Against the Sin of Usury - Lutheran Witness, June 7, 1888

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A Catechetical Lecture in three parts, read before the Cleveland Pastoral Conference in July 1880, by Rev. Pres. H. C. Schwan. 
 Formerly Christians, Jews and Gentiles knew what usury is and that it is wrong. But, alas, at the present time most of the very Christians no longer know this, and a great number, too, do not want to know. For this reason, beloved children, lay well to heart our present lesson.
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  (This is in the public domain. Do whatever you want with it.)From page four through five of the Vol. 7, No. 1 Lutheran Witness, June 7,1888: Against the Sin of Usury.  ——A Catechetical Lecture in three parts, read before the Cleveland PastoralConference in July 1880, by Rev. Pres. H. C. Schwan.——PART I. WHAT IS USURY. “ He that augumenteth his sub-stance by usury and increase,gathereth it for him that hathpity on the poor.” Prov. 28, 8.Formerly Christians, Jews and Gentiles knew what usury is and that itis wrong. But, alas, at the present time most of the very Christians nolonger know this, and a great number, too, do not want to know. For thisreason, beloved children, lay well to heart our present lesson.In the first place, then, What is usury? In our Bible — and in all  booksof the Hebrew, Greek and Latin tongues and with all German and Englishauthors up to the second half of the sixteenth century — the word usurydenotes an augmenting of one's substance by premiums stipulated for theuse of money or of other goods.REQUIRING IN REPAYMENT OF MONEY OR GOODSLENT ANYTHING MORE THAN WAS LENT,IS USURY.This was the doctrine of the whole world, thus Jews, Gentiles andChristians always understood it till the later part of the 16. century. Thesame idea is conveyed by the word increase, namely every thing westipulate beyond the principal lent. The only difference which someexpounders make between usury and increase, is that usury refers to acompensation stipulated for the use of money, increase to a compensationstipulated for the use of goods. In every other respect they denote thesame. Now repeat the definition of usury. We must pay close attention tothe several members of our definition.1. Our definition refers us to money and goods LENT. Now, if my  transaction does not refer to things lent  , but, for instance to things boughtand sold, if in my sale of goods I ask somewhat more than I paid, wouldthat be usury? No. Usury, therefore, is practised only in which things? Inthings lent. Now bear in mind, people sometimes call things lent, which infact were not lent. Let me give you a pertinent illustration. A laboring manhas saved $100. His neighbor is a merchant. Says the merchant to thelaboring man: Invest your money in my business. Of what I gain , you shallhave your share of profit. If I lose, you must bear your share of loss, too.The risk of my labor and money shall also be the risk of your money.—Well,the laboring man lets the merchant have his money. What, then, did thelaboring man do with his money? He lent it to the merchant. No, he did not  do this. He  put it out  , but he did not lend  it. People may term this a lending,but it is no lending. Mind this first. Now another instance. Suppose themerchant would say, I am just now in distress, help me out for a while withyour $100. I shall see to it that your money is made safe and at such andsuch time you shall receive it back duly. Now the laboring man lets himhave his $100 on this condition. Now, did he advance his money in thesame manner in both instances or is there a difference? There is adifference. Certainly. a) In the first instance his money should benefit himself; in the second instance it should aid his neighbor. b) In the firstinstance he remains possessor of his money; in the second instance themerchant becomes the possessor, though indeed only for a certain time. c)If the money is lost, in the first instance the laboring man is the loser. Nowmind! In the first  instance the laboring man entered into partnership withthe merchant, entered into business with him. In the second  instance heLENT him his money. And only the latter is in truth lending proper: giving toanother the temporary use of a thing so that it becomes during this time theproperty of the borrower. *Now to proceed, Only for the use of what money should we not ask apremium? Only for the use of the money lent. Does God, then, require us todraw no gain from our money, not that even of honest business? Godrequires no such thing. But in what manner shall we indeed draw NO gainfrom our money? Not by lending. For how is the gain termed that isstipulated for the use of the money lent? Usury. And this God hath expresslyand severely prohibited.2. Our definition says: Requiring any thing MORE than was lent. Is itwrong, therefore, to require even the repayment of the principal, or is itright? It is right. Correct! Else it were not lent, but simply given. Lendingpresupposes repayment. But because the Lord Jesus saith, “Lend, hoping fornothing again” (Luke 6, 35), we must indeed, if we would be His disciples,not only lend when we have certain hope of receiving the principal again,but in many cases we must run the risk of receiving it again or of losing it.The principal lent we may indeed hope to receive again. But are we allowed  to require more than was lent? No. For what would that be? Usury, increase.3. Our definition says:  Any thing more than was lent. Does it matter thenwhether the premium stipulated be of a high or low rate? Is it usury only,when we stipulate a compensation beyond the rate of interest establishedby law? No. Of course, in the present case asking two per cent is as muchusury as asking twenty per cent. or does a difference perhaps rest in theperson of the lender? Is it no sin for a  poor man to require more than helent? It is a sin for him too, the wrong is the same. Or does the person of the borrower perhaps change the face of the matter? Is it right to requirefrom a rich man any thing more than was lent him? No.4. Our definition says: REQUIRING any thing more than was lent. Is itwrong then for the lender to accept what the borrower give him voluntarily,though the lender stipulated no repayment of anything save the principal?Such is not usury. When is it usury? When repayment of more than was lentis required. Correct; may this Requiring be made in explicit terms, or byintimation or by the hidden desire of the heart.5. Our definition says: Requiring in repayment of MONEY or GOODS lent.Is there a difference then in the matter that was lent? whether this bemoney, grain, flour, or anything else that was lent? Is it wrong to require apremium for lending money, but right to require a compensation for thelending of corn, hay, and the like? It is allowed in nothing.Observe, then, these points; nothing more and nothing less did God  prohibit when he prohibited usury, and God did  prohibit usury. For how doesour proof-passage, Prov. 28, 8. read? “He that augmenteth his substance byusury and increase, gathereth it for him that hath pity on the poor.” Whatdo we name a man that augmenteth his substance by usury? A usurer. Andwhat does our passage say of such a one? “He gathereth it for him that hathpity on the poor.” Why, this does not read at all like a prohibition andthreat, on the contrary it reads more like a promise, a praise! If the usurergathers for the poor, he does a good work  , as it would seem! But can suchbe the sense of our passage? No. Mind, one may gather in pity of the poor,and one may gather without any such pity. One may gather with theintention of benefiting the poor, and one may gather without any suchintention. Now, on which side, do you think, will the usurer be found? Hehas no desire of gathering for the poor. Indeed not; and yet he must gatherfor the poor without knowing and desiring it. When the usurer shall havefilled his hands with the gain of usury, God will visit him unexpectedly andstrike it from his hands to make it fall to the ground that it may be gatheredby the poor. That is to say, God will at last deprive usurers of theirmammon and oftentimes they must see their wealth go to such parties as  would never have been favored by them. Such is the punishment whichGod, in our proof-passage, threatens to inflict upon the usurer.That such is really the true sense of our proof passage, yea thatusurers will be visited by a still greater punishment, you will learn from thefollowing quotation. What do we read in Ezekiel 18, 13? “He that hath givenforth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall notlive: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his bloodshall be upon him.” In these words usury is called an “abomination” and a deadly sin;therefore they must refer to usury wilfully practised against betterknowledge. If such a usurer then does not sincerely repent, may he expecteternal life, or do death and eternal condemnation await him? Only deathand eternal damnation. Is usury then, in the face of God, a small or a greatsin? It is a great sin. (To be continued.)
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