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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Exodus 22:25

Harmony Of The Law Volume 3 by Jean Calvin

Exodus 22:25

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.

25. Si pecuniam mutuam dederis populo, meo pauperi qui est tecum, non eris ei sicut usurarius: non imponetis ei usuram.

25. If thou lend money to any of my people Humanity ought to be very greatly regarded in the matter of loans, especially when a person, being reduced to extremities, implores a rich man's compassion; for this is, in. point of fact, the genuine trial of our charity, when, in accordance with Christ's precept, we lend to those of whom we expect no return. (Luke 6:35.) The question here is not as to usury, as some have falsely thought, as if he commanded us to lend gratuitously, and without any hope of gain; but, since in lending, private advantage is most generally sought, and therefore we neglect the poor; and only lend our money to the rich, from whom we expect some compensation, Christ reminds us that, if we seek to acquire the favor of the rich, we afford in this way no proof of our charity or mercy; and hence lie proposes another sort of liberality, which is plainly gratuitous, in giving assistance to the poor, not only because our loan is a perilous one, but because they cannot make a return in kind.

Before descending to speak of loans, God here adverts to poverty and distress, (Leviticus 25:35,) whereby men's minds may be disposed to compassion. If any one be afflicted with poverty, he commands us to relieve his necessity. He makes use, however, of a metaphor, that he who is tottering should be strengthened, as if by catching hold of his hand. What follows about the stranger and sojourner extends and amplifies, in my opinion, the previous sentence; as if it were said that, since humanity is not to be denied even to strangers, much more is assistance to be given to their brethren. For, when it pleased God that strangers should be permitted to inhabit the land, they were to be kindly treated according to the rights of hospitality; for to allow them to live is to make their condition just and tolerable. And thus God indirectly implies, that such unhappy persons are expelled and driven away, so as not to live, if they are oppressed by unjust burdens. This, then, is the sum of the first sentence, that the rich, who has the ability, should uplift the poor man who is failing, by his assistance, or should strengthen the tottering.

A precept is added as to lending without interest, which, although it is a political law, still depends on the rule of charity; inasmuch as it can scarcely happen but that the poor should be entirely drained by the exaction of interest, and that their blood should be almost sucked away. Nor had God any other object in view, except that mutual and brotherly affection should prevail amongst the Israelites. It is plain that this was a part of the Jewish polity, because it was lawful to lend at interest to the Gentiles, which distinction the spiritual law does not admit. The judicial law, however, which God prescribed to His ancient people, is only so far abrogated as that what charity dictates should remain, i.e., that our brethren, who need our assistance, are not to be treated harshly. Moreover, since the wall of partition, which formerly separated Jew and Gentile, is now broken down, our condition is now different; and consequently we must spare all without exception, both as regards taking interest, and any other mode of extortion; and equity is to be observed even towards strangers. |The household of faith.| indeed, holds the first rank, since Paul commands us specially to do good to them, (Galatians 6:10;) still the common society of the human race demands that we should not seek to grow rich by the loss of others.

As touching the political law, no wonder that God should have permitted His people to receive interest, from the Gentiles, since otherwise a just reciprocity would not have been preserved, without which one party must needs be injured. God commands His people not to practice usury, and still lays the Jews alone, and not foreign nations, under the obligation of this law. In order, therefore, that equality (ratio analogica) might be preserved, He accords the same liberty to His people which the Gentiles would assume for themselves; for this is the only intercourse that can be endured, when the condition of both parties is similar and equal. For when Plato asserts that usurers are not to be tolerated in a well-ordered republic, lie does not go further than to enjoin, that its citizens should abstain from that base and. dishonest traffic between each other.

The question now is, whether usury is evil in itself; and surely that which heathens even have detested appears to be by no means lawful to the children of God. We know that the name of usurer has everywhere and always been infamous and detested. Thus Cato, desiring to commend agriculture, says that thieves were formerly condemned to a fine of double, and usurers quadruple; from which he infers, that the latter were deemed the worst. And when asked what he thought of usury, he replied, |What do I think of killing a man?| whereby he wished to show, that it was as improper to make money by usury as to commit murder. This was the swing of one private individual, yet it is derived from the opinions of almost all nations and persons. And assuredly from this cause great tumults often arose at Rome, and fatal contentions were awakened between the common people and the rich; since it can hardly be but that usurers suck men's blood like leeches. But if we come to an accurate decision as to the thing itself, our determination must be derived from nowhere else than the universal rule of justice, and especially from the declaration of Christ, on which hang the law and the prophets, -- Do not unto others what ye would not have done to thyself. (Matthew 7:12.) For crafty men are for ever inventing some little subterfuge or other to deceive God. Thus, when all men detested the word foenus, another was substituted, which might avoid unpopularity under an honest pretext; for they called it usury, as being a compensation for the loss a man had incurred by losing the use of his money. But there is no description of foenus to which this specious name may not be extended; for whosoever has any ready money, and is about to lend it, he will allege that it would be profitable to himself if he were to purchase something with it, and that at every moment opportunities of gain are presenting themselves. Thus there will be always ground for his seeking compensation, since no creditor could ever lend money without loss to himself. Thus usury, since the word is equivalent to foenus, is but a covering for an odious practice, as if such glosses would deliver us in God's judgment, where nothing but absolute integrity can avail for our defense. There was almost a similar mode of subterfuge among the Israelites. The name ns5, neschec, which is derived from biting, sounded badly; since then no one chose to be likened to a hungry dog, who fed himself by biting others, some escape from the reproach was sought; and they called whatever gain they received beyond the capital, trvyt, therbith, as being an increase. But God, in order to prevent such deception, unites the two words, (Leviticus 25:36,) and condemns the increase as well as the biting. For, where He complains of their unjust modes of spoiling and thieving in Ezekiel, and uses both words as He does here by Moses, there is no doubt but that He designedly cuts off their empty excuses. (Ezekiel 18:13.) Lest any, therefore, should reply, that although he derived advantage from his money, he was not on that account guilty of usury, God at once removes this pretense, and condemns in general any addition to the principal. Assuredly both passages clearly show that those who invent new words in excuse of evil, do nothing but vainly trifle. I have, then, admonished men that the fact itself is simply to be considered, that all unjust gains are ever displeasing to God, whatever color we endeavor to give to it. But if we would form an equitable judgment, reason does not suffer us to admit that all usury is to be condemned without exception. If the debtor have protracted the time by false pretences to the loss and inconvenience of his creditor, will it be consistent that he should reap advantage from his bad faith and broken promises? Certainly no one, I think, will deny that usury ought to be paid to the creditor in addition to the principal, to compensate his loss. If any rich and monied man, wishing to buy a piece of land, should borrow some part of the sum required of another, may not he who lends the money receive some part of the revenues of the farm until the principal shall be repaid? Many such cases daily occur in which, as far as equity is concerned, usury is no worse than purchase. Nor will that subtle argument of Aristotle avail, that usury is unnatural, because money is barren and does not beget money; for such a cheat as I have spoken of, might make much profit by trading with another man's money, and the purchaser of the farm might in the meantime reap and gather his vintage. But those who think differently, may object, that we must abide by God's judgment, when He generally prohibits all usury to His people. I reply, that the question is only as to the poor, and consequently, if we have to do with the rich, that usury is freely permitted; because the Lawgiver, in alluding to one thing, seems not to condemn another, concerning which He is silent. If again they object that usurers are absolutely condemned by David and Ezekiel, (Psalm 15:5; Ezekiel 18:13,) I think that their declarations ought to be judged of by the rule of charity; and therefore that only those unjust exactions are condemned whereby the creditor, losing' sight of equity, burdens and oppresses his debtor. I should, indeed, be unwilling to take usury under my patronage, and I wish the name itself were banished from the world; but I do not dare to pronounce upon so important a point more than God's words convey. It is abundantly clear that the ancient people were prohibited from usury, but we must needs confess that this was a part of their political constitution. Hence it follows, that usury is not now unlawful, except in so far as it contravenes equity and brotherly union. Let each one, then, place himself before God's judgment-seat, and not do to his neighbor what he would not have done to himself, from whence a sure and infallible decision may be come to. To exercise the trade of usury, since heathen writers accounted it amongst disgraceful and base modes of gain, is much less tolerable among the children of God; but in what cases, and how far it may be lawful to receive usury upon loans, the law of equity will better prescribe than any lengthened discussions.

Let us now examine the words. In the first place, where we have translated the words, |Thou shalt not be to him as a usurer,| there is some ambiguity in the Hebrew word ns5, nashac, for it is sometimes used generally for to lend, without any ill meaning; but here it is undoubtedly applied to a usurer, who bites the poor; as also in Psalm 109:11, |Let the usurer catch all that he hath.| The sum is, that the poor are to be liberally aided, and not to be oppressed by harsh exactions: and therefore immediately afterwards it is added, |neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.| When again He repeats, |And if thy brother be waxen poor,| etc., we see that reference is everywhere made to the poor; because, although sometimes those who possess large properties are ruined by usury, (as Cicero says that certain luxurious and prodigal persons ill his days contended against usury with the fruits of their farms, because their creditors swallowed up the whole produce; ) still the poor alone, who had been compelled to borrow by want, and not by luxury, were worthy of compassion.

The third passage, however, admirably explains the meaning of God, since it extends usury to corn and wine, and all other articles. For many contracts were invented by artful men, whereby they pillaged the needy without ignominy or disgrace: and now-a-days no rapacity is more cruel than that which imposes a payment upon debtors, without any mention of usury; for instance, if a poor man should ask the loan of six measures of wheat, the creditor will require seven to be repaid; or if the same thing should happen as regards wine. This profit will not be called usury, because no money will pass; but God, indirectly casting ridicule upon their craftiness, shows that this plague of usury extends itself to various things, and to almost all sorts of traffic; whence it clearly appears that nothing else is prescribed to the Israelites, but that they should humanely assist each other. But, since cupidity blinds men, and carries them, aside to dishonest dealings, God sets His blessing in opposition to all such iniquitous arts, whereby they hawk, as it were, for gain; and commands them to look for riches rather to Him the author of all good things, than to hunt for them by rapine and fraud.

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