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   Chapter 10 [THE SIMPLE CHRISTIAN'S VIEWS OF EXTORTION.]

Works of John Bunyan — Complete By John Bunyan Characters: 15046

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


WISE. Thus you have often said before. But now we are in discourse of this, give me leave a little to go on. We have a great many people in the country too that live all their days in the practice, and so under the guilt of extortion; people, alas! that think scorn to be so accounted.

As for example: There is a poor body that dwells, we will suppose, so many miles from the market; and this man wants a bushel of grist, a pound of butter, or a cheese for himself, his wife, and poor children; but dwelling so far from the market, if he goes thither, he shall lose his day's work, which will be eightpence or tenpence damage to him, and that is something to a poor man.[54] So he goeth to one of his masters or dames for what he wanteth, and asks them to help him with such a thing; yes, say they, you may have it; but withal they will give him a gripe, perhaps make him pay as much or more for it at home, as they can get when they have carried it five miles to a market, yea, and that too for the refuse of their commodity. But in this the women are especially faulty, in the sale of their butter and cheese, &c. Now this is a kind of extortion, it is a making a prey of the necessity of the poor, it is a grinding of their faces, a buying and selling of them.

But above all, your hucksters, that buy up the poor man's victuals by wholesale, and sell it to him again for unreasonable gains, by retail, and as we call it by piecemeal; they are got into a way, after a stinging rate, to play their game upon such by extortion: I mean such who buy up butter, cheese, eggs, bacon, &c. by wholesale, and sell it again, as they call it, by pennyworths, two pennyworths, a halfpennyworth, or the like, to the poor, all the week after the market is past.

These, though I will not condemn them all, do, many of them, bite and pinch the poor by this kind of evil dealing. These destroy the poor because he is poor, and that is a grievous sin. 'He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.' Therefore he saith again, 'Rob not the poor because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of them that spoiled them' (Prov 22:16,22,23).

O that he that gripeth and grindeth the face of the poor, would take notice of these two scriptures! Here is threatened the destruction of the estate, yea and of the soul too, of them that oppress the poor. Their soul we shall better see where, and in what condition that is in, when the day of doom is come; but for the estates of such, they usually quickly moulder; and that sometimes all men, and sometimes no man knows how.

Besides, these are usurers, yea, they take usury for victuals, which thing the Lord has forbidden (Deut 23:19). And because they cannot so well do it on the market-day, therefore they do it, as I said, when the market is over; for then the poor fall into their mouths, and are necessitated to have, as they can, for their need, and they are resolved they shall pay soundly for it. Perhaps some will find fault for my meddling thus with other folks' matters, and for my thus prying into the secrets of their iniquity. But to such I would say, since such actions are evil, it is time they were hissed out of the world. For all that do such things offend against God, wrong their neighbour, and like Mr. Badman do provoke God to judgment.

ATTEN. God knows there is abundance of deceit in the world!

WISE. Deceit! Ay, but I have not told you the thousandth part of it; nor is it my business now to rake to the bottom of that dunghill. What would you say, if I should anatomize some of those vile wretches called pawnbrokers, that lend money and goods to poor people, who are by necessity forced to such an inconvenience; and will make, by one trick or other, the interest of what they so lend amount to thirty, forty, yea sometimes fifty pound by the year; notwithstanding the principal is secured by a sufficient pawn; which they will keep too at last, if they find any shift to cheat the wretched borrower.

ATTEN. Say! Why such miscreants are the pest and vermin of the commonwealth, not fit for the society of men; but methinks by some of those things you discoursed before, you seem to import that it is not lawful for a man to make the best of his own.

WISE. If by making the best, you mean to sell for as much as by hook or crook he can get for his commodity; then I say it is not lawful. And if I should say the contrary, I should justify Mr. Badman and all the rest of that gang; but that I never shall do, for the Word of God condemns them. But that it is not lawful for a man at all times to sell his commodity for as much as he can, I prove by these reasons:-

First, If it be lawful for me alway to sell my commodity as dear, or for as much as I can, then it is lawful for me to lay aside in my dealing with others good conscience to them and to God; but it is not lawful for me, in my dealing with others, to lay aside good conscience, &c. Therefore it is not lawful for me always to sell my commodity as dear, or for as much as I can. That it is not lawful to lay aside good conscience in our dealings has already been proved in the former part of our discourse; but that a man must lay it aside that will sell his commodity always as dear, or for as much as he can, is plainly manifest thus.

1. He that will, as is mentioned afore, sell his commodity as dear as he can, must sometimes make a prey of the ignorance of his chapman. But that he cannot do with a good conscience, for that is to overreach, and to go beyond my chapman, and is forbidden (1 Thess 4:6). Therefore he that will sell his commodity as afore, as dear, or for as much as he can, must of necessity lay aside good conscience.

2. He that will sell his commodity always as dear as he can, must needs sometimes make a prey of his neighbour's necessity; but that he cannot do with a good conscience, for that is to go beyond and defraud his neighbour, contrary to 1 Thessalonians 4:6. Therefore he that will sell his commodity, as afore, as dear, or for as much as he can, must needs cast off and lay aside a good conscience.

3. He that will, as afore, sell his commodity as dear, or for as much as he can, must, if need be, make a prey of his neighbour's fondness; but that a man cannot do with a good conscience, for that is still a going beyond him, contrary to 1 Thessalonians 4:6. Therefore, he that will sell his commodity as dear, or for as much as he can, must needs cast off, and lay aside good conscience.

The same also may be said for buying; no man may always buy as cheap as he can, but must also use good conscience in buying; the which he can by no means use and keep, if he buys always as cheap as he can, and that for the reasons urged before. For such will make a prey of the ignorance, necessity, and fondness of their chapman, the which they cannot do with a good conscience. When Abraham would buy a burying-place of the sons of Heth, thus he said unto them: 'Intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Macphelah, which he hath-in the end of his field; for as much-as it is worth' shall he give it me (Gen 23:8,9). He would not have it under foot, he scorned it, he abhorred it; it stood not with his religion, credit, nor conscience. So also, when David would buy a field of Ornan the Jebusite, thus he said unto him, 'Grant me the place of this thrashing-floor, th

at I may build an altar therein unto the Lord; thou shalt grant it me for the full price' (1 Chron 21:22). He also, as Abraham, made conscience of this kind of dealing. He would not lie at catch[55] to go beyond, no, not the Jebusite, but will give him his full price for his field. For he knew that there was wickedness, as in selling too dear, so in buying too cheap, therefore he would not do it.[56]

There ought therefore to be good conscience used, as in selling so in buying; for it is also unlawful for a man to go beyond or to defraud his neighbour in buying; yea, it is unlawful to do it in any matter, and God will plentifully avenge that wrong, as I also before have forewarned and testified. See also the text, Leviticus 25:14. But,

Secondly. If it be lawful for me always to sell my commodity as dear, or for as much as I can, then it is lawful for me to deal with my neighbour without the use of charity. But it is not lawful for me to lay aside, or to deal with my neighbour without the use of charity, therefore it is not lawful for me always to sell my commodity to my neighbour for as much as I can. A man in dealing should as really design his neighbour's good, profit, and advantage, as his own, for this is to exercise charity in his dealing.

That I should thus use, or exercise charity towards my neighbour in my buying and selling, &c., with him, is evident from the general command-'Let all your things be done with charity' (1 Cor 16:14). But that a man cannot live in the exercise of charity that selleth as afore, as dear, or that buyeth as cheap as he can, is evident by these reasons:-

1. He that sells his commodity as dear, or for as much money always as he can, seeks himself, and himself only. But charity seeketh not her own, not her own only (1 Cor 13). So then he that seeks himself, and himself only, as he that sells, as afore, as dear as he can, does, maketh not use of, nor doth he exercise charity in his so dealing.

2. He that selleth his commodity always for as much as he can get, hardeneth his heart against all reasonable entreaties of the buyer. But he that doth so cannot exercise charity in his dealing; therefore it is not lawful for a man to sell his commodity, as afore, as dear as he can.

3. If it be lawful for me to sell my commodity, as afore, as dear as I can, then there can be no sin in my trading, how unreasonably soever I manage my calling, whether by lying, swearing, cursing, cheating, for all this is but to sell my commodity as dear as I can (Eph 4:25). But that there is sin in these is evident, therefore I may not sell my commodity always as dear as I can.

4. He that sells, as afore, as dear as he can, offereth violence to the law of nature, for that saith, Do unto all men even as ye would that they should do unto you (Matt 7:12). Now, was the seller a buyer, he would not that he of whom he buys should sell him always as dear as he can, therefore he should not sell so himself when it is his lot to sell and others to buy of him.

5. He that selleth, as afore, as dear as he can, makes use of that instruction that God hath not given to others, but sealed up in his hand, to abuse his law, and to wrong his neighbour withal, which indeed is contrary to God (Job 37:7). God hath given thee more skill, more knowledge and understanding in thy commodity, than he hath given to him that would buy of thee. But what! canst thou think that God hath given thee this that thou mightest thereby make a prey of thy neighbour? that thou mightest thereby go beyond and beguile thy neighbour? No, verily, but he hath given thee it for his help, that thou mightest in this be eyes to the blind, and save thy neighbour from that damage that his ignorance, or necessity, for fondness[57] would betray him into the hands of (1 Cor 10:13).

6. In all that a man does he should have an eye to the glory of God, but that he cannot have that sells his commodity always for as much as he can, for the reasons urged before.

7. All that a man does he should do 'in the name of the Lord Jesus' Christ, that is, as being commanded and authorized to do it by him (Col 3:17). But he that selleth always as dear as he can, cannot so much as pretend to this without horrid blaspheming of that name, because commanded by him to do otherwise.

8. And lastly, in all that a man does he should have an eye to the day of judgment, and to the consideration of how his actions will be esteemed of in that day (Acts 24:15,16). Therefore there is not any man can, or ought to sell always as dear as he can, unless he will, yea, he must say in so doing, I will run the hazard of the trial of that day. 'If thou sell aught unto thy neighbour, or buyest aught of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another' (Lev 25:14).

ATTEN. But why do you put in these cautionary words, They must not sell always as dear, nor buy always as cheap as they can? Do you not thereby intimate that a man may sometimes do so?

WISE. I do indeed intimate that sometimes the seller may sell as dear, and the buyer buy as cheap as he can; but this is allowable only in these cases: when he that sells is a knave, and lays aside all good conscience in selling, or when the buyer is a knave, and lays aside all good conscience in buying. If the buyer therefore lights of a knave, or if the seller lights of a knave, then let them look to themselves; but yet so as not to lay aside conscience, because he that thou dealest with doth so, but how vile or base soever the chapman is, do thou keep thy commodity at a reasonable price; or, if thou buyest, offer reasonable gain for the thing thou wouldst have, and if this will not do with the buyer or seller, then seek thee a more honest chapman. If thou objectest, But I have not skill to know when a pennyworth is before me, get some that have more skill than thyself in that affair, and let them in that matter dispose of thy money. But if there were no knaves in the world these objections need not be made.[58]

And thus, my very good neighbour, have I given you a few of my reasons why a man that hath it should not always sell too dear nor buy as cheap as he can, but should use good conscience to God and charity to his neighbour in both.

ATTEN. But were some men here to hear you, I believe they would laugh you to scorn.

WISE. I question not that at all, for so Mr. Badman used to do when any man told him of his faults; he used to think himself wiser than any, and would count, as I have hinted before, that he was not arrived to a manly spirit that did stick or boggle at any wickedness. But let Mr. Badman and his fellows laugh, I will bar it, and still give them good counsel (Luke 16:13-15). But I will remember also, for my further relief and comfort, that thus they that were covetous of old served the Son of God himself. It is their time to laugh now, that they may mourn in time to come (Luke 6:25). And I say again, when they have laughed out their laugh, he that useth not good conscience to God and charity to his neighbour in buying and selling, dwells next door to an infidel, and is near of kin to Mr. Badman.

ATTEN. Well, but what will you say to this question? You know that there is no settled price set by God upon any commodity that is bought or sold under the sun, but all things that we buy and sell do ebb and flow, as to price, like the tide; how then shall a man of a tender conscience do, neither to wrong the seller, buyer, nor himself, in buying and selling of commodities?

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