By John Angell James
A very large number of our church members are engaged in the pursuits of trade, manufacturing, or commerce; and from their very calling are exposed to peculiar dangers, which must be met with proportionate vigilance.
It is highly incumbent upon them to take care against a worldly spirit. They are in extreme peril of losing the power of godliness from their hearts, and joining the number of those, of whom it is said, in the expressive language of Paul, that "they mind earthly things." Such people look upon the possession of wealth as "the one thing needful." It is their chief object of pursuit, the chief source of happiness. Nothing modifies or mitigates the desire for riches. They are of the earth, earthy. Now certainly a Christian tradesman is, or ought to be, of another spirit than this. He should be industrious, frugal, and persevering in his attention to the concerns of this world--but still there should be in his mind, an ultimate and supreme regard to the possession of everlasting life. He ought not to be, slothful in business--but then he must be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. He should be seen to unite the diligent tradesman and sincere Christian; and to be busy for both worlds. The men of this world should be constrained to say of him, "This man is as attentive to business, and as diligent in it as we are--but we can perceive in all he does, an inflexible regard to morality, and an invariable reference to piety. We can discover no lack of diligence or prudence--but it is perfectly evident, that his heart and highest hope are in heaven. He is neither so elated in prosperity, nor so depressed in adversity, as we are. He has some secret source of happiness, of which we are not possessed; and his eye is upon some driving force, which we do not recognize. He is a Christian as well as a tradesman."
What a testimony! Who can obtain a higher one? Who should seek less?
There are many snares to which a Christian tradesman is peculiarly exposed in the present mode of conducting business. The stream of trade no longer glides along its old accustomed channel, where established and ordinary causes impelled its motions and guided its course--but under the violent operation of new and powerful impulses, it has of late years veered from its course, and, with the rapidity of a torrent or the force of an inundation, has swept away the restraint of religious principle, and carried a deluge of dishonesty over the moral world.
It is quite time for Christian tradesmen to return, in their mode of conducting business, to the sound principles of Christian morality. Let them beware of excessive speculation; and where the property with which they trade, is scarcely their own, let them err rather on the side of caution than of enterprise. Let them beware of all dishonorable means of propping up a sinking credit. Let them view with abhorrence those practices which are resorted to only by rogues and swindlers. Let them tremble and blush at a single effort to extricate themselves from difficulty, which the world would condemn as unfair or dishonorable. Let their motto be, "whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Phil. 4:7.
A Christian should be careful not to conceal, too long, the fact of his being in a state of insolvency. A false pride, or a foolish hope, has led many to the dishonor of their profession, to go on floundering in difficulties, while every struggle has only carried them farther and farther into the current of ruin, until at length their fortune and their character have sunk together, to rise no more. I do not say that a man ought in every case to call his creditors together the moment that he discovers he cannot pay twenty shillings in the pound--but he certainly ought to do it without delay, as soon as he ceases to hope that he shall ultimately do so.
Every Christian tradesman should be very watchful against those artifices, violations of truth, and unfair advantages, which many resort to in the selling of their articles. It might indeed have become the 'general practice'--but tricks of trade, if contrary to truth and honesty, are clear and flagrant violations of godly duty. No prevalence of 'custom' can make that right, which in itself is wrong. The standard of a Christian's morality is the Bible; and whatever is opposed to that, he must avoid and abhor.
A tradesman who makes a profession of religion, should be most eminent for justice, truth, honor, and generosity--in all his dealings. His religion should be seen in all his conduct. "I know nothing of that man's creed," said a person of a religious tradesman with whom he dealt, "because I never asked him what he believed--but a more honorable, punctual, generous tradesman, I never met with in my life. I would as soon take his word for a thousand pounds, as I would another man's bond for a shilling. Whatever he promises he performs, and on time, also." This is adorning the doctrine of God his Savior in all things.
It is very dishonorable, when a Christian tradesman is actuated by a spirit of envy and jealousy towards others, and when he employs ungenerous means to prevent their success. No one has an exclusive monopoly, except in the case of patents. Others have as much right to live where they like, as we have. It is their world, as well as ours; and to employ our wealth in any case to ruin them, by underselling, is a spirit totally incompatible with the essence of religion, and the nature of Christian fellowship. Such an envious person deserves excommunication, not only from the church of God--but from the society of rational creatures!
It is perfectly obvious, that the tradesman ought to regulate his expenditure by his income. The man who lives beyond his resources is a robber and a thief. His extravagance is supported by the property of others; and as it is taken without their consent, it is a felony, for which he is answerable, if not at the court of man, yet certainly at the tribunal of God!