Charles Spurgeon Speaks on Debt

To keep debt, dirt, and the Devil out of my cottage has been my greatest wish ever since I set up housekeeping. Although the last of the three has sometimes got in by the door or the window, for the old serpent will wriggle through the smallest crack, yet, thanks to a good wife, hard work, honesty, and scrubbing brushes, the two other have not crossed the threshold. Poverty is hard, but debt is horrible.

An honest man cannot bear to eat other people’s cheese, wear other people’s shirts, and walk in other people’s shoes. Neither will he be easy while his wife is decked out in the millener’s bonnets. Borrowers will surely come to a poverty of the bitterest sort, because there is shame in it. Living beyond their incomes is the ruin of many of my neighbors; they can hardly afford to keep a rabbit, and must needs drive a pony. I am afraid extravagance is the common disease of the times, and many professing Christians have caught it, to their shame and sorrow. Girls must have silk and satins, and then there’s a bill at the dressmaker’s as long as a winter’s night, and quite as dismal. Show, and style, and smartness run away with a man’s means, keep the family poor, and the father’s nose down on the grindstone. Frogs try to look as big as bulls, and burst themselves. Men burn the candle at both ends, and then say they are very unfortunate—why don't they put the saddle on the right horse, and say they are extravagant?

Economy is half the battle in life; it is not so hard to earn money as to spend it well. Hundreds would never have known want if they had not first known waste. If you have a great store of peas, you may put more of it in the soup; but everyone should fare according to his earnings. He is both a fool and a rascal who has a quarter coming in, and on the strength of it spends five dollars which does not belong to him. “Cut your coat according to your cloth” is sound advice. Cutting other people’s cloth by running into debt is like thieving. Without debt, without care; out of debt, out of danger; but owing and borrowing are bramble bushes full of thorns.

Scripture says, “Owe no man anything,” which does not mean pay your debts, but never have any to pay. My opinion is, that those who break this law ought to be turned out of the Christian church. Our laws are shamefully full of encouragement to credit; nobody need be a thief now; he has only to open a shop and make a failure of it, and it will pay him much better. The proverb is: “He who never fails will never grow rich.” Why, I know tradesmen who have failed five or six times, and yet think they are on the road to Heaven. What would they do if they got there? They are a deal more likely to go where they shall never come out till they have paid the uttermost farthing. But people say, “How liberal they are!” Yes, with other people’s money. I hate to see a man steal a goose and then give religion the giblets. Piety by all means, but pay your way as part of it. Honesty first, and then generosity. But how often religion is a cloak for deceiving!

It is shameful and beyond endurance to see how genteel swindling is winked at by many. If I had my way, I'd give them the country crop, and the prison garb for six months; gentlemen or not, I'd let them see that big rogues could dance on the treadmill to the same tune as little ones. I'd make the land too hot to hold such scamping gentry if I were a member of Parliament. As I've no such power, I can at least let off the steam of my wrath in that way.

My motto is, pay as you go, and keep from small scores. Short reckonings are soon cleared. Pay what you owe, and what you're worth you'll know. Sins and debts are always more than we think them to be. Little by little a man gets over head and ears. It is the petty expenses that empty the purse. Tom Thriftless buys what he does not want because it is a great bargin, and so is soon brought to sell what he does want, and find it a very little bargin. He cannot say “No” to his friend who wants him to be security; he gives grand dinners, makes many holidays, keeps a fat table, lets his wife dress fine, and by-and-by he is quite surprised to find that quarter days come round so very fast, and that creditors bark so loud. He has sowed his money in the fields of thoughtlessness, and now he wonders that he has to reap the harvest of poverty. Still he hopes for something to turn up to help him out of difficulty, and so muddles himself into more troubles, forgetting that hope and expectation are a fool’s income. Being hard up, he goes to market with empty pockets, and buys at whatever prices tradesmen like to charge him, and so he pays more than double and gets deeper and deeper into the mire. This leads him to scheming, and trying little tricks and mean dodges, for it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright. When the schemer is found out, he is like a dog in church, which everybody is after, and like a barrel of powder, which nobody wants for a neighbor.

A man must cut down his outgoings and save his incomings if he wants to clear himself; you cannot spend your penny and pay debts with it too. Stint the kitchen if the purse is bare. Do not believe in any way of wiping out debts except by paying hard cash. To young people beginning life, a word may be worth a world.