Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

LECTURE XXVIII.

Tenth Commandment.

WE are now come to the Tenth and last Commandment, which is, by the Church of Rome, absurdly divided into two, to keep up the number, after joining the first and second into one, contrary to the ancient authority, Jewish and Christian. How the mistake was originally made is hard to say; but, undoubtedly, they retain and defend it more earnestly, in order to pass over the Second Commandment, as only part of the First, without any distinct meaning of its own; and, accordingly, many of their devotional books omit it entirely. But that these two ought not to be thus joined and confounded, I have shown you already; and that this now before us, ought not to be divided, is extremely evident; for it is one single prohibition of all unjust desires. And if reckoning up the several prohibited objects of desire makes it more than one Commandment ; for the same reason it will be more than two. For there are six things forbidden in it particularly, besides all the rest, that are forbidden in general. And, moreover, if this be two Commandments, which is the first of them? For, in Exodus it begins, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's "house;" but in Deuteronomy, "thou shalt not "covet thy neighbour's wife." And, accordingly, some of their books of devotion made the former, some of the latter of these the Ninth 3 Surely,

(3) Their Manual of Prayers in English, 1725, puts, "Thou "shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife," for the Ninth. But in the Office of the Virgin, both Latin and English, called the Primer, 1717, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house,” is the Ninth.

the order of the words would never have been changed thus in Scripture, had there been two Commandments in them; but being one, it is no way material which part is named first. I say no more, therefore, on so clear a point; but proceed to explain this precept of "not coveting "what is our neighbour's."

""

The good things of this life being the gifts of God, for which all are to be thankful to him; desiring with due moderation and submission, a comfortable share of them, is very natural and right. Wishing that our share were better, is, in the case of many persons, so far from a sin, that endeavouring diligently to make it better, is part of their duty. Wishing it were equal to that of such another, is not wishing ill to him, but only well to ourselves. And seeking to obtain what belongs to another may, in proper circumstances, be perfectly innocent. We may really have occasion for it; he may be well able to bestow it; or he may have occasion for something of ours in return. And on these mutual wants of men all commerce and trade are founded; which God, without question, designed should be carried on; because he hath made all countries abound in some things, and left them deficient in others.

Not every sort of desires, therefore, but unfit and immoderate desires, only, are forbidden by the words, "Thou shalt not covet." And these

(4) Indeed the Vatican Copy of the Septuagint in Exodus, places, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," before "Thou shalt do 66 no murder." And so Mark x. 19. Luke xviii. 20. Rom. xiii. 9. and Philo, and part of the Fathers. But the Hebrew and Samaritan, and all translations, excepting the Septuagint, and even that in Deuteronomy, and I believe most copies of it in Exodus, and Matt. xix. 18. and Josephus, and another part of the Fathers, keep the now common order. And the Evangelists did not intend to observe the original order; for they put, "Honour thy Father," &c. last. And St. Paul doth not say, that he intended to observe it. This, therefore, is not a parallel case to that of the Tenth Commandment.

are such as follow. First, if our neighbour cannot lawfully part with his property, nor we lawfully receive it; and yet we want to have it. One instance of this kind is expressed, "Thou shalt "not covet thy neighbour's wife." Another is, if we want a person who possesses any thing in trust, or under certain limitations, to give or sell it in breach of that trust or those limitations. Or if he can part with it, but is not willing, and we entertain thoughts of acquiring it by force or fraud, or of being revenged on him for his refusal; this also is highly blameable: for why should not he be left quietly free master of his own? Indeed barely pressing and importuning persons, contrary to their interest, or even their inclinations only, is in some degree wrong; for it is one way of extorting things from them, or, however, of giving them trouble, where we have no right to give it.

But though we keep our desires ever so much to ourselves, they may notwithstanding be very sinful. And such they are particularly, if they induce us to envy others; that is, to be uneasy at their imagined superior happiness, to wish them ill, or take pleasure in any harm which befals them. For this turn of mind will prompt us to do them ill, if we can; as indeed a great part of the mischief that is done in the world, and some of the worst of it, arises from hence. "Wrath "is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is "able to stand against envy ?" Accordingly we find it joined in the New Testament with "strife, railing, variance, sedition, murder, confusion, " and every evil work.”6 But were it to produce no mischief to our neighbour, yet it is the di

66

(5) Prov. xxvii. 4.

(6) Rom. i. 29. xiii. 13. 1 Cor. iii. 3. 2 Cor. xii. 20. Gal. v. 20, 21. 1 Tim. vi. 4. James iii. 14, 16.

rectly opposite disposition to that love of him, which is the second great precept of Christ's religion. Nay, indeed, it deserves, in some respects, to be reckoned the worst of ill-natured sins. revengeful man pleads for himself, some injury The attempted against him; but the envious person bears some unprovoked malice to those who have done him neither wrong nor harm, solely because he fancies them to be, in this or that instance, very happy. And why should they not, if they can; as he certainly would, if he could? the prosperity of bad people, it must be conFor fessed, we have reason to be so far sorry, as they are likely to do hurt by it. But to desire their fall, rather than their amendment; to desire what may be grievous to any persons; not from goodwill to mankind, but from ill-will to them; to wish any misfortune even to our competitors and rivals, merely because they are such; or because they have succeeded, and enjoy what we aimed at; is extremely uncharitable and inhuman. It is a temper that will give us perpetual disquiet in this world, (for there will always be somebody to envy,) and bring a heavy sentence upon us in the next, unless we repent of it, and subdue it first.

But though our selfish desires were to raise in us no malignity against our fellow-creatures; yet, if they tempt us to murmur against our Creator, and either to speak or think ill of that distribution of things, which his providence hath made; this is great impiety, and rebellion of the heart against God; who hath an absolute right to dispose of the works of his hands as he pleases; and uses it always both with justice and with goodness to us. Were we innocent, we could none of us demand more advantage of any sort, than he thought fit to give us; but as we are guilty wretches, far from having a claim to this or that degree of happiness, we are every one liable to severe punish

N

ment. And, therefore, with the many comforts and blessings which we have now, and the eternal felicity which, through the mercy of our heavenly Father, the merits of our blessed Redeemer, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may, if we will, have hereafter; surely, we have no ground to complain of our condition. For, what if things be unequally divided here? we may be certain the Disposer of them hath wise reasons for it, whether we can see them or not; and we may be as certain, that, unless it be our own faults, we shall be no losers by it; "for all things work together "for good to them that love God."7 Therefore, how little soever we enjoy, we have cause to be thankful for it; and how much soever we suffer, we have cause to be resigned, nay, thankful too, even for that; as we may be happier in this world for many of our sufferings; and shall, if we bear them as we ought, be improved in goodness by them all, and made happier to eternity.

But further yet; though we may not be conscious of what we shall study to hide from ourselves, that our desires carry us, either to behave or wish ill to our neighbour, or to repine against God; still, if they disturb and agitate our minds; if we are eager and vehement about the objects of them; we are not arrived at the state in which we should be found. Some feeling of this inward tumult, especially on trying occasions, may be unavoidable by fallen man; and no more of it natural to one person than another; but, after all, it is voluntary indulgence that gives our appetites, and passions, and fancies, the far greatest share of their dominion. We inflame them, when else they would be moderate; we affect things for which we have really no liking, merely because they are fashionable; we create imaginary wants

(7) Rom. viii. 28.

« VorigeDoorgaan »