The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
The Eighth Commandment
"You shall not steal." Exodus 20:15
The honor of religion is deeply involved in the course
men pursue concerning this commandment, which regulates our labor, our
buying, our selling, our expenditures, and our entire civil conduct. We are
bound to "provide things honest in the sight of all men." Romans 12:17. We
are not at liberty to live in needless poverty and wretchedness, nor to let
our dependents suffer. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and
especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse
than an unbeliever." 1 Tim. 5:8. Compare Eph. 4:28. This is wholesome
doctrine. No pious teacher may keep silent concerning it. The church that
disregards it is ruined. Yet we may "not make provision for the flesh, to
fulfill the lusts thereof." Romans 13:14. Our attention to our temporal
affairs must not minister to our pride, our sloth, our vanity, our
sensuality, our love of the world. 1 John 2:16; Proverbs 21:25; Eph.
Although man's absolute needs, to be supplied by his
personal industry, are not very numerous, nor of long duration; yet they are
more than some suppose. And while we ought to be content, yes, and thankful
for food and raiment of a simple kind; yet it is lawful, and when practical,
it is obligatory on men to secure the comforts of life. Paul exhorts his
converts to "This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life, minding
your own business and working with your hands, just as we commanded you
before. As a result, people who are not Christians will respect the way you
live, and you will not need to depend on others to meet your financial
needs." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
One of the great obstacles to be overcome in some heathen
nations is found in the fact that masses of the people feel their needs to
be so few, and so easily supplied, that they spend most of their time in
idleness, in gambling, in sauntering about, in listening to foolish songs
and stories, in witnessing the feats of jugglers, and in attending on vain
processions. The same is true of Roman Catholic countries in the south of
Europe. There are so many saints' days, that the laboring classes have not
time to earn enough to secure the comforts of life. They become discouraged
in the attempt, and extreme poverty and squalid wretchedness are perpetuated
from generation to generation.
Everywhere in Scripture, indolence is condemned, and
industry commended. Of the virtuous housewife, Solomon says,'She eats not
the bread of idleness." "If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are
idle, the house leaks." Eccles. 10:18. "Sodom's sins were pride, laziness,
and gluttony," were among the causes of the ruin of Sodom and the other
cities of the plain. Ezek. 16:49. These sins fostered others which provoked
the wrath of Heaven beyond forbearance. It is a remarkable fact that Paul
himself once addressed a congregation of idlers, who "spent their time in
nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." Acts 17:21.
But so far as we know, not one of them received any spiritual benefit. For
"when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others
said, We will hear you again of this matter." Acts 17:32. The only people
mentioned by name among those who profited by his preaching were a member of
the chief court of the city and a woman named Damaris.
Man was not allowed to be idle even in Paradise; and when
he apostatized from God, the sentence to which it is wise ever to submit,
was, "In the sweat of your face shall you eat your bread, until you return
unto the ground." Gen. 3:19.
Let us consider the law of
HONESTY. There is hardly a word of more varied classical meaning
than the word Honesty; and the Latin word from which it is derived. The same
remark is true of the Greek word rendered honesty. In all these the range of
meaning is very extended. But when applied to civil affairs, there are two
ideas connected with the word, which we may not pass over in silence. One is
that of JUSTICE. That which is unjust can never be honest. All injustice
ought to be avoided, and is clearly condemned by Scripture. However refined,
or countenanced by society or custom, it is still contrary to God's word and
will. No human conscience ever aproved of a clear and decided case of
The other idea inseparably connected with the word
honesty, when applied to civil affairs, is that of HONOR, or good repute.
Any dishonorable conduct in temporal affairs is not honest; For a Christian
to receive a bribe to do what was his obvious duty, or to refuse to do his
duty without reward, is dishonest. So, for one to consent to do an odious
thing (for instance, to act as hangman, not because his office required it
of him, but because he loved gain,) would be dishonorable and so dishonest.
A godly man must keep his eye on the things that are lovely and of good
report, if he would avoid a stain upon his escutcheon, and a wound on his
All the ordinary and necessary avocations of life, the
culture of the soil, the practice of the learned professions, trade, and the
useful and ornamental arts, are honest. That it is not enough barely to
satisfy one's own conscience of the honesty of a course, or even to meet the
demands of the mere letter of God's word respecting rigid justice, is
manifest in many ways. The Scripture abounds in proof: "Provide things
honest in the sight of all men," not merely honest in the sight of God, in
the sight of yourself, in the sight of some men—your partial friends and
neighbors, or those who practice the same things—but in the sight of all
men. Let your honesty be above all doubt and suspicion in the eyes of men,
who understand what your conduct is. The apostle laid down no more rigid
rule for others than he was willing to be governed by himself. He says that
he and his helpers provided for honest things, not only in the sight of the
Lord, but in the sight of all men. 2 Cor. 8:21.
Selden says: "those who cry down moral honesty, cry down
that which is a great part of religion—my duty toward God and my duty toward
men. What care I to see a man run after a sermon, if he deceives and cheats
as soon as he comes home? On the other side, morality must not be without
religion; for if so, it may change as I see convenient. Religion must govern
it. He who has no religion to govern his morality, is not better than my
mastiff dog; so long as you stroke him and please him, and do not pinch him,
he will play with you, as finely as may be; he is a very good, moral master;
but if you hurt him, he will fly in your face."
Let us then look at the great principle of HONESTY, as it
ought to enter into our affairs, and see how it may be and often is
1. All robbery, theft, receiving stolen goods, forgery,
embezzling, swindling, obtaining goods under false pretenses, and cheating
in every shape are contrary to the eighth commandment. Psalm 62:10; Eph.
4:28; Psalm 1:8; Proverbs 29:24; 1 Thess. 4:6; Proverbs 11:1, 20:10; Amos
8:5. These things are more near akin to each other than some suppose. Mark
10:19. As this part of the subject is generally well-understood, and warmly
entertained by most who will read this book, it is not necessary to dwell
upon it. A few observations, however, will not be amiss. One is, that the
law of honesty makes no extenuation of these or like sins—because they are
practiced against the rich. It is as dishonest unrighteously to possess the
goods of one class as of another. True, in taking unjustly from the poor, we
commonly add oppression to dishonesty, and thus perpetrate two crimes. But
we are not to grade dishonesty by the worldly estate of him whom we defraud.
What if a man is able to bear the loss? If all men should treat him
fraudulently, he would soon have nothing. Our sin is against the law of
God chiefly and primarily—and not against the man.
Another remark is, that the amounts of our dishonesty are
not to regulate our ideas of its criminality. He who unjustly holds a
farthing, is as truly dishonest as he who has amassed a fortune by fraud. To
pant after the dust of the earth on the heads of the poor, is as strictly
forbidden as to covet thrones and empires not our own, Amos 2:7. Ahab was as
really wicked and unjust in covetously desiring and violently obtaining
Naboth's vineyard, as if he had marched an army against the king of Syria,
and taken his possessions from him. Our offence cannot be measured by the
amount unjustly secured. With one sentence our Savior forever settled this
principle. "He who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in
much; and he who is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much," Luke
16:10. Compare Matt. 25:21; Luke 19:17.
Another remark is, that corporations and the government
of the country in which we reside, sustain to us, in the matter of honesty,
the same relations as individuals. He who will cheat a body of men, or his
government, is as guilty as if he defrauded his neighbor. He who wrongs a
corporation, not knowing or caring who may be thereby affected, shows a
wicked principle in general, a malignity against his race. He who will not
render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, who will not pay tax to
whom tax is due, is not likely to render unto God the things that are God's.
All embezzlement, smuggling, false invoices, and unauthorized perks of
office, making the government odious, are thus condemned by this precept.
Another remark is, that no man can merge his individual moral responsibility
in a corporation. It is sometimes said that "corporations have no souls,"
and there is painful evidence that some corporators have no consciences, or
bad consciences, and do things acting jointly with others, which they would
not dare to do acting alone. Such should not forget that he who goes with
a multitude to do evil, shall go with a multitude to suffer punishment,
2. All people are bound to regard the law of honesty in
making bargains, or contracts. To be a swindler is to have an unenviable
distinction. It is wholly inconsistent with Christian principle. The rule of
some—That we may buy as cheap as we can and sell as costly as we can—is
liable to so many exceptions, and must receive so many explanations before
it ceases to conceal immorality, that it ought not to be received. We may
not sell as costly as we can, nor buy as cheap as we can, when we deal with
the ignorant, who are no judges of the quality or value of the articles
bought or sold. It would make anyone infamous, were it known that he cheated
a little child out of his pennies by giving him not half what he should have
done. In any such case, one acts as dishonest a part as if he had taken a
ten-dollar note from one who cannot read and who supposes it is of a less
denomination, and had given him only the change which he expected. Many who
wish to buy or sell know almost nothing of the value of the commodity in
trade, and are dependent on the superior knowledge of their merchants. To
deceive them is dishonest. One cannot say—Their eyes were open; for on this
subject they were without eyes and so were blind.
The same exception holds in regard to the credulous, who
are children in understanding. They are easily persuaded to buy or to sell
at the price others may fix. To take advantage of their feeble minds or
optimistic temperaments, is fraud. Nor may we buy as cheap, nor sell as
costly as we can, when we deal with those who are in distress. The pressing
poverty of another does not make our goods any more valuable in fact. To
avail ourselves of his necessity, therefore, is to rejoice in his calamity,
because it may be profitable to us. Such conduct shall not go unpunished,
Proverbs 17:5. To a drowning man, the end of a rope might be worth a whole
estate. Shall one therefore sordidly bargain for a great reward before he
extends assistance? Proverbs 24:11, 12. One may say, I put him not in the
water; I brought him not into his present distress. But this alters not the
The same is as true of the man who is hard pressed in his
worldly affairs. Nor may we buy as cheap nor sell as costly as we can, when
by heightening the defects of what we would buy, or by magnifying the value
of what we would sell, we lead others into error. Such artifices are as old
as trade among men, and are condemned in the Bible. "The buyer haggles over
the price, saying, "It's worthless," then brags about getting a bargain!"
Proverbs 20:14. This practice is not only odious, but soon ceases to gain
A. B. is a respectable Christian man. He is worth a
handsome estate. He lives in a small city. Not a shop-keeper is ignorant
that he never gives what is first asked by his merchant. The consequence is,
that when he prices an article, everyone asks more than he is willing to
take. But the very entrance of this godly man into a shop awakens
significant hints and looks.
It sometimes occurs even in free governments that a state
of things very much like a monopoly exists, putting much in the power of one
man or of a few men. A fire, a drought, a storm, or a war, may leave one
man, or a few men, in possession of an article of no great value in itself,
yet much needed by their neighbors or others. Then to sell as costly as we
can, is dishonest. "He who witholds corn, the people shall curse him; but
blessing shall be upon the head of him that sells it," Proverbs 11:26. Nor
is it honest to buy as cheap or sell as costly as we can, when threats or
deceitful promises, or flattery, or any such are is employed to influence
the minds of those with whom we deal. Here it may be observed that in
trading generally, men are apt to use too many words. They say more than is
good. They do not fix their prices or make their offers at what is right or
fair, and then abide by it. There is a great deal of lying in the world in
the driving of bargains. Self-interest is in all ages the most powerful
principle at work in the commercial world. From the influence of it even
good men are not wholly free. If one feels doubtful, therefore, let his
neighbor have the benefit of his doubts; for the uncertainty probably arises
from a conflict between selfishness on the one hand and conscience on the
other. Let every man keep fairly and. unquestionably within the bounds of
justice and honor.
Sometimes it occurs with the poor that in making
bargains, they habitually or with indecent frequency and urgency plead their
poverty, in favor of terms advantageous to themselves. Such seldom succeed
for a long time, and even then with the loss of character. Such a practice
is unmanly and so is dishonest. If any really needs charity, let him ask
charity; but in trade, let justice and honor hold the scale.
3. As but few things have any real intrinsic value in
trade, we still need a rule, by which to be governed. Perhaps this is as
safe a maxim as any other. In all buying and selling, a fair equivalent
according to the general and regular tenor of things ought always to be
given or received. There is a fair market price for everything in common
use. Men having no interest in the purchase or sale, and knowing the facts
in the case would seldom disagree respecting it. Articles of a rare quality,
intended merely for luxury or ornament, and obtained at very great risk of
loss, may be unsettled in value, and more scope may be left for the exercise
of a general discretion. But of most things bought and sold, it is possible
for us to ascertain the fair market price, and that ought to be given or
received, no more and no less. It is true that in merchandizing, on some
things there will necessarily be loss. This ought to be met by increased
profit on others. But then no price should be exorbitant. All extortion is
forbidden, Ezek. 22:12; Matt. 23:25.
It is also true that he who sells only for an equivalent
in hand, may sell cheaper than he who runs the risk and incurs the delay of
a credit. But to charge two prices to him who has not the means of ready
payment, but who may reasonably expect to have them in possession, is
unjust, and so is dishonest. If he who buys on credit knew how much more he
was charged than his neighbor who buys for cash, he would deal no more
there. "Do unto others as you would that they do unto you."
4. When bargains contain promissory engagements, let
every man adhere to his word, cost what it may. One description of a godly
man is, that "he swears to his own hurt and changes not." Psalm 15:4. Domat:
"In all sorts of engagements, whether voluntary or involuntary, it is
forbidden to use any infidelity, double dealing, deceit, knavery, and all
other ways of doing hurt or wrong." "The getting of treasures by a lying
tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death." Proverbs
21:6. Is there not a lamentable lack of veracity manifested in many
contracts? What could more painfully afflict a virtuous mind, than the ten
thousand rash promises made respecting the fulfillment of contracts?
5. The Bible opposes the system of debt and credit, at
least when carried to such lengths as we sometimes see. "Owe no man
anything, but to love one another." Romans 13:8. If the debtor is honest, he
is to a painful extent servant to the creditor. The spirit of many a man is
crushed out by a sense of his indebtedness to others. His goods are
distrained for rent; the peace of his mind or of his family is impaired; he
finds himself avoiding particular walks lest he should meet the man to whom
he owes money. Every loan puts him in anguish or irritates his mind. We have
no reason to believe that Paul ever resorted to borrowing as a means of
relieving his needs. In fact, we do know that when he was destitute of
means, he went to tent-making. Acts 18:3, 20:34. An honest mechanic or
laborer may sleep sweetly and walk abroad composedly. But what is social
position worth, when appearances are preserved only in the face of most
painful facts respecting one's worldly estate?
Debts may not be honestly contracted under the following
1. When we have no reasonable prospect of paying them. In
such cases it is swindling and robbery to take another man's property out of
his hands. This is remarkably the case when the commodity received is of a
perishable nature and is likely to be consumed before the day of payment
arrives. A reasonable prospect of payment is something not very precarious,
something better than the prospect of a prize in a lottery, or of profit
from a daring speculation.
2. He who is so careless of the condition of his own
affairs as not to know how they stand, and yet goes forward and contracts
new responsibilities, violates the law of honesty. No man has a right to
live in such ignorance of his worldly estate as not to be sure, when he
receives a neighbor's goods, that he will in the ordinary and regular course
of business be able to pay him; and that too,
3. At the time agreed upon. Many, who are in the main
upright men, and on the whole sustain a fair reputation, are always so far
behind their engagements as to require the most charitable construction of
their conduct by friends and foes, to keep them from falling into disrepute.
A delay in payment, especially to the poor, and often to the rich, is as
real, if not as great an injury as absolute failure to pay. It was a part of
the code of Moses that the sun should not go down upon the hire of the
laborer. Compare Deut. 24:14, 15.
4. The Scriptures give no countenance to the practice of
those who go on heedlessly and recklessly in their affairs, until insolvency
ensues, and then compound with their creditors for five or ten shillings in
the pound; and even if able afterwards, do not pay the full sum due.
Voluntary relinquishment of creditors in order to give further opportunity
to acquire the means of payment may be accepted. But if ever the whole can
be paid, let the bona fide offer be made, with money in hand. Once a debt,
always a debt—unless freely forgiven, is a sound maxim. Romans 13:8. If we
had honest debtors and merciful creditors, we would need no bankrupt laws.
6. On the whole subject of our business affairs, these
maxims, duly regarded, would save a world of trouble. 1. Never engage in a
business you do not understand, however inviting the prospect of gain.
2. Let not young men, who are in the way of acquiring a
thorough knowledge of business, be hasty in setting up for themselves. Let
them be patient.
3. Avoid all highly hazardous speculations, even in a
lawful business, except where they involve no more than you are able to lose
without injury to your creditors or your family. You may not needlessly
jeopard in wild adventures the rights of others.
4. Always prefer a regular business to any new and
striking scheme of making money. The latter may beget many beautiful dreams.
The former is sustained by the usual course of divine providence. "The hand
of the diligent makes rich." Proverbs 10:4. "See a man diligent in his
business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
5. Be not anxious to grow rich all of a sudden. "He who
makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent." Proverbs 28:20.
6. Beware whom you admit as partners in business.
Partners ought to have a congeniality in views, in temper, and in all the
leading principles of business. Proverbs 22:24; Amos 3:3.
7. If you have any regard for your peace and comfort,
avoid all suretyships, which exceed the amount you are able and willing to
lose for your friend. "He who puts up security for another will surely
suffer, but whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe." Proverbs
11:15. It may be safely said that he is the only man that is safe. "Do not
be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you
lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you."
Proverbs 22:26, 27. See also, Proverbs 6:1, 17:18, 20:16, 27:13.
8. Practice no deceptions. Let "no man go beyond and
defraud his brother in any matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of
all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified." 1 Thess. 4:6. Never
resort to false weights and measures. They are an abomination to God. Lev.
19:36; Deut. 25:13; Proverbs 16:11, 20:10, 23; Hos. 12:7 Amos 8:5; Micah
6:11. Never adulterate goods. Always send the precise quality that was sold.
Beware of all flthy lucre, that is, of all gain obtained in any manner
9. Never buy anything because it is cheap. What you do
not need is costly at any price.
7. Are you already involved in debt? Inquire whether you
cannot in some important respects cut back your usual expenses. Scorn to
live in luxury, to roll in affluence or glitter in splendor, while you are
unable to pay your debts. Your wife, if a prudent and honorable woman, will
cheerfully submit to great self-denial. You will also find it useful to
ascertain precisely how much you owe, and to keep the matter continually
before you in memorandum. Be not afraid to know the state of your own
affairs. Never avoid a creditor. Go to him with the manliness and
fearlessness of uprightness. Tell him precisely how the case stands. Do not
deceive him by plausible statements and fair promises. Tell him your real
prospects, and how you are laboring to meet your liabilities. Remember that
your charities ought not to be bountiful, while you are in debt; because in
giving away, you rather dispose of the goods of others than of your own.
Yet, be not hard-hearted. Without money, you may do a little to help the
deserving poor. Also settle it in your mind that you will never make over
your estate to some who will hold it for your benefit or that of your
family, in order to keep your creditors from getting it.
Never ask your wife to relinquish her rights of property,
which was hers before your indebtedness. Never begin the ruinous practice of
paying high interest. Exercise rigid economy. Work day and night at your
lawful and honest calling. Observe with regularity seasons of devotion in
secret, in the family, and in the house of God. Never allow your mind to be
annoyed with worldly affairs on the Lord's day. Maintain a cheerful and
inflexible resolution to bear up like a man and a Christian under your great
afflictions. Resist melancholy. As you acquire even a little, hand it over
to your creditors. Beware of needlessly expending small sums. Cry to God for
deliverance. Think not that he will scorn your humble, fervent petitions.
To a young man in debt, Dr. Franklin gave the following
advice: "Make a full estimate of all you owe, and of all that is owing to
you. Reduce the same to note. As fast as you can collect, pay over to those
you owe. If you cannot, renew your note every year, and get the best
security you can. Go to business diligently and be industrious; waste no
idle moments; be very economical in all things; discard all pride; be
faithful in your duty to God, by regular and hearty prayer morning and
night; attend church and meeting regularly every Sunday; and do unto all men
as you would that they should do unto you. If you are too needy in
circumstances to give to the poor, do whatever else is in your power for
them cheerfully, but if you can, help the poor and unfortunate. Pursue this
course diligently and sincerely for seven years, and if you are not happy,
comfortable and independent in your circumstances, come to me and I will pay
8. In matters of trust, observe the utmost exactness. Are
you a treasurer of any institution? You cannot be too careful in your
accounts, nor too cautious in the disposition of funds. Are you an agent,
and so entrusted with money? Never spend it for your own convenience or
comfort. Many a man has gone to his grave with a wounded reputation and an
aching heart, because he had spent money which did not belong to him. He
hoped indeed soon to replace it; but his expectation was like the mirage of
the desert. Paul's example in this behalf is worthy of close imitation. He
raised many collections and distributed them. But he tells us that "We want
to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift." 2 Cor.
8:20. Are you a guardian of such as are not able in law to represent
themselves? The courts of the land will very properly hold you to a strict
account. Carelessness and mismanagement will almost certainly bring terrible
exposure and anguish. But the sin of such conduct is worse than the shame.
It is in the teeth of the eighth commandment. In all fiduciary matters, keep
your behavior on the highest key of morality. The class of offences against
this precept entitled breaches of trust is very numerous. Many have
expressed wonder that they are not punished as felonies.
9. Not a little sin is committed in borrowing.
Sometimes indeed it is necessity. "From him that would borrow of you, turn
not you away." Matt. 5:42. But as little borrowing as possible ought to be
resorted to. For,
1. "The borrower is servant to the lender."
2. Men are often tempted not to return, at least with
promptness, what they have borrowed. Some yield to this temptation. Psalm
3. That which we borrow may be lost, and we may be unable
to replace it; and then our position is truly distressing. 2 Kings 6:5. The
law of Scripture is, "If someone borrows an animal from a neighbor and it is
injured or killed, and if the owner was not there at the time, the person
who borrowed it must pay for it." Exodus 22:14, and this sometimes he is
quite unable to do. Then hard thoughts and speeches are apt to ensue, and
the peace of the neighborhood is broken. Some have attempted to justify
borrowing without any intention of returning, (if they think they have been
injured) by citing the case of the Israelites' borrowing jewels from the
Egyptians. Exodus 12:35, 36. In that passage, the words borrowed and lent
are found; and the original words may be so rendered. But it is now
generally conceded that the translation is wrong. It would be better, and
the Hebrew would bear it, to render the words asked and gave; for this is
doubtless the sense. The text confirms this view, by saying that God gave
the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, that is, for a little while,
being crushed by plagues and having their hearts touched by God's Spirit, a
sense of justice and of kindness prevailed. Josephus expresses it; "They
honored them with gifts." So that this passage gives no countenance to the
bad morals taught in some books of Romish Theology, that a servant may
defraud his master to the amount of what he supposes is his due.
Borrowing may be and often is so conducted as to be in effect the same as
theft. When it is proper to lend, it should be done heartily and freely.
Deut. 23:20; Luke 6:35. Many a time the best charity is not a gift, but a
loan without interest.
10. We may never steal. There is an impression among some
that dependent people, or the poor, may take that which belongs not to them,
provided it is merely to satisfy the demands of hunger or to meet necessary
wants. Even Solomon says, "Men do not despise a thief, if he steals to
satisfy his soul when he is hungry." Proverbs 6:30. And Agur prayed that he
might not be poor, lest he should steal. Proverbs 30:9. But all such taking
what belongs to others is dishonest. Man's standard of ethics, especially
when drawn from his appetite, is very low. The word of God makes no such
allowance. In this very case it says, "If the thief be found, he shall
restore seven-fold; he shall give all the substance of his house." Proverbs
6:31. Hopkins: "Though his necessity and hunger may take off somewhat from
the shame, yet it shall not from the punishment of his offence, but he shall
restore that which he has stolen seven-fold. Not that the restitution should
be seven times as much as the theft, for the utmost that the law requires
was but a five-fold restitution, Exodus 22:1; but as the word seven-fold is
most frequently used in Scripture to signify that which is complete and
perfect, so is it here, 'he shall restore seven-fold,' that is, he shall
make a full and satisfactory restitution."
11. Restitution. The closing remark of the preceding
paragraph suggests this important matter. Why should not men restore that
which they have wrongfully withheld or taken away, or that which they may
not longer lawfully hold? Common justice demands it. The law of Moses
required it. David's sentence against him that took the poor man's lamb, was
this: "The man that has done this thing shall surely die; and he shall
restore the lamb four-fold, because he did this thing, and because he had no
pity." 2 Sam. 12:5, 6.
Zaccheus understood that he lived under the same law. "If
I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him
four-fold." Luke 19:8. Domat: "It is a natural law, that he who has been the
author of my damage ought to repair it." "Unjust possession is a continued
and prolonged theft, and certainly repentance can never be true, nor
sincere, while we continue in the sin of which we seem to repent; and your
repentance not being true, pardon will never be granted you." God's word is
very explicit: "if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns
what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he
will surely live; he will not die." Ezek. 33:15. And if the person to whom
restitution was at first due, is dead, payment can be made to his heirs. But
if neither he nor they can be found, then it is to be made to the Lord. Num.
Surely the law of good neighborhood requires us no less
to restore that which has strayed from its owner or has been lost by him.
Deut. 22:1-3. Nor would high-toned honor consent to receive a reward for
returning that which had been lost, unless time or money had been expended
for its recovery. The law of Moses very fitly required that a man who
injured another in a fight, if he did not die, should pay him for the loss
of his time, and cause him to be thoroughly healed. Exodus 21:19.
12. Begging. This is a sad evil in many parts of the
world. In some portions of Europe and in the large cities of America, it is
a great sore on the body politic. What legislation can do in the matter,
statesmen must decide. But let the conscience of each one settle it that
beggars who could get employment, and who are able to work for a livelihood,
ought not to be countenanced. The law of Scripture and the law of nature are
clear upon this point. "In the sweat of your face shall you eat your bread."
Gen. 3:19. "Even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any
would not work, neither should he eat." 2 Thess. 3:10. Compare verses 11,
12. Every man ought to set his face steadfastly against a system of
mendicity. Everywhere the Scriptures pronounce against the slothful.
Proverbs 12:27, 15:19, 18:9, 19:24; Romans 12:11. So far, therefore, as
beggary is the result of indolence persisted in, the duty of those who have
means is to refuse assistance.
13. Frugality consists in avoiding needless
expenditures which we are not able to afford. "Frugality may be termed the
daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the parent of Liberty."
It is essential to the peace of our lives. The lack of it brings on a world
of wretchedness; while its exercise greatly conduces to our happiness.
14. Poverty. There may be virtuous poverty, though
often we find wicked poverty. Poverty is a disgrace when it is the result
of indolence, slothfulness, carelessness, or extravagance. Proverbs
6:10, 11. But it is no discredit to any man when he was born poor; or when
he has made himself poor for the benefit of others; or when after careful
industry and all lawful exertion and prudence, God leaves him without ample
means. In that case, we should be content with those things we have. Heb.
13:5. Abject poverty is a great misery and a source of much temptation.
Proverbs 30:9. Yet God may have great ends to answer in the world by keeping
some of his best people in great straits. The poor are in danger of
hardening their hearts against one another. No less than the rich, they
ought to believe that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." No man
has ever practiced on this precept without finding it true. It is as true
now as ever, that "he who has pity upon the poor lends unto the Lord; and
that which he has given, will he pay him again." No man is in the end a
loser for any willing sacrifice or self-denial practiced for the good of
others. He enjoys life far better than the selfish man. He has a vast
storehouse of good laid up for him. To him the promises are many and
wonderful. "The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive; and he shall be
blessed upon the earth: and you will not deliver him to the will of his
enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: you will
make all his bed in his sickness."
Nor should anyone regard himself as too poor to do
something. The reason why the small gift of the poor woman was greater than
that of all the rich was, that she gave "all her living," and they did not.
She had to practice self-denial to give anything. They only cast in of their
abundance. He who shall finally reward the giving of a cup of cold water,
will not be unfaithful to forget any work of faith or labor of love.
In Stevenson's Exposition of the twenty-third Psalm, we
have this little narrative: "The long-tried and consistent piety of the wife
of a poor laborer had attracted the regard of her wealthier neighbors. She
was one of those happy Christians whose holy cheerfulness of manner adorns
their profession of the gospel. She 'rejoiced and wrought righteousness,'
and 'remembered the Lord in his ways.' She had gained the esteem of all who
knew her, and now that a slow but sure decline rendered her incapable of
contributing to her own support, some pious friends agreed together to
provide her regularly with those little comforts which were so necessary to
her sinking condition. The Lord thus met her necessity by their
instrumentality. But she knew not that he had awakened this thought within
the hearts of any of them. Her own heart was stayed upon the heart of her
God. As she stood one afternoon in her humble doorway to breathe the balmy
air, she observed, three objects of misery soliciting alms in the street.
Her heart pitied the famished mother and her two tattered children, but all
the money that she possessed was her last and only sixpence. Every article
of provision in the house had been already consumed. Without delay or
hesitation, however, she drew from her pocket the little coin which was
needed for her own necessities, and freely bestowed it on the widow and the
fatherless. She considered that all her own wants for the day had been
supplied, and that 'she ought not to be distrustful for the morrow.' 'I have
a heavenly Friend,' she said within herself, 'to provide for me, and perhaps
this poor woman does not know the God that is above. I have no one to think
of; she has these two children to struggle for. I know my own need, but they
are more needy than I.'
That very evening the individual deputed by her unknown
friends visited her dwelling to inform her of their kind determination; and
great was her astonishment and gratitude to hear that a sum double the
amount she had that day given to the poor wanderers, was to be her daily
allowance during the remainder of her life. It pleased the Lord to spare her
two years, as she declared, 'in plenty and comfort.'" So in every case God
will be as good as his word, as gracious as he has promised to be. All the
promises are yes and amen.
15. Money. The Bible says nothing against money. It
admits that it is a defense, and answers all things, Eccles. 7:12, 10:19.
After Job's restoration to prosperity, "every man gave him a piece of
money," Job 42:11. What the Scriptures warn us against is the abuse of that
which is good.
1. We must not set our hearts upon it; nor be distracted
with the care of it. "The love of money is the root of all evil," 1 Tim.
6:10; Matt. 6:21.
2. We must not employ it for purposes of sinning, Acts
3. We must not rely upon it, 1 Tim. 6:17.
4. We must not hoard it up with greediness, James 5:1-3.
5. We must not use it to make ourselves wanton in life, James 5:5.
6. We must not needlessly squander it, Isaiah 55:2.
7. We must not use it for purposes of oppression, Lev.
25:37; Deut. 23:19; Psalm 15:5.
8. We must not be led by a regard to it to disobey any of
God's commands, 2 Chron. 25:9.
9. We must give to the poor, and thus lay up treasure in
heaven, Luke 12:33, 34. And we ought to give for conscience sake, because we
thus desire to honor God, Proverbs 3:9. Our alms ought to be cheerful and
according to our ability, 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7. Our liberality ought also
to be unostentatious. Our Lord settled this matter in his Sermon on
the Mount, Matt. 6:2-4. All the reasons of this command we may not know; but
we do know two reasons, either of which is sufficient.
1. We ought, as far as possible, to save the feelings of
those who are profited by our kindness, Ruth 2:16.
2. All vanity and ostentation in religion is very
disgusting to well-balanced and well-instructed minds. Our liberality should
be abundant towards the truly needy. In particular they should never be
forgotten in days of unusual gladness, Neh. 8:10. Our liberality should be
out of our own funds. Eccl. 11:1; 1 John 3:17. Durham tells us the story of
Selymus, the Turkish emperor, a most bloody man, that when he was a dying,
one of his Bashaws desiring him to build a hospital for relief of the poor
with the wealth taken from the Persian merchants, he replied thus, "Would
you, Pyrrhus, that I should bestow other men's goods, wrongfully taken from
them, on works of charity and devotion, for mine own vain-glory and praise?
assuredly I will never do it; nay, rather that they be bestowed on the right
owners again; which was accordingly done."
16. When God gives us good things richly, it is that we
may enjoy them. 1 Tim. 6:17. It is a great reproach to religion when God
opens his hand liberally and supplies our wants, that we should stingily
withhold them from ourselves and our dependents. "He has made everything
beautiful in his time.... I know that there is no good in them, but for a
man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should
eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor; it is the gift of God."
Eccles. 3:11-13. Compare Eccles. 4:8, 6:1, 2.
17. One species of sin against this commandment is common
in all ages and countries. It relates to boundary lines between neighbors.
The forms in which this sin is committed are exceedingly numerous, but they
are all forbidden under the general prohibition to alter land-marks. Deut..
19:14, 27:17; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28, 23:10.
18. A sin kindred to the last mentioned is greed for land
beyond our necessities, and a desire to hold it for its own sake. There is
no little of this spirit in some parts of the world; and yet there is no
mode of violating this commandment more strictly forbidden. "Woe unto them
that join house to house, that lay field to field, until there be no place,
that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth." Isaiah 5:8.
Compare Micah 2:2.
19. The Scriptures do not require a community of goods.
"The Most High has divided to the nations their inheritance." Deut. 32:8. He
divided to the tribes of Israel and to each family in every tribe a separate
portion. He takes also the desolate and sets him in families. It is true
indeed that when the church was in her infant state in Jerusalem, and had
great numbers of poor and suffering members, God poured out a spirit of
liberality, according to the exigencies of the case, and "all that believed
were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and
goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." Acts 2:44, 45.
But this was wholly a voluntary and temporary arrangement. In addressing
Ananias, Peter expressly said, that there was no law on the subject binding
any man, "While it remained, was it not your own? and after it was sold, was
it not in your own power?" Acts 5:4.
20. What shall we say of law-suits? It is very
clear that litigiousness is contrary to the spirit of the gospel. Our Savior
said, "As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him
have your coat as well." Matt. 5:40. This passage has been uniformly
understood as a call upon us to repress that natural desire for insisting
upon our legal rights before courts. Paul also warns his Corinthians to
abstain from all litigation before heathen magistrates. 1 Cor. 6:1-7. Let no
man go to law for a mere tiifle, involving no principle. "A bad settlement
is better than a good lawsuit." Avoid a law-suit, if you can, without wrong
21. Perhaps one of the most common errors respecting
property is the neglect of hearty prayer to God on that subject. "Then shall
you remember the Lord your God: for it is he who gives you power to get
wealth." Deut. 8:18. "Feed me with food convenient for me." Proverbs 30:8.
"In all your ways acknowledge him." Proverbs 3:6. "Give us this day our
daily bread." Matt. 6:11.
22. Sometimes theft and robbery are committed directly
against God. He is the rightful proprietor of all things. Whatever therefore
he claims as proper for his worship, our time, the time of our servants, our
property and our affections, should be sincerely rendered to him. "Will a
man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes
and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you
are robbing me" Mal. 3:8, 9. Compare John 10:1. Sacrilege is a heinous sin.
"It is a snare to the man who devours that which is holy." Proverbs 20:25.
The sin that filled up the measure of the iniquity of the haughty monarch of
Babylon was taking the vessels of God's house, and thus lifting himself up
against the Lord of heaven. Dan. 5:23. X13:It should greatly deter us from
any and every violation of this precept that God visits solemn judgments
upon those who transgress it. "The robbery of the wicked shall destroy
them." Proverbs 21:7. "As the partridge sits on eggs, and hatches them not,
so he who gets riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of
his days, and at his end shall be a fool." Jer. 17:11. Compare Psalm 55:23;
Proverbs 22:23; Hab. 2:6-13; Zeh. 5:3, 4; 1 Cor. 6:10; James 5:1-6.
24. On the other hand an exceedingly rich blessing is
surely promised to those who obey this commandment. "A little that a
righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked." Psalm 37:16.
Compare Proverbs 16:8; Matt. 6:9-34; Matt. 25:31-44; 1 Tim. 6:17-19.
CONCLUSION. Never in any wise be an instrument of sowing
the seeds of enmity between the rich and the poor. If you are poor, beware
of envying the rich. If you knew their crosses and their miseries—you would
probably think them heavier than your own. James 5:9; Ecc. 5:12. If you are
rich; beware of despising the poor. In so doing you reproach your Maker.