Page images

Being out of heaven who created and placed him in it.

9. Ninthly and lastly, There is the relation of creditor and debtor: for he who lends to another man, and gives him credit either for money or commodities, or accepts of his security for what he lends to another, doth thereby contract a relation to him ; by which he acquires a right to be justly repaid according to contract and agreement. For lending and crediting doth not alienate the property; the debtor hath only a right to use what he borrows for his present conveniency or necessity, but the property remains in the hands of the creditor, who hath the same right to it as when it was in his own possession. And it being so, the rule of common justice obliges us, that we do not borrow more than we have a fair prospect of repaying, unless he that credits us knows our inability, and is willing to run the hazard. For he who engages himself in debt beyond what he can reasonably hope to repay, takes that from his creditor upon promise of payment, which he knows he is never likely to restore him; which is at least as high an injustice, as if he had taken it by force and violence. And the same is to be said of borrowing upon false or insufficient securities, such as bad mortgages, counterfeit pawns, or insolvent bondsmen: for he who takes up his neighbour's goods or money upon such securities as he knows are incapable of repaying him, doth as manifestly wrong him, as if he had taken them by stealth, or robbery. And since our debts are our creditor's rights, if we would be just debtors, we must neither reckon what we owe to be our own, nor so dispose of it, as to put it out of our power to restore it to the true proprietor: he that hath so much of his own, and so much of other men's, ought not to spend, or give, as if it were all his own. For if he that hath borrowed one thousand pounds and is worth another, lives to the utmost height and proportion of two thousand, he must necessarily spend upon what he hath borrowed, and put it out of his power to restore it; and in so doing rob and despoil his ereditor, to maintain himself in his prodigality. And as debtors ought to be careful so to dispose of what they owe, as that they may be able to repay it; so they ought to be no less careful to repay it upon due demand, or according to contract and agreement. For as it is unjust to deprive a creditor of his money, so it is unjust to deprive him of the use and possession of it, any longer than he consents and agrees to it; because as he hath right to his money, so he hath right to possess and use it. And therefore for debtors to defer and protract their payments without their creditors' consent, when it is in their power to discharge them, to put them upon fruitless attendances, and make advantages of their money against their consent, and beyond their contracts and agreements, is a degree of injustice next to that of robbing and despoiling them of it; because by thus doing, they do not only force their creditors to waste their time in tedious attendances, and take them off from their other businesses, but also rob them of the use and possession of their money, which they have as much right to as to the money itself. And if to defer payment be so unrighteous in a debtor, then to refuse and deny it, or take indirect courses either to abate or avoid it, is much more unrighteous; because this is not only to deprive a creditor of the present use and possession of his property, but of his property too: and how can that man call any thing he possesses his own right and property, whilst he thus denies another his? So that by an indispensable rule of justice every debtor is obliged rather to strip himself of all, and cast himself naked on the providence of God, than, by denying his debts, or indirectly shifting the payment of them, to feather his nest with the spoils of his neighbour. When therefore by refusing to pay what we owe, we force our creditors upon costly or troublesome suits to recover their own; or by pleading protections, or sheltering ourselves in a prison, we avoid being forced to it by law; or by fraudulent breakings, we necessitate them to compound our debts, and accept a part for the whole; whichsoever of these ways we take, I say, to deprive our creditors of their rights, we are inexcusably dishonest and unrighteous. And though by these or such like knavish evasions we may force them to acquit and discharge us, yet we cannot force God, in whose book of accounts our debts are recorded, as well as in theirs; and it concerns us sadly to consider, that there is nothing can cross or cancel them there, but only a full restitution; and that if they are not cancelled there, all the tricks and evasions in the world will never be able to secure us from a dismal reckoning, and a more dismal execution.

And thus you see what those acquired rights are, which are due from man to man upon account of their civil and sacred relations.


Of justice, as it preserves the rights of men acquired by

legal possession. 11. THERE are other rights acquired by legal possession. For when there was but one man, he was lord and proprietor of all this lower world; but when he had propagated a family from his loins, and that family was by degrees branched into several tribes, he sent forth these tribes under the conduct of their heads, fathers, and princes, to go and take possession of such and such portions of his earth, as their numbers, necessities, and conveniences required; which when they had done, the prince and father of each tribe divided his land among the members of it, and shared it into particular properties, proportionable to the merit or number of the particular families contained in it; and when any of these tribes became too numerous and burdensome to the land that was thus divided among them, they sent forth colonies from among themselves to take possession of the next unpeopled country bordering upon them; which when they had done, the leader of the colony divided it among his followers; and so as they increased and multiplied, they spread themselves from country to country, till they had shared the world into nations, and divided the nations into distinct and particular properties and families. And this division was the original law, by which each family claimed as its property the share that was allotted to it: and since the father of mankind was entitled by God, who is the supreme proprietor, to all this terrestrial globe, he had an undoubted right to divide it among the VOL. III.


several tribes that descended from him : and therefore since he empowered the heads and princes of his tribes to take possession of such and such portions, and divide it among their families; not only each particular tribe had an undoubted right to the portion allotted to it by him that was head of them all, but each particular family had an undoubted right to the share that was allotted to it by him that was the head of the tribe it belonged to. And thus you see the first division of the world among men was the great law of property; and that whatsoever men were possessed of by it, they had an undoubted right and title to; and upon this law all the meums and tuums, the particular rights and properties that are now in the world, are founded. For though in process of time not only the tribes and colonies encroached upon one another, till the stronger, by swallowing up the weaker, grew into kingdoms and empires; but even the particular families also of these tribes and colonies encroached upon each other, and either by fraud or oppression robbed their neighbours of their original share; so that those rights and properties which were made by the primitive divisions seem for the most part, if not altogether extinguished; yet it is to be considered that the laws now extant do suppose all alienations of property from the first owners to have been made according to that original law of division; which law did not so unalienably entail on those tribes and families their appropriate shares, but that they might either sell or give them away, or forfeit them; and if either of these ways those shares have passed through all successive generations till now, from tribe to tribe, or family to family,

« PreviousContinue »