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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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A Scriptural, Ethical and Economic View
PUBLISHED BY THE ANTI-USURY LEAGUE MILLERSBURG, OHIO
COPYRIGHTED 1902 BY CALVIN ELLIOTT.
Page. Chapter I—Definition 7
Chapter II—The Law by Moses 11
Chapter III—Usury and "The Stranger" 18
Chapter IV—David and Solomon 26
Chapter V—Denunciation of Jeremiah and Ezekiel 30
Chapter VI—Financial Reform by Nehemiah 36
Chapter VII—Teachings of the Master 42
Chapter VIII—Parables of the Talents and the Pounds 52
Chapter IX—Practice of the disciples 58
Chapter X—Church history 69
Chapter XI—Calvin's letter on usury 73
Chapter XII—Permanency of the prohibition 79
Chapter XIII—Our changed conditions 81
Chapter XIV—The American Revision 87
Chapter XV—Duty learned from two sources 93
Chapter XVI—Rights of man over things 97
Chapter XVII—Equal rights of men 102
Chapter XVIII—A false basal principle 108
Chapter XIX—The true ethical principle 115
Chapter XX—Wealth is barren 121
Chapter XXI—Wealth decays 132
Chapter XXII—The debt habit 138
Chapter XXIII—The borrower is servant to the lender 144
Chapter XXIV—Usury enslaves the borrower 146
Chapter XXV—Usury oppresses the poor 154
Chapter XXVI—Usury oppresses the poor—continued 160
Chapter XXVII—Usury oppresses the poor—continued 168
Chapter XXVIII—Usury oppresses the poor—concluded 174
Chapter XXIX—Usury centralizes wealth 180
Chapter XXX—Mammon dominates the nations 189
Chapter XXXI—Effect on character 206
Chapter XXXII—Ax at the root of the tree 219
Chapter XXXIII—Per contra; Christian Apologists 233
Chapter XXXIV—Per contra; Land Rentals 243
Chapter XXXV—Per contra; Political Economists 253
Chapter XXXVI—Usury in History 258
Chapter XXXVII—Francis Bacon 266
Chapter XXXVIII—Why this truth was neglected 272
Chapter XXXIX—Crushed truth will rise again 281
TO MY READERS.
I beg the sincere and thoughtful consideration of this book by all its readers. Please follow the argument in the order in which it is presented. This is the way it developed in my own mind and led me, step by step, irresistibly to its conclusions. Do not read the closing chapters first, but begin with the "Definition." I believe every candid reader doing this, and having a logical mind, will fully and heartily concur in the condemnation of usury.
I hope these arguments will be fairly treated and justly weighed even by those whose interests seem in conflict. I have simply sought the truth, believing that "the truth shall make you free." It cannot be that this or any truth is in real conflict with the highest welfare of any man.
If any sincere friends of this truth are grieved that the argument is so crudely and roughly stated, I can only say in excuse, that, so far as I know or can learn from the great librarians I have consulted, this is the first attempt ever made to fully present the anti-usury argument, and I sincerely hope that others, profiting by my effort, may be able to make it more effective.
In the evolution of the English language, since the making of our King James version of the Bible, many new words have been introduced, and many old ones have changed their meanings.
In the nearly three hundred years the Saxon word "let," to hinder, has become obsolete. It was in common use and well understood when the version was made, but is now misleading. Thus we have in Isaiah 43:13: "I will work and who will let (hinder) it?" Paul declared that he purposed to go to Rome, "but was let (hindered) hitherto." Rom. 1:13. Again we have in II Thess. 2:7: "Only he who now letteth (hindereth) will let (hinder), until he be taken out of the way."
"Wot," to know, has become obsolete. Gen. 21:26: "I wot (know) not who hath done this thing." Ex. 32:1: "As for this Moses, we wot (know) not what hath become of him." Acts 3:17: "I wot (know) that through ignorance ye did it."
"Prevent," from its derivation and use, meant, "to go before;" now it means to hinder. Ps. 59:10: "The God of my mercies shall prevent (go before) me." Ps. 92:2: "Let us prevent (go before) his face with thanksgiving." I Thess. 4:15: "We who are alive shall not prevent (go before) them who are asleep."
Charity, which now means liberality to the poor, and a disposition to judge others kindly and favorably, was at that time a synonym of love, and used interchangeably with love in the translations of the Greek. This is especially noted in the panegyric of love, in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and faithfully corrected in the Revised Version, though some have felt that the beauty and especially the euphony of the familiar passage has been marred. But the word charity is no longer equivalent to love, in our language, and could not be retained without perverting the sense.
Usury, when the version was made, meant any premium for a loan of money, or increase taken for a loan of any kind of property.
Theological Dictionary: "Usury, the gain taken for a loan of money or wares." "The gain of anything above the principal, or that which was lent, exacted only in consideration of the loan, whether it be in money, corn, wares or the like."
Bible Encyclopedia: "Usury, a premium received for a sum of money over and above the principal."
Schaff-Herzog: "Usury, originally, any increase on any loan."
This was the usage of the word usury by the great masters of the English language, like Shakespeare and Bacon, in their day, and is still given as the first definition by the lexicographers of the present.
Webster, 1890 edition: "Usury, 1. A premium or increase paid or stipulated to be paid for a loan, as for money; interest. 2. The practice of taking interest. 3. Law. Interest in excess of a legal rate charged to a borrower for the use of money."
Interest is comparatively a new word in the language meaning also a premium for a loan of money. It first appeared in the fourteenth century, as a substitute for usury, in the first law ever enacted by a Christian nation that permitted the taking of a premium for any loan. The word usury was very odious to the Christian mind and conscience.
Interest was at the first a legal term, used in law only, and it has always been applied to that premium or measure of increase that is permitted or made legal by civil law.
In modern usage usury is limited in its meaning to that measure of increase prohibited by the civil law. Thus the two words interest and usury now express what was formerly expressed by the one word usury alone. Interest covers that measure of increase that is authorized in different countries, while usury, with all the odium that has been attached to it for ages, is limited to that measure of increase that for public welfare is forbidden by the laws of a state.
The distinction is wholly civic and legal. That may be usury in one state which is only interest in another. The legal rates greatly vary and are changed from time to time in the states themselves. If a state should forbid the taking of any increase on loans, then all increase would be usury, and there could be no interest; or if a state should repeal all laws limiting the exactions of increase, then there would be no usury in that state. Usury is increase forbidden by civil law. Separated from the enacted statutes of a state the distinction disappears. There is no moral nor is there an economic difference.
Blackstone says: "When money is lent on a contract to receive not only the principal sum again, but also an increase by way of compensation for the use, the increase is called interest by those who think it lawful, and usury by those who do not."
The moral nature of an act does not depend on the enacted statutes of human legislators, and the laws of economics are eternal. We must not permit our views of divine and economic truth to be perverted by this modern division of increase into legal and illegal. In order that the whole truth may be now expressed in our language we must combine with the old word usury the new word interest; then only will we have the full force of the revealed truth. "Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury or interest?" It is rendered interest in the Revised Version.
Throughout this discussion usury is used in its full old classical meaning for any increase of a loan, great or small, whether authorized or forbidden by the civil state.
THE LAW BY MOSES.
God determined to deliver his enslaved people from the bondage in Egypt, and to lead them out to the land he had promised to their fathers. They had been strangers in Egypt; now they should have a land of their own. To them liberty was but a tradition; they should now be freemen. They had been a tribe; they should now be a nation.
God raised up Moses to be his special servant and the mouthpiece to declare his will. He ordered his marvelous deliverance from the river, and his training in court as a freeman. He then gave him direction to lead his people out of their slavery, and also divine authority to announce to his people the code of laws by which they were to be governed in their free state. Some of these laws were ceremonial, to conserve their religion, that they might not forget their God. Some were civil and politic, to promote the moral, intellectual and material welfare. All were in accord with the moral and religious nature of man, and with sound economic principles. All were suited to promote their highest good, and to secure them forever in their freedom and national independence.
The great basal principles of law are found in concrete form.
Human life is sacred as we find from the explicit laws for its protection. The owner of an ox was made responsible for the life taken by "an ox that was known to push with its horns."
A battlement or balustrade was required on the houses, very like our laws requiring fire escapes. The principle is the same.
The laws forbidding marriage within certain degrees of kinship have been copied into the laws of every civilized people. The laws for the preservation of social purity have never been surpassed.
The rights of property were sacred. Each had a right to his own. Theft was severely punished. "If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him."
Each must assist in the protection of the property of others; even the enemy's property must be protected. "If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again."
The laws for the relief of the poor were kinder and more encouraging to self-help and self-reliance than our modern poorhouses. Deut. 15:7-11: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him naught, and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land."
These divinely given laws never wrought injustice. They protected life, purity and property, and required mutual helpfulness. They were given by the divine mind, in infinite love, to promote the highest good of this chosen people.
These laws of God, given by Moses, positively forbade usury or interest, and this prohibition was so repeated that there was no mistaking the meaning. Ex. 22:25: "If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as a usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury."
This law is more fully presented in Lev. 25:35, 36, 37: "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen into decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase; but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, or lend him thy victuals for increase."
Prof. George Bush makes the following note upon this passage: "The original term 'Neshek' comes from the verb 'Nashak' (to bite), mostly applied to the bite of a serpent; and probably signifies biting usury, so called perhaps because it resembled the bite of a serpent; for as this is often so small as to be scarcely perceptible at first, yet the venom soon spreads and diffuses itself till it reaches the vitals, so the increase of usury, which at first is not perceived, at length grows so much as to devour a man's substance."
An effort is sometimes made to limit the application of these laws by placing special emphasis on the poverty of the borrowers and to confine the prohibition of usury to loans to the poor to meet the necessaries of life; and it is claimed that the laws are not intended to prohibit usury on a loan which the borrower secures as capital for a business.
In reply it can be said:
1. There may be more benevolence in a loan to enable a brother to go into business than in a loan to supply his present needs. It may be less benevolent and less kind to lend a dollar to buy flour for present use than to lend a dollar to buy a hoe with which to go into business and earn the flour. The highest philanthropy supplies the means and opportunities for self-help.
2. A desire for capital to promote a business to gain more than is necessary to nourish the physical and mental manhood is not justified nor encouraged anywhere in the Word. There is just a sufficiency of food necessary to the highest physical condition. There is just a sufficiency of material wealth necessary to the development of the noblest manhood. More decreases physical and mental vigor and degrades the whole man. To seek more is of the nature of that "covetousness which is idolatry." Prov. 23:4: "Labor not to be rich." Prov. 28:20: "He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent."
Riches are a gift of God and a reward of righteousness.
Prov. 22:4: "The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life." Psalm 112:1, 3: "Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. * * * Wealth and riches shall be in his house."
"In the fourth petition of the Lord's prayer (which is: Give us this day our daily bread) we pray, That of God's free gift, we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life and enjoy his blessing with them."
3. If the prohibition is applicable only when the borrower is poor it would be difficult to properly apply it by drawing the line between the rich and the poor. Many who are rich feel that they are poor and there are many high spirited poor who will not admit their poverty. Many rich live in conditions that some poor would call poverty. The line must be vague and indefinite and always offensive. If any one should endeavor to clearly mark and emphasize such a division in any modern community he would receive the contempt of all right thinking people.
4. The laws of the Hebrews did not discriminate classes except in their ceremonial and forms of worship. There was but one law and that applicable to all alike. Even the stranger was included in the uniformity of the law. Num. 15:15, 16: "One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, * * * one law and one manner shall be for you and for the stranger that sojourneth with you."
5. In the Hebrew community the man of independent resources did not compromise his freedom by becoming indebted to another. Debt was a sure indication of some embarrassment or strait. The mention of the poverty of the possible debtor is not to limit the application of the law but describes the borrower. Thou shalt not lend upon usury to the poor unfortunate fellow who is compelled to ask a loan.
6. The laws of the Hebrew state were for the promotion of equity between man and man and also for the protection of the weak and the helpless. With these objects all good governments must be in harmony. They can only be secured by general laws. It would be very imperfect protection to the helpless poor if it was permitted to charge usury to the covetous, greedy fellow who having much, yet desired to gain more and was bidding urgently for the very loan the unfortunate brother needed. Also even equity between the borrower and the lender would work a hardness in the conditions of the poor man. Full protection requires a law of general application.
7. Independence, self-reliance, self-support, was the condition aimed at and encouraged in the Hebrew state. Borrowing was only in time of sore need. The man who went a-borrowing was second only to the man who went a-begging. The brother who, through misfortune became dependent, was able the sooner to repay his loan and return to independence and to self support.
8. In the repetition of the law in Deut. 23:19, 20, there is no reference to the poverty of the borrower and it cannot by fair interpretation be limited to the poor. "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury. Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to do in the land whither thou goest to possess it."
USURY AND "THE STRANGER."
Deut. 23:19, 20: "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury. Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it."
While there is no reference to poverty in this passage and the prohibition cannot fairly be limited to loans to the poor, a shadow of permission to exact usury is found in the clause: "unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury."
Hebrews, who have been anxious to obey the letter of the Mosaic law, while indifferent to its true spirit, have construed this into a permission to exact usury of all Gentiles. Christian apologists for usury, who have not utterly discarded all laws given by Moses as effete and no longer binding, have tried hard to show that this clause authorizes the general taking of interest. To do this it is wrested from its natural connection, and the true historic reference is ignored.
Three classes of persons, that were called strangers, may be noted for the purpose of presenting the true import of this passage.
1. Those were called strangers who were not of Hebrew blood, but were proselytes to the Hebrew faith and had cast their lot with them. They were mostly poor, for not belonging to any of the families of Jacob, they had no landed inheritance. The gleanings of the field and the stray sheaf were left for the fatherless, the poor, and these proselyted strangers. But they were to be received in love, and treated in all respects as those born of their own blood. Ex. 12:48, 49: "And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcized, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcized person shall eat thereof. One law shall be to him that is home born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you."
Lev. 24:22: "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God."
Num. 9:14: "And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the Lord; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land."
Num. 15:15, 16: "One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance forever in your congregations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you."
Of these strangers it is explicitly said they are to be treated precisely as brethren of their own blood.
Lev. 25:35, 36: "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee."
2. There was also another class of strangers, including all the nations that were not of Hebrew blood, by which they were surrounded. These traded with them and often sojourned for a more or less extended period among them for merely secular purposes, but never accepted their faith. For this reason they were often called sojourners. With us, in law, the former strangers would be known as "naturalized citizens," these as "denizens," residents in a foreign land for secular purposes. These denizens were to be dealt with justly, to be treated kindly and even with affection, remembering their long sojourn as strangers in Egypt. Ex. 22:21: "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Ex. 23:9: "Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
They were "denizens," but not citizens of Egypt four hundred years.
Lev. 19:33, 34: "And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
This class of denizens or sojourners was also to be treated with the same kindness as their own blood.
Lev. 25:35, 36: "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God: that thy brother may live with thee."
The sojourner or denizen is here distinguished from the stranger who had been naturalized, adopting their faith.
3. There was another class called strangers. This class was limited to the inhabitants of their promised land.
Robinson's Bible Encyclopedia says, on this clause: "'Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury.' In this place God seems to tolerate usury toward strangers: that is the Canaanites and other people devoted to subjection, but not toward such strangers against whom the Hebrews had no quarrel. To exact usury is here, according to Ambrose, an act of hostility. It was a kind of waging war with the Canaanites and ruining them by means of usury."
God withheld his chosen people from taking possession of the promised land until "their iniquity was full" and the divine sentence of condemnation had been pronounced against them. They were to be rooted out of the land and utterly destroyed for their sins, and their land given to the chosen people. God declared that he would execute his sentence, driving them out before them, as his people should increase and be able to occupy the land. Ex. 23:23, 28-32: "For mine angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Jebusite, and I will cut them off. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. And I will set my bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods."
Ex. 34:10-12: "And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee."
They were in no way to covenant with this people and interfere with the execution of divine judgment. They were commanded, willing or unwilling, to be in a measure the executioners of those under sentence. These people of Canaan were deprived of all rights by the divine sentence and the Israelites were not to grant any. To do so was direct disobedience, and yet most of the tribes failed to obey the command, permitting many of the inhabitants to remain.
When the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and secured a pledge, the pledge of their lives was kept, but they were made slaves, doomed to drudgery forever, "hewers of wood and drawers of water." Josh. 9:23.
This compromise was contrary to the divine command for their utter destruction. To condone the guilt of these people, or to interfere with their execution, was as flagrant a violation of law as that of a modern community that seeks to protect criminals, or that interferes with the execution of those convicted of capital crimes.
This class of strangers had no rights that Hebrews were permitted to respect. They were not to be given any privileges. They were to be treated as Hindoo widows are treated, "accursed of the gods and hated of men." Debts were not to be forgiven them. The year of Jubilee did not affect them. They remained enslaved forever. The Sabbath's rest was only incidental, that there might be a complete cessation of all activities.
In the fourth commandment Deut. 5:14, "thy stranger" is mentioned after the ox, ass, and cattle, and was given rest for the same reason the beasts are permitted to rest: "That thy man-servant and maid-servant may rest as well as thou." They had not the rights of a common servant or slave. The carcass of the animal that died of itself could be given them to eat, and they could be charged usury.
Yet this clause has been seized upon by avaricious Jews as permission to exact usury of all the nations not of Hebrew blood, ignoring the fact that when given it was limited to those peoples under the curse of God for their iniquities. It can not justly be made to mean that the Hebrews have a right to treat other nations with less righteousness than they treat their own people.
It is an unwarranted broadening to make it a permission to exact usury from all the human race except from Hebrews.
It was chiefly the acting upon this false interpretation, classing all Gentiles with these strangers, accursed of God, that had no rights they were permitted to respect, that set every Gentile Christian's hand against the Jews for fifteen hundred years.
Nothing more clearly marked the line between Christian and Hebrew during fifteen centuries than this one thing, that the Hebrews exacted usury or interest of the Gentiles while the Christians were unanimous in its denunciation, and forbade its practice.
Gentile Christian apologists for the taking of usury or interest, to overcome the force of this prohibition, are compelled to grant that Christians may be less brotherly than Hebrews: that the borrowers whether Christian or not are "strangers" to those who make them loans upon increase.
DAVID AND SOLOMON.
Devout Hebrews during the period of the Judges obeyed the Mosaic prohibition of usury or interest. It was also recognized as binding and obeyed during the reigns of David and Solomon. This was a greatly prosperous period when commerce flourished and trade was extended to the ends of the earth.
David was weak before certain temptations and his falls were grievous, but his repentance was deep and his returns to God were sincere. He never failed to regard God as supreme over him and the bestower of all his blessings. He is called the man after God's own heart, and it is also said that his heart was perfect before God. His spirit of devout worship has never been surpassed. His Psalms, in all the ages, have been accepted as expressing the true yearning after righteousness and a longing for closer communion with God.
David, in the fifteenth Psalm, expresses the thought of the earnest and reverent worshippers of his time. This Psalm declares the necessity of moral purity in those who would be citizens of Zion and dwellers in the holy hill.
"Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is condemned; but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved."
The description, "He that putteth not out his money to usury," is direct and unqualified. There could be no mistaking its meaning. Those who were guilty could not claim to be citizens of Zion. There is no qualifying clause behind which the usurer could take refuge and escape condemnation.
This Psalm, prepared by the king, was chanted in the great congregation, and was a prick to the consciences of the sinners and a public reproof of all the sins mentioned. He that putteth out his money to increase received thus a public reproof in the great worshipping assembly.
Solomon, endowed with unequaled wisdom and able so clearly to discern the right, places among his proverbs a direct denunciation of this sin.
Prov. 28:8: "He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor."
In this proverb the gain of usury is classed with unjust gain that shall not bless the gatherer. This is in entire harmony with other proverbs in which those who practice injustice and oppression are declared to be wanting in true wisdom and receive no benefit themselves.
"The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness."
"As righteousness tendeth to life; so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death."
"Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall fall himself into his own pit; but the upright shall have good things in possession."
"Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them."
Usury and unjust gain are joined by Solomon as sins of the same nature. It is also implied that they are necessarily connected with want of sympathy and helpfulness toward the poor. They are presented as an oppression that shall not bless the oppressor.
This proverb does not confine the evil to the borrower like the proverb, "The borrower is servant to the lender." The wrong is not confined to those of the poor to whom loans may be made. The oppression of usury is upon all the poor though they are not borrowers. They are the ultimate sufferers though the loan may be made by one rich man to another to enable him to engage in some business for profit. Usury is so bound up with injustice that its practice cannot fail to result in increasing the hard conditions of all the poor.
Solomon's reign was brilliant, and the ships of his commerce entered every port in the known world, yet usury was not necessary and was not practiced in that prosperous age.
DENUNCIATION OF JEREMIAH AND EZEKIEL.
The Hebrew nation reached its summit of power and glory during the reign of King Solomon, but corruption crept in and disintegration followed, and a series of conflicts between portions of the kingdom. The laws given by Moses were neglected, and a long period of gross sinning followed. They were warned by the faithful yet hopeful prophet Isaiah that the overthrow of their nation was certain, and that their people would be carried captive to a strange land unless they forsook utterly their sins and turned to righteousness. They did not heed and the predicted calamities came upon them.
In the midst of these calamities the contemporary prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel ministered. They differed greatly in their dispositions.
Jeremiah was a complainer. Always bemoaning his own and his people's hard lot. The Lamentations are recognized as the best extant expression of unmitigated grief. He lamented his birth because he was treated as a usurer and oppressor, when he had never exacted usury, nor had business with usurers. Jer. 15:10: "Woe, is me, my brother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth. I have neither lent on usury, nor have men lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me."
Ezekiel was always patient, faithfully proclaiming his messages, and suffering in silence. The completeness of his self-control and patient suffering is shown in the short but pathetic description of the death of his beloved wife, yet at the divine command he repressed his grief and delivered his message the following morning. Ezekiel 24:15-18: "Also the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke; yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down. Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thy head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover up thy lips, and eat not the bread of men. So I spake of people in the morning; and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded."
These prophets were familiar with the same scenes. They met the same sins. Some have thought they exchanged messages, sending them respectively to Jerusalem and Chaldea for encouragement and confirmation. This was the opinion of Jerome.
In a catalogue of the sins prevailing in Jerusalem, for which the judgment of God came upon them, this prophet places "Usury and increase." Ezekiel 22: 7-12: "In thee have they set light by father and mother: in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in thee have they vexed the fatherless and the widow. Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my Sabbaths. In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their father's nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor's wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father's daughter. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God."
It would not be easy to give a list of more gross and flagrant sins than those associated with usury in this passage. They are all, always and everywhere, sinful. In no condition can they be lawful and right.
One of the answers familiar to both Jeremiah and Ezekiel when the people were reproved for their sins and exhorted to forsake them, that the divine judgments might be removed, was this, that their sufferings were not on their own account, but for the sins of their fathers. They thus met the charge of personal sins and claimed their sufferings were inherited and unavoidable. Their fathers had indulged in sin and they must reap the consequences. They complained that this was hardness in God. They expressed this murmur by a proverb. Jer. 31:29: "The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge."
The answer of the prophet Jeremiah briefly is, that every one shall answer for his own sin. Jer. 31:30: "But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge."
This same proverb was repeatedly given to Ezekiel, as an excuse for continuing in sins, even when the judgments of God were upon them. The word of the Lord came more fully and explicitly to him.
Ezekiel declares that the sins of the fathers were visited on the children only when they continued in their father's iniquity. That those who forsook the sins of their fathers and were righteous, were free from the punishment of the unrighteous parents.
Ezekiel 18:1-17: "The word of God came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.
As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, and hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbor's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman, (i.e. neither hath committed a rape,) and hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment. He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man. Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God."
"If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things; and that doeth not any of those duties but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbor's wife, hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination, hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: Shall he then live? He shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him. Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like: that hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbor's wife, neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment, that hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury or increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live."
It will be noticed that usury or increase is here mentioned among the grossest and foulest sins of which that people were guilty. They are placed by the prophet in the worst possible company. He classifies them among those things that can never be right. There is no qualification of "increase" great or small, nor of "usury" whether the loan be domestic or commercial, whether for personal need, or to go into business, whether the borrower be poor or rich.
Usury is mentioned as "malum per se." "Usury and increase" are treated as sinful in themselves, just as fraud, violence, impurity, and idolatry are sinful, and can never be innocent unless their very natures are reversed. When there is fraud without dishonesty, and violence without injury, and adultery without impurity, and idolatry without false worship, then may there be "usury and increase" without injustice and oppression. "Some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations are more heinous in the sight of God than others," the prophet Ezekiel places "usury or increase" in the list of "abominations."
FINANCIAL REFORM BY NEHEMIAH.
After seventy years of captivity of the Hebrews in Chaldea an edict was issued by Cyrus the king permitting their return to Judea. The most earnest and devout had been restless and homesick in the strange land. The restoration was led by Zerubbabel who accompanied by about five thousand of the most devout men from the various families, made their way over the long return to their former home. This was only about one-sixth of the captive population. Many preferred to remain in the land they had now adopted, and where some had been prospered, and some were perhaps less fervent in their religious zeal. This fraction of the people, however, determined to re-erect their temple and to cultivate the fields again that were given to their fathers and to rebuild the nation, the tradition of whose glory never failed to stir their hearts.
Eighty years later another company under the priest and scholar, Ezra, authorized by Artaxerxes, joined the first colony that had returned to re-occupy their own land.
A few years later another company was led by the patriot, Nehemiah. Nehemiah was in an honorable and lucrative position in the first court upon earth, yet he grieved over the misfortunes of his own people, and especially over the reported distress of the returned exiles. He sought leave of absence and a commission to return and co-work with his brethren for their complete re-establishment at Jerusalem.
The leave of absence was cheerfully granted and a broad commission given to take with him any who wished to return. The revenues of the king were placed at his disposal and the governors of the provinces were ordered to assist and further his work. A large company of the earnest and devout returned with him, confident of his protection and in sympathy with his mission. He deliberately reviewed the work to be done, made careful plans and was greatly successful.
The people were obedient. They cheerfully endured the privations and dangers in their devotion to their country, and in the hope of retrieving the fortunes of their depressed people.
Enemies appeared, who threatened to estop their work, but some worked while others watched, with arms in hand, ready to defend. Some wrought with one hand and held a weapon for ready defence in the other. Nehemiah and his aides, and many of the people, did not take off their clothes, but were on duty constantly—so devoted were they to the cause in which they were engaged, regaining their homes and re-establishing the worship of their fathers and rebuilding the nation.
But there was a strange interruption in this patriotic work. A sordid covetousness possessed their nobles and rulers. While the people were absorbed in their patriotic service, these persons were planning successfully to despoil them.
A cry of distress came to the ears of Nehemiah. The people found, now that they had made the sacrifice and suffered deprivations and cheerfully given their labors for the common good, they were deprived of their blessings and enslaved.
This enslavement was not to foreign rulers, but to those of their own blood. A division had grown up among their own kindred. Some had grown rich and become their masters. Others were in hopeless poverty. The distinctions came gradually or grew up among them, possibly unobserved: the rich becoming richer and the poor poorer, until the nobles held their lands and were selling their sons and daughters as chattels.
This condition was hopeless, after all their struggles for nearly a hundred years to re-establish their institutions. Neither they nor their children could, under those conditions, enjoy the fruit of all their efforts. This was no fault of theirs. There had been times of dearth and harvest failure, when some with large families were in need. The king's tribute, too, was heavy upon them and some were not able to pay and they were compelled to borrow, but had to give mortgages upon their land as security. Now lands, homes and all, had passed to the creditors and they were despondent and helpless.
This cry caused Nehemiah great distress, but Nehemiah was not like Ezra, a devout and learned priest, but without executive power, who in a like position gave way to unmitigated grief. Nehemiah was equally patriotic and conscientious, but he was also a strong leader and an independent commander. He did not call together the nobles and rulers charged with oppression and ask them what he should do. He had none of their counsel. He took counsel with himself, his own conscience, his own judgment, and worked out an independent, individual policy which he should pursue.
His sympathy was with the suffering people, and he determined to espouse their cause and to correct their wrongs. He then called the nobles and rulers and charged them to their face with oppression. He laid "the ax at the root of the tree" and charged the fault to their covetousness, to the exacting of usury or interest. It was this, he declared, that had brought them to wealth, but driven others to poverty. He demanded reparation. When they were slow to yield, he called a convocation of the people and aroused them to a due sense of the wrong they had been enduring, and laid bare the sins of the rulers and nobles. He showed the oppression by comparing their sordid and greedy conduct with the unselfish, self-sacrifice of himself and others for the common good. While he and the patriotic people were busy with hand and brain in rebuilding the nation and fighting the enemies, these usurers were busy getting in their work of ruin, gathering the property into their own hands and enslaving the patriots.
The usurers were not able to withstand this onslaught of the chief commander and the aroused people, and they made no reply. Their conduct had so evidently been contrary both to the letter and spirit of their own law, they were compelled to yield and to say meekly, "We will do as you have said."
Then he stated the terms and conditions of the reform he would institute.
1. They must return the pledges they had taken for debts, without reserve. The people must not be deprived of their land, tools, or instruments of production. The foreclosure of mortgages must be set aside and the people again given possession of their lands.
2. Interest must be returned or credited upon the debts. If the interest equaled the debt, then the debt was fully discharged. If more than the principal had been paid, then it must be returned in money or in the product of lands taken in foreclosure, the wine or oil or fruits and grains must be returned. Thus only could the wrongs be corrected and righteous adjustment be made.
There then followed a general restoration of pledges and a cancelling of debts that had been paid once in interest, and a repaying of any surplus.
3. They must take a solemn vow that this sin shall henceforth be unknown among them. The law against usury or interest must henceforth be carefully obeyed. These distinctions that had grown up among them must disappear forever, and the cause of the poverty of the many and the wealth of the few must be shunned.
To these conditions the usurers assented, made ashamed by the conduct of the noble patriot in contrast with their own selfishness, though they had not yielded until awed and compelled by the indignation of the people, which Nehemiah had enkindled against them.
This positive enforcement of the law against the taking of increase on any loan, makes unmistakably clear the interpretation of the law by the devout, earnest, sincere, God-fearing Hebrews, down to the close of the Old Testament Canon.
 References: Ezra, Nehemiah, Bible Dictionaries.
TEACHINGS OF THE MASTER.
Psalmist and prophets had sung of the exalted character of the coming Messiah. "Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips." "And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
At his coming he lifted to a higher plane, by his precepts and example, the ideal of a true, noble and worthy human life. By his teachings and by his life of utter unselfishness he revealed clearly the exalted character and conduct that conformed to the Divine will.
1. Our Lord's character forbids that we should think of him for a moment as devoted to the gathering of worldly wealth. He came to minister unto, not to serve himself. Self-seeking was foreign to his nature. A great truth was spoken by the scoffers. "He saved others, himself he cannot save."
He who strives to follow in his footsteps cannot serve himself.
The whole drift of a great unselfish Christ-like soul must be for others. The whole current of his thought and effort during his life must be, to be helpful to others. Studying and striving to help others, he cannot seek wealth. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
It is out of harmony with the whole life and all the teachings of the Master that he should encourage or permit a means of increasing wealth forbidden by the laws given by Moses and classed among the vilest of sins by the prophets.
2. Again: He did not undo the teachings of the prophets, but enlarged their scope. He showed by word and example how the true spirit of the teachings of the old dispensation led to self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. Matt. 5:17: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill."
Fulfill, here, is more than to obey. It is in antithesis with destroy, and means to perfect and complete.
The old ceremonial forms of religious worship, pointed to the advent of one who should be a perfect sacrifice for sin, typified by the daily sacrifice of bulls and rams. The sacrifice typified, was completed in Him.
The moral enactments were not set aside, but they were given a completed meaning; that is they were made to reach beyond the external to the hidden desires and affections of the heart. He taught that mere external compliance was not sufficient in the All Seeing Eye. The affections and desires of the soul must be in agreement.
Thus we have the explanation of the law of chastity, completed, requiring purity of the soul. So murder is not merely the external act, but the law for murder, completed, forbids enmity or hatred hidden in the heart.
The requirements for mutual helpfulness were also perfected or completed.
The old law required the helping of a brother in need.
Deut. 15:7, 8: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth."
This was completed so as to extend the help to all sufferers, though not kindred nor friendly, and though they may not be able nor willing to repay. Luke 6:35: "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful, and to the evil."
The old law permitted the lender to take a pledge to secure the return of "as much again," that is, the loan without interest. The Master enjoins being helpful though the principal should never be repaid. To take a pledge or mortgage and add the interest would greatly harden the conditions for the borrower. It would be a step backward and not forward in the way of helpfulness to others.
Again, the year of Jubilee was a kind of legal time limit to debts. All obligations were then cancelled. No debt could be collected. The selfish Hebrew feared to make a loan shortly before Jubilee lest it should not be repaid promptly and his claim would become worthless. Deut. 15:9: "Beware that there be no thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release is at hand; and thine eye be evil toward thy poor brother, and thou givest him naught; and he cry unto the Lord against thee and it be sin unto thee." In his heart the old Hebrew might have a desire to press his claim but the law protected the debtor. This law for the release of the debtor from the payment of principal without interest is completed so as to require sincere and hearty forgiveness.
Our Lord taught his disciples to ask for forgiveness of God only as they forgave their debtors, Matt. 6:12: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." The commercial terms here used show this to be the completion of the law as touching the creditor and his released debtor.
3. Again, he broke down the artificial barriers, the distinction of Hebrew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, bond and free.
The love and sympathy and helpfulness among men was no longer to be limited to such narrow bounds, but must be wide as the race. "Who is my neighbor?" is so answered that every man must be neighbor to every other man, and the object of his care and help. All are of one blood, and all God's children. He gave one law for all classes and conditions in all times. He so expounded the old commandments and so condensed them, that they became the one law of love. Whosoever is governed by supreme love to God, and loves his neighbor as himself, has fulfilled the law. He would thus bind all men together, and all to the throne of God, by the one bond of love.
But he further intensified the obligations of love, by his own special command. John 15:12: "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." And he adds it to the decalogue, John 13:34: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you that ye also love one another." This new command requires that men shall love their brethren above themselves and be ready to sacrifice for their welfare. As he gave his life, so also he commanded that men should sacrifice for their fellows.
Those who hear his voice and have the spirit of obedience go to the ends of the earth, and make any sacrifice that may be required for the uplifting of fallen men.
The law forbidding the Hebrews exacting usury of their brethren, of the stranger who had accepted their faith and kept the passover, of the stranger, sojourner who dwelt among them, of everybody except the Canaanite who was under the condemnation of God, could not have been annulled or suspended by the divine Master who thus draws together and embraces as one family the whole race. The ties of Christian brotherhood are not less strong than the ties of Hebrew blood. The converts from heathen to Christian faith are not less dear to the missionary than the proselytes to the Hebrew faith were to the Pharisees. The foreigner who comes into a Christian community must not be treated with less justice and kindness than the wandering Arab who strolled into Jerusalem for a trade. It cannot be that the relation between Christians is like that between the Hebrew and the criminal Canaanites who were convicted of capital crimes and under sentence of death. As usury was repugnant to that spirit of justice and brotherly love that obtained in the Hebrew State, much more is it repugnant to that closer brotherhood into which we are drawn by the divine Lord.
4. Again, He was a friend of the poor and lowly. This was foretold by the song of the virgin, when assured that she should be the mother of the Savior. Luke 51:52, 53: "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away."
The prophets foretold that He should be the friend of the poor. He pointed John to the fulfilment of these prophecies in proof of his Messiahship.
In his first address in the explanation of the new dispensation he began by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The literal rendering would be, "Blessed are the poor, to the Spirit." This is the dative singular with the definite article. He is speaking of external conditions as contrasted with spiritual blessings, and those conditions thought wretched in the world were especially favorable for the development of grace. The poor, humble, mourning, suffering, and persecuted were especially blessed in his kingdom.
The word rendered poor does not mean pauper. There is a great difference. The poor may be industrious, self-reliant and self-supporting. There is no hint of dependence.
In Luke he says, "Blessed are ye poor." When at the rich man's table, he told his host that he would be more blessed if he should make the next feast to the poor and defective, that could make him no return.
He was uncompromising in his denunciation of the rich. Luke 6:24: "But woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation." He showed the danger of riches in the parable of the sower. Matt. 13:22: "He also that received seed among thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful."
Where grace is to be cultivated and flourish, the "greed of gain" must not enter. The young man who came to him, whom he loved for his sweet disposition and excellent character, he turned away by the answer that his wealth was incompatible with his salvation. He must part from his riches. When the disciples were surprised, he made it more emphatic, Matt. 19:24: "And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And when they felt that this made salvation impossible, he declared it could only be possible by the exercise of omnipotent, divine grace.
Zaccheus, the one rich man whose conversion is recorded, surrendered his ill-gotten gain fourfold and gave away half of the remainder before salvation came to his house. The temptation to trust and lean upon riches is irresistible.
Our Lord did not make wealth more dangerous than under the Mosaic dispensation by removing the restraint that was there put upon it. As a friend to the poor he did not give wealth an advantage it did not have before.
5. The whole drift of his teachings limited and restrained accumulation of wealth. The parable of the rich fool is a forcible presentation of its human folly on the earthly side.
"Whose shall these things be?"
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
The result is irresistible; when engaged in storing earthly treasure, the heart will be earthly; or if laying up treasures in heaven, the heart will reach heavenward. He who labors for a heavenly reward, will be heavenly minded.
Treasures are stored for eternity, when used for the bringing out of that which shall survive the grave; for the bringing out the highest divine type of manhood and womanhood, in ourselves, in our children, and in all the children of men.
Treasures expended in the development of immortals shall be found when the earthly and temporal scenes have passed away. That which is expended in the uplifting of the race shall be our eternal reward.
Giving, giving, not hoarding is commended. Productive industry he enforced by his example, the carpenter that wrought for his daily bread. He chose workmen to be his followers. He taught economy in the command to take up the fragments of the food miraculously created "that nothing be lost," yet unreserved giving was the lesson he inculcated and illustrated in his life. To follow his example, we must produce and produce much, yet what we gain is to be expended, so as to promote the highest welfare of all mankind. We must not store the fruits of our labor, but expend, not as a spendthrift who wastes, but judiciously and wisely for God and man. Our giving is only limited by the ability and facility to produce. Our Lord did not greatly add to the temptation to hoard by delivering the earthly treasures from the decay by "moth and rust" and instead permitting their increase. Our hoarding of earthly treasures must be limited, because of our disposition to trust in them. We must always be so dependent that we shall pray truly with the spirit of dependence, "Give us this day our daily bread." "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me."
Thrift does not require that we shall hoard an amount that will support us through life, much less that we shall lay up a fortune, that shall free our children from the necessity of productive labor. The spirit of the Master's teachings is, that each age shall produce and spend its product for its own advancement, then each succeeding age shall be better fitted to produce and care for itself and so advance the coming generations. "Go work today in my vineyard." Now is the time to give and do for the generation yet unborn.
PARABLES OF THE TALENTS AND THE POUNDS.
Our Lord mentions usury by name only in the parables of the talents and pounds. Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27. Usury is mentioned in these passages incidentally to meet the excuses of worthless servants, but in both as the unjust and oppressive act of a hard and dishonest man. These references to usury are in entire harmony with the expressions of David and Solomon, and of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
These servants in the parables were slaves, who owed their service to their master and for whom he was responsible.
The lesson in both parables is the necessity of faithfulness. The faithful servants are rewarded and the unfaithful punished in both. Yet there is a special lesson in each.
The parable of the talents shows that an equal reward shall be given all who are equally faithful, though the means and opportunities afforded one may far exceed those granted another. One was given five talents and another but two; one gained five and the other two, yet both equally faithful, are directed to enter into the joy of their lord.
The unfaithful servant brings his talent with an excuse, which is a charge against the character of his master, "I knew thee that thou art an hard man reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed," "so there thou hast which is thine."
The master in reply showed the inconsistency of the excuse by assuming that he bore the hard character charged upon him by his slave, "Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury." It is "interest" in the Revised Version.
This interview may be paraphrased as follows:
The unfaithful servant said: "I know the kind of a man you are. You are dishonest. You take what does not belong to you. You reap what other people sow, and you take up what others earn. I was afraid of you: Here is all that you gave me and all that belongs to you."
The master said: "You are merely excusing yourself. You are a lazy faithless slave. If I am the hard man you say I am, taking what does not belong to me and gathering the sowings and earnings of others, you could have met that condition without trouble to yourself, by giving my money to the usurers and then at my coming I could have received my unjust gain. Your excuse is inconsistent, you condemn yourself. You are an indolent and worthless slave. Begone to your punishment."
It is clearly implied that unearned increase, reaping and gathering without sowing, could be gained through the exchangers. If this was what was demanded, the servant could have secured this with no effort on his part. His charge against the master was a mere pretence to excuse his own want of personal faithfulness, and the master's reply was fitted to this pretense.
This is in entire harmony with the opinion our Lord expressed of the exchangers when he called them thieves and drove them out of the temple. It would be wholly inconsistent for him to advise an honest and faithful servant to place any portion of the property in their hands. His advice can only come from the standpoint of a dishonest master such as his servant called him.
The parable of the pounds shows the degrees of faithfulness in those who have equal opportunities. With the same opportunities one may far surpass another, because more faithful to his trust, his reward is proportionately greater.
In this parable each servant received the same, but the gains and rewards differ. By diligence one gained ten pounds and is commended and given authority over ten cities. Another gained five pounds. He is also commended and given authority over five cities.
Another, who had given no service, came with his pound but without increase. This was a proof of his unfaithfulness. He endeavors to shield himself like the servant with the talent, by charging injustice and oppression on his master. "I feared thee because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layest not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow."
His master turned on him because his own reason was inconsistent with his conduct and a mere shield for his indolence and worthlessness. "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knowest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow. Wherefore gavest thou not my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury."
This interview may also be paraphrased.
The unfaithful slave came and said: "Lord I have carefully kept all that thou gavest me. I knew that thou wast an exacting master, taking what did not belong to you and gathering what others sow."
The master says: "Now stop right there and I will judge you by your own excuse out of your own mouth. You say you knew me to be exacting and dishonest, taking more than belonged to me. Now, knowing this, why did you not serve me by giving my money to the bank, and then at my coming you could have brought me my money with my unjust gain and that would have pleased a hard man like me, without effort on your part. You are only giving this as an excuse for your own unfaithfulness. You are a wicked slave."
The master admits that he would be a hard man, if he reaped what another sowed, or took up what belonged to another, but assuming that this was his character, even this could have been met without trouble to the slave through the bank. This is a clear recognition of usury as unjust gain.
Exchangers were little more than the pawn-brokers of today and a bank was a pawn-shop where pledges were stored. The money loaned upon any pawn was much less than its full value. The increase of the loan soon made it more than the value of the pledge which was then forfeited, and the pawn was sold by the broker.
These parables are here dwelt upon, for they are so frequently misunderstood and misapplied. In a large volume on "Banking," the writer found the words of the master quoted, "Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required my own with usury." And they were quoted as a solemn direction of the divine Master to deposit money in the bank.
To quote from these parables in the defense of usury is as flagrant a perversion of the truth as the famous quotation to prove that Paul encouraged theft. "Let him that stole, steal."
The lessons of these parables are in entire harmony with the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets and Nehemiah. In these parables the usurer is presented as a hard man, exacting that which he has not earned and to which he has no right.
The teachings of the Master did not permit what had been forbidden in all the ages.
PRACTICE OF THE DISCIPLES.
The conditions in the very early church were not such as to make prominent the sin of usury. Many of the disciples were very poor and from the humblest walks of life. I Cor. 1:27-28: "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are."
The practice of the disciples was, however, in entire harmony with the teachings of Moses and the Master, and in accord with the prohibition of usury. Later, in the time of the apostolic fathers when the church came face to face with this sin, there was but one voice and that in the denunciation, for the fathers were unanimous in its condemnation.
(1) The first disciples did not loan, but gave to their needy brethren. The early converts held their property so subject to a general call that some have thought they had a community of goods.
Acts 2:44, 45: "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; * * * and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need."
It is evident they did not assist their brethren with "loans," but with gifts; much less did they take the opportunity to secure increase on loans.
The suffering poor were their especial care. They gave of their poverty for the relief of the suffering. Many called by the Spirit were in want, and many came to want through the severe persecutions to which they were subjected. This was especially true of the converts in Jerusalem. For these large collections were received from the churches in Macedonia and in Corinth.
They were commanded to care for the needy of their own house. I Tim. 5:8: "But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Paul, in giving directions to Timothy, as to the care of their poor, requires aid to be given to "widows indeed," those who have no children; but those who have children or nephews are to look to them and be supported by them, and if any person refuses to care for his widowed mother or grandmother or dependent aunt, "he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel."
(2) They were diligent in business. They provided things honest in the sight of all men.
Paul set the example during his itinerate ministry by working at his trade to secure his support and his dictum has been accepted as both divine and human wisdom ever since. "If any will not work neither shall he eat."
Diligence was enjoined for self-support, and that others might be helped. Eph. 4:28: "Let him that stole, steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands, the things which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." The effort was first by labor to be independent and then also to come to the relief of the feeble, the sick, the poor, and the needy. That a man could honestly secure a livelihood without productive labor was foreign to their way of thinking. If any did not work he did not deserve a living, nor was he an honest man. No one was at liberty to be idle. Productive effort must not be relaxed. There was no retiring for the enjoyment of a competency.
There was no thought of such a provision to free them from the effort for the daily bread. The surplus product was given for the aid of others, to those who had claims of kinship first, then to all who had need.
The instant a man failed to produce he began to consume. There is no hint anywhere that it entered any of their minds that they could stop production and live in ease from the increase of what they had produced and the supply grow no less; that the meal and oil should not fail, but be handed down unimpaired to their children.
(3) Covetousness was hated and denounced and classed with the most flagrant violations of the moral law.
Covetousness is an inordinate regard for wealth of any kind. This may be shown in the greed of seeking it, without proper regard for the rights of others; or in parsimony or stinginess in holding it, when there are rightful claims upon it.
James 5:1-6: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days.
"Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath.
"Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just, and he doth not resist you."
Covetousness may also be shown in undue respect for wealth when in the hands of others. This is reproved in James 2:1-7. "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and become the judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by which ye are called?"
Covetousness was a secret sin often indulged when the outward forms of righteousness were observed. Usurers were the open representatives of flagrant covetousness in all the ages. Usury was not named among them as becometh saints.
(4) The early disciples kept out of debt. The early Christians were not borrowers. In both dispensations borrowing was only resorted to in hard necessity. The borrower was second to the beggar. The borrowing was but for a short time, and the loan was returned as soon as absolute wants were supplied.
The doctrine and practice of the early church was to owe no man anything. Rom. 13:8: "Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law."
Indebtedness was to be avoided as compromising the faith in the eyes of others and detrimental to the development of grace in the disciples.
This was the direct command of Paul. This commandment required the payment of all honest obligations. The Christian then as now who failed to acknowledge his obligations and meet them in full as he was able was wanting in the spirit of righteousness and unfaithful to his own convictions of right and duty.
The payment of a debt was the return in full of the loan received.
Any Christian conscience at that time would have been satisfied with the settlement approved and commanded by Nehemiah. The debt was fully discharged when payments equaled the loan by whatever name those payments were called.
This text also required that they keep out of debt. By no distortion of the text can it be made to mean less. Chalmers on this passage comments as follows: "But though to press the duty of our text in the extreme and rigorous sense of it—yet I would fain aspire towards the full and practical establishment of it, so that the habit might become at length universal, not only paying all debts, but even by making conscience never to contract, and therefore never to owe any. For although this might never be reached, it is well it should be looked at, nay moved forward to, as a sort of optimism, every approximation to which were a distinct step in advance, both for the moral and economic good of society. For, first, in the world of trade, one can not be insensible to the dire mischief that ensues from the spirit often so rampant, of an excessive and unwarrantable speculation—so as to make it the most desirable of all consummations that the system of credit should at length give way, and what has been termed the ready-money system, the system of immediate payments in every commercial transaction, should be substituted in its place. The adventurer who, in the walks of merchandise, trades beyond his means is often actuated by a passion as intense, and we fear too, as criminal, as is the gamester, who in the haunts of fashionable dissipation, stakes beyond his fortune. But it is not the injury alone, which the ambition that precipitates him into such deep and desperate hazards, brings upon his own character, neither is it the ruin that the splendid bankruptcy in which it terminates brings upon his own family.
These are not the only evils which we deprecate—for over and above these there is a far heavier disaster, a consequence in the train of such proceedings, of greatly wider and more malignant operation still, on the habit and condition of the working classes, gathered in hundreds around the mushroom establishment, and then thrown adrift among the other wrecks of its overthrow, in utter helplessness and destitution on society. This frenzy of men hasting to be rich, like fever in the body natural, is a truly sore distemper in the body politic. No doubt they are also sufferers themselves, piercing their own hearts through with many sorrows; but it is the contemplation of this suffering in masses, which the sons and daughters of industry in humble life so often earn at their hands, that has ever led me to rank them among the chief pests and disturbers of a commonwealth."
To this may be added an extract from "Short Instructions for Early Masses by the Paulist Fathers." "The fact of the matter is, dear brethren, that there is too much laxity of conscience among our people on this question of contracting debts, of borrowing money, of running up bills with little or no hope of ever paying them. We have all of us no doubt come across people who consider themselves quite religious who owe money to their neighbors for years, and never make an effort to pay what they owe or even to offer an excuse for their negligence in such important matters.
There are some professional debtors who think the world owes them a living, and who spend a good part of their time figuring out how much they can get out of the land and from those who dwell thereon. To have to pay rent is their greatest grievance, and after being trusted for a few months, they find it much cheaper to move to other quarters than to pay what they owe.
Then there are others who must dress extravagantly, no matter what it costs, and in consequence have nothing left to pay for the things they eat or drink. Do they on this account deny themselves any of the good things of this life? Not at all; on the contrary, every business man will tell you the same story—these people want the best and are the most exacting in their demands.
Now, I repeat, there is too much laxity about contracting debts and too little conscience about the necessity of paying for what we use. St. Paul's warning should ring in the ears of every debtor: "Owe no man anything." It will not do for such people to come to confession and say they contracted debts and are not able to pay what they owe. Confession will not relieve them of their obligation, and they must begin at once and make an effort to lessen the debts they owe in the past and learn a lesson in economy and strive against contracting new burdens. This will help us to clear off the old ones.
It is not edifying, nor is it conducive to good fellowship, nor does it help to make our religion better known and better loved, to find people, dressed in the finest, coming Sunday after Sunday to mass while they are heavily in debt to their grocer or butcher or landlord, who may be in the very same pew with them. This is certain, it convinces such men in business that the debtor's religion is not very sincere.
In a word, brethren, it is far better to live in less pretentious dwellings, dress more soberly and eat more sparingly than to owe any man anything. Pay what thou owest, and then you may walk honestly among all men."
Freedom from debt is necessary to the independence of the man who does right and answers only to God. Struggle as he may the man is not free who is under obligations to others. He is hindered in his conduct; he is not always conscious of it, but nevertheless there is a real binding or fettering of his actions. It influences his gifts, for what he holds is not his own and the owner may criticize his benevolence.
An easy conscience and sound sleep is the portion of the man who is under no obligations to another. He looks the whole world in the face, who owes no man a cent.
He is free from distracting business relations with his brethren and brotherly love may abound. The exhortation of Paul is in connection with brotherly love, and of all external relations, debt hinders the free flow of sympathy among brethren.
The early disciples endeavored to avoid all debt. Much less did they pay a premium for the privilege. They only borrowed in hard necessity; but borrowing on usury to make a profit by it was as repellant to the Christian conscience then as complicity with theft or fraud. It marked a man as anxious to share in unrighteous gain. His own conscience placed him among those who are discontented with their lawful estate and guilty of that covetousness which is idolatry. I Tim. 6:6-11: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred in the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."
The Church, from the time of the apostles, was emphatic in its denunciation of usury.
Schaff-Herzog says: "All the apostolic fathers condemned the taking of usury." The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge declares the same.
Chrysostom said: "Nothing is baser in this world than usury, nothing more cruel."
Basil describes a scene so real that we can scarcely realize that he wrote over fifteen hundred years ago. After stating the usurer's protestations of having no money, to the victim, who seeks a loan without interest, he says: "Then the suppliant mentions interest and utters the word security. All is changed. The frown is relaxed; with a genial smile he recounts old family connections. Now it is 'My friend, I will see if I have any money by me. Yes, there is that very sum which a man, I know, has left in my hands in deposit for profit. He named a very heavy interest. However, I will certainly take something off and give it to you on better terms.' With pretenses like this he fawns on the wretched victim and induces him to swallow the barb."
Of the man who has borrowed on interest, he says: "At first he is bright and joyous and shines with another's splendor * * * now night brings no rest, no sun is bright. He hates the days that are hurrying on, for time as it runs adds the interest to its tale."
The fathers unanimously condemned the taking of interest, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome can be quoted against it. The popes followed the teachings of the fathers and forbade it under severe penalties. The priests guilty of this sin were degraded from their orders. The laymen found guilty were excommunicated. Interest paid could be reclaimed, not only from the usurer but from his heirs. A bargain, though confirmed by an oath never to claim back the interest paid, was declared not binding. This action of the popes was confirmed by councils.
Charlemagne, in France, forbid the taking of usury either by priests or laity.
A council at Westminster (1126) approved the degradation of all clergy, who were guilty of this practice.
Archbishop Sands said: "This canker (usury) hath corrupted all England."
A council in Vienna (1311) reaffirmed the denunciations of previous popes and councils, and then adds: "If any shall obstinately persist in the error of presuming to affirm that the taking of usury is not a sin, we decree that he shall be punished as a heretic."