At one time large swaths of pasture lands, fields, and forests were open in England for local people to use for such things as pasturing animals, gathering wood, or hunting. Yet through “Inclosure Acts” passed by Parliament, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, increasingly these lands were “inclosed” (enclosed) or restricted to be used only by those with government approval or license. As a nation becomes more civilized and populous, the government has to take measures such as these to encourage governance that justly considers the interests of all its people.
However, it is easy to see how a practice such as this could be abused. The rich and powerful influenced enclosing lands that benefited their investments and businesses to the harm of the poor. Some families who dwelt for generations on property suddenly found themselves forcibly removed from it. Such was the concern of the church regarding this practice that the Westminster Assembly in its Larger Catechism included “unjust inclosures” in the list of sins forbidden in the eighth commandment against stealing.
In his commentary on the Larger Catechism, J. G. Vos says about this, “Such enclosures would be unjust if the rights of those who were entitled to use the ‘common’ land were disregarded.” Similarly, in expanding on the Shorter Catechism, John Brown said that these unjust enclosures are “enclosing fields common to a city or country for the interest of one or a few under the pretense of right.” Micah 2:2 is given as a common proof text here, which speaks against the powerfully wicked seizing people’s lands, saying in part, “They rob a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.” The overall teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms promotes the Biblical principle of the God-given right to private ownership. Hammered out in the heat of opposing government oppression in its many forms, the Westminster Confession stands as a testament against governments abusing their power by stealing unjustly from their citizenry.
I could not help but think of this when I received the following prayer request from a brother in Cyprus:
Please pray for us in Cyprus. Our government is facing a huge decision with far-reaching consequences – either to accept the EU bailout with its extreme austerity measures (including the seizure of 7-10% from all private bank accounts!), or else to let the country’s 2 major banks (and through them everything else) go bankrupt. The Communist party (who were in power until 2 weeks ago, and who had opportunity to settle this on better terms long ago) is planning to oppose the bailout in the parliamentary vote on Monday or Tuesday, which could prevent it being passed. They are also calling the people to take to the streets.
Though these bank accounts are not land holdings, the principle is similar. Because of the demand of the European Union to deal in this manner with their crushing debt crisis, the Cypriot government is being tempted to take actions to place “inclosures” around funds the Cypriot people have placed in public banks to hold in trust for them. That this practice is unjust should be obvious to all, but especially so when your hope lies in the Communist party voting in your best interests!
We do need to pray for Cyprus, and indeed the entire Western world. We have bought into the Keynesian lies that wealth can come by government fiat, whether it is through “quantitative easing” or the host of other terms they use to fool us. As Cyprus shows, they can call it a “deposit levy” if they will, but this “pretense of right” ultimately amounts to outright seizure. This stands in direct opposition to God’s law, which again in the words of the Larger Catechism requires leaders to “procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others.” If today’s news holds, where they plan perhaps only to do this to larger deposits, that is not righteous either. We need to pray that our leaders would learn the wisdom that says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight” (Proverbs 11:1).
Before our own crushing debts consume us, the West needs to return to the just enclosure and freedom that God’s perfect law brings. For perhaps the greater good that these threats to our earthly treasures will bring is that we will learn more and more to say with the psalmist, “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).