Strength & Decency
I am particularly glad to see such a society as this flourishing as your society has flourished,because the future welfare of our nation depends upon the way in which we can combine inour men – in our young men – decency and strength. Just this morning when attending serviceon the great battleship Kearsarge I listened to a sermon addressed to the officers and enlistedmen of the navy, in which the central thought was that each American must be a good man orhe could not be a good citizen. And one of the things dwelt upon in that sermon was the factthat a man must be clean of mouth as well as clean of life – must show by his words as well asby his actions his fealty to the Almighty if he was to be what we have a right to expect frommen wearing the national uniform. We have good Scriptural authority for the statement that itis not what comes into a man’s mouth but what goes out of it that counts. I am not addressingweaklings, or I should not take the trouble to come here. I am addressing strong, vigorousmen, who are engaged in the active hard work of life; and life to be worth living must be a lifeof activity and hard work. I am speaking to men engaged in the hard, active work of life, andtherefore to men who will count for good or for evil.
It is peculiarly incumbent upon you who have strength to set a right example to others. I askyou to remember that you cannot retain your self-respect if you are loose and foul of tongue,that a man who is to lead a clean and honorable life must inevitably suffer if his speechlikewise is not clean and honorable. Every man here knows the temptations that beset all of usin this world. At times any man will slip. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect genuineand sincere effort toward being decent and cleanly in thought, in word, and in deed.
As I said at the outset, I hail the work of this society as typifying one of those forces which tend to the betterment and uplifting of our social system. Our whole effort should be toward securing a combination of the strong qualities with those qualities which we term virtues. I expect you to be strong. I would not respect you if you were not. I do not want to seeChristianity professed only by weaklings; I want to see it a moving spirit among men of strength. I do not expect you to lose one particle of your strength or courage by being decent.On the contrary, I should hope to see each man who is a member of this society, from his membership in it become all the fitter to do the rough work of the world; all the fitter to work in time of peace; and if, which may Heaven forfend, war should come, all the fitter to fight in time of war. I desire to see in this country the decent men strong and the strong men decent,and until we get that combination in pretty good shape we are not going to be by any means as successful as we should be.
There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite youngmen as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh,how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to “see life,” meaning bythat that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousandfold better should remainunseen! I ask that every man here constitute himself his brother’s keeper by setting anexample to that younger brother which will prevent him from getting such a false estimate of life. Example is the most potent of all things. If any one of you in the presence of youngerboys, and especially the younger people of our own family, misbehave yourself, if you usecoarse and blasphemous language before them, you can be sure that these younger peoplewill follow your example and not your precept. It is no use to preach to them if you do not actdecently yourself. You must feel that the most effective way in which you can preach is byyour practice.
As I was driving up here a friend who was with us said that in his experience the boy who wentout into life with a foul tongue was apt so to go because his kinsfolk, at least his intimateassociates, themselves had foul tongues. The father, the elder brothers, the friends, can domuch toward seeing that the boys as they become men become clean and honorable men.
I have told you that I wanted you not only to be decent, but to be strong. These boys will notadmire virtue of a merely anaemic type. They believe in courage, in manliness. They admirethose who have the quality of being brave, the quality of facing life as life should be faced, thequality that must stand at the root of good citizenship in peace or in war. If you are to beeffective as good Christians you must possess strength and courage, or your example willcount for little with the young, who admire strength and courage. I want to see you, the menof the Holy Name Society, you who embody the qualities which the younger people admire, byyour example give those young people the tendency, the trend, in the right direction; andremember that this example counts in many other ways besides cleanliness of speech. I want to see every man able to hold his own with the strong, and also ashamed to oppress the weak.I want to see each young fellow able to do a man’s work in the world, and of a type which willnot permit imposition to be practised upon him. I want to see him too strong of spirit tosubmit to wrong, and, on the other hand, ashamed to do wrong to others. I want to see eachman able to hold his own in the rough work of actual life outside, and also, when he is athome, a good man, unselfish in dealing with wife, or mother, or children. Remember that thepreaching does not count if it is not backed up by practice. There is no good in your preachingto your boys to be brave if you run away. There is no good in your preaching to them to tellthe truth if you do not. There is no good in your preaching to them to be unselfish if they seeyou selfish with your wife, disregardful of others. We have a right to expect that you will cometogether in meetings like this; that you will march in processions; that you will join in buildingup such a great and useful association as this; and, even more, we have a right to expect thatin your own homes and among your own associates you will prove by your deeds that yours isnot a lip-loyalty merely; that you show in actual practice the faith that is in you.