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Good Words 1860
A Story of the Eighth Commandment

In a village of Switzerland there lived an honest peasant who loved God, and whose head and heart were in the right place. He was well-to-do; and as his harvest had been good, his barns and lofts were filled. As he sat quietly one evening with his pipe, his neighbour came in and said, ''There is a thief in your loft; I have taken away the ladder; climb up, and you have him." "Well, that is wonderful," said the peasant. He did not storm, however, for he was of a cold-blooded temperament, but took a lantern in his hand, and went up the steps to the loft. There stood the thief as if it had thundered, and as white as a sheet. He tried to speak, but the words stuck in his throat; a sack of corn stood beside him, for he was just on the point of carrying it off. But the peasant said, "Good evening, my friend; this is a late visit. You might have come during the day at any time. Come with me; I live below." The thief was scarcely in his senses; he was stupified. Nevertheless he could not help following the peasant, who was already descending; and, as yon. may suppose, left the sack of corn behind him. "Oh," said the peasant, "I beg you will bring the corn with you." The thief refuses. "Oh, bring it," continued the other, "it is not mine: bring it." "It is yours," stammered the thief. "No," said the peasant, "it is God's, who has only lent it to me. You have not stolen it from me, but from God. Do you know the eighth commandment?"

The thief struggled long, but at length hard as he felt it, he had to take the sack and bring it down. So the wicked fellow, trembling and shaking, came down the stairs with his burden, and entered the peasant's room. "Quick, wife," he cried, "bring bread and butter, and a can of beer, for we have a guest." The good woman came in, greeted him kindly, covered the table, and set bread and butter, and a can of beer upon it. But the guest had no wish to eat and drink. "Fall to, my friend, and much good may it do you," said the peasant. But the guest only shook his head: how could he let a bite enter his mouth? If the man would but cease to press him so hospitably! At last there was nothing left but to begin, and by and by the meal became less disagreeable than he had thought. The peasant moreover spoke in a simple, manly way, as only a good friend can; he asked after the other's wife and children, and listened with sympathy as he told of his necessities. The meal was over, and the guest wished himself miles away, if he had only known how to get off. Then the peasant said, "Will you stop over the night with me? It is dark without, and the roads are bad. You will have a decent bed; but if you would rather go, you are quite free." "I would be very glad to go home," said the thief. "As you will," replied the peasant; "then, go in God's name." So the thief bid good-night, and hurried off; but the peasant stopped him. "You are not taking the sack of corn with you. You won't leave the corn behind you?" The man, all ashamed, declined; but the other continued, ''No, no, I keep my word. You have stolen the corn, and I dare not take it back. Stolen goods don't prosper." Let the thief beg and entreat as much as he would, it was no use. He asked to be forgiven: it would never, never be done again; but the peasant said, ''I have nothing to forgive you. Set it right with God, whom you have offended. He alone can forgive your sins."

So, hard as it was, the thief had to carry the sack away with him. An hour before, he could not have thought it would have been so painful. It was not the sack that was so hard to carry, it was another burden that pressed him where his conscience was. All alone he went through the lonely night, yet there was a conversation carried on the whole time, so that he was often in doubt whether there was not really another person who spoke to him. One indeed spoke with him; no man; it was the living God.

The next morning had scarcely dawned, when there was a knock at the peasant's door. He opened it, and there, outside, stood no other than his friend of yesterday. ''Where do you come from?" he asked; "why are you so early?" "I have no rest," replied the thief; "I had to come to you. The night long I never closed an eye. I am ashamed that I have stolen from you. I cannot understand how Satan has so blinded me as to do this sin. Forgive and forget it."

The peasant brought him into his room, sat down with him, and spoke earnestly about the sin and evil of the human heart and its deserts; he shewed him how sin makes us so comfortless and miserable, and how, if he is not converted, nothing but judgment and eternal damnation await the sinner. He opened the Bible and read him the passage where it is written that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God, and then he preached to him the name of the Saviour of sinners, who also would save him from death.

From that time the thief was often seen with the peasant. He was also seen at the sermon and at the table of the Lord. His neighbours marvelled how it came about, and how he was so changed and so thrifty in his household. They began to reprove him, and to mock him by every kind of mocking name; "Pietist," he was called, "Quaker," "Lady Prayerful;" but he continued just the same. The grace of God was with him and helped him through. He remained faithful and steadfast, and an example of the Divine mercy which out of sinners makes the children of God. When a year had passed, he seized the courage to declare the secret of his conversion. ''That peasant," he said, "was my preacher of righteousness: I stole from him; but he made me rich, and saved my life."

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