The Ten Commandments – VIII
The Eighth Commandment
Thou shalt not steal.
DURING THE TIME of slavery, a slave was preaching with great power. His master heard of it, and sent for him, and said:
“I understand you are preaching?”
“Yes,” said the slave. “Well, now,” said the master, “I will give you all the time you need, and I want you to prepare a sermon on the Ten Commandments, and to bear down especially on stealing, because there is a great deal of stealing on the plantation.”
The slave’s countenance fell at once. He said he wouldn’t like to do that; there wasn’t the warmth in that subject there was in others.
I have noticed that people are satisfied when you preach about the sins of the patriarchs, but they don’t like it when you touch upon the sins of today. That is coming too near home. But we need to have these old doctrines stated over and over again in our churches. Perhaps it is not necessary to speak here about the grosser violations of this eighth commandment, because the law of the land looks after these; but a man or woman can steal without cracking safes and picking pockets. Many a person who would shrink from taking what belongs to another person thinks nothing of stealing from the government or from large public corporations, such as street car companies. If you steal from a rich man it is as much a sin as stealing from a poor man. If you lie about the value of things you buy, are you not trying to defraud the storekeeper? “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth” (Pr 20:14).
On the other hand, many a person who would not steal himself, holds stock in companies that make dishonest profits; but “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished” (Pr 11:21).
A young man in our Bible Institute in Chicago got on the streetcar, and before the conductor came around to take the fare, they reached the Institute, and he jumped oh without paying his fare. In thinking over that act he said: “That was not just right. I had my ride, and I ought to pay the fare.”
He remembered the face of the conductor, and he went to the car barns and paid him the five cents.
“Well,” the conductor said, “you are a fool not to keep it.”
“No,” the young man said, “I am not. I got the ride, and I ought to have paid for it.”
“But it was my business to collect it.”
“No, it was my business to hand it to you.”
The conductor said, “I think you must belong to that Bible Institute.”
I have heard few things said of the Institute that pleased me so much as that one thing. Not long after that the conductor came to the Institute and asked the student to come to see him. A cottage meeting was started in his house; and not only himself but a number of others around there were converted as a result of that one act.
You can hardly take up a paper now without reading of some cashier of a bank who has become a defaulter, or of some large swindling operation that has ruined scores, or of some breach of trust, or fraudulent failure in business. These things are going on all over the land.
I would to God that we could have all gambling swept away. If Christian men take the right stand, they can check it and break it up in a great many places. It leads to stealing.
WHERE THE STREAM STARTS
The stream generally starts at home and in the school. Parents are woefully lax in their condemnation and punishment of the sin of stealing. The child begins by taking sugar, it may be. The mother makes light of it at first, and the child’s conscience is violated without any sense of wrong. By and by it is not an easy matter to check the habit, because it grows and multiplies with every new commission.
The value of the thing that is stolen has nothing to say to the guilt of the act. Two people were once arguing upon this point, and one said: “Well, you will not contend that a theft of a pin and of a dollar are the same to God?” “When you tell me the difference between the value of a pin and of a dollar to God,” said the other, “I will answer your question.”
The value or amount is not what is to be considered, but whether the act is right or wrong. Partial obedience is not enough: obedience must be entire. The little indulgences, the small transgressions are what drive religion out of the soul. They lay the foundation for the grosser sin. If you give way to little temptations, you will not be able to resist when great temptations come to you.
Extortioner, are you ready to step into the scales? What will you do with the condemnation of God– “Thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God” (Eze 22: 12)?
Employer, are you guilty of sweating your employees? Have you defrauded the hireling of his wages? Have you paid starvation wages? “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates (Deu 24:14). What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts (Is 3:15). Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth” (Ja 5:4).
And you, employee, have you been honest with your employer? Have you robbed him of his due by wasting your time when he was not looking? If God should summon you into His presence now, what would you say?
Let the merchant step into the scales. See if you will prove light when weighed against the law of God. Are you guilty of adulterating what you sell? Do you substitute inferior grades of goods? Are your advertisements deceptive? Are your cheap prices made possible by defrauding your customers either in quantity or in quality? Do you teach your clerks to put a French or an English tag on domestic manufactures, and then sell them as imported goods? Do you tell them to say that the goods are all wool when you know they are half cotton? Do you give short weight or measure? See what God says in His Word: “Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?” (Mic 611; “Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small: thou shalt not have in thy house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Deu 25:13-16).
“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in mete yard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah and a just hin, shall ye have” (Lev 19:35-36). Are you like those who said: “When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheatl (Amos 8:5-6).
“Show me a people whose trade is dishonest,” said Froude, “and I will show you a people whose religion is a sham.” Unless your religion can keep you honest in your business, it isn’t worth much; it isn’t the right kind. God is a God of righteousness, and no true follower of His can swerve one inch to the right or left without disobeying Him.
STOLEN GOODS A BURDEN
I heard of a boy who stole a cannonball from a navy yard. He watched his opportunity, sneaked into the yard, and secured it. But when he had it, he hardly knew what to do with it. It was heavy, and too large to conceal in his pocket, so he had to put it under his hat. When he got home with it, he dared not show it to his parents, because it would have led at once to his detection. He said in after years it was the last thing he ever stole.
The story is told that one of Queen Victoria’s diamonds valued at six-hundred thousand dollars was stolen from a jeweler’s window, to whom it had been given to set. A few months afterward a miserable man died a miserable death in a poor lodging-house. In his pocket was found the diamond and a letter telling how he had not dared to sell it lest it lead to his discovery and imprisonment. It never brought him anything but anxiety and pain.
Everything you steal is a curse to you in that way. The sin overreaches itself. A man who takes money that does not belong to him never gets any lasting comfort. He has no real pleasure, for he has a guilty conscience. He cannot look an honest man in the face. He loses peace of mind here, and all hope of heaven hereafter. “As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth 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). “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such” (1 Th 4:6).
I may be speaking to some clerk who perhaps took five cents today out of his employer’s drawer to buy a cigar; perhaps he took ten cents to get a shave, and thinks he will put it back tomorrow–no one will ever know it. If you have taken a cent, you are a thief. Do you ever think how those little stealings may bring you to ruin? Let your employer find it out. If he doesn’t take you into court, he will discharge you. Your hopes will be blasted, and it will be hard work to get up again. Whatever condition you are in, do not take a cent that does not belong to you. Rather than steal, go up to heaven in poverty–go up to heaven from the poorhouse. Be honest rather than go through the world in a gilded chariot of stolen riches.
If you have ever taken money dishonestly, you need not pray God to forgive you and fill you with the Holy Ghost until you make restitution. If you have not got the money now to pay back, will to do it, and God accepts the willing mind.
Many a man is kept in darkness and unrest because he fails to obey God on this point. If the plough has gone deep, if the repentance is true, it will bring forth fruit. What use is there in my coming to God until I am willing to make it good, like Zacchaeus, if I have done any man wrong or have taken anything from him falsely? “If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him” (Eze 33:15-16). Confession and restitution are the steps that lead up to forgiveness. Until you tread those steps, you may expect your conscience to be troubled, your sin to haunt you.
I was preaching in British Columbia some years ago, and a young man came to me and wanted to become a Christian. He had been smuggling opium into the States.
“Well, my friend,” I said, “I don’t think there is any chance for you to become a Christian until you make restitution.” He said, “If I attempt to do that, I will fall into the clutches of the law, and I will go to the penitentiary.” “Well,” I replied, “you had better do that than go to the judgment-seat of God with that sin upon your soul, and have eternal punishment. The Lord will be very merciful if you set your face to do right.”
He went away sorrowful, but came back the next day, and said: “I have a young wife and child, and all the furniture in my house I have bought with money I have got in this dishonest way. If I become a Christian, that furniture will have to go, and my wife will know it.” “Better let your wife know it, and better let your home and furniture go.” “Would you come up and see my wife?” he asked, “I don’t know what she will say.”
I went up to see her, and when I told her, the tears trickled down her cheeks, and she said: “Mr. Moody, I will gladly give everything if my husband can become a true Christian.”
She took out her pocketbook, and handed over her last penny. He had a piece of land in the United States, which he deeded over to the government. I do not know in all my backward track of any living man who has had a better testimony for Jesus Christ than that man. He had been dishonest, but when the truth came to him that he must make it right before God would help him, he made it right and then God used him wonderfully.
No amount of weeping over sin and saying that you feel sorry is going to help it unless you are willing to confess, and make restitution.