by John Dickie
THE "Pilgrim's Progress"—-from which we select our first portrait for study—-is a well-filled album of the choicest spiritual photographs. One cannot easily spend a more delightful leisure hour than by taking the book in hand, and turning over the well-defined and artistically posited miniatures. There are few readers of the inimitable allegory who can have forgotten worthy Old Honest. There he sits in the house of Gaius mine host, the genial, hearty old man, in appearance not unlike the accepted portraits of John Bull, with a constant smile upon his kindly face, and his calm, clear eyes gazing down into your own when he speaks to you,—eyes from which none except the consciously deceitful shrink, though you feel that they are looking you through and through.
Old Honest is a man of well-tried genuine courage. And why shouldn't such as he be courageous? Let the wicked, with their uneasy consciences, flee when nobody pursues them; but let the righteous—-and this is the Bible's synonym for Old Honest—-let the righteous be bold as a lion. As Greatheart says, he is "a cock of the right kind," for he is ready to fight all assailants on the king's highway "as long as breath is in him." But he is kindly, as well as courageous. So soon as he joins the group of pilgrims, he salutes them all with a holy kiss; and he asks their names, and how they have fared. Nay, there is something of the boyish in his genial kindliness; for when he is told that these are the wife and the children of Christian, he skips and smiles in the exuberance of his glee. As they sat around the table of good Gaius, "they were very merry;" and it is certain that a chief leader in this holy mirth—- which is an excellent specific for many spiritual ailments—-was our dear Old Honest. He it was, who started the riddles, and who asked the host to crack one on a subject with which host and he had large acquaintance:—-
"A man there was, though most did count him mad.
The more he gave away, the more he had."
There are some flowers which expand only in the full blaze of the sunshine, and which contract their petals then the day begins to decline; and like them, Old Honest unfolds his spiritual graces most fully among the saints, for nowhere else does he feel quite at home. In Mnason's house, when they had begun to be "a little cheery after their journey, Mr. Honest asked his landlord if there were any store of good people in the town?
Mnason: "We have a few; for indeed they are but a few, when compared with them on the other side."
Honest: "But how shall we do to see some of them? For the sight of good men to them that are going on pilgrimage is like to the appearing of the moon and stars to them that are sailing upon the seas."
Of course, old Honest is also a man of self-denial. Like all truly good characters, he reserves his graciousness for his neighbours, and spends his severity upon himself. When Greatheart pro-pounded his riddle,—-
"He that would kill, must first be overcome;
Who live abroad would, first must die at home."
Honest had not far to seek the solution of a question with which practically he was so familiar. "Then," said the old gentleman,—-
"He first by grace must conquered be,
That sin would mortify;
Who, that he lives, would convince me,
Unto himself must die."
And when we discover self-denial to be one of the elements of his character, we expect to find humility beside it; for humility and self-denial are inseparable. And so it is. When he first joined the pilgrims, and had told his birth-place, "Oh," said Mr. Greatheart, "are you that countryman? Then I deem I have a half guess of you; your name is Old Honesty, is it not? So the old gentleman blushed and said, not Honesty in the abstract, but Honest is my name; and I wish that my nature may agree to what I am called"
In this modesty of personal estimate, he has perfect sympathy with Standfast, whom they overtook on the enchanted ground, and who "blushed" when told that they had espied him on his knees. "Why, what did you think?" said Standfast. "Think!" said Old Honesty, "what should I think? I thought we had an honest man upon the road, and should have his company by-and-by." "If you thought not amiss," said Standfast, "how happy am I! But if I be not as I should, 'tis I alone must bear it" "That is true," said the other; "but your fear doth further confirm me that things are right between the Prince of Pilgrims and your soul; for he saith, 'Blessed is the man that feareth always.'"
And Honest has every reason to cherish this modest self-distrust. He knows very well that he is not a whit better than his neighbours, and he has witnessed in his neighbours quite enough to make him a very modest man. "I have seen," he remarked to Greatheart, "I have seen some that have set out as if they would drive all the world afore them, who yet have, in few days, died as they in the wilderness, and so never got sight of the Promised Land. I have seen some who have ran hastily forward, that again have, after a little time, run just as fast back again. I have heard some vaunt what they would do in case they should be opposed, that have, even at a false alarm, fled Faith, the pilgrim's way, and all."
So much for the admirable portrait in Bunyan's "Pilgrim;" but, as we do not design to dwell on it, however greatly we are tempted to do so, we shall go on to complete our own portraiture of the sainted father, though with a blunter pencil. Old Honest comes of an excellent stock, which might boast of a pretty lengthy pedigree; only Mr. Honest never thinks of glorying over his fellows, in a matter in which he has absolutely no personal merit whatever. The line of descent can be traced with considerable clearness back to Noah, of whom it is mentioned in the family registers that, "Noah was an honest man, and upright in his generation, and Noah walked with God." Jacob, too, was in the line of descent, though there are certain grave in consistencies recorded of him; still he was able to say, after twenty years' service to a dishonest master, "That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it." Joseph, also, was of the family; and in the dungeon into which he was cast as an evildoer, he could say, "I have done nothing." Moses was the "Old Honest" of his day; and he could declare solemnly, in reply to his calumniators, "I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them." Samuel also was in the direct line; and so was David. The workmen of Joash and of Josiah, who executed the repairs of the Temple (2 Kings xii. 15; xxii. 7), were cadets of the family. Nehemiah was a genuine "Old Honest." So, too, was Daniel, of whom the family record states that his bitter enemies were compelled to say, "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel except we find it against him, concerning the law of his God." Paul was notably an "Old Honest." He could say—-though of course only when there was occasion for the saying of it—- "We have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man." Not only was he careful to be really honest, but also to be seen to be so; "providing for honest things not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men." So far, however, was he from boasting of his integrity, that with the modest self-estimate of all the "Honest" family he says, "Pray for us, for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." And here we can scarcely deny ourselves the pleasure of noticing a little characteristic incident, illustrative of the apostle's courageous honesty, which is one of the traits of the family character. He had been brought up, a prisoner and perhaps in chains, to discourse to Felix and Drusilla, the more than regal procurator and his beautiful companion. It would be hard to say what were the motives which induced Felix to send for the apostle. Perhaps his thievish palm was itching for the gold which he hoped should be given him of Paul; and he fancied that the interview might turn out to be a step towards the getting of the bribe. Perhaps, too, he had some curiosity to hear the apostle discoursing concerning the faith in Christ, and opening up questions which were being universally discussed. But stern "Old Honest" had other matters to speak of, before such an audience, than any one ism, versus any other. There sat, in regal state, an unscrupulous trafficker in justice, who cared nothing whether the coins which reached him had been got by honesty or fraud, if only the count were true. There sat beside him a jeweled and perfumed harlot—-yes, a harlot; for her forsaken husband was still alive, and her conduct was no less vile that her person was most comely, and her rank above a queen's. And he—-a prisoner at their mercy—-what shall he say? Nay, what else could any genuine Old Honest say or do, except to discourse pungently of honesty, chastity, and a judgment to come? Let fancy paint the instructive scene in all its details. To the enthroned robber, the prisoner-preacher speaks of honesty; to the bedazzled strumpet, he discourses of chastity; while to both, he presents the awful vision of an approaching judgment. No wonder that even a Felix trembled, and broke up the unprecedented interview with a "Go thy way for this time."
But we need not dwell any longer on the illustrious ancestry of our excellent friend. In his estimate, all the names on the family register seem worthy to be forgotten beside One, of whom the record says, "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." This incomparable One shall yet be known by His name of "Faithful and True." To Him, and to Him alone, belongs the appellation which our aged friend declined for himself, for He is "Honesty in the Abstract."
As Old Honest mentioned to Greatheart, he was born in the town of Stupidity, which lies even farther off from the Celestial City than the City of Destruction does. From his natural disposition, and the training which he underwent in his native town, he came to be the honest man of this world; but a second birth and a further training by the Holy Spirit had been needed to make him the "Old Honest" that he is in things pertaining unto God. It is perfectly certain, however, that his character as a Christian owes very much of its form and complexion to the previous character which was impressed on him as a man. Perhaps it is the consciousness of this fact which makes him a little pungent in reproving Christian parents for any carelessness which he may witness in their training of their children. He assures them that the blemishes of the natural character shall be carried forward, with more or less modification, into the spiritual character; and, though a true conversion may yet save the soul which is now being badly trained, it will not preserve the subsequent Christian life from being sadly marred by the evil habits which the neglected child is now acquiring.
In his family relations, Old Honest is very happy. His wife, through the influence of admiration for her husband, and the power of holy habit, has become so assimilated to him in character, that her very features have become like his, and a stranger might take them to be brother and sister. She is, in fact, a sort of duplicate of himself, only with the lines a little less sharp; and she certainly comes up to the standard which the apostle demands in a deacon's wife, "grave, sober, faithful in all things."
As for his children, they are all consistent Christians. When they were young, he trained them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and now, when they are older, they do not depart from the ways which grace and habit make so pleasant. Though it is only that peculiar form of honesty which is imparted by the second birth which can secure a welcome in the renewed heart for the divine seed of the Kingdom (see Luke viii. 15), still, even by their natural constitution, the whole family of the Honests are strongly disinclined to infidelity. What Haliburton says in his day, is equally applicable in ours: "I found this sort of persons much more eager in searching after what might strengthen their doubts than what might satisfy them. This smelled rank of hatred of light." And though there are many unbelievers who are not actual infidels; yet, it is so dishonest to profess faith while one does not possess it, that the self-deception is possible only in the case of the degenerate and worldly relatives of our aged friend. Of the true and uncorrupted branch of the family, there is not a single Honest—-no, not one—-who neglects, much less who rejects, the claims of the Saviour. Indeed, so vital is the connection between true integrity and true godliness, that even such an observer as the pagan Cicero has said, "It is a question with me, whether, without piety towards the gods----that most excellent of all virtues, honesty, could subsist" And in our own day, one is startled continually by the flagrant dishonesties of the heterodox. Not to speak at all of the finer phases of genuine uprightness, how striking is the fact that infidelity fails even in the low gross region of mere pocket-honesty. Witness a Strauss wishing to retain his chair of theology, with its emoluments, after he had pleased to believe in any theology whatever. Witness, too, a well-known bishop resisting the withdrawal of the income which had been given him for teaching Christian truth, while he is compassing sea and land to pull it down. Witness, too, the English Unitarians, in the matter of Dr. William's legacy. And we can scarcely help thinking of a notorious case now pending before the ecclesiastical courts in England.
One of the most noticeable peculiarities of Old Honest is his perfect punctuality. You make an appointment with him at a certain hour, and somewhere between the first and the last stroke upon the bell of the adjoining steeple, you are sure to hear his modest rat-tat upon your knocker. Some say that time is money, and they speak of the want of punctuality as theft; but, though Old Honest does not use these strong expressions, he often says that time is life; and he seems to draw the inference in his own mind that unpunctuality is, therefore, virtual murder. At all events, he avoids the vice as much as he avoids the crime; and his friends would as soon expect him to rush on them with a lancet in hand in order to draw off a pint of blood, as to find him defrauding them of a portion of their life in the ordinary form of the fraud—-stealing from them five or ten minutes of their time. Another shape in which his conscientious punctuality manifests itself is equally peculiar to him. When he receives, at any time, a borrowed book, he is impatient till he has read it, when it is immediately returned. Such a curiosity could not be found on Old Honest's shelves as a volume which had been lent to him years ago, and which now belongs to----to whom? Of course our friend takes a pleasure in attending to these little matters; for, as Scripture says, "It is a joy to the just to do judgment;" or, as we may vary the words without affecting the meaning, "It is a joy to an honest man to act honestly."
But there is another principle at work besides the mere pleasure of the thing; and that is the duty of it. His little vade mecum which he invariably uses, in order to settle all questions of relative duty, is a very portable one, and you never find him without it. It is really the smallest abridgment of human ethics in the world. You might write it with ease on your thumb-nail; while yet it comprehends as much as the entire library of the British Museum. It consists of these words, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." Another form which his scrupulous exactness takes, is his careful abstinence from all exaggerations in his speech. What he affirms he affirms as a man who speaks on oath, as a witness, on a question of life and death.
We have named the word "duty," and duty is a favourite word with Old Honest. It seems to bulk very largely in his estimation. There is only one other name which he counts still more venerable; if, indeed, we do not wrong the old man by insinuating that he distinguishes between them,—-for, to him, God and duty are not two, but one. He deems duty to be grand, only because he deems God to be so great; for duty owes its grandeur to the greatness of Him who wills it and commands it.
In regard to his methods of arranging for the discharge of these duties, we may apply to him, in a favourable sense, the poet's words,—-
"His duty in large measure, well pressed out,
But measured always."
In both respects, this description is just Old Honest gives as liberal measure as even his neighbour Mr. Generous; but, unlike Generous, he always gives by measure. His ruling principle is duty; that is, the payment of a something due. He wants to have no thorns in his dying pillow. Bunsen, in a letter to Brandis, gives expression to the very thought which regulates the entire life of Mr. Honest. "Intolerable would it be to me in the solemn hour of departure, to confess to myself that I had sought my way through life to death, impelled by any consideration but that of duty. My very soul seems to fall into dust, all spirit and energy to be annihilated by that thought"
And perhaps it comes from his feeling that, in any given case, he has at best done nothing but his duty, that he is so gruff, so uncivil almost, when hearty thanks are tendered to him. This is confessedly a blemish in his character. The fact is, when he does a kindness—and he lives for nothing else but to do kindnesses—he does it as a thing which he ought to do, and for the doing of which no one owes him thanks. With this impression, he is too honest to receive the gratitude which is not his due.
In seeking for the objects of this dutiful loving-kindness, Old Honest goes to work in a way which directly contrasts with that of many of the Generous family. They use a telescope in order to find out whom they shall assist; and though, of course, they cannot quite forget objects of charity at home, they are apt to exhaust both their sympathies and their funds on objects at a distance. They will rather spend a guinea in Timbuctoo than a sixpence at their own door. And even when they do show kindness at home, one would be tempted to imagine that they like to honour the demand, in an inverse ratio to the strength of the claim. They give so largely to objects to which perhaps they ought to give nothing, that, when they come to deal with the really needful and deserving, their helping power is exhausted; and if the meritorious sufferers do not perish for want of help, it is only because wise Old Honest is at hand, ready to step in and save. Generous gives away as much in a month as Honest in a year, for he happens to be a good deal richer; but there is a considerable difference in the results of their benefactions. Generous will perhaps make a happy hit, and help a really deserving object once in a twelve-month or so; but Old Honest makes no misses, and all his good deeds are really good in their effects on both giver and receivers. Let a man have no just claim of any kind, and he had better, in this case, go to Mr. Generous, for all such applicants belong to his department of the service; but if a man really have a righteous claim, Old Honest will treat him more liberally than the other. Old Johann George, an ancestor of the present Royal family of Prussia, was once appealed to by a peasant, who cried to him, "Grant me justice against So-and-So; I am your Serenity's born subject." "You shall have it, man," said the upright Old Honest of an Elector, "though you were a born Turk."
The truth is, the old disciple wants to attain to the "altogether just" of the law. "That which is altogether just, shalt thou follow,"— Deut. xvi. 20. Or, as the Septuagint renders it, "Thou shalt follow the righteous thing in a righteous way." This is what Old Honest continually aims at. He wishes not only to do that which is right in itself, but he wishes equally that all its accompaniments shall also be right. He abominates the maxim that the end sanctifies the means. And it is a pity that this feeling is not a more general one. Old Jacob—a genuine Honest at heart—overlooked this, and his oversight brought on himself shame and life-long sorrow. And there are many Jacobs in our own day, who are still following the righteous thing in a variety of unrighteous ways. It is well to be warned.
It is in the Bible, which he is constantly studying, that Old Honest finds his rule of duty; and it is in the fervour of spirit, which this same prayerful study of the Bible sustains, that he finds his unfailing impulse to discharge it. But herein lies another of his peculiarities: he reads and delights in the whole Bible. To him there is not an obsolete verse in the entire book. He trembles at every one of the holy words, and when he hears from God's own lips such a question as this, "Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" he recoils with terror from the possibility of handling the word of God deceitfully. He is amazed at the conduct of many who permit themselves to treat the holy words much as a dainty epicure might treat a plate of fruit, picking up this because it looks as if one would like it, picking up that because it seems so juicy, while two-thirds of the dessert are left untouched. Old Honest, courageous as he is in a good cause, dares not treat the Divine words after this fashion. Every grape on the huge rich cluster of Eshcol, looks ripe and luscious in his eyes; and he does not believe that there is a hard, or sour, or damaged fruit among them. Such a verse as John iii. 16, he takes up with anticipations of delight, and as he breaks the skin of the text and sucks its delicious juices, his soul is regaled with the sanctifying sweetness. But perhaps the next text which he picks up to feast on is such a word as this, "Render, therefore, to all their dues; "and instead of finding it sour and unfit for use, it is ripe, and sweet, and heavenly like the other.
On the whole, Old Honest is liked by his neighbours. He is so true-hearted and so kind, that it would say little for the neighbours if they did not like him. But he is not nearly such a universal favourite as good old Mr. Generous is. There are several reasons why this should be the case. He rebukes sin gently wherever he may see it, and this habit is far from tending to make a man popular. True, he is not so severe in his reproofs as he was wont to be in his younger years, still he rebukes sin, and his kind but firm words make the sinner feel very uncomfortable. We must add, however, that though he rebukes the wrong, he seems not to lose any of his friendly feeling for the doer of the wrong, unless, indeed, the offence be one of a very aggravated kind. Old Honest does not need to shut his eyes to a neighbour's faults in order to retain his love for his neighbour's person. He has the rare gift of being able to see a fault, and still to love the faulty one; of reproving a wrong while he continues to bear himself as humbly as ever towards the wrong-doer.
There are several points of character in which Old Honest and Old Generous, both of them good men, differ very considerably from each other. We have already adverted to their opposite methods of distributing charities, and we may add to this their different styles of cultivating personal friendships. Old Honest is the farthest possible from being ready to give his heart to every one; but, when once you have got it, it is yours while you like to keep it. In fact, his friendship is like another's marriage,—it is contracted only for life. All the members of the Generous family, again, including even old Mr. Generous, the best of his race, are rather loose in this respect. They can form and ripen as many intimacies in an hour as Old Honest could contrive to do in ten years; but while they can rear their young friendships as plentifully as the dung-heap rears mushrooms, the mushrooms are rather more long-lived than the worthless friendships. Old Honest, on the other hand, would just as soon lose a child as drop a friend. In this respect, and for a similar reason, he resembles the sober domestic man who reserves his gallantry for his beloved life-companion; while the whole family of the Generous, the good as well as the bad among them, are, in this matter of friendship, very like the general lover, whose smiles and bows are scattered around him as plentifully as snowflakes, while his undivided heart is—why, he has not such a thing as an undivided heart to give.
Another point in which Old Honest contrasts with Old Generous is his profound gratitude. Its depth and persistency are really extraordinary. Not that he makes any fuss about a favour done him; no, the calm equable old man makes no fuss about anything. But if you have the privilege of doing him a service, you shall be a marked man as long as you live. It will not alter the case that the favour done him was a perfect trifle, neither will it matter that he has already recompensed you for it twenty times over, his gratitude seems to be immortal; and he will continue to watch for opportunities of showing it, just as if the kindness had been rendered within the hour, and he had not yet had opportunity to acknowledge it. Mr. Generous, on the other hand—we mean the good Mr. Generous—is rather slow in appreciating a kindness done him, and rather hasty in forgetting the obligation. Some of his unfriendly critics speak very harsh words about him for this, and even his friends are surprised at this serious blemish in the good man's character. Perhaps, however, the phenomenon may be accounted for on a much more charitable theory than that which is frequently assumed. The truth seems to be that Mr. Generous is so genuinely kind that it costs him no effort to do a kind thing; indeed, it is rather a pleasure to him to have the opportunity of doing it. But this very facility hinders him from estimating rightly the extent of his obligations to others; for he fancies that others look on these matters much as he does himself, he therefore accepts a kindness as lightly and as thoughtlessly as he would have bestowed it; and, whether he be doing a generous thing, or having a generous thing done to him, he forgets all about the business within the hour. But Old Honest deals with all these matters in a very different spirit. If it be a duty to show the kindness, he will hasten to show it with as much cheerfulness as Mr. Generous can exhibit; but when it is his turn to receive a kindness, he readily realizes that he has no claim to it, and therefore his gratitude is the liveliest possible. On the whole, then, we may regard Old Honest as being generally a happier man than his neighbour Generous. Assuming that the joy of cherished benevolence and the joy of felt gratitude are about equal, and assuming too that Honest has as large an experience of the former as Generous has, he possesses, in addition, the deep, grand, ennobling joy of abiding thankfulness, an affection which has as much sweetness in it as any that cheers the heart of man.
There is one alleged defect in Old Honest's religious character which makes his true godliness a matter of very grave suspicion to some of his neighbours. He seems to them to be so sadly legal. So legal does he appear to be, that he gives no indication of being so much afraid of legalism as, according to theories prevailing among his neighbours, he ought to be. Indeed, he actually relishes the Sermon on the Mount as much as he does the Epistle to the Romans, and he delights in the last half of the Epistle to the Ephesians as well as in the first. All this seems very surprising to Sister Blank especially, who could not refrain from calling on him one day in order to tax him with his legalism. To her mind, it did not make the case more hopeful, that the old man closed his eyes, laid his hand upon his heart, and, with great reverence and pathos, repeated the fifteenth psalm. On further colloquy, he confessed that he was tempted to self-righteousness a little, but that he was tempted a thousand times more to self-will. He was afraid of legalism, but he trembled at his tendencies to licentiousness. As for self-righteousness, he really had no righteousness of his own of any kind which he could dare to think of in the Holy Presence, and his temptation to trust to this, was far from being his most distressing trial; but alas! for the wearisome tormenting assaults to which he was subjected by every form of selfishness, unfaithfulness, and self-will. Sister Blank, whose creed is composed chiefly of one central doctrine—that she herself is already saved—with a few minor doctrines, whose main practical use is to buttress up this tottering central one; and whose practical religion consists similarly of one grand central duty, that of compassing sea and land to spread her favourite dogma, together with a few minor duties which go to support this great one:—Sister Blank could not understand Old Honest's words, and to this hour, she fears the worst for a man whose life, though it be so amiable, is connected with an experience so unsatisfactory.
And, indeed, some of his neighbours, who are much more sober-minded than Sister Blank, are dissatisfied with the low ground which Old Honest takes in the matter of assurance of personal salvation. He has a bright and joyous and sanctifying hope which casts its mellowed sunlight across his daily life; but, to be quite sure of heaven—to be just as sure of it as if he were already in it;—oh no, speak not of that to the modest old disciple. From what he knows of himself, he is too honest to take ground like that from what he knows of God's mercy in Christ Jesus; on the other hand, he is delivered entirely from the spirit of bondage and of slavish fear; and looking only on the blood which speaketh peace, he commits his eternal all to the keeping of the gracious One, without shrinking and without a qualm. He knows well that God delighteth in mercy; he has formed the most exalted estimate of that precious blood, on account of which God's holy mercy can now flow out unhindered to the sinner; and he owes the abiding cheerfulness of his spirit to the blessed hope that he too shall be an everlasting monument of that rich mercy. But to be so sure as to have no scruple----no need for attending to the solemn call, "Take heed"—why our old friend cannot profess what he does not feel. Not that he is ever tempted to the very faintest doubt of the truth of a single promise, or of a single statement in God's Word; no, he is too honest for that. But he cannot trust so implicitly in his own faith and his own feelings as some do—he is also too honest for that.
After what has been said, it will scarcely be a surprise to any reader—though, possibly, he will not agree with us—if we avow our conviction that Old Honest is a better man than even good Mr. Generous. We love them both dearly; but we like Old Honest much the best. The common proverb implies this superiority—"Be just before you are generous." The old pagan philosophy, speaking the deep instincts of the human heart, taught it. Aristotle, for instance, uses the term justice as a sort of ready equivalent for the entire circle of human virtues. And, what alone is of any authority to us, the Bible, also seems to do the same. "Under this title of 'Just,' the Scripture embraces the whole of virtue and goodness," says Chrysostom. "What doth the Lord require of thee?" asks the prophet, "but to do justly"—this as the first duty; "to love mercy"—this as the second duty; and whether we be doing justly or loving mercy, we are in both cases, "to walk humbly with our God." Nay, not only is Justice set before Generosity, but it is set even before worship as a prior and more urgent service: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." And what is this but a fuller version of what Solomon had expressed before—"To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." However much a generous disposition is worthy of our admiration, it needs to be most sedulously guarded and controlled, lest the virtue cease to be a virtue and become a positive vice. And though honesty, too, may be perverted, it is scarcely liable to such grievous perversions as the other. Nothing is more frequently met with among the degraded than this immoral and thoughtless generosity.
Let our study of Old Honest's character impress us with a sense of the importance of cultivating a spirit of the most scrupulous integrity, and this as an essential element in our education for every class of Christian service. In a Christian's life, the importance of immaculate integrity can scarcely be exaggerated. What an enormous fly in the pot of ointment is the unfaithfulness or the untruthfulness of a Christian professor. The stench of the huge decaying carcass overpowers the sweet perfume of all the other ingredients, whatever they may be. It is not our custom now to use words quite so plain as the Bible does, when Moses speaks of Noah as being "drunken" (Gen. ix. 21); and Paul characterizes Peter's notable scheme of temporizing expediency as "hypocrisy" (See Gal. ii. 13, Greek). If it were so, what a melancholy description of a Christian man would it be to say, "He is a good man, only he lies sadly;" "He is a warm-hearted Christian, only he is a rogue." It is recorded of the late Duke of Wellington, that his steward had once been commissioned to purchase for him a piece of ground which it particularly fitted his Grace to annex to his estate of Strathfieldsaye. The steward, taking advantage of the necessities of the seller, drove a very hard bargain in behalf of his master. When he told the duke, however, that he had secured the land for a thousand pounds less than it was worth, he was disappointed that his Grace did not admire his bargain-making craft, as he expected. "Go this instant, sir," said the indignant nobleman, "make my respects to my neighbour, take to him the thousand pounds of which you have defrauded him; and if you presume to make any more of these good bargains for me, I will soon find another servant who shall be more trustworthy." It may be worth recalling to mind that in everything which a Christian does, he acts, not as a principal, but as the mere steward of another. And it may be worth remembering, too, that the dignity of the Lord Jesus, whose servants and stewards we are, demands a much loftier standard of integrity in all our transactions on his behalf than even the dignity of the Duke of Wellington. Are you, my reader, am I, sufficiently careful to avoid everything which might earn from him such a rebuke as his Grace administered to his unfaithful steward?
The thoughtful mind is continually instructed and delighted by its discoveries of the divine compensations and balancings, which are to be seen so plentiful in the physical world, and no less plentiful in the moral and spiritual universe. It is on this principle of compensation, that we can account for the fact of a man's special virtue being so apt to become the parent of his special vice. If anyone be, by his natural disposition generous, he will need to supplement his natural generosity by cultivating a spirit of honesty, else his generosity alone shall mislead him into untold sins and follies. And equally, on the other hand, if a man be by his natural disposition honest, he shall still need to supplement it with as much of acquired generosity as possible, else his integrity shall harden into a heartless and unfeeling cynicism. No man has both dispositions by his natural temperament; at least, no man has them naturally in safe and well-adjusted proportions. We need to cultivate one of the two dispositions which is the feebler, in order that it may check the abuse of the stronger.
An article in the Pall Mall Gazette of 1st January 1868, reviews the progress of the nation since 1832. It gives on the whole a very rose-coloured view of things; but, in closing one of the paragraphs, it makes the following ominous admission:—"Nowhere have there been clearer indications than in England, of the increased benevolence, and, we fear we must add, of the diminished sense of truth and justice which have marked the moral history of the last generation." If this witness be true, and since the other witness, which assures us that righteousness alone exalteth a nation, is true, it is time that we be all on our watch, strengthening the things which remain, and which are ready to die. The nation is but an aggregate of persons; and we cannot more efficiently secure the nation's welfare, than by presenting her, each in his own person, with an Old or a Young Honest for a citizen.
What a happy day when a king shall reign in righteousness, and when the people shall be all Honests Not only shall the goodly family of the Generous be purged from all that is vicious in their generosity, but the miserable and misery-making family of the Selfish shall be removed to make way for a whole world full of happy, holy Honests.
The world and the world's ways are, alas! all selfish; "But thou, O man of God, flee these, and follow after righteousness (honesty), godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."