« Prev 12. The Eighth Commandment. Next »

§ 12. The Eighth Commandment.

This commandment forbids all violations of the rights of property. The right of property in an object is the right to its exclusive possession and use.

The foundation of the right of property is the will of God. By this is meant, (1.) That God has so constituted man that he desires and needs this right of the exclusive possession and use of certain things. (2.) Having made man a social being, He has made the right of property essential to the healthful development of human society. (3.) He has implanted a sense of justice in the nature of man, which condemns as morally wrong everything inconsistent with the right in question. (4.) He has declared in his Word that any and every violation of this right is sinful.

This doctrine of the divine right of property is the only security for the individual or for society. If it be made to rest on any other foundation, it is insecure and unstable. It is only by making property sacred, guarded by the fiery sword of divine justice, that it can be safe from the dangers to which it is everywhere and always exposed.

Numerous theories have been advanced on this subject. These theories have had a twofold object: the one to explain the nature and ground of the right; the other to explain how the right was originally acquired. These objects are distinct and should not be confounded.

1. The modern philosophical theory that might is right, that the strongest is always the best, includes indeed both these objects. If being is the only good, and if it is true the more of being the more of good, then he who has the most of being, he in whom the infinite is most fully revealed, has the right to have and to hold whatever he chooses to possess.


2. If a regard to our individual well-being be the only ground of moral obligation, then a man has the right to whatever will make him happy. He may, and he certainly would, make a great mistake, if he supposed that taking what does not belong to him would promote his happiness; but he is restrained from such injustice only by a sense of prudence. He is entitled to have whatever in fact would make him happy, and for that reason.

3. If regard to the general good, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or expediency, as Paley makes it, be the rule and ground of duty, then it will always be a matter of opinion, a matter on which men will ever differ, what is, and what is not expedient. One might think that a community of goods would promote the greatest good, and then he would, at least in his own conscience, be entitled to act on that principle. Others might think that agrarianism, or the periodic distribution of all the land of the country in equal portions among the people, would promote the general good, and then that would be to them the rule of action. There would be no end to the devices to promote the greatest good, if the rights of men rested on no other foundation than that of expediency.

Some of the most distinguished legal and philosophical writers of the present age teach that “property is founded on utility.” With some, however, utility is not the ground, but rather the test of human rights and duties. The fact that an institution or a course of conduct is conducive to the public good, is not so much the reason why it is right, as a proof that it is right and in accordance with the will of God. “God designs the happiness of all his sentient creatures. Some human actions forward that benevolent purpose, or their tendencies are beneficent and useful. Other human actions are adverse to that purpose, or their tendencies are mischievous or pernicious. The former, as promoting his purpose, God has enjoined. The latter, as opposed to his purpose, God has forbidden. He has given us the faculty of observing; of remembering; and of reasoning; and by duly applying those faculties, we may collect the tendencies of our actions. Knowing the tendencies of our actions, and knowing his benevolent purpose, we know his tacit commands.”376376Lectures on Jurisprudence, or the Philosophy of Positive Law, by the late John Austin, 2d edit. revised and edited by Robert Campbell, London, 1869, vol. i. p. 109. It is no doubt true that it is a fair and conclusive argument that a thing is right or wrong in itself and conformed or opposed to the will of God, that its tendency is of necessity and always to produce, on the one 423hand, good. or, on the other, evil. But this is a roundabout way of getting at the truth. Whether an institution or a course of action be useful or not, must be a matter of opinion. And if a matter of opinion, men will differ about it; and the opinion of one man, or even of the majority of men, will have no authority over others. God has revealed his will in his Word, and in the constitution of our nature. Paul says that even the heathen “do by nature the things contained in the law,” that the law is “written in their hearts.” (Rom. ii. 14, 15.) Property is sacred, not because in our opinion it is a useful institution, and hence inferentially approved by God, but He has said in the Bible, and says in every man’s conscience, “Thou shalt not steal.” Mr. Austin’s theory does not prevent his teaching that “property jus in rem,” depends on “principles of utility.”377377Jurisprudence, vol. i. pp. 132, 382; vol. ii. pp. 1161.

4. Paley says also that “the real foundation of our right [to property] is the law of the land.” He admits, however, that the law may authorize the most flagitious injustice. He therefore makes a distinction between the words and the intention of the law; and adds: “With the law, we acknowledge, resides the disposal of property; so long, therefore, as we keep within the design and intention of a law, that law will justify us, as well in foro conscientiæ, as in foro humano, whatever be the equity or expediency of the law itself.”378378The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, book iii. part i. ch. iv.; edit. Boston, 1848, vol. i. pp. 87-89. The law of the land has indeed legitimately much to do with questions of property; but the right itself does not rest upon that law, and is, in the sight of God, independent of it. The right exists prior to all law of the state. The law cannot ignore that right. It cannot rightfully deprive a man of his property, except in punishment of crime, or on the ground of stringent necessity, and, in the latter case, with due compensation. Property, however, is not the creature of the law. No unjust law gives a title to property, valid in the sight of God; that is, a title which should satisfy a conscientious man in entering upon its possession and use. Even when the law is not unjust, it may work, not legal, but moral injustice. A will, for example, may clearly express the wishes and intention of a testator, but for some clerical or technical error be set aside and the property go to a person for whom it was not intended. Such person would have a legal, but not a morally valid title to the property. Good men are sometimes heard to say: “We will take all the law gives us;” in 424saying this, they do not apprehend the full meaning of their words; it amounts to saying that in matters of property they will make the law of the land, and not the law of God, the rule of their conduct.

5. It is a very common doctrine that the right of property is founded on common consent, or on the social compact. Men agree that each man may appropriate to himself a portion of what originally is common to all. But this consent only recognizes a right; it does not create it. If a man takes a glass of water from a stream common to all, it is of right his; and he has no need to appeal to any compact or consent to justify his appropriating it to himself. The question how a man acquires a right to property, and the nature of the right itself, as before remarked, are different questions, although intimately related.

6. Both are included in the common theory on the subject. If a man puts under culture a portion of unappropriated land, it is for the time being his, on the principle that a man owns himself, and therefore the fruits of his labour. Exclusive possession and use of the land in question are necessary to secure the man those fruits; he has, therefore, the right to the land as long as he uses it. If he abandons it, his right ceases. On the other hand, if his use is continued, so as to involve occupancy, his right of possession becomes permanent. It is on this principle men act in mining districts in unoccupied lands. Each man, the first comer, stakes out for himself a claim; this he works, or is entitled to keep to himself. If he abandons it and goes elsewhere, it ceases to be his. If he permanently occupies it, it is permanently his. The right of property is thus made to rest on occupancy and use; in other words, on labour. But even this, according to Blackstone, is not a natural right. “All property,” he says, “must cease upon death, considering men as absolute individuals, and unconnected with civil society: for then, by the principles before established, the next immediate occupant would acquire a right in all that the deceased possessed. But as, under civilized governments which are calculated for the peace of mankind, such a constitution would be productive of endless disturbances, universal law of almost every nation (which is a kind of secondary law of nature) has either given the dying person a power of continuing his property, by disposing of his possessions by will or, in case he neglects to dispose of it, or is not permitted to make any disposition at all, the municipal law of the country then steps 425in, and declares who shall be the successor, representative, or heir of the deceased; that is, who alone shall have a right to enter upon this vacant possession, in order to avoid that confusion which its becoming again common would occasion.” On the same page, speaking of the right of inheritance, he says: “We are apt to conceive at first view that it has nature on its side; yet we often mistake for nature what we find established by long and inveterate custom. It is a wise and effectual, but clearly a political establishment; since the permanent right of property, vested in the ancestor himself, was no natural, but merely a civil right.”379379Commentaries on the Laws of England, II. i. by Sir William Blackstone, Knt. 16th edit. London, 1825, vol. ii. p. 10. He had said before,380380Ibid. p. 7. “Necessity begat property; and in order to insure that property, recourse was had to civil society, which brought along with it a long train of inseparable concomitants; states, government, laws, punishments, and the public exercise of religions duties.” This seems to be inverting the natural order of things. Disregard of the moral law would result in endless evil, and there is an absolute necessity that its commands should be observed and enforced; but the obligation of the law does not rest on that necessity; it is altogether anterior and independent of it. So the right of property is anterior and independent of the necessity of its being held sacred, in order to secure the wellbeing of mankind. The fact is, that the right of property is analogous to the right of life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. It does not come from men; it is not given by man; and it cannot be ignored, or arbitrarily interfered with by man. It rests on the will of God as revealed in the constitution of our nature and in our relation to persons and things around us.

7. Stahl, the distinguished German jurist, gives substantially the following account of the matter. Man was formed out of the earth; but a divine spirit was breathed into him. He is, therefore, on the one hand, dependent on the material world; on the other, exalted above it. He is placed here as its lord and owner. The things of the outer world are given to him for the satisfaction of his physical wants, and of his spiritual necessities. He, therefore, has power and right over things external, and they must be permanently and securely under his control. This is the foundation of the right of property. Property is the means for the development of the individuality of the man. The manner in which it is acquired and used, reveals what the man is; his 426food, clothing, and habitation; his expenditures for sensual enjoyment, for objects of taste, of art, and of science, and for hospitality, benevolence, and the good of society; and the consecration of his acquisitions to the interests of a higher life, — these in their totality as they rest on the right of property, make out a man’s portrait. Property, however, is specially designed to enable a man to discharge his moral duties. Every man has duties of his own to perform; duties which belong to him alone, not to others, not to society; duties which arise out of his personal vocation and standing, especially such as belong to his own family. Therefore he must have what is exclusively his own. Property, therefore, is not intended for mere self-gratification or support; nor is it a mere objectless mastery over things external; it is the necessary means to enable a man to fulfil his divinely-appointed destiny. Herein lies the divine right of property!381381Die Philosophie des Rechts, Rechts- und Staatslehre, I. iii. 2, 1, § 22, 4th edit. Heidelberg, 1870, vol. ii. part 1, p. 350 f. The paragraph in the text is not a translation, but a condensation.

The right of property, therefore, is not founded on the law of the land, or on any explicit or implied contract among men; but upon the law of nature. It is true that natural, as distinguished from positive laws, have been differently explained. “As the science of ethics,” says Lord Mackenzie, “embraces the whole range of moral duties, its province is evidently much wider than that of jurisprudence, which treats only of those duties that can be enforced by external law.”382382Studies in Roman Law, with Comparative Views of the Laws of France, England, and Scotland, by Lord Mackenzie, one of the Judges of the Court of Session in Scotland, 2d edit. Edinburgh and London, 1865, p. 45. The duties, however, which can be thus enforced are of two kinds; those which arise from the natural, and those which arise from common or statute law. “By the law of nature,” says Chancellor Kent,383383Chancellor Kent, quoted by Lord Mackenzie. “I understand those fit and just rules of conduct which the Creator has prescribed to man as a dependent and social being, and which are to be ascertained from the deduction of right reason, though they may be more precisely known and more explicitly declared by divine revelation.” Cicero, teaches that God is the author of natural law, and that its duties are of unchangeable obligation. He says, “Nec erit alia lex Romæ, alia Athenis, alia nunc, alia posthac; sed et omnes gentes et omni tempore una lex et sempiterna et immutabilis continebit, unusque erit communis quasi magister et imperator omnium deus.384384De Republica, III. xxii. 33. 16. edit. Leipzig, 1850, p. 1193, a.


Lord Mackenzie gives the doctrine of Cicero the sanction of his own judgment: “Where,” he says, “the law of nature absolutely commands or forbids, it is immutable and of universal obligation, so that, although it may be confirmed, it cannot be controlled by human laws without a manifest violation of the divine will.”385385Studies in Roman Law, etc., p. 49.

In these days, when so many are disposed to throw off the authority of God, and regard marriage and property as mere creatures of the law, which may be regulated or ignored at the caprice or will of the people, it is well to remind them that there is a law higher than any law of man, enforced by the authority of God, which no man and no community can violate with impunity.

Although the right of property involves the right of absolute control, so that a man can do what he will with his own, it does not follow that this right is unlimited, or that the civil law has no legitimate control over the use or distribution of his property. A man has no right to use his knowledge or strength to the injury of his fellow-men; neither can he use his property so as to make it a public nuisance; nor can he devote it to any immoral or hurtful object; nor can he dispose of it by will so as to militate against the public policy. Of course, as different nations are organized on different principles, the laws regulating the use and distribution of property must also differ. Among the Hebrews the land of Canaan was originally distributed equitably among the several families. The head of the family had not the unrestricted control of what was thus given him. He could not finally alienate it. His sons, not his daughters, unless there were no sons, were his heirs. The first-born had a double portion. (Deut. xxi. 15 ff.) These limitations of the right of property were ordained by God, in order that the ends of the theocracy might be accomplished. God saw fit to render it impossible that any large portion of the land should be engrossed by one or by a few families. In England public policy has assumed that it is important to maintain a powerful order of nobility. To secure that end the laws of primogeniture and entail have been long in force, with the result that the greater part of the land in Great Britain is in the hands of comparatively few families. This unequal distribution of property has gone on rapidly increasing, so that Hugh Miller, when editor of the “Edinburgh Witness,” said that England was now like a pyramid poised on its apex. In France the right of a testator to dispose of his property is very much limited. “If any one die without issue or ascendants, he may leave his whole property to 428strangers; but if a man at his death has one lawful child, he can only so dispose of the half of his estate; if he leave two children, the third; and if he leave three or more children, the fourth.” In Scotland “if a man die without either wife or issue, his whole property is at his own disposal; if he leave a wife and issue, his goods or personal property are divided into three equal parts, one of which goes to his wife as jus relictæ, another to his children as legitim (i.e., legitima portio), and the third is at his own disposal; if he leave no wife, he may dispose of one half, and the other half goes to his children, and so e converso, if he leave no children, the wife is entitled to one half, and he may bequeath the other.”386386Lord Mackenzie, ut supra, p. 270. These facts are referred to simply as illustrations of the way in which the law, both divine and human, may limit the exercise of the right of property while the sacredness of that right, as higher than any human law, is fully recognized.

Community of Goods.

Community of goods does not necessarily involve the denial of the right of private property. When Ananias, having sold a possession, kept back part of the price, Peter said to him: “While it remained was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” (Acts v. 4.) Any number of men may agree to live in common, putting all their possessions and all the fruits of their labour into a common fund, from which each member is supplied according to his wants. This experiment was tried on a small scale and for a short time, by the early Christians in Jerusalem. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. . . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the Apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man as he had need.” (Acts iv. 32-35.) Some indeed say that these passages do not imply any actual community of goods. Having “all things common” is understood to mean, “No one regarded his possessions as belonging absolutely to himself, but as a trust for the benefit of others also.” This interpretation seems inconsistent with the whole narrative. Those who had possessions sold them. They renounced all control over what was once their own. The price was handed over to the Apostles and distributed by them or under their direction.


On the narrative as given in the Acts it may be remarked, —

1. That the conduct of these early Christians was purely spontaneous. They were not commanded by the Apostles to sell their possessions and to have all things in common. There is not the slightest intimation that the Apostles gave any encouragement to this movement. They seem simply to have permitted it. They allowed the people to act under the impulse of their own feelings, each one doing what he pleased with his own.

2. It can hardly be deemed unnatural that the early Christians were led into this experiment. To us the wonders of redemption are “the old, old story,” inexpressibly precious indeed, but it has lost the power of novelty. In those to whom it was new it may well have produced an ecstatic bewilderment, which led their judgment astray. There are two great truths involved in the Gospel, the clear perception of which may account for the determination of those early converts to have all things in common. The one is that all believers are one body in Christ Jesus; all united to Him by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; all equally partakers of his righteousness; all the objects of his love; and all destined to the same inheritance of glory. The other great truth is contained in the words of Christ, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” It was no wonder, then, that men whose minds were filled with these truths, were oblivious of mere prudential considerations.

3. This experiment, for all that appears, was confined to the Christians in Jerusalem, and was soon abandoned. We never hear of it elsewhere or afterwards. It has, therefore, no preceptive force.

4. The conditions of the success of this plan, on any large scale, cannot be found on earth. It supposes something near perfection in all embraced within the compass of its operation. It supposes that men will labour as assiduously without the stimulus of the desire to improve their condition and to secure the welfare of their families as with it. It supposes absolute disinterestedness on the part of the more wealthy, the stronger, or the more able members of the community. They must be willing to forego all personal advantages from their superior endowments. It supposes perfect integrity on the part of the distributors of the common fund, and a spirit of moderation and contentment in each member of the community, to be satisfied with what offers, and not he, may think to be his equitable share. We shall have to 430wait till the millennium before these conditions can be fulfilled. The attempt to introduce a general community of goods in the present state of the world, instead of elevating the poor, would reduce the whole mass of society to a common level of barbarism and poverty. The only secure basis of society is in those immutable principles of right and duty which God has revealed in his Word, and written upon the hearts of men. And these truths, even if acknowledged as matters of opinion, lose their authority and power if they cease to be regarded as revelations of the mind and will of God, to which human reason and human conduct must conform.

Communism and Socialism.

Heaven is not higher than “the lower parts of the earth,” than the principles and aims of the early Christians were exalted above those of the modern advocates of the community of goods. This idea is not of modern origin. It appears in different forms in all ages of the world. It entered into the scheme of Plato’s Republic, for in his view private property was the chief source of all social evils. It was included in the monasticism of the Middle Ages. Renunciation of the world included the renunciation of all property. Voluntary poverty was one of the vows of all monastic institutions. It was adopted by many of the mystical and fanatical sects which appeared before the Reformation, as the Beghards, and “Brethren of the Free Spirit,” who taught that the world should be restored to its paradisiacal state, and that all the distinctions created by law, whether of social organization, property, or marriage, should be done away. At the time of the Reformation the followers of Münzer adopted the same principles, and their efforts to carry them into practice led to the miseries of the “peasant-war.” All these movements were connected with fanatical religious doctrines. The leaders of these sects claimed to be inspired, and represented themselves as the organs and messengers of God.

Modern communism, on the contrary, so far as its general character is concerned, is materialistic and atheistic, and in some of its forms pantheistic.387387   Enfantin, a disciple of St. Simon, began one of his public discourses, delivered in Paris in 1831, with the words, “Dieu est tout ce qui est; Tout est in lui, tout est par lui, Nui de nous n’est hors de lui;” and Henri Heine called himself a Hegelian. On the other hand, one of St. Simon’s books is entitled Le nouveau Christianisme. See Guerike’s Kirchen-Geschichte, VII. D. § 220, 6th edit. Leipzig, 1846, vol. iii. p. 679, foot-notes. We are tempted to quote a single characteristic sentence from Guericke, ut supra, pp. 678-682:
   “Die originellste und selbständigste religiös-politische Secte der neuesten Zeit aber, von einem Manne gegründet, dem erst durch verunglückten, Selbstmord ‘der göttliche Mensch sich kund that’ (dem französischen Grafen Claude Henri St. Simon, geb. zu Paris 1760, gest. 19. Mai 1825), und sodann durch die Juli-Revolution 1830 erst in rechten Schwung gebracht, welche, als die Quintessenz des tief verderbten antichristischen Zeitgeistes, als die einzig ganz consequente unter allen widergöttlichen Richtungen der Zeit, Welt und Gott, Staat und Kirche, Fleisch und Geist, Diesseits and Jenseits, Böse and Gut, (auch Weib und Mann) sowohl wissenschaftlisch als praktisch unirte und identificirte, unbeschränkte vollständig organisirte Herrschaft des widergöttlichen Fleisches, ungebundenes systematisches Leben nur für diesseitige (die einzige) Welt, unbedingte Geltung eines consequenten politisch-religiösen Materialismus in glühender Beredtsamkeit predigte, und auf den Thron des heiligen Gottes den ‘reizenden’ Fürsten dieser Welt setzte, wollte nicht etwa eine christliche Parthei oder Secte, sondern die neue Welt-religion sein; und diese seligen ‘Menshen der Zukunft,’ so verschollen auch mit all ihrer abenteuerlich glänzenden Aeusserllchkeit sie wieder fur den Moment sind, — aber in einem ‘Jüngen-Deutschland,’ (zuerst 1834 and besonders 1835) sowie im vollkommen organisirten englischen Socialisten- und in den continentalischen Communisten-Vereinen, und nun nach modischerem Schnitt, verjüngt auch bereits wider erstanden, und in allerlei neuen Formen stets neu erstehend, — bahnten so einer fürchterlichen Weltepoche den grässlich ammuthigen Weg.” Unless the reader is somewhat accustomed to find his way through the mazes of Dr. Guerike’s sentences, he may experience some difficulty in threading the above labyrinth. It is, however, interesting, as characteristic of the man and of his book. One of his countrymen called his history a Strafpredigt.
This is consistent with the admission that 431some of its advocates, as St. Simon, Fourier, and others were sincere and benevolent men. Some of them, indeed, said that they only desired to carry out the principle of brotherly love so often inculcated by Christ. Communism and socialism are not properly convertible terms, although often used to designate the same system. The one has reference more especially to the principle of community in property; the latter to the mode of social organization. With Fourier, the former warn subordinate to the latter. He did not entirely deny the right of property, but insisted that society was badly organized. Instead of living in distinct families, each struggling for support and advancement, men should be gathered in large associations having common property, and all labouring for a common fund. That fund was to be distributed according to the capital contributed by each member, and according to the time and skill employed in the common service. Proudhon, immortalized by the book in which the question “What is property?” is answered by saying, “Property is theft,” makes the rule for the distribution of the common fund to be the time devoted to labour. Louis Blanc puts capital, labour, and skill out of consideration, and makes the wants of the individual the only rule of distribution. It is common to all these schemes that the right to property in land or its productions is denied. The two latter deny to a man all property in his own skill or talents; and the last, even in his labour, so that the idlest and least efficient member of society 432should, according to it, receive as much as the most industrious and useful.

The denial of the right of property is, to a great extent, connected with the rejection of religion and of marriage. Marriage, next to religion and property, was declared to be the greatest means of social misery. Children were not to belong to their parents, but to the state; inclination and enjoyment were to be the motive and the end and the rule of life.388388See Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, art. “Communismus und Socialismus.” Stahl’s Philosophie des Rechts, Rechts- und Staatslehre, I. iii. 2. 2. § 31-34; 4th edit. Heidelberg, 1870, vol. ii. part 1. pp. 367-376. Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, prepared by the Rev. John McClintock, D. D., and James Strong, S. T. D., New York, 1869, art. “Communism.” The Cyclopædias above referred to give copious references to the literature on this subject.

International Society.

France has been the birthplace and the principal seat of Communism in its modern form. The principles involved in the system have made wide progress in other countries, and leavened to a fearful extent the minds of the labouring classes both in Europe and in America. Organization and combination among the scattered millions said to be included in the membership of this society have given it an importance which has forced itself on the attention of almost all Christian states. What the principles and aims of this formidable body are, it is not easy satisfactorily to state. There has been no authoritative annunciation of principles recognized by all the affiliated societies. They differ, within certain limits, doubtless, among themselves. Some find their fit representatives in the Communists of Paris as they revealed themselves during the current year (1871). Others would shrink from the excesses which rendered the name of Communists an object of execration and abhorrence in all parts of the civilized world. Enough, however, is known of the designs of the society in question, to render it certain that its success would involve the overthrow of all existing governments; in placing all power in the hands, not of the people, but of a particular class, the operatives, the proletariat (the men without land); in the dissolution of society as at present organized; the abolition of private property; the extinction of the family; the abrogation of all marriage laws; and the proscription of religion, and especially of Christianity, as a public evil. Such are the avowed objects of some of the leaders of the movement, and such are the logical consequences of the principles advocated by the more reticent of their number.


It is a historical fact that Communism had its origin in its modern form in materialistic atheism; in the denial of God, who has the right to give laws to men, and the power and the purpose to enforce those laws by the retributions of justice; in the belief that the present life is the whole period of existence allotted to men, and that the enjoyments of this life are, therefore, all that men have to desire or expect. These principles had long been inculcated by such men as Rousseau, Voltaire, d’Holbach, Diderot, and others. To produce a conflagration, however, there must be not only fire, but combustible materials. These materialistic principles would have floated about as mere speculations, had there not been such a mass of suffering and degradation among the people. It was minds burdened with the consciousness of misery and the sense of injustice which were inflamed by the new doctrines, and which burst forth in a fire that for a time set all Europe in a blaze. We must not attribute all the evil either to the infidels or to the people. Had it not been for the preceding centuries of cruelty and oppression, France had not furnished such a bloody page to the history of modern Europe.

“L’Internationale” for March 27th, 1870, expressed succinctly the object of the International Society: “The rights of the working-men, that is our principle; the organization of the working-men, that is our means of action; social revolution, that is our end.” It is “working-men,” artisans, not the mass of the people, educated or uneducated; but a single class whose interests are to be regarded. It is not a political revolution, the change of one form of government for another, that is the end aimed at; but a social revolution, a complete upturning of the existing order of society.

As this institution is looming up with such portentous aspect in every direction, the question is, How is it to be met, and its influence counteracted? Open outbreaks may be suppressed by force, but the evil cannot be healed by any such means. Artillery is inefficient against opinions. If Communism, as organized in this society, owes its origin to the causes above specified, the rational method of procedure is, to correct or remove those causes. If Communism is the product of materialistic Atheism, its cure is to be found in Theism; in bringing the people to know and believe that there is a God on whom they are dependent and to whom they are responsible; in teaching them that this is not the only life, that the soul is immortal, and that men will be rewarded or punished in the world to come according to their character and 434conduct in the present life; that consequently well-being here is not the highest end of existence; that the poor here may hereafter be far more blessed than their rich neighbours; and that it is better to be Lazarus than Dives. It will be necessary to bring them to believe that there is a divine providence over the affairs of the world; that events are not determined by the blind operation of physical causes; but that God reigns; that He distributes to every one severally as He pleases; “that the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich;” that it is not the rich and the noble, but the poor and the lowly, that are his special favourites; and that the right of property, the right of marriage, the rights of parents and magistrates, are all ordained by God, and cannot be violated without incurring his displeasure and the certain infliction of divine punishment. To imbue the minds of the mass of the people, especially in great cities, will be a slow and difficult work; but it is absolutely necessary. If Materialism and Atheism are practically embraced by the mass of any community, it will inevitably perish. The religious training of the people, however, is only one half of the task which society has to accomplish, to secure its own existence and prosperity. The great body of the people must be rendered comfortable, or at least have the means of becoming so; and they must be treated with justice. Misery and a sense of wrong are the two great disturbing elements in the minds of the people. They are the slumbering fires which are ever ready to break out into destructive conflagration.

Violations of the Eighth Commandment.

It may well be doubted whether society is more in danger from the destructive principles of Communism, than from the secret or tolerated frauds which, to so great an extent, pervade almost all ate departments of social life. If this commandment forbids all unfair or unjust appropriation of the property of others to our own use or advantage, if every such appropriation is stealing in the sight of God, then theft is the most common of all the outward transgressions of the decalogue. It includes not merely vulgar theft such as the law can detect and punish, but, —

1. All false pretences in matters of business; representing an article proposed for purchase or exchange to be other and better than it is. This includes a multitude of sins. Articles produced at home are sold as foreign productions, and the price asked and given is determined by this fraudulent representation. Shawls of Paris are sold as Indian; wines manufactured in this country are 435sold as the productions of France, Portugal, or Madeira. It is said that more Champagne wine is drunk in Russia than is made in France. More cigars are consumed in this country, under the name of Havanas, than Cuba produces. A great part of the paper made in the United States bears the stamp of London or Bristol. This kind of fraud has scarcely any limit. It does not seem to disturb any man’s conscience. Worse than this is the selling things as sound and genuine, which in fact are spurious and often worthless. So wide-spread is fraud in matters of trade that it has become a legal maxim, “Let the buyer take care of himself.” He should expect to be cheated, and therefore is required to be always on his guard. It is not uncommon to hear men say to a clergyman, “If I were dealing with a man of business, I would of course try to cheat him; for I know he would try to cheat me. But as you are not a man of business, I make an exception in your case, and will deal honestly.”

Under this head of false pretences comes the adulteration of articles of food, of medicine, and of the materials for clothing. The extent to which this is carried is fearful. The English Parliament not long since appointed a commission to examine into the adulterations of articles of food sold by the green grocers in London. The result of the examination was that only six out of every hundred of the specimens collected were pure, i.e., were what they were represented or declared to be. There is no reason to suppose that London is peculiar or preeminent in this kind of fraud. The same complaint is made of the adulteration of drugs. This evil was so great that some governments have taken the preparation of medicine for their navies and armies into their own hands. If we are to believe the public papers, the greater part of the wines and other liquors, spirituous and malt, sold to the public, are not only adulterated but mixed with poisonous drugs. The clothing furnished soldiers in active service, exposed to all the severities, and changes of weather, was and often is, made of worthless materials. There would be no end to the enumeration of frauds of this kind. A prominent English journal recently said that the great part of the revenue of the British government was taken up in endeavouring to prevent and detect frauds against the public.

2. Another large class of violations of the eighth commandment comprises attempts to take undue advantage of the ignorance or of the necessities of our fellow-men. It is of the nature of theft if a man sells an article knowing it to be of less value 436than he to whom he offers it for sale takes it to be. If a man is aware that the credit of a bank is impaired, or that the affairs of a railroad, or of any other corporation, are embarrassed, and takes advantage of that knowledge, to dispose of the stock or notes of such corporations to those ignorant on the subject, demanding more for them than their actual worth, he is guilty of theft, if the command, “Thou shalt not steal,” forbids all unfair acquisition of the property of our neighbour. In like manner all unfair attempts to enhance or depress the value of articles of commerce, are violations of the law of God. Unfounded reports are often designedly circulated to have this enhancing or depressing effect on values, so that advantage may be taken of the unwary or uninformed. It is an offence of the same kind to engross commodities to enhance their price. “He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.” (Prov. xi. 26.) Again it is a violation of the law to take advantage of the necessities of our fellow-men and to demand an exorbitant price for what they may need. In the recent dreadful conflagration in Chicago a thousand dollars were demanded for the use of a horse and wagon for a single hour. It may be said that there is no fixed standard of value; that a thing may be worth what it costs the man who owns it; or what it is worth to the man who demands it; or what it will bring in open market. If an hour’s use of the horse and wagon was worth more to the man in Chicago than a thousand dollars, it may be said that it was not unfair to demand that sum. If this be so, then if a man perishing of thirst is willing to give his whole estate for a glass of water, it would be right to exact that price; or if a man in danger of drowning should offer a thousand dollars for a rope, we might refuse to throw it to him for a less reward. Such conduct every man feels would be worthy of execration. The fact is that things have an intrinsic value, however determined, which cannot be enhanced because our suffering fellow-men may be in pressing need of them.

3. This commandment forbids also depriving men of property, on the ground of any mere technical flaw, or legal defect in their title. Such defect may be the effect of unavoidable ignorance; or loss by shipwreck, fire, theft, or other so called accident, of the evidence of their right. The law may in such cases be inexorable: it may be on the whole right that it should be so, but nevertheless the man who avails himself of such defect to get possession or his neighbour’s property, breaks the command which says 437“Thou shalt not steal;” i.e., thou shalt not take what in the sight of God does not belong to you. Gambling falls under the same category where advantage is taken of the unwary or unskilful, to deprive them of their property without compensation. It is, however, impossible to enumerate or to classify the various methods of fraud. The code of morals held by many business and professional men is very far below the moral law as revealed in the Bible. This is especially true in reference to the eighth commandment in the decalogue. Many who have stood well in society, and even in the Church, will be astonished at the last day to find the word “Thieves” written after their names in the great book of judgment.

« Prev 12. The Eighth Commandment. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection