THE ATURE A D WICKED ESS OF OPPRESSIO .

BY JOB ORTO

ECCLES. IV. 1. So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun : and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter ; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, hut they had no comforter. There is scarce any sin against which more is said in the word of God, or which is more reproachful to a man and to a Christian, or more mischievous to society, than oppression. Yet I fear it is a sin which more persons are guilty of, and more suffer by, than is generally known. I esteem it therefore my duty to warn you against it. As the love of the world naturally leads to it, you will bear with me while I endeavour to show its nature and evil. Solomon having, in the former chapter (v. 16), spoken of public oppression from corrupt judges and magistrates, as an instance of the vanity of power and authority, proceeds here to speak of private oppression, as one evidence of the vanity of the world. " So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun ; and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter ; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter." I shall, I. Consider what oppression is, and mention some instances of it; II. Show you the great evil and wickedness of it ; and then conclude with some exhortations grounded upon the subject. I. I am to consider what oppression is, and lay before you the most striking instances in which men are guilty of it. ow it is, as the text intimates, taking advantage of a man's weakness and poverty to injure him in his substance ; as fraud

is taking advantage of a man's ignorance or inattention ; and extortion, of his necessity, to hurt him. But there are many cases in which both fraud and extortion are oppressive. Oppression is dealing unjustly or unkindly by a person over whose time, goods, trade, or business the oppressor hath power. It is principally the vice of rich men and superiors, who have power over their workmen, servants, tenants, and other inferiors. But it is not confined to them. The poor often meet with very bad, if not the worst, treatment from those who in station and fortune are very little above them. I am not sufficiently acquainted with " the depths of Satan," and the iniquitous mysteries of trade, to specify every instance of this sin. But I will mention those which are most notorious. It is oppression, when men impose what terms they please

264 orton's practical works. upon others in commerce and dealings, without regarding what is just and right ; when they obhge others to sell their goods under their real value, because they are in necessity ; or to give more for a commodity than it is worth, because they cannot do without it. Unjust weights and measures are a fraud ; but they are likewise an oppression ; for, in many instances, persons know that they are cheated ; they complain of it, and, in the language of the text, weep over it ; but can have no redress, because " on the side of the oppressors there is power." If they will not submit to the grievance, those unjust men will not buy of them again ; and perhaps there is no other market at which these sufferers can dispose of their wares. Selling bad and damaged goods to persons who dare not refuse to take them, and yet must lose by them, or not sell them again for a reasonable profit, is another instance of this vice. If a person makes a relation, a neighbour, or dependent, pay dearer for what he buys than his other customers, because he is under particular obligations to buy of him, he is an oppressor. Taking exorbitant interest for money lent, or exchange of bills and cash, on account of men's necessities, is extortion and oppression. Where a

person, or a combination of persons, engross the whole of any commodity which is to be sold, in order to make an excessive gain of it, or to injure other tradesmen in the same way of business, this is oppression. When those who enjoy wealth, or have a sufficiency, intrude upon other persons' trades, and endeavour to draw every thins valuable within their own circle, they are oppressors. When they combine to raise or sink the price of any commodity, merely for their own profit and to injure others ; and especially when they will sell without profit to ruin other tradesmen of small capitals, and engross the business to themselves ; and afterwards will raise the price proportionably, to make up their own loss ; this is notoriously oppressive. Combinations of merchants and factors not to buy goods of those manufacturers who purchase their raw materials from others, who will sell them at a more reasonable price, or by a fairer measure or weight, are likewise oppressive. Persons are guilty of this sin, when they defer paying their workmen and creditors in due time, and put the advantage of the delay in their own pockets; for the time is part of the contract as well as the money ; at least is implied in it. Hence they are hindered in their own trade, and obliged to borrow money, perhaps of some other oppressor, to \rdy their debts or support their families. To make workmen unnecessarily wait for materials to work upon, and thereby lose their time and gain; to pay them in goods and not in cash ; in goods which they do not want, or cannot sell but at a loss ; is grievous injustice, and too common in manufacturing towns and countries. To pay workmen less than the wages agreed for; less than what is customary, or wliat, on account of the

DIS. XXXI.] O OPPRESSIO . 265 particular work, they have a right to expect ; to obhge them to work at such rates as they cannot hve by ; especially in hard seasons and dear times, and to take advantage of their necessities to further self-enriching schemes; these are likewise instances of this vice. Where persons pay their workmen the usual wages for their proper work, but yet employ them in other labours and services, for which they do not pay them at all, or

not as they would pay other persons for the same time and labour; when they require these further services from them, merely because they have power over them, and these depend upon their masters for a livelihood; this also is oppression and expressly threatened in the word of God. " Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong, that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work," Jer. xxii. 13. To oblige servants to work above their strength, or more than is agreeable to contract or custom ; to allow them too little time for rest, and none for religion, especially on the Lord's day, is oppression and the worst sort of it. Again, to be rigorous in exacting debts or other rights to the very utmost farthing, where poverty, sickness, losses, dear seasons, or a large family, render men incapable of paying what they owe ; to allow them no time to satisfy their creditors ; or to strip them of their all ; this is vilely and cruelly oppressive. Obliging persons, over whom men have power, to vote or act against their consciences ; persecuting, reviling, or even bantering, men for their religious sentiments and worship, is dreadful oppression. In the black list of oppressors must likewise be ranged, parents, masters and mistresses of families and schools, who behave cruelly and severely to their children, servants, and scholars ; and abuse the power, which God hath given them, so as to make them " serve with rigour, and make their lives bitter with hard bondage," Exod. i. 14. There is likewise great oppression in a haughty, insolent, overbearing way of speaking to inferiors, which is very grating and hurtful to any sensible mind. Accordingly we frequently meet with this expression in scripture, " Speaking oppression;" so that a man may oppress another with his tongue. There may be, and I believe are, many other instances of this vice ; but as these are the most common, the mention of them may be sufficient to show the nature of it. I go on, II. To represent to you the great evil and wickedness of it. It is more necessary to do this, because some of these instances of oppression are customary and gainful ; and therefore men are not aware, or not willing to believe, that they are sinful. Hence the prophet saith of Ephraim, " He is a merchant; the balances

of deceit are in his hands ; he loveth to oppress ; yet, saith he, I am become rich ; I have found me out substance ; in all my

266 orton's practical works. labours they shall find no iniquity in me that were sin," Hos. xii. 7 ; nothing by which I shall gain a bad character among my neighbours. The wickedness and danger of oppression will appear, if we consider, that it proceeds from, and shows, a very bad disposition of mind ; it is a high ingratitude and affront to the righteous God ; it is detestable cruelty to the oppressed ; it is directly contrary to the design of the gospel ; and will certainly sink oppressors into everlasting ruin. 1. It proceeds from a very bad disposition of mind. If we trace oppression to its sources, we shall find that they are various, and all base and criminal. The principal source of it is covetousness ; an inordinate love of the world. See how these are joined by the prophet Jeremiah, " Thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for oppression, and for violence to do it," Jer. xxii. 17. When men will be rich, when their hearts are set on getting money, and they " mind earthly things," they will seldom scruple the means of enriching themselves ; but pursue their end by right or wrong. They care not what injury they do to others, if they can but keep up a tolerable character in the world. In some persons the practice of this sin proceeds from pride ; to show their authority over others, and to keep them in awe. Hence they treat their inferiors as if they were of a lower species, and not worthy of common justice. This shows a base, ignoble mind. " Pride compasseth them about as a chain ; violence covereth them as a garment. They are corrupt, they wickedly speak oppression ; they speak loftily," Ps. Ixiii. 6 — 8. In some, it is owing to luxury and extravagance. They are dressed with the spoils of the poor ; and their fine houses, equipages, and entertainments, are supported by the properties and comforts of others. It is sometimes owing to sloth; because, like drones in the hive, they will not work, they prey upon the labours of the industrious. It is very often owing to resentment,

malice, and ill-nature. If others, over whom they have power, complain of their unjust treatment, they will oppress them still more. " He that maketh haste to be rich," saith Solomon, " hath an evil eye," upon the property of others, and cares not what mischief he doth to them, in order to gratify his own ambition or revenge. ow a practice which proceeds from such bad principles and dispositions as these, must be very base and abominable, and ought to be detested by every man. 2. Oppression is a liigli ingratitude and affront to the righteous God. It is ingratitude to him, because he givcth men all their wealth and power over others, and he doth this, not that they may oppress, but protect, relieve, and serve others, and be a blessing to them. It must therefore be horrid ingratitude to abuse and pervert these favours to their injury. But what renders it worse is, that he hath bestowed upon men spiritual blessings and Christian ])rivilegos, and therefore to oppress and

DIS. XXXI.] O OPPRESSIO . 267 injure them must be proportionably wicked. Further, he hath placed men in different circumstances in Ufe ; " made both the rich and the poor." He hath allotted to men such conditions here, that they need one another's assistance. The rich want the labour of the poor, as the poor want the money of the rich ; and God expects that they should help one another, and so contribute to the general happiness. To oppress the poor, then, is defeating the wise and kind design of God's providence. Accordingly Solomon observes, " He that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth his Maker," who hath made him poor. Further, the law of God, our supreme Sovereign, expressly forbids every kind of oppression, and requires that we follow what is altogether just, honourable, and kind. There are many precepts of this sort ; " Oppress not the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the stranger." " In buying and selling, thou shalt not oppress." " Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant." " Ye shall not oppress one another, but thou shalt fear thy God ; for I am the Lord your God ;" and the like. Consequently God must be

highly offended, " when he looketh for justice and behold oppression, and for righteousness, but behold the cries" of the oppressed, Isa. V. 7. He declares this sin to be an abomination to him, and that he will punish it in the greatest men. " The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients and the princes of his people, because the spoil of the poor is in their houses. What mean ye, that ye beat my people to pieces and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts," Isa. iii. 14. It is likewise acting contrary to his pattern, for though " God is mighty, yet he despiseth not awy." "In plenty of justice he will not afflict," Job xxxvi, 5, xxxvii. 23 ; or who could stand before him ? Oppressors are the very reverse of the holy, just, and good God, and resemble the father of lies and deceit, who was a murderer from the beginning, and an oppressor of all over whom he hath power. God hath threatened, that he will " spoil the souls of those that spoil the oppressed ; and the cries of them, who have been defrauded of their hire, enter into the ears of the Lord of hosts," and he will plead their cause. 3. It is detestable inhumanity and cruelty to the oppressed. " A righteous man," saith Solomon, " regardeth the life of his beast." What then must we think of those who are oppressive and cruel to their fellow men, but that they are utterly void of justice, goodness, and humanity, that they are monsters and not men? Persons expect at least justice one from another in all their dealings and connexions. It is grievous to every honest mind to see the great bonds of society broken, and the foundations of commerce subverted. It is cruel to oppress inferiors, because they know their oppressors have power over them, and power which they should use with justice and moderation. It is disappointing them of that profit of their labours which they

268 orton's practical works. expected, and the expectation of which carried them cheerfully through their cares and fatigues. To be oppressed grieves them, costs them tears, as the text intimates. They lament that their hopes are defeated, that they cannot pay their debts, support

their families, and live creditably in the world. Hence God commands, " Thou shalt give the labourer his hire in the evening, for he is poor and setteth his heart upon it," Deut. xxiv. 15. Oppression is so grievous, that, as Solomon observes, it sometimes " maketh a wise man mad." It is owing to the oppression and cruelty of merchants and tradesmen, that " men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded crieth out," Job xxiv. 12. It is cruelty likewise to oppress men, because it is tempting them to act unjustly, and to defraud others. Yea, it may prejudice them against rehgion. When they see those who profess godliness guilty of this sin, it may lead them to think, that all religion is a jest, and that they are not bound by its laws, when their superiors break them. " Woe be to the man by whom such an offence cometh ;" for this is cruelty to the souls of men. 4. It is directly contrary to the design of the gospel ; which is to promote righteousness, love, peace, and happiness upon earth, as well as to secure the eternal salvation of mankind. Christ commands his disciples to " love their neighbours as themselves ;" to do to others whatsoever they could reasonably desire and expect that others should do to them. " The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, teacheth us to live righteously, and to provide things honest in the sight of all men," With regard to the privileges and blessings of the gospel, no difference is made between the rich and the poor. It is designed to open the heart in kindness and love ; to lead the professors of it to seek the good of others, and be ready even to lay down their lives for them. These great duties our blessed Lord hath recommended, and enforced by his own example ; for he was holy, harmless, undefiled. He did no sin, neither was guile found in his hand or in his mouth. " He went about doing good," and employed his power t«j promote the health, comfort, and happiness of mankind. His gospel is a constitution of grace and mercy. And if men, who know and profess this excellent religion, can allow themselves to be unjust, oppressive, or even unkind, and under a cloak of zeal and devotion trample on common honesty, they have received the grace of God in vain : they dishonour the gospel ; will be condemned by their profession of it, and of all sinners be most inexcusable and miserable,

which leads me to add, once more, 5. It will sink men into everlasting ruin. God is a just and righteous being, and at the judgment-day " he will render to every one according to his works." The Lord seeth and rejnembereth all the oppression that is done under the sun, and

DIS. XXXI.] O OPPRESSIO .' 269 he will at length reckon with those who have done it. On '' their side there is" now " power ;" so that the oppressed cannot help themselves. But on God's side there is almighty power, to humble and punish the proudest oppressor. He putteth all the tears of the oppressed into his bottle, Ps. Ivi. 8 ; he will be their friend and advocate, and execute vengeance on those who oppress them. Hear what his word expressly declareth on this subject ; " For the oppression of the poor, and for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord," Ps. xii. 5. " I will come near to you in judgment, and be a swift witness against those that oppress the widow, fatherless, and hireling, and turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord," Mai. iii. 5. Thou hast dealt by oppression with the stranger ; thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbour by extortion. '* Behold, I have smitten mine hands at thy dishonest gain," testified my abhorrence of it ; "and can thine heart endure, or thine hands be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee ?" Ezek. xxii. 14. But observe, these are not the declarations and threatenings of the law of Moses only. The gospel of grace and mercy as awfully threatens all these iniquitous practices. Accordingly St. Paul saith, " He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong he hath done, for there is no respect of persons with God," Col. iii. 25. " Let no man go beyond, over-reach, or defraud his brother in any matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such," 1 Tliess. iv. 6. And now I may appeal to you, as the apostle doth to the Christians at Corinth, " Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" 1 Cor. vi. 9. Can a Christian be a stranger to what is so plain ? In short, oppression is in-

consistent with all hopes of obtaining mercy at last, and those who practise it will be punished with everlasting destruction. These particulars sufficiently show the great wickedness of oppression. It proceeds from bad dispositions of heart ; it is ingratitude and a high affront to the holy and good God ; it is cruelty to the oppressed ; contradicts and defeats the design of the gospel ; and exposes those who are guilty of it to everlasting ruin. ow let me conclude the discourse with some apphcation, grounded upon what hath been said. APPLICATIO . 1. I shall address to oppressors ; to those whose consciences tell them, as in the sight of God, that they have been guilty of this sin in the instances above mentioned or any other. I exhort you, sirs, to hearken to the voice of conscience, as the voice of God ; to submit to its reproofs ; and to be humbled deeply before God for your injustice and cruelty to men. Whatever you may think of yourselves, you are certainly in a wretched and deplorable state ; as God hath declared, that

270 orton's practical works. "he shall have judgment without mercy, who hath shown no mercy." I exhort you immediately and heartily to repent of your oppressions ; to give glory to God by a penitent confession of them in his presence, and an earnest application to him for pardon, through the blood of the great Redeemer. You are likewise to make restitution to those whom you have oppressed; or to their heirs ; or if you can find none, to the poor ; for so the law of God required. umb. v. 6 — 8 ; and thus do what you can to repair the damage you have done. Be assured, there can be no true repentance, and consequently no salvation, without restitution. It is an inseparable fruit of true repentance ; and if you are ashamed to acknowledge your fault and make restitution, you are yet under the guilt of sin, and will be punished for the wrong you have done. " Trust not in oppression, become not vain in robbery," though you get rich by them ; for

" riches profit not in the day of wrath." What will ever so many hundreds and thousands gained by oppression profit you, when your souls are lost, and you are banished to a place of torment ? What advantage will unjust gain be to your families ? It will be, in the language of the prophet Habakkuk, " consulting shame to your own house. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the roof shall answer it," Hab. ii. 10, 11, rather than your injustice shall go unexposed and unpunished. You may think this admonition doth not belong to you, because you are not notorious oppressors; because you keep up a fair character among men, and are reckoned honest. Perhaps all that this will amount to is, that those whom you oppress, dare not complain of it ; that you know how to impose silence upon them ; and that none love you so well, as to tell you the truth of your case, and reprove you for your injustice. Be it sufficient that your ovt^n consciences and the word of God tell you, you are oppressors ; and let it be your immediate care to repent, restore, and reform, lest you fall into the hands of the living and almighty God. 2. Let me address to the oppressed. It may perhaps be the case of some of you, and I would endeavour to be your comforter. Acknowledge the justice of the Lord in what you suffer from the hand of men. Though they are unrighteous, lie is righteous, for you have sinned ; and he may choose this method of afflicting you, to lead you to repentance, to exercise your virtues, and make your hearts better. Let me exhort you to guard against a spirit of malice and revenge. Remember that their oppressing you will be no excuse for injustice to them. That " it is no harm to bite the biter," is a very wicked maxim. It is better to suffer many wrongs, than to do one. Yea it is our duty to render good for evil. ever so much as wish ill to those who injuriously treat you. " Say not thou, I will recompense evil, but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee,"

DIS. XXXI.] O OPPRESSIO . 271 Prov. XX. 22. Which leads me to add, commit your cause to

God, and leave him to plead it. He hath, in many places of scripture, promised to " execute judgment for them that are oppressed." He can make up your losses, or provide for you some other way. If you keep in the path of duty, he will be your comforter, though you have no other. ever sacrifice a good conscience to the fear of man ; but endeavour to be like the Lord Jesus Christ ; " he was oppressed and afflicted, yet opened not his mouth," Isa. liii. 7 ; " when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously," 1 Pet. ii. 23. Finally, 3. / would address to those who can appeal to a heartsearching God, that they are guiltless of this sin. I would exhort you to guard against the love of money, which is the chief root of this evil. Solomon observeth, " He that maketh haste to be rich, shall not be innocent," Prov. xxviii. 20. I insist upon this, because men do not become oppressors at once. The love of the world insensibly steals upon their minds, roots out every good principle, breaks through all the rules of justice, charity, and humanity; turns a fair character into a detestable one, and a man into a devil. Let it be your care, to " despise the gain of oppression," Isa. xxxiii, 15. " Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways," though he get rich by them, " for he is an abomination to the Lord," Prov. iii. 31. To prevent your becoming oppressors, go not to the utmost bounds of things lawful. Keep on the safe side. Be not only just, but honourable, generous, and charitable, and " abstain from the very appearance of evil." Let me exhort you, likewise, to be comforters of the oppressed. ** Consider," with Solomon in the text, their oppressions. If you see men cheated and imposed upon, inform them of it ; if oppressed by men of power, do what you can to redress them ; and " fear not the fury of the oppressor ;" for he is the vilest of men, and abhorred both by God and man. " Be not partakers of other men's sins," by practising them or conniving at them. If you cannot redress the injured, at least comfort them, and show charity to them, the more they are oppressed. To conclude; let us rejoice in the view of the great day of account. Solomon adviseth, " If thou seest the oppression of the poor, marvel not at the matter, for he that is higher than the highest regardeth, and there be

higher than they," that is, than powerful oppressors, Eccl. v. 8. There is a day coming, which is called " the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," when all the oppressions that have been done under the sun shall be publicly exposed ; and God shall render tribulation to them who have troubled and injured their brethren. Then, "with the righteous God will show himself righteous ;" and " blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

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