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On INTEGRITY as the GUIDE of LIFE.
PROVERBS, xi. 3.
The integrity of the upright shall guide them.
IGHTEOUSNESS and sin are, in this book of
Proverbs, frequently contrasted with each other, and the advantages of the former displayed. The righteous man is shewn to be more excellent than his neighbour, as the ways in which he walks are ways of pleasantness, while the way of transgressors is hard. Honour is represented as attending the one, while shame is the portion of the other. The path of the one leads to life; that of the other to destruction. In the text, an advantage of righteousness is specified, which is not commonly attended to, and which some will not readily allow that it possesses: We are told by the wise man, that it affords light and direction to conduct, and will prove our best guide through all the intricacies of life. The integrity of the upright shall guide them; or, as it is added, to the same purpose, in a following verse, the righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way. There are many who will admit, that integrity is an amiable quality; that it is entitled to much respect, and in most cases ought to influence our behaviour; who nevertheless are unwilling to allow it the chief place in the direction of their worldly conduct. They hold that a certain artful sagacity,
founded upon knowledge of the world, is the best conductor of every one who would be a successful adventurer in life; and that a strict attention to integrity, as his only guide, would often lead him into danger and distress. In opposition to tenets of this kind, I now purpose to show that, amidst all perplexities and dangers, there is no guide we can choose so safe, and so successful on the whole, as the integrity of an upright mind; and that, upon every trying occasion, principles of probity and honour will conduct a good man through life with more advantage, than if he were to act upon the most refined system of worldly wisdom.
It will not take much time to delineate the character of the man of integrity, as by its nature it is a plain one, and easily understood. He is one who makes it his constant rule to follow the road of duty according as the word of God, and the voice of his conscience, point it out to him.
He is not guided merely by affections, which may sometimes give the colour of virtue to a loose and unstable character. The upright man is guided by a fixed principle of mind, which determines him to esteem nothing but what is honourable, and to abhor whatever is base and unworthy in moral conduct. Hence you find him ever the same; at all times, the trusty friend, the affectionate relation, the conscientious man of business, the pious worshipper, the public-spirited citizen. He assumes no borrowed appearance. He seeks no mask to cover him ; for he acts no studied part; but he is in truth what he appears to be, full of truth, candour, and humanity. In all his pursuits, he knows no part but the fair and
direct one ; and would much rather fail of success, than attain it by reproachful means. He never shews you a smiling countenance, while he meditates evil against you in his heart. He never praises you among your friends; and then joins in traducing you among your enemies. You will never find one part of his character at variance with another. In his manners, he is simple and unaffected; in all his proceedings open and consistent. Such is the man of integrity spoken of in the text. Let us now proceed to show, in what manner, and with what effect, integrity serves for the guide of his life.
Every one who has begun to make any progress in the world, will be sensible, that to conduct himself in human affairs with wisdom and propriety, is often a matter of no sinall difficulty. Amidst that variety of characters, of jarring dispositions, and of interfering interests, which take place among those with whom we have intercourse, we are frequently at a stand as to the part most prudent for us to choose. Ignorant of what is passing in the breasts of those around us, we can form no more than doubtful conjectures concerning the events that are likely to happen. They may take some turn altogether different from the course in which we have imagined they were to run, and according to which we had formed our plans. The slightest incident often shoots out into important consequences, of which we were not aware. The labyrinth becomes so intricate, that the most sagacious can lay hold on no clue to guide him through it: He finds himself embarrassed, and at a loss how to act. — In public and in private life, in managing our own concerns, and in directing
those of others, the doubt started by the wise man frequently occurs; Who knoweth what is good for man in this life? While thus fatigued with conjecture, we remain perplexed and undetermined in our choice; we are at the same time pulled to different sides, by the various emotions which belong to our nature. On one hand, pleasure allures us to what is agreeable; on the other, interest weighs us down towards what seems gainful. Honour attracts us towards what is splendid; and indolence inclines us to what is easy. In the consultations which we hold with our own mind, concerning our conduct, how often are we thus divided within ourselves; puzzled by the uncertainty of future events, and distracted by the contest of different inclinations ?
It is in such situations as these, that the principle of integrity interposes to give light and direction. While worldly men fluctuate in the midst of those perplexities which I have described, the virtuous man has one Oracle, to which he resorts in every dubious case, and whose decisions he holds to be infallible. He consults his conscience. He listens to the voice of God. Were it only on a few occasions that this Oracle could be consulted, its value would be less. But it is a mistake to imagine, that its Responses are seldom given. Hardly is there any
material transaction whatever in human life, any important question that holds us in suspense as to practice, but the difference between right and wrong will show itself; and the principle of integrity will, if we listen to it impartially, give a clear decision. Whenever the mind is divided within itself, conscience is seldom or never neutral. There is always one side or other to which it leans. There is always one scale of the balance, into which it throws the weight of some virtue, or some praise; of something that is just and true, lovely, honest, and of good report. These are the forms, which rise to the observation of the upright man. By others they may be unseen, or overlooked; but in his eye, the lustre of virtue out-shines all other brightness. Wherever this pole-star directs him, he steadily holds his course.
Let the issue of that course be ever so uncertain ; let his friends differ from him in opinion ; let his enemies clamour; he is not moved; his purpose
is fixed. He asks but one question of his heart, What is the most worthy and honourable part? What is the part most becoming the station which he possesses, the character which he wishes to bear, the expectations which good men entertain of him? Being once decided as to this, he hesitates no He shuts his ears against every solicitation.
. He pursues the direct line of integrity, without turning either to the right hand or to the left. “ It is " the Lord who calleth. Him I follow. Let him “ order what seemeth good in his sight.” -- It is in this manner that the integrity of the upright acts as the guide.
But as, upon a superficial view, it may appear hazardous to place ourselves entirely under such a guide, let us now proceed to consider what can be said in defence of this plan of conduct, and what advantages serve to recommend it.
In the first place, I affirm, that the guidance of integrity is the safest under which we can be placed ; that the road in which it leads us is, upon the whole, the freest from dangers. Perfect immunity from