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Author Jonathan Edwards Studies vol. 1, no.

1 (2011)

Jonathan Edwards and the Tithe

W. G. Crampton

In Malachi 3:8-11 we read:

"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me! But ye say, In what way have we
robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse, For ye have
robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That
there may be food in Mine house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of
hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you a
blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the
devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor
shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field, Says the LORD of hosts.

What the prophet is speaking of in this passage is the biblical responsibility of


faithful giving of ones substance to the work of God. Malachi differentiates
between the tithe and the offering, the latter being over and above the tithe, but
both the tithe and the offering are biblical means of giving to the work of God.
The word tithe, which means tenth, is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis
14:20 and then again in Genesis 28:22. Both of these verses show us that the tithe was
a biblical principle before the giving of the Law at Sinai. The tithe, then, precedes
the Mosaic economy and must not be considered as restricted to it. When we come to
the New Testament the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of the tithe in Matthew 23:23 and
the author of Hebrews refers to it in 7:8. These passages teach us, at least implicitly,
that the tithe is not confined to the Old Testament and is therefore still binding in
the New Covenant era instituted by the coming of Christ.
In general the Reformers and the latter Puritans held to the teaching regarding
the binding nature of the tithe in the New Testament era. Recognizing that the tithe
was an ongoing means of giving to the work of the Lord prior to the Mosaic Law,
they viewed it as compulsory on the local church. In Puritan England, however
(particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), there was a conflict
embodied with the tithe in that the state-church became involved with its collection
and distribution.1 For this reason, some Puritans, such as John Owen, opposed the
tithe as a mandate, while at the same time calling for sacrificial giving to the work of
the church (2 Corinthians 8-9).2

1
D. K. McKim, Tithing, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell (Grand
Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1994), 1096-1097.
2
John Owen, Hebrews, Volumes 1-7, edited by William Goold (Edinburg: Banner of Truth Trust,
1991), 5:375ff.; McKim, Tithing, 1097.

ISSN 2159-6875
Author Jonathan Edwards Studies vol. 1, no. 1 (2011)

In his sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13,3 titled Charity and Its Fruits,
Jonathan Edwards called on his congregation, as per Hebrews 13:16, to do good and
to sharefor with such sacrifices God is well-pleased. The Christian, taught Pastor
Edwards, is to fulfill the twofold mandate of Matthew 22:37-40 given by the Lord of
the church Jesus Christ ("Thou shall love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the
second is like it: Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.' On these two
commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.") by sacrificial giving to the
needs of ones fellow man. According to Edwards, a charitable spirit towards one
fellow man proceeds necessarily from a love for God. The two are inseparable. This
would include the principle of the tithe.
It is noteworthy that Edwards himself was known as a charitable person. He
would frequently give to the needs of others without letting the left hand knowing
what the right hand was doing (Matthew 6:3). His intimate friend and first
biographer, Samuel Hopkins, wrote: His [Edwards] great benevolence to mankind
discovered itself, among other ways, by the uncommon regard he showed to
liberality and charity to the poor and distressed. He was much in recommending this
both in his public discourses and private conversation. Hopkins then went on to
relate an instance in Edwards life wherein this concern for the poor was manifested:
Upon hearing that a poor obscure man, whom he [Edwards] never saw, or any of
his kindred, was by an extraordinary bodily disorder, brought to great straits. He
[Edwards], unasked, gave [money] to a friend to be delivered to the distressed
person; having first required a promise of him that he would let neither the person
who was the object of his charity nor anyone else know by whom it was given.4 The
Puritan divine practiced what he preached.

In July of 1743 Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon on Malachi 3:10-11:

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in Mine house, And try
Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of
heaven And pour out for you a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.
"And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of
your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," Says the LORD of
hosts.

Whereas some of his peers would take issue with Edwards in this matter, in this
sermon he shows that the tithe is still binding on the people of God in the New
Testament community. Pastor Edwards tells his people that the tithe is a duty

3
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 8, Ethical Writings, edited by Paul
Ramsey (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1989), 123-397.
4
Samuel Hopkins, The Life and Character of Jonathan Edwards (Boston, 1765), 45-46.

56 ISSN 2159-6875
Author Jonathan Edwards Studies vol. 1, no. 1 (2011)

required, while at the same time there is a promise affixed to the duty. God would
have us trust in His Word that He will abundantly repay those who are faithfully
giving to the needs of others by means of the tithe. One of the reasons that Gods
people do not prosper more than they do, said Edwards, is that they fail to take God
at His Word and obey His commandments with regard to the tithe. The call for the
tithe in Malachi 3 is given with a promise from Godand God always keeps His
Word. He will pour out His blessings on those who faithfully follow the tithe
principle. God has taken a vow to this end and we must trust and obey Him. Those
who do not tithe are robbing God.
In his message Edwards adduces Ecclesiastes 11:1 (Cast thy bread upon the
waters, for thou shall find it after many days) and Proverbs 3:9-10 (Honor the
LORD with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase; so shall thy
barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine), along
with some other texts, to make his point clear. Those who give bountifully will have
Gods bounty overflowing back to them in due time. As Edwards wrote elsewhere,
Mens giving to the poor is [like] sowing seed in the ground, or seed in the womb,
which is brought forward to a living birth in a way that we never search out. So God
will prosper our deeds of charity. It is Gods ordinary way to reward [such giving]
with great increase.5 This is a divine pledge that is to be believed and obeyed. Even
when things do not look as though they will work out for the best, we are to trust the
Word of God and follow His precepts. God, preached Edwards, loves a cheerful
giver.
Unlike some others in the Puritan era, Jonathan Edwards taught that the tithe is
still a binding principle in the New Covenant age. Gods promises in giving of our
substance are as sure now as they were under the Old Covenant administration.
Those who trust God (i.e., who try Him in this matter, as per Malachi 3) and follow
His precepts will receive His promised overflow of blessings.

5
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 24, The Blank Bible, edited by
Stephen J. Stein (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2006), 604-605.

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