The Ten Commandments
by Thomas Watson
The TENTH Commandment
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You
shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his
ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17
This commandment forbids covetousness in general,
"You shall not covet;" and in particular, "Your neighbor's house,
your neighbor's wife, etc.
I. It forbids covetousness in GENERAL. "You
shall not covet." It is lawful to use the world, yes, and to desire so much
of it as may keep us from the temptation of poverty: "Give me not poverty,
lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain" (Proverbs 30:8, 9); and
as may enable us to honor God with works of mercy. "Honor the Lord with your
substance." Proverbs 3:9. But all the danger is, when the world gets into
the heart. Water is useful for the sailing of the ship: all the danger is
when the water gets into the ship. So the danger is, when the world gets
into the heart. "You shall not covet."
 What is it to covet?
There are two words in the Greek which set forth the
nature of covetousness. Pleonexia, which signifies an "insatiable
desire of getting the world." Covetousness is a dry dropsy. Augustine
defines covetousness, "to desire more than enough;" to aim at a great
estate; to be like the daughter of the horse-leech, crying, "Give, give."
Proverbs 30:15. The other word is Philarguria, which signifies an
"inordinate love of the world." The world is the idol. It is so loved, that
a man will not part with it for any price. He may be said to be covetous not
only who gets the world unrighteously—but who loves it inordinately.
For a more full answer to the question, "What is it to
covet?" I shall show in six particulars, when a man may be said to be given
(1) A man may be said to be given to covetousness, when
his thoughts are wholly taken up with the world. A godly man's
thoughts are in heaven; he is thinking of Christ's love and eternal
recompense. "When I awake I am still with you," that is, in divine
contemplation. Psalm 139:18. A covetous man's thoughts are in the world; his
mind is wholly taken up with it; he can think of nothing but his shop or
farm. The imagination is a mint-house, and most of the thoughts in a
covetous man's mint are worldly. He is always plotting and projecting about
worldly things; like a virgin whose thoughts all center upon her suitor.
"Their mind is on earthly things." Philippians 3:19
(2) A man may be said to be given to covetousness, when
he takes more pains for getting earth than for getting heaven. He
will turn every stone, break his sleep, take many a weary step for the
world; but will take no pains for Christ or heaven. After the Gauls, who
were an ancient people of France, had tasted the sweet wine of the Italian
grape, they inquired after the country, and never rested until they had
arrived at it; so a covetous man, having had a relish of the world, pursues
after it, and never ceases until he has got it; but he neglects the things
of eternity. He would be content if salvation were to drop into his mouth,
as a ripe fig into the mouth of the eater (Nahum 3:12); but he is loath to
put himself to too much sweat or trouble to obtain Christ or salvation. He
hunts for the world—but he only wishes for heaven.
(3) A man may be said to be given to covetousness, when
all his discourse is about the world. "He who is of the earth,
speaks of the earth." John 3:31. It is a sign of godliness to be speaking of
heaven, to have the tongue tuned to the language of Canaan. "The words of a
wise man's mouth are gracious;" he speaks as if he had been already in
heaven. Eccl. 10:12. So it is a sign of a man given to covetousness to speak
always of secular things, of his wares and business. A covetous man's
breath, like a dying man's, smells strong of the earth. As it was said to
Peter, "Your speech betrays you;" so a covetous man's speech betrays him.
Matt 26:73. He is like the fish in the gospel, which had a piece of money in
its mouth. Matt 17:27. "The words are the looking-glass of the heart," they
show what is within. "The good man brings good things out of the good stored
up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored
up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."
(4) A man is given to covetousness when he so sets his
heart upon worldly things, that for the love of them, he will part with
heaven. For the "wedge of gold," he will part with the "pearl of
great price." When Christ said to the young man in the gospel, "Sell all,
and come and follow me." "He went away sorrowful." Matt 19:22. He would
rather part with Christ than with all his earthly possessions. Cardinal
Bourbon said, he would forego his part in paradise, if he might keep his
cardinalship in Paris. When it comes to the critical point that men must
either relinquish their estate or Christ, and they will rather part with
Christ and a good conscience than with their estate, it is a clear case that
they are possessed with the demon of covetousness! "Demas has forsaken me,
having loved this present world." 2 Timothy 4:10
(5) A man is given to covetousness, when he overloads
himself with worldly business. He has many irons in the fire; he
takes so much business upon him, that he cannot find time to serve God; he
has scarcely time to eat his food—but no time to pray. When a man
overcharges himself with the world, and as Martha, cumbers himself about
many things, that he cannot have time for his soul, he is under the power of
(6) He is given to covetousness whose heart is so set
upon the world, that, to get it, he cares not what unlawful means he uses.
He will have the world by fair means or foul; he will wrong and defraud, and
raise his estate upon the ruins of another. "The balances of deceit are in
his hand, he loves to oppress. . . . Ephraim said, "Yet I am become rich."
Hos 12:7, 8. Pope Sylvester II sold his soul to the devil for a popedom.
Use. "Take heed and beware of covetousness."
Luke 12:15. It is a direct breach of the tenth commandment. It is a moral
vice, it infects and pollutes the whole soul.
(1) Covetousness is a SUBTLE sin. It is a sin
that many cannot so well discern in themselves. This sin can dress itself in
the attire of virtue. It is called the "cloak of covetousness." 1
Thess 2:5. It is a sin which wears a cloak, it cloaks itself under the name
of frugality and good taste. It has many pleas and excuses for
itself; more than any other sin—such as providing for one's family. The more
subtle the sin is, the less discernible it is.
(2) Covetousness is a DANGEROUS sin. It checks
all that is good. It is an enemy to grace; it damps holy affections, as the
earth puts out the fire. The hedgehog, in the fable, came to the cony-burrows,
in stormy weather, and desired harbor; but when once he had got admission,
he set up his prickles, and never ceased until he had thrust the poor conies
out of their burrows! Just so, covetousness, by fair pretenses, winds itself
into the heart; but as soon as you have let it in, it will never leave until
it has choked all good beginnings, and thrust all piety out of your hearts.
"Covetousness hinders the efficacy of the Word preached."
In the parable of the sower, the thorns, which
Christ expounded to be the cares of this life—choked the good seed. Matt
13:22. Many sermons lie dead and buried in earthly hearts. We preach to men
to get their hearts in heaven; but where covetousness is predominant, it
chains them to earth, and makes them like the woman which Satan had bent
down for eighteen years, so that she was unable to stand up straight. Luke
13:11. You may as well bid an elephant fly in the air—as a covetous man live
by faith. We preach to men to give freely to Christ's poor; but covetousness
makes them like the man in the gospel, who had "a withered hand." Mark 3:1.
They have a withered hand, and cannot stretch it out to the poor. It is
impossible to be earthly-minded and charitably-minded. Covetousness
obstructs the efficacy of the Word, and makes it prove abortive. Those whose
hearts are rooted in the earth, will be so far from profiting by the Word,
that they will be ready rather to deride it. The Pharisees, who were
covetous, "derided him." Luke 16:14.
(3) Covetousness is a MOTHER sin. It is a
radical vice. "The love of money is the root of all evil." 1 Tim 6:10. "O
accursed lust for gold! what crimes do you not urge upon the human heart!"
Virgil. He who has an earthly itch, a greedy desire of getting the world,
has in him the root of all sin. Covetousness is a mother sin.
Covetousness is a breach of all the ten commandments.
It breaks the first commandment; "You shall have
no other gods but one." The covetous man has more gods than one; Mammon is
his God. He has a god of gold, therefore he is called an idolater. Col 3:5.
Covetousness breaks the second commandment: "You
shall not make any graven image, you shall not bow yourself to them." A
covetous man bows down, though not to the graven image in the church—yet to
the graven image on his coin.
Covetousness is a breach of the third commandment;
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Absalom's design
was to get his father's crown, which was covetousness; but he talked of
paying his "vow to God," which was to take God's name in vain.
Covetousness is a breach of the fourth
commandment; "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy." A covetous man does
not keep the Sabbath holy; he will do his business on a Sabbath; instead of
reading in the Bible, he will cast up his accounts.
Covetousness is a breach of the fifth commandment;
"Honor your father and your mother." A covetous person does not honor his
father, if he does not help him in his necessities. Nay; he will get his
father to make over his estate to him in his lifetime, so that the father
may be at his son's command.
Covetousness is a breach of the sixth commandment;
"You shall not kill." Covetous Ahab killed Naboth to get his vineyard. 1
Kings 21:13. How many have swum to the crown—in blood?
Covetousness is a breach of the seventh
commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." It causes immorality; you read
of the "hire of a whore." Deut 23:18. An adulteress for money, sets both
conscience and chastity to sale.
Covetousness is a breach of the eighth commandment
"You shall not steal." It is the root of theft: covetous Achan stole the
wedge of gold. Thieves and covetous are put together. 1 Cor
Covetousness is a breach of the ninth commandment;
"You shall not bear false witness." What makes the perjurer take a false
oath but covetousness? He hopes for a reward.
It is plainly a breach of the tenth commandment;
"You shall not covet." The mammonist covets his neighbor's house and
goods, and endeavors to get them into his own hands. Thus you see how vile a
sin covetousness is! It is a mother sin! It is a plain breach of every one
of the ten commandments.
(4) Covetousness is a DISHONORABLE sin to religion.
For men to say their hopes are above—while their hearts are below; to
profess to be above the stars—while they "lick the dust" of the serpent; to
be born of God—while they are buried in the earth; how dishonorable is this
to religion! The lapwing, which wears a little coronet on its head,
and yet feeds on dung, is an emblem of such as profess to be crowned kings
and priests unto God, and yet feed immoderately on earthly dunghill
comforts. "Do you seek you great things for yourself? seek them not!" Jer
45:5. What, you Baruch, who are ennobled by the new birth, and are
illustrious by your office, a Levite, do you seek earthly things, and seek
them now? When the ship is sinking, are you trimming your cabin? O do not so
degrade yourself, nor blot your escutcheon! "Do you seek you great things
for yourself? seek them not!" The higher grace is, the less earthly
should Christians be; as the higher the sun is, the shorter is the shadow.
(5) Covetousness is a DAMNING sin. It exposes
us to God's abhorrence. "The covetous, whom the Lord abhors." Psalm 10:3. A
king abhors to see his statue abused, so God abhors to see man, made in his
image, having the heart of a beast. Who would live in such a sin—as makes
him abhorred of God? Whom God abhors he curses, and his curse blasts
wherever it comes!
Covetousness brings men to eternal ruin, and shuts them
out of heaven. "This you know, that no covetous man, who is an idolater, has
any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." Eph 5:5. What could
a covetous man do in heaven? God can no more converse with him—than a
king can converse with a swine! "Those who will be rich fall into a snare,
and many hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition." 1 Tim 6:9. A covetous
man is like a bee that gets into a barrel of honey, and there drowns itself.
As a ferry—man, to increase his fare, takes in too many passengers, that he
sinks his boat; so a covetous man takes in so much gold to increase his
estate, that he drowns himself in perdition! I have read of some inhabitants
near Athens, who, living in a very dry and barren island, took much pains to
draw a river to the island to water it and make it fruitful; but when they
had opened the passages, and brought the river to it, the water broke in
with such force, that it drowned the land, and all the people in it. This is
an emblem of a covetous man, who labors to draw riches to him, and at last
they come in such abundance, that they drown him in perdition! How many, to
build up an estate, pull down their souls! Oh, then, flee from covetousness!
I shall next prescribe some remedies against covetousness.
 I am, in the next place, to solve the question, What
is the CURE for this covetousness?"
(1) Faith. "This is the victory that overcomes
the world—even our faith." 1 John 5:4. The root of covetousness is distrust
of God's providence. Faith believes that God will provide; that he who feeds
the birds will feed his children; that he who clothes the
lilies will clothe his lambs; and thus faith overcomes the world.
Faith is the cure of care. It not only purifies the heart—but satisfies it;
it makes God our portion, and in him we have enough. "The Lord is the
portion of my inheritance, the lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places;
yes, I have a goodly heritage." Psalm 16:5, 6. Faith, by a divine
chemistry, extracts comfort out of God. A little, with God—is sweet.
Thus faith is a remedy against covetousness; it overcomes, not only the
fear of the world—but the love of the world.
(2) The second remedy is, judicious considerations.
1. Ah, what poor things, are these earthly things—that we
should covet them! They are far below the worth of the soul, which carries
in it a semblance of God. The world is but the workmanship of God,
the soul is his image. We covet that which will not satisfy us. "He
who loves silver, shall not be satisfied with silver." Eccl 5:10. Solomon
had put all the creatures in a scale, and distilled out their essence, and
behold—"All was vanity." Eccl 2:11. A man with dropsy—"the more water
he drunks, the more he craves." Just so, the more a covetous man has of the
world, the more he thirsts. Worldly things cannot remove trouble of mind.
When King Saul was perplexed in conscience, his crown jewels could not
comfort him. 1 Sam 28:15. The things of the world can no more ease a
troubled spirit—than a gold cap can cure the headache! The things of the
world cannot continue with you. The creature has a little honey in
its mouth—but it has wings to fly away. Earthly things either leave us—or we
leave them! What poor things are they to covet!
2. The second consideration is the frame and texture of
the body. God has made the face look upward towards heaven. "He gave man an
uplifted face, with the order to gaze up to Heaven." Ovid. Anatomists
observe, that whereas other creatures have but four muscles to their eyes,
man has a fifth muscle, by which he is able to look up to heaven. And as for
the heart, it is made narrow and contracted downwards—but wide and
broad upwards. As the frame and texture of the body teaches us to look to
things above, so especially the soul is planted in the body, as a divine
spark, to ascend upwards. Can it be imagined that God gave us intellectual
and immortal souls—to covet earthly things only? What wise man would fish
for gudgeons with golden hooks? Did God give us glorious souls—only
to fish for the world? Sure our souls are made for a higher end; to aspire
after the enjoyment of God in glory.
3. The third consideration is the examples of those who
have been despisers of the world. The primitive Christians, were sequestered
from the world, and were wholly taken up in converse with God. They lived
in the world—yet above the world. They were like the birds of
paradise, which soar above in the air, and seldom or never touch the
earth with their feet. Luther says that he was never tempted to the sin of
covetousness. Though the saints of old lived in the world—they traded in
heaven. "Our conversation is in heaven." Phil 3:20. The Greek word signifies
our commerce, or traffic, or citizenship, is in heaven. "Enoch walked with
God." Gen 5:24. His affections were sublime; he took a turn in heaven every
day. The righteous are compared to a palm-tree. Psalm 92:12. Philo observes,
that whereas all other trees have their sap in their root, the sap of the
palm-tree is towards the top; and thus is an emblem of saints, whose hearts
are in heaven, where their treasure is!
(3) The third remedy for covetousness is to covet
spiritual things more. Covet grace, for it is the best
blessing, it is the seed of God. 1 John 3:9. Covet heaven, which is
the region of perfect happiness—the most pleasant climate. If we covet
heaven more—we shall covet earth less! To those who stand on the top of
the Alps, the great cities of Campania seem but as small villages; so if our
hearts were more fixed upon the Jerusalem above, all worldly things would
disappear, would diminish, and be as nothing in our eyes. We read of an
angel coming down from heaven, and setting his right foot on the sea, and
his left foot on the earth. Rev 10:2. Had we been in heaven, and viewed its
superlative glory, how would we, with holy scorn, trample with one foot upon
the earth and with the other foot upon the sea! O covet after heavenly
things! There is the tree of life, the mountains of spices, the rivers of
pleasure, the honeycomb of God's love dropping, the delights of angels, and
the flower of joy, fully ripe and blown. There is the pure air to breathe
in; no fogs or vapors of sin arise to infect that air—but the Sun of
Righteousness enlightens the whole horizon continually with his glorious
beams. O let your thoughts and delights be always taken up with the city of
pearls, the paradise of God! It is reported of Lazarus that, after he
was raised from the grave, he was never seen to smile or take delight in the
world. Were our hearts raised by the power of the Holy Spirit up to heaven,
we would not be much absorbed with earthly things.
(4) The fourth remedy is to pray for a heavenly mind.
"Lord, let the loadstone of your Spirit draw my heart upward. Lord, dig the
earth out of my heart! Teach me how to possess the world, and
not love it; how to hold it in my hand, and not let it get into my
II. Having spoken of the command in general, I proceed to
speak of it more PARTICULARLY. "You shall not covet your
neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife," etc. Observe
the holiness and perfection of God's law, which forbids the first motions
and risings of sin in the heart. The laws of men take hold of actions; but
the law of God goes further—it forbids not only sinful actions—but sinful
desires. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house." It is not said, "You
shall not take away his house;" but "You shall not covet it." These lusts
and desires after the forbidden fruit are sinful. The law has said, "You
shall not covet." Rom 7:7. Though the tree bears no bad fruit, it may be
faulty at the root; so though a man does not commit any gross sin, he cannot
say his heart is pure. There may be faultiness at the root: there may be
sinful covetings and lustings in the soul.
Use. Let us be humbled for the sin of our
nature, the risings of evil thoughts, coveting that which we ought not. Our
nature is a seed-plot of iniquity; like charcoal which is ever sparkling,
the sparks of pride, envy, covetousness, arise in the mind. How should this
humble us! If there is not sinful acting, there are sinful covetings. Let us
pray for mortifying grace, which like the water of jealousy, may make the
thigh of sin to rot!
 "You shall not covet your neighbor's HOUSE."
How depraved is man since the fall! He knows not how to keep within
bounds—but covets more than his own. Ahab, one would think, had enough: he
was a king; and we would suppose that his crown-revenues would have
contented him; but he was coveting more. Naboth's vineyard was in his eye,
and he could not rest, until he had it in possession. Were there not so much
coveting, there would not be so much bribing. One man takes away another's
house from him. It is only the prisoner, who lives in such a tenement that
he may be sure none will seek to take it from him!
 "You shall not covet your neighbor's WIFE."
This is a bridle to check the inordinate and brutish lusts. It was the devil
that sowed another man's ground. Matt 13:25. But how is the hedge of
this commandment trodden down in our times! There are many who do more than
covet their neighbors' wives! they take them. "Cursed be he
who lies with his father's wife; and all the people shall say, Amen." Deut
27:20. If it were to be proclaimed, "Cursed be he who lies with his
neighbor's wife," and all that were guilty should say, "Amen," how many
would curse themselves!
 "You shall not covet your neighbor's man-servant, nor
his maidservant." Servants, when faithful, are a treasure. What a
true and trusty servant Abraham had! He was his right hand. How prudent and
faithful he was in the matter entrusted with him, of getting a wife for his
master's son! Gen 24:9. It would surely have grieved Abraham if any one had
enticed away his servant from him. But this sin of coveting servants is
common. If one has a good servant, others will be laying snares for him, and
endeavor to draw him away from his master. This is a sin against the tenth
commandment. To steal away another's servant by enticement, is no better
than direct thieving.
 "You shall not covet your neighbor's ox, nor his
donkey, nor anything which belongs to your neighbor." Were there
no coveting ox and donkey, there would not be so much stealing. First men
break the tenth commandment by coveting, and then the eighth
commandment by stealing. It was an excellent appeal that Samuel made to the
people when he said, "Witness against me before the Lord, whose ox have I
taken, or whose donkey, or whom have I defrauded?" 1 Sam 12:3. It was a
brave speech of Paul, when he said, "I have coveted no man's silver, or
gold, or apparel." Acts 20:33.
What MEANS should we use to keep us from coveting that
which is our neighbor's?
The best remedy is contentment. If we are content with
our own, we shall not covet that which is another's. Paul could say, "I have
coveted no man's gold or silver." Whence was this? It was from contentment.
"I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content." Phil
4:11. Contentment says, as Jacob did, "I have enough." Gen 33:11. I have a
promise of heaven, and have sufficient to bear my charges there; I have
enough. He who has enough, will not covet that which is another's. Be
content! "In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being
content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need."
(1) The best way to be contented, is, to believe that
condition to be best, which God by his providence carves out to you. If he
had seen fit for us to have more—we would have had it. Perhaps we could not
manage a great estate. It is hard to carry a full cup without
spilling—and a full estate without sinning! Great estates may be
snares. A boat may be overturned by having too much sail. Believing that
estate to be best which God appoints us, makes us content; and being
contented, we shall not covet that which is another's.
(2) The way to be content with such things as we have,
and not to covet another's, is to consider the less we have, the less
account we shall have to give at the last day. Every person is a steward,
and must be accountable to God. Those who have great estates have the
greater reckoning. God will say, "What good have you done with your estates?
Have you honored me with your substance? Where are the poor you have fed and
clothed?" If you cannot give a good account, it will be sad. It should make
us contented with a less portion, to consider—the less riches, the less
reckoning. This is the way to have contentment. There is no better antidote
against coveting that which is another's than being content with that which
is our own.