LORD’S DAY 41, Chapter 3: Chastity (cont.)
And hearing this word, and knowing his own sinful nature, he” humbles himself daily before God, with the prayer of the publican on his lips, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He implores the God of his salvation daily for the forgiveness of all his transgressions, also of the sin against the seventh commandment. And he implores his God in Christ Jesus our Lord for His grace and Spirit, that he may truly hear the seventh of the ten words, even in its prohibitive form, and heed its ever timely warning: “Thou shalt “not commit adultery.”
Hearing this word, he will fight, by the grace of God, to keep his garments clean: He will flee not only from the actual sin of adultery, but from all that may lead up to its corruption. He will avoid and condemn all unchaste actions, whether in wedlock or outside, all uncleanness in speech or gestures, in dress and appearance, in pictures and literature. The young man will look for his future companion in life not in the movie or theater, not in taverns or roadhouses or on the street, but in the midst of the church. And the young woman will not let herself be found by an adulterous Philistine or Edomite, but seek the companionship of fellow believers in Christ. For it is absolutely essential for a Christian marriage that the bond of faith and of fellowship in Christ unite them and sanctify their union. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Well may our Christian youth constantly have this exhortation of the word of God in mind as they seek their companions for life, lest they experience the sad consequences of disregarding this admonition when it is forever too late.
Positively, the seventh commandment instructs us to live in all modesty, chastity, and virtue, motivated by the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, whether in wedlock or in single life. It reminds us, as we contemplate it in the light of the gospel, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We shall not make the members of Christ members of a harlot, nor defile the temple of God by bestial corruptions. When the Christian young man and woman have pledged their vows, and entered into the sacred covenant of matrimony, it shall be their aim to make their married life a reflection of God’s covenant, of the relation between Christ and His church. The husband shall love his wife as his own body: giving honor to the wife as the weaker vessel. The wife shall respect and be obedient to her husband in Christ. They shall bear each other’s infirmities, and forgive each other’s sins. They shall purpose together to bring forth the church of Christ in future generations, and bring up their children in the fear of the Lord. And thus they shall look forward in hope to the realization of the promise, when with their children they shall rejoice in the marriage of the lamb, and Christ shall present His bride to the Father without spot or wrinkle in everlasting heavenly beauty.
LORD’S DAY 42
Q. 110. What doth God forbid in the eighth commandment?
A. God forbids not only those thefts, and robberies, which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devises, whereby we design to appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbor: whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, usury, or by any other way forbidden by God;, as also all covetousness, all abuse and waste of his gifts.
Q. 111. But what doth God require in this commandment?
A. That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others: further also that I faithfully labor, so that I may be able to relieve the needy.
Chapter 1: Christian Stewardship
The eighth commandment, like the two preceding ones, is very brief: “Thou shalt not steal.” Positively, this means that we shall love the neighbor for God’s sake, in Christ Jesus our Lord, in his earthly possessions.
Although very briefly, the Heidelberg Catechism treats this eighth commandment rather completely and thoroughly, both from its prohibitive, or negative, and from its positive aspect. From the negative aspect it mentions that the eighth commandment forbids all direct stealing of theft, not only, but also all indirect stealing by tricks, deceit, wicked devices of any kind, and that moreover it forbids the principle of all these violations of the eighth commandment, which is undoubtedly covetousness. And finally, it explains that the eighth commandment also forbids all abuse or waste of the earthly possessions which the Lord gives unto us. Positively, the instructor of our Heidelberg Catechism explains that the eighth commandment requires, that wherever that is possible and permissible, we shall seek the advantage of our neighbor, that we shall deal with our neighbor in regard to his earthly possessions as we desire to be dealt with by others, and finally, that we shall faithfully labor and take care of the needy.
When we read these answers of the Heidelberg Catechism, we cannot help but think that the world has changed not principally, but in form tremendously since the sixteenth century, when the Catechism was written. This is especially true of the last century, and more particularly of the last few decades. When we consider the language of this forty-second Lord’s Day, it looks to us as if it were written behind the counter of some little grocery store. It speaks of unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, et cetera. That is the way in which people used to steal, when the world and society had not yet assumed the gigantic measures it has today. People do not plug weights any more to steal a penny, or even half a penny. We have become too big for this. The world has become gigantic in industry, business, and commerce; and this requires gigantic stealing, as, it is committed on a large scale today. But although the world has developed, and has become big in every respect, essentially it has not changed. Morally and ethically things have not changed one whit. All the troubles and unrest in society, the oppression on the part of those that are rich and the revolutions and strikes of those that are the poor, plainly testifies that the world is still motivated by that sin which leads to the violation of the eight commandment in every respect. For this there is no cure except the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The form of society may change; the system of society may change from slavery to feudalism, from feudalism to capitalism, or even to socialism and communism; but no form of society can change the greed and covetousness that is in the heart of sinful man. You cannot cure a cancer by putting on a plaster. You cannot very well cure a well by washing the pump handle. And so you cannot cure the evils of society by changing the form, or even by legislation, as long as the root of the evil is in the heart of man. There is no cure except the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the grace of His Spirit. Nevertheless, it is the calling of the Christian in the midst of the present sinful world to love the neighbor as himself for God’s sake, also in respect to his earthly possessions. And this means principally that the Christian, whether he is rich or poor, regards himself and lives in the midst of the world as a steward.
This is undoubtedly the most fundamental principle of the eighth commandment. To this positive subject of Christian stewardship we must first of all call your attention. This principle implies, in the first place, that God is the only and absolute proprietor of all things, and that we, as His stewards, receive all things from Him. Negatively, this means that we do not desire or crave anything in our possession of which we cannot say that we acquired it of God. In the second place, Christian stewardship implies that the believer in Christ Jesus manages all his earthly possessions in the name of God and as before His face. He regards himself as in God’s employ, and as His servant. And in the third place, it implies that as stewards of God we expect our reward, both in this life and in the life to come, from God alone.
These three elements we must briefly discuss.
God is the absolute and only proprietor of all things. He is such because He is the Creator of the heavens and of the earth and of all things that are therein. He called them forth out of nothing. Apart from God’s creative act there was nothing. He was not limited in His act of creation by some kind of material that existed and upon which He wrought creatively. All things are the product of His omnipotent will alone. He called the things that are not as if they were. Hence, as the creator, God is the only proprietor of all things. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” Ps. 24:1, 2. And in Ps. 50:7, ff: we read: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings; to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.” The gold and the silver are the Lord’s. And there is no capitalist that can claim any as his possession. In Joel 3:4, 5 we read of Tyre and Sidon: “Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? Will ye render me a recompense? And if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompense upon your own head; Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things.” And inHaggai 2:8 we read: “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts.” As the creator of the heavens and of the earth, who called forth all things out of nothing, God is the only and absolute proprietor of all things.
Besides, as the creator He is also the sustainer and the governor of all things. From moment to moment He causes the creation which He formed in the beginning to continue to exist by His almighty power and providence. It is He that “sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of his works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.” Ps. 104:10, 13-15. “Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth: The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.” Ps. 104:20-23, 27, 28, as if man were still in the state of his original righteousness.
And what is true of the brute creation is no less true of man. He also was created by God, and the most high is his absolute proprietor and governor. And as a being that was created after the image of God, the Lord gave him dominion over the beasts of the field, over the fowl of the air, and over the fish of the sea,—dominion over all the works of God’s hands in the earthly creation. In the first paradise He put man to keep and to dress the garden of Eden. He was God’s friend-servant; and as such he stood as God’s steward in the midst of the world. From Him and in His name he received the earthly creation in his trust and possession, not to do with it as he pleased, but to have dominion over it and manage it according to the will of God and to His glory.
Thus it was originally. But thus it is no more.
Sin entered into the world. This is often forgotten in the discussion of the eighth commandment, and the relation between man and his material possessions is often presented and as if man were still a steward of God with respect to his earthly possessions.
But this is not the case. There is no common grace. Neither can we speak of a common mandate. If there were, it would indeed mean that man in general, apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, is still a steward of God with respect to ally things earthy. It would mean not only that God is still the proprietor of all things and that He dispenses all earthly possessions according to His sovereign will, but it would imply that man still recognizes God as the Lord over all things. To be God’s steward implies, in the first place, that man has the right to his earthly possessions, that in the state of sin and guilt he still has the right to have dominion over all things in this world, and that God still gives him that right. This right belongs to the common mandate. But this is not the case with the sinner, that stands damnable before God. He has no right to anything. To be sure, God is still the proprietor and the ruler over all things in the world. He still causes the human race to develop organically, so that in the organism of the human rack men are not all alike. He still governs all the earthly possessions of men, so that every man receives from Him whatever he calls his private property, whether he is rich or poor, capitalist or laborer. It is God, and God alone, that sovereignly dispenses to every man his earthly possessions. Communism, or socialism, in whatever form it may appear, is based upon a fundamental mistake, the denial that the human race is an organism and that it develops organically. According to Marxian socialism, which is the same as communism, men are all alike. The earth belongs to no one, or rather belongs to all. All and all possessions, all the earthly resources and goods belong to all men in common, and they should possess them all alike. But the human race is not an aggregate of individuals. It develops organically, and there is an organic distinction between the different members of the human race. It is impossible to change that because God has ordained it so. But even apart from that, in a sinful world God is still the Lord. And He still dispenses to everyone his earthly property. But this does not mean that man in general, apart from Christ, has the right to anything in the world. Nor is it so that Got in His grace bestows that right upon the reprobate sinner Although man certainly exists, and must exist, for God’s own purpose in the midst of the world, as long as it stands he is no longer God’s steward. He has no right to live in God’s house. He has no right to have dominion over all things. He has no right to life itself. Apart from Christ he is under the wrath of God, and therefore under the curse. If you wish to speak of a common mandate, this is true only as far as the must, the obligation, to be God’s steward in the midst of the world, is concerned. He must serve God with all things, also with his earthly possessions. He must have dominion over all things in the name of God. He must acknowledge God as the proprietor of all things. He must recognize Him as the one from whom he receives all things. But if you wish to include in the common mandate also the right of the sinner to his earthly possessions, you are mistaken. Man has that right no more. He is deposed as God’s steward. He is discharged from the house of God. He may not even enjoy the privilege of serving God as steward with his earthly possessions.
But there is no more.
Not only does man in general, the sinner, damnable before God, in his state of sin in the midst of the world have no right to live in God’s house and be His steward; but neither does he have the power and the will to be steward of God in regard to his earthly possessions. To a mandate belongs the may, the can, the will, as well as the must. But with the exception of the must, man has lost all the elements of his original mandate. He has no right to be the servant of God and to live in His house. But neither does he have the power, the ability, and the will to be God’s steward. He may not, and cannot, and will not, and cannot will to serve the Lord his God with all his material possessions. For he is dead in trespasses and sins, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil, unless he is regenerated by the grace of God. He is a rebel in God’s house. As far as he is concerned, he dethroned the most high and stands in enmity against Him. His mind is darkened, and his will is perverted, so that he does not know God, will never recognize Him, cannot serve Him and will not serve Him and cannot will to serve Him, least of all with the earthly possessions which the most high bestows upon him. He is principally a thief, a thief with respect to God, and hence also a thief in relation to his neighbor. And therefore we must never speak of a general stewardship, or even of a common mandate, of the sinner in respect to his earthly possessions.