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The subject applied—The dishonest warned.
The first use I would make of this doctrine, is to warn against all injustice and dishonesty, as to what appertains to our neighbour’s temporal goods or possessions. Let me warn all to avoid all ways of unjustly invading or usurping what is their neighbour’s, and let me press that exhortation of the apostle, Rom. xii. 17. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men;” which implies, that those things which we provide for ourselves, and use as our own, should be such as we come honestly by; and especially that we should avoid all clandestine or underhand ways of obtaining any thing that is our neighbour’s, either by fraudulent dealing, or by that taking without our neighbour’s knowledge and consent, of which we have been speaking.
I warn you to beware of dishonesty in withholding what is your neighbour’s, either by unfaithfulness to your trust in any business which you undertake, or by withholding your neighbour’s just and honest dues. Consider that saying of the apostle, Rom. xiii. 8. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another.” Be also warned against wronging your neighbour or injuring him in his enclosures, or in any of his just rights and properties, through careless neglect of what is reasonably expected by neighbours one of another, in order that they may live one by another without mutual injury. Let all beware that they bring not guilt on their souls in the sight of God, by taking an advantage to oppress any person. Especially beware of taking advantage of others’ poverty to extort from them: for God will defend their cause, and you will be no gainers by such oppression.
Beware also of all injustice by deceitful and fraudulent dealing. You doubtless meet with abundance of temptation to fraud, and have need to keep a strong guard upon yourselves. There are many temptations to falsehood or trading, both about what you would buy and what you have to sell. There are, in buying, temptations to do as in Prov. xx. 14. “It is nought, it is nought, saith the buyer.” There are many temptations to take indirect courses, to blind those with whom you deal, about the qualities of what you have to sell, to diminish the defects of your commodities, or to conceal them, and to put off things for good, which are bad. And there are doubtless many other ways that men meet with temptations to deceive others, which your own experience will better suggest to you than I.
But here I shall take occasion to speak of a particular kind of fraud, which is very aggravated, and is rather a defrauding of God than man. What I mean is, the giving of that which is bad for good in public contributions. Though it be matter of great shame and lamentation that it should be so, yet it is to be feared, from what has sometimes been observed, that there are some who, when there is a public contribution to be made for the poor, or some other pious and charitable use, sometimes take that opportunity to put off their bad money. That which they find, or think, their neighbours will refuse to take at their hands, because they will have opportunity to see what is offered them, and to observe the badness of it, even that they therefore take opportunity to put off to God.
Hereby they endeavour to save their credit; for they apprehend that they shall be concealed. They appear with others to go to the contribution, as it is not known, but that they put in that which is good. But they cheat the church of God, and defraud the expectations of the poor: or rather, they lie to God: for those who receive what is given, stand as Christ’s receivers, and not as acting for themselves in this matter.
They that do thus, do that which is very much of the same nature with that sin, against which God denounces that dreadful curse in Mal. i. 14. “Cursed be the deceiver which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.” That hath in his flock a male, ewe, that has in his flock that which is good and fit to be offered to God: for it was the male of the flock principally that was appointed, in the law of Moses, to be offered in sacrifice. He has in his flock that which is good, but he vows and sacrifices to the Lord “the torn, the lame, and the sick,” as it is said in the foregoing verse; ye said also, “Behold what a weariness is it, and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hands, saith the Lord? 221221 Mal. i. 13. ”
Contributions in the Christian church come in the room of sacrifices in the Jewish church: mercy comes in the room of sacrifice. And what is offered in the way of mercy is as much offered to God, as the sacrifices of old were. For what is done to the poor is done to Christ, and he that hath pity on the poor, lendeth to the Lord; Prov. xix. 17. The Jews that offered the sick and lame of the flock, knew that if they had offered it to their governor, and had attempted to put it off, as part of the tribute or public taxes due to their earthly rulers, it would not be accepted, and therefore they were willing to put it off to God. “And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor, will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person, saith the Lord of hosts? 222222 Mal. i. 8. ”
So those persons who purposely put bad money into contributions, know that what they put in would not be accepted if they should offer to pay their public taxes. Yea, they know that their neighbours would not accept it at their hands; and therefore they are willing to save themselves, by putting it off to God.
This practice has also very much of the nature of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. What they offered was by way of contribution for charitable uses. The brethren sold what they had, and brought it into a common stock, and put all under the care of deacons, that the poor might every one be supplied. Ananias and Sapphira brought a part of their possessions, and put it into the common stock; and their sin was, that they put it in for more than it really was. It was but a part of what they had, and they put it in, and would have it accepted, as if it had been all. So those among us, of whom I am speaking, put off what they put into the charitable stock, for more than it is. For they put it in, under the notion that it is something of some value; they intend it shall be so taken by the church that sees them go to the contribution, when indeed they put in nothing at all.
Ananias and Sapphira were charged with lying to God, and doing an act of fraud towards God himself, in what they did: Acts v. 4. “Whilst it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” So those who knowingly put bad money for good into a contribution for a charitable use, as much as in them lies commit an act of fraud and deceit towards God. For the deacons who receive what is contributed, receive it not in their own names, but as Christ’s receivers. I hope these things may be sufficient to deter every reader from ever daring to do such a thing for the future.
Again, another thing I would warn you against, is, stealing, properly and strictly so called; or designedly taking away any of your neighbour’s goods without his consent or knowledge. And especially I would now take occasion to warn against a practice which is very common in the country, particularly among children and young people; and that is, stealing fruit from their neighbour’s trees or enclosures. There is a licentious liberty taken by many children and young people, in making bold with their neighbour’s fruit; and it is to be feared, that they are too much countenanced in it by their parents and many elder people.
I am sensible, that the great thing which is pleaded, and made very much the ground of this liberty which is taken and so much tolerated, is a very abusive and unreasonable construction and application of that text of Scripture in Deut. xxiii. 24. “When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill. But thou shalt not put any in thy vessel.” Because this text seems to be so much mistaken and misimproved, I shall therefore endeavour particularly to state the matter of persons taking their neighbour’s fruit, and to set it in a just and clear light as concerning this text.
It was to eat their fill of grapes when they occasionally came into or passed through their neighbour’s vineyard, and not that they should go thither on purpose to eat grapes. This is manifest by the manner of expression; “When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, thou mayest eat; 223223 Deut. xxiii. 24 ” i.e., when thou art come thither on some other occasion. If God had meant to give them leave to come thither on purpose, for no other end, it would not have been expressed so: but rather thus, Thou mayest come into thy neighbour’s vineyard, and eat grapes thy fill.—Such were the circumstances of that people, and vineyards among them were so common, that there was no danger that this liberty would be attended with ill consequence. It is manifest throughout the history of Israel, that vineyards among them were so common that the people in general had them. Every husbandman among them was a vine-dresser; and a great part of the business of a husbandman among them, consisted in dressing and taking care of his vineyards. Grapes seem to have been the most common sort of fruit that they had. Besides, there was no liberty given for persons to go on purpose to a vineyard to eat the fruit of it. So that there was no danger of neighbours suffering one by another, by any such liberty.—The liberty did not tend to any such consequence, as the flocking of a great number to eat grapes, whereby the fruit of the vineyard might be much diminished.
Such were the circumstances of the case, that the consent of the owners of vineyards in general might well be presumed upon, though no such express liberty had been given. You may remember that in the definition of stealing, I observed, that explicit consent is not always necessary; because the case may be so circumstanced, that consent may be well presumed on. And the reason why consent might well be presumed on in the case of eating grapes, of which we are now speaking, is, that there could be no sensible injury, nor any danger of any ill consequences, by which a man would sensibly suffer in the benefit of his vineyard. Hence it is the more easy to determine, what would and what would not be justified by this text, among us. Suppose a particular person among us had a vineyard of the same kind with those which the children of Israel had, it would not justify others in using the same liberty when occasionally passing through it; because it would be a rare thing, and the rarity and scarcity of the fruit would render it of much greater value. Besides, if one man were distinguished by such a possession, to allow of such a liberty would have a much greater tendency to ill consequences, than if they were common, as they were in the land of Canaan. There would be danger of many persons falsely pretending, and making occasions, to pass through the vineyard, for the sake of such rare fruit.
Nor would it be a parallel case, if men in general among us had each of them a few vines. That would be a very different thing from persons in general having large vineyards. Nor would this text, in such a case, warrant men’s eating their fill of grapes when occasionally passing by.—And though all in general had vineyards, as they had in the land of Canaan, this text would not justify men in going into their neighbour’s vineyard on purpose to eat the fruit. No such liberty is given in the text. If there had been such liberty, it might have been of ill consequence. For the sake of saving their own grapes, men might make a practice of going and sending their children into their neighbour’s vineyards, to eat their fill from time to time.
But the liberty given in this text to the children of Israel, seems to be very parallel with the liberty taken among; us, to take up an apple or two and eat, as we are occasionally passing through a neighbour’s orchard; which, as our circumstances are, we may do, and justly presume that we have the owner’s consent. This is a liberty that we take, and find no ill consequences. It was very much so with vineyards in the land of Canaan, as it is with orchards among us. Apples in some countries are a rare fruit; and there it would by no means be warrantable for persons to take the same liberty when occasionally passing by their neighbour’s apple-tree, which we warrantably take here, when going through a neighbour’s orchard.
The consideration of these things will easily show the great abuse that is made of this text, when it is brought to justify such a resorting of children and others to their neighbour’s fruit-trees, as is sometimes, on purpose to take and eat the fruit. Indeed this practice is not only not justified by the law of Moses, but it is in itself unreasonable, and contrary to the law of nature. The consequences of it are pernicious, so that a man can have no dependence on enjoying the fruit of his labour, or the benefit of his property in those things, which possibly he may very much value. He can have no assurance but that he shall be mainly deprived of what he has, and that others will not have the principal benefit of it; and so that his end in planting and cultivating that from which he expected those fruits of the earth, which God hath given for the use, comfort, and delight of mankind, will not be in the main frustrated.
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