You shall not steal.
I. PROPERTY AND THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY. Property is that which gives expression to individual and family life. In some sort it is an extension of the bodily organism, an added possibility of self-revelation in the sphere of sense. Social usage allows a man's right, or the right of a corporation, to absolute possession of certain things. Primarily, probably, such right is founded on the right of the labourer to the product of his labour; a man's own is what he has made his own. Such limit, however, has come to be enlarged on grounds of general utility; we may say generally that a man's property is that which social usage allows him to consider such.
II. OFFENCES AGAINST PROPERTY.
1. Stealing. Appropriating a man's property against the will of the owner. All condemn the thief, he is condemned even by his own conscience; however much he may steal from others he can never think it right for them to steal from him! There are, however, various kinds of diluted theft which are equally offences against the eighth commandment, though not so strongly stigmatised by society.
2. Cognate offences. Property in the old times consisted mainly of land, crops, and cattle. The principle involved in the eighth commandment illustrated, as applied to them, by a number of cases in Exodus 21., 22., all such acts as result in loss to one's neighbours, provided that loss was not inevitable, are condemned by it. Circumstances, nowadays, are somewhat different, but the principle of honesty still applies. Take a few instances: -
(1) Acts of petty dishonesty.
(a) When in a bargain one party takes advantage of the ignorance of the other; e.g., a collector finds some rarity in the possession of a man who does not know its value, and secures it far below its proper price.
(b) Borrowing without definite intention to return; e.g., books, money, or other property.
(c) Leaving bills unpaid for a needlessly long time. In such case, even though paid eventually, the creditor is defrauded of the profit which he might have made by the use of his money.
(2) Mischievous actions; e.g., marking books or scribbling in them. Cutting initials in trees and buildings. No man has any right to depreciate by his actions the value of another man's property.
(3) Culpable negligence. Must be as careful with the property of others as with our own property. A pure accident is not a pure accident if it would not have happened had the property been our own.
III. COMPENSATION FOR OFFENCES AGAINST PROPERTY. Cf. Exodus 22:9. Not enough to make good the original value, the law of restitution requires double and, in some cases, fivefold or fourfold. Such a law: -
1. Emphasises the importance of strict honesty. In view of it possible offenders will be more cautious as to how they offend. Should it be enforced now-a-days; how many struggling tradesmen and mechanics might find themselves rescued from the verge of bankruptcy! How might charity in a thousand places spring up to banish and destroy suspicion!
2. Secures something like adequate atonement. Defraud a man of anything, and you defraud him of more than the value of that thing. His loss occasions further loss; loss of time, loss of temper, anxiety, inconvenience, for all which the sufferer is entitled to a recompense. Fourfold restitution may sound generous, yet even that may be less than just. Conclusion. - Honesty is by no means such a common virtue as some suppose. It behoves us to examine ourselves as to how far our conduct may bear strict scrutiny. Are there none to whom we should make restitution? If so, let us be thankful if we can make it. There are losses which we occasion others, dues which we owe to God and man, yet which now, it may be, we can never make good - no remedy now exists for the lasting evil they have occasioned. There are debts we can still pay, there are others which we can never pay; who has not need to join in the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts"? - G.
I. PROPERTY AS A SACRED RIGHT. A man's right in justly-acquired property is a reflection of God's rights in all His works. All property is the outgrowth of life, the results in houses, harvests, machinery, manufactures, commerce, and art of creative power. But that creative power is the gift of God, and therefore both its rights and responsibilities have their foundation and standard in God Himself. The property belongs to the man, but the man belongs to God. Thus the honest gains of toil, skill, judgment, self-denial, and good fortune are a man's own by a Divine right of which the civil right is the echo.
Thou shalt not steal.I. In this Commandment THE INSTITUTION OF PROPERTY IS RECOGNIZED AND SANCTIONED BY THE AUTHORITY OF GOD. The institution of property is necessary —
1. For increasing the produce of the earth;
2. For preserving the produce of the earth to maturity;
3. For the cultivation and development of the nature of man;
4. For the intellectual development of man.
II. The institution of property IMPOSES UPON ALL MEN THE DUTY OF INDUSTRY IN THEIR CALLINGS; the duty of maintaining independence; the duty of avoiding any, even the least, invasion of the rights of others; the duty of self-restraint in expenditure, as well as of honesty in acquisition.
III. If property is a Divine institution, founded on a Divine idea, protected by Divine sanction, then IN THE USE OF IT GOD SHOULD BE REMEMBERED, and those whom God has entrusted to our pity and our care.
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)
(G. D. Boardman.)
II. PROPERTY AS A SACRED TRUST. The same fact which makes property sacred gives birth to sacred responsibilities. As in old feudal days lands were given by the king on certain conditions of service, so now God's gifts have always duties attached to them. Sacredly given, they are to be sacredly used.APPLICATION: —
1. As to our use of our money. Is it not significant that God claimed tithes? Not to pay a tenth of His income into the temple treasury God considered a sacrilege in a Jew. Do we give a tenth to God?
2. Our use of ourselves. Wealth is more than money. It comprises all that God gives us, our talents, our influence, our whole self. He who might do good, who might heal and comfort and bless if he would, and yet does not, is guilty of unfaithfulness.
(W. Senior, B. A.)
II. WE SHALL DO WRONG TO OUR FELLOW-MEN BY INFLICTING INJURY ON PROPERTY THAT IS OPEN, THROUGH KINDNESS OF THE OWNERS, TO THE PUBLIC, as gardens, private picture-galleries, etc. It is mean, dishonourable, to do hurt to such property.
III. THROUGH INCURRING OF DEBTS OR OBLIGATION TO OUR FELLOW-MEN.
IV. THE WRONGS DONE IN MERCANTILE PURSUITS. This is done —
1. By selling to customers goods of inferior value.
2. By inferior weights.
3. By the adulteration of merchandise.
4. By false pretences. The placing the best strawberries or apples on top of the measure, etc.
V. BREACHES OF TRUST.
VI. GAMBLING. Property is a trust. You have no right to squander your own, or to lead another to squander what he has in trust.
(W. Ormiston, D. D.)I. Consider, first, what it means — THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY.
1. In a country like this, long occupied and thickly peopled, almost everything belongs to somebody; and most of us possess a few things that we call our own, either earned or inherited, or otherwise received. In a new country the first-comers enter upon unoccupied ground, and each, while making his own claim, recognizes the claims of others. The relations of property are expressed by the possessive pronouns, and it is remarked that these are found in all languages. On what, then, is this right of property grounded? Not on social compact, not on the law of the land, not on the principle of utility, but on the will of God revealed in the constitution of our nature, and in the teaching of His Word. All acquired property is the product of labour, or the fruits of labour; and why do men labour? Is it not for the means of living? If, then, the constitution of our nature is such that we must labour for the means of living, it must be the will of Him who made us that we should receive and possess the fruits of our labour (see Proverbs 16:26; Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
2. The principle of possession excludes the principle of communism. If the fruit of my labour is mine, the fruit of another man's labour is his to do as he will with it. Communism has always ended in disaster; and always must. It is a tissue of mistakes. It is wrong in its original inference that the principle of property is the cause of destitution, whereas the real cause is selfishness and sin; it is wrong in its ruling idea that all should share and share alike, a notion which would tax industrious people for the benefit of idlers, and rob the skilful for the advantage of the incompetent; it is wrong in its proposed method, for force is no remedy, and the circumstances of men can only be mended by mending the men themselves; and it is wrong in its cherished hopes, for if by some fatal success the communists should break down the present social system and suppress private wealth, the result would be to take all heart of enterprise out of the world's workers, to dry up the waters of progress at their source, and to crush the human race under a final incubus of intolerable woe. Not in the suppression of property, but in a wise understanding of its uses, and in a right direction of its powers, lies the redress of human wrongs, with the hope of a good time coming.
II. What it ensures — THE USE OF PROPERTY.
1. Property has economical uses. It increases, protects, and stores, the produce of the earth.
2. Property has also its moral uses.(1) Its steady stimulation of labour is alone a mighty helper of our manhood. It is where men have to work that they acquire robustness of frame, alertness of mind, and firmness of moral fibre.(2) The way in which a man acquires property, and the way in which he uses it — resisting temptation to get it unlawfully, and making it a field for exercise of all the virtues; or dealing oppositely, so as to win it by fraud, and use it for vice — these things make all the difference between a hero and a scoundrel, between a son of God and a child of the devil.
III. What it forbids — THE VIOLATION OF PROPERTY.
1. There are robberies over and above those which policemen investigate. Private gambling. Betting. Extravagance and petty theft on the part of domestic servants.
2. Fraud, or the withholding of a man's due. "Trade practices."
IV. What it involves — THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF PROPERTY. We are God's stewards.
(W. J. Woods, B. A.)I. WHAT IT FORBIDS.
II. WHAT IT REQUIRES.
1. It requires restitution of whatever we have, at any time, unjustly taken or detained. For, that being in right not our own, but another's; keeping it is continuing and carrying on the injustice.
2. This Commandment also requires industry; without which, the generality of persons cannot maintain themselves honestly.
3. To observe it well, frugality must be joined with industry, else it will be all labour in vain.
4. This Commandment requires in the last place, that we neither deny ourselves, or those who belong to us, what is fit for our and their station, which is one kind of robbery; nor omit to relieve the poor according to our ability, which is another kind. For whatever we enjoy of worldly plenty is given us in trust, that we should take our own share with moderation, and distribute out the remainder with liberality.
(Abp. Secker.)I. WHENCE DOTH THEFT ARISE?
1. The internal causes are:(1) Unbelief. A man hath an high distrust of God's providence: "can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" So saith the unbeliever, "can God spread a table for me? no, He cannot." Therefore he is resolved he will spread a table for himself, but it shall be at other men's cost, and both first and second course shall be served in with stolen goods.(2) Covetousness. The Greek word for covetousness signifies "an immoderate desire of getting"; this is the root of theft. A man covets more than his own, and this itch of covetousness makes him scratch what he can from another.
2. The external cause of theft is, Satan's solicitation: Judas was a thief; how came he to be a thief? "Satan entered into him." The devil is the great master-thief, he robbed us of our coat of innocency, and he persuades men to take up his trade; he tells men how bravely they shall live by thieving, and how they may catch an estate.
II. HOW MANY SORTS OF THEFTS ARE THERE?
1. There is stealing from God; and so they are thieves, who rob any part of God's day from Him.
2. There is a stealing from others.(1) A stealing away their souls; and so heretics are thieves, by robbing men of the truth, they rob them of their souls.(2) A stealing away their money and goods from them; and under this head of stealing away other's money, there may be several arraigned for thieves. The highway thief who takes a purse contrary to the letter of this Commandment. The house-thief, who purloins and filches out of his master's cash, or steals his wares and drugs. The house-thief is a hypocrite, as well as a thief; he hath demure looks, and pretends he is helping his master, when he only helps to rob him. The thief that shrouds himself under law, as the unjust attorney or lawgiver, who prevaricates and deals falsely with his client. This is to steal from the client. The church-thief or pluralist, who holds several benefices, but seldom or never preacheth to the people; he gets the golden fleece, but lets his flock starve. The shop-thief; he steals in selling, who useth false weights and measures, and so steals from others what is their due. The usurer who takes of others even to extortion; he seems to help another by letting him have money in his necessity, but gets him into bonds, and sucks out his very blood and marrow. The feoffe in trust, who hath the orphan's estate committed to him; he is deputed to be his guardian, and manage his estate for him, and he curtails the estate, and gets a fleece out of it for himself, and wrongs the orphan. This is a thief; this is worse than taking a purse, because he betrays his trust, which is the highest piece of treachery and injustice. The borrower, who borrows money from others, with an intention never to pay them again. The receiver of stolen goods. The root would die if it were not watered, and thievery would cease if it were not encouraged by the receiver.
III. WHAT ARE THE AGGRAVATIONS OF THIS SIN OF STEALING?
1. To steal when one has no need. To be a rich thief.
2. To steal sacrilegiously. To devour things set apart to holy uses.
3. To commit the sin of theft against checks of conscience, and examples of God's justice: this is like the dye to the wool, it doth dye the sin of a crimson colour.
4. To rob the widow and orphan; "ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child"; it is a crying sin; "if they cry unto Me, I will surely hear them."
5. To rob the poor.
( T. Watson.)I. Stealing by FORGETFULNESS. People with these bad memories borrow things from their neighbours and friends, and forget to return them. Now, to the persons who lend those things, it is just as bad as if a thief should come into their house and steal them. Umbrellas, and books, and things of that kind are most likely to suffer in this way.
II. CUNNING, is another branch of it. Did you ever see a counterfeit bank-note? It passes for a good note, though it is not worth a straw. And gold and silver coin are counterfeited in the same manner. The people who make them think themselves very cunning. But they are not a bit better than thieves. But a great many other things may be counterfeited as well as money. When God shall come to reckon with them at last, they will find that the real name for what they called smartness was stealing. This is the name by which God calls it.
III. Those who break the Eighth Commandment by DECEIT. For instance, a lady goes into a shop to buy a dress. She finds one of the colour she wants. If she could be sure that the colours would not fade she would take it. She says to the shopkeeper, "Will these colours stand?" "Oh, yes, madam, they are the very best colours to wear. They will stand as long as the dress lasts." The lady buys the dress on this assurance, though all the while the shopkeeper knows the colours will not stand at all. In this way he steals the lady's money.
IV. Those who break the Commandment by EXTORTION.
V. Those who break the Commandment by VIOLENCE and FRAUD. We must resist little temptations. Everything must have a beginning. I remember reading once about a man who was going to be hung for robbery and murder. On the scaffold, he said he began to steal by taking a farthing from his mother's pocket while she was asleep. Many children begin to steal at the sugar-bowl or the cake-basket. To take the smallest thing that does not belong to us, without permission, is stealing. And, then, there is another thing to do: we must pray to God to keep us from temptation.
(R. Newton, D. D.)Middling honest! let me never hear again such a word from your lips. Strictly honest is the only thing you ought ever to think of being."they were. He believed it was God; and so it was.
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)
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