Page images


turc, whereas the malicious man persecutes those of his own nature. And

Its covetousness is most notorious, which will be better understood when considered under the distinct heads of pression, theft, and deceit. For

Oppression is an open violence, and force against our neighbour's goods, and a sin condemned by all; and even those that practise it in some of its very criminal branches, where the halter is not about their necks, will cry aloud against it. For no state nor condition of men are secure from it. Many rich, honorable and powerful, both nations, princes and subjects, have been deprived of their rights, liberties, and estates, by violence; and gifts, bribes, grandeur and authority have too often corrupted or overawed a judge, and taken place of justice; in which case, all persons concerned, as well the lawyer that pleads, as he that gives sentence, are guilty of oppression. Again, whoever takes advantage of a poor man's needs, and extorts too great a usury from him, under a pretence to supply his pressing necessities; or a griping landlord, who puts his tenants on the rack; or those that are in any wise intrusted with assessing, taxing, and rating their neighbours, and not only do it without justice and mercy, but too frequently lay hold of such opportunities to gratify some private pique or resentment: these, or any other extortioners, exercise but different branches of the sin of

oppression. But

Let them remember the danger they risk; for the Lord nas declared by the mouth of his prophet, that, He, who nath oppressed the poor, and hath spoiled by violence, shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him. Therefore take the advice of Solomon, who exhorts us not to rob the poor, because he is poor; neither to oppress the afflicted in the gate. For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.

VII. The second sort of this injustice is theft; which is an unlawful taking, using, or keeping of our neighbour's property, either by force or fraud. The extent of this sin is wide and deep, and discovers itself in defrauding our cre

ditors, or withholding what is our duty to pay or return, and in taking from our neighbour what he already possesses ; so that all debts, stealing, deceit, or breach of trust, and deceit in traffic, are to be considered as parts of theft. For

He who lends to one man, and gives him credit for money or commodities, or accepts of security for what he lends to another, acquires a right to be justly repaid according to contract: the debtor hath only a right to use what he borrows for his present convenience 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 custody. This obliges us to borrow no more than we have a fair prospect of repaying; unless he that credits us knows our inability, and is willing to run the hazard of the loss. Because whoever 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 or on the highway. What then shall we say of those, who refuse and deny it, or take indirect courses either to abate, or avoid the

payment of their lawful debts? This is not only to deprive a creditor of the present use and possession of his money,

but also of his

property. 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 sidurities, as he knows are incapable of repaying him, doth as manifestly wrong him, as if he had taken them by stealth or violence. Whence, as our debts are our creditors' 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 proprietors; for in so doing we rob and injure our creditor. And They ought to be no less careful to repay upon

the due demand, or according to contract. Because, 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


[ocr errors]

than he consents and agrees to it; wherefore such debtors as put off their payments without their creditors' consent, when it is in their power to discharge them, or put them upon fruitless attendances, and make advantages of their money against their consent, and beyond their contracts and agreements, fall into a degree of injustice, next to that of robbing and despoiling them of it; consequently, by an indispensable rule of justice, every debtor is obliged rather to strip himself of all, and cast himself on the providence of God, than by denying his debts, or indirectly shifting the payment of them, to feather his nest with the spoil of his neighbour's property.

Therefore, when, 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. It may be, that by these or such like knavish evasions we may force them to acquit and discharge us; yet we cannoť force God, in whose book of accounts our debts are recorded, as well as in theirs: and it concerns us fully to consider, that there is nothing can 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 at the bar of divine justice.

The same justice, which obliges men to what has been already said concerning debts of their own contracting, calls

upon every one to discharge those debts also, which either through friendship for the debtor, or on any other account, they have made their own by being bound for another, who is either incapable, or unjust enough to refuse payment. It is true, the case is hard with the bondsman to pay for what, as we commonly say, he has neither eat por drank for, and in likelihood will detriment his family, and perhaps bring him to the very brink of po

verty; but suppose the worst, he cannot blame the

creditor for these consequences, whose right to his money cannot be superseded by any act the debtor can do, or any thing the bondsman can suffer, till the value received is duly and honestly restored.

restored. So that such misfortunes are severe cautions for us never to enter into such engagements rashly, or without good grounds of security to ourselves; but no countenance for breaking them, on which the creditor placed his chiefest confidence: and therefore he must either be paid by that means, or he is cheated and betrayed. But,

of all debts, those of a man's own voluntary promise admit of the least excuse for non-payment, or wilful withholding of them. Does not David in his description of a just man command us, as it were, to pay those promised debts, though they had been made to our own disadvantage? And as they include the wages of servants, and the hire of the labourer; so whoever delays to discharge them must remember the express command of God: Thou shalt not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of the strangers that are in thy land within thy gates. At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it ; for he is poor, and setteth his heart

upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.

Likewise, where any of these offences are committed in breach of trust, which is the case of servants, and any others who are intrusted with other men's affairs : however the law

may in such cases alleviate the punishment, yet in conscience this is an aggravation and increase of the guilt, as being a breach of both justice and fidelity. Nor is it any diminution of the crime, when it is the public that is wronged by any unjust act: for though it is not so obviously and immediately apparent upon whom the injury falls, as in the case of private wrongs; yet the uncertainty, or the number of the persons among whom the damage may chance to be divided, alters not the nature of the crime itself. And though injuries of this kind,

in smaller instances, are not, perhaps, immediately felt and complained of; yet, when the public comes to be wronged by persons of large and extensive power, then not only the crime itself, but the effects of it also, become greater and more apparent, than in the case of private injustice.

VIII. When a man takes from another what is already in his possession, then theft is called stealing: under which head we properly reduce those most notorious rogues that rob upon the highway, and those that forcibly break up houses, and carry off their neighbours' goods or chattels: as also those little pilfering thieves, whose fingers cleave to every little thing they see in private: against both whom the law of the land has enacted the punishment of death, which few ever escape that make a constant practice of this injustice; and nothing but timely and sincere repentance can secure them from the eternal punishment of God's justice. So dear is the price of their iniquity, as to venture not only their neck, but to barter their soul likewise for every

little trifle they steal from another, or buy, or receive, knowing it to be stolen; which many, who seem to abhor stealing, are guilty of, in buying such things a little cheaper than at common price. Nor must we conceal our neighbour's goods; for if we find a thing, and know its right owner, and keep it for our own_use, we cheat him, and thereby are guilty of theft. The only caution here needful to be given is, that young persons especially take heed of the beginning of this sin, of being tempted to do wrong in smaller matters, in things that may seem at first of no great consequence, not very highly injurious to the person wronged, nor very shocking to the conscience of him that does the injustice. But this is of all others the greatest and most dangerous temptation. For few sinners begin with the very highest crimes; usually, being seduced at first into smaller transgressions, they become hardened by degrees, till at length they run into the greatest and most capital offences.

« PreviousContinue »