Principle And Right
( Originally Published 1879 )
WE often judge unwisely. We approve or condemn men by their actions. But it so happens that many a man whom we condemn, God approves; and many a one whom we approve, God condemns. Here below it often happens that we have saints in prisons and devils in priestly robes. We often view things under a false sight, and pass our judgments accordingly; but God judges from behind the vail, where motives reveal themselves like lightnings on a cloud.
Now, right and might lie in motive. Personally they answer the questions, " Ought I?" and " Can I?" Some men ask, "Ought I to do this?" Others ask, "Can I do this?" It is the angel that asks, "Ought I to do this?" It is the devil that asks, " Can I do this?"
We all have good and bad in us. The good would do what it ought to do; the bad does what it can do. The good dwells in the kingdom of right; the bad sits on the throne of might. Right is a loyal subject; might is a royal tyrant. Right is the foundation of the river of peace; might is the mother of war and its abominations. Right is the evangel of God that proclaims the "acceptable year of the Lord;" might is the scourge of the world that riots in carnage, groans and blood. Right is the arm of freedom made bare and beautiful in the eyes of all the good in heaven and earth; might is the sword of power unsheathed in the hand of oppression. Right gains its victories by peace; might conquers only by war. Right strengthens its army by the increase of all its conquered; might weakens its force by every victory, as a part of its power must stand guard over its new-made subjects. Right rules by invitation; might by compulsion. Right is from above; might from below. Right is unselfish; might knows nothing but self. Right is for the whole; might is for .one. Right is unassuming; might is pompous as a king. Right is instructive; might is dictatorial. Right reasons like a philosopher, and prepares the ground on which it sows; might stalks on like madness, reckless of everything but the end sought. Right is a lamb, cropping buds and flowers to make itself more beautiful; might is a tiger prowling in search of prey. Right is a moralist resting in principle; might is a worldling seeking for pleasure. These are inward principles contending with each other in every human soul.
There are men, and their number is not small, who make principle and right depend on policy. They are honest when they think it policy to be honest. They smile when it is policy, though they design to stab the next minute. Men of policy are honest when it is convenient and plainly profitable. When honesty costs nothing, and will pay well, they are honest; but when policy will pay best, they give honesty the slip at once. When they think honesty is the best policy they are most conscientiously honest; but when policy will, in their judgment, serve them a better turn, their con-sciences change faces very quickly. Principle, right and honesty are, always, and everywhere, and eternally best. It is hard to make honesty and policy work together in the same mind. When one is out, the other is in. Honesty will not stay where policy is permitted to visit. They do not think or act alike, and never can be made to agree. They have nothing in common. One is the prophet of God, the other of Baal.
There are men who choose honesty as a soul companion., They live in it, and with it, and by it. They embody it in their actions and lives. Their words speak it. Their faces beam it. Their actions proclaim it. Their hands are true to it. Their feet tread its path. They are full of it. They love it. It is to them like a God. They believe it is of God. With religious awe they obey its behests. Not gold, or crowns, or fame, could bribe them to leave it. They are wedded to it from choice. It is their first love. It makes them beautiful men ; yea, more, noble men, great, brave; righteous men. When God looks about for his jewels, these are the men his eye rests on, well pleased. He keeps his angels employed in making crowns for them, and they make crowns for themselves too ! Crowns of honesty! To some men they seem not very beautiful in the dim light of earth; but when the radiance of heaven is opened upon them, they will reflect it in gorgeous splendor. Nothing is brighter; nothing is better ; nothing is worth more, or more substantial. Honesty, peerless queen of principles ! how her smile enhaloes the men who love her! How ready they are to suffer for her, to die for her. They are the martyrs. See them. What a multitude! Some at the stake; some in stocks; some in prison; some before judges as criminals; some on gibbets, and some on the cross. But they are all sustained. They smile on their foes. They have peace within. They are strong and brave in heart. Their souls are dauntless as the bright old sun.