Are You A Thief?
Calvin on stealing:
“[S]tealing is not simply committed with our hands, when [for example] someone is able to steal another person’s money or coins. But stealing occurs when a man possesses what isn’t his, and when we don’t attempt to protect what God has put in a person’s hands, for he wills everyone to retain what he has...Whenever we do not render to every man what rightfully belongs to him, God will always regard that iniquity a stealing.”
Calvin paints with a broad stroke to show how everyone is guilty of theft.
“Whatever the case, God will not neglect to judge as a thief anyone who has taken advantage of a simple man, or has sold him goods in an underhanded way, seeing that he has outwitted him through a fault of judgement. Anyone who also overcharges an illiterate person is equally a thief. Moreover, if an artisan makes a faulty good and the buyer cannot perceive the flaw, or especially if someone takes whatever he can and sells what unquestionably doesn’t belong to him, [justifying it on the basis] that he is dealing with a rich man who has a full purse, it’s all the same.”
Ultimately, we steal because we are discontent in our allotment from God. What is the cure for our dissatisfaction?
“The only medicine we need for healing these vices, is for us to be able to lift our eyes to heaven and say, “God is our Father, he will provide all that we need; it is he in whom we must hope for all that sustains us in this present life; in sum it is his benediction that constitutes the fountain of all wealth.”
To break God’s law is to invite His wrath on us. That is why Calvin asks,
“Is it of small consequence when he says that thieves and robbers will not enter the kingdom of God? Is this present life so dear to us that in order to get by in this world and gain a few goods we are willingly ready to provoke the wrath of God?”
He concludes with,
“Therefore, let none of us think that it is only lawful for us to guard what we have, rather, as the principle of charity exhorts us, let us see that we preserve and procure our neighbor’s property as much as our own. That is why we should not be thieves in God’s eye, nor man’s, and why the possessions that he has put in our hands are blessed by him, and why he makes us prosper, and why we should experience such a contentment that we should always aspire toward that celestial heritage, knowing that therein we shall possess the fullness of all goods in perfection.”
- Calvin, John. John Calvin’s Sermons on the Ten Commandments. Translated and edited by Benjamin W. Farley. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980. Sermons 10, 185-202.