(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 16) Of Property Lord's Day 42 Psalter No. 400: 4, 5, 6 I Kings 21 Psalter No. 105: 4, 5, 6 Psalter No. 305: 4, 5 Psalter No. 136: 3, 4 Beloved: What an awful history is recorded in I Kings 21, regarding Jezebel and Ahab in their dealings with Naboth the Jezreelite. Here we read of what happens when a man forsakes and despises God's ordinances. Naboth had a vineyard in Jezzreel which bordered on the palace of Ahab, the king of Samaria. Evidently Ahab had built a palace in Jezreel also, though Samaria was the official residence of the kings of Israel. Ahab proposed to Naboth that he give his vineyard to him, because Ahab deemed this vineyard very suitable for a garden of herbs, or as we would call it, a vegetable garden for his palace. In exchange for it, Ahab would give Naboth a better vineyard or, if it seemed good to him, give him the value of it in money. Naboth, however, refused. This vineyard was an inheritance of his fathers and had become his lawful property. Now you know how closely God watched over the possessions of the people of Israel. A piece of land was not transferable among the Israelites in the sense that the possession of it could be transferred for a certain time, but the title remained with the original owner. If selling a piece of property became necessary because of poverty or the death of a whole family, and consequently the possession of it had to be transferred, this transfer could not last for more than fifty years. Every fiftieth year was Israel's Year of Jubilee in which all the inhabitants of Canaan could receive their freedom, and return to their father's possession. The Israelite who had sold his land because of poverty, or any other reason, received everything back. Also Naboth was attached to his paternal inheritance, and refused to part with his vineyard. That was his proper right. In no sense did King Ahab have any claim on the property, which the Lord Himself had allotted to Naboth as He had done to every tribe, every relation and every family by establishing the boundaries. Ahab was very irritated and angry because of this refusal. He lay down on his bed, turned away his face and would eat no bread. But the wicked Jezebel knew a way to solve this problem. She hired false witnesses who accused Naboth of having blasphemed God and the king. They carried him out and stoned him until he died, and then seized all his goods. Now this case was closed and Ahab had his way. But God had seen it! He sent Elijah, the prophet, to Ahab, who was enjoying a walk in Naboth's vineyard, with the divine message that the dogs would lick his blood and eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Notice how closely the Lord watches over His own institutions, including that of private property, which He allots to each person as the Sovereign Owner of heaven and earth. For this reason He commanded in His holy law: Thou shalt not steal. We shall now consider this eighth commandment, according to the explanation given us in Lord's Day forty-two of the Heidelberg Catechism. Lord's Day 42 Q. 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment? A. God forbids not only those thefts, and robberies, which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we design to appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbor; whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, usury, or by any other way forbidden by God; as also all covetousness, all abuse and waste of his gifts. Q. 111. But what does God require in this commandment? A. That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others; further also that I faithfully labor, so that I may be able to relieve the needy. This commandment has to do with property, and we see how this property: I. belongs to God alone as the Sovereign Owner, II. is obtained from God's hand, and III. must be used in a manner well-pleasing to God. I This Lord's Day speaks of stealing, which is appropriating someone else's property. It is evident from God's Word that stealing is forbidden because it teaches us that God has given man a right to own property. By this, Holy Scripture does not say that we are sovereign owners, who can do with our property as we please. God only is the Sovereign Owner of all, and he demands that we acknowledge Him as such. God alone is the sovereign Possessor of heaven and earth, of all creatures living on the earth and dwelling in heaven. He does with the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth according to His good pleasure. His is the silver and gold and the cattle on a thousand hills. The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. All that exists is the Lord's, and according to His pleasure He allots to everyone a certain portion in this world. How often we err in all our labor, plans and calculations. Permit me to illustrate this with a practical example which speaks volumes. You know that the island of Walcheren (in the province of Zealand) was flooded with sea water during the war. The government ordered the farmers not to sow during the first year after the war because the soil was not suitable, and therefore incapable of yielding crops. The farmers in this area, including those in Tholen, paid no attention to that restriction, but raised a very rich crop on that soil despite all human calculations. It was the Lord Who opened His hand and gave a rich harvest. But what happened the following year? Hardly any wheat had been harvested and there was no bread to eat, but the people lived on beans. Is this not an example of the way in which the Lord teaches us to live in dependence on Him? When we make plans without God, our calculations fail. When we think we have obtained our purpose and all will go well, then everything goes wrong. Apply this to your own life, and let all these experiences be a reminder in the first place of our deep dependence upon the Lord. Our nature is opposed to a dependent life. As children of Adam we want to be like God; that is, free and independent of God. Bowing before God and acknowledging Him is strange to us by nature. We want to live our own life and rule it apart from God. We desire to boast in our own strength, in which we put our confidence. Wherein do we put our trust? In man and in the means. When our fields produce good crops, when our trade brings us great profit or when our name is mentioned among the educated, how we swell with pride. It is the fertilizer, our zeal and skill, and our wisdom to which we ascribe the blessing. Yet, what do we have that we have not received? All blessings are from above, from the Father of Lights, from whom comes every good gift and every perfect gift. When He withholds His hand, our prosperity is gone; when he takes away our breath, we are no more. Everyone who has learned to know something of God as the Sovereign Owner acknowledges: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows, for so He giveth His beloved sleep." In true acknowledgment of that dependence, God receives the honour from His people. They live a life of prayer, in order that their needs may always be supplied. It was not without reason that Moses warned the children of Israel not to say in their hearts, "My power and the might of mine hand has gotten me this wealth." Moses said, "Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to obtain wealth." It is the Lord Who, as the sovereign owner of all that exists, distributes to everyone according to his sovereign pleasure. The second lesson which we are taught about God as the sovereign owner is, that we shall be held responsible for the use of the property which God has entrusted to us. Some day each person will have to give an account before God's judgment seat, of the use he has made of the goods which God has given him. We should fear covetousness, abuse and wasting of God's gifts, as the instructor says. Scripture says, "They that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare." There is no poorer man than a miser. He denies himself and others the necessities of life. For the poor he has only a harsh word. To the church and school he gives not a penny. I have known people of wealth who were shivering at their own hearths during severely cold weather, because their thriftiness prevented them from using the necessary fuel. I have seen some brooding day after day for fear of having to lead a pauper's life until the heirs divided the thousands after their death. Truly, we should sing with David: "Incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not to covetousness." On the other hand there are people who are guilty of wastefulness. They live extravagantly. They spend all they earn even when their income is ample. Their money is squandered or spent on things of no value. The Lord Jesus left us a different kind of example when He fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes. He commanded that the fragments be gathered up. God will also require an accounting of the food fragments we throw away. We are not to follow Rome in its doctrine of voluntary renunciation of property - the so-called voluntary poverty; neither are we to allow waste which is also a despising of Him before whose judgment seat all men must once appear to give an account of their stewardship. From the acknowledgment that God is a sovereign owner follows in the third place, a quiet submission to what God grants us; for we receive it out of His hand. It is God Who makes rich or poor, and gives much or little. It is He Who makes us live in wealth or poverty all of our lives. Was not Asaph offended because the eyes of the wicked stood out with fatness while everything was against him? There was no contentment in his heart. However, when he understood the end of the wicked he had to cry out, "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart." Let it be the confession of our hearts that we receive everything - be it much or little - out of God's hand, in order that we may not covet the world and its lusts, but be content with what the Lord gives us. It was Agur's prayer: "Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches." If this principle were acknowledged in the consciences of all of us, neither socialism nor communism would influence us, but we would live calmer lives. Then we would say - even in adversity - "It is God's hand that gives me everything I have, because God is the sovereign owner who gives to everyone his portion." II Our second point is: Property is obtained from God's hand. In His providence God upholds the whole universe, heaven and earth, and being good to all, He gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater. He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. There is no one on earth who can say that God rewards him according to his sins. If the Lord would deal with us according to our just deserts, we would be in that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Lord's tender mercies are bestowed upon us day by day, but there is a great difference how He does so. God upholds the world in His long suffering. The world does not continue to exist by virtue of Christ's mediatorial blood. The Mediator, however, became poor; He hungered and thirsted, and thereby obtained a holy right to the goods of this life for His people. The world has no part in that right, but the church of God receives its temporal blessings in God's favour. Therefore the church may rightly sing: Make known His doings far and near That peoples all His Name may fear. Psalter 425:1 God distributes to His people the benefits of this life in His favour and by His right hand. If God's children may observe this and taste a little of God's mercy, they are rich, even though they are poor in the world. They are blessed even though they are trampled under foot by the world. "O, satisfy us early with thy mercy," sings the Psalmist. If His people may taste this mercy of God, all that the world has to offer vanishes into insignificance, because then they enjoy sweet communion with God in Christ. Herein lies the difference between God's distribution of benefits to the wicked and that to the pious. We certainly have reason to be jealous of the people of God, and say that they are a happy people already in this life. Soon they will be so eternally. In the state of innocence, God gave man a right to all the riches of the Garden of Eden, but the fall deprived us of all those rights. Nevertheless, in His covenant with Noah, the Lord decreed that the whole world should be inhabited. He gave the earth as a possession to the whole human race. Did not the Lord Himself confound the language of the people who were building the Tower of Babel so that they should disperse? Later when the children of Israel were brought by the Lord into the land of Canaan, each tribe was allotted a definite portion. The border lines were drawn and every family received the plot of ground given them by God. Consider the daughters of Zelophehad. They had no brother and no heir. Their father's inheritance was awarded to them under the condition that they should never marry a man of another tribe, lest their tribe's possession be lost to another tribe. By this we can see how closely the Lord watched over the inheritance allotted to every tribe, and how tenderly He cared for His Israel and for the possessions which He had given them in Canaan. God gives to everyone his portion. One is blessed in his labor, and God causes him to prosper in the world. He causes another to be forgotten and fade away. Some are enriched by an inheritance, while others lose it. Therefore, there is such a thing as private property. We are allowed to say, this is my property, which I have received out of God's hand. Sometimes His ways are very remarkable, and understood by His people in their hearts' reflections. God has reserved to himself the distribution of the blessing. Therefore we observe day by day that one person receives an insight in his work which the other lacks. One housewife with a large family can do more with a certain sum of money than another who has no children. The blessing, wisdom, and all we possess or obtain is from God, whether we admit it or not. He distributes to everyone according to His good pleasure, giving one ten talents, another five and a third one talent. Man must respect that distribution. God gives to each his own. Therefore let no one take his neighbor's goods. The Socialists and Communists do not allow private property. Herein lies the root of the battle which is being fought, and which will become more severe as time goes on. You see whole nations moving toward communism. The struggle between capitalism and communism is becoming more intense. You can see this also among our own people, especially among the members of government, who are determined that the working man must be given a voice in the running of a business and its ownership. Does not the Lord of the vineyard say in Matthew 20, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?" God gives possessions to everyone, and those possessions must be acknowledged and protected. Stealing means not only that I take something belonging to another, but also that I offend the right of ownership which God has given him. The more that socialism and communism prevail, the more deeply will our people plunge themselves into misery, because the ordinances of the Lord of Hosts are trodden under foot. These things should fill our hearts with fear. God will not allow His ordinances to be set at naught. He gives every man his portion, and that which we receive out of His hand we must protect. Above all, we are to make use of it in a way which is pleasing to God. III Our third principal thought shows us how to make use of property in a manner which is well-pleasing to God. Here we have occasion for a short discussion first of all of the sins which are committed against this commandment, and secondly of our calling, to keep this commandment. God not only forbids thefts which are punishable by the magistrates, but through Israel's civil laws which were interwoven with the ceremonial and pointed to Christ, a standard for this life appears which is this: The government is called to protect both the national property and the property of individuals. It is the duty of the government to see to this. But if we read the daily papers we must say, "Wretched land, what will become of it?" The government is guilty of violating this commandment and of misusing the property of our people, who groan under heavy burdens. The Lord expresses His displeasure with it since theft is forbidden in this commandment. Our Catechism speaks further about robberies or taking away goods by force. Think of the late wars in which small countries were trampled under foot and suppressed. Robberies in private life are also forbidden by the Lord. Think of King David, who pronounced his own death sentence when the prophet Nathan came to him. David himself was the man who had robbed the ewe lamb under the pretense of right. Also Jezebel, wanting to please Ahab, caused Naboth to be killed under the pretense of justice. It was a satanic action, and God took revenge on the house of Ahab and on Jezebel. Such things still happen today. Think only of recent times when two false witnesses were sufficient to imprison a man. The Lord sees all this injustice, even when it has the appearance of right, and will show His wrath. Notice also how the other examples cited by the Catechism, are taken from daily life: unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, usury, or any other such means forbidden by God. Beware of the business world! It requires constant vigilance; and for those who desire to live according to God's Word, it is difficult to be honest in business. Sometimes improper weight is given. Sometimes ells and measures are lessened. In still other instances fraudulent merchandise is delivered. "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight." Think also of usury. Usurers make use of an emergency situation to extort great sums of money from someone who is in financial straits. I want to emphasize very strongly: Avoid usurers, even though you may be in the greatest financial need, for you w111 perish in their hands. Consider the black market trade. Never expect a blessing upon such trade. Examine the conduct of the black market traders and see how they carry the clear evidences of God's displeasure. When the instructor says: "Or by any other way forbidden by God," should we not think of the fact that we live above our means by insisting upon certain standards of dress and household furnishings just to be conspicuous in the world? Do you not know that by this behavior you go from one evil into another? Let our boys and girls ponder these things. Do you spend all your earnings on yourselves and forget your parents? Do you forget the love your parents have shown you, and as you grow older do you not esteem them worthy of any recompense? How abominable, furthermore, is gambling. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." His holy providence controls the lot. Gambling, however, tries to make God's providence turn to our advantage instead of committing our life's destiny into the hand of God. Gambling makes a mockery of God's providence. Moreover, it is contrary to the command of the Lord: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." By gambling an attempt is made to obtain money the easy way. "But they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare," is an appropriate warning. We should hate such things. When the Lord called Zaccheus effectually, the first fruit of his conversion was manifested in charity: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold." Lastly, the Catechism concludes this question by condemning all abuse and waste of God's gifts. You realize that our entire life is referred to in this commandment. The instructor seeks to impress upon our hearts that we must walk in humility and meekness in the sight of God, and that "I behave myself towards my neighbor in such a way, that I promote his advantage in every instance I can or may," as the Word of God teaches us. Notice the Catechism says, "Where I can or may." I may not promote my neighbors advantage in an unlawful manner. It must be lawfully possible. I may not neglect my own affairs to help my neighbor. This Lord's Day also alludes to liberality in the distribution of goods which the Lord has given us. "He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none." The rich young man lacked this charity. How much do we exercise charity? The materialism of our times has left such scars upon us that we often make Cain's words ours - whether consciously or unconsciously - "Am I my brother's keeper?" In what respects do we seek our neighbor's advantage? Nevertheless, God demands that we do. The more selfish a person is, the more God demands of him. The self-seeker, to be sure, insists on the best treatment for himself. God, however, requires of him what he demands of others. Only heart-renewing grace can cause us to possess and exercise true charity, and when it is in exercise, it will enable us to seek our neighbor's welfare according to God's command. May this grace become our portion so that we may become living witnesses more and more against the spirit of our times. Let us always remember the poor. Their needs are great, especially in these times of high cost. I know of a congregation which gives almost one hundred twenty-five dollars weekly to the poor. One need not ask how great the collections of that congregation must be. We must be faithful in our work, eating our bread in the sweat of our brows; but we should also have a little to spare to help the poor and needy. Strikes are also condemned for this same reason. What is a strike? It is the breaking of a contract agreement to work for a given wage at a time when that work is urgently needed. It is an abuse of power, and it is clear as day that the strikes which occur throughout the world bear God's displeasure. Let us not participate in strikes. Let us not join unions whose constitutions favour striking. Let us be faithful in our work so that friend and foe may say: That employee is a Christian. May it be said of us what we now sing together from Psalter No. 305: 4, 5: God's promise shall forever stand, He cares for those who trust His word; Upon His saints His mighty hand, The wealth of nations has conferred. His works are true and just indeed, His precepts are forever sure; In truth and righteousness decreed, They shall forevermore endure. Let us now apply this demand of God to ourselves. It is valid for our whole life. It pertains to the rulers of empires and kingdoms as well as to their subjects. Sometimes we should ask ourselves: What will become of the world? What will become of our country? I see days of poverty approaching, and will truthfully confess that times of great oppression are near. Let us abstain from excessive luxury. A heavy burden is resting on us already, and the cost of living is high. Many are asking, "What must I depend on for a livelihood soon? My money is gone." I am afraid that this burden will become heavier. We are oppressed under our tax system, and soon we will have to pay half of our income for social taxes and compulsory insurance. What enterprises will be able to meet those obligations? Ask the small businessman how he obtains a working capital, and how much profit is left after he pays his taxes. He will tell you he has come to the point of no return. Our country is about to dig its own grave, and soon will be plunged into great poverty. Wherein does the cause lie? In sin. Our sins are the reason why the Lord's hand is against us. His hand is raised against our whole country and against us as individuals. Nevertheless, the Lord requires honesty from us, even towards our government, in making out our tax reports. As you affix your signature to your tax return, remember that you must do so honestly, for the Lord says, "Thou shalt not steal." Let our lives and our conduct testify that we have a conscience void of offense before God. It is a responsibility common to all that we as individuals must act as stewards over that which God has entrusted to us and we must do so agreeably to God's Word. Let us refrain from taking even the least of what is not ours, even though it be a postage stamp. Oftentimes temptation begins with the smallest things. Remember this, boys and girls, whenever you are employed in an office or a business, if you take the first step in this direction, it will be easier to take the second. You will go from one evil to another. Remember that God sees you continually. Let it be a set principle in your life to take nothing, not even a cent, that is not yours. And you, businessmen, be honest in all your dealings. I know a little of how difficult it is to do business. I understand what problems you run into, and why you say, "I cannot afford any more losses; my business must be kept in existence!" But there is One who knows all things, and who has pronounced his judgment on the sin against the eighth commandment. Is it not the Lord's blessing that makes one truly rich? Then practice prudence in the sight of the Lord, Who demands that we take no usury, and that we act justly in weights, measures and sound merchandise. If now our conduct is according to these rules, and our actions and walk in meekness and humility, the Lord will enrich us with temporary blessings. Give graciously to the poor and needy however sparingly you have to go through life. Make it a matter of routine to set aside a little for the poor. The Lord Jesus saw the widow's mite. Do not be offended, girls and boys, when I say, "If you have not the money to buy new clothing or a new hat, make your present clothing do for another year." Let us rather live in humility and meekness than become vain and waste that which God has given us. There is another matter which I wish to mention. Although the Lord bestows a temporal blessing upon the keeping of his commandments, there is a great difference in the manner of distribution which the Lord makes in the world. One receives God's blessings out of His left hand, whereas another receives them out of His right hand. What does that mean? It means that the wicked may become great and attain power in the world. One is tempted to say that everything they undertake succeeds, and their fortunes accumulate. Another finds it impossible to save a cent. Lines of care and sorrow are grooved deeply into his face. What does it mean to receive blessings out of God's left hand? It means to receive them without grace and to an eternal condemnation. Think of the following illustration as an example: You know how an ox is fattened for the day of slaughter. Such an animal receives the best in food. Ask a farmer to tell you about the pains he takes to find the best feed to fatten his ox to bring it to slaughter. At times this seems to be true of the wicked. It is as though God is fattening them for eternal judgment which, in spite of all their wealth, they will not be able to escape. What a terrible thing it is to have obtained rich blessings out of God's left hand and soon to be summoned before His tribunal in order to be cast away eternally. Be not envious of the rich, but let us come to ourselves and ask ourselves who and what we are. What is your relationship toward God? Has it ever become a wonder that God is long suffering toward you and that you are not yet cast into eternal perdition? That is the place we have deserved. But the Lord in His providence, forbearance and common grace, still allows His sun to rise and set upon the wicked and the righteous. Do you never stop and consider what blessings you still enjoy? Hitherto the Lord has protected us and satisfied every need. When He brought adversity, God still did not deal with us according to our sins. He healed our sicknesses and delivered us from our distresses. To this moment we have lacked nothing. Of all this we must give an account. When do we acknowledge that what we still have comes from God? We have labored, and God has given us His blessing. Now consider how blessed the people of God are who receive everything with grace. Even though they are poor in earthly goods, yet they are rich, since God's tender mercies are better than life itself. My unconverted friend, should you not covet the portion of God's people? They are reconciled with God. My fellow traveler, you are truly poor and soon you will come to the end of your life, when you will have to leave this world. You must leave all your possessions behind and appear before God with an unsaved soul. How terrible will that be! You may have toiled, slaved, and wept concerning temporal things, but you have never been concerned about the welfare of your immortal soul. Tell me truthfully, what are your greatest interests in life? What are your daily concerns? Do you think about your conversion on Sundays only, and then live at ease the remainder of the week, feeding yourself with the "husks which the swine did eat?" But you say, "I cannot convert myself." I reply by asking this question: What will you do with the daily admonition of God's Word: "Be ye reconciled to God?" If you do not answer that question now, you will be compelled to answer it before the Lord some day soon. May the Lord enable you to make use of His Word by going to Him continually with weeping and supplication, and asking: Lord make me as blessed as thy people are. They are blessed indeed. Already in this life they are declared to be blessed: "How blessed, Lord, are they that know the joyful sound..." and the apostle says: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith." There are many who say, "I believe that man will go to heaven some day." This is surely true, if the smallest beginning of God's grace has been glorified in his heart. God's children are truly blessed already in this life by virtue of the manifestations of God's love and grace in their hearts. They are also blessed in their earthly possessions when they may have true enjoyment thereof with God's favour. Sometimes they feel themselves very rich with the least benefit they have in the world. Sometimes they are so richly satisfied with the manifestations of God's love in their hearts, that they are able to sing when they receive a morsel of dry bread and a drink of cold water. This the world can never do. Even though God's people are and remain poor in this world, Christ has carried the burden of their poverty in order to make them rich for time and for eternity. May our eyes be fixed on Him. Did He not say, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay His head?" Though you have only a meager portion in this world, O people of God, it is for your benefit, since the Lord wishes to wean you more and more from the things of this world. He wishes to teach His people what Paul said, namely, "As having nothing, and yet possessing all things." God Himself will be their portion, and they must learn to be content with God. Let not the world have such a large place in your hearts. You will be unhappy if you do. May the Lord grant that with every gift which He bestows we may experience His precious favour, that we may rejoice in Him whether we possess much or little, and that we may not be earthly minded but seek the things which are above. People of God, let your hope be fixed upon the salvation which God has prepared for His elect in Christ, that you may walk as strangers and pilgrims on the earth, declaring plainly that you seek another country, in the hopeful expectation of that City which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. Amen. Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2 (continued in part 17...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-16.txt .