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Some think that no severity is too great to be used against those who have spent their estates riotously, to the injury of their creditor ; and indeed little is to be said in behalf of such persons. Yet still it is worth consideration, whether a man would choose to be judge and executioner in his own cause.

But the case which is now principally in view, stands clear of these exceptions. Those unfortunate persons with whom the jails are crowded, are for the most part such as have neither money nor friends to assist them ;, such as have fallen into poverty by misfortunes, by a decay of business, or perhaps by the numbers of a family which their utmost diligence could not support. Were they at liberty, they might be of use to themselves, to their poor families, and also to their creditors: this case enlarged on: the report read. Concluding observations,

DISCOURSE IX.

The case of the Insolvent Debtors, and the charity due to

them, considered.—Preached before the Lord Mayor, &c. at St. Bride's, on Monday in Easter week, April 22, 1728.

MATTHEW, CHAP. XVIII.–VERSES 29. 30.

And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him,

saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he

should pay the debt.

When we consider the various calamities and distresses under which many persons and families labor, and their utter inability to support themselves under these evils, it is some alleviation to observe with what diligence and application Christian charity has been at work to find proper methods for the comfort and support of such as are in misery and affliction.

This thought arises naturally from the business of this day. And surely this great and worthy city never appears more honorable in the sight of God and man, than when assembled for the sake and on the behalf of those who have nothing to plead for them but their misery; and nothing to return but their prayers.

As the charitable institutions under your direction and government have no use of riches or possessions but for the supply of the needy; the true way of estimating their condition is, to consider the proportion which their revenues bear to the necessities of those who stand in need of their assistance. If the poor thrive and grow able to support themselves, the hospitals grow rich in proportion ; if the poor and their wants increase, the hospitals themselves grow poor, and become the object of every Christian's charity.

From hence it is evident, that whoever, by any methods of oppression or cruelty, adds to the number of the poor and miserable, does as truly act in opposition to these charitable foundations, and the end for wbich they are instituted, as if he took from them their possessions. For whether you increase their burden, or lessen their maintenance, it is the same thing.

There are few who will suspect themselves to be chargeable with any design against these charities; and there are, I believe, few indeed who have any formed design against them. But if

you

consider the case in the view now opened to you, it may appear perhaps that there are many who act daily in opposition to this good work, increasing that burden, which is already almost insupportable.

There are many ways which men practise in oppressing the poor, which might properly fall under this consideration ; but I shall confine myself to that single instance, to which the text relates, the hardheartedness and cruelty which men use towards their poor

insolvent debtors. And I the rather choose to speak to this case, because men are apt to imagine that conscience has nothing to do in it, and that they are secure from any guilt so long as they follow in a legal nanner the method prescribed by the law. Perhaps too, for a like reason, this iniquity has been less reproved than it deserves by the preacher; for fear he should be thought to condemn the law of his country.

I have no such fear; nor do I mean to condemn the law of my country, or to charge it with the cruelty of those who abuse it. If the law itself is severe, the more reason there is to be cautious in the use of it: but if men will turn the law, which was given them for the security of their property, into an instrument of oppression and revenge, the law is free, but they are guilty. And without doubt there have been many legal proceedings in courts of justice, which, when they come to be

re-examined in a higher court, the judge and the jury shall be praised for executing the law faithfully, and yet the prosecutor condemned for violence and oppression.

There is a plain difference between the laws made for the public good and safety, and those introduced in favor of private persons; only with respect to the first-mentioned laws, it is often criminal to conceal offences committed against them, or to compound for them with the offenders. To conceal treason is an offence of a very high nature ; for every man is concerned in the life and welfare of the king, and bound to defend him. To compound with thieves and robbers is criminal, for this plain reason among others, that whoever treats with a thief for his impunity, treats for a greater interest than he has a right to dispose of; for every man has an interest in bringing such offenders to justice; and therefore no man can remit the penalty but he who has a right to act for the public, that is, the king only.

But as to the laws introduced for the sake of private rights and properties, the case is otherwise. For as every man may dispose of his own rights and properties as he thinks fit, so he is at liberty to use the methods which the law has provided for the

recovery of his rights, or not to use them, as he pleases. In all these cases therefore the law provides the remedy, and leaves the use of it to the conscience of the party concerned.

Since then men are to be governed by the rules of reason and conscience in the legal prosecution of their own rights, I desire you to consider with me what it is that reason and conscience and Christian charity require of us in the case now under consideration.

The words of the text are part of one of our Saviour's parables. They do not contain an historical account of a fact, supposed to have happened just as it is related ; but here is a case stated by our blessed Lord, with such circumstances as he . thought proper to support the inference to be drawn from it; and therefore the circumstances are to be considered as necessary ingredients in the judgment which he makes on this case. Observe then,

First, here is a debt supposed to be justly due. The poor man owed his fellow-servant an hundred pence.

Secondly, when the debt is demanded, he does not deny it, or refuse to pay it, but desires forbearance only till he could, by his labor and industry, raise enough to discharge the debt.

Thirdly, he asks even this as a favor, and with great submission : he fell down at his fellow-servant's feet and besought him.' On the contrary,

Fourthly, the creditor comes with insolence and violence to demand his debt. • He laid hands on his fellow-servant,' and - took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.' And when the poor inan besought him to have patience, he regarded him not, but hurried him away to prison; and for this behavior he is called, ver. 32. • Thou wicked servant.'

Some of these circumstances seem to be added, aggravate the cruelty of this wicked servant; such are they which describe the violence used on one side, and the submission and intreaty offered on the other. And the case commonly falls out to be so. Men are apt to demand their debts, especially from their equals or inferiors, with a haughtiness and roughness hard to be borne ; and yet the poor debtor is forced by necessity to take it patiently, and to be all submission.

But the circumstances on which the reason of the case depends, are principally these two : first, that the debtor was not able to discharge the debt at the time of the demand : secondly, that he was willing to do justice to his creditor, and to endeavor, by the best means he could use, to raise a sum sufficient to answer the demand. Therefore where either of these circumstances are wanting, the reason of the case ceases, and together with it all pleas for forbearance and compassion, Consequently every man is at liberty, in point of conscience, to use the method which the law of his country directs; to compel those to pay their debts who are able, but not willing to pay

them. And in truth where this is the case, the creditor is so far from being justly chargeable with cruelty or oppression in making use of any legal method to recover his own, that the charge lies strongly against the other side. To delay poor traders or others in the payment of what is due to them, is always injustice, and sometimes very barbarous injustice. A poor man may perhaps lose his credit, which is the life of his business, or perhaps his liberty, which is the life

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