By Adam Clarke
THE giving of the law on Mount Sinai was
the most solemn transaction which ever took place between God and
man: and, therefore, it is introduced in the most solemn manner. In
the morning of that day in which this law was given, (which many
learned chronologists suppose to have been May 30, in the year of
the world 2513, before the incarnation 1491, that day being the
pentecost,) the presence of Jehovah became manifest by thunders and
lightnings,—a dense cloud on the mountain,—and a terrific blast of a
trumpet,—so that the whole assembly were struck with terror and
dismay. Shortly after, the whole mount appeared on fire; columns of
smoke arose from it as the smoke of a furnace; and an earthquake
shook it from top to base; the trumpet continued to sound, and the
blast grew longer, and louder and louder. Then Jehovah, the
sovereign Lawgiver, came down upon the mount, and called Moses to
ascend to the top, where, previously to his delivering this law, he
gave him directions concerning the sanctification of the people.
There are two points of view under which this law of God appears both singular and important:
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT.
Against mental and theoretical idolatry.— We must not attempt to form conceptions of the supreme Being as if confined to form, to any kind of limits, to any particular space or place. As Jehovah, he is in every respect inconceivable: no mind can grasp him; he is an infinite Spirit; equally in every place, and in all points of duration.
The divine Being we must sanctify in our hearts:—that is, we must separate all transitory, material, and, particularly, earthly things, from the notion we form of him.
This commandment also forbids all inordinate attachment to earthly and sensible things:—that is, things that are the objects of our senses, and for the possession of which our appetites and affections are intensely occupied.
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT.
Against making and worshipping images— Image worship is a positive breach of this command. It attempts to humanize God, and fills the miserable idolater with the opinion that God is like to himself, if not altogether so: and image worshippers in general have no other idea of God than that of a gigantic man, of amazing dimensions, of vast strength, wisdom, and skill;—no other kind of being having any such strength or wisdom, thence, among the Roman Catholics, God is represented as a very grave, venerable old man, with a triple crown, (which, however, their popes borrow,) to signify his sovereignty over heaven, earth, and hell; angels, men, and devils, being subject to him. All these, as well as the triple crown, their symbol, have the popes of Rome, by their doctrines, traditions, and pretensions, arrogated to themselves. They have the keys of both worlds; they open, and no man shutteth; they shut, and no man openeth! It is a matter of the highest astonishment that the blasphemous pretensions of these individuals should have been acknowledged, and conceded to them, for so long a time, by all the powers of Europe! They have raised up and put down emperors and kings at pleasure; have absolved, as in a moment, all their officers and subjects from the most solemn oaths of allegiance, and their obligations of obedience:—and for all this, they have given them indulgences, purgatory, transubstantiation, image worship, worship of the Virgin Mary, as queen of heaven; saints and angels as mediators and intercessors; prayers for the dead, and uncertain and contradictory traditions in place of the Bible! All these must be received on their authority; and he who disputes their authenticity is a heretic: that is, one that the Church of Rome orders to be burned alive: and those who reject their authority incur the divine displeasure, and, if not reconciled to them and their church, shall be banished from the presence of God, and the glory of his power, to all eternity! What blasphemous pretensions! what gross idolatry!
This commandment is also directed against the idolatry of Egypt and against all idolatry, whether found among the savage tribes in North America; the worshippers of the visible heavens in China; the devotees of Brahma, Siva, and Mahadeo in Hindostan; the followers of Budhoo in Ceylon, and Java, and Ava; or the corrupt Christians in the Church of Rome.
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT.
Against false swearing, blasphemy, and irreverent use of the name of God.—This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all common swearing, where the name of God is used, or where he is appealed to as a witness of the truth. It also necessarily forbids all light and irreverent mention of God, or any of his attributes; and we may safely add, that every prayer, ejaculation, and supplication, that is not accompanied with deep reverence, and the genuine spirit of piety, is here condemned also. So, also, is the wicked mode of turning the name of God, of the throne of his glory, into interjections, and words to express surprise, wonder, amazement, &c.: as, "O God! OLord! Oheavens! Good God! Omy God!" &c., &c.; when it is evident, from the character of the persons, their habits, the nature of the circumstances in which they then were, that their souls were as truly without the fear of God as their tongues were without respect to the company or reverence of their Maker.
But the command may be and is broken in thousands of instances, in the prayers, whether read or offered extempore, of inconsiderate, bold, and presumptuous worshippers. Were every blasphemer among us to be stoned to death, how many of the people would fall in every corner of the land! God is long suffering; may this lead them to repentance! We have excellent laws against all profaneness, but alas for our country! they are not enforced; and he who attempts to put the laws in force against profane swearers, &c., is considered a litigious man, and a disturber of the peace of society. Will not God visit for these things? This is not only contempt of God's holy word and commandments, but rebellion against the law.
A common swearer is constantly perjuring himself. Such a person should never be trusted.
The best way is to have as little to do as possible with oaths. An oath will not bind a knave or a liar; and an honest man needs none, for his character and conduct swear for him.
He who uses any oath except what he is solemnly called by the magistrate to make, so far from being a Christian, does not deserve the reputation either of decency or common sense.
THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT.
Against profanation of the Sabbath, and idleness on the other days of the week.—
"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." As this was the most ancient institution, God calls upon them to remember it. As if he had said, "Do not forget that when I had finished the creation of the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, I instituted the Sabbath; and remember why I did so, and for what purposes."
The word shabath signifies "he rested," and hence shabath, or "sabbath," the seventh day, or the day of rest, or rest simply. "In six days God created the heavens and the earth, and rested," that is, ceased to create, "on the seventh day;" and has consecrated it as a day of rest for man; rest to the body from labour and toil; and rest to the soul from all worldly cares and anxieties. He who labours with his mind on the Sabbath day is as culpable as he who labours with his hands in his ordinary calling. It is by the authority of God, that the Sabbath is set apart for rest and religious purposes, as the six days of the week are appointed for labour. How wise is this provision! How gracious this command! It is essentially necessary not only to the body of man, but to all the animals employed in his service. Take this away, and the labour is too great; both man and beast would fail under it. Without this consecrated day, religion itself would fail; and the human mind, becoming sensualized, would soon forget its origin and end.
Even as a political regulation, it is one of the wisest and most beneficent in its effects of any ever instituted. Those who habitually disregard its moral obligation are to a man not only good for nothing, but are wretched in themselves, a curse to society, and often end their lives miserably. The idler is next to the Sabbath- breaker. As God has formed both the body and mind of man on principles of activity, so he designed him proper employment: and it is his decree, that the mind shall improve by exercise, and the body find increase of vigour and health in honest labour. He who idles away his time on the six days is equally culpable in the sight of God as he who works on the seventh. The idle person is ordinarily clothed in rags; and it has ever been remarked in all Christian countries that Sabbath-breakers generally come to an ignominious death.
The appointment of the Sabbath is the first command ever given to man: and that the sanctification of it was of great consequence in the sight of God, we may learn from the various repetitions of this law; and we may observe that it has still for its object not only the benefit of the soul, but the health and comfort of the body also.
Because this commandment has not been particularly mentioned in the New Testament, as a moral precept binding on all, therefore some have presumptuously inferred that there is no Sabbath under the Christian dispensation.
Were there none, Christianity itself would soon become extinct, and religion would soon have an end. But why is not the moral obligation of it insisted on by our Lord and the apostles? They have sufficiently insisted on it; they all kept it sacred, and so invariably did all the primitive Christians; though some observed the last day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath, instead of the first day, in commemoration not only of God's resting from his work of creation, but also of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. But to insist on the necessity of observing it was not requisite, because none doubted of its moral obligation; the question itself had never been disturbed; not so with circumcision and other Mosaic rites. The truth is, it is considered as a type—all types are of full force till the things signified by them take place:—but the thing signified by the Sabbath is that rest in glory which remains for the people of God; and in this light it evidently appears to have been considered by the apostle, Heb. iv. As, therefore, the antitype remains, the moral obligation of the Sabbath must continue till time be swallowed up in eternity. The world was never without a Sabbath, and never will be. And there is scarcely a people on the face of the earth, whether civilized or uncivilized, that has not agreed in the propriety of having a Sabbath, or something analogous to it; but it has been objected that the Sabbath could be only of partial obligation, and affect those only whose day and night were divisible into twenty-four hours; and would never be intended to apply to the inhabitants of either of the polar regions, where their days and nights alternately consist of several months each. This objection is very slight. The object of the divine Being is evidently to cause men to apply the seventh part of time to rest; and this may be as easily done at Spitzbergen as at any place under the equator. Nor is it of particular consequence when a nation or people may begin their Sabbath observances;—whether it fall in with our, or the Jewish, or even the Mohammedan Sabbath, provided they continue regular in the observance, and hallow to religious uses this seventh part of time.
In his mercy the divine Being has limited our labour to six days out of seven. In order to destroy the institution of God, the "French National Assembly" divided time into decades, and ordered every tenth day to be kept as a day of relaxation, dissipation, and merriment. The offended God wrought no miracle to bring back his institution; but, in the course of his providence, he annihilated them and their devices, and restored the Sabbath, in spite of legislative enactments to the contrary; and the people, bad as they were, rejoiced to be put in possession of the Sabbath which God had consecrated to rest and religious uses from the foundation of the world.
But let us remember, as before noted, that while we rest on the Sabbath we do not idle away the other six days. The Lord commands, "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work," Exod. xx, 9. Therefore, it has been justly observed that he who idles away time on the six days is equally guilty before God as he who does his ordinary work on the Sabbath. An idle person, though able to discourse like an angel, or pray like an apostle, cannot be a Christian; all such are hypocrites and deceivers; the true members of the church of Christ walk, work, and labour.
No work should be done on the Sabbath that can be done on the preceding day, or can be deferred to the ensuing week. Works of absolute necessity and mercy are alone excepted. He who works by his servants or cattle is equally guilty as if he worked himself; for God has commanded that both the cattle and the male and female servants shall rest also. Yea, the slave himself is included; for so the original word often signifies. But in what a state of moral depravity must those slave-holders be, who reduce their slaves to such a state of wretchedness that they allow them only the Sabbath day to cultivate those grounds from which they are to derive their subsistence; having no food allowed them but what they are able to bring out of the earth on that day in which the supreme Lord has commanded their masters to give them rest, and to require no manner of labour from them. Such enemies to God must expect no common judgment from the justice of the Most High, whatsoever countries they may inhabit.
Where men are unmerciful to their own species, no wonder that they have no feeling for the beasts that perish. Hiring out horses, &c., for pleasure or business, going on journeys, paying worldly visits, or taking jaunts on the Lord's day, are breaches of this law. "Doth God care for oxen?" Yes, and he mentions them with tenderness: "that thine ox and thine ass may rest." How criminal to employ the labouring cattle on the Sabbath, as well as on the other days of the week! In stage coaches, and on canals, horses are in continual labour. In general there is no Sabbath observed by the proprietors of those vehicles. Yet so tender and scrupulous are some proprietors, that they will not, on any account, do any of these things themselves; but they can be shareholders in stage coaches, wagons, canal boats, &c., &c., where the Sabbath is constantly profaned, and from which they derive an annual profit! Good souls! ye would not do these things yourselves; you only hire other persons to do them, and you live by the profit! Take heed that you enter all these things punctually in your leger, for the day is at hand in which you must render a strict account. More cattle are destroyed in England than in any other part of the world, in proportion, by continual labour. The noble horse in general has no Sabbath. Does God look on this with an indifferent eye? Surely he does not. "England," said a foreigner, "is the paradise of women, the purgatory of servants and the hell of horses."
On this head, I conclude with, Reader, remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day: thou needest the rest of it for thy body; and the religious ordinances of it for thy soul. God has hallowed it for these purposes: observe it as thou oughtest, and it will bring health to thy body, and peace to thy mind. So be it! Amen.
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT.
See the chapter PARENTS AND CHILDREN.
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT.
Against murder and cruelty.— God is the Fountain and Author of life. No creature can give life to another: an archangel cannot give life to an angel; an angel cannot give life to man; man cannot give life even to the meanest of the brute creation. As God alone gives life, so he alone has the right to take it away; and he who, without the authority of God, takes away life, is properly a murderer. This commandment, which is general, prohibits murder of every kind:—
All actions by which the life of our fellow creatures may be suddenly taken away or abridged.
All wars for extending empire, commerce, &c.
All sanguinary laws, by the operation of which the lives of men may be taken away for offences of comparatively trifling demerit.
All bad dispositions which lead men to wish evil to, or meditate mischief against, each other; for the Scripture says, "He that hateth his brother in his heart is a murderer."
All want of charity and humanity to the helpless and distressed; for he who has it in his power to save the life of another, by a timely application of succour, food, raiment, medicine, &c., and does not do it, and the life of the person either falls or is abridged on this account, he is in the sight of God a murderer. He who neglects to save life is, according to an incontrovertible maxim in law, the same as he who takes it away.
All who, by immoderate and superstitious fastings, macerations of the body, and wilful neglect of health, destroy or abridge life, are murderers; whatever a false religion and ignorant superstitious priests may say of them, God will not have murder for sacrifice.
All duellists are murderers, almost the worst of murderers; each meets the other with the design of killing him. He who shoots his antagonist dead is a murderer; he who is shot is a murderer also. The surviver should be hanged; the slain should be buried at a crossway, and the hanged murderer laid by his side. All who put an end to their own lives by hemp, steel, poison, drowning, &c., are murderers, whatever coroners' inquests may say of them; unless it be clearly proved that the deceased was radically insane.
All who are addicted to riot and excess, to drunkenness and gluttony, to extravagant pleasures, to inactivity and slothfulness; in short and in sum, all who are influenced by indolence, intemperance, and disorderly passions, by which life is prostrated and abridged, are murderers.
A man who is full of fierce and furious passions, who has no command of his own temper, may in a moment destroy the life even of his friend, his wife, or his child. All such fell and ferocious men are murderers; they ever carry about with them the murderous propensity, and are not praying to God to subdue and destroy it.
A vindictive man excludes himself from all hope of eternal life, and himself seals his own damnation.
Malice and envy are never idle, they incessantly hunt the person they intend to make their prey.
Reader, hast thou a child or servant who has offended thee, and humbly asks forgiveness? Hast thou a debtor or a tenant who is insolvent, and asks for a little longer time? And hast thou not forgiven that child or servant? Hast thou not given time to that debtor or tenant? How, then, canst thou ever expect to see the face of the just and merciful God? Thy child is banished or kept at a distance; thy debtor is cast into prison, or thy tenant sold up; yet the child offered to fall at thy feet; and the debtor or tenant, utterly insolvent, prayed for a little longer time, hoping God would enable him to pay thee all; but to these things thy stony heart and seared conscience paid no regard! Omonster of ingratitude! Scandal to human nature, and reproach to God! If thou canst, go hide thyself, even in hell, from the face of the Lord!
THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT.
Against adultery, fornication, and uncleanness.— One principal part of the criminality of adultery consists in its injustice:—l. It robs a man of his right, by depriving him of the affection of his wife; 2. It does him a wrong, by fathering on him, and obliging him to maintain as his own, a spurious offspring, a child which is not his. The act itself, and every thing leading to the act, are here prohibited; and also fornication, as well as all impure books, songs, paintings, &c., which tend to inflame and debauch the mind.
THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT.
Against stealing and dishonesty.— All rapine and theft are here forbidden; as well national and commercial wrongs, as petty larceny, highway robberies, house- breaking, private stealing, knavery, cheating, and frauds of every kind: also, the taking advantage of a buyer's or seller's ignorance, to give the one less, and make the other pay more for a commodity than it is worth, is a breach of this sacred law. All withholding of rights, and doing of wrongs, are against the spirit of it.
But the word is principally applicable to clandestine stealing; though it may undoubtedly include all political injustice and private wrongs: and, consequently, all kidnapping, crimping, and slave-dealing are prohibited here, whether practised by individuals, the state, or its colonies. I greatly doubt whether the impress service stands clear here. Crimes are not lessened in their demerit by the number or political importance of those who commit them. A state that enacts bad laws is as criminal before God as the individual who breaks good ones.
Stealing, overreaching, defrauding, purloining, &c., are consistent with no kind of religion that acknowledges the true God. If Christianity does not make men honest, it does nothing for them. Those who are not saved from dishonesty, fear not God, though they may dread man.
No man, from what is called a principle of charity or generosity, should give that in alms which belongs to his creditors. Generosity is godlike; but justice has ever, both in law and gospel, the first claim.
I have known many decent, respectable people, who feared a lie and trembled at an oath, who, when brought either by failure of trade, sudden fall of some article of commerce, speculation in business, through the hope of what they considered honest gain, by which they might be enabled to pay every man his due,—were led to forge bills—borrow money—impose upon even their own relations—cover one bad bill with another as bad, hoping that ere the time of payment they might, by the speculations or promises that were still in abeyance, be able to pay every one his due. Reader, if thou be a man in business or trade, and art about to he straitened in thy circumstances, pray most fervently to God that thou mayest not fall into abject poverty, lest thou complete thy wretchedness by lying, cheating, false promising, false swearing, and other dirty acts; by which many, once respectable, honest, and upright, have been drowned in destruction of property, and perdition of character and life; and so the Lord have mercy on thy soul!
Among all thieves and knaves, he is the most execrable who endeavours to rob another of his character, that he may enhance his own; lessening his neighbour, that he may aggrandize himself. This is that pest of society who is full of kind assertions tagged with buts. "He is a good kind of man; but —every bean has its black! Such a one is very friendly; but— it is in his own way! My neighbour N. can be very liberal; but —you must catch him in the humour." Persons like these speak well of their neighbours, merely that they may have the opportunity to neutralize all their commendations, and make them suspected whose character stood deservedly fair, before the traducer began to pilfer his property. He who repents not for these injuries, and does not make restoration, if possible, to his defrauded neighbour, will hear, when God comes to take away his soul, these words, more terrible than the knell of death: "Thou shalt not steal."
A man, for instance, of a good character, is reported to have done something evil; the tale is spread, and the slanderers, whisperers, and backbiters carry it about: and thus the man is stripped of his fair character, of his clothing of righteousness, truth, and honesty. And yet the whole report may be false; or the person, in an hour of the power of darkness, may have been tempted and overcome; may have been wounded in the cloudy and dark day; and now deeply mourns his fall before God! Who that has not the heart of a demon would not strive rather to cover than to make bare the fault in such circumstances! Those who, as the proverb says, "Feed like the flies, passing over all a man's whole parts to light upon his sores," will take up the tale and carry it about. Such, in the course of their diabolic work, carry the story of scandal, among others, to the righteous man; to him who loves his God and his neighbour: but what reception has the tale-bearer? The good man taketh it not up, he will not bear it; it shall not be propagated by or from him. He cannot prevent the detracter from laying it down; but it is in his power not to take it up; and thus the progress of the slander may be arrested. "He taketh not up a reproach against his neighbour; and, by this means, the tale-bearer may be discouraged from bearing it to another door. If there were no takers up of defamation, there would be fewer detracters in the land. If there were no receivers of stolen goods, there would be no thieves. And hence another proverb, founded on the justest principle,
"The receiver is as bad as the thief." And is not the whisperer, the backbiter, and the tale-bearer the worst of thieves? robbing not only individuals, but whole families, of their reputation! scattering firebrands, arrows, and death! Yes, they are the worst of felons. O, how many a fair fame has been tarnished by this most Satanic practice! But, bad as the accidental retailer of calumny is, he who makes it his business to go about to collect stories of scandal, and who endeavours to have vouchers for his calumnies, is yet worse; whether the stories be true or false, whether they make the simple relation, or exaggerate the fact,—whether they present a simple lens, through which to view the character they exhibit, or an anamorphosis by which every feature is distorted, so that, in a monstrosity of appearance, every trait or similitude of goodness is lost: and then the reporter himself takes advantage of his own inferences, "O, sir, how bad is this! But—but, there is worse behind." This insinuation is like a drag-net, gathering as it goes, and bringing every thing into its vortex: the good and the bad are found in one indiscriminate assembly. Suppose the stories to be true, or founded in truth, what benefit does society or the church ever derive from this underhand detailing? None. There are but few cases ever occurring, where the misunderstanding between the members of the church of Christ should be brought before two witnesses, much less before the church: but there are some such, and our Lord orders us to treat these with the greatest caution and forbearance.
All the above, with the whole family of defamers, false accusers, calumniators, detracters, destroyers of the good reputation of others, traducers, and libellers, however they may rank here, shall have one lot in the eternal world; none of them shall become residents on the hill of God's holiness; and should not here be permitted to sojourn in his tabernacle, or militant church. Reader, pray God to save thee from the spirit and conduct of these bad men; have no communion with them, drive them from thy door, yet labour to convert them if thou canst. But if they will still continue as disturbers of the peace of society, of the harmony of families, and of the union of Christ's church, let them be to thee as heathen men and publicans; the basest, the lowermost, the most dejectcd, most underfoot, and downtrodden vassals of perdition.
There are busybodies, impertinent meddlers with other people's business; prying into other people's circumstances and domestic affairs; magnifying or minifying, mistaking or underrating, every thing; news- mongers and telltales; an abominable race, the curse of every neighbourhood where they live, and a pest to religious society.
Do not open your ear to the tale-bearer, to the slanderer, who comes to you with accusations against your brethren, or with surmisings and evil speakings. These are human devils; they may be the means of making you angry, even without any solid pretence; therefore give them no place, that you may not be angry at any time. But if, unhappily, you should be overtaken in this fault, let not the sun go down upon your wrath; go to your brother, against whom you have found your spirit irritated, tell him what you have heard, and what you fear; let your ears be open to receive his own account; carefully listen to his own explanation; and, if possible, let the matter be finally settled, that Satan may not gain advantage over either.
The grand maxim of the Roman law and government, to condemn no man unheard, and to confront the accusers with the accused, should be a sacred maxim with every magistrate and minister, and among all private Christians. How many harsh judgments and uncharitable censures would this prevent! Conscientiously practised in all Christian societies, detraction, calumny, tale-bearing, whispering, backbiting, misunderstandings, with every unbrotherly affection, would be necessarily banished from the church of God.
THE NINTH COMMANDMENT.
Against false testimony, perjury, lying, and deceit.— Not only false oaths to deprive a man of his life or of his right, are here prohibited; but also all whispering, tale-bearing, calumny, and slander, where the object is to bring the neighbour to pain, loss, or punishment. In a word, whatever is deposed as a truth, which is false in fact, and tends to injure another in his body, goods, or influence, is against the spirit and letter of this law.
What is a lie? It is any action done or word spoken, whether true or false in itself, which the doer or speaker wishes the observer or hearer to take in a contrary sense to that which he knows to be true. It is, in a word, any action done or speech delivered with the intention to deceive, though both may be absolutely true and right in themselves.
Do not deceive each other; speak the truth in all your dealings; do not say, "My goods are so, and so," when you know them to be otherwise; do not undervalue the goods of your neighbour when your conscience tells you that you are not speaking the truth. "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but afterward he boasteth;" that is, he underrates his neighbour's property till he gets him persuaded to part with it for less than it is worth; and when he has thus got it, he boasts what a good bargain he has made. Such a knave speaks not truth with his neighbour.
A liar has always some suspicion that his testimony is not credited, for he is conscious to his own falsity, and is therefore naturally led to support his assertions by oaths.
To pretend much love and affection for those for whom we have neither; to use toward them complimentary phrases, to which we affix no meaning, but that they mean nothing, is highly offensive in the sight of that God by whom actions are weighed and words judged.
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT.
Against covetousness.— The covetousness which is placed on forbidden objects is that which is here prohibited and condemned. To covet in this sense is intensely to long after, in order to enjoy, as a property, the person or thing coveted. He breaks this commandment who by any means endeavours to deprive a man of his house, or farm, by some underhand and clandestine bargain with the original landlord; what is called, in some countries, "taking a man's house and farm over his head." He breaks it, also, who lusts after his neighbour's wife, and endeavours to ingratiate himself into her affections by striving to lessen her husband in her esteem: and he also breaks it who endeavours to possess himself of the servants, cattle, &c., of another, in any clandestine or unjustifiable manner.
By covetousness many lives and many souls have been destroyed; and yet the living lay it not to heart! Who fears the love of money, provided he can get riches? Through the intensity of this desire, every part of the surface of the earth, and, as far as possible, its bowels, are ransacked to get wealth; and God alone can tell, who sees all things, to how many private crimes, frauds, and dissimulations, this gives birth; by which the wrath of God is brought down upon the community at large! Who is an enemy to his country? The sinner against his God. An open foe may be resisted and repelled, because he is known; but the covetous man, who, as far as his personal safety will admit, is outraging all the requisitions of justice, is an unseen pestilence, sowing the seeds of desolation and ruin in society. Achan's covetousness, which led him to break the law of God, had nearly proved the destruction of the Israelitish camp; nor would the Lord turn away from his displeasure till the evil was detected, and the criminal punished.
The spirit of covetousness cancels all bonds and obligations, makes wrong right, and cares nothing for father or brother.
A covetous man is, in effect, and in the sight of God, a murderer: he wishes to get all the gain that can accrue to any or all who are in the same business that he follows; no matter to him how many families starve in consequence. This is the very case with him who sets up shop after shop in different parts of the same town or neighbourhood, in which he carries on the same business, and endeavours to undersell others in the same trade, that he may get all into his own hand.
How apt are men to decry the goods they wish to purchase, in order that they may get them at a cheaper rate; and when they have made their bargain, and carried it off; boast to others at how much less than its value they have received it! Are such honest men? Is such knavery actionable? Can such be punished only in another world? St. Augustine tells us a pleasant story on this subject: "A certain mountebank published in the full theatre that at the next entertainment he would show to every man present what was in his heart. The time came, and the concourse was immense: all waited, with deathlike silence, to hear what he would say to each. He stood up, and in a single sentence redeemed his pledge:—'You all wish to buy cheap, and sell dear.' He was applauded; for every one felt it to be a description of his own heart, and was satisfied that all others were similar." How often does charity serve as a cloak for covetousness! God is sometimes robbed of his right under the pretence of devoting what is withheld to some charitable purpose to which there was no intention ever to give it.
If thou be too nice in endeavouring to find out who are the impostors among those who profess to be in want, the real object may perish, which otherwise thou mightest have relieved, and whose life might have been thereby saved. The very punctilious and scrupulous people, who will sift every thing to the bottom in every case, and before they will act must be fully satisfied in all points, seldom do any good, and are themselves generally good for nothing. While they are observing the clouds and the rain, others have "joined hands with God, and made a poor man live."