Unjust Inclosures

At one time large swaths of pasture lands, fields, and forests were open in England for local people to use for such things as pasturing animals, gathering wood, or hunting.  Yet through “Inclosure Acts” passed by Parliament, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, increasingly these lands were “inclosed” (enclosed) or restricted to be used only by those with government approval or license.  As a nation becomes more civilized and populous, the government has to take measures such as these to encourage governance that justly considers the interests of all its people.

However, it is easy to see how a practice such as this could be abused.  The rich and powerful influenced enclosing lands that benefited their investments and businesses to the harm of the poor. Some families who dwelt for generations on property suddenly found themselves forcibly removed from it. Such was the concern of the church regarding this practice that  the Westminster Assembly in its Larger Catechism included “unjust inclosures” in the list of sins forbidden in the eighth commandment against stealing.

In his commentary on the Larger Catechism, J. G. Vos says about this, “Such enclosures would be unjust if the rights of those who were entitled to use the ‘common’ land were disregarded.”   Similarly, in expanding on the Shorter Catechism, John Brown said that these unjust enclosures are “enclosing fields common to a city or country for the interest of one or a few under the pretense of right.”  Micah 2:2 is given as a common proof text here, which speaks against the powerfully wicked seizing people’s lands, saying in part, “They rob a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.”  The overall teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms promotes the Biblical principle of the God-given right to private ownership.  Hammered out in the heat of opposing government oppression in its many forms, the Westminster Confession stands as a testament against governments abusing their power by stealing unjustly from their citizenry.

I could not help but think of this when I received the following prayer request from a brother in Cyprus:

Please pray for us in Cyprus.  Our government is facing a huge decision with far-reaching consequences – either to accept the EU bailout with its extreme austerity measures (including the seizure of 7-10% from all private bank accounts!), or else to let the country’s 2 major banks (and through them everything else) go bankrupt.  The Communist party (who were in power until 2 weeks ago, and who had opportunity to settle this on better terms long ago) is planning to oppose the bailout in the parliamentary vote on Monday or Tuesday, which could prevent it being passed.  They are also calling the people to take to the streets.

Though these bank accounts are not land holdings, the principle is similar.  Because of the demand of the European Union to deal in this manner with their crushing debt crisis, the Cypriot government is being tempted to take actions to place “inclosures” around funds the Cypriot people have placed in public banks to hold in trust for them.  That this practice is unjust should be obvious to all, but especially so when your hope lies in the Communist party voting in your best interests!

We do need to pray for Cyprus, and indeed the entire Western world.  We have bought into the Keynesian lies that wealth can come by government fiat, whether it is through “quantitative easing” or the host of other terms they use to fool us.  As Cyprus shows, they can call it a “deposit levy” if they will, but this “pretense of right” ultimately amounts to outright seizure.  This stands in direct opposition to God’s law, which again in the words of the Larger Catechism requires leaders to “procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others.”  If today’s news holds, where they plan perhaps only to do this to larger deposits, that is not righteous either.  We need to pray that our leaders would learn the wisdom that says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight” (Proverbs 11:1).

Before our own crushing debts consume us, the West needs to return to the just enclosure and freedom that God’s perfect law brings.  For perhaps the greater good that these threats to our earthly treasures will bring is that we will learn more and more to say with the psalmist, “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).

8 Comments

  1. timbloedow March 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    Barry, first you say that ” As a nation becomes more civilized and populous, the government has to take measures such as these to encourage governance that justly considers the interests of all its people.” Then you say the WCF and others say the opposite. You don’t provide argumentation to back up your assertion, which understandably is not your point because this is where you were building the foundation for you point. But I’m not clear on how your assertion strengthens, rather than weakening, your point and the teaching of the WCF on the 8th commandment.

    On your point re. Cyprus, indeed theft is not acceptable, but we have so many blind spots regarding the effects of greed and envy in our own lives that we need some pain like this perhaps to shake us out of our sin and our gullible foolishness for trusting the promises of modern Keynsian civil magistrates! I like what Gary North said in this regard yesterday: http://teapartyeconomist.com/2013/03/18/believe-a-politician-and-you-will-lose-your-money/

    • Barry York March 19, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

      Tim,

      The Larger Catechism does not speak against all inclosures, just unjust ones. That was all that sentence was seeking to distinguish.

      • timbloedow March 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

        OK. Thanks. The citation you provided without going back to the WCF to read the full context, I think could be taken either way and I read it as refering to all inclosures. I should have assumed the Divines would have laid down a principle that was broader than only that particular application.

  2. alcoramdeo March 19, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Dear Brother Barry, thank you for this article and especially for the alert to pray for our brethren in Cyprus and, indeed, for us all in this regard.

    In light of your observations, one can hardly help but wonder how badly the Church may, over the millennia and still today, have misconstrued the difference between ownership and stewardship.
    The earth and its fullness are the Lord’s [ownership].
    We are to be good and diligent stewards of all He places in our hands.
    Still we must, when forces beyond our control deprive us of that which we were stewarding, say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”
    Your point, as I understand it, is that we should be fiscally responsible as stewards to do all legally possible in employing our Lord’s property for the glory of His name and the good of His kingdom, and to prevent its becoming spoil for the wicked.
    Sadly, many professing believers in our time seem more inclined to possess, seeking to invoke God’s blessing on “me and mine,” rather than to thankfully manage His properties, willing to surrender them at His bidding (cf Heb 10:34, etc.) and to confess ourselves to be, at best, unprofitable servants.
    Earthly rewards are temporal, grasped and held sensibly.
    Those in heaven are laid up by faith, in hope, and for eternity.

  3. Pete Smith March 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    I like your application to Cyprus. Before you got there my first thought was zoning laws. By zoning laws the rich can make the land of the poor worthless. Eminent domain (the taking of private property for the public good) can also be abused. But what is just for Cyprus? Bail out the banks with taxpayer money? Bail out the banks with depositors’ money? Allow the banks to go bankrupt and with them everything else? This is a difficult issue to address. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Barry York March 20, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks for your thoughts, Pete.

      As for Cyprus and your questions, I know this will sound simplistic. Yet the first response to this problem should be repentance over the practices that have created it, a cry to the Lord for mercy, and a resolve not to break God’s moral law in an attempt to solve it. As the Biblical witness testifies, when rulers in crisis – even in godless nations – humble themselves, the Lord can bring solutions men in their own wisdom cannot see.

  4. Jeff Kessler March 21, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    We can call it socialism, communism, or Keynesian economics. The one thing they all hold in common is central planning. In the field of economics, they believe the lie that they “can be as God”. Perhaps the bigger question: do we in the church believe the same regarding economics?

    Much better is the promotion of free markets, which is trusting in the Providence of God in the field of economics.

    Thanks Barry, for this post. Good stuff.

  5. Jeff Kessler March 21, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Speaking of Providence and central planners, the day this post hit GR was the same day my latest World mag hit my mailbox. It, of course, has a picture of “Gentle Ben” Bernanke on the cover. A sign perhaps? Time to buy more bullets and gold?

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