words addressed? Manifestly, to men who knew the law, and who were wickedly evading it while they pretended to observe it. The prophet was speaking to "tithers," for it was tenth-givers who were polluting the altar of God. They were bringing to it—a tithe? To be sure, for the Jews never forgot this law of Jehovah; but what sort of a tithe? Blind, lame, and sick animals, polluted bread, meager and shrunken sacrifices—and these for the King of the whole earth! "Offer it now unto thy governor," were the iron words of the prophet; "will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?" And yet these punctilious tithers of ancient days were offering to God what they would not dare bring to the door of a petty magistrate. Such words as Malachi spoke to the Jews endure to this day for all men, who, knowing God's law, evade it.
But there must be knowledge before there can be guilt, or the administering of just rebuke. Men are becoming more intelligent in their attitude toward property and income. The law of the tenth is more widely understood than ever before. Nevertheless, the great majority of Christian men to-day do not seem seriously to have comprehended this unchanging law of God: The tithe is the Lord's. They are certainly culpable for continued ignorance, but they cannot be justly accused of unfaith.
While holding him in most lenient judgment, the average man must nevertheless stand condemned before the bar of his own honor. He has been permitted to handle and control the vast values of the material world. He knows that God is the owner and upholder of all that passes through his hands, that it is God who "giveth him power to get wealth." His intuitions have told him that ownership must be acknowledged. Clearly he has been negligent to the point of dishonor. Here he is, in actual possession of property, income, wages, money, controlling life-values which he did not independently create and cannot independently own. He has been using and enjoying these values year after year, and yet he has made no worthy effort during all that period to discover what acknowledgment the Lord God expects from him. He is not reproached because he has not "paid"; but his own self-reproach must be bitter indeed when he realizes that he has not cared enough to learn the terms of the trust which committed to him values that belonged to Another.
Is there, then, any authentic revelation? If so, can the average man understand it? Will it tell him plainly what a man of honor desires to know and acknowledge—his financial obligations? It is not needful here that we shall enter upon a critical research. Scholars have performed that task for us; their conclusion, based upon biblical and extra-biblical history, is voluminous and absolute. There is no least suggestion of maintaining the authority of Jewish statutes. Our allegiance is to a law that reaches back into the meaning of worship itself, and is lost in the mystery of Deity. It is this: Men who worship God shall set apart each year, of all new value that passes through their hands, a tenth; it is the ratio named by God himself as a man's acknowledgment of the divine sovereignty. There is no record and there is no suggestion that this primal law was ever abrogated.