Today is Luther's Large Catechism Wednesdays! Each Wednesday we will be going through a section of Luther's Large Catechism.
LLC WEDNESDAYS #9
THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT
222 You shall not steal.
223 After the commandment about you personally and your spouse, next comes the commandment about temporal property. God also wants property protected. He has commanded that no one shall take away from, or diminish, his neighbor’s possessions. 224 For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another’s property wrongfully. Briefly, this includes all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor. Now, this is indeed quite a widespread and common vice. But it is so little considered and noticed that it surpasses all measure. So if all thieves who did not want to be known as thieves were to be hanged on gallows, the world would soon be devastated. There would be a lack both of executioners and gallows. For, as we have just said, to “steal” means not only emptying our neighbor’s money box and pockets. It also means grasping property in the market, in all stores, booths, wine and beer cellars, workshops, and, in short, wherever there is trading or taking and giving of money for merchandise or labor.
225 Let me explain this somewhat plainly for the common people, that it may be seen how godly we are. For example, consider a manservant or maidservant who does not serve faithfully in the house, does damage, or allows damage to be done when it could be prevented. He ruins and neglects the goods entrusted to him, by laziness, idleness, or hate, to the spite and sorrow of master and mistress. In whatever way this can be done purposely (I’m not talking about what happens by mistake and against one’s will), you can in a year steal thirty or forty florins. If another servant had taken that much money secretly or carried it away, he would be hanged with the rope. But here you (while conscious of such a great theft) may even express defiance and become rude, and no one dare call you a thief.
226 I say the same also about mechanics, workmen, and day laborers. They all follow their evil thoughts and never know enough ways to overcharge people, while they are lazy and unfaithful in their work. All these are far worse than burglars, whom we can guard against with locks and bolts and, if caught, can be treated in such a way that they will not commit the crime again. But against unfaithful workers no one can guard. No one even dares to give them an angry look or accuse them of theft. One would rather lose ten times as much money from his purse. For here are my neighbors, good friends, my own servants, from whom I expect ‹every faithful and diligent service›, yet they cheat me most of all.
227 Furthermore, in the market and in common trade also, this practice is in full swing and force to the greatest extent. There one openly cheats another with bad merchandise; false measures, weights, and coins; and by nimbleness and strange finances [Proverbs 20:10]. Or he takes advantage of him with clever tricks. Likewise, one overcharges another in a trade and greedily drives a hard bargain, skins and distresses him. Who can repeat or think of all these acts? 228 To sum up, this is the most common trade and the largest union on earth. If we consider the world through all conditions of life, it is nothing but a vast, wide sales booth, full of great thieves.
229 Therefore, some are also called swivel-chair robbers, land and highway robbers, not picklocks and burglars. For they snatch away easy money, but they sit on a chair at home and are styled great noblemen and honorable, pious citizens. They rob and steal in a way assumed to be good.
230 Yes, here we might be silent about the petty individual thieves if we were to attack the great, powerful archthieves with whom lords and princes keep company. These thieves daily plunder not only a city or two, but all of Germany. Indeed, where should we place the head and supreme protector of all thieves—the Holy Chair at Rome with all its train of attendants—which has grabbed by theft the wealth of all the world, and holds it to this day?
231 This is, in short, the way of the world: whoever can steal and rob openly goes free and secure, unmolested by anyone, and even demands that he be honored. Meanwhile, the little burglars, who have once trespassed, must bear the shame and punishment to make the former thieves appear godly and honorable. But let such open thieves know that in God’s sight they are the greatest thieves. He will punish them as they are worthy and deserve.
232 Now, since this commandment is so far-reaching, as just indicated, it is necessary to teach it well and to explain it to the common people. Do not let them go on in their greed and security. But always place before their eyes God’s wrath, and instill the same. For we must preach this not to Christians, but chiefly to hoods and scoundrels. It would be more fitting for judges, jailers, or Master Hans (the executioner) to preach to them. 233 Therefore, let everyone know his duty, at the risk of God’s displeasure: he must do no harm to his neighbor nor deprive him of profit nor commit any act of unfaithfulness or hatred in any bargain or trade. But he must also faithfully preserve his property for him, secure and promote his advantage. This is especially true when one accepts money, wages, and one’s livelihood for such service.
234 Now the person who greedily despises this commandment may indeed pass by and escape the hangman. But he shall not escape God’s wrath and punishment [Galatians 6:7–8; 1 Thessalonians 5:3]. When he has long practiced his defiance and arrogance, he shall still remain a tramp and beggar. In addition, he will have all plagues and misfortune. 235 Now you are going your own way, though you ought to preserve the property of your master and mistress. For your service you fill your throat and stomach, take your wages like a thief, and have people treat you like a nobleman. For there are many that are even rude towards their masters and mistresses and are unwilling to do them a favor or service by which to protect them from loss.
236 But consider what you will gain. When you have come into your own property and are set up in your home (to which God will help with all misfortunes), your earlier misdeeds will bob up again and come home to you. You will find that where you have cheated or done injury at the value of one mite, you will have to pay thirty again.
237 This will also be the result for craftsmen and day laborers. We are now obliged to hear and suffer such intolerable hatred from them, as though they were noblemen in another’s possessions and everyone is obliged to give them what they demand. 238 Just let them continue making their demands as long as they can. God will not forget His commandment. He will reward them just as they have served. He will hang them, not upon a green gallows, but upon a dry one. So all their life they shall neither prosper nor gather anything. 239 Indeed, if there were a well-ordered government in the land, such greediness might soon be checked and prevented. That was the custom in ancient times among the Romans. There such characters were promptly seized by the head in a way that caused others to take warning.
240 No more shall all the rest prosper who change the open, free market into a flesh pit of extortion and a den of robbery [Luke 19:46], where the poor are daily overcharged, and where new burdens and high prices are imposed. Everyone there uses the market according to his whim. He is even defiant and brags as though it were his fair privilege and right to sell his goods for as high a price as he pleases, and no one had a right to say a word against it. 241 We will indeed look on and let these people skin, pinch, and hoard. 242 But we will trust in God, who will do the following: after you have been skinning and scraping for a long time, He will pronounce such a blessing on your gains that your grain in the silo, your beer in the cellar, and your cattle in the stalls shall perish [Luke 12:16–21]. Yes, where you have cheated and overcharged anyone for even a florin, your entire pile of wealth shall be consumed with rust, so that you shall never enjoy it [Matthew 6:19; James 5:1–3].
243 Indeed, we see and experience this being fulfilled daily before our eyes. No stolen or dishonestly acquired possession thrives. How many there are who rake and scrape day and night, and yet grow not a farthing richer! Though they gather much, they must suffer so many plagues and misfortunes that they cannot enjoy it with cheerfulness nor leave it to their children. 244 But since no one cares, and we go on as though it did not concern us, God must visit us in a different way and teach us manners by imposing one taxation after another. Or He must billet a troop of soldiers upon us. In one hour they empty our moneyboxes and purses and do not quit as long as we have a farthing left. In addition, by way of thanks, they burn and devastate house and home, and they outrage and kill wife and children.
245 In short, if you steal much, you can expect that much will be stolen from you. He who robs and gets by violence and wrong will submit to one who shall act the same way toward him. For God is master of this art. Since everyone robs and steals from one another, God punishes one thief by means of another. Or else where would we find enough gallows and ropes?
246 Now, whoever is willing to be instructed, let him know that this is God’s commandment. It must not be treated as a joke. For although you despise, defraud, steal, and rob us, we will indeed manage to endure your arrogance, suffer, and—according to the Lord’s Prayer—forgive and show pity [Matthew 6:12]. For we know that the godly shall nevertheless have enough [Psalm 37:25]. But you injure yourself more than another.
247 Beware of this: The poor man will come to you (there are so many now). He must buy things with the penny of his daily wages and live upon it. When you are harsh to him, as though everyone lived by your favor, and you skin and scrape him to the bone, and when you turn him away with pride and arrogance to whom you ought to give things without payment, he will go away wretched and sorrowful. Since he can complain to no one else, he will cry and call to heaven [Psalm 20:6; 146:8–9]. Then beware (I say again) as of the devil himself. For such groaning and calling will be no joke. It will have a weight that will prove too heavy for you and all the world. For it will reach Him who takes care of the poor, sorrowful hearts. He will not allow them to go unavenged [Isaiah 61:1–3]. But if you despise this and become defiant, see the One you have brought upon you. If you succeed and prosper, before all the world you may call God and me a liar.
248 We have exhorted, warned, and protested enough. He who will not listen to or believe this commandment may go on until he learns this by experience. Yet it must be impressed upon the young [Deuteronomy 6:7] so that they may be careful not to follow the old lawless crowd, but keep their eyes fixed upon God’s commandment, lest His wrath and punishment come upon them too. 249 It is necessary for us to do no more than to teach and to warn with God’s Word. But to check such open greediness there is need for the princes and government. They themselves should take note and have the courage to establish and maintain order in all kinds of trade and commerce. They must do this lest the poor be burdened and oppressed and the leaders themselves be burdened with other people’s sins.
250 This is enough of an explanation of what stealing is. Let the commandment not be understood too narrowly. But let it apply to everything that has to do with our neighbors. Briefly, in summary (as in the former commandments) this is what is forbidden: (a) To do our neighbor any injury or wrong (in any conceivable manner, by impeding, hindering, and withholding his possessions and property), or even to consent or allow such injury. Instead, we should interfere and prevent it. 251 (b) It is commanded that we advance and improve his possessions. When they suffer lack, we should help, share, and lend both to friends and foes [Matthew 5:42].
252 Whoever now seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God. In addition, they are favored and crowned with excellent blessings. So we are to be richly compensated for all that we do for our neighbor’s good and from friendship. King Solomon also teaches this in Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed.” 253 Here, then, you have a rich Lord. He is certainly enough for you. He will not allow you to come up short in anything or to lack [Psalm 37:25]. So you can with a joyful conscience enjoy a hundred times more than you could scrape together with unfaithfulness and wrong. Now, whoever does not desire this blessing will find enough wrath and misfortune.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 384
Soli Deo Gloria