Imágenes de páginas

Dishonesty is implied in all cases, where the forms of law are used to shelter us in any violalations of equity. The laws of civil society are instituted mainly to guard its peace and general security ; not to watch over the virtue of the individual. This last is the province of religion and morality. They must proceed on fixed and known rules, which in general will operate equitably, but

, which in some particular cases will not. Here, then, a thoroughly honest man will follow, not what the law may permit, but what equity demands. He must not, for example, keep his neighbour to the very words and letter of his agreement, when they clearly violate the original spirit and equitable intention of it. Nor, on the other hand, is he allowed to allege any flaw or defect in form, to get loose from a contract which in good faith and conscience he ought to perform. He is not allowed to put another to the charge and hazard of the law unjustly or needlessly ; or, in ever so necessary a law-suit, to occasion unnecessary expenses, or contrive unfair delays.

We must place excessive rigour and hardness in our dealings, among the violations of strict integrity. He who takes advantage of a buyer's ignorance or particular necessities, to insist on a higher price than the current value or fair “ market price” for his commodity; or on the other hand, who uses the same advantages to beat down his merchandize greatly below this standard, violates the

laws of honesty. Under this head also must be placed the exaction of usury-not because it is not right that a man should receive compensation for lending his money, as well as any other property into which that money may be converted—but in some degree, because the rapid accumulation of wealth without industry is bad for the state and for the individual, and chiefly, because we must know that in most instances he who is willing to borrow at exorbitant interest must be on the brink of insolvency, and that by lending to him, we only precipitate his downfall, and increase his inability to discharge the just demands of those creditors, who have entrusted him with the hard earnings of their own exertion. In this way we make ourselves partakers of another man's sins.

In the fourth place, we must number extravagance among the cases of dishonesty. Whoever spends upon himself, or throws away upon any other person, more than he can prudently afford, whatever fine names of elegance, good nature or generosity his conduct may receive, in reality disposes of what cannot fairly be called his own; he does in effect defraud his family, and will be in great danger of being driven at last to endeavour to repair by unlawful means what he has lost by folly.

Finally, we must give the epithet of dishonesty to every act whereby we withhold or take from a neighbour, from any society or body of men, from the government, from the public, any thing which they can justly call their right. Whether the amount be little or much; whether the guilt be divided

among ever so great a number; whether the practice be ever so common; it is the same crime, however it

may vary in degree. The possible cases of this description are innumerable ; but no one can be at a loss to determine when they occur, who faithfully applies the same maxims of conduct in his dealings with others, which he would think it equitable to have in return applied to himself. This rule is so plain and so universal, that he who errs in its application must do so by a voluntary self-deception.

II. These statements of some of the modes in which the laws of honesty may be violated, have been made with a view to explain the nature of this virtue. They will receive some farther illustration, when we proceed to the second general object of the discourse, and consider some of the elements or features of moral character, which mark and are necessary to constitute a man of integrity.

In the first place we remark, that a man of integrity must be a man of principle. The distinctions between right and wrong in his mind must not be loose and floating, but clearly ascertained and settled. His opinions on the proper rule of life must be made up definitively, and not left to be varied and modified by circumstances. They must be clear, universal, absolute. He must have


weighed well the nature and obligations of virtue. He must be convinced that virtue is the supreme good. There must be no hesitation or parley in his mind, between the claims of God and Mam

He must cultivate a ready perception of guilt; a moral sense awake and active to detect the first approaches of temptation ; and a prompt and decisive resolution to resist it, under whatever form it may be disguised.

Therefore we remark, in the second place, that a man of integrity must be a man of consistency, or in other words, a man true to his principles. In order to this, his principles must be something more than opinions. They must be the universal law of his actions; the settled purpose of his soul. They must have so powerful a consent of the

a will to their propriety and obligations, as to chain down every discordant, every counteracting propensity of his nature, as with links of iron. He must feel that the motives to virtue are infinite; that nothing can be thrown into the opposite scale, no amount of earthly good, which can poize them even for an instant. This leads me to say, in the third place, that a

, man of integrity must be a man of religious principle. I acknowledge that a regard for the opinion of mankind, a view of immediate self-interest, a dread of the laws of our country, and the dictates of the early implanted moral sentiments of our nature, will furnish a reflecting and calculating man, in a vast majority of cases, with a tolerably

steady and certain rule of life, and give him sufficient motives to observe it. But we are not speaking of one who is generally an honest man, but of one who is always so; not of one who is in most particulars just, but of one who is thoroughly so; who is sound to the very core. We are speaking of a man who retains his integrity at home and abroad, in secret and in public, by night and by day; who would be as faithful to his principles in the solitude of a desert, as before the eyes of the assembled world. And you must not expect to find a man of this description, who is not governed by religious principles ; who is not influenced by a steady regard to the will of God, and the retributions of eternity. There are instances and though they are not frequent, they are not imaginary ones—when the opinion of the multitude will be on the side of a departure from strict right; when worldly interest will appear to be in opposition to the laws of integrity; and when he who has no fear of God may think that he has nothing else to fear. Therefore it is apparent that the interests of virtue will not be securely and steadily maintained in any man's mind, who does not regard the approbation of God as the supreme law of action; who does not feel that when he does his duty, he may always safely leave the event to the care of Him, who will not permit his faithful servant finally to suffer for his obedience.

When we have said that a man of integrity must be a man of religious principle, we have said

« AnteriorContinuar »