Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good…
Probably the most singular funeral sermon ever heard was that which the eccentric Rowland Hill once delivered in London over the remains of his favourite servant, Roger. "Many persons present," remarked the preacher, looking around on the anxious faces turned towards him, "were acquainted with the deceased, and have had it in their power to observe his character and conduct. They can bear witness that for a considerable number of years he proved himself a perfectly honest, sober, industrious, and religious man, faithfully performing, so far as lay in his power, the duties of his station in life, and serving God with constancy and zeal. Yet this very man was once a robber on the highway." You may readily imagine what astonishment these words produced, and amidst what profound silence the preacher thus went on: "More than thirty years ago he stopped me on the public road, and demanded my money. Not at all intimidated, I argued with him; I asked him what could induce him to pursue so iniquitous and dangerous a course of life. His answer was, 'I have been a coachman; I am out of place, and I cannot get a character; I am unable to find any employment, and am therefore obliged to do this or to starve.' I told him where I lived, and asked him to call and see me. He promised he would, and he kept his word; I talked further with him, and offered to take him into my own service. He consented, and ever since that period he has served me faithfully, and not me only, but he has faithfully served his God. Instead of finishing his life in a public and ignominious manner, with a depraved and hardened heart, as he probably would have done, he died in peace, and we trust, prepared for the society of just men made perfect. Till this day the extraordinary circumstance I have now related has been confined to his heart and mine. I have never mentioned it to my dearest friend." The practice of stealing prevails in all pagan communities. You will find many curious instances of dexterity in theft in such books as "Cook's Voyage," and others of more recent date. We ought to learn to call things by their right names. If a poor, half-starved fellow in his shirt sleeves, shivering on a cold day, slyly takes a fustian coat worth five dollars, which is hanging out in front of a clothing store, it is spoken of by everyone as stealing, and the culprit enjoys a few years of retirement in prison to remind him of his dreadful breach of the law. On the other hand, let a so-called gentleman in broadcloth run away with fifty thousand dollars from some institution in which he had an office, and how does the world regard him? As a thief? By no means. He is only a defaulter! And yet can you see any difference between the two cases, except it be this, that the thief in broadcloth is the worst? Many acts of theft are committed out of pure thoughtlessness. Those boys who went up the river in a boat, last summer, and stopped at a watermelon patch and took a good many, and destroyed a good many more, what were they but thieves? I cannot think of a better way of applying this important subject, than to relate a little circumstance which once happened in the Sandwich Islands. A good missionary had preached a sermon on the sin of dishonesty, hoping it might not be lost upon his hearers. The very next morning, on opening the door of his bamboo hut, he was surprised to see a great many of the islanders seated on the ground, waiting for him. The missionary kindly asked why they had called upon him so early, when one of them replied, "We have not been able to sleep all night, after hearing what you said yesterday. When we were pagans, we thought it right to steal if we could do it without being found out. Yesterday you told us that God commanded people not to steal, and as we wish to mind Him we have now brought back all the things we ever took." One man then lifted up an axe, a hatchet, or chisel, and exclaimed, "I stole this from the carpenter of such a ship," naming the vessel; others handed back a saw or knife, and a great variety of other things, making the same candid confession. Then they insisted that the missionary should take these stolen goods, and keep them until he might have an opportunity of returning them to the owner.
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.