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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 verses 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 two-fold; it may be, either by withholding what is our neighbour's, or, by taking it
The dishonesty of withholding what is our neighbour's.
There are many ways in which persons may unjustly usurp their neighbour's property, by withholding what is his due, but I shall particularize only two things.
1. The unfaithfulness of men in not fulfilling their engagements. Ordinarily when men promise any thing to their neighbour, or enter into engagements by undertaking any business with which their neighbour entrusts them, their engagements invest their neighbour with a right to that which is engaged; so that if they withhold it, they usurp that which belongs to their neighbour. So, when men break their promises, because they find them to be inconvenient, and they cannot fulfil them without difficulty and trouble; or merely because they have altered their minds since they promised; they think they have not consulted their own interest in the promise which they have made, and that if they had considered the matter as much before they promised as they have since, they should not have promised. Therefore they take the liberty to set their own promises aside. Besides, sometimes persons violate this command, by neglecting to fulfil their engagements, through a careless, negligent spirit.
They violate this command, in withholding what belongs to their neighbour, when they are not faithful in any business which they have undertaken to do for their neighbour. If their neighbour have hired them to labour for him for a certain time, and they be not careful well to husband the time; if they be hired to a day's labour, and be not careful to improve the day, as they have reason to think that he who hired justly expected of them; or if they be hired to accomplish such a piece of work, and be not careful to do it well, do it not as if it were for themselves, or as they would have others do for them, when they in like manner betrust them with any business of theirs; or if they be entrusted with any particular affair, which they undertake, but use not that care, contrivance, and diligence, to manage it so as will be to the advantage of him who entrusts them, and as they would manage it, or would insist that it should be managed, if the affair were their own: in all these cases they unjustly withhold what belongs to their neighbour.
2. Another way in which men unjustly withhold what is their neighbour's, is in neglecting to pay their debts. Sometimes this happens, because they run so far into debt that they cannot reasonably hope to be able to pay their debts; and this they do, either through pride and affectation of living above their circumstances: or through a grasping covetous disposition or some other corrupt principle. Sometimes they neglect to pay their debts from carelessness of spirit about it, little concerning themselves whether they are paid or not, taking no care to go to their creditor, or to send to him; and if they see him from time to time, they say nothing about their debts. Sometimes they neglect to pay their debts, because it would put them to some inconvenience. The reason why they do it not, is not because they cannot do it, but because they cannot
do it so conveniently as they desire; and so they rather choose to put their creditor to inconvenience by being without what properly belongs to him, than to put themselves to inconvenience by being without what doth not belong to them, and what they have no right to detain. In any of these cases they unjustly usurp the property of their neighbour.
Sometimes persons have that by them with which they could pay their debts if they would; but they want to lay out their money for something else, to buy gay clothing for their children, or to advance their estates, or for some such end. They have other designs in hand, which must fail, if they pay their debts. When men thus withhold what is due, they unjustly usurp what is not their own. Sometimes they neglect to pay their debts, and their excuse for it is, that their creditor doth not need it; that he hath a plentiful estate, and can well bear to lay out of his money. But if the creditor be ever so rich, that gives no right to the debtor to withhold from him that which belongs to him. If it be due, it ought to be paid for that is the very notion of its being due. It is no more lawful to withhold from a man what is his due, without his consent, because he is rich and able to do without it, than it is lawful to steal from a man because he is rich and able to bear the loss.
The dishonesty of unjustly taking a neighbour's properly.
The principal ways of doing this seem to be these four, by negligence, by fraud, by violence, or by stealing, strictly so called.
1. The first way of unjustly depriving our neighbour of that which is his, is by negligence, by carelessly neglecting that which is expected by neighbours one of another. and is necessary to prevent our neighbour's suffering in his estate by us, or by any thing that is ours: and necessary in order that neighbours may live one by another, without suffering in their lawful interests, rights, and possessions, one by another.
For instance, when proper care is not taken by men to prevent their neighbour's suffering in the produce of his fields or inclosures, from their cattle, or other brute creatures; which may be either through negligence with regard to their creatures themselves, in keeping those that are unruly, and giving them their liberty, though they know that they are not fit to have their liberty, and are commonly wont to break into their neighbour's inclosures, greatly to his damage; or through a
neglect of that which is justly expected of them, to defend others' fields from suffering by the neighbourhood of their own. In such cases men are guilty of unjustly taking from their neighbour what is his property.
It is said in the law of Moses, (Exod. xxii. 5,) "If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his vineyard, shall he make restitution." Now a man may be unjustly the cause of his neighbour's field or vineyard being eaten, either by putting in his beast, or so doing what he should not do; or by neglecting to do what he should do, to prevent his beast from getting into his field. What is said in the 144th Psalm, and two last verses, supposes that a people who carry themselves as becomes a people whose God is the Lord, will take thorough care that beasts do not break into their neighbour's inclosures: "That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, or going out; that there be no complaining in our streets. Happy is that people that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord."
2. Taking away that which is our neighbour's by fraud, or by deceiving him, is another mode of usurping our neighbour's property. This is the case when men in their dealings take advantage of their neighbour's ignorance, or oversight, or mistake, to get something from him; or when they make their gains, by concealing the defects of what they sell, putting off bad for good, though this be not done by speaking falsely, but only by keeping silence; or when they take a higher price than what they sell is really worth, and more than they could get for it if the concealed defects were known : or when they sell that for good, which indeed is not merchantable, which is condemned in Amos viii. 6. "Yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat."
If a man puts off something to another with defects that are concealed, knowing that the other receives it as good, and pays such a price for it, under a notion of its having no remarkable defect but what he sees, and takes the price which the buyer under that notion offers; the seller knows that he takes a price of the buyer for that which the buyer had not of him; for the buyer is deceived, and pays for those things which he finds wanting in what he buys. It is just the same thing, as if a man should take a payment that another offers him, through a mistake, for that which he never had of him, thinking that he had it of him, when he had it not.
So a man fraudulently takes away that which is his neighbour's when he gets his money from him by falsely commending what he hath to sell, above what he knows to be the true quality of it; and attributes those good qualities to it VOL. VI.
which he knows it has not: or if he does not that, yet sets forth the good qualities in a degree beyond what he knows to be the true degree; or speaks of the defects and ill qualities of what he has to sell, as if they were much less than he knows they are; or, on the contrary, when the buyer will cry down what he is about to buy, contrary to his real opinion of the value of it. These things, however common they may be in men's dealings one with another, are nothing short of iniquity, and fraud, and a great breach of this commandment, upon which we are discoursing. Prov. xx. 14. "It is nought, it is nought, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth."-Many other ways there are whereby men deceive one another in their trading, and whereby they fraudulently and unjustly take away that which is their neighbour's.
3. Another mode of unjustly invading and taking away our neighbour's property, is by violence. This violence may be done in different degrees.-Men may take away their neighbour's goods either by mere open violence, either making use of superior strength, forcibly taking away any thing that is his; or by express or implicit threatenings forcing him to yield up what he has into their hands; as is done in open robbery and piracy. Or, by making use of some advantages which they have over their neighbour, in their dealings with him, constrain him to yield to their gaining unreasonably of him; as when they take advantage of their neighbour's poverty to extort unreasonably from him for those things that he is under a necessity of procuring for himself or family. This is an oppression against which God hath shown a great displeasure in his word. Levit. xxv. 14. "And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour, ye shall not oppress one another." Prov. xxii. 22, 23. "Rob not the poor, because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them." And, Amos iv. 1, 2. "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mount of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy; the Lord hath sworn in his holiness, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fish-hooks."
When the necessity of poor indigent people is the very thing whence others take occasion to raise the price of provisions, even above the market; this is such an oppression. There are many poor people whose families are in such necessity of bread, that they in their extremity will give almost any price for it, rather than go without it. Those who have to sell, though hereby they have an advantage in their hands, yet surely should not take the advantage to raise the price of provisions. We should doubtless think that we had just cause to complain, if we were in such necessity as they are, and