The Danger Of
THE DANGER OF DECEPTION
by Charles G. Finney
"He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much"--Luke 16:10.
Jesus lays down a principle in connection with the parable of the unjust
steward: One who is dishonest in small matters is not really honest in
I don't mean that is a person is dishonest in small matters and takes
advantage of people that he won't deal openly and honestly in greater
matters. Neither do I mean that a man who commits petty theft will
necessarily commit highway robbery. One who holds a grudge against a
person won't necessarily commit murder. And so on.
What I do mean is that if a man is dishonest in small matters it shows
that he is not governed by principle in anything. Real honesty of heart
would lead him to act right all the time. If he appears to act honestly
in larger things yet acts dishonestly in small matters, he must have
other motives than honesty at heart.
Many people believe that a person can be honest in great matters and
deserve the character of honesty, even though he is dishonest in "little
If a supreme regard to the authority of God was the habitual state of
his mind, it would be as evident in small matters as well as large.
Where the temptation is small, he would be more certain to act
conscientiously than in greater matters because there is less to
What is honesty? If a man has no other motive for acting honestly than
mere selfishness, the devil is as honest as he is. Satan is honest with
his fellow devils, as far as it is in his interest or policy to be so.
Is that honesty? If a man doesn't act honestly from higher motives than
this, he is not honest at all; and if he appears to be honest in certain
important matters, he has other motives than the honor of or love for
Does he love his neighbor as the law of God requires? If he did, he
would not defraud him in small things any more than in great. Were the
temptation is small, it cannot be that one who truly loves his neighbor
would act dishonestly.
Take the case of Job. Job truly loved God, and he endured much distress
before he would say a word that even seemed like complaining to God.
When the temptation was overwhelming and he could not see any reason for
his affliction, his distress became intolerable. His wife told him to
curse God and die, but he would not do it. Instead, he said, "Thou
speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive
good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil." (Job 2:10)
Do you suppose Job would have swerved from his integrity in little
things or for small temptations? Never. He loved God. And if you find a
man who truly loves his neighbor, you will not see him deceiving or
defrauding his neighbor for anything.
The Lord has laid down the principle that if a man is dishonest in small
matters, he is not strictly honest at all. Many facts appear to
contradict this. We see many men who exhibit a great lack of principle
in small matters while in larger things they appear to be honorable and
even holy. Their conduct in regard to larger matters can be accounted to
other principles than honesty of heart. If we can account for their
"honesty" on principles of mere selfishness, then they are not really
honest at all. Jesus' principles must be consistent, or else He has
affirmed a falsehood.
THE DECEPTION OF FEAR
A man may act honestly in larger matters for fear of disgrace. He may
know that certain small things about him are not likely to be mentioned
in public, and so he may do them. But the fear of disgrace deters him
from doing more obvious things because it will disgrace him. What is
this but one form of selfishness overbalancing another form? It is still
selfishness, not honesty.
A man may fear that honesty will injure his business. He deals honestly
in important matters, while in little things he is ready to take
advantage of anyone he can. Thus a man will take advantage of a
seamstress and pay her less than he knows she deserves for making a
garment. The same individual, in buying supplies, wouldn't think of
cheating because it would injure his business. In dealing with an abused
and humble person, he can gripe and squeeze out a few cents without fear
of public disgrace, while he wouldn't be publicly spoken of as
disreputable and base under any circumstances.
Fear of human law may influence a man to act honestly in obvious things,
while in such small matters that the law is not likely to notice, he
will defraud any time.
The love of praise influences many men to act honestly and even piously
in noticeable things. Many men will cheat a poor person out of a few
cents in the price of labor, and then, in some great public display,
appear to act generously. Why would a man habitually take advantage of
everybody and then give hundreds of dollars to charities? He may do it
for the love of praise and not the love of God or man.
A man may be afraid of divine wrath if he commits great dishonest acts
and still suppose that God will overlook little things and not notice
dishonesty in small matters.
Often individuals who act dishonestly in small affairs will act
uprightly and honorable to save their character. Many men are looked
upon as honorable dealers by their business associates but are well
known by intimate acquaintances to be greedy and overreaching in small
matters. It is not real honesty of heart that makes him act with
apparent honesty in his public transactions.
An individual may habitually entertain unclean thoughts yet never
actually commit adultery. He may be restrained by fear or lack of
opportunity and not by principle. If he indulges in unclean thoughts, he
would certainly act uncleanly if it were not for other reasons than
purity of principle.
He may manifest a covetous spirit yet not steal. But he has the spirit
that would lead him to steal if not restrained by other reasons than
honesty or principle.
A man may be angry, yet never murder anybody. But his hatred would lead
him to do it, as far as principle is concerned. If it is not done, it is
for other reasons than true principle.
An individual may oppress his fellowman, enslave him, deprive him of
instruction, and compel him to labor without compensation for his own
benefit, yet not commit murder. But if he will ruin someone's life to
gratify his own pride or promote his own interest, it cannot be
principle. Neither love to God or man keeps him from doing anything
Anyone who defrauds the United States' treasury of postage would rob the
treasury of all its gold if he had the chance. The same motive that led
him to do the one would lead him to do the other if he had an
opportunity, and if it were not counteracted by some other motive
A man may be guilty of little misrepresentations yet not dare to tell a
downright lie. But if he is guilty of coloring the truth to make facts
appear other than they really are, he is lying. The individual who does
this would manufacture many lies if it were in his interest or he were
not restrained by reasons other than a sacred regard to truth.
MAINTAINING FALSE APPEARANCES
Individuals often manifest a lack of principle in regard to the payment
of small debts, while they are extremely careful and punctual in paying
notes at the bank and in their commercial transactions.
For instance, if a man subscribes to a newspaper and the price is a
small sum, he may never pay it. The same man having a debt at the bank
would certainly have been punctual. Why? Because if he does not pay, his
credit will be injured; but the little debt of five dollars will not be
protested. He forgets about it, and the publisher has to send for it or
go without his money. Obviously this man does not pay his debts at the
bank from honesty or principle but purely from a regard to his own
credit and interest.
Some manifest this lack of principle by committing petty theft. If they
live in an apartment house, they will steal little things, perhaps light
bulbs from the halls. Instead of buying them for himself, he pilfers
them one at a time. The individual who does this shows himself to be
radically rotten at heart.
I once heard about a similar case. A man was sitting in a room where
another gentleman had a tumbler of wine and a pitcher of water. The
gentleman stepped out of the room for a moment but accidently left the
door ajar. Looking back, he saw the other man drink a part of the wine
in the tumbler; then, to conceal it, he filled up the tumbler with water
and took his seat. The individual who did this showed that he loved wine
and thought nothing of stealing. As far as principle was concerned, he
would get drunk if he had the means and steal if he had a chance; at
heart he was both a drunkard and a thief.
People often manifest great dishonesty when they find articles that have
been lost, especially articles of small value. One will find a penknife
or an umbrella and never make the least inquiry, even among those he has
reason to believe were the losers. The man who would do this would keep
a checkbook if he should find it. Yet this same individual, if he found
five thousand dollars, would advertise it in the newspaper and make a
great noise if he knew he'd be found out.
Many individuals conceal little mistakes that are made in their favor,
for example, in giving change. If a man would say nothing and let is
pass, only opportunity would prevent him from taking any advantage
whatever or cheating to any extent.
The real state of a man's heart is often more obvious in small matters
than in business or greater importance. Men are often deceived and think
that being honest in greater things will prove their honesty of heart,
despite their dishonesty in smaller things. They are sure to be on their
guard in great things, while they are careless in little mattes and so
act out their true character.
SIN IS SIN!
The individual who indulges in any one sin does not abstain from sin
because it is sin. If he hated sin and was opposed to it because it was
sin, he would no more indulge in one sin than another. If a person goes
to pick and choose among sins, avoiding some and practicing others, it
is certain that he does not regard the authority of God or hate sin.
The man who will not practice self-denial in little things to promote
Christianity would not endure persecution for its sake. Those who will
not deny their appetite would not endure the scourge or the stake. If
persecution were to arise, some might endure it for the sake of the
applause it would bring or to show their spirit. There is a natural
spirit of obstinancy often roused by opposition that would rather go to
the stake than yield a point. But it is not true love to the cause that
prompts a man to endure opposition, if he will not endure self-denial in
little things for its sake.
Where you find people wearing great amounts of jewelry from vanity,
consider them rotten. Men strut with their fancy designer clothes, and
woman pose in cakes of makeup--it is astonishing how many ways these
little things show pride and rottenness of heart.
You say these are little things. I know they are little things, and
because they are little things, I mention them. They show a person's
character clearly. If their pride was not deeply rooted, they would not
show it in little things.
Keep a watch over these little things so you will know your character as
it appears to God.
Cultivate strict integrity that will affect small things as well as
large. Something beautiful happens when you see an individual acting in
little things with careful and conscientious holiness. Until believers
cultivate universal honesty, they will always be a reproach to the Lord.
How much would be gained if Christians would display purity and honesty
on all occasions and to all people! Sinners often fix their eye on
professing Christians' petty offenses. What an everlasting reproach to
Of what use is it for a woman to talk to her neighbors about the Lord,
when her neighbor knows that she will not hesitate to cheat in petty
things? Or why should a merchant talk to his clerks, when they know that
however honorable he man be in his public transactions, he is cheap and
stingy in little things? It is worse than useless.