Some remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks, and feed thereof.
This was an old offence under the Jewish Law (Deuteronomy 19:14). Here it appears first in a list of unjust actions. It introduces us to questions concerning the ethics of property.
I. PRIVATE PROPERTY IS RECOGNIZED BY SCRIPTURE. We cannot say that this indubitable fact is a complete answer to the proposals of the socialist, because it is not the function of revelation to determine social systems. It comes in to regulate our conduct under existing arrangements. Still, the recognition of private property shows that it is not in itself an evil thing. It may be urged that similar arguments would apply to polygamy and slavery, both of which are recognized and regulated in the Bible. There is this difference, however, that an enlightened Christian conscience perceives that the last-named practices are evil, and could only have been tolerated for a time to prevent greater evils; but the Christian conscience does not repudiate the idea of private property. Socialism may be fairly presented and argued about on grounds of expediency; but it cannot claim Christian teaching as favouring it rather than a wise and brotherly exercise of the rights of property. The short, temporary experiment at Jerusalem, when the disciples held all things in common, whatever this was (and it was far short of socialism), soon broke down. It was never urged on apostolic authority; it cannot be quoted as the model for all Church life.
II. PRIVATE PROPERTY NEEDS CLEAR DEFINITION. There must be landmarks, or there will be trespassing, springing from misunderstanding, leading to quarrelling. Wars between nations arise often out of disputes about boundaries, and private differences most frequently originate in a want of common agreement in the definition of rights. This is true of abstract as well as concrete rights. Nothing is more necessary for the maintenance of social order than that each individual in the state should know the limits that the just claims of others put upon his liberty. Absolute freedom is only possible on the prairie, or for a Robinson Crusoe on his solitary island. Directly we come to live in society we have to study mutual harmony, and to adjust the claims of neighbours. The perfect state becomes a sort of mosaic in which each individual has his place without overlapping that of his neighbour.
III. ONLY CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE WILL PREVENT THE ABUSE OF PRIVATE PROPERTY. Each man is tempted to enlarge upon his rights. Without considering himself a thief, he is urged to remove the landmarks to his own advantage. State justice and the strong arm of the law prevent this wrong as far as possible. But real justice between man and man can never be perfectly established by government. There are innumerable ways in which the strong can oppress the weak, and the cunning impose upon the unwary, without any interference by the law. We must have a spirit of justice in the people to prevent these evils. Now, it is the glory of the Old Testament that it constantly impresses on us the duty of justice and the sin of injustice. This grand lesson is not the less imperative because we live in New Testament times. The grace of Christ is the inspiration of all goodness. No one can be a true Christian who is not upright in business, and straightforward in his dealings with his neighbours. Christian charity does not dispense with the primitive duty of justice. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Some remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks, and feed thereof.