Daily Devotional

For Jul 22, 2014 ← Return

Debtors' Prison

AN AMAZING FACT:  Did you know that in the 1800s, in the United States, you could be thrown in jail for not paying your debts? Unfortunately, those jailed not only had to pay back their debt, they also had to pay for their imprisonment! Many debtors died while serving time, unable to work or secure funds to get out. The Annapolis jail where many debtors were held was described as “a place of death and torment to many unfortunate people.” In 1766 the same jail was described as “so filthy and nasty that it is exceedingly nauseating.” Some prisoners were held under these conditions for debts as little as 50 cents.

One of our country’s more important citizens, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, landed in a debtors’ prison—Robert Morris. He actually helped finance the American Revolution. In late 1776, George Washington called upon Morris to raise cash to fight the British. Washington had thousands of troops without clothing, food, guns, or ammunition. At the time there was no U.S. Treasury to turn to for help. The Continental Army was in a state of severe deprivation. Morris loaned $10,000 of his own money to the government, who used the cash for provisions for the desperate troops at Valley Forge. Those soldiers went on to win the Battle of Trenton and, in turn, changed the
course of the war.

Indeed, Robert Morris became the chief financier of the American Revolution. In 1781 he was even appointed by Congress as the first superintendent of finance. Sadly, because of some bad land investments, he was arrested for debt in 1798 and confined to a prison in Philadelphia. Not until 1802, with the passage of the national bankruptcy law, was he liberated. It’s hard to believe a man who lent money to George Washington to fight the Revolutionary War would later be cast into a debtors’ prison by the country he helped to liberate!

Amazingly, Jesus tells a parable of a man who did something similar to a friend. When a king kindly released a servant who owed him a lot of money, this same servant turned around and demanded his friend pay him a couple of bucks or he would throw him into prison. When the king heard about this unforgiving servant, he was pretty upset. “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him” (Matthew 18:34). The story illustrates the generosity of God toward us and how we, in turn, should be forgiving toward others.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
- Matthew 18:21

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