THE SIN OF THEFT AND OF INJUSTICE. 219219    Dated, July, 1740.

EXOD. xx. 15.

Thou shalt not steal.

This is one of the ten commandments, which constitute a summary of man’s duty, as revealed by God. God made many revelations to the children of Israel in the wilderness by Moses: but this made in the ten commandments is the chief. Most of those other revelations contained ceremonial or judicial laws; but this contains the moral law. The most of those other laws respected the Jewish nation; but here is a summary of laws binding on all mankind. Those were to last till Christ should come, and have set up the Christian church; these are of perpetual obligation, and last to the end of the world. God everywhere, by Moses and the prophets, manifests a far greater regard to the duties of these commands, than to any of the rites of the ceremonial law.

These commands were given at mount Sinai, before any of the precepts of the ceremonial or judicial laws. They were delivered by a great voice out of the midst of fire, which made all the people in the camp tremble, and afterwards were engraven on tables of stone, and laid up in the ark; the first table containing the four first commandments, which teach our duty to God; the second table containing the six last, which teach our duty to man. The sum of the duties of the first table is contained in that which Christ says is the first and great commandment of the law; Matt. xxii. 37. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” The sum of what is required in the second table, is what Christ calls the second command, like unto the first; verse 39. “The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Of the commands of this second table of the law, the first, (which is the fifth of the ten,) refers to that honour which is due to our neighbour; the second respects his life; the third his chastity; the fourth his estate; the fifth his good name; the sixth and last respects his possessions and enjoyments in general. It is that command which respects our neighbour’s estate, and which is the fourth command of the second table, and the eighth of the whole decalogue, on which I am now to insist: and here I shall make the command itself, as the words of it lie before us in the decalogue, my subject: and as the words of the commandment are in the form of a prohibition, forbidding a certain kind of sin; so I shall consider particularly what it is that this command forbids. The sin that is forbidden in this command is called stealing; yet we cannot reasonably understand it only of that act, which in the more ordinary and strict sense of the word, is called stealing. But the iniquity which this command forbids, may be summarily expressed thus:—An unjust usurping of our neighbour’s property, without his consent.

So much is doubtless comprehended in the text; yet this comprehends much more than is implied in the ordinary use of the word, stealing; which is only a secret taking of that which is another’s from his possession, without either his consent or knowledge. But the ten commands are not to be limited to the strictest sense of the words, but are to be understood in such a latitude, as to include all things that are of that nature or kind. Hence Christ reproves the Pharisees’ interpretation of the sixth command, Matt. v. 21, 22.;. and also their interpretation of the seventh command; see verse 27, 28.; by which it appears that the commands are not to be understood as forbidding only these individual sins, which are expressly mentioned, in the strictest sense of the expressions; but all other things of the same nature or kind.—Therefore, what is forbidden in this command is all unjust usurpation of our neighbour’s property. Here it may be observed, that an unjust usurpation of our neighbour s property is twofold; it may be, either by withholding what is our neighbour’s, or, by taking it from him.

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