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chases is oppression. Engrossing or monopolizing commodities which are the necessaries of life, and then exacting an exorbitant price, especially of the poor, is great oppression. This is what is called in Scripture "grinding the faces of the poor;" Is. iii. 15. Wresting from our neighbour by violence that which is his, because we are more powerful than he, and because he is afraid to contend with us; also taking advantage of forms of law to wrest or withhold from our neighbour his property; and further the putting another to the trouble and expense of a law-suit to gain his own right, and protracting the suit to as great length as we can, to run him to as much expense as possible, are oppression. This last is a common mode of oppression, and it is a grievous one, and especially if the person thus wronged be poor, and unable to bear the expense incident to a tedious suit at law. But we cannot further particularize. Suffice it to say that every kind of wresting or withholding from our neighbour, his property, whether by fraud or by force, is oppression.
Every kind of oppression, and especially of the poor and more helpless is forbidden in the word of God, and the oppressors are severely threatened. Thus we read, Lev. xxv. 14; "If thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another." The wickedness and danger of oppression are very frequently pointed out in Scripture. It was one of the sins, for which, as we learn from our text, and elsewhere, God sent his judgments upon the Jews, when their land was desolated, and the inhabitants were either slain or carried captive by the Chaldeans. Zophar in the book of Job speaking of the wicked, said,
Because he hath oppressed and hath forsaken the poor: because he hath violently taken away an house which he builded not surely he shall not feel quietness; God shall cast the fury of his wrath upon him;" Job xx. 19, 20, 23. Solomon said, "He that oppresseth the poor, to increase his riches, shall surely come to want;" Prov. xxii. 16. He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker;" Prov. xiv. 31. "Wo unto them (said Isaiah) that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst the earth;" Is. iv. 8. "Wo unto them that decree
unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness, which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless;" Is. x. 1, 2. In the prophecy of Amos we read, "Hear this O'ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, saying, when will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat? The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein ?" Am. viii. 4-8. The Lord declared by the mouth of the prophet Malachi, "I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right;" Mal. iii. 5. Our Saviour pronounced a woe against the scribes and Pharisees, because they devoured widow's houses, and were within, full of extortion, Mat. xxiii. 14, 25. The apostle Paul placed extortioners among those who cannot inherit the kingdom of God; 1 Cor. vi. 10. And the apostle James denounced the judgments of God against oppressors; "Go to now ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Behold, the hire of the labourers 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 Sabaoth ;" Jam. v. 1, 4. From these texts, the wickedness and danger of oppression and extortion are evident.
Before we leave this subject, we may remark, how good is God, that he befriends the weak and oppressed! How good are his laws, which thus respect and guard the rights of all his creatures! And how unreasonable is it, to reject, or hate, or disregard these laws which are so well calculated to promote universal happiness. Let a sense of the excellence of God's law lead us ever to love and obey it. And let oppressors and extortioners remember, that although they may be above the reach of human laws, or
may evade them, there is one higher than the highest, who notices their conduct, and to whom it is most displeasing; and who will one day judge the cause of the oppressed, and punish the oppressor; and let them repent, and break off their sins by righteousness.
We proceed to the consideration of the other sin mentioned in our text: viz. Usury.
By usury we understand in general, the compensation which the owner of any thing receives for its use. The term is more especially appropriated to express the compensation received for the use of money. On this subject there has been and still is a diversity of opinions. Some have supposed all interest for the use of money to be morally unlawful. From Ecclesiastical history we learn that usury, by which most probably is, for the most part, meant, all interest, has been condemned by Ecclesiastical councils, both of primitive and of later times. Many of the Roman Catholic divines, and especially the schoolmen, as they were called, also held all interest to be morally unlawful. And the Canon law, which contains the opinions of the ancient Latin fathers, and the decrees of general Councils, and of the Popes, forbids any interest for money, and pronounces it a mortal sin.
The same opinion, that all interest is morally unlawful, was held by some of the Protestant divines, about the time of the Reformation. Among these we find the name of the justly celebrated Swiss reformer, Zuinglius. The same opinion has been held by several eminent divines since. Hence it will be important to inquire whether it is ever morally lawful for the lender to take any interest of the borrower?
All the texts of Scripture which I have been able to find, in which the subject of usury is introduced, and I believe I have found them all, are the following, Ex. xxii. 25; "If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury." Lev. xxv. 35, 36, 37; "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. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase."
Deut. xxiii. 19. 20; "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury. Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury, but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury." This is all that is said upon the subject in the law of Moses. The next place we find the subject mentioned is in the fifth chapter of Nehemiah.The passage is too long to quote entire. The substance of it is as follows. There was a great scarcity of provisions in Judea and the taxes laid by the Persian government were high. Hence the poorer class of people were obliged to borrow money of their richer brethren, for which they charged them an interest of the 100th part, which is supposed to be per month, equal to 12 per cent a year; and to secure the payment of what they thus borrowed, they had to give mortgages on their houses and lands. This soon reduced the borrowers to poverty and distress. The lenders had got their lands, and they were likely to get their children for slaves. In their distress, they cried to Nehemiah the governor. He immediately as-" sembled together those who were guilty of this oppression, and said unto them, " Ye exact usury every one of his brother;" and having expostulated with them, and shown them the evil of their conduct, he added, "I pray you let us leave off this usury. Restore I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive yards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil that ye exact of them. Then said they, we will restore them, and will require nothing of them." Psalm xv. 5; The Psalmist gave this as a trait of the character of the good man. "He putteth not out his money to usury." Prov. xxviii. 8; we read, "He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor." Jer. xv. 10; The prophet speaking of the contentions of the world with him, observed, "I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury, yet every one of them doth curse me." The next place in which we find the subject mentioned, is in the 18th Chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet describing the just man, said, in the 8th verse-"He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase." Again describing the wicked man, he gave in the 13th verse,
this as a trait in his character-" Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase." And in the 17th verse speaking of a good son of a wicked father, he said, "That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase." The same subject is again mentioned in our text." Thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by extortion." These are all the passages on the subject in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the word usury is but twice mentioned. First in Mat. XXV. 27; in the parable of the talents committed to the servants. The master is represented as saying to the unprofitable servant, when reckoning with him, "Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury." The other place in which it is mentioned, is in the same parable; Luk. xix. 23.
In answering the question whether any interest be morally lawful, it will be important to settle the meaning of usury in those passages of Scripture, where the word is used. The original word used in the Old Testament, which is rendered usury in our translation, is, I believe, in all the passages quoted, except the one in Nehemiah, derived from a root, which signifies to bite as a serpent. The original word in Nehemiah signifies a burden; in all the other places, a biting as of a serpent. Hence some have infered, that it is not all interest which is forbidden, and which is called usury; but only that which proves a burden or oppressive; or that which bites as a serpent, or wastes and by degrees destroys the substance of the borBut I am inclined to believe, that usury in Scripture, generally, if not always signifies, all interest. În Nehemiah, it is evident that by usury is meant all increase, or interest; for they were required to restore all the gain they had received, viz. the hundredth part of the principal per month. And they said, "We will restore them, and will require nothing of them." The same appears also from the passages quoted from Leviticus and from Ezekiel, where increase is added to usury. Increase, where both terms are used together, seems to refer to provisions, and usury to money; as appears from the passage in Leviticus. Take thou no usury of him or increase." The different meaning of the two terms we