( Originally Published 1879 )
THE first step toward greatness is to be honest, says the proverb; but the proverb fails to state the case strong enough. Honesty is not only the first step toward greatness—it is greatness itself.
It is with honesty in one particular as with wealth; those that have the thing care less about the credit of it than those that have it not. What passes as open-faced honesty is often masked malignity. He who saith there is no such thing as an honest man, you may be sure is himself a knave. When any one complains, as Diogenes did, that he has to hunt the street with candles at noon-day to find an honest man, we are apt to think that his nearest neighbor would have quite as much difficulty as himself in making the discovery. If you think there isn't an honest man living, you had better, for appearance sake, put off saying it until you are dead yourself. Honesty is the best policy, but those who do honest things merely because they think it good policy, are not honest. No man has ever been too honest. Cicero believed that nothing is useful that is not honest. He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely; but he that perverteth his ways shall be known. There is an alchemy in a high heart which transmutes other things to its own quality.
The truth of the good old maxim, that "Honesty is the best policy," is upheld by the daily experience of life; uprightness and integrity being found as successful in business as in everything else. As Hugh ,Miller's worthy uncle used to advise him, " In all your dealings give your neighbor the cast of the bank — ' good measure, heaped up, and' running over'— and you will not lose by it in the end."
Honesty is the best policy. But no man can be upright, amid the various temptations of life, unless he is honest for the right's sake. You should not be honest from the low motive of policy, but because you feel the better for being honest. The latter will hold you fast, let the element set as it will, let storms blow ever so fiercely; the former is but a cable of pack-thread, which will snap apart. In the long run, character is better than capital. Most of the great American merchants, whose revenues outrank those of princes, owe their colossal fortunes principally to a character for integrity and ability. Lay the foundations of a character broad and deep. Build them on a rock, and not on sand. The rains may then descend, the floods rise and the winds blow, but your house will stand. But, establish a character for loose dealings, and to ! some great tempest will sweep it away.
The religious tradesman complains that his honesty is a hindrance to his success; that the tide of custom pours into the doors of his less scrupulous neighbors in the same street, while he himself waits for hours idle. My brother, do you think that God is going to reward honor, integrity and highmindedness with this world's coin? Do you fancy that he will pay spiritual excellence with plenty of custom? Now consider the price that man has paid for his success. Perhaps mental degradation and inward dishonor. His advertisements are all deceptive; his treatment of his workmen tyrannical; his cheap prices made possible by inferior articles. Sow that man's seed, and you will reap that man's harvest. Cheat, lie, advertise, be unscrupulous in your assertions, custom will come to you; but if the price is too dear, let him have his harvest, and take yours. Yours is a clear conscience, a pure mind, rectitude -within and without. Will you part with that for his? Then why do you complain? He has paid his price; you do not choose to pay it.
Some, in their passion for sudden accumulation, practice secret frauds, and imagine there is no harm in so they be not detected. But in vain will they cover up their transgressions; for God sees it to the bottom; and let them not hope to keep it always from man. The birds of the air sometimes carry the tale abroad. In the long web of events, "Be sure your sin will find you out." He who is carrying on a course of latent corruption and dishonesty, be he president of some mammoth corporation, or engaged only in private transactions, is sailing in a ship like that fabled one of old, which ever comes nearer and nearer to a magnetic mountain, that will at last draw every nail out. of it. All faith in God, and all trust in man will eventually be lost, and he will get no reward for his guilt. The very winds will sigh forth his iniquity; and "a beam. will come out of the wall," and convict. and smite him.
Strict honesty is the crown of one's early days. "Your son will not do for me," was once said to a. friend of mine; " he took pains; the other day, to tell a customer of a small blemish in a piece of. goods." The salesboy is sometimes virtually taught to declare that goods cost such or such a sum; that they are strong, fashionable, perfect, when the whole story is false. So is the bloom of a God-inspired truthfulness not seldom brushed from, the cheek of our simple-hearted children.
We hope and trust these cases are rare; but even. one such house as we allude to, may ruin the integrity and the fair fame of many a lad. God grant our young men to feel that "an honest man is the noblest work of God," and, under all temptations, to live as they feel.
The possession of the principle of honesty is a matter known most intimately to the man and his God, and fully, only to the latter. No man knows the extent and strength of his own honesty, until he has passed the fiery ordeal of temptation. Men who shudder at the dishonesty of others, at one time in life, then sailing before the favorable wind of prosperity, when adversity overtakes them, their honesty too often flies away on the same wings with their riches; and, what they once viewed with holy horror, they now practice with shame-less impunity. Others, at the commencement of a prosperous career, are quite above any tricks in trade; but their love of money increases with their wealth, their honesty relaxes, they become hard honest men, then- hardly honest, and are, finally, confirmed in dishonesty.
On the great day of account, it, will be found, that men have erred more in judging of the honesty of others than in any one thing else ; not even religion excepted. Many who have been condemned, and had the stigma of dishonesty fixed upon them, because misfortune disabled them from paying their just debts, will stand acquitted by the Judge of quick and dead, whilst others cover dishonest hearts and actions, undetected by man.
It is my earnest desire to eradicate the impression, so fatal to many a young man, that one cannot live by being perfectly honest. You must have known men who have gone on for years in unbroken prosperity_ and yet never adopted that base motto, " All is fair in trade." You must have seen, too, noble examples of those who have met with losses and failures, and yet risen from them all with a conscious integrity, and who have been sustained by the testimony of all around them, that, though unfortunate, they were never dishonest? When we set before you such examples, when we show you, not only that "Honesty is the best policy," but that it is the very keystone of the whole arch of manly and Christian qualities, it cannot be that every ingenious heart does not respond to the appeal. Heaven grant all such to feel that an " Honest man is the noblest work of God," and to live as they feel.