The only way to serve God with the neighbor’s possessions is to leave them in his hand.
That neighbor may misuse his goods. He may, be a spendthrift and a squanderer of goods. And it is a foregone conclusion that, if he is an unbeliever, he is going to misuse every single material possession that God gives him. He will as we pointed out last time, come short of the glory of God with every thing given to him and miss the mark in all his actions. For, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:7, “The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” And the carnal mind is the mind wherewith we come into this world. The mind of every man born of woman is a carnal mind. The word carnal here—as will become evident to all who know the Latin—is “fleshly.” That is also the word that Paul uses. It means the mind which we receive by the first birth, the natural mind. And it is, therefore, the only mind that is to be found in the unregenerated. They have only one birth and only one mind, the fleshly mind. They, therefore, are not subject to the law of God and indeed cannot be. Their carnal minds will not allow them to be anything else but enemies of God. All their goods they will, then, use in a way that misses the mark of His service and His glory; and they will come short of that glory.
Our confessions declare that truth as the proper interpretation of the teachings of Scripture. That oft-quoted and well-known 4th Article of the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine of the Canons teaches this, in spite of what many try to make this article say. The article speaks of glimmerings of natural (underscoring is ours) light in man after the fall “whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” But the article says a whole lot more. Even as far as it was quoted above it gives no proof of the unregenerated man doing anything pleasing in God’s sight. It in no way teaches that the natural man does to a degree do that which he is called to do. It speaks of knowledge of God and of the differences between good and evil; but it does not say that he is able to choose the good and walk according to it. He discovers some regard for virtue, good order and for maintaining an orderlyexternal deportment. The idea is that he knows what is good for man, that decency and order among men is for man’s advantage and safety. He has no interest in what is good in God’s sight. And the rest of the article indicates that this is what our fathers meant by the article. “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright, even in things natural and civil. Nay, further this light such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.”
It is a foregone conclusion then, that the natural man will misuse all of his goods. And we, by an act of unbelief, cannot take the possessions of the unbeliever away from him, against his will and without his knowledge, in order therewith to serve God. You cannot serve God by an act of unbelief. You cannot serve Him with sin. And taking the neighbor’s possessions away against his will and without his knowledge is sin. It is an act of unbelief. For it is an act wherein we deny (rather than in faith confess) that God is wise and good and sovereign to distribute His creation to men. We may advise that neighbor as to how he should use his goods. We may rebuke him severely for squandering his goods and wasting them on his flesh; but we must leave them in his hands; and neither by force, stealth or trickery may we take them away from him. If we have stolen his goods, under one pretext or another, and have it in our hands, the only O way to serve God with it is to return it to its lawful owner.
This, of course, holds also for the employee who holds in his hand for use, the goods and possessions of his employer. His work requires of him that he drive the employer’s truck, run his machine, measure out his raw materials, employ his time and often live in his buildings. And Jesus’ words may be paraphrased, “Do unto the property of others, their machines and raw materials, as you would have them do to yours.” Squandering his goods, causing undue wear and tear to his machinery and equipment is stealing as surely as armed robbery. And loafing on the job, letting minute after minute go by while you are doing nothing, and then collecting a pay check for those moments, is also stealing his money from him. Whether he knows it or not makes no difference. There is a God Who sees it and Who demands faithfulness in all things at all times to the employer. And why is it that we will work faithfully while the employer is there to watch us and then will idle away his time as soon as he has gone away? Why is it that we are more concerned and more fearful of that man than of the all-seeing God Whose breath is in our nostrils? It shows how atheistic we all are by nature. We forget God so quickly. We have the fear of men rather than the fear of God. If only man does not see us in our evil, we are satisfied. And satisfying the living God and being pleasing in His sight often fades completely from our consciousness and from our will.
Let us not forget that stealing the goods of the neighbor in any way whatsoever, whether it be time or a material object, whether it be by trickery or force, whether the neighbor knows it or not, always is not simply an act of hatred towards that neighbor but is, in the very first place, and always, an act of hatred against God. If we love God, we will abide in His will. If we break His law, it means that we hate Him.
It is characteristic of love that it gives. It is in the very nature of hatred to take away, The parent that loves his child will give and provide, and in times of scarcity will go without himself in order to give to give Him service and praise and thanksgiving. Hatred of God, implanted in our hearts through the lie of Satan, led man to try to steal from God His glory. We would be like Him and so steal from Him His position of being God alone. We wanted His glory; and we ate of the forbidden fruit in the foolish thought that we could rob the Most High of His unique position as God alone. And our hatred of our fellowmen also manifests itself in taking away rather than in giving. The mind of our flesh is enmity against God, but it is also enmity against man. Not being desirous anymore of giving God the service and praise and glory due to His name, we cannot have the desire to give to our fellowmen in order to serve God and thus please God.
O, indeed, there is so much “charity” in the world! There are institutions of “mercy” of the world as well as of the church. There is so much kindness, so many helping hands, social agencies of welfare. There are, apparently, so many blessed givers in the world today. (We had better close our eyes for the moment to the riots that take away by destroying and boldly pilfering in broad daylight the stores in the area.) But there is so much “good” that sinners do. One would seem to have to state that there is so much love in the world for man and therefore also for God.
We do well, therefore, not to be guided by that only which meets the earthly eye. Our source of information and our basis for judgment must be the Word of God. Listen then to that wisest of mortals, Solomon, in Proverbs 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” Now that sacrifice, mind you, is the gift of that wicked man unto God. Thus it was with Cain as well. As far as what the fleshly eye can see, he brought a gift to God. Often that gift of the ungodly is of greater material value than that which the persecuted believer can bring. But he brings nothing to God that pleases Him. It is not simply something in which God is not interested. It is an abomination to Him. He cannot have it before His holy eyes. It fills Him with abhorrence and righteous wrath to see this unbeliever bring his sacrifice. Man may give thousands to “charity”; but God says of it that it calls for thousands of degrees of punishment.
There is also Hebrews 11:6 which sheds light on this matter, although it states it more mildly. “For without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” The unbeliever simply does not please God. And he cannot please God no matter how wonderful his works seem to be to man’s eyes. Let us not try to tell God that He does find delight and is pleased by the works of the wicked, when He tells us Himself that this is not so. In this connection let us also turn to Romans 14:23, “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Is it necessary to state that the unbeliever does nothing and can do nothing of faith’? Is he not exactly not and cannot do anything out of faith, he does not and cannot please God.
There is also the Word of Jesus that although some seemed to be so diligent and faithful in this life and shall say in the judgment day, “Lord, did we not do this and that in Thy name. . . . . .” Jesus does not simply say, “No, I do not recall. I have no record of this fact.” But very positively He says, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” And even though they claimed to do good, He calls them workers of iniquity. Their works that looked so lovely to us and were works of the “social gospel” that is lauded so highly in the church world today, were bluntly called works of iniquity by Christ.
It is not, therefore, a gift to God. And though it remains a gift to man, it is not one that brings a blessing to the giver. Only in His fear can we give in a way that is pleasing in God’s sight and can we refrain from taking from the neighbor his possessions. If all that which we have is the fear of men, we may by that fear be restrained from taking away his goods, but we will not please God by our works and receive a blessing from Him.