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§ 14. The Tenth Commandment.

Is a general prohibition of covetousness. “Thou shalt not covet,” is a comprehensive command. Thou shalt not inordinately desire what thou hast not; and especially what belongs to thy neighbour. It includes the positive command to be contented with the allotments of Providence; and the negative injunction not to repine, or complain on account of the dealings of God with us, or to envy the lot or possessions of others. The command to be contented does not imply indifference, and it does not enjoin slothfulness. A cheerful and contented disposition is perfectly compatible with a due appreciation of the good things of this world, and diligence in the use of all proper means to improve our condition in life.

Contentment can have no other rational foundation than religion. Submission to the inevitable is only stoicism, or apathy, or despair. The religions of the East, and of the ancient world generally, so far as they were the subject of thought, being essentially pantheistic, could produce nothing but a passive consent to be borne along for a definite period on the irresistible current of events, and then lost in the abyss of unconscious being. The poor and the miserable could with such a faith have little ground for contentment, and they would be under the strongest temptation to envy the rich and the fortunate. But if a man believes that there is a personal God infinite in power, wisdom, and love; if he believes that God’s providence extends over all creatures and over all events; and if he believes that God orders everything, not only for the best on the whole, but also for the best for each individual who puts his trust in Him and acquiesces in his will, then not to be contented with the allotments of infinite wisdom and love must be folly. Faith in the truths referred to cannot fail to produce contentment, wherever that faith is real. When we further take into view the peculiar Christian aspects of the case; then we remember that this universal government is administered by Jesus Christ, into whose hands, as He himself 464tells us, all power in heaven and earth has been committed, than we know that our lot is determined by Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, and who watches over his people as a shepherd watches over his flock, so that a hair of our heads cannot perish without his permission. And when we think of the eternal future which He has prepared for us, then we see that the sorrows of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us, and that our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall work out for us a far more exceeding and an eternal weight of glory; then mere contentment is elevated to a peace which passes all understanding, and even to a joy which is full of glory. All this is exemplified in the history of the people of God as recorded in the Bible. Paul could not only say, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. iv. 11); but he could also say: “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake.” (2 Cor. xii. 10.) This has measurably been the experience of thousands of believers in all ages. Of all people in the world Christians are bound in whatsoever state they are therewith to be content. It is easy to utter these words, and easy for those in comfort to imagine that they are exercising the grace of contentment; but when a man is crushed down by poverty and sickness, surrounded by those whose wants he cannot supply; seeing those whom he loves, suffering and wearing away under their privations, then contentment and submission are among the highest and rarest of Christian graces. Nevertheless, it is better to be Lazarus than Dives.

The second form of evil condemned by this commandment is envy. This is something more than an inordinate desire of unpossessed good. It includes regret that others should have what we do rot enjoy; a feeling of hatred and malignity towards those more favoured than ourselves; and a desire to deprive them of their advantages. This is a real cancer of the soul; producing torture and eating out all right feelings. There are, of course, all degrees of this sin, from the secret satisfaction experienced at the misfortunes of others, or the unexpressed desire that evil may assail them or that they may be reduced to the same level with ourselves, to the Satanic hatred of the happy because of their happiness, and the determination, if possible, to render them miserable. There is more of this dreadful spirit in the human heart, than we are willing to acknowledge. Montesquieu says that every 465man has a secret satisfaction in the misfortunes even of his dearest friends. As envy is the antithesis of love, it is of all sins the most opposed to the nature of God, and more effectually than any other excludes us from his fellowship.

Thirdly, the Scriptures, however, make mention most frequently of covetousness under the form of an inordinate desire of wealth. The man of whom covetousness is the characteristic has the acquisition of wealth as the main object of his life. This fills his mind, engrosses his affections, and absorbs his energy. Of covetousness in this form the Apostle says it is the root of all evil. That is, there is no evil — from meanness, deceit, and fraud, up to murder — to the commission of which covetousness has not prompted men, or to which it does not always threaten to impel them. Of the covetous man in this sense of the word the Bible says, (1.) That he cannot enter heaven. (1 Cor. vi. 10.) (2.) That he is an idolater. (Eph. v. 5.) Wealth is his God, i.e., that to which he gives his heart and consecrates his life. (3.) That God abhors him. (Ps. x. 3.)

This commandment has a special interest, as it was the means, as St. Paul tells us, of leading him to the knowledge of sin. “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Rom. vii. 7.) Most of the other commandments forbid external acts, but this forbids a state of the heart. It shows that no external obedience can fulfil the demands of the law; that God looks upon the heart, that He approves or disapproves of the secret affections and purposes of the soul; that a man may be a pharisee, pure outwardly as a whited sepulchre, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.

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