Rights of Property
Deuteronomy 5:19
Neither shall you steal.

Is it a crime to be rich? Against whom is the offence committed? Against God? Against man? Against society? Underlying the amplest fortunes are inflexible truth, incorruptible honesty, incomparable honour. Poverty, competence, and affluence are the three financial conditions of man, in each of which there may be sainthood. Poverty may be as vicious upon the morals of character and life as wealth. Is it misanthropic to be rich? Do large possessions in land and money sour the milk of human kindness that flows through the veins of humanity? To whom are we indebted for those houses of charity whose gates of mercy stand open night and day? Who are the founders of those libraries which spread their ample feast before mankind? The universities and colleges of our country are the monuments of the rich. Is it unpatriotic to be rich? In the three great wars for the Union the rich poured forth their wealth as the rain descends upon the just and upon the unjust. Love of country rose supreme above the love of money. Wealth is not disloyalty. The capitalists of this country supported the Government in the darkest hour of the rebellion, when the national treasury was in sore distress. Is it tyranny to be rich? Do wealth and oppression go hand in hand? Are slavery and opulence born of the same parentage? Wilberforce was rich, yet foremost in the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Gerrit Smith died worth his millions; yet he was the most eloquent, most ardent, most benevolent of abolitionists. Is it impiety to be rich? Is poverty essential to godliness? Are beggars the only saints? What, then, shall we do with Abraham, who was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold? Christ would not have had a decent tomb had it not been for the rich Joseph of Arimathea. The acquisition of wealth is a Divine gift. Industry and frugality are the laws of thrift. To amass great fortunes is a special endowment. As poets, philosophers, and orators are born such, so the financier has a genius for wealth. By intuition he is familiar with the laws of supply and demand. He seems gifted with the vision of a seer of the coming changes in the market; he knows when to buy and when to sell and when to hold fast. He anticipates the flow of population and its effect upon real estate. "The Lord thy God giveth thee the power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18). Against these natural and lawful rights to the possession of property is the clamour for the distribution of property among those who have not acquired it, either by inheritance or skill or industry. It is a communism that has no foundation either in the constitution of nature or in the social order of mankind. It is the wild, irrational cry of labour against capital, between which, in the economy of nature and in political economy, there should be no common antagonism. There is a wealth of muscle and a wealth of brain and a wealth of character. He is a labourer who does productive work; he is a capitalist who has five dollars or five hundred thousand dollars. Capital may be a tyrant, and labour may become a despot. Wealth has the noblest of missions. It is not given to hoard, nor to gratify, nor for the show of pomp and power. The rich are the almoners of the Almighty. They are His disbursing agents. When the wealth of capital joins hands with the wealth of intellect, the wealth of muscle, and the wealth of goodness for the common good, then labour and capital will be esteemed the equal factors in giving every man life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to property is founded in nature, sustained by organised society, and protected by the sanctions of the Divine law. The right has its origin in a prior fact, that each human being is a distinct individuality, adapted to all the purposes of self-government and responsible to God and to society for the manner in which his powers are employed. By his physical nature he is connected with the universe which is modified to supply his wants. He has a right to use his body as he will, provided such use is not an interference with the equal rights of his fellow men. Possessing an intellect, he has a right to the products thereof. Endowed with a soul of sensibilities, passions, and aspirations, he has the inherent right to seek happiness, always recognising a common right in each of his fellow creatures. By this physical, intellectual, and spiritual endowment man is made for society, and each individual in his social capacity is bound to every other individual by the law of reciprocity. If, by the constitution of nature, a man has a right to himself, he has also an equal right to that which may result from the innocent use of his bodily and mental powers. The result is what men call property. In all well-regulated society every man is accorded the right to possess that which he has made and the power of control over the same. The Creator treats this right as a self-evident fact, directs His mandates against every act violative of the same and against the temper of mind from which such violations may proceed. In harmony therewith human governments among their first acts protect this individual right, and treat the offender thereof as guilty of a wrong, and punish him accordingly. Upon the recognition of this right depend the existence and progress of society. Ignore this right, and no one would labour more than is sufficient for his individual subsistence. A nation of thieves would be a nation of barbarians. If such are the principles and consequences involved in this right of property, what are the violations of this right? the burglar takes the property of another without the knowledge and consent of the owner — this is theft; the highwayman takes the property of another with his knowledge, but without his consent. Not less guilty is he who presents wrong motives for the purposes of gain, who excites groundless fears, circulates false reports, inflames personal vanity, and awakens avarice for the purposes of illegal gain. A broker on 'Change who causes false information to be circulated for the purpose of raising or depressing the market seeks profit by deep rascality. God says to such a man, "Thou shalt not steal." Among the prevalent causes of the violation of man's right of property are a corrupt public sentiment, an inordinate love of wealth, an extravagance which amounts to prodigality. Society scourges the thief of necessity, but pities the thief of fashion. He who steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family is sent to jail, but he who is successful in bold, dishonourable speculation, by which others are ruined, is caressed by society. Why is it that official dishonesty is considered less disreputable than dishonesty in a private citizen? A public man guilty of many flagrant sins is treated with consideration, while the private individual, less guilty, is shunned as a pestilential criminal. Does the dignity of his office cover him like a cloak? Does his position of trust and power commend him to our respect? If from the official who reflects public sentiment we turn to the private life of a nation, we shall not be surprised to discover the inordinate love of riches a prevalent and fruitful cause of the violation of the ancient law of property. Such is the greed for gain that justice, truth, honesty, are set at defiance. Men combine in vast monopolies to control vast wealth. All must bow to this shrine of Mammon. What is the dominant thought in the life of the world today? Is it the value of education? the purity of marriage? the elevation of the labouring classes? Is it not revenue, private and public? Out of this condition of things come financial panics with the regularity of clock work. The bold attempt is made to force prosperity — to get rich in a day. As well might a man attempt to force the harvest, The most conspicuous representative of the inordinate love of wealth is the financial prodigy who attracts, lures, ruins. Wise, careful, honourable financiers rarely fail, and rarely, if ever, are they the cause of financial panics; but rather the financial prodigy, whose brilliancy dazzles, whose success captivates, whose unscrupulousness is hidden by the splendour of his operations. Closely allied with this invasion of the rights of property is the prevalent vice of gambling, the abuse of an innocent pastime. It ignores the law of equivalent. It is something for nothing. The highest motives impel to keep the law of property. Nature insists upon the recognition of her rights. Providence is upon the side of the honest. Law throws its muniments of protection around the honourable possessions of man. Honesty leads in the path of personal safety. Peace of mind is the certain reward. The happiness of others is the benediction attained. The future opens its golden gates to those who have obeyed the inspired behest of Heaven.

(J. P. Newman.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Neither shalt thou steal.

WEB: "Neither shall you steal.

On Theft
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