Thomas Watson
The Ten Commandments
File 18
(... continued from file 17)

2.10 The Tenth Commandment 
    'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not 
covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his 
maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy 
neighbour's.' Exod 20: 17. 
    THIS commandment forbids covetousness in general, 'Thou shalt 
not covet;' and in particular, 'Thy neighbour's house, thy 
neighbour's wife, &c. 
    I. It forbids covetousness in general. 'Thou shalt not covet.' 
It is lawful to use the world, yea, and to desire so much of it as 
may keep us from the temptation of poverty: 'Give me not poverty, 
lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain' (Prov 30: 8, 9); 
and as may enable us to honour God with works of mercy. 'Honour the 
Lord with thy substance.' Prov 3: 9. But all the danger is, when the 
world gets into the heart. Water is useful for the sailing of the 
ship: all the danger is when the water gets into the ship; so the 
fear is, when the world gets into the heart. 'Thou shalt not covet.' 
    What is it to covet? 
    There are two words in the Greek which set forth the nature of 
covetousness. Pleonexia, which signifies an 'insatiable desire of 
getting the world.' Covetousness is a dry dropsy. Augustine defines 
covetousness Plus velle quam sat est; 'to desire more than enough;' 
to aim at a great estate; to be like the daughter of the 
horse-leech, crying, 'Give, give.' Prov 30: 15. Or like behemoth, 
'He trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.' Job 40: 23. 
The other word is Philarguria, which signifies an 'inordinate love 
of the world.' The world is the idol: it is so loved, that a man 
will not part with it for any good use. He may be said to be 
covetous not only who gets the world unrighteously, but who loves it 
    [1] For a more full answer to the question, 'What is it to 
covet?' I shall show in six particulars, when a man may be said to 
be given to covetousness: - 
    (1) When his thoughts are wholly taken up with the world. A 
good man's thoughts are in heaven; he is thinking of Christ's love 
and eternal recompense. 'When I awake I am still with thee,' that 
is, in divine contemplation. Psa 139: 18. A covetous man's thoughts 
are in the world; his mind is wholly taken up with it; he can think 
of nothing but his shop or farm. The fancy is a mint-house, and most 
of the thoughts in a covetous man's mint are worldly. He is always 
plotting and projecting about the things of this life; like a virgin 
whose thoughts all centre upon her suitor. 
    (2) A man may be said to be given to covetousness, when he 
takes more pains for getting earth than for getting heaven. He will 
turn every stone, break his sleep, take many a weary step for the 
world; but will take no pains for Christ or heaven. After the Gauls, 
who were an ancient people of France, had tasted the sweet wine of 
the Italian grape, they inquired after the country, and never rested 
till they had arrived at it; so a covetous man, having had a relish 
of the world, pursues after it, and never ceases till he has got it; 
but he neglects the things of eternity. He would be content if 
salvation were to drop into his mouth, as a ripe fig into the mouth 
of the eater (Nahum 3: 12); but he is loath to put himself to too 
much sweat or trouble to obtain Christ or salvation. He hunts for 
the world, he wishes only for heaven. 
    (3) A man may be said to be given to covetousness, when all his 
discourse is about the world. 'He that is of the earth, speaketh of 
the earth.' John 3: 31. It is a sign of godliness to be speaking of 
heaven, to have the tongue turned to the language of Canaan. 'The 
words of a wise man's mouth are gracious;' he speaks as if he had 
been already in heaven. Eccl. 10: 12. So it is a sign of a man given 
to covetousness to speak always of secular things, of his wares and 
drugs. A covetous man's breath, like a dying man's, smells strong of 
the earth. As it was said to Peter, 'Thy speech bewrayeth thee;' so 
a covetous man's speech betrayeth him. Matt 26: 73. He is like the 
fish in the gospel, which had a piece of money in its mouth. Matt 
17: 27. Verba sunt speculum mentis. Bernard. 'The words are the 
looking-glass of the heart,' they show what is within. Ex abundantia 
cordis [From the abundance of the heart]. 
    (4) A man is given to covetousness when he so sets his heart 
upon worldly things, that for the love of them, he will part with 
heavenly; for the 'wedge of gold,' he will part with the 'pearl of 
price.' When Christ said to the young man in the gospel, 'Sell all, 
and come and follow me;' abiit tristis, 'he went away sorrowful.' 
Matt 19: 22. He would rather part with Christ than with all his 
earthly possessions. Cardinal Bourbon said, he would forego his part 
in paradise, if he might keep his cardinalship in Paris. When it 
comes to the critical point that men must either relinquish their 
estate or Christ, and they will rather part with Christ and a good 
conscience than with their estate, it is a clear case that they are 
possessed with the demon of covetousness. 
    (5) A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself 
with worldly business. He has many irons in the fire; he is in this 
sense a pluralist; he takes so much business upon him, that he 
cannot find time to serve God; he has scarce time to eat his meat, 
but no time to pray. When a man overcharges himself with the world, 
and as Martha, cumbers himself about many things, that he cannot 
have time for his soul, he is under the power of covetousness. 
    (6) He is given to covetousness whose heart is so set upon the 
world, that, to get it, he cares not what unlawful means he uses. He 
will have the world per fas et nefas [by fair means or foul]; he 
will wrong and defraud, and raise his estate upon the ruins of 
another. 'The balances of deceit are in his hand, he loveth to 
oppress.... Ephraim said, 'Yet I am become rich.' Hos 12: 7, 8. Pope 
Sylvester II sold his soul to the devil for a popedom. 
    Use. 'Take heed and beware of covetousness.' Luke 12: 15. It is 
a direct breach of the tenth commandment. It is a moral vice, it 
infects and pollutes the whole soul. 
    (1) It is a subtle sin, a sin that many cannot so well discern 
in themselves; as some have the scurvy, but do not know it. This sin 
can dress itself in the attire of virtue. It is called the 'cloak of 
covetousness.' Thess 2: 5. It is a sin that wears a cloak, it cloaks 
itself under the name of frugality and good husbandry. It has many 
pleas and excuses for itself; more than any other sin: as providing 
for one's family. The more subtle the sin is, the less discernible 
it is. 
    (2) Covetousness is a dangerous sin, as it checks all that is 
good. It is an enemy to grace; it damps good affections, as the 
earth puts out the fire. The hedgehog, in the fable, came to the 
cony-burrows, in stormy weather, and desired harbour; but when once 
he had got entertainment, he set up his prickles, and never ceased 
till he had thrust the poor conies out of their burrows; so 
covetousness, by fair pretences, winds itself into the heart; but as 
soon as you have let it in, it will never leave till it has choked 
all good beginnings, and thrust all religion out of your hearts. 
'Covetousness hinders the efficacy of the word preached.' In the 
parable, the thorns, which Christ expounded to be the care of this 
life, choked the good seed. Matt 13: 22. Many sermons lie dead and 
buried in earthly hearts. We preach to men to get their hearts in 
heaven; but where covetousness is predominant, it chains them to 
earth, and makes them like the woman which Satan had bowed together, 
that she could not lift up herself. Luke 13: 11. You may as well bid 
an elephant fly in the air, as a covetous man live by faith. We 
preach to men to give freely to Christ's poor; but covetousness 
makes them like the man in the gospel, who had 'a withered hand.' 
Mark 3: 1. They have a withered hand, and cannot stretch it out to 
the poor. It is impossible to be earthly-minded and 
charitably-minded. Covetousness obstructs the efficacy of the word, 
and makes it prove abortive. They whose hearts are rooted in the 
earth, will be so far from profiting by the word, that they will be 
ready rather to deride it. The Pharisees, who were covetous, 
'derided him.' Luke 16: 14. 
    (3) Covetousness is a mother sin, a radical vice. 'The love of 
money is the root of all evil.' I Tim 6: 10. Quid non mortalia 
pectora cogis, auri sacra fames! [O accursed lust for gold! what 
crimes do you not urge upon the human heart!] Virgil. He who has an 
earthly itch, a greedy desire of getting the world, has in him the 
root of all sin. Covetousness is a mother sin. I shall make it 
appear that covetousness is a breach of all the ten commandments. It 
breaks the first commandment; 'Thou shalt have no other gods but 
one.' The covetous man has more gods than one; Mammon is his god. He 
has a god of gold, therefore he is called an idolater. Col 3: 5. 
Covetousness breaks the second commandment: 'Thou shalt not make any 
graven image, thou shalt not bow thyself to them.' A covetous man 
bows down, though not to the graven image in the church, yet to the 
graven image in his coin. Covetousness is a breach of the third 
commandment; 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in 
vain.' Absalom's design was to get his father's crown, which was 
covetousness; but he talked of paying his 'vow to God,' which was to 
take God's name in vain. Covetousness is a breach of the fourth 
commandment; 'Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.' A covetous 
man does not keep the Sabbath holy; he will ride to fairs on a 
Sabbath; instead of reading in the Bible, he will cast up his 
accounts. Covetousness is a breach of the fifth commandment; 'Honour 
thy father and thy mother.' A covetous person does not honour his 
father, if he does not feed him with money. Nay; he will get his 
father to make over his estate to him in his lifetime, so that the 
father may be at his son's command. Covetousness is a breach of the 
sixth commandment; 'Thou shalt not kill.' Covetous Ahab killed 
Naboth to get his vineyard. I Kings 21: 13. How many have swum to 
the crown in blood? Covetousness is a breach of the seventh 
commandment, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' It causes 
uncleanness; you read of the 'hire of a whore.' Deut 23: 18. An 
adulteress for money sets both conscience and chastity to sale. 
Covetousness is a breach of the eighth commandment 'Thou shalt not 
steal.' It is the root of theft: covetous Achan stole the wedge of 
gold. Thieves and covetous are put together. I Cor 6: 10. 
Covetousness is a breach of the ninth commandment; 'Thou shalt not 
bear false witness.' What makes the perjurer take a false oath but 
covetousness? He hopes for a reward. It is plainly a breach of the 
last commandment; 'Thou shalt not covet.' The mammonist covets his 
neighbour's house and goods, and endeavours to get them into his own 
hands. Thus you see how vile a sin covetousness is; it is a mother 
sin; it is a plain breach of every one of the ten commandments. 
    (4) Covetousness is a sin dishonourable to religion. For men to 
say their hopes are above, while their hearts are below; to profess 
to be above the stars, while they 'lick the dust' of the serpent; to 
be born of God, while they are buried in the earth; how 
dishonourable is this to religion! The lapwing, which wears a little 
coronet on its head, and yet feeds on dung, is an emblem of such as 
profess to be crowned kings and priests unto God, and yet feed 
immoderately on terrene dunghill comforts. 'And seekest thou great 
things for thyself? seek them not.' Jer 45: 5. What, thou Baruch, 
who art ennobled by the new birth, and art illustrious by thy 
office, a Levite, dost thou seek earthly things, and seek them now? 
When the ship is sinking, art thou trimming thy cabin? O do not so 
degrade thyself, nor blot thy escutcheon! Seekest thou great things? 
seek them not. The higher grace is, the less earthly should 
Christians be; as the higher the sun is, the shorter is the shadow. 
    (5) Covetousness exposes us to God's abhorrence, 'The covetous, 
whom the Lord abhorreth.' Psa 10: 3. A king abhors to see his statue 
abused, so God abhors to see man, made in his image, having the 
heart of a beast. Who would live in such a sin as makes him abhorred 
of God? Whom God abhors he curses, and his curse blasts wherever it 
    (6) Covetousness precipitates men to ruin, and shuts them out 
of heaven. 'This ye know, that no covetous man, who is an idolater, 
has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.' Eph 5: 5. 
What could a covetous man do in heaven? God can no more converse 
with him than a king can converse with a swine. 'They that will be 
rich fall into a snare, and many hurtful lusts, which drown men in 
perdition.' I Tim 6: 9. A covetous man is like a bee that gets into 
a barrel of honey, and there drowns itself. As a ferry man takes in 
so many passengers to increase his fare, that he sinks his boat; so 
a covetous man takes in so much gold to increase his estate, that he 
drowns himself in perdition. I have read of some inhabitants near 
Athens, who, living in a very dry and barren island, took much pains 
to draw a river to the island to water it and make it fruitful; but 
when they had opened the passages, and brought the river to it, the 
water broke in with such force, that it drowned the land, and all 
the people in it. This is an emblem of a covetous man, who labours 
to draw riches to him, and at last they come in such abundance, that 
they drown him in perdition. How many, to build up an estate, pull 
down their souls! Oh, then, flee from covetousness! I shall next 
prescribe some remedies against covetousness. 
    [2] 1 AM, in the next place, to solve the question, What is the 
cure for this covetousness?' 
    (1) Faith. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even 
our faith.' I John 5: 4. The root of covetousness is distrust of 
God's providence. Faith believes that God will provide; that he who 
feeds the birds will feed his children; that he who clothes the 
lilies will clothe his lambs; and thus faith overcomes the world. 
Faith is the cure of care. It not only purifies the heart, but 
satisfies it; it makes God our portion, and in him we have enough. 
'The lord is the portion of mine inheritance, the lines are fallen 
unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.' Psa 16: 
5, 6. Faith, by a divine chemistry, extracts comfort out of God. A 
little with God is sweet. Thus faith is a remedy against 
covetousness; it overcomes, not only the fear of the world, but the 
love of the world. 
    (2) The second remedy is, judicious considerations. As what 
poor things these things below are that we should covet them! They 
are far below the worth of the soul, which carries in it an idea and 
resemblance of God. The world is but the workmanship of God, the 
soul is his image. We covet that which will not satisfy us. 'He that 
loveth silver, shall not be satisfied with silver.' Eccl 5: 10. 
Solomon had put all the creatures in a retort, and distilled out 
their essence, and behold, 'All was vanity.' Eccl 2: 11. 
Covetousness is a dry dropsy - the more a man has the more he 
thirsts. Quo plus sunt potae, plus sitiuntur aquae [The more water 
is drunk, the more is craved]. Ovid. Worldly things cannot remove 
trouble of mind. When King Saul was perplexed in conscience, his 
crown jewels could not comfort him. I Sam 28: 15. The things of the 
world can no more ease a troubled spirit than a gold cap can cure 
the headache. The things of the world cannot continue with you. The 
creature has a little honey in its mouth, but it has wings to fly 
away. These things either go from us, or we from them. What poor 
things are they to covet! 
    The second consideration is the frame and texture of the body. 
God has made the face look upward towards heaven. Os homini sublime 
dedit, coelumque tueri jussit [He gave man an uplifted face, with 
the order to gaze up to Heaven]. Ovid. Anatomists observe, that 
whereas other creatures have but four muscles to their eyes, man has 
a fifth muscle, by which he is able to look up to heaven; and as for 
the heart, it is made narrow and contracted downwards, but wide and 
broad upwards. As the frame and texture of the body teaches us to 
look to things above, so especially the soul is planted in the body, 
as a divine spark, to ascend upwards. Can it be imagined that God 
gave us intellectual and immortal souls to covet earthly things 
only? What wise man would fish for gudgeons with golden hooks? Did 
God give us glorious souls only to fish for the world? Sure our 
souls are made for a higher end; to aspire after the enjoyment of 
God in glory. 
    The third consideration is the examples of those who have been 
condemners and despisers of the world. The primitive Christians, as 
Clemens Alexandrinus observes, were sequestered from the world, and 
were wholly taken up in converse with God; they lived in the world 
above the world; like the birds of paradise, who soar above in the 
air, and seldom or never touch the earth with their feet. Luther 
says that he was never tempted to the sin of covetousness. Though 
the saints of old lived in the world they traded in heaven. 'Our 
conversation is in heaven.' Phil 3: 20. The Greek word signifies our 
commerce, or traffic, or citizenship, is in heaven. 'Enoch walked 
with God.' Gen 5: 24. His affections were sublimated, and took a 
turn in heaven every day. The righteous are compared to a palm-tree. 
Psa 92: 12. Philo observes, that whereas all other trees have their 
sap in their root, the sap of the palm-tree is towards the top; and 
thus is an emblem of saints, whose hearts are in heaven, where their 
treasure is. 
    (3) The third remedy for covetousness is to covet spiritual 
things more. Covet grace, for it is the best blessing, it is the 
seed of God. I John 3: 9. Covet heaven, which is the region of 
happiness - the most pleasant clime. If we covet heaven more, we 
shall covet earth less. To those who stand on the top of the Alps, 
the great cities of Campania seem but as small villages; so if our 
hearts were more fixed upon the Jerusalem above, all worldly things 
would disappear, would diminish, and be as nothing in our eyes. We 
read of an angel coming down from heaven, and setting his right foot 
on the sea, and his left foot on the earth. Rev 10: 2. Had we been 
in heaven, and viewed its superlative glory, how should we, with 
holy scorn, trample with one foot upon the earth and with the other 
foot upon the sea! O covet after heavenly things! There is the tree 
of life, the mountains of spices, the rivers of pleasure, the 
honeycomb of God's love dropping, the delights of angels, and the 
flower of joyfully ripe and blown. There is the pure air to breathe 
in; no fogs or vapours of sin arise to infect that air, but the Sun 
of Righteousness enlightens the whole horizon continually with his 
glorious beams. O let your thoughts and delights be always taken up 
with the city of pearls, the paradise of God! It is reported of 
Lazarus that, after he was raised from the grave, he was never seen 
to smile or take delight in the world. Were our hearts raised by the 
power of the Holy Ghost up to heaven we should not be much taken 
with earthly things. 
    (4) The fourth remedy is to pray for a heavenly mind. Lord, let 
the loadstone of thy Spirit draw my heart upward. Lord, dig the 
earth out of my heart; teach me how to possess the world, and not 
love it; how to hold it in my hand, and not let it get into my 
    II. Having spoken of the command in general, I proceed to speak 
of it more particularly. 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's 
house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife,' &c. Observe the 
holiness and perfection of the law that forbids the motus primo 
primi, the first motions and risings of sin in the heart. 'Thou 
shalt not covet.' The laws of men take hold of actions, but the law 
of God goes further, it forbids not only actions, but desires. 'Thou 
shalt not covet thy neighbour's house.' It is not said, 'Thou shalt 
not take away his house;' but 'Thou shalt not covet it.' These lusts 
and desires after the forbidden fruit are sinful. The law has said, 
'Thou shalt not covet.' Rom 7: 7. Though the tree bears no bad 
fruit, it may be faulty at the root; so though a man does not commit 
any gross sin, he cannot say his heart is pure. There may be 
faultiness at the root: there may be sinful covetings and lustings 
in the soul. 
    Use. Let us be humbled for the sin of our nature, the risings 
of evil thoughts coveting that which we ought not. Our nature is a 
seed-plot of iniquity; like charcoal that is ever sparkling, the 
sparks of pride, envy, covetousness, arise in the mind. How should 
this humble us! If there be not sinful acting, there are sinful 
covetings. Let us pray for mortifying grace, which like the water of 
jealousy, may make the thigh of sin to rot. 
    Why is the house here put before the wife? In Deuteronomy the 
wife is put first. 'Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, 
neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house.' Deut 5: 21. 
    In Deuteronomy the wife is set down first, in respect of her 
value. She (if a good wife) is of far greater value and estimate 
than the house. 'Her price is far above rubies.' Prov 31: 10. She is 
the furniture of the house and this furniture is more worth than the 
house. When Alexander had overcome King Darius in battle, Darius 
seemed not to be much dismayed, but when he heard his wife was taken 
prisoner, his eyes, like spouts gushed forth water, for he valued 
his wife more than his life. But in Exodus the house is put before 
the wife, because the house is first in order, the house is erected 
before the wife can live in it; the nest is built before the bird is 
in it; the wife is first esteemed, but the house must be first 
    [1] Then, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house.' How 
depraved is man since the fall! He knows not how to keep within 
bounds, but covets more than his own. Ahab, one would think, had 
enough: he was a king; and we should suppose his crown-revenues 
would have contented him; but he was coveting more. Naboth's 
vineyard was in his eye, and stood near the smoke of his chimney, 
and he could not be quiet till he had it in possession. Were there 
not so much coveting, there would not be so much bribing. One man 
takes away another's house from him. It is only the prisoner who 
lives in such a tenement that he may be sure none will seek to take 
it from him. 
    [2] 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.' This is a 
bridle to check the inordinate and brutish lusts. It was the devil 
that sowed another man's ground. Matt 13: 25. But how is the hedge 
of this commandment trodden down in our times! There are many who do 
more than covet their neighbours' wives! they take them. 'Cursed be 
he that lieth with his father's wife; and all the people shall say, 
Amen.' Deut 27: 20. If it were to be proclaimed, 'Cursed be he that 
lieth with his neighbour's wife,' and all that were guilty should 
say, 'Amen,' how many would curse themselves! 
    [3] 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's man-servant, nor his 
maidservant.' Servants, when faithful, are a treasure. What a true 
and trusty servant had Abraham! He was his right hand. How prudent 
and faithful he was in the matter entrusted with him, of getting a 
wife for his master's son! Gen 24: 9. It would surely have grieved 
Abraham if any one had enticed away his servant from him. But this 
sin of coveting servants is common. If one has a good servant, 
others will be laying snares for him, and endeavour to draw him away 
from his master. This is a sin against the tenth commandment. To 
steal away another's servant by enticement, is no better than direct 
    [4] 'Nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy 
neighbour's.' Were there no coveting ox and ass, there would not be 
so much stealing. First men break the tenth commandment by coveting, 
and then the eighth commandment by stealing. It was an excellent 
appeal that Samuel made to the people when he said, 'Witness against 
me before the Lord, whose ox have I taken, or whose ass, or whom 
have I defrauded?' I Sam 12: 3. It was a brave speech of Paul, when 
he said, 'I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.' Acts 
20: 33. 
    What means should we use to keep us from coveting that which is 
our neighbour's? 
    The best remedy is contentment. If we are content with our own, 
we shall not covet that which is another's. Paul could say, 'I have 
coveted no man's gold or silver.' Whence was this? It was from 
contentment. 'I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to 
be content.' Phil 4: 11. Content says, as Jacob did, 'I have enough. 
'Gen 33: 11. I have a promise of heaven, and have sufficient to bear 
my charges thither; I have enough. He who has enough, will not covet 
that which is another's. Be content: and the best way to be 
contented, is, (1) Believe that condition to be best which God by 
his providence carves out to you. If he had seen fit for us to have 
more, we should have had it. Perhaps we could not manage a great 
estate; it is hard to carry a full cup without spilling, and a full 
estate without sinning. Great estates may be snares. A boat may be 
overturned by having too much sail. The believing that estate to be 
best which God appoints us, makes us content; and being contented, 
we shall not covet that which is another's. (2) The way to be 
content with such things as we have, and not to covet another's, is 
to consider the less we have, the less account we shall have to give 
at the last day. Every person is a steward, and must be accountable 
to God. They who have great estates have the greater reckoning. God 
will say, What good have you done with your estates? Have you 
honoured me with your substance? Where are the poor you have fed and 
clothed? If you cannot give a good account, it will be sad. It 
should make us contented with a less portion, to consider, the less 
riches, the less reckoning. This is the way to have contentment. 
There is no better antidote against coveting that which is another's 
than being content with that which is our own.

Watson, The Ten Commandments
(continued in file 19...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: wat10-18.txt