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PROBLEMS OF THE AGE
Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.
By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner
IV. – The Spirit of Destruction
Toil.– The gospel teaches that wealth should be held in stewardship for the benefit of God’s children. It is perhaps one of the most difficult duties man has to perform when he undertakes to overcome his selfishness, when in the possession of the material gains of life. There is a real and quite universal disposition to make ourselves secure against want, to provide for the future, and lastly to feel ourselves removed from the necessity of anxiety and work. From the days of Adam man in general has been put under the pressure of toil. To earn his bread by the sweat of his brow was the fiat that went forth to man from the garden of Eden. To make the conquests in life more toilsome the earth was cursed by weeds and pests that never left him secure in the knowledge that he would always reap the harvest he had planned. He needed hope and faith. He was not to be left in a state of self-satisfaction.
The earth had to be redeemed, not only in the end, but continually, by the labor and faith of her children. Redemption is not merely a final act. It is a continuous struggle for conquest and restoration. We are made redeemers by the life-long effort to conquer day by day the difficulties that beset us. It is a delusion that men suffer from when they imagine they may be redeemed by some act of contrition and repentance in the final stages of their existence. We have a mission to conquer not alone the soil and animal life but the forces of nature which abound in wealth for the happiness and blessing of mankind. The wealth of these conquests surpasses the fondest hopes of a selfish imagination. Man has found a means of amassing fortunes through the revelations of science and invention. These fortunes have become prodigious, but along with them increased poverty and suffering. In our day, and for a number of years past, we have been compelled to witness the feeding of school children at public expense because their bodies were not sufficiently nourished to support the grain. Charitable institutions have multiplied greatly since the wealth of modern discovery has been poured in upon the human family. Luxury and waste have gone hand in hand with the increase of means provided by a benevolent Providence for the comfort of his children.
Luxury.– A few years ago men saw the accumulation of capital in such enormous quantities that they were sure money would go begging and interest whose burden rested heavily upon them would be lowered to a minimum. But luxury has always kept pace with production. The automobile came into vogue and capital was swallowed in a new pleasure. Usury was a curse upon the people of God in olden times, and through all the ages since it has lain heavily upon the world at large. The sinful conditions of waste were potent causes in the destruction of nations in the past. One of the most conspicuous nations of the world was ancient Rome, whose citizens vied with each other in the extravagances they were able to display. The sad story of the fall of ancient Rome contains the evidences of debauchery which waste brought upon her people. Waste is a grievous sin, destructive alike to nations and individuals. Men cannot violate the law of stewardship without bringing upon themselves the penalty of heaven. A wealthy man lived, in one of the parables of the Savior, who had filled his barn, secured himself against privation, and so could “eat, drink, and be merry.” Such a man Christ characterized as a fool. “This night thy soul shall be required of thee,” and all men die when they escape responsibility to their fellow men and to God. Job was a perfect man and a wealthy man, but he was a just steward. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” He lived to praise God and was filled with gratitude, a quality of heart that every rich man should possess.
Has the world amassed wealth in the spirit of stewardship? If for selfish purposes men possess the earth, and waste the products of the labor of man, they prepare themselves for a spiritual death which means calamity to the human race. We may possess but we may not waste. Waste means luxury, idleness, and sin. It is a plague let loose upon mankind. All the world dominion wars which have destroyed nations have been the leveling processes by which God punished the waste, extravagances and injustices of his children. There is no more dangerous symptom in the diagnosis of national and individual life than the spirit of waste, the mother of extravagance and sin.
Nor is waste a sin only amongst the rich; it is a habit alike of the poor whose ambitions are to ape the rich. Extravagance lays waste not only the material substance of man, but it destroys his physical, spiritual, and intellectual well-being. The moral waste becomes an irreparable loss to the world. It invites strife, contention, and war. Behold the holocaust of war, and ponder the destruction it is bringing to life and property. A statement of the world’s losses through war is so forcefully put by the Berliner Tageblatt that I quote it at length, from its publication of August 25, 1917:
War and waste.– War loans, $87,000,000,000; loss in dead and wounded, 24,000,000 men; killed, 7,000,000 men; loss through decrease in birth rate in all belligerent countries, 9,000,000.
Gold production of the world during the last 500 years amounted to $15,000,000,000, or less than one fifth of the cost of the awful world war. In five-dollar gold pieces, the $87,000,000,000 raised in war loans would form a belt that could be wound around the earth nine times. The funeral cortege of the 7,000,000 killed would reach from Paris to Vladivostok, if one hearse followed another.
When the war began the combined public debt of the European states was a little over $25,000,000,000, and now it is over $112,000,000,000. The British merchant fleet in 1914 represented a value of about $950,000,000. That is less than the annual interest England now has to pay for her war debt. Before the war Germany exported goods to British colonies to the amount of $113,000,000 a year. By cutting off this export, England can eventually reimburse herself for her losses, but this will take more than 200 years.
Germany, with the amount spent by her for the war, could have bought all the cotton fields, copper mines, and the whole petroleum industry of the United States and still would have had several billion dollars left over.
Russia, with her war expenses, might have covered her immense territories with a net of railways as close as that of Belgium and France, whose losses in men are larger than the entire population of Alsace-Lorraine, could have bought all the Portuguese and Dutch colonies with the money she sacrificed for the war.
With the enormous wealth destroyed by the war, Europe might have made a paradise on earth instead of a howling wilderness. There is no doubt the awful struggle would have been avoided if the nations had had any idea of its enormity when its tarted.
A little coterie of men at Potsdam, Germany, on July 5, 1914, lit the torch that set the world in flames. The fire is still raging and no man seeth the end of its destruction. The war is making an army of millionaires, and new conditions of wealth will arise that are likely to complicate the troubles that are sure to arise between capital and labor. Selfishness will probably keep pace with the new conditions. As a consequence, envy and disappointment among the masses may ripen into hatreds that in turn will be destructive to the domestic peace of the nations. The rich will have resting upon them a fearful responsibility because in their power will be the stability of society and the contentment of labor. Luxury and waste will create dangers to the stability of nations.
If the ambition of wealth is the display of it, men will bury their talents, and the burial of many talents is a greater sin than the burial of one. Complications and dangers are plain enough to see, but who can forecast a remedy? There are millions given to institutions, often to honor a name or satisfy an ambition. The needs of humanity are too frequently overlooked.
Ambition for Power.– Money strives for power. Newspapers, magazines, institutions of learning, and vast industries have their compelling force upon public opinion, because they are largely the creations of the rich. For the past fifty years there has grown up in Germany a so-called “Junker” class, as ambitious as it has been rich. Its wealth was turned to selfish and national aggrandizement. It educated the masses to believe in war. By its great publications and influence the whole national life was lured into false hopes. It not only dragged its own nation into war, but brought war upon nearly all the world. Wealth has there and in other lands become the most destructive element in the social and economic life of mankind.
Noble Examples.– the conservation of wealth entails a sacred duty on the part of those who possess it. There has always been a dangerous fallacy among men that their money is their own and they may do with it what they like. The idea of stewardship has been foreign to their own minds. There has never in all history been a law that could beneficially regulate it. It has been a part of the exercise of the free agency of man. God gave a law of control and distribution to ancient Israel, but its provisions were shamefully disregarded, and his people paid the penalty in poverty and sorrow. Christ exalted the poor from their lowly estate, or would have done so, had they accepted his teachings. He made the way plain. His spirit was a guide to rich and poor alike. The loss of that spirit has meant individual and national bankruptcy. The burning question of the world today is the recovery of the loss of God’s favor among his children. Will it be possible for them to recover the blessing, the birthright they have so frivolously bartered away. They are just as much mistaken about the value of wealth as Esau was about his mess of pottage. In the end Esau gave a “loud cry.” It was the cry of despair. We have in Abraham a beautiful example of a man of wealth. When the Assyrians carried off the inhabitants of the cities of the plain, together with their flocks and herds, he was satisfied to take back in his campaign against them the booty they had carried off. He restored it to its owners, and would have no reward for himself. His unaffected acts of charity, and unselfishness in the distribution of land with Lot make him an ideal with respect to the stewardship of his possessions. Of the things of this world he had plenty, but the ambition of his life was not to keep what he had and to get more. He was constantly craving the favor of Jehovah. He would have children, and he had none, notwithstanding God’s promises to him. He saw in them a blessing.
How the world is turned around today! What Abraham would treasure, the world today esteems lightly; what Abraham would esteem lightly the world is seeking in a spirit of madness.
The Saints of God in this dispensation have been and are warned against the dangers of worldly gain. Has it become a passion with any of them? Do those who have acquired an abundance of wealth regard it in the spirit of a stewardship? Do they feel that it lays upon them a heavy responsibility? Do any of them sense the dangers of luxury, extravagance, and waste? Do the faithful, by their pronounced disapproval, discountenance everywhere manifestations of wasteful pride and vain ambitions?
Revelation to Joseph Smith, 1831.– Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters, but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters;
“Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh will be safe upon the waters.” Doc. and Cov. 61:14-15.
“For all flesh is corrupted before me; and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven.
“Which causeth silence to reign, and all eternity is pained, and the angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned; and behold, the enemy is combined.” Doc. and Cov. 38:11-12.