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SINS AGAINST THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT.
EXODUS xx. 15.
4 Thou shalt not steal."
We have in former discourses attended to an illustration of the duties required in the eighth commandment; we come now in course to consider the sins forbidden by this commandment. These include, not only actual theft, but also all improper conduct with respect to our own and our neighbour's outward estate.
These sins are summarily expressed in the answer to the 75th question of our Shorter Catechism.
“What is forbidden in the eighth commandment ?
The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth or may, unjustly hinder our own or our neighbour's wealth or outward estalc.
According to this answer, the sins forbidden in this commandment may be divided into two great classes, viz. those against our own estate, and those against the estate of others.
In the first class we may reckon idleness, prodigality, all indiscreet management of our temporal affairs, covetousness, and all improper ways of enriching ourselves, or of using our estate.
In the second class we may enumerate theft, removing land-marks, dishonesty, oppression, extortion, and usury.
Of each of these particular sins, we shall treat in their order.
I. The sins against the eighth commandment, in regard to our own estate. And
1. Idleness. In a former discourse, on the duties required in this commandment, industry was proved to be a duty; it therefore follows of course, that idleness, which is its opposite is a sin. Besides, this is proved by the declarations of Scripture; “Go to the ant thou sluggard (saith Solomon) consider her ways and be wise. How long wilt thou sleep O sluggard ? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man;" Prov. vi.'6, 9, 10, 11. I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding: And lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down : yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth ; and thy want as an armed man;" Prov. xxiv. 30. 34.Paul exhorted the Romans to be," not slothful in business." Rom. xii. ll. These and several other texts condemn idleness, and prove that it is a sin.
2. Another sin against the eighth commandment, in reference to our own estate, is prodigality, or a wasting our property, by lavishing it on improper objects. or by consuming it to gratify our lusts, or by living in a style which our circumstances will not bear. Frugality has been proved to be a duty, and therefore prodigality which is its opposite is a sin. And in Scripture the spendthrift is called a “ foolish man;" Prov. xxi. 20. And the waster is said to be brother to him that is slothful in his work ; Prov. xviii. 9. And prodigality was one principal thing for which the prodigal son was condemned.
3. Another sin against the eighth commandment in reference to our own estate is an indiscrect management of our temporal affairs. This is the opposite of economy, and includes several particulars, such as neglecting the proper and most advantageous season in which to do business, doing it in an improper and disadvantageous manner, carelessness about what we already possess, negligence in looking well to the ways of our household, and such like particulars.
4. Another sin against this commandment, in reference to our own estate is covetousness. By this we understand as it relates to this commandment, avarice, or an inordinate disire after and love of riches. It is lawful to desire property, to make exertions to obtain it, and to value it when possessed, that we and our families may be comfortable, and that we may be useful in the worlū. But this lawful desire after property is moderate: 'It is not the
principal desire ; and it is kept in subordination to the glory of God. But whenever the desire of property passes this bound, and becomes immoderate ; whenever we set our hearts upon wealth, so as to esteem it the chief good, and have such an insatiable desire after it that we cannot be satisfied; when we feel determined to have it, even though in obtaining it we should neglect and break God's commandments; and when disappointment makes us repine-then our desires after wealth become sinful. They are inordinate and covetous.
Covetousness is a sin very common in our world; and perhaps there is no sin of equal criminality, that men are less sensible of, or that less wounds the conscience. And, perhaps, it is a sin, that as much, if not more than any other, entirely governs the man who indulges it, and steels his heart against the impressions of true religion.It is a desire that gains strength with age. It remains and grows stronger, when almost every other propensity has, by the decay of nature, become weaker or extinct. It is a sin which oftentimes leads to the perpetration of other sins and to very evil consequences. And it is a sin into which professors of religion, sometimes fall, and which they cherish and which it is exceedingly difficult to convince them of, and persuade them to renounce. That covetousness is a sin, and very offensive to God, the Scriptures very clearly and repeatedly teach. In the Psalms we read, “ the wicked blesseth the covetoús, whom the Lord abhorreth;" Ps. x. 3. Our Saviour exhorted, “ take heed and beware of covetousness;" Luk. xii. 15. Paul in his epistles has given frequent warnings against this sin, and taught its heinousness. He charged the Corinthians,“ not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be covetous, with such an one, no not to eat ;" 1 Cor. v. 11. And in the same epistle, he included in a catalogue, which he gave of characters who should not inherit the kingdom of God, the covetous ; 1 Cor. vi. 10. To the Ephesians he wrote, “ this ye know that no covetous man who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God;" Éph. v. 5. To the Colossians he wrote, “ mortify your members which are upon the earth -covetousness which is idolatry : for which thing's sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedia encc;" Col. iii. 5. 6. And in that group of wicked characters, which he informed Timothy should appear in the last days and make perilous times, the covetous are included; 2 Tim. jii. 2. From these texts it clearly appears that covetousness is a great sin. For it is ranked with the most heinous sins; it is a sin which God peculiarly abhorreth ; it is idolatry ; and it excludes from the kingdom of heaven. The evils and danger of this sin, and that it leads to other sins we are taught in the following passages. It was one of the leading sins which caused the judgments of God upon the Jews, when he sent them into captivity in Babylon; as said the Lord by Jeremiah, “ Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them ; for every one, from the least even unto the greatest, is given to covetousness ; Jer. viii. 10. The prophet Micah taught, that this sin frequently leads to oppression and violence, when cherished by those who have power. “ They covet tields (said he) and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away ; so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage;" Mic. ii. 2. Solomon taught that this sin sometimes leads to murder, in the following passage. “They say come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause. We shall find all precious substance; we shall fill our houses with spoil. Their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain : which taketh away the life of the owners thereof;" Prov. i. 11, 13, 16, 19. Paul also, 1 Tim. vi. 9, 10; taught the great danger, and the evil consequences of this sin. “They that will be rich (said he) fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil ; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” These texts teach us the danger of this vice, and solemnly caution us against it.
And the Scriptures furnish many examples, which show the great evil of this sin, its tendency to lead to other sins, and its dangerous consequences: and which serve as warnings to us to beware of covetousness. This was the ruling passion of Laban; and it led him to such mean and wicked actions, as has rendered his character odious and
contemptible in the eyes of all future generations. It led him to sell his daughters in marriage; to keep his son-inlaw in servitude for many years ; to deceive him; to change his wages ten times ; to oppress him in such a manner that he had finally to flee from him ; and then to pursue him, with intentions to injure him. Covetousness was also the ruling passion of Balaam, and it led him to go to Balak in opposition to the will of God; and afterwards to give counsel to corrupt the children of Israel, which finally issued in a war, in which Balaam lost his life. It was this passion, that led Achan at the taking of Jericho, to take and secrete for himself, some of the spoils of the city, contrary to the express command of God, which conduct issued in his own death, and the death of all his family. This passion led the sons of Samuel to take bribes, and pervert judgment. The same passion led Judas to betray his Master, the consequence of which was suicide. And it was covetousness that led Demas to renounce religion. These examples are held up to us as warnings to beware of covetousness. And the history of the world also furnishes us with many examples, of the odiousness, evils and danger of this passion. It has led to oppression, extortion dishonesty, theft, murder and almost every vice. It has desolated whole countries. It has often rendered the wretch that cherished it an unhappy mortal. It has sometimes under disappointments driven him to distraction and suicide. And it has destroyed thousands of souls, throughout eternity.
Are any of you my hearers under the influence of this passion ? Examine yourselves carefully and impartially, and admit a conviction of the truth. And if there be a covetous man present, let him consider the sinfulness, evil, and danger of cherishing this passion. Above all let him remember that covetousness is idolatry, and excludes from the kingdom of heaven. And let him mortify this corruption, and suffer it no more to influence his conduct.
5. We observe again in reference to our own estate, that we break the eighth commandment, by all improper methods of enriching ourselves, and of using our estate, when we possess it. There are many sinful ways of enriching ourselves, in some of which we break the eighth commandment, not only in reference to our own estate. but also to the estate of others, by encroaching on their rights. Pur