Christian Charity

Christian Charity

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 19, 2009

revcooper.ca

He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15:5,6)

The practice of usury is referred to about twenty five times in the Old Testament, and in almost every reference, the letter of the Word tells us that we must not think of profit or recompense when we loan our money to others. There are several references that indicate that it is permissible to benefit from a loan when it is made to strangers, but it is quite clear from scripture that one must not make usurious loans to one’s own people.

At the same time, the investment of money for the sake of profit has been a cornerstone of civilization for at least as long as the scriptures have been read. In fact it is commonly believed that civilization first began to develop about the same time that farmers had developed their skills sufficiently that they were able to raise more food than they themselves could use, thus allowing them to support non-farming individuals with their excess food. A surplus of money or food, properly used, can bring benefits to many more people than to the investor only, for new enterprises can begin, new products discovered and made cheaply available to many, and the standard of living generally rises. 

It is also true that once there is wealth, it is possible to support great endeavours in the arts, in education, in religion. Just think what the General Church would have been without great wealth to support the dream of a system of education based entirely upon the principles of the Heavenly Doctrines. Think about the universities and museums throughout the world that would not exist without freewill contributions made from the profits of carefully invested money. 

It is simply not possible to imagine what our world would be like if we strictly followed the Mosaic Law’s injunctions against usury.[1] Even the world of nature itself tells us that investment of wealth is both prudent, and nature’s own way, for when we plant seed carelessly in stony ground or among thorns, we get no return. But when we prudently plant the seed in good ground, we receive an hundred fold in return.        Divine Law, that is, the Law promulgated on Mount Sinai by Jehovah God, and carried to the Jewish people by Moses, forbade them from charging interest when they loaned their money to others. The Divine Law went even further, and gave specific commands regarding the collateral that supported the loan. The Mosaic Law tells us that if a man borrowed money, and gave his outer garment as security against the loan, the individual who loaned him the money was not permitted to keep that cloak over night. He was permitted to hold it during the day, when it was warm enough to live without it, but at night, when the cloak was a necessary protection from the cold, the cloak had to be returned.

In the New Testament we read about the Lord driving moneychangers out of the temple, but we should note that it’s not that what they are doing is wrong, what’s wrong is that they are changing money and buying and selling in a place of worship and prayer. In both Matthew 25 and Luke 19 the Lord tells parables about how good servants invest wisely, and in each case the servant who didn’t even give the money that was entrusted to him to the “bankers” to earn “interest” were cast into outer darkness.

However, while these laws may have been created specifically for the Jewish people in that historical time, we know that they have since been nullified, made of no effect for our time and place. We no longer have to obey the letter of the whole of the Mosaic law. But then, if these laws are no longer of any effect, why have they been included in the Word? Why must we still read them? What is their use? AC 9211:2 says,

that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day. Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read. But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable.

The laws regarding usury are no longer needed as natural laws governing the external behaviour of men, and we need not strictly obey them in our daily life. There is nothing in itself wrong with investing money for the sake of a reasonable future profit. The Law of Usury may be cancelled in its external expression at this time, but it continues to be in force as to its spirit because it is from the Divine. Divine Law is not limited to its external manifestation. God gave Moses laws against usury because He wished to tell us many things about Christian Charity. 

Divine Law takes its outermost form in the Laws of Moses, but it takes its spirit and life from the will and the intention of the person who understands the internal spirit of Divine Law. In other words, while it is permissible for us to invest money for profit, the Lord put those laws in the Word – and left them there – to remind us that we need to carefully search out our intentions in regard to such business arrangements so that we are not acting in such a way as to harm others, or deprive them of their goods for our own benefit. By definition, then, a usurer is someone who does what is good only for the sake of self-advantage, who gives his money to others without regard for possible harm, or for anything but the potential profit for himself. The Lord Himself taught us in Luke, If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same (Luke 6:33).

But usury does not only pertain to money, but in fact, anyone who does anything for another for the sake of some future benefit or recompense is actually practising usury. To willingly loan your tools to another so that you may eventually build up such a credit that you may later borrow something important and valuable that you would not otherwise be able to borrow, is usury. To take someone out to a fancy dinner so that you can ask them to do something that you believe that they would not otherwise be willing to do from conscience, is usury. To invite someone into your home, or do a favour for them in the hope of obligating them to return the invitation or the favour, is usury.

Many speak of “Christian Charity,” and by it they mean charitable acts such as giving to the needy and poor, in doing good to the neighbour, to the country, and to the church for any cause, or for any result whatsoever. It is an act of “Christian Charity” to give old clothes to the needy, according to this way of thinking, even if the motive behind the action is no more than to clean out the closets and get rid of some old, worn out things that you no longer use. But with a moment’s reflection we can see that the quality of one’s charity can only be determined to be “Christian” or not by its intention. It is the goal, the intended result, that determines the real quality of everything that we do. 

If your purpose is to do something good for the sake of reputation, or acquire honour or profit, then the good which is done is not good, because it is done for the sake of self, and is therefore from self. But if the purpose is to do some good for the sake of another, the country, the church – the neighbour on any level – then the good which is done is genuinely good, for it is done for the sake of good itself. When something is done for the sake of good, it is the same as being done for the neighbour, and when something is done genuinely for the sake of the neighbour, it is done for the Lord, for He Himself taught, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did to Me” (MAT 25:40) (See AC 9210).

When we do good for the sake of good, we are acting from the Lord Himself. At the same time, when we do what is true for the sake of the truth, we are also acting from the Lord Himself, for to do truth for the sake of truth is to do good, for truth becomes good when it passes from the understanding into the will, and from the will goes forth into action. To act in this way, to act from good for the sake of good, or to act from truth for the sake of truth is what “Christian Charity” really is.

But we must not fall into the “merit” trap, that is, begin to believe that if we feel good about something that we are doing for others that somehow what we are doing has lost its spiritual value. We must remember that the angels in heaven feel great delight when they do good, and they always try to do what is good from the Lord. Doing good is its own reward, and the delight of heaven flows in whenever we do genuine good from the Lord. 

The same is true of “Christian Charity.” Sometimes those who do good from “Christian Charity” as defined in its genuine sense, still are really thinking about how such deeds will affect their reputation among men, or may think that some honour may result from the deed, or even some kind of profit. However, these thoughts are not the reasons behind the actions, but reflections about the consequences after the fact. The rewards are not the reason, even though they are foreseen, and they bring delight.

The person who does good from genuine “Christian Charity” regards what is good and just as the essential and only thing, as being in the highest place. Afterwards, they think about the profit and honour that result from these things, but as things that are not at all essential, as being in the lowest place. When such people have in their view what is just and good, they are like brave soldiers who fight in battles for their country, and who have no regard for their own life, nor for their rank, or for their possessions in the world, for the importance of their use makes them all of relatively no account. On the other hand, those who have regard for themselves and the world in the first place are of such a character that they do not even see what is just and good, but only their own selfish desires.

The Word often refers to usury. Our natural interest in money may distract our attention from the real meaning of this law, the real warning that is directed to us:  we must be careful with how we invest the goods and truths given to us by the Lord, our time, our good works, our ideas. The Lord was speaking about money when He gave this law to the Jews, because at that time and in that place, that was all they could understand. But we must remember that the Word was written for all people and for all times, and it is the spirit of the Mosaic law that has been given by God to guide our lives today. The spirit of His law is not hidden. It can be easily found by anyone who seeks for it with genuine humility of spirit and willingness to be lead by the Lord. Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Highest (LUK 6:35).   AMEN.


First Lesson:  Mat 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. {32} “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. {33} “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. {34} “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: {35} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; {36} ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ {37} “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? {38} ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ {40} “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ {41} “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: {42} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; {43} ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ {44} “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ {45} “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ {46} “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 9211

9211. ‘You shall not charge him interest’ means that therefore it must not be done for the sake of gain to be acquired from it. This is clear from the meaning of ‘charging someone interest’ as doing good for the sake of gain

The more internal things within that law are that good done to the neighbour should come from the heart, and that people should believe that there is no merit at all in deeds which spring from self, only in deeds which spring from the Lord present with them. For only the Lord has earned merit, and only He is righteousness; and when a person believes this he does not attach any merit or reward at all to deeds springing from self but ascribes all good deeds to the Lord. And since the Lord in His Divine mercy is the real doer of that good the person ascribes everything to mercy alone. So it is also that one who is led by the Lord has no thought whatever of reward, and yet from the heart does good to the neighbour.

[2] These are the more internal things from which the law among the Israelite and Jewish nation about lending things at interest comes down. When therefore a person is acquainted with those more internal things that law comes to an end along with the others like it which were referred to as judgements. For the Israelite and Jewish nation was confined to the outward forms that represented internal things. Consequently that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day.

Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read.

But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable. Amen.


[1]The strict application of the scriptural rules against usury was the cause of an ironic situation in Europe of the Middle Ages. In both Christian and Islamic countries Jews were compelled to be the money changers, the bankers, so that good Christians and Moslems would not have to commit usury. The Jews were forced to commit the sin of usury and live in wretched ghettos, while yet controlling most of the investment money in Europe.

 Bible Meanings Home

SwedenborgStudy.com

http://www.smallcanonsearch.com/

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/index.htm

http://www.swedenborgdigitallibrary.org/