KEEPING OUT OF DEBT

 

By

 

PERCY W. HEWARD

 

Has the Holy Spirit anything to say in Scripture concerning debts? Undoubtedly and, if we are Godís children, shall we not have ears to hear? Temperament and circumstances of early upbringing affect many very deeply as to this subject: there are lands where almost everyone is in debt. But though believers should be patient and tender to those who have not received so many privileges as themselves, we are not to make our temperament, or theirs, authoritative. Love to the Lord, and reverence for His words, must ever be first.

 

The word "debt" means more than a duty, it implies an overdue duty, or one which cannot be fulfilled at once. If you send me certain goods with an account, I am not in debt if I have wherewith to pay, and gladly remit at your request. The money is yours at my house. But if I have only half the needed money, and keep you waiting a week, I am in debt before God.

 

We are conscious of one continual debt. The very passage which forbids material debts humblingly implies this: "Owe no man anything, but to love one another" (Rom. 13: 8). How much more we should love the brethren, because we should have much more love to their Lord and ours. In this connexion we enter into the prayer, "Forgive us our debts" (Matt. 6: 12), and long to please our Heavenly Father and obey Him more and more.

 

Debts have always existed, and apparently will remain. The rules for Israel were definite, for example in Deuteronomy 15: 2; 23: 19, 20; 24: 10-13. Nehemiah was deeply concerned as to the biting usury in his days (5: 7, 10; 10: 31), and the characteristics of godliness in Psalm 15: 5 and Ezekiel 18: 8 are impressive.

 

But is a believer warranted, in the light of Romans 13: 11, in allowing a debt today? The fact that God deigned to bless the widow in 2 Kings 4: 1-7 affords no approval. Moreover, the advantage of a temporary loan is no reason for it unless we can find the authority of the Lord.

 

Surely we feel that the prohibition of debt already seen is definite, and that to seek to get round it is to oppose the will of the Lord. If only children of God would take this standpoint, and in faith render unto Him freely (Mal. 3: 16), they would surely find His supply of "needs". Debts may be expected if we do not give readily unto Him. The believer who unwisely says, "I cannot afford a tenth" - less than Israelís smallest amount - and who knows nothing of systematic giving, invites debt. And the believer who "will" have this or that, which other homes possess - possibly some decoration, or musical instrument, tending to help away from a pilgrim attitude in the present dispensation - may learn at last that the financial trials are because our Father promises to deal with "needs" not "personal fancies". Alas, how much might have been given to spread Godís truth, if His people had rejoiced to remain outside the fashion. How few would like the blessing of Deuteronomy when the "raiment waxed not old". There was no room for a "change". Beloved friends, we are all more influenced by circumstances, and by "others" who axe broader, than we realize.*

 

[* A word in this connection as to the ever extending principle of the "hire system" may be permitted. A believer may be technically out of debt obtaining furniture thus, but he will often find a heart-ache and uncertainty, if simply wishing to please the Lord.]

 

I need hardly say that loving sympathy should be felt for those who are saved when in debt, and prayerful interest does not hastily judge such. But faith will bring such a victory, and godly care will be rewarded. If, however, a believer saved in debt is careless, and spends indulgently, he cannot expect the Lordís encouragement.

 

Moreover, there may be cases where a child of God in business, or through sickness, is suddenly confronted with peculiar problems. Arm-chair criticism is not a mark of godliness. It may be our loving Heavenly Father has some lessons to teach such - ah, more than "may be" - but are there not with us, even with us, sins against Him (2 Chron. 28: 10), and do not we also need His gracious humbling - for it is in love? Granted that the words of James 2: 15 refer to complete destitution, and that the tried believer on his part should feel called to sell goods rather than expectingly "ask" others (or decide what they ought to do), it is the privilege of each to ponder the Holy Spiritís words, "Bear ye one anotherís burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6: 2).

 

Need it be said that "collective" debt is quite unscriptural? An assembly should never think of such a course. How often it has been brought about through un-appointed buildings and display. Undoubtedly many will help men willingly as to such steps, but this does not make any action the will of the Lord. That is the fundamental question, and His redeemed people need have no hesitation as to the answer. His will, and not expediency, is the "pattern" which has been graciously shown them.

 

And thus we plead with those who desire to provide things honourable ("not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men"), and to take Him at His Word, and to trust Him to enable expenditure within income. And if trials come, they are not by chance. Our heavenly Father is willing to teach, and willing to step in, as for Abraham in Genesis 22., though it may be at the last moment. His people should be bowed before Him, for all pride, and feverish excitement will hinder hearing His voice. "In nothing be anxious." He is worthy of faith, and let the principle of loveís prompt obedience suggested and urged by Proverbs 6: 3 be seen in the life of any to whom this message comes when in debt.

 

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NOTE

 

The Tsar Nicholas was accustomed to visit his camps at night, clothed as an ordinary officer, that he might know, without being known, what was going on. Late one night he made his tour of inspection. Seeing a light shining under the paymasterís door, he entered it; and he saw a young officer, the son of an old friend of the Tsar, sitting at the table, his head resting on his arms and sound asleep. The Tsar stepped over to awaken him, when he noticed a loaded revolver, a small pile of money, and a sheet of paper with a pen that had fallen from the hand of the sleeping man.

 

On the sheet of paper was a long list of debts, gambling and other evil debts. The total ran into many thousands of roubles: the officer had used army funds to pay these wicked, reckless debts, and now, having worked till late into the night trying to get his accounts straight, had discovered for the first time how much he owed. It was hopeless. On the sheet of paper, below the terrible total, was written:- "Who can pay so great a debt?" Unable to face the disgrace, the officer had intended shooting himself, but completely worn out with sorrow and remorse, he had fallen asleep.

 

The Tsarís first thought was to have the man arrested and then court-martialled; but as he remembered his love for the young officerís father, mercy triumphed over judgment, and, picking up the pen, he answered the question with one word:- NICHOLAS.

 

Soon after the Tsar had left, the young officer woke, and took up the revolver to blow out his brains; when his bewildered eye was suddenly caught by the signature. Surely it was impossible! He had some papers in his possession which bore the genuine signature of the Tsar, and quickly he compared the names; and to his intense joy, yet bitter humiliation, he realized that his Tsar knew all about his sins, knew the utmost of his mighty debt, and yet instead of inflicting the penalty he deserved, had assumed the debt himself, and justified the debtor. Joyfully he lay down to rest, and early the next morning bags of money arrived from the Tsar sufficient to pay the last penny of "so great a debt".

 

"BY HIM EVERYONE THAT BELIEVETH IS JUSTIFIED FROM ALL THINGS FROM WHICH YE COULD NOT BE JUSTIFIED BY THE LAW" (Acts 13: 39).

 

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