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"Thou shalt not
learn from what immediately follows. give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase." Hence we may conclude that by the usury which is forbidden is meant all gain from money lent, as by the increase forbidden is clearly meant all gain from provisions lent.
But notwithstanding this, it does not appear that all interest is morally wrong. On the passage in Exodus, "If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer;" we may observe, that this prohibited the Jews only from taking interest of their own people, and this too, only of those who were poor. And this prohibition seems to imply an allowance to take it of others. There is the same restriction of the prohibition in Leviticus; "If thy brother be waxen poor -yea though he be a stranger or a sojourner-Take thou no usury of him, or increase." And here the poor stranger and sojourner is mentioned, as to be treated in the same way. The prohibition in Deuteronomy is restricted to a brother. And it is added, " Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury." Hence it is evident there is nothing morally wrong in interest simply considered; for if there were, it would be wrong to take it of strangers. It appears that the Jews might take interest of other na tions, but they must not oppress them, neither might they take any interest of those of them that were poor. With respect to their own nation, all interest was prohibited, at least with respect to those of them who were poor The prohibition to take interest of their own nation generally, if it did extend to the whole nation, which is however doubtful, was, we have reason to believe, a political regulation, suited to their particular state. For they were a people not engaged in commerce, neither were they allowed to alienate inheritances. As to the other passages which prohibit usury, we ought to explain them in consistency with those quoted from the Mosaic law. And hence we learn that interest is not in Scripture, as a general rule prohibited; but on the contrary is allowed under certain restrictions. This further appears from what our Saviour said in the parable of the talents, in which he mentioned the custom of receiving interest to illustrate the duty of the slothful servant. It is not probable, that he would have thus alluded to this custom if the practice
had been in itself unlawful; and indeed the force of the comparison is derived from this, that an estate ought to be used to advantage.
Besides in a commercial country, borrowing money appears to be necessary to trade; but there is such a risk in lending, that very few who have money would be willing to lend without the prospect of gain. And further the loan is often a benefit to the borrower. And it does appear clearly to be an equitable principle, that if I am to lie out of the use of my property, and at the same time to run a risk of losing it, while the borrower is increasing his estate with it, I ought to have at least a part of the profits. From the aforementioned considerations, I would draw the conclusion that interest, kept within due bounds, and with the exception of certain cases, which shall in their proper place be mentioned, is morally right.
We shall now inquire, what degree of interest is wrong ? Sometimes it is wrong to take any interest. For the Jews were forbidden to take any interest of the poor for the necessaries of life; but if they were able, it was their duty to lend them without the expectation of a reward. The law of charity teaches christians the same. Yea, it may be our duty sometimes to lend, without expecting to receive the principal again. This is clearly taught by our Saviour, Luk. vi. 35. "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." We are not to suppose that this rule was intended to have a universal application; for then it would contradict other express passages of Scripture; and also be in opposition to the plain principles of equity already mentioned. The meaning must be, that when a man is in necessity, and asks to borrow to meet the present necessity, and we are able to lend him, and can do it without interfering with other duties, it is our duty so to do, though it may appear doubtful whether he ever will be able to pay. The only difference between this kind of lending, and a gift is, that in the latter case, we expect no payment on any condition, but in the former we expect, that if the borrower ever become able, he will be honest and return the loan.
In those cases in which it is morally lawful to take interest, how much may be taken? Supposing no civil laws
regulating the rate of interest, we cannot fix any precise proportion, applicable to all cases. We must carefully avoid oppression. Whenever interest oppresses, and while it enriches the lender, impoverishes the borrower, without any fault of his, it becomes exorbitant and oppressive, and is highly criminal in the sight of God. Money loaned ought always to be on such interest, that with proper inanagement, the borrower may live as well as the lender. It may sometimes be more and sometimes less inconvenient to lend money. The hazard is sometimes greater, and sometimes less, according as the security is more or less certain. These things may properly be taken into the account, and where civil laws do not forbid, interest for the use of money may be regulated accordingly. Hence if the civil laws did not fix the standard of interest, it might at some times be morally lawful to take more than at others, and from some persons than others, according to circumstances.
But owing to the corruption of the human heart, and the natural propensity of mankind to get gain, and increase their estates, such is the propensity to abuse the right to take interest, and to oppress in the exercise of this right; and owing to the frequent temptations to borrow, and the deceiving nature of interest, such is the proneness of the borrower to submit to the exorbitant demands of the lender, to his great injury, if not his ruin in the end, that in most countries, the civil laws have wisely fixed a standard of interest. This being fixed, it becomes a moral duty, not to pass this bound. It may be morally wrong, from some persons, and under certain circumstances, to take as much as the law allows. This is always the case, when what is taken, must oppress and impoverish the borrower while it enriches the lender. although it may be duty sometimes to take less than the law allows, it is sinful to take more, although if there were no law prohibiting, it might conscientiously be done. For both the good of society and the laws of God require, that human laws should be obeyed except where they interfere with the rights of conscience, and this too in their spirit as well as their letter. If one man in society has a right to judge of the law, where his self-interest is concerned, whether it be good and ought to be obeyed or not, another has as good a right. If the
usurer may say that the law which forbids taking interest beyond a certain rate, is not right, and therefore he will violate it, the robber has as good a right to judge that property ought to be common, and that therefore the law which forbids him to take it from his neighbour is wrong and ought not to be obeyed. And so with respect to every other character and any other law. Hence, the principle, that the laws which we do not like, may be dispensed with, because they stand opposed to our selfish interests, if carried to its legitimate consequences, would fill society with disorder and misery, and destroy civil government. And the example of the usurer, in breaking the laws of his country is peculiarly dangerous, because as he generally is a man of considerable property, and as property generally gives influence in society,his'example is the more dangerous. Hence the good of society forbids the taking of interest prohibited by law; and the man who does it, deserves not the character of a good citizen.
But further, the laws of God require obedience to the civil laws. The usurer therefore, apart from the oppression and extortion, which may be connected with the practice, and apart from the evil consequences to society of the principle on which he acts, breaks the law of God, by disregarding and transgressing the laws of his country. This is evident from the following texts, Rom. xiii. 1, 2, 5; "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers; for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinancé of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." And 1 Pet. ii. 13; "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake." Will the usurer evade the force of these remarks and these texts, by cloaking himself under an observance of the letter of the law, while he violates its spirit and does actually receive more than lawful interest? Notwithstanding he may evade human penalties, yet the voice of mankind makes him as guilty as though he broke the letter of the law. He is a usurer in public estimation, and he is so also in the sight of God, the penalty of whose laws, he cannot evade.
From what has been said it appears, that though it be
morally lawful to take interest, it is wrong to take it of the poor: it is also wrong to ask or take such a rate of any person, as must be oppression to him, and in the end, while the lender is enriched, the borrower must be impoverished and distressed. The whole tenor of Scripture, which forbids all oppression and extortion, under heavy penalties, is against such a rate of interest. And further it is wrong for us, among whom there is a standard of interest fixed by law, ever, either directly or indirectly, to exceed this standard, whether the rate demanded oppress or not.
The odiousness and evil of usury,or exorbitant,or unlawful interest, appear, in addition to what has already been said, from other considerations. The etymology of the word in different languages teaches its odious and evil nature. The general word in the Hebrew as has already been observed signifies that which bites as a serpent. In the same language, another word is sometimes used which signifies a burden. In the Chaldaic language, the word used signifies corruption, and destruction, because usury wastes and destroys men. The practice has always been odious in popular estimation. Almost all civilized societies have enacted laws against it. And in the word of God, besides those threatnings which are made against oppression generally, which includes exorbitant interest, we find written, the good man," putteth not out his money to usury;" Ps. xv. 5. And," he that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor;" Prov. xxviii. 8. These texts, if they do not mean all interest, must undoubtedly at least signify that which is exorbitant. Again Jeremiah, when he expressed his wonder that the world should strive and contend with him, gave as the reason why he wondered, that he was no usurer; Jer. xv. 10. As though this more than any thing else, if he had been guilty of it, would have justified the conduct of the world towards him. In the 18th Chapter of Ezekiel, we find usury mentioned among the most flagitious crimes, as a trait in the character of the wicked man. And from our text we learn, that it was one of those grievous sins, for which God destroyed Jerusalem, desolated Judea, and sent the inhabitants into captivity.
Let the usurer seriously consider these things; study to know what is right, without suffering his judgment to be