Integrity

Posted: September 25, 2020 in Meditations

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8,9

Jay Cooke, born in the frontier town of Sandusky, Ohio, 1821, excelled in life. At age 14, Jay served as head clerk at a Sandusky dry goods store. He comfortably supported himself at Seymour & Bool in St Louis at age 16. Cooke moved to Philadelphia at age 18 to take a position at an investment bank, E.W. Clarke & Co. He became a full partner in 1842 at the age of 21. The bank prospered on railroads and the Mexican War, experience that would benefit Cooke later in life. He retired in 1858 a rich man, just 37 years old.

Who was the man behind the banker? That is our story, Jay Cooke’s faith. Thomas H. Stockton, a Methodist minister in Philadelphia, profoundly influenced Cooke’s life. Jay spent thousands of dollars distributing Mr. Stockton’s sermons and tracts. The nation needed Jesus, the stripped down gospel, not a liturgical remote religion. Jay Cooke taught Bible classes, something he would continue to do the rest of his life. When the walk to Stockton’s church proved too far for his wife, Cooke joined a local Episcopalian church. From that point forward Cooke called himself a “low church” Episcopalian.

In 1861 Jason Cooke established his own financial house, Jay Cooke and Co.. Two months later the Civil War commenced. An avowed abolitionist, Cooke embraced the Union cause. When his friend Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, called on him to help raise support for the war effort, Cooke went all in. By the end of the Civil War, Jay Cooke & Co. transacted a staggering 3 billion dollars in war bonds. Jay Cooke & Co. stood tall, the most formidable banking force in the country.

Jay Cooke lived his life by the vow of Jacob in Genesis 28:22, “and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” When Cooke established his banking house, he instructed his clerk to create an OPJ account (old patriarch Jacob). One tenth of all commissions went into the account. Cooke tithed again off of his personal income. When people asked how he could give away so much money, Jay Cooke said, “It doesn’t cost me anything; it is the Lord’s money I give.”

In 1873 the unthinkable happened. Jay Cooke lost everything. Skyrocketing costs and delays on the North Pacific Railroad bankrupted Jay Cooke & Co. and himself. Cooke liquidated everything: the homes, furnishings, the vaunted art collection. He went back to work. In four years Cooke paid every creditor back in full. Through it all Jay Cooke never wavered. Integrity demanded the best out of him. He refused to shirk his creditors and his generous heart never abated. A shrewd investment in the Horn Silver Mine in Utah made Cooke a wealthy man again. He repurchased his old homes, a remarkable testament to a more remarkable man.

Jay Cooke died in 1905, a revered man. A century later churches up and down the East Coast stand, all built by Cooke money. A statue stands on the windswept hills of Duluth, Minnesota. Jay Cooke sits on a bench, the seat next to him empty. If a young person could sit in that empty spot and Jay could turn to talk, what would the mighty Jay Cooke say? I think I know. It would start this way, “Do you know my best friend Jesus?” And the conversation would close with these words, “In the end, Christ is all that matters.”

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