125 years ago: How President Lorenzo Snow’s renewed emphasis of tithing blessed the Church

In May 1899, President Snow was speaking in the St. George Tabernacle when he received a powerful spiritual manifestation that later resolved the Church’s financial problems

In early May 1899, 85-year-old Church President Lorenzo Snow felt directed by the Lord to travel 300 miles from Salt Lake City to St. George in the southwestern corner of Utah — without knowing why.

“We can scarcely express the reason why we came,” he told a congregation of Latter-day Saints gathered in the red sandstone St. George Tabernacle on May 17, 1899, “yet I presume the Lord will have somewhat to say to us.”

The answer came as a powerful spiritual manifestation to President Snow during his remarks. Pausing unexpectedly, with a countenance filled with light, the Prophet spoke on the importance of paying a full tithe, declaring that the time had come for every Latter-day Saint to obey this law and promising blessings to those who did so, according to “Saints, Vol. 3.”

Speaking at the St. George Tabernacle again the next day, President Snow said, “The time has now come for every Latter-day Saint who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to go and do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full. That is the word of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion.”

President Snow’s 1899 renewed emphasis of tithing — 125 years ago this month — is considered by historians as a notable turning point in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Jed Woodworth, a historian in the Church History Department and the managing historian of the Church’s “Saints” series.

“The event of President Snow going to St. George and preaching on tithing is significant in our history as a watershed moment,” he said.

Early photograph of the St. George Tabernacle in black and white.
Early photograph of the St. George Tabernacle, date unknown. In May 1899, President Lorenzo Snow was speaking at the St. George Tabernacle when he received a powerful spiritual manifestation on the law of tithing. | Utah State Historical Society

‘Tithing of my people’

The principle of tithing has roots in the Old Testament. The Lord declared through the prophet Malachi: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).

In 1838, Joseph Smith received revelations on tithing and the disposition of tithes (Doctrine and Covenants 119 and 120) to address the Church’s financial needs and the building of a temple in Far West, Missouri. The revelations emphasized voluntary offerings, stewardship and accountability. Saints were taught to offer their surplus property as tithing and then pay one-tenth of their annual interest.

“This shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people,” the Lord said in Doctrine and Covenants 119:3.

Despite the Saints’ exile from Missouri, they continued to tithe and offer resources to build the Nauvoo Temple. Snow was not the first Church leader to teach about tithing, but he was the first prophet who emphasized it as a law, Woodworth said.

‘Panic and depressed times’

In 1887, the federal government passed a punitive law called the Edmunds-Tucker Act that allowed it to seize all Church assets in excess of $50,000, which amounted to more than $1 million in assets. Only a portion — about $400,000 — was returned, Woodworth said.

“The Church lost a lot of money that way,” he said. “The law also hindered the Church from being able to make loans and purchase securities, so it wreaked havoc in that way.”

A nationwide financial panic hit in 1893 that greatly impacted the American West.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1898.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1898. Standing, left to right: Anthon H. Lund, John W. Taylor, John Henry Smith, Heber J. Grant, Brigham Young Jr., George Teasdale, Rudger Clawson, and Marriner W. Merrill. Sitting in middle row: Francis M. Lyman, George Q. Cannon, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, and Franklin D. Richards. Sitting in bottom row: Matthias F. Cowley and Abraham O. Woodruff. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church had also undertaken a series of expensive projects, including the Salt Lake Temple, a pavilion at Saltair, a railway and a sugar factory in Lehi, Utah.

As President Snow and a new First Presidency were sustained in October 1898 general conference, the Church faced a debt of $2 million, Woodworth said. Repairing the Church’s financial situation became President Snow’s top priority.

Why wasn’t tithing supporting the Church at that point?

“Tithing fell off when the Saints realized that their money was being confiscated. It fell off because of the panic and depressed times. Business was not good,” Woodworth said. “I think if we were all in the shoes of these Saints, we would say, ‘Well, how do I know that my tithing dollars are actually going to go to keeping up the Church? I can’t know that; therefore, I’m not going to pay.’ So they had gotten out of the habit of paying tithing, and if you did pay tithing, it wasn’t a full tithe.”

1899 turning point

President Snow first delivered his historic message on tithing at the St. George Tabernacle over two days, May 17-18, 1899.

On his return journey to Salt Lake City, the fifth president of the Church stopped in towns and villages to give 24 talks in 26 meetings (also taking time to shake hands with 4,417 children, teachers and superintendents), continuing to emphasize the importance of paying tithing to the Lord. Everywhere President Snow went, the Saints were excited to hear from the Prophet, according to reports by the Salt Lake Herald newspaper.

President Snow encouraged the Saints to obey the law fully, promised forgiveness for past disobedience and promised blessings for their efforts. He also declared that paying a full tithe was now a requirement for temple attendance.

“The Lord commanded me to present these things to the people,” President Snow told the Saints in Beaver, Utah. “We have been educated in the law of tithing for 61 years but have not yet learned to observe it. We are in a fearful condition, and because of it, the Church is in bondage. The only relief is for the Saints to observe this law. I never before thought it to be as I know it is now.”

Early black and white photo of the interior of the St. George Tabernacle.
Early view of the interior of the St. George Tabernacle, date unknown. In May 1899, while visiting St. George, Utah, Church President Lorenzo Snow renewed emphasis on the need for Latter-day Saints to more fully live the law of tithing. | Utah State Historical Society

To Saints in Scipio, Utah, President Snow promised, “Through obeying this law, the blessings of prosperity and success will be given to the Saints.”

President Snow reiterated the importance of obeying the law of tithing in a meeting with Church leaders at the Salt Lake Temple on July 2 and called on all present to pledge their acceptance and adherence to this law, according to “Saints, Vol. 3.”

“The Lord has forgiven us for our carelessness in paying our tithing in the past, but He will forgive us no longer,” he said. “If we do not obey this law, we will be scattered as were the Saints in Jackson County [Missouri].”

Before concluding, President Snow called on everyone to stand up, raise their right hands and pledge to accept and keep the law of tithing as the word of the Lord.

“We want you to be diligent in obeying this law,” he told the Saints, “and see that the word is conveyed to all parts of the Church.”

President Snow died two years later on Oct. 10, 1901, but the renewed emphasis on tithing set the Church on a course that freed it from financial bondage. President Joseph F. Smith officially declared the Church debt-free at April 1907 general conference.

“Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes not a dollar that it cannot pay at once. At last we are in a position that we can pay as we go,” he said. “We do not have to borrow any more, and we won’t have to if the Latter-day Saints continue to live their religion and observe this law of tithing.”

Lorenzo Snow was a pioneer and early settler of Utah as then became the 5th President of LDS Church from 1898-1901.
Lorenzo Snow was a pioneer and early settler of Utah as then became the 5th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1898-1901. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The historic account demonstrates the ability of a prophet to receive revelation for the Church and the blessings that come when members follow prophetic counsel, Woodworth said.

Blessings of tithing

Today the tithing funds of the Church are used to build and maintain temples and meetinghouses, support missionary work, educate members and further the Lord’s work worldwide. Church leaders teach that paying an honest and faithful tithe is an expression of gratitude to the Lord and brings spiritual and temporal blessings.

Here’s what some Church leaders have said recently about the blessings of tithing.

In his October 2023 general conference talk, “Think Celestial,” President Russell M. Nelson said he gained a testimony of tithing after his wife, Sister Danzel Nelson, asked why he wasn’t paying $1.50 on a meager monthly stipend. He repented and said becoming a full-tithe payer “changed” him.

“I learned that paying tithing is all about faith, not money,” he said. “As I became a full-tithe payer, the windows of heaven began to open for me. I attribute several subsequent professional opportunities to our faithful payment of tithes.”

In the same conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “The windows of heaven open in many ways.

“Some are temporal, but many are spiritual. Some are subtle and easy to overlook,” he said. “Trust in the Lord’s timing; the blessings always come.”

Elder David A. Bednar, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, testified of spiritual and temporal blessings for those who live the law of tithing in his October 2013 talk, “The Windows of Heaven.”

“Often as we teach and testify about the law of tithing, we emphasize the immediate, dramatic and readily recognizable temporal blessings that we receive. And surely such blessings do occur,” he said. “Yet some of the diverse blessings we obtain as we are obedient to this commandment are significant but subtle. Such blessings can be discerned only if we are both spiritually attentive and observant.”

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