Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Credit Crunch viewed from the right perspective

Terrible is the crisis through which the commercial world is passing. Fearful are the throes of mental anxiety now visible on the countenances of its ardent votaries. Next to the tnmnlt of the craftsmen at Ephesus is the commotion around the doors of some Banking Establishments. And there are faces not a few which vividly call up the visage of Micah, when he cried to the relentless spoilers — "Ye have taken away my gods which I have made, and what have I more?"

In regard to temporal things, commercial men are thrown into the deepest alarm by a monetary panic, which may affect their social position for the present or for life; and yet the same individuals can hear of eternal death without a passing emotion, or of eternal life without having the currents of thought changed for a single hour! How shall we account for such a difference of feeling, unless on the ground that Mammon occupies the chief place, and that those things which are seen and temporal lie nearer the heart than those things which are unseen and eternal! Such callous indifference could never be, were not the glory of man placed above the glory of God.

The present crisis must be ranged in the category of divine judgments. It is altogether out of the ordinary course of human experience. It bears the impress of offended Deity. It proclaims the wrath of the "Governor among the nations." The present calamity is not local, neither is it confined to any one class of the community. In this dread crisis, the rich and poor meet together. It is thus that the panic is transferred from the marts of merchandise to the hearths and homes of every family. It is this especially that marks the footsteps of national judgment.

We have no intention of showing what legislative or commercial wisdom might have done to avert the calamity; nor by what expedients the effects of this crisis may be most efficiently met. There is enough of this elsewhere — yea, so much, that the minds of men seldom rise above the instruments, forgetful that the God of Nations is the Author. “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" There are three patent facts, and to these we solicit attention. There is national judgment. National judgment is the consequence of national sin. Escape from national judgment can only be realised by national repentance.

In tracing some of the more prominent causes of the present crisis, commercial immorality holds a distinguished place. By this, we mean the violation of those principles of right and wrong which ought to regulate the business intercourse of man with man, firm with firm, and nation with nation. In the world which God has made so good, there is enough for all. In the development of trade and commerce, there ¡s labour and remuneration for all. In the social relations there are channels opened up by which the bounties of Divine Providence may be distributed to all. It is man's perversion — and man's perversion alone — that deranges the moral machinery, and stops the wheels of social progress. It is thus, as in the present case, that a period of prosperity abused, hastens on the gloomy season of adversity. Prosperity tends to excite pride ; pride produces the desire for display and luxury; extravagance exhausts legitimate resources; while exhausted resources, with pride unsubdued, tempt to rash speculation on the one hand, or fraudulent transactions on the other. All these, with their accompanying evils, are the characteristics of the present age.

Is not the God of all the earth now saying, as of old — "Hear this, O ye that swallow up the poor and the needy, even to make the poor of the land fail. Saying, when will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit ? that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes ; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat." These things are not uncommon, and are lightly esteemed; but the least of them escapes not the eyes of the moral Governor; hence he adds — " The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, surely I will never forget their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one that dwelleth therein? ... I will darken the earth in a clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation, and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head, and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day."

The bitter day has come.

The penalty of extravagance is ultimate penury. The old proverb holds true, that “wilful waste brings woeful want." It is unnecessary to expatiate on the effects of extravagance in maturing the corruptions of the heart — in widening and deepening the streams of human depravity ! These are fearfully manifest in the immorality of our most prosperous cities. These seem of old to have brought the destruction of Sodom. “Behold this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters." Similar causes produce similar results, and the nation is now reaping the bitter fruits.

There is still another cause of divine judgment, which, though generally overlooked, is by no means the least in the bill of indictment — the robbery of God ! — the repudiation of the claims of Jehovah ! This seems to all beyond the pale of the Church, and, to the majority within her, a light crime; but viewed in the light of Revelation, it appears the heaviest of all. In the cases previously noticed, the frauds practised are between man and man. In this latter case, it is the defrauding of the Universal Proprietor. If sin is represented as of infinite demerit, because committed against an infinitely holy God, it must be apparent that the sin of robbing God is one of the most heinous, as committed against His infinite justice.

They are blind who cannot see that the sin of Israel in the time of Haggai is the sin of Britain and America at the present day, and the punishment then inflicted the penalty now required of both. “Is it a time for you, 0 ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste ? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink ; ye clothe you, but there is none warm ; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." Could anything be more descriptive of our present position? Vast speculations and bitter disappointments ; extensive schemes of ambition and sudden bankruptcy ; good wages and wasting immorality ; wealth acquired, but even the Banks have become as bags with holes ! “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little ; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it, saith the Lord of hosts." And why? "Because of mine house that is waste, and ye did run every man to his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands." Is not this a moral portrait of the nation's guilt, and also of her punishment? Here, also, we have the germs of the punishment nursed in the corresponding transgression. Withholding from God His due, the mind becomes more and more estranged, and communities, like individuals, become “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." If men are unjust to God in regard to service, or the dedication of offerings, how can they be just to their fellow-men?

If righteous claims on the part of God are disregarded, where is the security that any man will regard the claims of his neighbour? The violation of the Sabbath, the neglect of ordinances, and the pursuit of carnal pleasure, have mined the foundations of our social morality; and hence nothing more is requisite than a general panic to cause the destruction of the channels of national sustenance!

Such we esteem the present crisis! Human foresight could not prevent it, and human sagacity cannot avert its consequences. It is the work of God; yea, the "strange work” of righteous retribution! The cause is moral, and so must the remedy also be. Space will not permit its full development, but we shall simply at present indicate some of its leading characteristics. If fraud is the parent of distrust, then all fraudulent maxims and practices must be abandoned. If reckless speculation is the ruin of commerce, it must be completely checked. If encouragement to bold speculators is unjust to the legitimate trader, then all facilities for the false-credit system must be explicitly discarded by our banking establishments. If pride and extravagance tend directly to ruin domestic comfort and arrest social progress, the former must be humbled, and the latter rigidly restrained. If disregard of the precepts of the first table of the moral law is the cause of such flagrant violations of the precepts of the second, all relations and enterprises and transactions must be conducted with a regard to the glory of God.

Finally, if the robbery of God is declared in His Word to be the cause of national judgments, these cannot be removed until the claims of Jehovah are fully recognised and honoured. These are His own terms in dealing with nations; and "woe be to those who coveting an evil covetousness," disregard them!"

This is as true now as when it was published 150 years ago in the ORIGINAL SECESSION MAGAZINE. JANUARY, 1858.