As soon as society develops from the savage into the pastoral stage, private property is recognized in the flocks and herds. In the development of society additional types of property rights appear under various forms of ownership, until it is not too much to say that modern society is based largely upon property rights. The evils associated with property are many, but as yet, at any rate, the rights of property are a benefit to the state, provided those rights are exercised under proper legal supervision. It should be recognized, however, that the command, “Thou shall not steal,” may well have various meanings, dependent upon the laws of property. Our law restricts the right of legacy, the sale or even the possession of poisons and often of dangerous weapons. Similarly the degree of ownership of other goods is often limited.
The ninth command, not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor, is often interpreted as simply a violation of one’s oath in court, or when appended to formal legal papers. But in most modern countries the command is also interpreted so as to include lying. If this crime is defined in its broadest sense, as lack of truth and trustworthiness, it is in many ways the greatest sin man can commit against society. Practically all modern economic and social relations are based upon the security of contracts and upon the readiness of business men and citizens to keep their word. It may be well questioned whether the crime of murder is as dangerous to society as the habit of deception, for the temptation of murder is rare as compared with that of deception; while the evil is often less far-reaching in its consequence and less despicable.
In the last command, that directed against covetousness, the law-giver goes beyond the external act to the motive and spirit in the mind of the individual. If this command is kept in spirit, the others are practically unnecessary. This command is like in kind to that of Jesus in the New Testament, where all the commandments are summed up into one: “Love one another.”
THE PRESENT-DAY AUTHORITY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
The various books that make up our Bible were each written to meet the needs of the people of its day; but inasmuch as the prophets and law-givers from the days of Moses to those of Jesus touched upon the most vital questions of human life and society, these principles are most of them universal and applicable to all tribes and nations and races and peoples.
Necessarily there are many variations in the specific methods by which these commands are to be carried out. The honor and reverence due everywhere to mother and father may well have different applications, depending upon the type of civilization, the customs of living and the type of home life that exist in the different countries. The injunction to keep the Sabbath may well be carried out with the same spirit