The Blessings of an Honest Tithe
February 1982

“The Blessings of an Honest Tithe,” New Era, Jan.–Feb. 1982, 45

The Blessings of an Honest Tithe

Several years ago while the president of one of our missions in Mexico was sitting in a barber chair, the barber began to talk to him about his finances. He asked the mission president for his advice. The barber was having difficulty paying his bills with his small income. The mission president said, “Well, I can tell you what I’d tell members of my church, and what I do tell them when they ask me this question—I tell them the first thing to do is to pay their tithing.”

“What’s tithing?” said the barber. After listening to the mission president’s explanation, he exploded, “Well, that’s just great, isn’t it! I come to you with a question as to how I can pay my bills with the little I make, and you come up with a fancy idea of how I can spend the first 10 percent of it!”

A Divine Obligation and a Blessing

Well, we can understand the reaction of the barber all right, but if he had understood and had had faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he would have recognized the wisdom in the mission president’s counsel. He would have known that in paying tithing he would be complying with a divine law, upon compliance with which great blessings are predicated. He would have known that in paying tithing he would have been discharging an obligation which his maker, the Lord, has put upon every one of his children. This obligation and how it arose was well explained by the Lord himself, as follows, in section 104 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which he gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith just four years after the Church was organized:

“It is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures” (D&C 104:13).

For, said he: “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.

“And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

“But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

“For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare.” (D&C 104:14–17.)

If we believed that, we would not be so concerned about the world being overpopulated.

“For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

“Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (D&C 104:17–18.)

When I first began to get the real meaning of that statement, I began to pay a little more tithing. At the time the Lord gave this revelation, the Saints were under command to impart of their substance for the poor and needy—not a tenth, but according to the law of the united order. This they failed to do, and as a consequence, they went through the Jackson County, Missouri, persecutions.

The Law of Tithing

In 1838, four years later, the Lord gave the law of tithing. By this time, the Lord having previously withdrawn the requirement that the Saints live the united order, the Church was in grave financial difficulty because it did not have a revenue law. It was under these circumstances that an answer was given to the supplication of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “O Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requireth of the properties of thy people for a tithing” (Head note to section 119). The Lord answered:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

“For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

“And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

“And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.” (D&C 119:1–4.)

A Legal Obligation to the Lord

From this scripture it is apparent that tithing is a debt which everyone owes to the Lord for his use of the things that the Lord has made and given to him to use. It is a debt just as literally as the grocery bill, or a light bill, or any other duly incurred obligation. As a matter of fact, the Lord, to whom one owes tithing, is in a position of a preferred creditor. If there is not enough to pay all creditors, he should be paid first. Now I am sure you will have a little shock at that, but that is the truth. Other creditors of tithe-payers, however, have no cause to worry, for the Lord always blesses the person who has faith enough to pay his tithing so that his ability to pay his other creditors is not thereby reduced.

As an acknowledgment and in return for his bounty, the Lord requires us to return to him as tithing 10 percent of our interest annually. In the law of the gospel, tithing is, then, as has already been said, a legal obligation. It is not a mere freewill offering. And although the Lord does not enforce it as we enforce debts in our society by foreclosing the mortgage or turning off the water or the lights, a penalty for nonpayment is always exacted.

As stated in the revelation, the Lord has prepared all earthly blessings for his children; he has given them the law of tithing, and he has made known the great rewards incident to its payment, and still he gave men their agency. In the exercise of that agency, men themselves decide whether to pay or not to pay tithing—this is their option. But there is an option they do not have and that is to receive the promised blessings for tithing and also to refuse to pay tithing. If they do not pay tithing, they are not entitled to these blessings and they will never receive them.

Is Tithing Worthwhile?

In light of these fundamental principles, what do you think about the payment of tithing? Do you think it is worthwhile? Well, I think it is on several counts. To begin with, I consider it a sound financial investment. For to those who will pay their tithing, the Lord has said that he will “open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord. …

“And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:10–12.)

A Sound Financial Investment

That this promise of a material reward has universal application is evidenced by the fact that it was repeated by the resurrected Savior himself to the Nephites, and by the further fact that he instructed the Nephites to write it in their records so that it might come to us in the Book of Mormon, and we have it there (see 3 Ne. 24:8–11).

Furthermore, when Moroni visited the Prophet Joseph Smith on the evening of September 21, 1823, he quoted to him part of the third chapter in Malachi, in which chapter this promise is made. In harmony with this scripture, I heard President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., a modern prophet, say over and over again that the Lord would never let one of his Saints who had been faithful in the payment of tithes and offerings go without the necessities of life.

That the Lord faithfully fulfills his promise in this respect is witnessed by all people who obey the law.

Worthwhile Fire Insurance

Now, second, the payment of tithing is worthwhile as fire insurance. Through his prophets the Lord has told us that incident to his second coming, which we are now anticipating, there will be a great conflagration. Malachi thus refers to it in connection with his pronouncement about tithes and offerings. He said:

“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” (Mal. 4:1–2.)

This prophecy was quoted by Jesus to the Nephites (see 3 Ne. 25:1–2) and, with slight variation, by Moroni to Joseph Smith. In September 1831 the Lord in a revelation made this further reference to the burning which will accompany his second coming:

“Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.

“For after today cometh the burning … for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.

“Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today.” (D&C 64:23–25.)

That is, if you believe this, you will pay your tithing.

Names Not on the Records

About 14 1/2 months after this revelation was given from which I have just read, the Lord gave this additional warning:

“It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to his law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God” (D&C 85:3).

How would you like to have your name stricken off the records? Well, the Lord is talking about that.

“Neither is their genealogy to be kept, or to be had where it may be found on any of the records or history of the church.

“Their names shall not be found, neither the names of the fathers, nor the names of the children written in the book of the law of God, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (D&C 85:4–5.)

Consequences of Failure to Obey

Now I am, of course, aware that these quotations from sections 64 and 85 of the Doctrine and Covenants refer to the tithe prescribed in the law of consecration. However, failure to obey the law of the tithe by which we are now bound is fraught with like consequences. This is evident from the fact that the Lord said, with respect to the law which is binding upon us today:

“Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.

“And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, … behold, … it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.

“And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion.” (D&C 119:5–7.)

It is because the Saints in Jackson County were not able to live the law by which they were to be tithed that the Lord permitted them to be expelled. When the Prophet inquired as to why Zion’s Camp could not restore the Saints to their possessions, he was answered by the Lord in this language:

“Were it not for the transgressions of my people, … they might have been redeemed even now.

“But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil [and then he specifies some evils], and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

“And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

“And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” (D&C 105:2–5.)

And then he added, “And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer” (D&C 104:6).

Obedience to Celestial Law

Tithing is a part of the celestial law referred to in this revelation. Obedience to it is a prerequisite to being quickened in the resurrection by the fulness of the celestial glory. Without such fulness, one coming into the presence of the Lord would be consumed, for God dwells in “eternal burnings.”

So you see, my young brethren and sisters, tithing is, in a very real sense, a form of fire insurance—insurance against burning, both in this life and in the life to come.

Prerequisite to Higher Ordinances

A third reason for paying tithing is because doing so helps to qualify one to receive the higher ordinances of the priesthood. Just over three months after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph, in an epistle of the Twelve to the Church written by President Brigham Young, he said:

“Yes, brethren, we verily know and bear testimony, that a cloud of blessing and of endowment, and of the keys of the fulness of the priesthood, and of things pertaining to eternal life, is hanging over us, and ready to burst upon us; or upon as many as live worthy of it, so soon as there is a place found on earth to receive it. [At this time they were building the Nauvoo Temple in which they were looking forward to obtaining their endowments.] Therefore [President Young continued], let … no man or set of men … draw your minds away from this all important work. But enter steadily and regularly upon a strict observance of the law of tithing, and of freewill offerings [you see, he distinguishes between this tithing and freewill offerings—tithing is a law], till Jehovah shall say it is enough; your offerings are accepted: then come up to the House of the Lord, and be taught in his ways, and walk in his paths.” (History of the Church, 7:281–2; hereafter referred to as HC.)

Seven days later in a conference, President John Taylor, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said:

“One of the clerks had asked whether any should be baptized [for the dead] who had not paid their tithing; [and his answer was] it is our duty to pay our tithing, one-tenth of all we possess, and then one-tenth of the increase, and a man who has not paid his tithing is unfit to be baptized for his dead … It is our duty to pay our tithing. If a man has not faith enough to attend to these little things, he has not faith enough to save himself and his friends.” (HC 7:292–3.)

At that time, and ever since, the payment of tithing has been one of the evidences that a person is worthy of temple endowments. And well it might be, for as President Stephen L Richards once said, speaking of tithing:

“I feel certain that it is not only the test, the acid test, of true loyalty and devotion, but that it is likewise the greatest of the developers of true spiritual allegiance. It has been said that you can tell what a man thinks of a cause by the way he puts his money into it. Talk is cheap. It has never caused any particular wear and tear upon the jaw, and they say that the tongue is the only organ of the body that never gives out, so that all our protestations by word of mouth are easily given, but when a man puts his hand down in his pocket and takes out the hard-earned money that comes from his labor, and devotes that to the establishment of a cause, you know without further evidence that he is sincere.” (BYU Leadership Week, 1939.)

The Lord’s Revenue System

Although, as Dr. Talmage has said:

“Tithing is the Lord’s revenue system [which might be cited as a fourth reason for paying it], and He requires it of the people, not because He is lacking in gold or silver, but because they [we] need to pay it.

“… the prime or great purpose behind the establishment of the law of the tithe is the development of the soul of the tithe-payer, rather than the providing of revenue. The latter is an all-important purpose, for so far as money is needed for the carrying on of the work of the Church the Lord requires money that is sanctified by the faith of the giver; but blessings beyond estimate, as gaged by the coin of the realm, are assured unto him who strictly conforms to the law of the tithe because the Lord has so commanded.” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 12th ed., Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1924, pp. 526, 528–9.)

As is true with respect to all of God’s commandments, the payment of tithing brings a peace and happiness unknown to the defaulter.

Pay an Honest Tithing

My plea this day to all members of the Church is: Pay an honest tithing and be blessed, and don’t quibble over the amount you should pay. In the words attributed to President Young, “We do not ask anybody to pay tithing unless they are disposed to do so, but if you pretend to pay tithing, pay it like honest men” (Journal of Discourses, 8:202).

President Brigham Young

Evidently Brother Brigham had heard a lot of quibbling, for he said in the October conference in 1844:

“There has been so much inquiry it becomes irksome: the law is for a man to pay one-tenth of all he possesses for the erecting of the House of God, the spread of the gospel, and the support of the priesthood. When a man comes into the church he wants to know if he must reckon his clothing, bad debts, lands, etc. It is the law to give one-tenth of what he has got, and then one-tenth of his increase or one-tenth of his time.” (HC, 7:301.)

Three months later he said, in a letter from the Twelve to the Church, “It is the duty of all saints to tithe themselves one-tenth of all they possess when they enter into the new and everlasting covenant; and then one-tenth of their interest, or income, yearly afterwards” (HC 7:358).

So before you quibble about how much tithing you owe, think about this statement of President Grant’s:

“I have found a great many people who do not know what their tithing is. I have never met people of that kind but what I believe if I were in partnership with them and they had a tenth interest in that partnership, they would know pretty well what that tenth was. I do not think they would have any difficulty whatever in finding how much I owed them. So I am inclined to think that if we wanted to, we would have no difficulty in finding out what is one-tenth of our income, and that is what we owe to the Lord.” (Improvement Era, Jan. 1941.)

Now I am thoroughly persuaded that we could all profit by developing within ourselves the spirit which President Grant always evidenced toward this divine law of tithing. For a glimpse of that spirit, I call attention to the remarks he made in the 1899 October conference.

In that conference, President Snow, after telling of the increase of tithing paid by the Saints in 1899 over what they had paid in 1898, continued:

“God bless the Latter-day Saints. I want to have this principle so fixed [he was referring to the principle of tithing] upon our hearts that we shall never forget it. As I have said more than once, I know that the Lord will forgive the Latter-day Saints for their past negligence in paying tithing, if they will now repent and pay a conscientious tithing from this time on.”

President Grant at that time was a young apostle, and in his conference talk he said:

“I wish to bear my testimony to the Latter-day Saints that all of us who will obey the commandments of God will be prospered in the land. Sacrifice doth bring forth the blessings of heaven. I bear my testimony to the truth of what Brother Lund has said today, that if the people will pay their tithes and offerings, they will not only be blessed in their material affairs, but they will be abundantly blessed with increased outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord. …

“I bear witness to you, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, that material and spiritual prosperity is predicated upon the fulfillment of the duties and responsibilities that rest upon us as Latter-day Saints. [Then this.] I have rejoiced exceedingly that the debts which the people owe to the Lord in tithing have been forgiven by the Prophet of God. But I want to say to those who are able to pay those debts, it will be a great deal better for them if they will do so, notwithstanding, they have been forgiven.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1899; italics added.)

Great courage that man had and a great spirit!

Truth in the Lord’s Promises

Now I bear you my testimony, brothers and sisters, that I know this matter of tithing is a true principle and that blessings come from it. My parents taught me to pay tithing, and in the words of Enos I say, to their honor, “Blessed be the name of my God for it” (Enos 1:1).

We were refugees from Mexico. During the years that followed, father had a difficult time getting enough food to feed his family. I remember about two years after we came out of Mexico (that would be about 1914), father got a job in Oakley, Idaho, teaching in the Cassia Academy for $80 a month.

When father and his brother came out of Mexico, they both had large families. Knowing that they would have a difficult time to make a living (they brought nothing out of Mexico except what they could bring in one trunk), they joined together and pooled their earnings. After a short stay in El Paso, Texas, they went together to Los Angeles, California, where they worked as carpenters. Later they moved to Oakley, Idaho, where they could raise their families in a Latter-day Saint environment. When one of them was out of work, they divided the income of the other and thus eked out an existence for both families. My uncle got out of work one winter in Idaho. That left them the $80 that my father received for teaching with which to support about 17 people. They had to pay rent, they had to buy everything they ate, and they had to buy fuel, except that I went out on the side hill and dug the sagebrush from under the snow for fuel. I kept warm digging and mother kept warm poking it into the stove. The rest of them nearly froze.

The question came up in the family council—did father pay tithing on that $80? If he didn’t, he would have $40 a month to care for the family; if he did, it would be cut down by $4 and he would have $36 a month. I remember that council, and I remember that they decided that they would pay their tithing, and I remember that they sent me with the tithing to the bishop. It was cold, and I didn’t have warm clothes, and I wondered what really had gone wrong with father. I learned from that—the training of my parents—that there is truth in the Lord’s promises.

A Personal Experience

I know that you have a great feeling if you live that law. As I say, I give the credit to my parents. I remember after we were married—my wife and I—that I was working my way through school and I was working at the post office eight hours a day and carrying a full course of law. We had lost a baby, and we had a large hospital bill. I decided to quit the post office and start the practice of law. I quit in September and failed to pay tithing in September because I had built up a retirement benefit with the government that was to be paid to me in November, with which I felt I could pay my tithing. But it didn’t come in November and it didn’t come in December. I had to report that year to my bishop that I had not paid a full tithe. But I did not feel good about it, so I kept a record and paid it in installments at 8 percent interest until I had paid the deficit in full. I had a good feeling after I got it paid. I knew the Lord had understood and accepted my performance.

I tell you now that I know from my own experience, and I bear you my witness as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ—a special witness which I am happy to bear to all the world under any circumstance—that there is a peace and a comfort and an assurance which comes to one who will pay an honest tithing, a liberal tithing. If you ever come to a time when you don’t know how much you owe, pay a little more. It is better to pay too much than too little.

Photo by Eldon Linschoten