No man shall take the nether. God now enforces another principle of equity in relation to loans, (not to be too strict ) in requiring pledges, whereby the poor are often exceedingly distressed. In the first place, He prohibits the taking of anything in pledge which is necessary to the poor for the support of existence; for by the words which I have translated meta and catillus, i e., the upper and nether millstone, He designates by synecdoche all other instruments, which workmen cannot do without in earning their daily bread. As if any one should forcibly deprive a husbandman of his plough, or his spade, or harrow, or other tools, or should empty a shoemaker's, or potter's, or other person's shop, who could not exercise his trade when deprived of its implements; and this is sufficiently clear from the context, where it is said, |He taketh a man's life to pledge,| together with his millstones. He, then, is as cruel, whosoever takes in pledge what supports a poor man's life, as if he should take away bread from a starving man, and thus his life itself, which, as it is sustained by labor, so, when its means of subsistence are cut off, is, as it were, itself destroyed.
10. When thou dost lend thy brother anything He provides against another iniquity in reclaiming a pledge, viz., that the creditor should ransack the house and furniture of his brother, in order to pick out the pledge at his pleasure. For, if this option were given to the avaricious rich, they would be satisfied with no moderation, but would seize upon all that was best, as if making an assault on the very entrails of the poor: in a word, they would ransack men's houses, or at any rate, whilst they contemptuously refused this or that, they would fill the wretched with rebuke and shame. God, therefore, will have no pledge reclaimed, except what the debtor of his own accord, and at his own convenience, shall bring out of his house, lie even proceeds further, that the creditor shall not take back any pledge which he knows to be necessary for the poor: for example, if he should pledge the bed on which he sleeps, or his counterpane, or cloak, or mantle. For it is not just that lie should be stripped, so as to suffer from cold, or to be deprived of other aids, the use of which he could not forego without loss or inconvenience. A promise, therefore, is added, that this act of humanity will be pleasing to God, when the poor shall sleep in the garment which is restored to him. He speaks even more distinctly, and says: The poor will bless thee, and it shall be accounted to thee for righteousness. For God indicates that He hears the prayers of the poor and needy, lest the rich man should think the bounty thrown away which lie confers upon a lowly individual. We must, indeed, be more than iron-hearted, unless we are disposed to such liberality as this, when we understand that, although the poor have not the means of repaying us in this world, still they have the power of recompensing us before God, i e., by obtaining grace for us through their prayers. An implied threat is also conveyed, that if the poor man should sleep inconveniently, or catch cold through our fault, God. will hear his groans, so that our cruelty will not be unpunished. But if the poor man, upon whom we have had compassion, should be ungrateful, yet, even though he is silent, our kindness will cry out to God; whilst, on the other hand, our tyrannical harshness will suffice to provoke God's vengeance, although he who has been treated unkindly should patiently swallow his wrong. To be unto righteousness is equivalent to being approved by God, or being an acceptable act; for since the keeping of the Law is true righteousness, this praise is extended to particular acts of obedience. Although it must be observed that this righteousness fails and vanishes, unless we universally fulfill whatever God enjoins. It is, indeed, a part of righteousness to restore a poor man's pledge; but if a mall be only beneficent in this respect., whilst in other matters he robs his brethren; or if, whilst free from avarice, he exercises violence, is given to lust or gluttony, the particular righteousness, although pleasing in itself to God, will not come into account. In fact, we must hold fast the axiom, that no work is accounted righteous before God, unless il, proceeds from a man of purity and integrity; whereas there is none such to be found. Consequently, no works are imputed unto righteousness, except because God deigns to bestow His gratuitous favor on believers. In itself, indeed, it would be true, that whatever act of obedience to God we perform, it is accounted for righteousness, i e., if the whole course of our life corresponded to it, whereas no work proceeds from us which is not corrupted by some defect. Thus, we must fly to God's mercy, in order that, being reconciled to us, He may also accept our work.
What he had previously prescribed respecting the poor, lie afterwards applies to widows alone, yet so as to recommend all poor persons to us under their name; and this we gather both from the beginning of the verse (17,) in which lie instructs them to deal fairly and justly with strangers and orphans, and also from the reason which is added, viz., that they should reflect that they were bondmen in the land of Egypt; for their condition there did not suffer them proudly to insult the miserable; and it is natural that he should be the more affected with the ills of others who has experienced the same. Since, then, this reason is a general one, it is evident also that the precept is general, that we should be humane towards all that are in want.