The Power Of Principle
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Men of real moral principle command the spontaneous homage of mankind. It is natural to feel attached to them, to look up to them, to imitate them. They are the bulwarks of society and have always been the leaders of the great enterprises of the world. Such men have certain well-defined principles that rule their lives and actions. They are honest men. In all the vicissitudes of business they can never be tempted to appropriate that which is not their own. They are men of integrity. They do right for its own sake.
Their honor stands unassailed in the presence of a thousand temptations. While other men go down in the storms of evil appetite, they triumph over difficulty, sail through peril and tempest, and anchor at last in the haven of a successful career. While others are swept to their ruin through the want of stamina, they stand firm in the power of principle.
Oliver Cromwell was a man of principle, and the history of the English Commonwealth is a lasting tribute to the excellence and nobility of his character. From the place of an obscure country gentleman, to the head of a nation, rose this man by sheer force of principle and manly industry. For a principle he endured the ridicule of the ruling class of England. For a principle he led the " Ironsides " to victory at Naseby and Marston Moor. For a principle he adjourned the Rump Parliament by force, for a principle he carried the burdens of the English State with never a thought of being King. As an advocate of principle he received the title of Lord Protector and stood like a rock in the stormy sea of English politics for a decade of years. To this day his name is honored, and " puritan " is one of the grandest words in history.
But this quality of adherence to principle is a gift of God. It cannot be entirely acquired by effort. It cannot be transmitted by example or instruction. It is an inborn faculty that may be cultivated by diligence, nurtured by religion, and inspired by truth and heroic example, but wholly acquired, never. And yet every man has within him the germs of noble character, which, under favorable circumstances and .with proper care and effort, may be greatly augmented and improved. Habits may be formed under proper motives that will go far to take the place of genuine excellence of character. The associations of life will do much to ground a man in right action and hold him to the path of rectitude. But when you have said all, unless he have a good heart and love right actions because it is right, he can never develop the highest excellence of character. Here, as elsewhere, there is need of a good supply of native talent, and then "The stature of the perfect man can be attained only by slow gradations of travail, study, effort and patience."
But whether inborn or acquired, this adherence to principle is a very necessary element of success. There are a thousand emergencies in life, in which it is necessary to act with decision, promptness and vigor, upon a moment's notice. The crisis comes, and he must pass the Rubicon without consultation or delay. His actions must be quick and decisive, and he must act rightly, or all will be lost. To do so, he needs to be backed by the power of habitual right action. If he has acted so in all the crises of life hitherto, he is prepared for the new emergency. He can look back to the solid ground of experience and refer his energy to the balance-wheel of character. He is secure and will succeed. He obeys the law of principle ; he knows that to be right always. Principle thus becomes a great power in the affairs of life. It contains all the essentials of a motive force, giving direction and point to one's activities. True principle is a sort of culminating point in character, and, in as much as it is largely a matter of opinion, it is within our own control. A man may then become, in a very large sense, what he pleases to be. The forms of his activity must be prescribed by nature. The limit to his activity is also a natural one ; but circumstances do not form character nor control principle. Circumstances do not dictate what a man shall be in his inner life. They often determine how much show he shall make in the world. To be famous depends upon circumstances. Every man could not be a great orator, statesman, philanthropist, by simply willing it, nor could he rise to intellectual eminence. But to be an honest-hearted, true-minded man depends solely upon one's own ambition and determination. It is possible for any man to live in perpetual contact with God's open atmosphere of truth and right. It is entirely practical for him to go to the fountain from whence all true manliness is nourished and fed, and derive those great principles of right action that shall sustain him in any crisis that he may meet.
With Holland we believe that it is more necessary to cultivate right principles of action, than it is to be anxious and troubled about our character and reputation. In his phrase, "character will take care of itself," if we only act habitually right. If a man once lay his life to the eternal principles of truth and act always with judgment, reason and conscience, his reputation will be secure and his character untarnished amid the jeers of a thousand foes. Probably the meanest thing a man ever does is to seek for popularity and reputation. "It is supremely selfish and contemptible." It is seeking, with malice prepense, for a result that -ought to flow naturally from a well-ordered life, and it is always those of questionable morals who are most solicitous of their good name. If a man does right, if the principles of his activity are sound, he can afford to snap his fingers at the world, and not give a fig for its good opinion. It will come to him unsought, and the lying slander of his enemies will only make his reputation stronger and more secure. It is our chief business in life, then, to cultivate a lofty and noble principle, to see that the rules of life's actions be true and right, and then the incidents of vocation, talent, energy, etc., cannot seriously effect our grand and triumphant success.