Billeder på siden

either felt or pretended doubts concerning the obligation of such a promise, and referred his case to Bishop Sanderson, the most eminent in this kind of knowledge of his time. Bishop Sanderson, after writing a dissertation on the question, adjudged the promise to be void. In which, however, upon our principles, he was wrong; for however criminal the affection might be, which induced the promise, the performance, when it was demanded, was lawful*.”

Are extorted promises binding ? They are so in every case in which the thing promised is lawful,that is, when the promise is of that nature that it may be performed without infringing on my duty to God, to my neighbour, or to myself. If the extorted promise refers to what is in itself unlawful, of course it ought not to be performed.




A CONTRACT differs from a promise, in its being the mutual and voluntary engagement of two parties, in which each comes under an obligation to the other, and each reciprocally acquires a right to what is promised by the other.

The observations made in the former chapter, as to the sense in which a promise is to be interpreted, and the cases in which promises are not binding, will

* Paley's Mor. Phil. v. i. p. 135.

We are

be found generally applicable to contract. also to recall to our recollection what has been already advanced concerning the importance of veracity and fidelity to the virtue, industry, and happiness o mankind.

If that provision, by which human beings are enabled to barter what they do not want for a commodity which they require, be infinitely important to the comfort and moral improvement of the race, then is every act of infidelity in regard to commercial bargains a direct attack on the industry, civilization, and happiness of man. The individual guilty of it, not only sins against God, by violating an explicit commandment, but does what in him lies to frustrate the ends of his government, by weakening the support of public confidence, and reducing human society to a state of anarchy, idleness, and misery.

He, therefore, who does not honestly use his best exertions to fulfil the engagements he has entered into, is deserving of punishment. From the difficulty of distinguishing between mere misfortune and fraudulent insolvency, it sometimes happens that the innocent may suffer the disgrace due to the guilty. But this is an evil for which perhaps in this world there is no remedy. If infidelity to commercial engagements be a crime which very deeply affects the most valuable interests of mankind, it is right that, like other crimes against human society, it should be punished; though the general infliction of punishment on this class of delinquents may in some very rare instances fall on individuals who ought to escape. The great facility with which a dishonest man may in

this way defraud others of their property, and by which he may irrecoverably alienate it, forms an additional reason why a severe punishment should be affixed to the crime.

Any alteration in the laws, which could distinguish the degrees of guilt, or convert the services of the insolvent debtor to some public profit, might be an improvement; but any considerable mitigation of their rigour, under colour of relieving the poor, would increase their hardships. For whatever deprives the creditor of his power of coercion, deprives him of his security; and as this must add greatly to the difficulty of obtaining credit, the poor, especially the lower sort of tradesmen, are the first who would suffer by such a regulation. An advocate, therefore, for the interests of this important class of the community, will deem it more eligible, that one out of a thousand should be sent to gaol by his creditors, than that the nine hundred and ninety-nine should be straitened and embarrassed, and many of them lie idle by the want of credit."



There is a species of contract which deserves a separate and particular notice, on account of the associations to which it gives rise, and the duties involved in it, I mean that which relates to personal service. In the land of free men all service is of course performed

by voluntary contract. There is a bartering of time, and liberty, and stipulated labour, for maintenance and a pecuniary recompense. The master and servant become morally bound to discharge to each other the peculiar offices which they engaged to perform.

While in every case the master is bound to treat bis servants with justice and humanity, their treatment as to diet, accommodation, the quantity of work required, and general indulgence, must be regulated, somewhat at least, by custom. This much is implied in the contract by which the one has become bound to the other. But on no account are they at liberty to allow immorality and irreligion among their servants. On the contrary, it is their duty to use the power which is intrusted to them for the moral and religious improvement of those whom Providence has placed so near them, and on whose fidelity their comfort so greatly depends. Will they not view with esteem and moral regard persons who may have rendered them more than they stipulated for,—who have given them, not merely a faithful, but an affectionate service, who have wept for their distresses, watched them in sickness, and rejoiced in their prosperity? All this may reasonably be expected from them in consequence of the operation of natural affection, and a reverential obedience to the law of God; who assures them that all, whatever be the rank which they hold in society, stand in the same relation to him, and that the offices which they are required in their various spheres to perform, are to be regarded as done to him. Seryants, be obedient to them which are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling; in singleness of your heart as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free *.''

But if this affectionate and dutiful conduct may reasonably be expected from our domestics, though not expressed in the contract, there are duties also devolving on masters which are not discharged when they have given the diet, lodging, and pecuniary recompense for which they stipulated. These, it may not be very easy to define ; nor is it necessary to those who bear in mind the great christian rule of duty, and who make it their study to act upon it.

“ All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” They are like us, rational and accountable creatures, who stand in the same common relation with ourselves to the Creator and moral governor of the universe, who are susceptible of the pleasures and pains of humanity, and who, after this fleeting life has passed away, are to begin an immortal existence.

We owe them, then, as much indulgence as is compatible with their virtue, and our reasonable expectation of service from them ;-forgiveness of their imperfections, remembering our own frailty and liability to err ;-encouragement when it is obviously their aim to please us ;—but above all, we owe them

* Eph. vi. 5-9.

Vol. II.

2 F

« ForrigeFortsæt »