It is not a good idea to try to quiet the voice of your conscience by repeating the popular saying, “If you are only honest, that is all that matters.”
We will illustrate this concept by relating a story of two young boys, Jack and David, who lived a long time ago. The two boys were riding into town on their horse to the mill with a large bag of corn that they wanted to be ground up. The mill was very busy that day. The boys lived on a small farm eight kilometres from the main road. They knew that they would have to wait a few hours for their corn meal but they did not mind.
This would give them a chance to relax from farm duties and see some of the sights of the town. They were in the part of the village called “The Corner,” where stood the inn, the store, and the mill.
Since Jack and David had plenty of time, they ran around a great deal, here and there, and saw and heard many things.
At last, a heavy rain shower was coming on so they went back to the mill to eat their lunch, and to ask when it would be their turn.
There they found the miller’s son and the son of a wealthy nobleman engaged in earnest conversation. Jack was interested in what they had to say. The miller’s son was encouraging the nobleman’s son regarding the importance of a correct understanding of the Bible. But the nobleman’s son only insisted that, “It doesn’t matter what a man believes, if he is only sincere and honest.”
Jack was a vain, foolish young man and felt very much pleased with the careless speech of the nobleman’s son, and he only wished that he could talk as well; then he would be able to confuse his old grandfather who also believed in the importance of the Bible. He would love to be able to do so.
“It does not matter what a man believes, provided he is honest,” muttered Jack, bracing his conscience against the godly conversation of his relatives; “I’ll fix them now,” he said to himself, with a decided nod of the head.
Late in the afternoon the boys’ cornmeal was ready; then the old horse was brought out of the shed, the bag of meal placed across her back, and Jack and David both mounted; boys, horse, and bag, all began their homeward journey.
“You have a longer ride ahead than I wish you had, boys,” said the miller, casting his eyes toward the dark clouds which were rising in the distance and darkening the western sky; “there’s plenty of water up there for my mill, you can spend the night if you wish. I would hate to see you caught out in the storm or darkness.”
The boys, however, decided not to stay and they set off briskly. Soon they lost sight of the lights from the village as they rode along the winding forest road. The gloom gathered faster than the horse trotted, so that it was very dark when they reached a fork in the road where it might make considerable difference which road they took. One was the main road; this way there was a good bridge over Bounding Brook, a mountain stream which was often dangerously swollen by the spring rains. It was the safest, though the longest way home.
The other was a narrow path through the woods, which was the one often taken by farmers living east of the town, to shorten the distance to The Corner. In this road, Bounding Brook was crossed by going through the stream, which on most days was not very deep.
“Father told us to be sure to take the main road if it was late. That is the way you will go, will you not? ” asked David.
“Yes, I plan to do that,” answered Jack, as he slowed the horse down for a moment, at the point where the road divided.
Unfortunately, Jack was confused. It was dark, the road was winding and there was nothing he could see but woods on each side. It was too dark to see any other distinct landmarks to direct them. Together with the gloom of the night and their lack of familiarity with the roads, puzzled the boys a lot. But Jack, being the older, wished to impress his brother with a sense of his superior wisdom, and would not admit that he was confused.
Quickly deciding which road he would take, he encouraged the horse to go forward, exclaiming, “it’s all right!”
“Are you sure?” asked David.
“Certainly; I cannot be mistaken.”
“I don’t know,” said David. “Let me jump off and run to that light; there is a cabin there. We can ask the people inside.”
“Oh, we can’t stop for all that,” said Jack. “Honestly, I believe this is the main road, David; can’t you trust me?”
“But your honestly believing it doesn’t make it right!” protested David.
“I have no doubt, Dave, you be quiet,” cried Jack angrily.
“I think we should ask, just to be sure,” persisted David.
But Jack kicked the horse forward and poor David’s words were lost in the wind, as gust after gust of the strong winds roared through the forest, preceding the coming shower. Jack urged the horse to go faster. As fast as heavy load would allow.
The determined young man was very pleased with his hasty decision, and the farther he went the more and more convinced he was that it was the right way.
Eventually the roaring of Bounding Brook arose above the noise of the tempest.
“We shall be over the bridge in a few minutes,” cried Jack, “and then, David, what will you say?”
“I’d like to feel myself safely over,” muttered David.
Before Jack could reply, he, David, horse, and cornmeal went floundering into the raging waters of the swollen stream. It was pitch dark; the storm was now upon them, and they were kilometres away from human help.
The first few moments of the horrible unexpected event can scarcely be expressed. Jack at last found himself anchored on a log of drift-wood, the icy waters breaking over him, and the horse’s bridle still in his hand.
“David!” he shouted at the top of his voice, “David!”
“The Lord have mercy!” cried David, “I’m somewhere.”
The cornmeal? Ah, that was lost in the swirling waters of the Bounding Brook, far below.
“No matter what a man believes, provided he’s sincere,” cried poor Jack, thoroughly drenched and humbled. “It’s the biggest lie the devil ever said.”
“It does matter; being right is the main thing. Sincerity doesn’t save a person from the tremendous consequences of being wrong. It can’t get him out of trouble. He’s obliged to endure it, no matter how sincere he had been.
“Didn’t I honestly believe I was on the right road, when I was like a Christian who was on the wrong road all the time?”
The experience of that night completely and forever cured poor Jack of the common error which has brought many a poor soul into unbelief .
It is dangerous to not love the truth. “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10–12. Jack was not happy with the religion of his relatives. He liked what he heard from the nobleman—all you have to do is be honest and that is fine. But that is not fine. Many honest people in society do not think they need to go to church to learn of God. They think that as long as they are good people they do not need God. But it is dangerous to not want to believe in, or to serve God. You will start to believe lies. Today, also, many Christians honestly believe their leaders who tell them that Sunday is the day to worship. “Satan was working through agents, in a number of ways. He was at work through ministers, who have rejected the truth.”–Early Writings, p. 43–44.
You not only need to be honest, but you must study God’s word for yourself so that you will know what is truth. “God will not condemn any at the judgment because they honestly believed a lie, or conscientiously cherished error; but it will be because they neglected the opportunities of making themselves acquainted with truth. The infidel will be condemned, not because he was an infidel, but because he did not take advantage of the means God has placed within his reach to enable him to become a Christian.” –Testimonies to Ministers, p. 437
Pray and study your Bible every day.