This is an old and often repeated proverb: but is it true? It has a suspiciously worldly flavour, for it means that from a worldly point of view it pays to be honest. Now a really honest man will not ask whether honesty pays or not. He feels he must be honest, even if honesty brings him loss or suffering, simply because it is right, to be honest, and wrong to be dishonest.
This proverb is therefore of little use to sincerely honest people: it is really meant only for those unprincipled men who will be honest only if honesty pays, and will be dishonest if they think dishonesty will pay them better.
Probably honesty does pay in the long run. In business, for example, a man who deals straightforwardly with the public, who sells at fair prices, who gives good quality, and can be relied upon not to cheat, will generally establish a reputation that will be a fine business asset.
People will be glad to deal with him; and though he may not make a fortune, he will have a sound and satisfactory business.
On the other hand there is no doubt that success is often due to trickery, and great fortunes have been built up upon dishonesty. Too many successful rogues have proved by experience that for them dishonesty has been the best policy.
Of course, some of these people come to a bad end, and lose all they have gained by their lies; but many maintain their worldly success until they die. Indeed, it seems that worldly success is more due to ability, lucky opportunities, and business cunning than to honesty.
And many examples could be given of men who, from a worldly point of view, have failed because they were honest. A martyr who prefers to be burned at the stake rather than say what he believes to be false, may be a hero; but in the eyes of a worldly man, who thinks only of worldly success, he is a sad failure.
But if we look at such cases from the spiritual point of view – If we consider that truth and righteousness are far more important than wealth and rank and prosperity – then, in the highest sense, honesty is in the end the best policy.
“For what it shall profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”