DISHONESTY IN SMALL MATTERS INCONSISTENT WITH HONESTY IN ANYTHING.
He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke16:10.
These words are a part of the parable of the unjust steward,or rather, a principle which our Lord lays down in connectionwith the parable. The words do not require that I should go intoan explanation of the parable itself, as they make no part ofthe story which the Lord Jesus was relating. The principle involvedor laid down is what I have to do with tonight. In preaching fromthese words I design to illustrate the principle laid down, whichis this:
One who is dishonest in small matters, is not really honestin anything.
The order which I shall pursue is the following:
I. I shall show what I do not mean by this principle. II. Showwhat I do mean by it. III. Prove the principle, that one who isdishonest in small matters is not really honest at all. IV. Showby what principle those individuals are governed who, while theyare dishonest in small things, appear to be honest, and even religious,in larger affairs. V. Mention several instances where personsoften manifest a want of principle in small matters.
I. I am to show what I do not mean by the principle, that onewho is dishonest in small matters is not really honest in anything.
Answer. I do not mean that if a person is dishonest in smallmatters, and will take little advantages in dealing, it is thereforecertain that in greater matters he will not deal openly and honorablyaccording to the rules of business.
Or that it is certain, if a man will commit petty thefts anddepredations, that he will commit highway robbery. There may bevarious reasons why a man who will commit such depredations willnot go into more daring and outrageous crimes.
Or that if a man indulges unclean thoughts, it is certain hewill commit adultery.
Or that if he indulges covetous desires, it is certain he willsteal.
Or that if he indulges in ill-will towards any one, he willcommit murder.
Or that if he would enslave a fellow man, and deprive him ofinstruction and of all the rights of man, he will certainly commitother crimes of equal enormity.
Or that if he will defraud the government in little things,such as postage, or duties on little articles, he will rob thetreasury.
II. I am to explain what I do mean by the principle laid down,that if a man is dishonest in little things, he is not reallyhonest in anything.
What I mean is, that if a man is dishonest in small matters,it shows that he is not governed by principle in anything. Itis therefore certain that it is not real honesty of heart whichleads him to act right in greater matters. He must have othermotives than honesty of heart, if he appears to act honestly inlarger things, while he acts dishonestly in small matters.
III. I am to prove the principle.
I am not going to take it for granted, although the Lord JesusChrist expressly declares it. I design to mention several considerationsin addition to the force of the text. I believe it is a generalimpression that a person may be honest in greater matters, anddeserve the character of honesty, notwithstanding he is guiltyof dishonesty in small matters.
1. If he was actuated by a supreme regard to the authorityof God and if this was the habitual state of his mind, such astate of mind would be quite as apt to manifest itself in smallermatters as in large. Nay, where the temptation is small, he wouldbe more certain to act conscientiously than in greater matters,because there is less to induce him to act otherwise. What ishonesty? If a man has no other motives for acting honestly thanmere selfishness, the devil is as honest as he is; for I daresay he is honest with his fellow devils, as far as it is for hisinterest or policy to be so. Is that honesty? Certainly not and,therefore, if a man does not act honestly from higher motivesthan this, he is not honest at all, and if he appears to be honestin certain important matters, he has other motives than a regardto the honor of God.
2. It is certain that, if an individual is dishonest in smallmatters, he is not actuated by love to God. If he was actuatedby love to God, he would feel that dishonesty in small mattersis just as inconsistent as in great. It is as real a violationof the law of God, and one who truly loves God would no more actdishonestly in one than in the other.
3. It is certain that he is not actuated by real love to hisneighbor, such as the law of God requires. If he loved his neighboras himself, he would not defraud him in small things any morethan in great. Nay, he might do it in great things, where thetemptation to swerve from his integrity was powerful. But wherethe temptation is small, it cannot be that one who truly loveshis neighbor would act dishonestly. See the case of Job. Job trulyloved God, and you see how far he went, and what distress he endured,before he would say a word that even seemed disparaging or complainingof God. And when the temptation was overwhelming, and he couldsee no reason why he should be so afflicted, and his distressbecame intolerable, and his soul was all in darkness, and hiswife set in and told him to curse God and die, he would not doit then, but said, "Thou speakest as one of the foolish womenspeaketh. What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, andshall we not receive evil?" Do you suppose Job would haveswerved from his integrity in little things, or for small temptations?Never. He loved God. And if you find a man who truly loves hisneighbor, you will not see him deceiving or defrauding his neighborfor trifling temptations.
IV. I am to examine some of the motives by which a person maybe actuated, who is dishonest in little things, while he may appearto be honest in greater matters.
Our own business here is to ascertain how this apparent discrepancycan consist with the declaration in the test. The Lord Jesus Christhas laid down the principle, that if a man is dishonest in smallmatters, he is not strictly honest at all. Now, here are facts,which to many appear to contradict this. We see many men thatin small matters exhibit a great want of principle, and appearto be quite void of principle, while in larger things they appearto be honorable and even pious. This must be consistent, or elseJesus Christ has affirmed a falsehood. That it is consistent withtruth will be admitted, if we can show that their conduct in regardto larger matters can be accounted for on other principles thanhonesty of heart. If we can account for it on principles of mereselfishness, it will be admitted, that where a man is dishonestin small things, he is not really honest at all, however honestlyhe may act in regard to larger matters.
1. They may act honestly in larger matters for fear of disgrace.
They may know that certain small things are not likely to bementioned in public, or to have a noise made about them, and sothey may do such things, while the fear of disgrace deters themfrom doing the same things in regard to larger matters, becauseit will make a noise. What is this but one form of selfishnessoverbalancing another form? It is selfishness still, not honesty.
2. He may suppose it will injure his business, if he is guiltyof dishonesty with men of business, and so he deals honesty inimportant matters, while in little things he is ready to takeany advantage he can, that will not injure his business. Thusa man will take advantage of a seamstress, and pay her a littleless than he knows it is really worth for making a garment, whilethe same individual, in buying a bale of goods, would not thinkof showing a disposition to cheat, because it would injure hisbusiness. In dealing with an abused and humble individual, hecan gripe and screw out a few cents without fear of public disgrace,while he would not for any consideration do an act which wouldbe publicly spoken of as disreputable and base.
3. Fear of human law may influence a man to act honestly insuch things as are likely to be taken up, while in such smallmattersas the law is not likely to notice, he will defraud ortake advantage.
4. The love of praise influences many to act honestly and honorably,and even piously, in matters that are likely to be noticed. Manya man will defraud a poor person out of a few cents in the priceof labor, and then, in some great matter on a public occasion,appear to act with great liberality. What is the reason, thatindividuals who habitually screw down their servants, and seamstresses,and other poor people that they employ, to the lowest penny, andtake all the advantage they can of such people, will then, ifa severe winter comes, send out cart loads of fuel to the poor,or give large sums of money to the committees? You see that itis for the love of praise, and not for the love of God nor thelove of man.
5. The fear of God. He may be afraid of the divine wrath, ifhe commits dishonest acts of importance, while he supposes Godwill overlook little things, and not notice it if he is dishonestin such small matters.
6. He may restrain his dishonest propensities from mere self-righteousness,and act honestly in great things, for the sake of bolstering uphis own good opinion of himself, while in little things he willcheat and play the knave.
I said in the beginning, that I did not mean, that if a manwould take small advantages, he would certainly never act withapparent uprightness. It often comes to pass, that individualswho act with great meanness and dishonesty in small affairs, willact uprightly and honorably, on the ground that their characterand interest are at stake. Many a man, who among merchants islooked upon as an honorable dealer, is well known, by those whoare more intimately acquainted with him, to be mean and knavishand overreaching in smaller matters, or in his dealings with morehumble and more dependent individuals. It is plain that it isnot real honesty of heart which makes him act with apparent honestyin his more public transactions.
So I said, that if an individual will commit petty thefts,it is not certain he would commit highway robbery. He might havevarious reasons for abstaining, without having a particle toomuch honesty to rob on the highway, or to cut a purse out of yourpocket in a crowd. The individual may not have courage enoughto break out in highway robbery, or not skill enough, or nerveenough, or he may be afraid of the law, or afraid of disgrace,or other reasons.
An individual may indulge unclean thoughts, habitually, andyet never actually commit adultery. He may be restrained by fear,or want of opportunity, and not by principle. If he indulges uncleanthoughts, he would certainly act uncleanly, if it were not forother reasons than purity of principle.
An individual may manifest a covetous spirit, and yet not steal.But he has the spirit that would lead him to steal, if not restrainedby other reasons than honesty or principle.
A man may be angry, and yet his anger never break out in murder.But his hatred would lead him to do it, so far as principle isconcerned. And if it is not done, it is for other reasons thantrue principle.
An individual may oppress his fellow man, enslave him deprivehim of instruction, and compel him to labor without compensation,for his own benefit, and yet not commit murder, or go to Africato engage in the slave trade, because it would endanger his reputationor his life. But if he will do that which divests life of allthat is desirable to gratify his own pride or promote his owninterest, it cannot be principle, either of love to God or loveto man, that keeps him from going any length, if his interestrequires it. If a man, from regard to his own selfish interest,will take a course towards any human being which will deprivehim of all that renders life desirable, it is easy to see that,so far as principle is concerned, there is nothing in the wayof his doing it by violence on the coast of Africa or taking lifeitself when his interest requires it.
So an individual who will defraud the United States treasuryof eighteen cents in postage has none too much principle to robthe treasury if he had the same prospect of impunity. The sameprinciple that allowed him to do the one would allow him to dothe other. And the same motive that led him to do the one, wouldlead him to do the other if he had an opportunity, and if it werenot counteracted by some other motive equally selfish.
A man may, in like manner, be guilty of little misrepresentations,who would not dare to tell a downright lie. Yet if he is guiltyof coloring the truth, and misrepresenting facts, with a designto deceive, or to make facts appear otherwise than they reallyare, he is really lying, and the individual who will do this wouldmanufacture ever so many lies, if it was for his interest, orwere he not restrained by other reasons than a sacred regard totruth.
V. I will mention some instances, where persons are dishonestin small matters, while they appear to act honestly and even piouslyin regard to matters of greater importance.
1. We often find individuals manifesting a great want of principlein regard to the payment of small debts, while they are extremelycareful and punctual in the payment of notes in the bank, andin all their commercial transactions.
For instance, there is a man takes a newspaper, the price isonly a small sum, and the publisher cannot send a collector toevery individual, so this man lets his subscription lie alongperhaps for years, and perhaps never pays it. The same individual,if it had been a note at the bank, would have been punctual enough;and no pains would have been spared, rather than let the noterun beyond the day.
Why? Because, if he does not pay his note in the bank, it willbe protested, and his credit will be injured, but the little debtof twenty shillings or five dollars will not be protested, andhe knows it, and so he lets it go by, and the publisher has tobe at the trouble and expense of sending for it, or go withouthis money. How manifest it is that this man does not pay his notesat the bank from honesty of principle, but purely from a regardto his own credit and interest.
2. I have before referred to the case of seamstresses. Supposean individual employs women to sew for him, and for the sake ofunderselling others in the same trade, he beats down these womenbelow the just price of such work. It is manifest that the individualis not honest in anything. If, for sake of making more profits,or of underselling, he will beat down these women suppose he ishonorable and prompt in his public transactions no thanks to him,it is not because he is honest in his heart, but because it ishis interest to seem so.
3. Some manifest this want of principle by committing littlepetty thefts. If they live at a boarding house, where there areboarders, they will commit little petty thefts perhaps for fuelin the cellar. An individual will not be at the expense of gettinga little charcoal for himself, to kindle his fire in the morning,but gets along by pilfering from the stores laid in by others,a handful at a time. Now the individual that will do that, showshimself to be radically rotten at heart.
A case came to my knowledge, of this kind. An individual wassitting in a room, where a gentleman had on the table for somepurpose a tumbler of wine and a pitcher of water. The gentlemanhad occasion to go out of the room a moment, but accidentallyleft the door ajar, and while he was out, looking back he sawthis individual drink a part of the wine in the tumbler, and then,to conceal it, fill up the tumbler with water, and take his seat.Now the individual who did that showed that he loved wine, andthat he was none too good to steal; he showed, that so far asprinciple was concerned, he would get drunk if he had the means,and steal if he had a chance; in fact, at heart, he was both adrunkard and a thief.
4. Individuals often manifest great dishonesty when they findarticles that have been lost, especially articles of small value.One will find a penknife, perhaps, or a pencil case, and nevermake the least inquiry, even among those he has reason to believewere the losers. Now, the man that would find a penknife, andkeep it without making inquiry, where there was any prospect offinding the owner, so far as principle is concerned, would keepa pocket-book full of bank notes, if he should find it, and havean equal chance of concealment. And yet this same individual,if he should find a pocket-book with five thousand dollars init, would advertise it in the newspapers, and make a great noise,and profess to be wonderfully honest. But what is his motive?He knows that the five thousand dollars will be inquired into,and if he is discovered to have concealed it, he shall be ruined.Fine honesty, this.
5. Many individuals conceal little mistakes that are made intheir favor, in reckoning, or giving change. If an individualwould keep still, say nothing, and let it pass, when such a mistakeis made in his favor, it is manifest that nothing but a want ofopportunity and impunity would prevent him from taking any advantagewhatever, or overreaching to any extent.
6. Frauds on the post-office are of the same class.
Who does not know that there is a great deal of dishonestypracticed here? Some seem to think there is no dishonesty in cheatingthe government out of a little postage. Postmasters will frankletters they have no right to. Many will frank letters not onlyfor their families but for their neighbors, all directly contraryto law, and a fraud upon the post-office. The man that will dothat is not honest.
What would not such a man do, if he had the same prospect ofimpunity in other frauds, that he has in this?
7. Smuggling is a common form of petty dishonesty. How manya man will contrive to smuggle little articles in his trunk, whenhe comes home from England, that he knows ought to pay duty tothe custom-house, and he thinks but little of it, because thesum is so small where as, the smaller the sum the more clearlyis principle developed. Because the temptation is so small, itshows how weak is the man's principle of honesty, that can beovercome by such a trifle. The man that would do this, if he hadthe same opportunity, would smuggle a cargo. If, for so little,he would lose sight of his integrity, and do a dishonest act,he is not too good to rob the treasury.
1. The real state of a man's heart is often more manifestedin smaller matters than in business of greater moment.
Men are often deceived here, and think their being honest ingreater things will go to prove their honesty of heart, notwithstandingtheir knavishness in smaller things, and so they are sure to beon their guard in great things, while they are careless of littlematters, and so act out their true character. They overlook thefact, that all their honesty in larger matters springs from awrong principle, from a desire "to appear" honest, andnot from a determination to be honest. They overlook their ownpetty frauds because they guard their more public manifestationsof character, and then take it for granted that they are honest,which they are nothing but rottenness at heart. The man who willtake advantage in little things, where he is not watched, is notactuated by principle. If you want to know your real character,watch your hearts, and see how your principles develop themselvesin little things.
For instance, suppose you are an eye-servant. You are employedin the service of another, and you do not mind being idle at timesfor a short time, in the absence of your employer. Or you slightyour work when not under the eye of your employer, as you wouldnot if he was present. The man who will do this is totally dishonest,and not to be trusted in any thing, and very likely would takemoney from his employer's pocket-book, if it were not for thefear of detection or some other equally selfish motive. Such aperson is not to be trusted at all, except in circumstances whereit is his interest to be honest.
Mechanics that slight their work when it will not be seen orknown by their employer, are rotten at heart, and not to be trustedat all, any farther than you can make it for their interest tobe honest.
Persons who will knowingly misstate facts in conversation,would bear false witness in court under oath, if favored withopportunity and impunity. They never tell the truth at all becauseit is truth, or from the love of truth. Let no such men be trusted.
Those who are unchaste in conversation would be unchaste inconduct, if they had opportunity and impunity. Spurn the man orwoman who will be impure in speech, even among their own sex,they have no principle at all, and are not to be trusted on theground of their principles. If persons are chaste from principle,they will no more indulge in unclean conversation than uncleanactions. They will abhor even the garment spotted with the flesh.
2. The individual who will indulge in any one sin, does notabstain from any sin because it is sin. If he hated sin, and wasopposed to sin because it is sin, he would no more indulge inone sin than another. If a person goes to pick and choose amongsins, avoiding some, and practicing others, it is certain thatit is not because he regards the authority of God, or hates sin,that he abstains from any sin whatever.
3. Those individuals who will not abandon all intoxicatingdrinks for the purpose of promoting temperance, never gave upardent spirits for the sake of promoting temperance.
It is manifest that they gave up ardent spirits from some otherconsideration than a regard to the temperance cause. If that hadbeen their object, they would give up alcohol in all its forms,and when they find that there is alcohol in wine, and beer, andcider they would give them up of course. Why not?
4. The man who for the sake of gain, will sell rum, or intoxicatingdrinks, to his neighbor, and put a cup to his neighbor's mouth,andwould thus consent to ruin him, soul and body, would consent tosell his neighbor into slavery to promote his own selfish interests,if he could do it with impunity. And if he did not rob and murderhim for the sake of his money, it certainly would not be becausethe love of God or of man restrained him. If the love of selfis so strong, that he will consent to do his neighbor the directinjury of selling him ardent spirits nothing but selfishness undersome other form prevailing over the love of money, could preventhis selling men into slavery, robbing, or murdering them, to gettheir money.
He might love his own reputation; he might fear the penaltyof human law; he might fear the destruction of his own soul, somuch as to restrain him from these acts of outrage and violence.But certainly it could not be the principle of love to God orman that would restrain him.
5. The individual who will enslave his fellow men for his ownselfish objects, would enslave others, any or all, if his interestdemanded, and if he had the same opportunity.
If a man will appropriate the rights of one, he would withoutany reluctance appropriate the rights of all men, if he coulddo it with impunity. The individual who will deprive a black manof his liberty, and enslave him, would make no scruple to enslavea white man if circumstances were equally favorable. The man whocontends that the black laborer of the south ought to be heldin slavery, if he dared, would contend to have the white laborersof the north enslaved, and would urge the same kind of argumentsthat the peace and order of society requires it, and laborersare so much better off when they have a master to take care ofthem. The famous Bible argument too, is as good in favor of whiteslaves as black, if you only had the power to carry it out. Theman who holds his fellow man as property, would take his fellowman as property, if he could with impunity. The principle is thesame in all. It is not principle that keeps men who hold slavesfrom kidnaping on the coast of Africa, or from making war to enslavethe free laborers of the north.
6. The man that will not practice self-denial in little thingsto promote religion, would not endure persecution for the sakeof promoting religion.
Those who will not deny their appetite would not endure thescourge and the stake. Perhaps, if persecution were to arise,some might endure it for the sake of the applause it would bring,or to show their spirit, and to face opposition. There is a naturalspirit of obstinacy, which is often roused by opposition, thatwould go to the stake rather than yield a point. But it is easilyseen, that it is not true love to the cause which prompts a manto endure opposition, if he will not endure self-denial in littlethings for the sake of the cause.
7. Little circumstances often discover the state of the heart.
The individual that we find delinquent in small matters, weof course infer would be much more so in larger affairs, if circumstanceswere equally favorable.
Where you find persons wearing little ornaments from vanity,set them down as rotten at heart. If they could they would goall lengths in display, if they were not restrained by some otherconsiderations than a regard to the authority of God and the honorof religion. You may see this every day in the streets. Men walkingwith their cloaks very carefully thrown over their shoulders,so as to show the velvet; and women with their feathers tossingin the air: it is astonishing how many ways there are in whichthese little things show their pride and rottenness of heart.
You say these are little things. I know they are little things,and because they are little things, I mention them. It is becausethey are little things, that they show the character so clearly.If their pride were not deeply rooted, they would not show itin little things. If a man had it put into his power to live ina palace, with everything corresponding, it would be no wonderif he should give way to the temptation. But when his vanity showsitself in little things he gives full evidence that it has possessionof his soul.
How important it is for you to see this, and to keep a watchover these little things, so as to see what you are, and to knowyour characters they appear in the sight of God.
How important to cultivate the strictest integrity, such aswill carry itself out in small things as well as in large. Thereis something so beautiful, when you see an individual acting inlittle things with the same careful and conscientious uprightnessas in matters of the greatest moment. Until professors of religionwill cultivate this universal honesty, they will always be a reproachto religion.
Oh, how much would be gained if professors of religion wouldevince that entire purity and honesty on all occasions and toall persons, and do what is just right, so as to commend religionto the ungodly. How often do sinners fix their eye on some pettydelinquencies of professors of religion, and look with amazementat such things in persons who profess the fear of God. What aneverlasting reproach to religion, that so many of its professorsare guilty of these little, mean, paltry knaveries. The wickedhave cause enough to see that such professors cannot have anyprinciple of honesty, and that such religion as they exhibit isgood for nothing, and is not worth having.
Of what use is it for that woman to talk to her impenitentservant about religion, when her servant knows that she will nothesitate to overreach, and screw down, and cheat, in petty things?Or for that merchant to talk to his clerks, who know that, howeverhonorable he may be in his greater and more public transactions,he is mean end knavish in little things? It is worse than useless.
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