« PrécédentContinuer »
Justice, Industry and Charity.
EPHESIANS iv. 28.
Let him that stole, steal no mare ;' but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that he needeth,
THESE words may be considered as an explanation of the eighth command' in the decalogue, which says, "Thou shalt not steal." This command, by natural construction, forbids all injuries to our neighbor's property; and consequently requires us to procure the necessaries of life by our own industry." "Let him that stole, steal no more; but rather let him Jabor."
We will illustrate the text in several observations. I. Here is a general prohibition of theft.
This prohibition supposes distinct rights and separate properties. If it had been the intention of the great Lord of all things, that his servants should use his goods in common, he never would have enacted a law against stealing; for where one man has no prop. erty distinct from another, there is no room for the erime, and no occasion for a law against it. If each man has a personal distinction from all others; and if
his limbs, skill, invention, and labor are his own, and not his neighbors, then the fruits of his study, industry and enterprise belong to himself, and to no one else. And whatever he obtains by means not injurious to others, he has a right to possess, and none has a right to take it from him, either by violence or artifice. By the prohibition of robbery, theft and fraud, God has confirmed to every man his property, and warned others not to invade it.
We are placed in a state of mutual dependence. No man possesses, or can alone procure every thing which he wants; but each must receive something from another. There is among men a great diversity of talents, abilities and conditions. Some have strength and others skill-some have riches, others capacity for labor. The rich need the poor man's labor; the poor need the rich man's superfluity; all need mutual assistance. It was the design of Providence, that we should live in society and subsist by reciprocal aid. And this aid should be voluntary. The rich have no right to exact the poor mans's service without his consent, or to use it without wages; nor have the poor a right to take the rich man's property without his knowledge, or without compensation. In short no man has a right to live at the expense of others, while he can live by his labor, or to support himself by any kind of labor, that is injurious to his neighbors.
Stealing, in common acceptation, is, "taking and carrying away another's goods in a secret manner, and without his consent." But this species of wrong is not the only thing forbidden in the divine law, under the name of stealing; for the reason of the law extends to every kind of deception and fraud, by which one can injure the property of another. The Apostle opposes labor to theft; and therefore in his idea of theft are included all those unjust methods which men take for a maintenance, rather than apply themselves to labor. If the injury done to our neighbor is that, which VOL. III.
makes stealing criminal, then it is criminal to transfer to ourselves his property in any other way which is in jurious to him. "Ye shall not steal," says Mo ses, nor deal falsely, nor lie one to another." "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, nor rob him, nor shall the wages of him that is hired abide with thee until the morning." The Apostle says, "Let no man go beyond, nor defraud his brother in any matter; for the Lord is the avenger of all such." We must therefore understand the prohibition in the text, as relating to every unfair, indirect, dishonest way, by which one may transfer to himself the property of another; whether it be unfaithfulness to a trust repo sed in him; the embezzlement of goods committed to him; contracting debts without ability or intention to pay them; secreting and detaining lost things which he has found; taking advantage of men's ignorance or necessity in dealing with them; making false pretensions of poverty or infirmity to obtain alms; disaabling himself by extravagant expense, or by voluntary alienation of property, from satisfying the just demands of creditors; or any other deceitful artifice; for in all' such cases, he takes that from his neighbors, which they did not freely and understandingly consent to part with.
II. This prohibition of theft is a virtual injunction of labor. For if a man may not live at the expense of others, he must live at his own; and if he has not the means of subsistence, he must labor to acquire them. The Apostle says, "Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands." If every man is not bound to work with his hands, yet every man is bound to do this rather than steal. No plea of necessity can be admitted in justification of dishonesty. The poor are God's charge; but he allows them not to invade the rights of others. And if the poor may not do this, much less may the rich, who have all things and abound. So sacred a
thing is property, that God declares himself the revenger of all such, as in any matter defraud their brethren. No man has a right to live on charity, as long as he can live by labor. The Apostle does not say Let him beg, but let him labor. Charity is much recommended in the gospel. They who are rich must be ready to distribute. If there are some who are bound to give, there are others who may receive. And who are these? The Apostle tells us, they are such as need: But they who can labor are not the needy; for these are commanded to labor, that they may give to the needy. The objects of our charity, then, are those needy persons, who have not the ordinary comforts of life, nor ability to procure them by their labor. The Apostle says, "If any man will not work, neither let him eat." Let him not be supported by your beneficence, but feel the effects of his own idleness. There are some industrious and prudent people, who by the hand of Providence are reduced to such difficulties, as really to need the help of their neighbors. To these we should shew mercy with cheerfulness. But to vagrant beggars, of whom we know nothing, but from their own, information, we are bound to give no more than what their immediate preservation requires.
The obligation to labor is not confined to the poor; it extends to all, according to their various capacities. If man was made only to eat and drink, they who have goods laid up for many years, might take their ease, eat, drink and be merry. But our Apostle teaches us, that we have something to do besides supplying our own wants, and those of our immediate dependents. We are to communicate to such as need. And as long as there are such with us, our wanting nothing is no reason why we should do nothing. There are some whose condition raises them above manual labor; but none whose rank elevates them above the obligation to be useful. If a poor man should be industrious, that he may gain what his own wants require, and some
thing to spare to those who are poorer than himself, the rich surely should devise liberal things, and abound in every good work.
The necessary affairs of the world cannot be managed by manual labor only: Some must be employed in matters of government; some in the education of youth; some in dispensing religious instructions. There is an extensive field for various employments, and every man should be diligent in his own. If a man with his present abilities may be useful, with greater abilities he may be more so. Let every one therefore study to enlarge his abilities, that he may extend his usefulness.
III. The Apostle teaches us, that every man must choose for himself an honest calling and must work that which is good.
We must employ ourselves in some kind of business which is lawful in itself. Every occupation which arises from the condition, and is adapted to the exigences of mankind, is lawful. Besides real necessaries, there are various conveniencies, which we may reason. ably desire; and every employment which contributes to the improvement of human happiness, is good and commendable, Such an employment we may choose, and no other, An occupation good in itself my be unsuitable for us, because with our education, means and abilities, we cannot direct it to its proper end. Here we should be out of our place. We are to maintain good works for necessary uses, and that they may profitable to men, A profession incompatible with our usefulness, if it may be good in other hands, cannot be so in ours, A work in which a man makes gain by the expense, and enriches himself by the loss of others, is theft embellished and refined. As our calling must be lawful in itself, so we must use it in a lawful manner, with integrity, justice and fidelity.
From these observations we may fairly collect, that gaming, when it is used as an art to get money, is crim