Live Coals: Life At Work IV

A School of Integrity

“Business life is a school for integrity. No man knows what he will do until he is tempted. There are thousands of men who have kept their integrity merely because they never have been tested. A man was elected treasurer of the State of Maine some years ago. He was distinguished for his honesty, usefulness and uprightness, but before one year had passed he had taken of the public funds for his own private use, and was hurled out of office in disgrace. Distinguished for virtue before. Distinguished for crime after. You can call over the names of men just like that, in whose honesty you had complete confidence, but placed in certain crises of temptation they went overboard.

Never so many temptations to scoundrelism as now.

Not a law on the statute book but has some back door through which a miscreant can escape. Ah! how many deceptions in the fabric of goods; so much plundering in commercial life that if a man talk about living a life of complete commercial accuracy there are those who ascribe it to greenness and lack of tact. More need of honesty now than ever before, tried honesty, complete honesty, more than in those times when business was a plain affair, and woolens were woolens, and silks were silks, and men were men.

Not a law on the books

but has some back door

thru which a crook can escape

How many men do you suppose there are in commercial life who could say truthfully, “In all the sales I have ever made I have never overstated the value of goods; in all the sales I have ever made I have never covered up an imperfection in the fabric; of all the thousands of dollars I have ever made I have not taken one dishonest farthing?” There are men, however, who can say it, hundreds who can say it, thousands who can say it. They are more honest than when they sold their first tierce of rice, or their first firkin of butter, because their honesty and integrity have been tested, tried and came out triumphant.

But they remember a time when they could have robbed a partner, or have absconded with the funds of a bank, or sprung a snap judgment, or made a false assignment, or borrowed illimitably without any efforts at payment, or got a man into a sharp corner and fleeced him. But they never took one step on that pathway of hell fire. They can say their prayers without hearing the clink of dishonest dollars. They can read their Bible without thinking of the time when, with a lie on their soul in the Custom House, they kissed the book. They can think of death and the judgment that comes after it without any flinching—that day when all charlatans and cheats and jockeys and frauds shall be doubly damned. It does not make their knees knock together, and it does not make their teeth chatter to read: “As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.” (Jeremiah 17:11)

No man knows

what he will do

until he is tempted.

Oh, what a school of integrity business life is! If you have ever been tempted to let your integrity cringe before present advantage, if you have ever wakened up in some embarrassment, and said: “Now, I’ll step a little aside from the right path and no one will know it, and I’ll come all right again; it is only once.” Oh, that only once has ruined tens of thousands of men for this life, and blasted their souls for eternity. It is a tremendous school, business life, a school of integrity.

Heavenly rewards for earthly discipline

There are men who fought the battle and gained the victory. People come out of that man’s store, and they say: “Well, if there ever was a Christian trader, that is one.” Integrity kept the books and waited on the customers. Light from the eternal world flashed through the show windows. Love to God and love to man presided in that storehouse.

Some day people going through the street notice that the shutters of the window are not down. The bar of that store door has not been removed. People say, “What is the matter?” You go up a little closer, and you see written on the card of that window: “Closed on account of the death of one of the firm.” That day all through the circles of business there is talk about how a good man has gone. Boards of trades pass resolutions of sympathy, and churches of Christ pray, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth.” He has made his last bargain, he has suffered his last loss, he has ached with the last fatigue. His children will get the result of his industry, or, if through misfortune there be no dollars left, they will have an estate of prayer and Christian example, which will be everlasting. Heavenly rewards for earthly discipline. There “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.” (Job 3:17)

-T. DeWitt Talmage

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