Psalm 15:5

5. He putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh bribes upon the innocent. He that doeth these things shall not be moved for ever.


In this verse David enjoins the godly neither to oppress their neighbors by usury, nor to suffer themselves to be corrupted with bribes to favor unrighteous causes. With respect to the first clause, as David seems to condemn all kinds of usury in general, and without exception, the very name has been every where held in detestation. But crafty men have invented specious names under which to conceal the vice; and thinking by this artifice to escape, they have plundered with greater excess than if they had lent on usury avowedly and openly. God, however, will not be dealt with and imposed upon by sophistry and false pretences. He looks upon the thing as it really is. There is no worse species of usury than an unjust way of making bargains, where equity is disregarded on both sides. Let us then remember that all bargains in which the one party unrighteously strives to make gain by the loss of the other party, whatever name may be given to them, are here condemned. It may be asked, Whether all kinds of usury are to be put into this denunciation, and regarded as alike unlawful? If we condemn all without distinction, there is a danger lest many, seeing themselves brought into such a strait, as to find that sin must be incurred, in whatever way they can turn themselves, may be rendered bolder by despair, and may rush headlong into all kinds of usury, without choice or discrimination. On the other hand, whenever we concede that something may be lawfully done this way, many will give themselves loose reins, thinking that a liberty to exercise usury, without control or moderation, has been granted them. In the first place, therefore, I would, above all things, counsel my readers to beware of ingeniously contriving deceitful pretexts, by which to take advantage of their fellow-men, and let them not imagine that any thing can be lawful to them which is grievous and hurtful to others.

With respect to usury, it is scarcely possible to find in the world a usurer who is not at the same time an extortioner, and addicted to unlawful and dishonorable gain. Accordingly, Cato1 of old justly placed the practice of usury and the killing of men in the same rank of criminality, for the object of this class of people is to suck the blood of other men. It is also a very strange and shameful thing, that, while all other men obtain the means of their subsistence with much toil, while husbandmen fatigue themselves by their daily occupations, and artisans serve the community by the sweat of their brow, and merchants not only employ themselves in labors, but also expose themselves to many inconveniences and dangers, -- that money-mongers should sit at their ease without doing any thing, and receive tribute from the labor of all other people. Besides, we know that generally it is not the rich who are exhausted by their usury,2 but poor men, who ought rather to be relieved. It is not, therefore, without cause that God has, in Leviticus 25:35, 36, forbidden usury, adding this reason, "And if thy brother be waxen poor and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; take thou no usury of him or increase." We see that the end for which the law was framed was, that men should not cruelly oppress the poor, who ought rather to receive sympathy and compassion.3 This was, indeed, a part of the judicial law which God appointed for the Jews in particular; but it is a common principle of justice which extends to all nations and to all ages, that we should keep ourselves from plundering and devouring the poor who are in distress and want, Whence it follows, that the gain which he who lends his money upon interest acquires, without doing injury to any one, is not to be included under the head of unlawful usury. The Hebrew word Ksn, neshek, which David employs, being derived from another word, which signifies to bite, sufficiently shows that usuries are condemned in so far as they involve in them or lead to a license of robbing and plundering our fellow-men. Ezekiel, indeed, Ezekiel 18:17, and Ezekiel 22:12, seems to condemn the taking of any interest whatever upon money lent; but he doubtless has an eye to the unjust and crafty arts of gaining, by which the rich devoured the poor people. In short, provided we had engraven on our hearts the rule of equity, which Christ prescribes in Matthew 7:12,

"Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,"

it would not be necessary to enter into lengthened disputes concerning usury.

What next follows in the text properly applies to judges who, being corrupted by presents and rewards, pervert all law and justice. It may, however, be extended farther, inasmuch as it often happens, that even private individuals are corrupted by bribes to favor and defend bad causes. David, therefore, comprehends, in general, all those corruptions by which we are led away from truth and uprightness. Some think that what is here intended is the rapacity of judges in extorting money from the innocent who are accused, as the price of their deliverance, when they ought rather to have protected and assisted them gratuitously. But it appears from the passages similar to this in Ezekiel, which we have quoted, that the sense is different.

He who doeth these things. This conclusion warns us again, that all who thrust themselves into the sanctuary of God are not permanent citizens of "the holy Jerusalem which is above;"4 but that hypocrites, and all who falsely assume the title of saints, shall at length be "cast out" with Ishmael whom they resemble. That which is ascribed in Psalm 46, to the whole Church, David here applies to every one of the faithful:He shall not be moved for ever. The reason of this which is there expressed is, because God dwells in the midst of Jerusalem. On the contrary, we know that he is far from the perfidious and the wicked, who approach him only with the mouth, and with reigned lips.

1 "C'estoit un personnage Romain de grande reputation." -- Fr. marg. "This was a Roman personage of great reputation." - See Cicero de Officiis, Lib. 2:cap:25.

2 "Ce ne sont pas les riches lesquels on mange d'usures." -- Fr. "It is not the rich whom they devour by usuries."

3 The Jews were prohibited by the law from taking usury or interest on money lent to their brethren, but not on what was lent to strangers; that is, foreigners of other countries, (Deuteronomy. 23:20.) The manifest design of this prohibition was, to promote humane and fraternal sentiments in the bosoms of the Israelites towards each other. A more remote end seems also to have been aimed at, viz., to check the formation of a commercial character among the Jews, and to confine them as much as possible to those agricultural and private pursuits, which would seclude them from intercourse with the surrounding nations, as it was not very likely that a practice of this nature would be extended much among foreigners which was prohibited at home." -- Walford's New Translation of the Book of Psalms.

4 "De la sainete Jerusalem celeste." -- Fr.


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