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14486Usury or the Charging of Interest on Money Lent

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  • multiplose
    Apr 11, 2006
      Hi fellas,

      I wrote this post on usury for another site, an I have decided to
      post it here as well. If anyone knows the historical/modern
      churches stance on this position, especially what the RPNA believes,
      I would like to know.

      I believe that usury, or the charging of interest on money lent
      violates the principle of economic justice, and of all justice,
      which I apprehend in both nature and morals, to be this: whatever a
      man sows, he reaps. Or in other words, God shall repay every man
      according to his works.

      Since this describes justice, it then follows that injustice is when
      a man reaps where he does not sow, or when a man sows but does not
      reap. This is what the Bible so often calls "unjust gain." When a
      man steals from another, he profits when has not worked or earned
      that profit. He has not translated labor into wealth. His gain is
      not based on labor or his own work, but on another's; he has taken
      what another man has earned.

      This is why I see usury as so great a sin. When the principal is
      paid, where does the money come from to pay of the interest? It
      comes from the back of the man who labors. If I lent someone $500,
      charging interest (overall) of $50, I receive in return $550. I am
      $50 richer than before, but the man whom I lent to is $50 poorer,
      and furthermore that $50 came from his labor! Truly this is economic
      injustice; to sell or rent ones money, to make money to be more
      expensive than what it actually is. For who would not regard it a
      great trickery and deception, if I exchanged my $1 for their $2, or
      my $10, for their $100?! Usury is nothing more than exchanging the
      use of someone else's money for more money, it is renting out money,
      at an unequal cost. How can this not be a disproportionate gain, and
      a great sin?

      Furthermore, the Bible issues several condemnations of usury. One is
      located in Exodus 22:25, which states, "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." The immediate
      context in verses 21-24 indicate that this is one way in which we
      oppress other men, whether the stranger, the widow, or the orphan.
      By charging interest on money lent (or victuals, or anything else
      that can be lent upon usury, Lev. 25:35-37, Deuteronomy 23:19-20),
      we take advantage of the poor among us, we use them, for our own
      profit and interest.

      The Bible contains a godly example of when the rich exacted usury
      from the poor in Nehemiah 5. We read, beginning in verse 1: "And
      there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their
      brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons, and our
      daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may
      eat, and live. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our
      lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the
      dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the
      king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our
      flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their
      children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters
      to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage
      already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other man
      have our lands and vineyards. And I was very angry when I heard
      their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I
      rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact
      usury, everyone of his brother. And I set a great assembly against
      them. And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our
      brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye
      even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held
      they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is
      not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God
      because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and
      my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I
      pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them
      even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and
      their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn,
      the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. Then said they, We
      will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do
      as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them,
      that they should do according to this promise. Also I shook my lap,
      and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his
      labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken
      out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised
      the Lord. And the people did according to this promise" (vs. 1-13).

      The exaction of usury, as in this case, and in several historical
      examples, increases the poverty of the poor and the wealth of the
      rich. Lending is by its own design an act of compassion, not profit.
      When we lend we ought not to expect gain or increase; our concern
      should be for the welfare of the individual to whom we are lending.

      It boggles me, to think that even a penny should be exacted from
      money lent. Nehemiah commands the people to restore the "hundredth
      part" of the money and corn, the wine and the oil. He says "restore"
      because they are stolen. Something can only be restored when it is
      taken unjustly.

      This injunction, I would argue, to restore the "hundredth part" also
      implies that usury is not excessive interest, as the modern
      terminology indicates. If Nehemiah demanded to repay back the
      hundredth part of what he had taken, how could he have meant the
      nobles were wrong in only taking more money than they should have?
      He tells them to repay the hundredth part, that is, all of it, even
      to the smallest cent. And where is the slightest indication of a
      boundary or a limitation in Scripture on interest charged? Is it 5%,
      is it 10%, or is it 25%? How is that usury can be excessive interest
      when in Scripture no definition of excessive is ever given?
      Furthermore, any interest remains a violation of economic injustice,
      because of its disproportionate nature.

      Wealth should be gotten by labour, as the Scripture says, "Wealth
      gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by
      labour shall increase" (Proverbs 13:11). Labor is the source of
      wealth: "In all labour there is profit" (Proverbs 14:23). But he who
      exacts usury, does not labor. He takes what is gained from another
      man's labor, and in so doing, he steals that man's profit. This
      makes it so the "rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is
      servant to the lender," (Proverbs 22:7). And I do not think this to
      be a positive connotation, because in the same chapter we read, "Rob
      not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in
      the gate: For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of
      those that spoiled them" (Proverbs 22:22-23). We may conclude from
      what has been said that, according to Solomon's words, "He that by
      usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it
      for him that will pity the poor" (Proverbs 28:8). Compassion and
      sincerity of heart in labor triumph over unjust gain and oppression.

      Calvin once wrote a letter, in which, according to my understanding
      of it, he condemned usury charged from the poor, but not the rich.
      To this, I answer, why would one lend to the rich? Why give to him
      who has more than enough? Isn't the responsibility of giving on the
      one who is rich, who "hath this world's good, and seeth his brother
      have need" (1 John 3:17)? Doesn't a preoccupation with riches cause
      the rich to "fall into temptation and a snare, into many foolish and
      hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition;" and
      have we not read that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1
      Timothy 6:9-10). I do not see how anyone can reconcile these
      principles with Calvin's notion that we may exact usury when we lend
      to the rich, but no to the poor, because the very notion of lending
      is to help those in need, not to bolster the riches of the rich, so
      that they can be wealthier for a time. This I utterly denounce as
      greediness and and the "hurtful lusts" which "drown men in
      destruction and perdition."

      Besides, if usury is an economic injustice, as shown before, then
      Calvin's statement would be like saying that, while we should not
      steal from the poor, because they are poor, we may steal from the
      rich, because they are rich! Both are a violation of commandment
      eight, "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15).

      In Ezekiel 18, particularly verses 8, 13, and 17, God lists the
      exacting of usury among sins of a perpetual moral nature, sins such
      as violence, idolatry, and a adultery. Usury is not merely a
      political law meant only for the Israelities, but a law of this same
      perpetual and moral nature. And upon the nation who practices
      economic justice, we read of Israel as an example, "Unto a stranger
      thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not
      lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that
      thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess
      it." This is a political economic promise, and its condition is
      political and economic justice. It is not one of the various and
      sundry laws by which Christ was revealed to the Israelities, but is
      a moral law, one just as applicable to nations today as it was to
      the Israelities. They are told that if they behave this way
      economically, that their labor shall cause them to prosper, and God
      will bless them economically for it. I don't see how anyone could
      not understand this to be a statement as much a statement about
      morals as it is about economics and politics. Surely there is a
      correlation between economic justice and economic blessing, as this
      verse indicates. And therefore, this injunction applies even today,
      and is of moral obligation.

      Lastly, the Westminster Standards condemn usury and approve of
      lending and giving freely in the Larger Catechism, as you may see in
      questions 141 & 142

      Having said all these things, I would quote the words of the Apostle
      Paul and the Prophet Jeremiah. Ephesians 4:28 says, "Let him that
      stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his
      hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that
      needeth." And Jeremiah 17:10-11 states, "I the Lord search the
      heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his
      ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. As the partridge
      sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches,
      and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at
      his end shall be a fool."

      To those who read this,
      I would like to hear from you, whether you agree or not, and why.

      I am happily resigned to the grace of God, having studied this issue
      for sometime, to allow for criticism of my thoughts, that I might
      improve, as iron sharpens iron.

      I am,
      your dear and beloved brother in Christ,
      Julian R. Gress
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