The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced

By William S. Plumer, 1864

The Tenth Commandment

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17

This precept was the key that unlocked the mystery of iniquity in the mind of Paul. He says, "I had not known lust, except the law said, You shall not covet," that is, he would not have known that the thought of foolishness, the secret desire of evil was wicked, but for this precept. It served to show him the nature of all the commandments. Charnock: "Paul thought himself a righteous person until he came to measure himself by the exact and spiritual image of the law. His head and the law were acquainted, and then he thought himself a living person: but when his heart and the law came to be acquainted, there he found himself dead, and his high opinion of himself fell to the ground." It is clear, therefore, that this commandment directs attention immediately to the state of the heart. White-washing the sepulcher will do no good, while it is full of dead men's bones. The heart must be purified. There is no substitute for a thorough renewal of nature.

Calvin: "Since it is the will of God that our whole souls should be under the influence of love, every desire inconsistent with charity ought to be expelled from our minds." Stowell: "This closing commandment is of great importance in two distinct points of view—first, as exhibiting the spirit of all the previous commandments, and secondly, as laying the foundation for just and consistent views of all the doctrines of the gospel."

Some have undertaken to trace the progress of concupiscence in the soul, showing its various stages. Perhaps something may be done that way; but there is an inscrutable mystery in iniquity. No man can understand his errors. Psalm 19:12. The growth of iniquity is like the diffusion of leaven. It is very rapid, and soon changes the whole lump. The more full the consent of the soul to any sin, the more defiled it is. This command clearly settles the point that the seat of the divine government in man is the human heart. When that is right, all is right. When that is wrong, all is wrong.

Let us look at this precept in egard to WEALTH. The Scriptures say that "the ransom of a man's life are his riches;" that the "crown of the wise is their riches;" and that "house and riches are the inheritance of fathers." Proverbs 13:8, 14:24, 19:14. So that God's word admits the lawfulness of possessing riches, and of setting a right value upon them. Although man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God; yet by worldly goods we ordinarily maintain our natural life, support our families, help the poor, and aid in strengthening the cause of Christ. If all men were perfectly holy, riches would, in every case and in every sense, be a blessing. But sin perverts everything. It takes that which was ordained to life, and causes it to be unto death. By reason of sin, riches are ordinarily tempting, seductive, dangerous and ruinous. Our Savior announced this in strong language. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Matt, 19:24.

A right view of the perils of wealth would, with the divine blessing, have a mighty efficacy in curing our covetousness and discontent, and in causing us to cease improperly to love what we have, or sinfully to desire that which belongs to others. Why should we enhance the obstacles to our reaching the kingdom of God?

1. He who increases riches, commonly increases cares. Should these cares become engrossing, salvation is not possible. If we would be saved, religion must command our attention, so as nothing else does. If our minds are eagerly turned to gold and silver, to farms and merchandise, to debts and demands, to gains and losses, religion can take but a slight hold of us, and yet its first call is, "Give me your heart." If we sit in the house of God with our minds reeking with worldly cares, the best preaching will probably make very slight impression on our minds. Or, if we should be somewhat affected, the service will hardly be over, until worldly thoughts and anxieties rush in like an armed man, and carry us captive.

"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" Matt. 13:22. This is a short but sad account of the whole matter. The hope of expelling cares by increasing wealth is as vain as the hope of banishing ravenous birds by multiplying the carcasses on which they prey. He is not wise, "who imagines that the chief power of wealth is to supply wants. In ninety-nine cases out of a, hundred, it creates more wants than it supplies." If even in public worship, we cannot "attend upon the Lord without distraction," how much more difficult it is to do so in private. And if the spirit of devotion is wholly lacking, our religion is vain.

What a testimony was borne to the terrible power of worldly care by the late Mr. Stephen Girard, of Philadelphia. "As to myself, I live like a galley slave, constantly occupied, and often passing the night without sleeping. I am wrapped in a labyrinth of affairs, and worn out with care. I do not value fortune. The love of labor is my highest emotion. When I rise in the morning, my only effort is to labor so hard during the day, that when the night comes I may be able to sleep soundly." Is there not great danger that one thus pressed with care will neglect his soul? Jesus Christ answers that question.

2. But one may so arrange and invest his property that necessary attentions to it will not demand much of his time. Yet it is not found that this state of things generally exempts men from care. Their thoughts are as busy as ever. If their investments are good, they wish they were better; or if they should be freed from care, then new dangers arise. The heart is led to idolize a state of secure and independent wealth; or idleness, luxury and practical atheism imperil salvation. When one says to himself, "You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!" Luke 12:19, destruction is already at the door. No state of mind is more opposite to the spirit of the gospel than that of slothfulness, high living, banqueting, and carnal mirth. "Sodom's sins were pride, laziness, and gluttony." Ezekiel 16:49.

Wantonness and luxury, sloth and corruption usually go together. The great nourisher of these is wealth. Neale: "The million covet wealth, but how few dream of its perils! Few are aware of the extent to which it ministers to the baser passions of our nature: of the selfishness it engenders; the arrogance, which it feeds; the self-security which it inspires; the damage which it does to all the nobler feelings and holier aspirations of the heart."

3. Riches have also a mighty tendency to fill the heart with pride. Than this, nothing is more hostile to the soul's best interests. Dominant pride is the forerunner of destruction. So says the Psalmist: "Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue forever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names," Psalm 4911. When men set their nest on high and pride revels in the soul, ruin comes on apace. Above pride, nothing more effectively opposes the reception of the gospel. Often did the Savior say, "Whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted." The gospel message is: "Let the rich man rejoice in that he is made low," James 1:10.

In the heart, the levelling of Christianity spares nothing. It abases whatever exalts itself against God. Jehovah will stain the pride of all glory. Those who boast in their riches, and trust in the abundance of their possessions, shall fall; the mouth of the Lord has spoken it, Psalm 49:6; 53:7; Proverbs 11:28. Nothing is more opposed to God than pride. Nothing more hinders salvation. How needful the apostolic exhortation: "Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment." 1 Tim. 6:17.

Cecil: "We hear much of a decent pride, a becoming pride, a noble pride, a laudable pride. Can that be decent of which we ought to be ashamed? Can that be becoming, of which God has set forth the deformity? Can that be noble which God resists and has determined to abase? Can that be laudable which God calls abominable?" "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

4. It is very difficult to possess wealth without loving it and desiring more of it. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him," 1 John 2:15. Compare Luke 14:26. "Covetousness is idolatry." It disowns Jehovah. It sets up gold to be worshiped. It brings man, like the serpent, to lick the dust. It sadly perverts God's mercies, as well as all our own thoughts. It makes men believe in no God but mammon, no devil but the absence of gold, no damnation but being poor, and no hell but an empty purse."

How few rich men can say with Calvin in his poverty: "I confess, indeed, that I am not poor; for I desire nothing more than what I have." How few are ready to say with a moralist, "To be truly rich is not to have much—but to desire little." He who loves riches can never say either of these things. Each acquisition naturally adds fuel to the flame. Fire can never be extinguished by pouring oil upon it. The more a worldling possesses, the more he desires. Although for fear of losing what he has, he may cease to make ventures, yet his covetousness may take the sullen form of grasping like death, what he possesses. He seeks no more because he dreads failure. To be greedy of gain is still in his heart; but fear deters him from attempts to acquire more. He sits down wickedly to dote on what he has. If he thought he could succeed in increasing his wealth, he would still sell the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes; for he still pants after the dust of the earth, and turns aside the way of the meek, and drinks the wine of the condemned, Amos 2:6-8. Oh that men would believe their final Judge, when he says, "You cannot serve God and mammon," Matt. 6:24. Oh that they would believe his servant Paul, when he says: "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap

and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." 1 Timothy 6:9-10

5. All that has been said is on the supposition that wealth has been acquired in a righteous and honorable way. But is it not often otherwise? How many estates are built up by fraud, by extortion, by usury, by unjust gain, by monopoly, by unconscionable prices, by wild and dangerous speculations, by imposing on the ignorant, by the triumph of one race of sharpers over another, by false weights and measures, by lying, by unfaithfulness in contracts, by oppression, by gaming, by wicked law-suits, by inveigling the unwary into suretyships, by stinginess and meanness towards ourselves and our dependents, and in general by undue eagerness for wealth. The curse of God is this day resting on many an estate because it was acquired in some sinful manner. "An inheritance may be got hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed," Proverbs 20:21. "He who hastens to be rich has an evil eye, and considers not that poverty shall come upon him," Proverbs 28:22. Better be poor by birth, by misfortune, by the villany of others—than be rich by any species of iniquity. The more wealth unjustly held, the more is the soul in peril.

6. To all men, the call to self-denial and mortification of the flesh is unwelcome; but to the rich it is peculiarly distasteful. To them self-denial is as necessary as to the poor. Yet commonly it is far more difficult. It is true of every class that if they live after the flesh, they shall die. The poor man is seldom tempted to gluttony; yet this sin is very prevalent among the rich, and if allowed to reign, it will be as fatal as theft or murder, Phil. 3:19. How many too, waste life in idle and fashionable entertainments, in paying calls on those whose absence is refreshing, in seeing sights, in feasting the ears with instruments of music, and in cultivating the arts of high culture. It is a great mercy that when for his sins Jehovah drove man from Paradise, he did not sentence him to a life of such senseless occupations as some members of almost every rich family voluntarily subject themselves to—thus running a round of vanity, refusing the laws of self-mortification, and jeoparding the interests of the immortal soul.

7. So generally do pious men regard the case of the rich as discouraging, that commonly but few and faint efforts are directly made for their salvation. The poor and the middle classes, unless very wicked, usually receive kindly a visit from a minister of the gospel, or from a Christian friend, even if he shall faithfully speak to them of their soul's affairs. But the rich often discourage all such calls to life and mercy. So that there is danger that they will lose their souls by the neglect of their plain and humble neighbors, who get the impression that the rich despise close, pungent, personal appeals to themselves. We are forbidden to cast pearls before swine. "He who reproves a scorner, gets to himself shame."

Perhaps very few men can bear the elevation acquired by wealth, without adopting the belief that their talents, wisdom and intellect are equal to their fortune. Yet, this is not true. Very feeble-minded men often grow rich. Yet such self-conceit excludes the spirit of docility. Such scorn to learn from a man who never made a dollar by sagacious foresight in temporal affairs. They expect to be courted. Like Naaman, they look for some great thing to be done for them. Such cases are not rare, though gain is no more a sign of wisdom than it is of godliness.

8. Sometimes wealth is accompanied by long continued exemption from sad reverses. Thus practical atheism is engendered. "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God." Psalm 55:19. "They cry tomorrow shall be as this day and more abundant," and so they plunge on in sin.

9. On the other hand, the fear of change for the worse often agitates some rich men, and when sad reverses overtake them, they become sullen and desperate, and behave badly. In some cases their reason is dethroned, or their tempers soured, or they resort to the bottle, or seek refuge in suicide. How often do riches take wings and fly away as an eagle toward heaven. The torment and restlessness of dreaded change wear many a life away. Oftener do we see great reverses leading to misanthropy or melancholy. Speak to such of their souls and of eternity, and you will find them intensely occupied with the folly or wickedness, which robbed them of their earthly possessions, or crippled them for life. Very seldom do they cease to long after that which they once enjoyed, but which is now gone forever.

10. Another difficulty in the way of the salvation of the rich is the flattery which they receive from the foolish or the designing around them. "Men will praise you when you do well to yourself." Psalm 49:18. Who has not seen unprincipled men rise to wealth, and yet before long one and another would say, Really we never knew until of late how great their merits were? Hosts of mean sycophants and of vain fools gather around them and flatter them with their lips. Where rich men are entitled to a good name for integrity, still another class of flatterers appear, and the peril is increased. Where men have no gracious principles, such adulation is very seductive. By degrees the flattered rise to giddy heights of self-esteem. Many are even flattered out of their souls.

11. Almost all rich men are induced at times to give something to the poor, or to works of benevolence. Or, they make a feast, and invite to it those whose presence will honor them, or whose means will enable them to return the compliment. All this they may be able to do without self-denial, and for the sake of a good name with their neighbors, or for even baser motives. But there is danger lest those who do these things may infer that they are in favor with God. They forget that their motives are not holy, and that at the last day Jesus will say, What have you done unto ME?

12. The rich seem to be so happy in their possessions, that it is often impossible to make them feel their need of the solace of religion, the comfort of divine love, and the supports of the Holy Spirit. Were they sure that death, disease or poverty would never disturb them, they would rather be let alone, than take any pains about salvation. Yet until one feels his need of religion to the completion of his happiness, he will not seek the favor of God, with any considerable zeal or earnestness.

13. Perhaps even more than the poor, the rich feel that true religion would put a strong and unwelcome restraint on their passions and appetites. All the sins that kennel in the bosom of wealth must die, no less than the hungry pack found in the haunts of poverty. God's law must be kept, the code of Christian morals must be obeyed, the Christian graces must be cultivated. All this looks unwelcomed to any natural man. To the rich sinner it is peculiarly so. To lead a Christian life is to give up one's idols. Oh how hard it is for the rich man to yield so much, to renounce self-will and self-righteousness; and to sit down like a little child at the feet of Jesus, and practically learn the lessons of salvation.

14. The very fact that men have great possessions here, creates a presumption that they have nothing better hereafter. Jesus said: "Woe unto you that are rich! for you have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for you shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep." Luke 6:24, 25. In like terms did Abraham address the rich man in hell: "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and you are tormented." Luke 16:25. David also speaks of "men of the world, who have their portion in this life." Psalm 17:14. So that a man may receive all his good things here. The last mercy ever extended to him is in the hour of his death. It is amazing that men who have great earthly prosperity are not alarmed lest they should wake up in eternity without one blessing in reserve for that endless state.

15. These fears may well be strong, if our prosperity is accompanied by a disposition to hoard wealth. "Look here, you rich people, weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh in hell. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment." James 5:1-3. This is indeed an solemn account of things. And every act of oppression, of pride, of hard-heartedness, of covetousness, of ostentation, of insolence, or of selfishness does but give signs that when the eyes shall close on time—the last blessing will have been drained from the cup held to our lips by a merciful God. With Solomon some believe there is a time to gather, but alas! they do not hold with him that there is a time to scatter. If men have so little fidelity to their engagements as was exhibited by Laban towards Jacob in changing his wages ten times, Gen. 31:41, they cannot expect the divine blessing. "I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" Matt. 19:23,24.

While all that has been said is true, let us not forget that it is possible for a rich man to be saved. The Bible does not say, Not any rich are called; but, Not many rich are called. Abraham, Job, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea were all rich men saved by grace. Such cases are amazing. They show how God can take the camel through the eye of a needle. And where the piety of the rich is unquestionable, their exhibition of the Christian character is often very attractive. The faith, and love, and meekness, and charity of a rich believer gladden and surprise us. When their "horn of plenty overflows, and its droppings fall upon their fellow-men; fall like the droppings of honey in the wilderness, to cheer the faint and weary pilgrim;" we are ready to wish the world was full of such men. When we see a rich man exercising the humility of a cottager, the self-denial of a peasant, the love and faith of a martyr, and the bountifulness of a prince—we know that he must have higher aims and purer motives than those who are not born from above. "He, that will not permit his wealth to do good to others while he is living, prevents it from doing any good to himself when he is dead."

If you were once rich and are become poor, be not cast down with overmuch sorrow. Sanctified reverses are better than unsanctified prosperity. Leighton: "Certainly it is true in matter of estate, as of our garments, not that which is largest, but that which fits us best, is best for us." Remember Job in the midst of his poverty. Rather remember Christ, who "though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich." And if you never were rich in earthly things, neither was your Savior. "Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." 1 Tim. 6:8. Carefully guard against all willfulness in your desires. Psalm 87:29-31; 1 Tim. 6:9. Let us cheerfully take up our cross and follow Christ. Matt. 16:24. Let us sweetly submit to the will of God in all things. 1 Sam. 3:18; Phil. 4:11, 12. Let us learn to bear the yoke whenever God shall lay it upon us. Lam. 3:27-29. Let us dismiss all tormenting solicitude, putting our trust in the unerring wisdom and gracious providence of God. Hab. 3:17, 18; Phil. 4:6. Let us by experience prove how God's grace can abound towards us in the greatest straits, and let us glory in our infirmities. 2 Cor. 12:9. Let us never question the right of God to do what he will with his own; much less set up our wisdom against his. Job 34:33; Matt. 20:15. Let us remember that our sins deserve far worse than we have ever received. Neh. 9:16, 17; Micah 7:9. Nor will our sufferings be long. They will last but for a little moment and be gone forever. 2 Cor. 4:17. Let us only believe and they will do us good. Romans 8:28.

Those parents are not wise, who live, and risk their own souls to heap up riches for their children. A good name is the best inheritance we can leave to posterity. When to that we add a good example, a good education, good counsel, and good principles—there is but little more that is valuable in an inheritance. At all events, it is God's blessing that makes our children rich and adds no sorrow. Let us commit them to him in hearty prayer, and be not over-anxious respecting their temporal needs. "The Lord will provide." "I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread."

And let not the poor envy the rich. When all is told, the latter have not many advantages. In eating and sleeping, they are frequently worse off than the poor. "The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep." Eccles, 5:12.

The rich can live no longer, can die no more easily, can fill no larger space in the grave—than the poor. What profit then, has he of all his wealth? He works hard for years to amass a fortune. He spends the remainder of his life in watching that fortune. "What good is there to the owners of riches, except to feast his eyes on them?" Eccles. 5:11. Let all men seek the true riches. "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12:33-34.

If God has denied you great things here, seek the more diligently for glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life. Poverty is no virtue. Your poverty will not save you; but it ought to remind you of your greater needs, and to make you the more earnest in seeking the unsearchable riches of Christ. But let us not forget that we are never out of danger until we reach our heavenly home. The way to heaven is like the way that Jonathan and his armour-bearer ascended. There is a sharp rock on one side, and there is a sharp rock on the other side. Leighton: "We pervert all: when we look below us, it raises our pride; and when above us, it casts us into discontent. Might we not as well, contrariwise, draw humility out of the one, and contentment out of the other?"

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." 1 Pet. 2:11. Good writers have stated that this commandment requires full contentment with our condition, and that it forbids ambition, envy, the inordinate love of what we possess, greediness after more, repining at providences and grieving at our neighbors' good. All these things have been noticed in previous pages of this book. The great requisition of this command is fervent love, charity out of a pure heart towards our neighbor. This excellent grace is so fully explained in the New Testament, and especially by Paul in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, and we have so many good popular treatises upon it—that the reader's time and attention will not be asked any longer to this subject.