Today is Luther's Large Catechism Wednesdays! Each Wednesday we will be going through a section of Luther's Large Catechism.
LLC WEDNESDAYS #11
THE NINTH AND TENTH COMMANDMENTS
LLC WEDNESDAYS #11
THE NINTH AND TENTH COMMANDMENTS
292 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his cattle, or anything that is his.
293 These two commandments are given quite exclusively to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, in part they also apply to us. For they do not interpret them as referring to unchastity or theft. These are forbidden well enough above. They also thought that they had kept all those commands when they had done or not done the external act. Therefore, God has added these two commandments in order that it be considered sinful and forbidden to desire or in any way to aim at getting our neighbor’s wife or possessions. 294 He added them especially because under the Jewish government manservants and maidservants were not free as now to serve for wages as long as they pleased. Jewish servants were their master’s property with their body and all they had, as were cattle and other possessions [Deuteronomy 15:12–18]. 295 Further, every man had power over his wife to put her away publicly by giving her a bill of divorce and to take another [Deuteronomy 24:1–4]. Therefore, they were in constant danger among each other. If one took a fancy to another’s wife, he might declare any reason both to dismiss his own wife and to estrange his neighbor’s wife from him, so that he might get her in a way that appeared right. That was not considered a sin or a disgrace among them, just as it is hardly considered a sin now with hired help, when an owner dismisses his manservant or maidservant or takes another’s servants from him in any way.
296 In this way they interpreted these commandments, and that rightly (although the scope of the commandment reaches somewhat farther and higher). No one should consider or intend to get what belongs to another, such as his wife, servants, house and estate, land, meadows, cattle. He should not take them even with a show of right, by a trick, or to his neighbor’s harm. For above, in the Seventh Commandment, the vice is forbidden where one takes for himself the possessions of others or withholds them from his neighbor. A person cannot rightly do these things. But here it is also forbidden for you to alienate anything from your neighbor, even though you could do so with honor in the eyes of the world, so that no one could accuse or blame you as though you had gotten it wrongfully.
297 For our natural instinct is that no one wants to see someone else have as much as himself. Each one acquires as much as he can. 298 The other may do as best he can. Yet we pretend to be godly, know how to dress ourselves up most finely, and conceal our base character. We resort to and invent tricky ways and deceitful works (like those that are now daily and most ingeniously invented). We act as though these ways were derived from the legal codes. In fact, we even dare properly to refer to the law and boast about it. We will not have this called trickery, but shrewdness and caution. 299 Lawyers and jurists assist in this who twist and stretch the law to suit it to their cause. They stress words and use them for a trick, despite fairness or their neighbor’s need. In short, whoever is the most expert and cunning in these affairs finds the most help in the law, as they themselves say, “The laws favor the watchful.”
300 This last commandment, therefore, is given not for cheaters in the eyes of the world. It is for the most pious, who want to be praised and to be called honest and upright people. For they have not offended against the former commandments, as especially the Jewish people claimed to live, and are even now many great noblemen, gentlemen, and princes. For the other common masses belong yet further down, under the Seventh Commandment, as people who are hardly concerned about whether they gain their possessions with honor and right.
301 Now, this happens most often in cases that are brought into court, where it is the purpose to get something from our neighbor and to force him from his property. For example, when people quarrel and wrangle about a large inheritance, real estate, or such, they help themselves and resort to whatever appears right. They dress and adorn everything so that the law must favor their side. They keep the property with such title that no one can complain or lay claim to it. 302 In the same way, if anyone wants to have a castle, city, duchy, or any other great thing, he makes many financial deals through relationships, by any means he can, so that the owner is legally deprived of the property [1 Kings 21]. It is awarded to the other person and confirmed with deed and seal and declared to have been acquired by princely title and honesty.
303 In common trade, one carefully slips something out of another’s hand, so that the latter must watch out. Or one person surprises and cheats another in a matter where he sees advantage and benefit for himself. Then the person who was cheated, perhaps on account of distress or debt, cannot regain or redeem the property without damage. The other person gains the half or even more. Yet this property must not be considered as taken by fraud or stolen, but honestly bought. Here they say, “First come, first served,” and “Everyone must look to his own interest, let another get what he can.” 304 Who can be so smart to come up with all these ways in which one can get many things into his possession by such believable arguments? The world does not consider this wrong and will not notice that the neighbor is placed at a disadvantage by this, by sacrificing what he cannot spare without harm. Yet no one wishes for someone to do this to himself. From this we can easily see that such devices and arguments are false.
305 The same was done in former times also with respect to wives. They knew such tricks, that if one were pleased with another woman, he personally or through others (as there were many ways and means to be invented) caused her husband to become displeased with her. Or he had her resist her husband and act in such a way that he was obliged to dismiss her and let her go to the other man. That sort of thing undoubtedly prevailed much under the Law, as we also read in the Gospel about King Herod. He took his brother’s wife while he was still living. Yet Herod wanted to be thought of as an honorable, pious man, as St. Mark also testifies about him [Mark 6:17–20]. 306 But such an example, I trust, will not happen among us. For in the New Testament those who are married are forbidden to get divorced [Mark 10:9]. (Except there is the case where one man shrewdly by some trick takes away a rich bride from another man.) But it is not a rare thing with us that one estranges or alienates another’s manservant or maidservant or lures them away with flattering words.
307 In whatever way such things happen, we must know that God does not want you to deprive your neighbor of anything that belongs to him, so that he suffer the loss and you gratify your greed with it. This is true even if you could keep it honorably before the world. For it is a secret and sly trick done “under the hat,” as we say, so it may not be noticed. Although you go your way as if you had done no one any wrong, you have still injured your neighbor. If it is not called stealing and cheating, it is still called coveting your neighbor’s property, that is, aiming at possession of it, luring it away from him without his consent, and being unwilling to see him enjoy what God has granted him. 308 Even though the judge and everyone must let you keep it, God will not let you keep it. For He sees the deceitful heart and world’s malice, which is sure to take an extra long measure wherever you yield to her a finger’s breadth. Eventually public wrong and violence follow.
309 Therefore, we allow these commandments to remain in their ordinary meaning. It is commanded, first, that we do not desire our neighbor’s harm, nor even assist, nor give opportunity for it. But we must gladly wish and leave him what he has. Also, we must advance and preserve for him what may be for his profit and service, just as we wish to be treated [Matthew 7:12]. 310 So these commandments are especially directed against envy and miserable greed. God wants to remove all causes and sources from which arises everything by which we harm our neighbor. Therefore, He expresses it in plain words, “You shall not covet,” and so on. For He especially wants us to have a pure heart [Matthew 5:8], although we will never attain to that as long as we live here. So this commandment will remain, like all the rest, one that will constantly accuse us and show how godly we are in God’s sight!