« AnteriorContinuar »
was seldom any of them were to be seen there in working hours. Something, however, had gone wrong with the engine that morning, and a number of the workmen, who were waiting about until the damage should be repaired, had come to see what was his proverb for the day.
“There it is,” said the old man, laying down his piece of chalk. “Proverbs 22nd chapter and 26th verse, ‘Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts.
“If you were my grammar-school boys, and not big bearded men, I would ask some of you what is meant by a surety for a debt; and my boys would have told me that it is a man who binds himself to pay another's debt, if that other does not pay it himself. And my boys would have been right. If John engages to pay William's debt, should William neglect to do it himself, then John is surety for William's debt.
“I suppose that long ago people used to shake hands over the conclusion of a bargain much as they sometimes do nowadays. I imagine that is what is meant in the proverb by striking hands; it was their way of concluding the bargain. I see the word 'or' in the middle of this proverb, which seems to suggest that the striking hands and becoming surety were different things, but in my Bible there, and in yours at home, that little word "or' is not printed in the same way as the rest of the verse, but in italics, which means that the word is not in the original, but was put in by those who translated the Bible in order to complete the sense. In this case I think the verse is better without it. If you leave it out you can then see that the whole verse refers to one thing only, suretyship and nothing else : ‘Be not one of them that strike hands, of them that are sureties for debts.'
“ It seems that long ago people sometimes did as they occasionally do now, they bound themselves to pay another man's debt without having the money to meet it; and that there were creditors then just as hard and unfeeling as any
nowadays, for in the very next verse we read, “If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee ?'
“It seems too that sometimes in those days some were so simple as to become security for people they did not know much about, for another proverb 1 says, 'He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it.'
“Yes, it is a very risky thing to become surety for anybody's debt, but a specially foolish thing if the man is a stranger, and not a bit less foolish whoever you may be surety for, if you bind yourself when you have not the means of paying, if the demand should fall upon you; for then your very furniture may be sold to pay a debt you really never owed, and perhaps your home be broken up, and your family turned into the street.
"If the man who asks for your signature to his bill were to ask you at once for the money, you would take good care what you were about. If you hadn't the money, you would say so; and if he were somewhat of a stranger to you, you would not be very willing to lend him the hard cash, even if you had it. But the man says, 'Oh, it is only your name I want; it's a mere form. I can pay the bill when it comes due; but in the meantime there has to be another name along with mine, just for form's sake, you know. It is a mere business formality. And you lift the pen and say, 'Oh, if that is all, I'll sign it.' And you do sign it; and one fine morning you receive intimation that the man has failed, and that you must pay the bill. Then you will have to say to your wife, Wife, we are ruined; all our things will have to be sold. I signed a bill, and the man's broke, and they've come on me.' And your wife will say, “If you had told me I would not have heard of you doing such a thing ;' for women are far wiser in these things than men. So if anybody asks you to be surety for him, you had better tell your wife first; and if she asks you what will happen if the man does not pay, you can say,
Prov. xi. 15. 216
"Then I'll have to pay it; and since I have not the money, our furniture will have to be sold. I do not think you will sign the bill after that.
“I once became surety for a man myself. He was a relative of mine, and I could not well refuse, for he was starting a little shop, and he could not get goods from the wholesale house unless some one became security for him, and there was nobody else on whom he had any claim. But I had not an easy mind for many a day, not, indeed, until I was released from my engagement, which I took care should be as soon as the wholesale merchant had acquired sufficient confidence in his customer to trust him on his own security. It was well I did get freed from my engagement, for about two years after the man failed; and though it would not have ruined me altogether to have paid the amount for which I had become security, it would have swept away all my little savings, and crippled me for years to come.
"I remember a case that happened not very many years ago which did not turn out quite so fortunately. Sam Butler was a neighbour of mine. I was in lodgings, however, and he had a house of his own a beautiful cottage, which stood in a very pretty garden. He had bought it with his savings before he got married ; and when he brought home his young wife, it was to the prettiest little cottage in all the countryside. Not long afterwards he set up as a tradesman on his own account, and when I knew him he had a capital business, and six nice children, and there was not a happier home anywhere than Sam Butler's.
“ About that time there came a new occupant to the big house on the hill behind Sam's cottage. A gentleman from the south had taken the place furnished. He was in some sort of business in London, they said, and used to come and go a good deal. Being neighbours, he and Sam soon became acquainted, and he used to ask Sam frequently to his house, and would often take him with him for a drive. I began to see less of Sam than I had been doing, for he was very much taken up with the Southerner.
“One evening, when Sam had been dining with him, he said in an off-hand way, 'Oh, by the bye, Mr. Butler, would you mind signing a bill for me? It is a mere matter of form. There are four signatures wanted to it besides my own. I called on three of my business friends in London before I left and got their signatures, but the fourth happened to be out, and my train left before the time he was to be home. I would have stayed to get his signature, only I had asked you to come to dinner, and I was quite sure that you would not mind obliging me. It is a mere formality. These others are all good names, even if I should fail, which isn't likely,' he added, with a laugh.
"As you may suppose, Sam did not like to refuse, and so bound himself along with the others, jointly and severally, for 40001.-a sum which his friend gave him to understand was a mere nothing compared to the amount of money passing through his hands.
“Sam said nothing of the bill to me, and nothing to his wife ; indeed, nobody knew of it until one morning the news spread through the place that the gentleman on the hill had disappeared, nobody knew where, without paying the rent of the furnished house, or the hire of the carriage he had used, or the wages of his servants.
“ The following day a demand was made on Sam for the payment of the 4000l. The other men whose names were on the bill were mere men of straw. Poor Sam had nothing but his cottage and his good-going business, and both were taken from him to pay the stranger's debt.
“What came of Sam ? This terrible misfortune broke his heart and his health. Before six months he was in his grave, and his poor widow and children sunk to the lowest depths of poverty.
“ Yes, it is by no means a safe thing for any one who cannot afford the loss to become surety for a debt." “Well,” said one of Old Andrew's hearers, “all I know
is that if I needed a surety it would be some poor man I would have to look to, for I don't know a single rich man who would help me.”
“Perhaps not. It is often the case in many things, that those who are willing are not able, and those who are able are not willing. But I have heard of One who was rich and became surety for the poor. You have heard of Him too, I daresay, 'Who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.' He became surety for our great debt of sin, and paid it with His life on Calvary, where He died the just in room of the unjust. ·Himself bare our sin in His own body on the tree;' 'He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.' Why, then, should any of us die the second death when Christ has died to save us from it?.
“From all my fears and bondage
The Lord hath set me free;
And paid my debt for me.'
Trust Him who has proved so true a friend to sinners. He was not deceived into becoming their surety. He knew from the first He would have to pay their debt with His own life-blood, yet He of His own free will, in love to us, undertook to be our surety.
“But I hear your factory bell. They've got the engine put right. Good morning, all."
Vice in Ourselves and Others.
grieved and disgusted by his father's vices, and
his own middle life, yielding to just such temptations as led his father astray, and committing the self-same