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Advice to Youth

by David Magie, Published by the American Tract Society in 1855.

TRUTH between man and man.

Before I called to name any one trait of character, which goes farther than another, perhaps than all others, to render a person really worthy of respect, I should say—veracity. The child that will always tell the truth, the youth that will always tell the truth, and the man of business that will always tell the truth, is sure to be relied on. Even in the absence of much that is pleasing in deportment and amiable in disposition—a well-established reputation for simple, straight-forward, undeviating honesty, never fails to secure respect and confidence. A love of truth, like charity, seems to cover a multitude of sins.

To those especially, who are just now forming a character, the habit of stating things precisely as they are, is of more consequence than can be easily estimated. Point me to a young man, in any walk of life, of undeviating veracity—a veracity which knows no forgetfulness, and which no temptation can overcome, and I dare predict for him a safe and honorable career through the world. No danger but that such a one will open for himself an avenue to the confidence of wise and good men. Let it be seen that a love of simple verity is so imbedded in his bosom, that neither fear nor favor can turn him from it—and he will be regarded, confided in, and employed.

There are different kinds of truth; mathematical truth, moral truth, and evangelical truth, and they are all important. So there are different ways of uttering falsehood. It may be done by flattery, it may be done by promise-breaking, and it may be done by perjury. But my object now is to treat of truth in its ordinary acceptance, in the communion of man with man.

We may define truth by saying, it is conformity to fact, and to utter truth, is to utter what we honestly believe to be in accordance with fact. There is in every such case, a faithful correspondence between the heart and the lips, the feelings and the words, the inward consciousness and the outward expression. A really truthful man never intends to produce a conviction in the mind of another, by language or signs, different from that which exists in his own mind. If you could read his very thoughts, as they arise and assume shape, you could frame from them no other conclusions than those which his words are adapted to convey. Innocent himself, he cannot desire to deceive others, or allow them to receive from him as true, what he knows to be false. If he speaks or acts at all, he must speak and act conscientiously.

Be careful to understand this. No man deserves to be called a man of veracity, who does not give utterance to the real meaning of his own heart. The essence of falsehood consists in an intention to deceive, and this may be shown by a look of the eye, a motion of the hand, or a tone of the voice as effectually as by explicitly uttered words. Anything which makes an impression inconsistent with fact, when that impression is purposely made, is a departure from truth. It is either a 'spoken' or an 'acted' falsehood.

But farther. It is possible to state facts and to state them as they actually occurred, and yet so to arrange and put these facts together, as to constitute actual falsehood. Suppose I should say of two boys, William and John, at the same boarding-school, that William left John's room, and five minutes after he left it, John went in and found that his watch was gone. This might convey an untruth, in the worst sense of the term, though the things took place precisely as has been stated. I would not thus charge William with being a thief in so many words, but my way of telling the story would convey that impression. This is a homely illustration, but all the better on this account. It presents the subject in a light in which it is not sufficiently contemplated, and in a form in which it cannot but be understood. If you would avoid sinning against the ninth commandment, it is necessary to know that deception may be practiced even where no words of untruth are used. A lie may be acted—as well as uttered. It may be a lie in reality, though not in appearance.

As you come into closer contact with the world, you will meet with people ready to justify themselves for departing, on some occasions, from the laws of strict veracity. Let me name a few of the more common instances in which this is done. Here is a father trying to get his child to take medicine, and to overcome its reluctance for the bitter dose, he gravely affirms that it does not taste bad. Yonder is a fashionable lady, who wishes her time for other purposes, and sends a servant to the door to say she is not at home. Here is a circle of kind friends, who persist in telling the occupant of the sick couch, that his case is not considered at all dangerous. But are not all these to be put down in the catalogue of deceptions? To make the best of them, they are doing evil that good may come.

Such acts generally defeat their own end. The deception will be detected. Something will occur to make the disguise apparent. How much better to be open and sincere, and if we tell not the whole truth, tell nothing but the truth. Let that father act with decision, and say to the sick child in so many words—This medicine is bitter, but you can take it in a moment, and we believe it will do you good. Let that mistress of the family speak out plainly, and tell her visitors that her time for the present is occupied with other and indispensable duties. Let that group of anxious friends, if they must express an opinion to the afflicted one, express it truly, and endeavor to turn his thoughts to Him, in whose hands are the issues of life. This is the only course consistent with sound morality, and here, as in everything else, it will be found that honesty is the best policy.

But the evil in question assumes a thousand forms. There are lies of sheer malice—pure fabrications of iniquity uttered and circulated to defeat some dangerous rival, and cloud the fair fame of some political aspirant. There are lies too of self-interest, as when the seller of goods extols them beyond what he knows to be their value, or the buyer says of them, "It is nothing, it is nothing." And there are lies of vanity, told by men who love to attract attention, and can never allow a story to pass through their hands without giving it some additional embellishment. But they are all lies, and if not equally malignant in their nature, yet all to be scrupulously avoided.

By what MOTIVES then may truth be enforced? These are so numerous, it is difficult to make a selection. Reasons for speaking the truth, one with another, rise up on every side, and are drawn from time and eternity, from your relations to God and your fellow-men. Let me suggest a few of them.

Falsehood of every name and form is a sin, a sin against the God who made you, in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways. If ever tempted to transgress in this particular, open your Bible and read, as from the mouth of Jehovah himself, "You shall not deal falsely, neither lie one to another." Turn to the passage, "All liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." This is enough. God is a God of truth; the Bible is a book of truth; Jesus is the faithful and true witness; the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and every precept of the Most High is true and righteous altogether. How then must a lie appear in His sight!

Hence you find the most dreadful judgments inflicted for the commission of this sin. You know how the servant of Elisha was struck with a leprosy, which ended only with death, for his falsehood in reference to the talents of silver and changes of clothing given him by Naaman the Syrian. Your hearts have trembled within you, while reading the terrible catastrophe which befell Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the Holy Spirit about the price of their land. But these are only individual instances. The history of the world proves that lying is a sin, which in the holy providence of God is seldom allowed to go unpunished.

Even life itself is not to be purchased at the price of falsehood. Had the martyrs consented by a word or a nod, to deny the Lord that bought them—could they have been persuaded to cast a single grain of incense upon the idol's altar—they might have escaped the rack, the scaffold and the stake. But false they could not be in word or in deed, though life was the forfeit of being faithful. In their view it was a thousand times better to go to prison and to death, with a clear conscience, than accept of deliverance on condition of deceiving; and that they judged wisely is proved by the crowns they now wear, and the harps they now tune.

Consider, too, how it elevates and ennobles one, to stand fast by the truth in the greatest emergencies. What else was it than the love of truth, that sustained the three Hebrew children when the fiery furnace was heated to seven-fold intensity; that enabled Daniel to answer the king so tranquilly while sitting among the lions in their den; and that filled the blessed Savior with such composure in the presence of Pilate? Truth has often stood up, unattended and alone, to rebuke the madness of the people, tear off the veil from the designs of despots, and reason of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come, in the presence of pomp and power. In whatever else you fail, never, never swerve from the truth. Even a bad man, if known never to tell a lie, will command a measure of respect. But a liar is everywhere despised. To charge a man with falsehood is regarded as the greatest insult which vulgarity and ill-nature are capable of offering.

The whole frame-work of society is upheld and kept in order by truth, and nothing but truth. Let deception become universally prevalent, and communities as such could scarcely exist, much less flourish and be happy. If love is the blood which circulates through the system, imparting to it life and warmth—truth is the joints and ligaments which hold all together. What would be the condition of a family, a school, a church, or a city, in which no one's word could be relied on. In such case, the stream of social enjoyment would be poisoned at its very fountain. Other vices have but a partial and circumscribed influence, but this touches everything and pollutes everything. Suspicion now takes the place of confidence, and the abodes of human beings are turned into so many dens of ravenous beasts. The very thought is appalling. Imagine for a moment what would be the inevitable result, if the husband could no longer trust in the word of his wife—the child in that of his father—the mother in that of her daughter—or the sister in that of her brother. Confidence and happiness could have no place. Even Hope would not be left behind.

No wonder that the liar is regarded as so degraded a character. Long ago did he begin to go astray by not keeping up the distinction between truth and falsehood, so that he soon became not only unable to repeat the same story twice in the same way, but ready to add one circumstance and another, until now he can tell a point-blank lie and not blush. If there be deeper degradation than this, I scarcely know where to find it. What a process has all the while been going on in the man's own mind. That his comfort is destroyed, and the light of heaven shut out from his bosom, is only a part of the evil. One transgression follows another, until by and by he is palpably detected, and known and recognized as a liar. All honest and true men exclude him from their companionship as a nuisance and a plague-spot.

What is he to do and where is he to go in such circumstances? I am not speaking now of the sadness with which the child retires to its pillow, or the gloom with which the student opens his books, or the dread which fills the bosom of the clerk after the commission of the first fault of this kind. This, if it goes no farther, is dreadful. There is already an arrow in the soul, the poison whereof drinks up the spirits. But let the solitary act become a habit, and though the conscience should gradually grow so callous as at length to be past feeling, the public ignominy which must henceforth and forever hang upon his footsteps, is absolutely overwhelming. All, all of real virtue is now gone.

We tell a sad tale of a young man, when we say that he is now and then overcome with wine, or that he sometimes swears profanely. God forbid that I should speak of such practices, in any other terms than those of decided denunciation. But on some accounts, and in relation to certain aspects of character, it is worse and more fraught with every ingredient of utter hopelessness, to be compelled to say of him, that he no longer feels upon his heart the sacred obligations of truth. When this is said, all is said that can be meant by the fearful word 'ruin'.

O, then, give me assurance that you will never conceive or utter words of falsehood, and "my heart shall rejoice, even mine." Let our little children, growing up as olive plants around our tables; our sons and daughters at school; our clerks and apprentices, be truth-loving and truth-speaking, at all times and under all circumstances; and everyone who wishes their welfare, will be filled with gladness. As for being rich, or acquiring great learning, or standing high in the temple of fame—it is more than any one can assure you of. But you can all attain to the dignity and honor of having a perfectly transparent character, and this will be sure to shed a hallowed light over your future pathway, be it what it may, and lead where it will.

You can never be real Christians, without a sacred regard for truth. Men may be sincerely pious, and yet have many errors in their understandings and many corruptions in their hearts, but they cannot be pious if in league with him "who loves and makes a lie." Such a life is one perpetual falsehood—a grand and fatal deception.

No matter what the exigency is, meet it manfully and abide the result. It may be a sore trial to the boy of ten years, to come forward and say, though it be with a beating heart and quivering lip—I did the wrong. It may make a heavy draught upon the courage and constancy of the young man, frankly to say—The evil is upon me, for I am its author. It may require a greater strength of inward principle than many members of the community possess, to say ingenuously—That mistake is mine. But once rise to the elevation of saying so, and a grand victory is gained. A single such open and candid avowal is worth more than tongue can tell.

That strict and undeviating adherence to truth will never cause you temporary inconvenience, is more than I dare promise. But what of that? Should love of truth threaten you with poverty and loss of friends, or should it turn you out cold and comfortless upon the world, mind it not. The gain will be greater than the loss. Sit down in ashes with Job and feed like the prophet on tears, rather than dwell in the palaces and share the banquets of falsehood.

"Buy the truth and sell it not." Be thankful to the parent, who watches over you with sleepless vigilance and marks the slightest aberration from truth. Prize the teacher who, pass by whatever other faults he may, never feels at liberty to let you trifle with truth. Venerate the Minister who stands up in the pulpit and tells you, that none can enter heaven who do not speak the truth.

But yield in this matter to the beginnings of evil, and a weak and cowardly heart will soon feel the necessity of sustaining one false statement by another still more false, until at length the chain becomes so heavy as to break by its own weight, and what was carefully concealed is suddenly brought to light as open, ignominious and never to be forgotten guilt.

Is it not wise and well to offer the prayer, Lord, "cleanse me from secret faults, keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins."

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