The Ten Commandments
by Thomas Watson
The EIGHTH Commandment
"You shall not steal." Exodus 20:15
As the holiness of God sets him against
immorality, in the command "You shall not commit adultery;" so the
justice of God sets him against thievery and robbery, in the command,
"You shall not steal." The thing forbidden in this commandment, is meddling
with another man's property. The civil lawyers define stealth or theft to be
"the laying hands unjustly on that which is another's;" the invading
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?" Psalm 78:19.
"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 heart made him steal the
wedge of gold—a wedge which cleaved asunder his soul from God! Joshua 7:21.
 The external cause of theft is Satan's solicitation.
Judas was a thief. John 12:6. How did he come to be a thief? "Satan entered
into him". John 13:27. 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 plunder.
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 judgment against such
Christians; for the heathen, as Macrobius notes, dedicated a whole day to
their false gods.
 There is stealing from others.
There is a stealing away souls, as heretics, by
robbing men of the truth, rob them of their souls.
There is a stealing of money and goods.
(1) The highway thief, who takes a purse, contrary to the
letter of the commandment. "You shall not rob your neighbor." Lev 19:13. "Do
not steal." Mark 10:19.
(2) The house-thief, who purloins and filches out
of his master's cash, or steals his wares. The apostle says, "Some have
entertained angels unawares" (Heb 13:2)—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 himself.
(3) The legal-thief who shrouds himself under
law—as the unjust attorney or lawyer, who prevaricates and deals falsely. By
deceit and evasion, the lawyer robs another of his land, and may be the
means of ruining his family, and is no better than a thief in God's account.
(4) The church-thief. He gets the golden
fleece—but lets the flock starve. "Son of man, prophesy against the
shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign
Lord: Destruction is certain for you shepherds who feed yourselves instead
of your flocks. Shouldn't shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk,
wear the wool, and butcher the best animals—but you let your flocks starve!
Ezekiel 34:2-3. 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 8:5. 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 12:7. 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. "You shall not defraud your
neighbor, neither rob him." Lev 19:13. 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 you sell
anything to your neighbor, you shall not take advantage of him." Lev 25:14.
It is against the gospel. "That no man go beyond, and defraud his
brother." 1 Thess 4:6.
(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.
We read of a woman whom Satan had bound (Luke 13:16), 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 you leave off
stealing from others." Zacchaeus was an extortioner who, after his
conversion, made restitution. Luke 19:8. He thought all he got by extortion,
(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 borrow—and do not
repay." Psalm 37:21. 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 4:7.
(9) The last sort of theft is, the receiver of stolen
goods. The receiver, if he is 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 stolen them himself.
What are the aggravations of this sin?
(1) To steal when there is no need; to be a rich
(2) To steal sacrilegiously; to devour things set
apart to holy uses. "It is a snare to the man who devours that which is
holy." Proverbs 20:25. 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 color.
(4) To rob the widow and orphan. "You shall
not afflict the widow or fatherless." "This sin shrieks aloud." "If they cry
unto me, I will surely hear them." Exodus 22:23.
(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 12:5.
(6) There is a stealing from a man's self. A man may be a
thief to HIMSELF. How so?
(1) A man may rob himself by MISERLINESS. The
miser 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 gives him not
power to eat thereof" Eccl 6:2. He gluts his money-chest and starves his
belly! He is like the donkey that is loaded with gold—but feeds upon
thistles; he robs himself of what God allows him. This is to be punished
with riches. This is to have an estate and lack a heart to take the
comfort of it.
(2) A man may rob himself by foolishly WASTING his
estate. The prodigal wastes his money, by lavish living. He is
like Crates, the philosopher, who threw his gold into the sea. The prodigal
boils a great estate down to nothing. He is a thief to himself, who lavishes
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 of
time—a happy eternity depends. He who spends his time idly and vainly, is a
thief to himself; he robs himself of golden seasons, and by consequence, of
(4) A man may be a thief to himself by SURETYSHIP.
"Do not co-sign another person's note or put up a guarantee for
someone else's loan." Proverbs 22:26. 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 your friend should
count you unkind—than all men count you 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—so as to undo himself.
It is to rob himself and his family.
Use one. 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. "If you enter your
neighbor's grainfield, you must not put a sickle to his standing grain."
Deut 23:25. 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.
Use two. For reproof of such as live by
stealing. Instead of living by faith, they live by their deceitful shifts.
The apostle exhorts that "every man eat his own bread." 2 Thess 3:12. The
thief does not eat his own bread—but another's. If there are any who are
guilty of this sin, let them labor to recover out of the snare of the devil,
by repentance, and let them show their repentance by restitution. Augustine,
"Without restitution, no remission." "If I have cheated anybody out of
anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Luke 19:8. Better a
thousand times restore goods unlawfully gotten, than stuff your pillow with
thorns, and have guilt trouble your conscience upon a death-bed.
Use three. For exhortation to all to take heed
of the sin of thieving; which is against the light of nature. Some may
endeavor to excuse this sin. It is a coarse wool which will take no dye, and
a bad sin which has no excuse.
"I am grown poor, 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 you without your sin.
(2) It shows sin to be at a great height, that, because a
man is grown poor, therefore he will "knock at Hell's door," that is, he
will go to the devil for a livelihood. Abraham would not have it said, that
"the king of Sodom had made him rich." Gen 14:22. O let it never be said,
that the devil has made you rich!
(3) You ought not to undertake any action upon which you
cannot pray for a blessing; but you cannot pray for a blessing upon stolen
goods. Therefore take heed of this sin; "you gain materially—but your
conscience suffers loss." Augustine. Take heed of getting the world—with
the loss of heaven.
Use four. To dissuade all from this horrid
(1) Thieves are the caterpillars of the earth, enemies to
(2) God hates them. In the law, the cormorant was
unclean, because it is a thievish, devouring creature, a bird of prey; by
which God showed his hatred of this sin. Lev 11:17.
(3) The thief is a terror to himself, he is always in
fear. Guilt breeds fear. If the thief 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! Fear has torment in it. 1 John 4:18.
(4) The judgments that follow this sin. Achan the thief
was stoned to death. Josh 7:25. Fabius, a Roman judge, condemned his own son
to die for theft. Thieves die with ignominy. 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 vocation. "Let him who stole
steal no more—but rather let him labor, working with his hands." Eph 4:28,
etc. 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 what God has given you.
"Be content with such things as you have." Heb 13:5. 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 live until we get to heaven—it