An economic crisis swept across much of the United States in 1893, leaving hundreds of banks, railroads, mines, and other businesses in financial ruin. That crisis, called the Panic of 1893, caught Elder Heber J. Grant and many others by surprise. It saddled Elder Grant, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with debts that took him years to repay. In an address he gave during that time he said: “I want to confess to you that I and many others have done wrong. Why? Because we have been so very anxious to make a dollar that we have run in debt, and now we cannot promptly pay our honest debts. … For the first time in my life I have had people come to me and ask me to pay money that I owed them, and I have had to ask for an extension of time. If the Lord will only forgive me this once I will never be caught again. I have been a borrower of money since I was eighteen; but if I can only get paid off what I owe now, I shall be content, I believe, with the blessings of the Lord, whatever they may be, be it much or little.”1
As President of the Church, Heber J. Grant counseled the Saints on matters of financial security, drawing on his own experiences and following the example of his predecessor, President Joseph F. Smith. President Grant focused on two basic principles: the peace that comes when we avoid debt and the temporal and spiritual blessings we receive when we pay tithes and offerings. In April 1932 he taught these principles at a general Relief Society conference. At that time the United States had sunk into the despair of the Great Depression, a widespread crisis of low economic activity and high unemployment. President Grant reproved the Saints for not heeding the counsel they had received from President Smith:
“If the people known as Latter-day Saints had listened to the advice given from this stand by my predecessor, under the inspiration of the Lord, calling and urging upon the Latter-day Saints not to run in debt, this great depression would have hurt the Latter-day Saints very, very little. … To my mind, the main reason for the depression in the United States as a whole, is the bondage of debt and the spirit of speculation among the people.”
Continuing with his address, President Grant emphasized the need to avoid debt. He also urged his listeners to pay tithes and offerings, even in times of financial difficulty. He referred to a time many years earlier when he went into debt to buy stock in the Salt Lake Theatre, hoping to save the building from being torn down:
“I want all the people within the sound of my voice to benefit by my experience in buying theatre stock. [For] 32 years of my life, … every dollar I made was lost before I made it. It is a great burden, figuratively speaking, to have a dead horse, and to have to carry the horse for 32 years before you can put it under the ground. It is a terrible condition, and all on account of debt. Since that time I have always lived within my means. …
“… If there is any man living who is entitled to say, ‘Keep out of debt,’ his name is Heber J. Grant. Thank the Lord that I was able to pay [all my debt], and pay it all without asking a dollar discount from anyone. I do not believe I ever would have paid it if I had not been absolutely honest with the Lord. When I made any money, the first debt I paid was to the Lord, and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if the Latter-day Saints as a people, had taken the advice of the Prophet of the Lord, and had been efficient tithe payers they would not be in the condition they are in today. If they were honest and conscientious in the payment of [fast offerings] we could take care of every person in distressed circumstances in this Church.”2
President Grant lived the principles he taught, and eventually he was successful in both personal and Church-related financial matters. Still, he was always careful to observe that true success is not found in the ability to make money. He said: “Not he who merely succeeds in making a fortune, and in so doing blunts the natural affections of the heart, and chases therefrom the love of his fellows, can be said to be truly successful: but he who so lives that those who know him best shall love him most; and that God, who knows not only his deeds, but also the inmost sentiments of his heart, shall love him: of such an one only—notwithstanding he may die in poverty—can it be said indeed and of a truth, ‘he should be crowned with the wreath of success.’”3
If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet.4
Let me warn the Latter-day Saints to buy automobiles and to buy the ordinary necessities of life when they have the money to buy them, and not to mortgage their future. … I want to say to you that those who discount their future, who run into debt for the ordinary necessities of life and for the luxuries of life, are laying burdens upon themselves that will come back with compound interest to cause them great trouble and humiliation.5
If a person owned what he had and did not have to pay interest, and only bought as he had the money to buy, the majority of people would be in reasonably comfortable circumstances. … We have mortgaged our future without taking into account the incidents that may happen—sickness, operations, etc.6
We cannot tell all that is coming in the future. But there is one thing that we can tell, and that is if we have the money in our hands to buy a radio, automobile, or anything else, and we buy it, no matter how much it comes down in value it is ours.7
I believe that nearly all of the hardships of a majority of the people would disappear if they were willing to forego the habit of wearing silk stockings, so to speak, and get back to the ordinary manner of dressing in a rather quiet, unassuming way; stay away from about nine-tenths of the picture shows that they attend; return to the ways of thrift and economy.8
I want to repeat to the Latter-day Saints my firm belief that God our heavenly Father prospers and blesses and gives wisdom to those men and to those women who are strictly honest with him in the payment of their tithing. I believe that when a man is in financial difficulty, the best way to get out of that difficulty (and I speak from personal experience, because I believe that more than once in my life I have been in the financial mud as deep as almost anybody) is to be absolutely honest with the Lord, and never to allow a dollar to come into our hands without the Lord receiving ten per cent of it.
The Lord does not need your money or mine. Compliance with the law of tithing and donations for ward meetinghouses, stake houses, academies, temples, missionary work and these various needs, are all for our good. They are but lessons that we are learning which will qualify and prepare us to become more godlike and to be fitted to go back into the presence of our heavenly Father. The very lessons of a financial nature that are given us are the same as lessons that are given in a school to a boy or a girl; they are for the benefit of the boy; they are for the benefit of the girl, for their advancement, for their joy and happiness in after life; because of all the knowledge and information we acquire, and in the improvement that we make, we ourselves are the ones who are benefited.
God our heavenly Father has instituted laws to improve his people physically, spiritually, intellectually, and one of the best laws in all the world to make better Latter-day Saints is the law of tithing. There are many people who believe the gospel and would probably embrace it, but for the fact that they are like that young man of whom we read in the Scripture, when the Savior told him, after the young man declared that “all these things have I done,” to sell what he had and give to the poor [see Matthew 19:16–22]. Many people cannot endure the gospel because of financial requirements that are made of them, and they allow the things of this world, which they have grasped firmly and steadfastly, to rob them of the greatest of all God’s gifts, namely, life eternal. I commend the law of tithing to the Latter-day Saints.9
The law of financial prosperity to the Latter-day Saints, under covenant with God, is to be an honest tithe payer, and not to rob the Lord in tithes and offerings [see Malachi 3:8]. Prosperity comes to those who observe the law of tithing. When I say prosperity I am not thinking of it in terms of dollars and cents alone. … But what I count as real prosperity, as the one thing of all others that is of great value to every man and woman living, is the growth in a knowledge of God, and in a testimony, and in the power to live the gospel and to inspire our families to do the same. That is prosperity of the truest kind.10
I am a firm believer that faith without works is dead, and I am a firm believer that the Lord meant what He said when He promised to open the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing on us if we would pay our tithing [see Malachi 3:10].11
I believe that people are blessed in proportion to their liberality. I am not saying that they always make more dollars, perhaps, than the other man. But so far as an increase in the faith and in the testimony and the knowledge of the divinity of the work in which we are engaged, men that are honest with the Lord in the payment of their tithing grow as men never grow that are not honest. There is no question in my mind. Moreover, I am just foolish enough to believe that the Lord magnifies those who do pay their tithing and that they are more prosperous, on the average, than the men who do not. I believe that to those who are liberal [with their donations] the Lord gives ideas, and they grow in capacity and ability more rapidly than those that are stingy. I have that faith, and I have had it from the time I was a boy.12
If we give in proportion to our means, if we pay our tithing, no matter how small the income, … God our Heavenly Father will magnify the remaining nine dollars out of ten, or the remaining forty-five cents out of every fifty and you will have sufficient wisdom to utilize it to advantage so that you will lose nothing in being honest.13
The great criterion of success in the world is that men can make money. But I want to say to you Latter-day Saints that to do this is not true success. As a man grows and increases in the things of this world, if he is not careful, he will lose the Spirit of the Lord, and he will set his heart upon the things of this world. And if he loses the Spirit of the Lord, and fails to be honest with God in the payment of his tithes as strictly and honestly as he would account to a partner if he were engaged in business, that man will lessen his strength, will lessen his power, will lessen the testimony of the Spirit of God within his soul. There is no question of it in my mind.
We must be honest with the Lord. The great trouble is that there are many people who, as they grow and increase in the things of this world, set their hearts upon them and lose the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, that which is counted by the world as success is failure; because if a man starts out for a prize and he fails to secure it after laboring nearly a lifetime for that prize, certainly his life has been a failure. I know many individuals who, when they made small sums of money, were absolutely honest with the Lord, and paid one-tenth of it. But when they made large sums of money they paid all the way from one percent, instead of ten, up to two or three percent. What is the matter? Why, the appetite for money grows upon a man, increases and strengthens unless he is careful, just as much as the appetite for whiskey. It gets possession of him, and he loves the money instead of loving it only for the good that he can do with it. He does not estimate properly the value of things.14
Tithing is a law of God and the payment of tithes brings peace and joy to the Latter-day Saint who does it. There is a satisfaction that comes into the heart of the man who is absolutely honest with the Lord, in contributing of his means to the building up of the Church of Christ, and into the heart of every true, full tithe payer. Each and every blessing that you and I enjoy comes from God. We are under obligations to Him for the very breath of life, and He gives us everything that we have. He asks us to show our appreciation and acknowledge to Him His goodness, by returning to the Church for its benefit and for the spreading of the gospel at home and abroad, one-tenth of that which we receive, all of which comes from Him.
Again I say it is beyond my comprehension how any man who is absolutely honest in his dealings with his fellow men and would not think of such a thing as compromising his store bill if he were able to pay, would compromise his obligations with God. …
I appeal to the Latter-day Saints to be honest with the Lord and I promise them that peace, prosperity, and financial success will attend those who are honest with our Heavenly Father, because they are fulfilling the law and an obligation. He will bless them for doing so. And being strictly honest with the Lord is the most splendid way to teach your children faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. … When we set our hearts upon the things of this world and fail to be strictly honest with the Lord, we do not grow in the light and power and strength of the gospel as we otherwise would do.15
Another thing that we want to learn as Latter-day Saints—and I have gone to work to learn it—is to … confine ourselves to the necessities of life, and not to indulge in extravagant habits. If we have a surplus, use it as God desires that we should use it—for the onward advancement of His Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel. …
So far as our property is concerned it is of no actual value to us, only as we are ready and willing to use it for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It is our duty to provide for our families; but it is not our duty to live in extravagance. It is not our duty to labor to gain wealth for the adornment of our persons. …
Whenever we learn to be willing to use the means that God gives us for the onward advancement of His Kingdom, Latter-day Saints will not have any particular financial trouble; the Lord will bless them with an abundance. What we need to do is to seek for the light and inspiration of His Spirit to guide us at all times, and He will add all other things to us that are necessary.17
The Lord loves a generous giver. No man living upon the earth can pay donations for the poor, can pay for building meetinghouses and temples, … can take of his means and send his boys and girls to proclaim this gospel, without removing selfishness from his soul, no matter how selfish he was when he started in. That is one of the finest things in all the world for men—to get to that point where the selfishness in their natures is cured. When it is eradicated from their dispositions, they are glad and anxious and willing and seeking the opportunity to do good with the means that the Lord places in their hands, instead of trying to get more of it.18
Dollars and cents are not blessings from God. Only so far as we are blessed with intelligence, with wisdom, and with the Spirit of God to use them in a wise and proper manner, and to advance God’s kingdom on the earth are they such. If we are blessed with an abundance of this world’s goods and it shall blind our eyes … then instead of being a blessing from God it [comes] from the opposite direction.19
The natural disposition of man, as I have often remarked, is to be selfish, sordid, and grasping; to think of self, and self alone, and figure for personal advancement. But all the teachings of the Gospel are the exact opposite of this. We find that the requirements that are made of us to pay tithes and fast-day donations … and to contribute of our means to send the Gospel to the nations of the earth—these requirements chase out of the heart of man every selfish and sordid disposition. Instead of being selfish, the faithful Latter-day Saint is filled with the love of the Gospel, filled with a desire to contribute of time and means for the onward advancement of the kingdom of God. The Gospel, if we are faithful to the requirements that are made of us of a financial nature, takes the selfish, sordid man, and makes of him a generous, noble, free-hearted individual. … The Gospel fills us with a desire to leave the things of the world, if need be, to go to the uttermost ends of the earth, without one dollar of reward, for the benefit and salvation of our fellow men.20
In what ways is debt a bondage? What blessings can we receive when we live within our means? What practices can help us get out of debt or avoid getting into debt?
In what ways are we blessed both financially and spiritually when we obey the law of tithing? How can parents teach their children the principles of tithes and offerings?
Why is it important to be honest with the Lord as well as with our fellowmen? In what ways is it a blessing for children to have parents who are strictly honest with the Lord?
Why can worldly success lead us to lose the Spirit of the Lord? What can we do to keep financial success in proper perspective?
What responsibilities do we have when God gives us material blessings? What attitudes might prevent us from fulfilling these responsibilities?
What does money, if put in proper perspective, empower us to do?