A. The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.
Q. 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.
1. A poor family were brought to the last state of want; and seeing nothing but death stare them in the face, the wife said to the husband, 'You must go out and steal what you can.' The husband made many objections, but at last being so closely pressed by his wife, he took up his hat and went out. He soon returned, however, and throwing himself into a chair, he said, 'I can't steal; if we die of hunger, I can't steal.' The wife replied, that she could not bear to see the children famish; and if he would not go she must. She then went out, and a butcher's shop being the first she came to, she snatched a joint of meat and returned home. The butcher saw her; and suspecting the cause, he resolved to follow her, not to bring her to justice, but to learn the truth of his suspicions. He saw her into her house, but did not follow her in for a few minutes. Then, upon opening the door, he actually saw the poor children devouring the mutton in its raw state, and the greater part of it was already gone! The kind butcher not only forgave the theft, but sent the poor family another joint.
2. Two persons who were employed in collecting money for some public charity, knocked at the door of a certain gentleman, intending to solicit his donation. While waiting there, they overheard the master of the house severely reproving his servant for the waste of a small piece of candle. Judging from this appearance of extreme parsimony, that he was a covetous man, one of them proposed that they should lose no more time in waiting there, but go on to another house; the other person, however, thought it best to stay. At length they were introduced, when the gentleman, having read their case, immediately presented them with five guineas. The collectors could not conceal their surprise; which being observed by the donor, he desired to know why they expressed so much wonder at the gift. 'The reason, sir,' said one of them, 'is this; we happened to hear you severely blaming your servant for losing an inch of candle, and expected nothing from a person, who, we feared, was so parsimonious.' 'Gentlemen,' replied he, 'it is true, I am very exact in the economy of my affairs; I cannot endure the waste of any thing, however small its value; and I do this, that I may save out of a moderate income, something to give to God and religion.'
3. A nobleman lately travelling in Scotland, was asked for alms in the High Street of Edinburgh by a little ragged boy; he said he had no change; upon which the boy offered to procure it. His lordship, in order to get rid of his importunity, gave him a piece of silver, which the boy conceiving was to be changed, ran off for the purpose. On his return, not finding his benefactor, who he expected would have waited, he watched for several days in the place where he had received the money, pursuing his occupation. At length the nobleman happened again to pass that way; he accosted him, and put the change he had procured into his hand, counting it with great exactness. His lordship was so pleased with the boy's honesty, that he placed him at school, and signified his intention of providing for his future advancement in life.
4. There once resided in a country village a poor but worthy clergyman, who, with a small stipend of £40 per annum, supported himself, a wife, and seven children. At one time, walking and meditating in the fields in much distress, from the narrowness of his circumstances, he stumbled on a purse of gold. Looking round in vain to find its owner, he carried it home to his wife, who advised him to employ it, or at least part of it, in extricating them from their present difficulty; but he conscientiously refused, until he had used his utmost endeavours to find out the former owner, assuring her, that honesty is always the best policy. After a short time, it was claimed by a gentleman who lived at some little distance, to whom the clergyman returned it, with no other reward than thanks. On the good man's return, his wife could not help reproaching the gentleman with ingratitude, and censuring the over-scrupulous honesty of her husband: but he only replied as before, honesty is the best policy. A few months after, he received an invitation to dine with the gentleman, who, after hospitably entertaining him, gave him the presentation to a living of £300 per annum, to which he added a gift of £50 for his present necessities. The clergyman, after making suitable acknowledgments to his benefactor, returned with joy to his wife and family, acquainting them with the happy change in his circumstances; and adding, that he hoped she would now be convinced that honesty was the best policy, to which she readily assented.
5. A clergyman was once applied to by a person in his congregation, who had been awakened under his ministry. She had been tempted some years before to steal some trifling articles off the counter of a shop, in a town at some distance. Nothing would satisfy her but an effort to find out the shop, and make restitution. The town was visited, but the same shopkeeper was not there, and every inquiry after him was fruitless; upon which she went to the minister, and gave him a pound for the poor, which was more than fourfold the value of the articles stolen.
6. Benjamin Franklin, in his Memoirs, mentions a merchant named Denham, who failed in his business at Bristol, compounded with his creditors, and went to America. In a few years he accumulated a plentiful fortune, returned to England in the same ship with Franklin, called his creditors together to an entertainment, and paid the full remainder of his debts, with interest up to the time of settlement
7. John Parkhurst, the author of Hebrew and Greek Lexicons, having a tenant who fell behind in the payment of his rent, which was £500 per annum, it was represented to his landlord that it was owing to his being over-rented. A new valuation being made, it was agreed that, for the future, the rent should not be more than £450. Parkhurst justly inferring that if the farm was then too dear, it must necessarily have been always too dear, unasked, and of his own accord, immediately struck off £50 from the commencement of the lease; and instantly refunded all that he had previously received more than £450 per annum.
8. John Newton relates that a friend of his once dined with Dr Butler, then Bishop of Durham; and though the guest was a man of fortune, and the interview by appointment, the provision was no more than a joint of meat and a pudding. The bishop apologised for this plain fare, saying that it was his manner of living, and that, being disgusted with the fashionable expense of time and money in entertainments, he was determined it should receive no countenance from his example. Nor was his conduct the result of covetous-ness; for, large as were his revenues, such was his liberality to the poor, that he left at his death little more than enough to discharge his debts and pay for his funeral.
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