The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
2. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
2.8 The Eighth Commandment
'Thou shalt not steal.' Exod xx 15.
AS the holiness of God sets him against uncleanness, in the
command 'Thou shalt not commit adultery;' so the justice of God sets
him against rapine and robbery, in the command, 'Thou shalt not
steal.' The thing forbidden in this commandment, is meddling with
another man's property. The civil lawyers define furtum, stealth or
theft to be 'the laying hands unjustly on that which is another's;'
the invading another's right.
I. The causes of theft.
 The internal causes are, (1) Unbelief. A man has a high
distrust of God's providence. 'Can God furnish a table in the
wilderness?' Psa lxxviii 19. Can God spread a table for me? says the
unbeliever. No, he cannot. Therefore he is resolved he will spread a
table for himself, but it shall be at other men's cost, and both
first and second course shall be served in with stolen goods. (2)
Covetousness. The Greek word for covetousness signifies 'an
immoderate desire of getting;' which is the root of theft. A man
covets more than his own, and this itch of covetousness makes him
scratch what he can from another. Achan's covetous humour made him
steal the wedge of gold, a wedge which cleaved asunder his soul from
God. Joshua vii 21.
 The external cause of theft is Satan's solicitation. Judas
was a thief. John xii 6. How came he to be a thief? 'Satan entered
into him'. John xiii 27. The devil is the great master-thief, he
robbed us of our coat of innocence, and he persuades men to take up
his trade; he tells men how bravely they shall live by thieving, and
how they may catch an estate. As Eve listened to the serpent's
voice, so do they. As birds of prey, they live upon spoil and
II. The kinds of theft.
 There is stealing from God. They are thieves who rob God of
any part of his day. 'Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.' Not a
part of the day only, but the whole day must be dedicated to God.
And, lest any should forget this, the Lord has prefixed a memento,
'remember.' Therefore, after morning sacrifice, to spend the other
part of the Sabbath in vanity and pleasure, is spiritual theft. It
robs God of his due, and the very heathen will rise up in judgement
against such Christians; for the heathen, as Macrobius notes,
observed a whole day to their false gods.
 There is stealing from others. A stealing away souls, as
heretics, by robbing men of the truth, rob them of their souls.
Stealing money and goods. There is
(1) The highway thief, who takes a purse, contrary to the
letter of the commandment. 'Thou shalt not rob thy neighbour.' Lev
xix 13. 'Do not steal.' Mark x 19. This is not the violence which
takes the 'kingdom of heaven by force.' Matt xi 12.
(2) The house-thief, who purloins and filches out of his
master's cash, or steals his wares and drugs. The apostle says,
'Some have entertained angels unawares' (Heb xiii 2), but many
masters have entertained thieves in their houses unawares. The
house-thief is a hypocrite as well as a thief; for he has demure
looks, and pretends to be helping his master, when he only helps
(3) The thief that shrouds himself under law, as the unjust
attorney or lawyer, who prevaricates and deals falsely with his
client. This is to steal from the client. By deceit and
prevarication, the lawyer robs the client of his land, and may be
the means of ruining his family, and is no better than a thief in
(4) The church-thief or pluralist, who holds several benefices,
but seldom or never preaches to the people. He gets the golden
fleece, but lets the flock starve. 'Woe be to the shepherds of
Israel.' Ezek xxxiv 2. They 'fed themselves, and fed not my flock;'
ver. 8. These ministers will be indicted for thieves at God's bar.
(5) The shop-thief, who steals in selling. He who uses false
weights and measures steals from others what is their due. 'Making
the ephah small.' Amos viii 5. The ephah was a measure the Jews used
in selling. Some made the ephah small, and gave scant measure, which
was plainly stealing. 'The balances of deceit are in his hand.' Hos
xii 7. By making their weights lighter, men make their accounts
heavier. He steals in selling who puts excessive prices on his
commodities. He takes thrice as much for an article as it cost him,
or as it is worth. To overreach others in selling, is to steal money
from them. 'Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him.'
Lev xix 13. To defraud him is to rob him; to overreach others in
selling is a cunning way of stealing, and is against both law and
gospel. It is against the law of God. 'If thou sell ought to thy
neighbour, ye shall not oppress one another.' Lev xxv 14. It is
against the gospel. 'That no man go beyond, and defraud his
brother.' 1 Thess iv 6.
(6) The usurer, who takes by extortion from others. He seems to
help another by letting him have money in his necessity, but gets
him into bonds, and sucks out his very blood and marrow. I read of a
woman whom Satan had bound (Luke xiii 16), and truly he is almost in
as bad a condition whom the usurer has bound. The usurer is a
robber. A usurer once asked a prodigal when he would leave off
spending? The prodigal replied, 'I will leave off spending what is
my own, when thou leanest off stealing from others.' Zacchaeus was
an extortioner who, after his conversion, made restitution. Luke xix
8. He thought all he got by extortion was theft.
(7) The trustee, who has the orphan's estate committed to him,
is deputed to be his guardian, and manages his estate for him; if he
curtails the estate, and gets a fleece out of it for himself, and
wrongs the orphan, he is a thief. This is worse than taking a purse
by violence, because he betrays his trust, which is the highest
piece of treachery and injustice.
(8) The borrower, who borrows money from others, with an
intention never to pay them again. 'The wicked borroweth, and payeth
not again.' Psa xxxvii 21. What is it but thievery to take money and
goods from others, and not restore them again. The prophet Elisha
bade the widow sell her oil, and pay her debts, and then live upon
the rest. 2 Kings iv 7.
(9) The last sort of theft is, the receiver of stolen goods.
The receiver, if he be not the principal, yet is accessory to the
theft, and the law makes him guilty. The thief steals the money, and
the receiver holds the sack to put it in. The root would die if it
were not watered, and thieving would cease if it were not encouraged
by the receiver. I am apt to think that he who does not scruple to
take stolen goods into his house, would as little scruple to have
What are the aggravations of this sin?
(1) To steal when there is no need; to be a rich thief.
(2) To steal sacrilegiously; to devour things set apart to holy
uses. 'It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy.'
Prov xx 25. Such an one was Dionysius, who robbed the temple, and
took away the silver vessels.
(3) To commit the sin of theft against checks of conscience,
and examples of God's justice; which, like the dye to the wool, dyes
the sin of a crimson colour.
(4) To rob the widow and orphan. 'Ye shall not afflict the
widow or fatherless.' Peccatum clamans [This sin shrieks aloud]. 'If
they cry unto me, I will surely hear them.' Exod xxii 23.
(5) To rob the poor. How angry was David that the rich man
should take away the poor man's lamb! 'As the Lord lives, he shall
surely die.' 2 Sam xii 5. What is inclosing of commons but robbing
 There is a stealing from a man's self. A man may be a thief
(1) By niggardliness. The niggard is a thief; he steals from
himself in not allowing himself what is needful. He thinks that lost
which is bestowed upon himself; he robs himself of necessaries. 'A
man to whom God has given riches, yet God giveth him not power to
eat thereof' Eccl vi 2. He gluts his chest and starves his belly; he
is like the ass that is loaded with gold, but feeds upon thistles;
he robs himself of what God allows him. This is to be punished with
riches; to have an estate and want a heart to take the comfort of
(2) A man may rob himself by foolishly wasting his estate. The
prodigal lavishes gold out of the bag; he is like Crates, the
philosopher, who threw his gold into the sea. The prodigal boils a
great estate to nothing. He is a thief to himself who spends away
that estate which might conduce to the comfort of life.
(3) He is a thief to himself, by idleness, when he misspends
his time. He who spends his hours in pleasure and vanity robs
himself of that precious time which God has given him to work out
salvation in. Time is a rich commodity, because on well spending
present time a happy eternity depends. He that spends his time idly
and vainly, is a thief to himself; he robs himself of golden
seasons, and by consequence, of salvation.
(4) A man may be a thief to himself by suretiship. 'Be not thou
one of them that are sureties for debts.' Prov xxii 26. The creditor
comes upon the surety for debt, and so, by paying another's debt, he
is a thief to himself. Let not any man say he would have been
counted unkind if he had not entered into a bond for his friend.
Better thy friend should count thee unkind than all men count thee
unwise. Lend another what you can spare; nay, give him if he needs,
but never be a surety. It is no wisdom for a man so to help another
as to undo himself. It is to rob himself and his family.
For confutation of the doctrine of community, that all
things are common, and one man has a right to another's estate. This
is confuted by Scripture. 'When thou comest into the standing corn
of thy neighbour, thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour's
corn.' Deut xxiii 25. Property must be respected; God has set this
eighth commandment as a hedge about a man's estate, and this hedge
cannot be broken without sin. If all things be common, there can be
no theft, and so this commandment would be in vain.
For reproof of such as live by stealing. Instead of
living by faith, they live by their shifts. The apostle exhorts that
'every man eat his own bread.' 2 Thess iii 12. The thief does not eat
his own bread, but another's. If there be any who are guilty of this
sin, let them labour to recover out of the snare of the devil, by
repentance, and let them show their repentance by restitution. Non
remittitur peccatum nisi restituatur ablatum. Augustine. 'Without
restitution, no remission.' 'If I have taken away any thing from any
man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.' Luke xix 8.
Ill-gotten things may be restored by one's own hand, or by proxy.
Better a thousand times restore goods unlawfully gotten, than stuff
your pillow with thorns, and have guilt trouble your conscience upon
For exhortation to all to take heed of the sin of
thieving; which is against the light of nature. Some may endeavour
to excuse this sin. It is a coarse wool that will take no dye, and a
bad sin that has no excuse.
I am (says one) grown low in the world, and trading is bad, and
I have no other way to a livelihood.
(1) This shows great distrust in God, as if he could not
provide for thee without thy sin. (2) It shows sin to be at a great
height, that, because a man is grown low in the world, therefore he
will Acheronta movere [knock at Hell's door], go to the devil for a
livelihood. Abraham would not have it said, that 'the king of Sodom
had made him rich.' Gen xiv 22. O let it never be said, that the
devil has made thee rich! (3) Thou oughtest not to undertake any
action upon which thou canst not pray for a blessing; but thou canst
not pray for a blessing upon stolen goods. Therefore take heed of
this sin; lucrum in arca, damnum in conscientia [you gain
materially, but your conscience suffers loss]. Augustine. Take heed
of getting the world with the loss of heaven.
To dissuade all from this horrid sin, consider - (1)
Thieves are the caterpillars of the earth, enemies to civil society.
(2) God hates them. In the law, the cormorant was unclean, because a
thievish, devouring creature, a bird of prey; by which God showed
his hatred of this sin. Lev xi 17. (3) The thief is a terror to
himself, he is always in fear. 'There were they in great fear,' is
true of the thief. Psa liii 5. Guilt breeds fear: if he hears but the
shaking of a tree, his heart shakes. It is said of Catiline, he was
afraid of every noise. If a briar does but take hold of a thief's
garment, he is afraid it is the officer to apprehend him; and fear
has torment in it. I John iv 18. (4) The judgements that follow this
sin. Achan the thief was stoned to death. Josh vii 25. 'What sees
thou? And I answered, A flying roll.... This is the curse that goes
forth over the face of the whole earth; I will bring it forth, saith
the Lord, and it shall enter into the house of the thief' Zech v 2,
3, 4. Fabius, a Roman censor, condemned his own son to die for
theft. Thieves die with ignominy, the ladder is their preferment:
and there is a worse thing than death; for while they rob others of
money, they rob themselves of salvation.
What is to be done to avoid stealing?
(1) Live in a calling. 'Let him that stole steal no more, but
rather let him labour, working with his hands.' Eph iv 28, &c. The
devil hires such as stand idle, and puts them to the pilfering
trade. An idle person tempts the devil to tempt him.
(2) Be content with the estate that God has given you. 'Be
content with such things as ye have.' Heb xiii 5. Theft is the
daughter of avarice. Study contentment. Believe that condition best
which God has carved out to you. He can bless the little meal in the
barrel. We shall not need these things long: we shall carry nothing
out of the world with us but our winding sheet. If we have but
enough to bear out our charges to heaven, it is sufficient.