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FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
THE DUTY OF PAYING DEBTS.
ROM. xiii. part of ver. 8.-Owe no man any thing, but to love one another. [Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
THIS precept extends to every instance of social virtue; but the business of this discourse shall be to apply it to one particular duty, the duty of paying debts. I shall consider the evils that attend the neglect of it, both as they regard the DEBTOR, and as they regard the CREDITOR.
I. And, first, with regard to the debtor.-Nothing is more manifest than that carelessness in contracting debts, or negligence in discharging them, draws more evils after it, than can well be conceived: that spirit, as it is the effect, so it is the cause of extravagance. Money borrowed is so much clear gain to at thoughtless mortal, that has nothing but the gratification of his pleasures at heart: but the consequences of such a conduct are reflections, which can proceed only from that wisdom which he openly despises. This, of necessity, gives him up a prey to the artifices of wily villains, that lie in wait to deceive; for there are those in the world, whose whole business is to watch and to feed the follies of such extravagants: they give by ounces, that they may receive by pounds. They well know that the person they deal with, is a bad computer, and worse accomptant; and therefore nothing is more easy than to impose upon him in the value of what they sell, or the quantity of what he receives. And if he should at any time happen to be restive, and suspect he is defrauded, the men of the world know very well how to bring him down again to their own terms:-they manage him, as skilful warriors subdue strong towns;-they starve him into compliance: they know that holding their hand, and refusing to feed his extravagance, will make him subscribe to any conditions they think fit to impose.
How far do these extravagants outdo the folly of Esau! He sold his birthright to gratify a real and craving want, and yet he sinned in selling it; but these men sacrifice theirs to such wants, as are false and fantastic; to appetites that will not be
satisfied, or at least ought not to be indulged. If men contracted debts for the necessaries of life, which they could no otherwise procure, they were excusable ; but to purchase needless, nay perhaps pernicious vanities, at the hazard of health, and fortune, and liberty; at the hazard of every thing that is good and valuable in life, is folly past forgiveness! and yet, if it were only a folly, it might be borne with. But, in truth, this habit of running thoughtlessly into debt draws many other worse habits after it; lying, swearing, cheating, and all kinds of vice and villany, are its sure attendants; nay, sometimes, even murder, and an open defiance of public justice, as hath been seen in more than one unhappy and dreadful instance. It is like that evil spirit in the Gospel, who, when he had gotten possession, taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there; ' and the last state of that man is' unspeakably worse than the first.' A spirit of extravagance, long used to be indulged, cannot bear to be restrained or refused; and if it may not be gratified in the usual way, yet gratified it must be, at any ráte. If credit be checked in the common course, new channels must be opened; and this must be the work of falsehood and fraud, and every wicked artifice that can be devised. By this means the mind becomes. corrupt and depraved to the last degree, and the man is gradu. ally fitted for the conversation of fiends.
To live above one's fortune, what is it but to live to sure destruction, both of themselves and family, as well as all those they deal with? One man is above making use of the limbs which God hath bestowed upon him, to convey him where his business calls; and so rides in a coach for a few months, at the hazard of wanting shoes for the rest of his life, when his folly hath reduced him to his feet.' Another, who hath wherewithal to purchase a house, every way suited to his circumstances, cannot be content without magnificence; and, just when the building is at the point of being finished, his creditors come and take possession of it, and he and his family are turned out of doors-and, perhaps, withoạt knowing how to be sheltered from the inclemency of the weather, or where to seek for a morsel of bread. This is oftener the case, in effect, though not exactly in the circumstances now mentioned, than is commonly imagined; nor are the instances few or rare, of persons utterly undone by living beyond their fortune. In this condition, aban
doned at once by their friends, and by the fund or income by which they subsisted, deserted by every thing but their pride, whither shall the unhappy wretches turn themselves? Their vanity sets them above all honest industry in a low way; per. haps drives them to violent and desperate courses for subsistence, till they end in infamy. And although such a creature is little to be pitied upon his own account, yet is bis fall often to be lamented, on account of many others that are involved in his ruin. An honest friend that was drawn in to be bound for him, and is undone by his beneficence; or an innocent family that were too young to be partners in his folly, and yet must share his fate, and are given up by it to prostitution or poverty; or an honest and kind parent, who expended more than he could well afford, to bring his son with more advantage into the world; perhaps, too, a virtuous and a valuable woman, innoeent of his pride, and yet crushed in his fall;-these, and a thousand such like calamities, are the necessary and unavoidable consequences of profusion and extravagance; of carelessness in contracting debts, and negligence in discharging them; these are the evils which thoughtless mortals draw upon their own heads, and those of their nearest friends, by vanity and unthrift. And yet, great and various as these are, they are few and inconsiderable, in comparison of those brought upon the rest of mankind by the same accursed spirit.
II. Every one knows that the whole business of trade, by which nations grow great and happy, is carried on by men of diligence and industry, of fortunes, for the most part, too small (at least, at their first setting out) to support them in indolence; and that their profit arises principally from quick returns. It is plain, from hence, that running in debt with tradesmen, and neglecting to pay them in due time, is utterly ruinous to the whole business of trade and commerce; and absolutely destructive of the very principles upon which it is built, and by which it subsists; and yet this is a crime every day committed by men of fortune and quality, with as little remorse as they eat and drink. If the tradesman demands his money, it is odds but he is either threatened, or turned into a jest: the son of Sirach's wise observation is here every day verified; · The rich man hath done wrong, and yet he threateneth ; the poor is wronged, and yet he must entreat also. If threats will not rid these men of their importunate creditors, then are they to be deluded with
fair words, and plausible excuses, to pay attendance from day to day, to the loss of more time, and neglect of more business, than perhaps the debt is worth; and so the first injury, instead of being repaired, is doubled. And yet the gentleman debtor, the author of this evil, is so far from repenting of it, that he vaunts his wit and dexterity in doing it. As a madman,' saith Solomon, who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death; so is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am I not in jest ?'-And, indeed, it is scarce to be conceived, how any man can deal more destruction and ruin around him, than by deceiving and breaking faith with the fair trader: for it is well known, his credit, his whole subsistence, depend upon keeping his word, and being strictly punctual in his payments and his promises; and, if he fail in these, he is undone at once. And how is it possible he should not fail, if the gentleman he deals with, fail him ? He hath no way of raising money but by sale of his goods; and, if those to whom they are trusted, will not pay him, it is impossible he can pay his creditors; and, if he do not pay them, it is impossible but he must be ruined, and, perhaps, many more with him. For traders are linked and dependent of one another; and one man's fall throws down many more with him; and so the ruin becomes complicated, and extended beyond imagination ! insomuch that the failure of one man here may affect many others in the remotest regions of the earth; may reach at once from west to east, and from east to west again ; and yet the fine gentleman, that thus scattereth firebrands, arrows, and death around him,' shall cry, with great complacence to himself, and, perhaps, with great applause from his companions, ' Am I not in jest?' shall pride himself in having imposed upon the credulity of an industrious honest man, (with the added insolence of a contemptuous name,) and appointed him to come for payment the next day after he is gone out of town. And, after all, to what purpose all this fraud, and falsehood, and delusion? none in nature, but to have wherewithal to feed their folly and extravagance; to have to throw away upon a horse, or a harlot; or to pay play debtsdebts of honour as they are called, but, in truth, debts of infamy! debts, which it was infamous to contract, and which it is villanous to pay, to the injury of the honest trader. A gamester, a sharper, that undoes you with false dice, or sleight of hand; such a miscreant shall be paid off, though to your utter ruin: every engagement, every security in life, shall be sacrificed to discharge him; whilst the fair dealer that supplied you with the necessaries of life, is left to rot in a gaol, for the food that fed you, and the clothes that covered you. Can any thing be conceived more monstrous ? - These are the difficulties that men in business are forced to struggle with, and too often sink under; and if, in the number of so many bad paymasters as they have to deal with, some should be so far touched with compassion or remorse, as not only to discharge what they owe, but likewise to pay interest for it, beyond the obligation of the law, this is reckoned an uncommon mark of liberality and Christian heroism; whereas, in truth, a dealer that is kept out of his money a considerable time hath no sufficient reparation made him, by being paid both the principal and the interest in the end; because both together will be far from amounting to the profit he might reasonably propose to have made by it in trade all that time. For sure no man in his wits would run all the hazards and troubles of trade, who could propose to make as much advantage by the common interest of money, as he might expect from dealing with it. And this is a new reason, why men should be careful to pay tradesmen in time; because though no accident should hinder you from paying them in the end, yet your clearing off the original debt, together with the legal interest which that sum ought to bear, is far from doing justice to the tradeeman, for the damage he has suffered in being kept out of his money so long. So that, when you think you have made him ample amends for detaining what was due to him, you have in truth injured him.
And thus I have endeavoured to lay before you the duty of paying debts, together with the evils which attend the neglect of it, both as they regard the debtor, and as they regard the creditor. The evils to the debtor, of being imposed upon either in the quantity or value of what they take up upon trust; and the great evil of making expense easy, and, in consequence of that, ruin insensible and inevitable. To the creditor, the delay of payment in due time draws endless inconveniences and evils after it; loss of time, and trade, and credit, and, in consequence of these, inevitable, and, it may be, extensive and complicated