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Leviticus 19:11-36 - Homiletics

Stealing is forbidden by the law of man, and by the Law of God.

It is forbidden by the law of man in order to prevent injury being done to a citizen, and its sanction is fear of punishment. Remove the fear of punishment, and the goods of another will no longer be respected. It is forbidden by the Law of God because it is displeasing to God; because honesty and uprightness are in themselves right; because to defraud another is in itself wrong. Take away the fear of punishment, and there will remain as scrupulous a care not to trespass on the rights of another as before. The law of honesty, as inculcated by God, has a dominating power and influence in all conditions of life.

Cheating is to stealing as equivocation is to lying. Both are equally immoral. Cheating and equivocating only differ morally from stealing and lying by being more mean and cowardly. The law of man cannot prevent cheating. It can indeed send inspectors to see that there are 'just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just him;" but that is not enough to prevent cheating. The only thing that will do this is the fear of the Lord and the consciousness that the unjust appropriation of anything, however small, is contrary to the will of God. Hence we may see the infinite importance for the well-being of a country that the moral teaching of children in public schools be rested upon a religious basis. The precept is reproduced in the New Testament: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" ( Ephesians 4:28 ).

Lying is joined with stealing and cheating, not only because it may be used as a means of cheating ( Leviticus 6:2 ), but because it is a fraud in itself and a sin against uprightness and honesty. The essence of the sin consists in deceiving our neighbours. "Men, as men," says Bishop Taylor, "have a right to truth;" "for there is in mankind a universal contract implied in all their intercourses, and words being instituted to declare the mind, and for no other end, he that hears me speak hath a right in justice to be done him that, as far as I can, what I speak be true; for else he by words does not know your mind, and then as good and better not speak at all" ('Ductor Dubitantium,' 3, 2, 5). There are certain classes of men who have not a right to truth, such as madmen, and sick persons under special circumstances; and in these cases it is justifiable to say to them what is best for them, whether true or not; and in case of declared war the right to truth ceases, and is known to cease, so that no immoral deception takes place when false news is spread or stratagems adopted. But in time of peace and in ordinary cases, "Thou shalt not deceive thy neighbour" is the rule of conduct. Whether this deception takes place by means of a lie, or of an equivocation, or era mental reservation makes no difference in the morality of the act. The defense of equivocation rests upon a confusion of two things totally different—material truth and moral truthfulness. The statement that the sun uses or sinks is materially false, because it remains stationary. But the man who makes such a statement is morally truthful, if he makes it not intending to deceive his neighbour and knowing that he will not be deceived. A statement that the sun had not risen (in the morning) or gone down (in the evening), if made with the purpose of deceiving the person addressed, and with an ulterior object on the part of the speaker, although materially true, would imply moral untruthfulness on the part of the speaker, and therefore is a lie. Bishops Taylor and Sanderson were some of the first theologians who, recurring to the severer morality of Augustine and the early Fathers, cast away with scorn the puerile confusion between moral truthfulness and material truth on which the system of modern Roman casuistry in this department rests. "He that tells a lie," says Bishop Taylor, "and by his mental restriction says he tells a truth, tells two lies" ('Ductor Dubitantium,' 3:28). On the other hand, the Church of Rome teaches that the person addressed may be deceived to any amount, provided that the deception is effected by a form of words which is true in some sense apprehended by the speaker, though untrue in the sense understood by the other party. Accordingly, it is taught by an authority that may not be gainsaid by any member of that communion, that if a man prefixes the words" I say that" to a sentence, he may with a good reason make any false statement that he pleases, because in his own mind he means only to declare that he is making use of the words following that prefix, not that he is asserting their truth, as the person that he addresses supposes him robe doing (S. Alfonso de' Liguori, 'Theol. Moral.,' 4:451). Contrast with this the injunctions of the apostle, "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another" ( Ephesians 4:25 ); "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds" ( Colossians 3:9 ); and the command of the prophet, "Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord" ( Zechariah 8:16 , Zechariah 8:17 ); and the teaching of the early Church, "A man lies when he thinks something to be false and says it as though true, whether it be true or false. Mark the addition that I have made. Whether it be really true or false, yet, if a man thinks it false and assert it as true, he lies, for he is aiming to deceive His heart is double, not single; he does but bring out what he has there"; and the teaching of the reformed Church, "Our result is that the party swearing after this manner both sinneth in his equivocal oath, and is notwithstanding that tacit equivocation bound in conscience unto the performance of his promise in that sense which the words yield of themselves, and are, without constraint, apt to beget upon the minds of others. Unless he act accordingly, he is not guiltless of perjury" (Sanderson, 'Obligation of Oaths'). In the Book of the Revelation we read, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" ( Revelation 21:8 ).

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