Read Chapter XIII - Our changed conditions of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

The changed conditions of the race in these last years are urged as a sufficient reason for annulling this law. It is admitted that it was righteous and beneficent in ages long past but with the new light and new conditions of the present it is effete, inapplicable and unjust. They call attention to the vast extension of commerce, to the marvelously increased facilities for travel, transportation and intercommunication; to the innumerable and wonderful inventions that in their application have brightened our civilization. They exalt present conditions and they belittle the long past conditions and thought.

The prohibition of usury belonged to the past, the practice of usury is all but universal in the present, therefore they argue that usury is a part and a necessary part of our civilization and to revive the old prohibition would turn the world’s civilization backward and be as absurd as to now dispense with steam or electricity.

In reply it may be said that the changes are not universal, that there are some things that abide, that the changes are trifling when compared with those things that remain and are permanent.

1. Human nature remains the same. Man, in body and mind, in physiology and psychology, has not changed in these thousands of years. That which in ages past promoted the health and vigor of his body, will secure its best development now. That discipline, culture and mental exercise that secured the highest intellectual strength in ages past will do the most for its best development now. Many things that now give splendor to our civilization do not promote either the best physical or mental manhood.

2. Family ties remain. The relation of husband and wife, of parents and children, and the duties of their several positions in the home have not changed. The family remains the social unit as it has been in all ages. Sociology, the science of social and political organization, is a permanent science. It does not change with the shifting temporal conditions of the people. Those things which made for the general welfare of ages ago are for the public weal now, and those things that endangered the state then are to be avoided now.

3. The moral law remains unchanged and unchangeable, with all the brilliant present there is no amendment to the ten commandments. The ethical nature remains and the voice of conscience, approving the same right and condemning the same wrong, is identical with the voice of conscience in the time of Moses.

4. The laws of nature have not changed. The relation between a cause and its sequence remains. Like causes produce like effects.

No living thing has changed its nature. A lion now is of the same nature that it was in the time of Samson. So with every savage beast that roams the jungle. Even the domesticated animals, with all the effort and skill of intelligent man, have only been smoothed or speeded a little. The horse, cow, sheep, or dog have held their old forms and dispositions.

Seed time and harvest come and go and we are dependent for the same shower and sunshine that gave Adam his first harvest.

We know some things they did not know and we have bettered our tools, but the natural world has shown no signs of change.

5. The relation of things to each other have not changed. Plants must have soil to grow in, animals must have vegetation to feed upon. Fish must have water. And so with the thousands of relations of climate, elements, soils, plants, animals, fishes, birds and insects, they are the identical relations sustained ages and ages ago.

6. The nature of money has not changed. Its material and form and denominations have been modified but the functions of money as a storage of values and as a measure of values and as a medium of exchange remain the same. Our gold and silver and paper money may be more convenient and more exact, but its functions are just the same as the Indians’ wampum.

The law of supply and demand and the equity in commercial transactions, great or small, are unchanged. Money could always be used to make or gather more money in business. It is no more true now than in the times of David or Nehemiah. If this had not then been possible; if there had not been tempting opportunities, there would have been no sin of usury for them to reprove.

Man’s changed conditions are but trifling and incidental, relating to himself. They do not affect a single natural or moral or economic law.

The changed conditions, which are urged as a reason that the prohibition of usury is no longer binding, are only the conditions brought about by the violation of that law.

The prohibition of usury is systematically violated. The neighbor in the smallest transaction with his neighbor exacts usury, though it be but a few cents. The credit system has become universal. It is the rare exception now to “own what you have” and to “pay as you go.” Interest bearing bonds are issued by the smallest manufacturing plant, by the great corporation and by the empire. These conditions do not prove usury right. They only show how far true business, commercial, and political principles have been perverted by this practice.

If violating a law annuls it, then any law can be pushed aside. Let the claims of the Sabbath day be ignored. Let the houses of worship remain closed upon that day. Let work be planned for seven days of the week. Let the hum of the mills and the roar of commerce go on. Take no note of the Sabbath day, either in business or recreation or worship, and conditions will soon be upon us, such that we may urge as plausibly, that the Sabbath is effete, possible to our slow going fathers but inconsistent with the necessary rush of our day.

If the systematic violation of a law annuls it then we can quiet the conscience and be dishonest while dealing with a Turk in Constantinople and we may lie while dickering with a Chinese merchant in Canton.

If violating a law annuls it, even the seventh commandment, the violation of which is so offensive to decency and its observance so necessary to the purity of the home, may in this way be ruled out as a binding obligation. Let polygamy be the order, supported by the example of Jacob and David and Solomon, and the families be constituted along that line, then enforced monogamy would seem to be a sundering of tender ties and hardness toward the cast off Hagars that is inconsistent with the Christian spirit. An earnest, Godly man, a missionary friend of the writer, under whose ministry a heathen chief was converted, was misled by the plausibility. The chief had a number of wives; he had children by them; he was much attached to his wives and was fond of his children, and they all seemed to love him and clung to him. The missionary in the kindness of his heart did not interfere with the family, permitting the chief to keep his wives and placed his name on the church roll of the Mission. For this act he was reproved by the ecclesiastical authorities above him. Let polygamy become as universal as usury and even the seventh commandment in its strictness will seem impracticable and unkind if not positively cruel.

It will not do to claim freedom from the prohibition of usury because we have organized commerce and the state and all society in violation of it.