April 19: The Duties of Property

The following appeared on the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN in 1937. There was no obvious association with any adjoining articles. If the editor had any ulterior motive in adding this brief quote, it was perhaps in reflection on the recent departure of conservatives from the PCUSA, since none of those who left were able to leave with their congregational property. Maybe it was intended as a reflection on their plight. Maybe it was just an editor’s filler. Either way, it remains a thought provoking quote.

CANON LIDDON ON PROPERTY
[The Presbyterian, 107.13 (1 April 1937): 18.]

“Property is not an arbitrary and vicious product of an effete civilization; it is an outcome of forces which are always at work in human nature and life; it is a formation, it is a deposit which human industry is always accumulating; it is an original result of the terms on which men, at once industrious men and free men, live together as members of society. It has its duties, no doubt, as it has its rights. Its duties are not merely matters of choice, any more than its rights are matters of sentiment; but if property is in any sense imperiled, if communism is ever destined to get the upper hand in this our modern Europe, it will be because the holders of property have thought only or chiefly of its rights and have forgotten its duties. Nevertheless, while its rights may for high moral purposes be surrendered voluntarily, they are rights which may be retained and insisted on, and they cannot be violated without doing violence to the very nature of things, without, in Christian language, breaking the eighth commandment of the Decalogue.”

—Canon Henry P. Liddon, in a sermon preached at St. Paul’s, London, April 2, 1882.

Words to Live By:
“Thou shalt not steal.”—Exodus 20:15 (KJV)

We tend to think of stealing as taking material things that don’t belong to us. But there is much more to the Lord’s command, when fully understood:—

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 141
Q. 141. What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
A. The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits, and suretiship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.

Q. 142. What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing landmarks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depredation; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.

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