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FLAWS IN CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
Christian course and goes to his everlasting reward he may well exult : don't you think so ? “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord”--the Lord who has given strength for work and courage for warfare. humble shall hear thereof and be glad :" yes, the humble angels, for instance. Are they not humble ? So lowly that when they brought news of the Saviour's birth they went not to sovereigns but to shepherds, to peasants rather than to princes. These “shall hear thereof and be glad,” for “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over sinners that repent” and are restored.
Labour on, O spiritual toiler! forward, Christian soldier ! keep the harness firmly buckled : be a busy labourer and a bold fighter. By and by pay-day and furlough will come. He who called us to the field will exchange barness for white raiment, and replace the sword with
Flaws in Christian Character. " And here it is that our want of Christian completeness becomes most strikingly apparent. The increase and height to which a basis of consistency leads is, like itself, harmonious. It is “abounding in everything;" “in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, and in all diligence and love;" “abounding in this grace (liberality) also." How emphatic is the insistence of the apostles, here and elsewhere, on universality of growth.† They do not seem to regard that as Christian progress at all which leaves anything omitted. Is this the characteristic of modern Christianity ? True, the church may combine all virtues in a high degree; but surely this is not what the apostle means. When he says "ye,” he means not "ye” as a body, but “ye” individually. He means
every one of you” abound "in everything;" just as Peter said, “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you,” in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. The call to personal faith and confession is not more distinct and emphatic than the call to personal attainment of every Christian grace. But where shall we look for this in the present day? Examples of particular virtues may be easily met with. Mr. A. is a pattern of Patience; Mr. B. is the ideal of Generosity; Mr. C. is a paragon of Uprightness; Mr. D. is a fountain of Sympathy. But where is the Christian who combines all these virtues—who combines all virtues ? We do not ask this in any censorious spirit. We are speaking from personal experience, quite as much as from observation; and we think no candid reader will question that the point here urged is a very striking and serious defect in current Christian character.
The Christian church as a whole—for we refer to no particular section-has unquestionably drifted into the habit of sectionizing character, so to speak; noting and applauding men for some special excellence, which may, or may not, be due to divine grace. We thus often think of prominent Christians simply as the representatives of particular
* Continued from page 126. + Gal. v. 16, 22; Phil. i. 9, 10; iv. 8, 9; Col. iii. 12-17; 2 Peter i. 5–10; Eph. iv. 15; and num.
bers of other passages quite defying indication.
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virtues. With one we connect liberality; with another integrity; and so on. But we seldom associate their names with any other virtues— with gentleness, meekness, humility, or faith—these belong to somebody else. We have come thus to treat spiritual growth too much on the principle of division of labour; to consecrate ourselves to certain graces to the disregard of others; just as one man devotes his life to making pins' heads, and another to sharpening their points. And, indeed, so much is this the case, that when one wants help or counsel one has to be careful to “find your man”—the particular Christian who espouses the exact excellence that meets your case, just as you have to select a music master for the piano, or an artist for drawing. Of course it would be no use going to Mr. B., though an ideal of Generosity, for Sympathy, we must go to Mr. D. for that, but if you want a £5 note—. And so, if a kind word will do, we may hopefully apply to Mr. D., but as for money—.
Now why should not Christians conspicuous for their liberality be equally distinguished for their kindliness; and those remarkable for their activity be as noted for their tenderness? Perhaps it may be said this would be unnatural; men must be marked by some dominant virtue, as well as by some over-mastering vice. Undoubtedly it would be opposed to sinful nature, but not to renewed. Christ, our perfect pattern, was pre-eminently characterised by this uniformity and completeness. He was as gentle as he was strong; as tender as he was sincere. With the exception of actual bestowment, which must be regulated by possession, and is by no means to be confounded with the quality of generosity or liberality, every Christian ought to attain a lofty standard in every form of excellence, and may do so without any undue suppression of his religious individuality. As Paul reminds Timothy, “the man of God,” to be “perfect,” must be “throughly furnished unto all good works.”
Can it be doubted—such at least is our own experience—that completeness of character, while the most important, is, at the same time, the most neglected phase of Christian life 2 Are not the pernicious consequences of this neglect on young converts, and on the world, most evident and fatal? We have been again and again deeply impressed with particular instances of this want of moral harmony in foremost Christians. We will only refer to two or three illustrative cases, which suggest how often Christian men may belie their name, and injure the cause of Christianity, by onesidedness of character. Mr. X. was one of the most active Sunday-school teachers we ever knew, and a thoroughly conscientious self-sacrificing man, but he possessed no more tenderness than a Nero or a Borgia." How he did pull his pastor's reputation to pieces at a church-meeting one evening. We
* It is not a little remarkable, as showing how completely moral qualities may be separated from each other, that the notorious Caesar Borgia “was temperate and sober, loved and protected the sciences, wrote verses, and possessed so much eloquence, that he seduced even those who were most on their guard against his treacherous designs.” And men not unfrequently claim excuse for defect in one point on the ground of excellence in another: for unchastity, on that of integrity, or vice versa. Christians, even, are sometimes inclined to plead this sort of moral compensation. But no amount of one grace will compensate for the lack of another. In character, as in nature, every element has its own place and relation; and we can no more make up our lack of patience by extreme truthfulness, or our want of sympathy by profuse liberality, than a deficiency of oxygen or nitrogen in atmosperic air could be replaced by an excess of either, or by the introduction of hydrogen or chlorine
174 FLAWS IN CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
shall never forget it. It was like bulldog “Tear'em” shaking the choice morsel he is preparing to devour. We could not help exclaiming, “Tantane irae celestibus animis?” Can any one believe that this utter hardness—our friend evidently belonged to the spiritual pachydermata— did not create (especially as a deacon) a world of harm 7 Mr. Y., again, is a most munificent man to his native town, giving, for public objects, in a princely style; and, we presume from his connections, a member of the Society of Friends. But we would not, therefore, advise any one to apply to him for personal help or countenance, even with the best letter of introduction, lest, like a friend of ours, he should be, as the saying is, “sent away with a flea in his ear.” Would not this “man of God”—for we must presume he is such—do an infinitely greater amount of good if he added brotherly kindness to generosity; if he were “throughly furnished unto all good works?” Mr. Z., too, is the head of an institution styled “Christian,” which he rules on the principles of a pagan despot, without the least consideration for the feelings or convenience of others. One might suppose, from his bearing and behaviour, that courtesy formed no part of Christianity—certainly it does not of his—but was wholly alien to it. Well, we “have not so learned Christ.” And we think this energetic and public spirited man would be at least twice as useful if his activity were flanked by gentleness—“the gentleness of Christ.”
The truth is, proportion is the hardest part of excellence. As in every study and enterprise, so in Christian advancement, the most difficult thing is to preserve a perfect balance. Development of special virtue is often purely the result of natural bias. Consistent growth of all is pursued right in the face of it. A lofty height of character as a whole, is the product of divine grace alone. And we often greatly err in dwelling on leading virtues in biblical characters: on Peter's courage, John's affection, James' orthodoxy; or on Abraham's faith, Moses' meekness, and Job's patience; as if these saints and disciples were characterised exclusively by the excellencies in question, and were held up to us that we might make an appropriate selection of graces according to our taste or capacity. Nothing could be more erroneous. These “men of God,” though distinguished for special virtues, were not, therefore, wanting in others. Their histories disprove it. Job's is especially clear on this point. He is credited with every conceivable excellence long before the circumstances occurred which gave occasion for the exhibition of that grace for which he is specially renowned. Job, we are told, at the very commencement of the history, was “perfect and upright, one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” And the same is true of other Bible worthies; and emphatically of Jesus Christ. The capital point in our Lord's character is that He was equally great in every excellence. Such examples, therefore, are not offered that we may choose a favourite pattern of virtue, as we might select a model style of painting or music, but that we may equally copy each; aim, at least, at the same exalted measure of every virtue which we find in Christ.
Practically, our main concern in regard to Christian character should be to attain elementary completeness. Not arbitrarily, but naturally, by giving every holy impulse full scope. There is a place within us for “whatsoever thing” is lovely and of good report, and
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lack in any direction will be a stultification of our being, which no superiority elsewhere can compensate. And this, though an Herculean task, is fairly within the grasp of every Christian. We can never be Pauls or Luthers, and may never, on earth, reach the apostle's ideal— “the perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” But we may be ourselves, our true spiritual selves, without excess or drawback, complete in all the elements, and rising to the stature of moral manhood. Physical and mental barriers may prevent us from making a conspicuous figure in Christian as well as in common life; but these obstacles cannot interfere with inward harmony. Morally, we may be as perfect as the most distinguished men in church history, or in the annals of our time. The scale will be different, but the equipoise the same; the circle smaller, but not less true; the ring inferior in size and quality, but not less entire. We may be miniatures—yes, miniature photographs—of Christ; microcosms, if not macrocosms of the divine. This elementary completeness, if ours, will assuredly conduct us to the highest point we can attain. What we wish, in closing, especially to impress on every reader, is that the only, the surest road, to the highest level of character, is the proportionate exercise of every grace.
We have looked at the subject of Christian Perfection from one point of view only—that of character. Of course it might be considered from other standpoints—from that, for instance, of the entire field of Christian truth. We have taken, so to speak, the middle term of a series. There is a first term, and a third; the complete doctrine or teaching which reveals and enforces the reality and duty of completeness in character, and must therefore be antecedent to it; and the complete fulfilment of duty and service in life and conduct which results from such completeness of character. Obviously, it would be impossible to cover the whole field in one paper. The section chosen is, we think, that calling for special notice in our day. The other points all Christians are familiar with. As matter of teaching, they know that “truth as it is in Jesus” which makes Christian virtue possible to sinful men. They admit we are “complete in Him.” And they acknowledge that whole-hearted service ought to follow from consecration to Christ. But the link between them, the middle term of uniform Christian character, out of which this earnest service comes, seems to us a little lost sight of; and it is to the importance of supplying this ‘missing link,’ in the grand economy of Christian life, that we have striven, however imperfectly, to direct attention. C. FORD.
To try to feel my own insignificance.
To try to make conversation more useful, and therefore to store my mind with facts, yet to be on my guard against a wish'to shine.
To try to despise the principle of the day, “Every man his own trumpeter;” and to feel it a degradation to speak of my own doings, as a poor braggart.
To speak less of self, and think less. —F. W. Robertson, in 1845.
THE pilot now took leave by a warm shake of the hand. He was a fine fellow, and could speak a little English, so that we managed to chat together. I congratulated him on his personal appearance, for he was a tall and well-built man, and his face was well bronzed by the sea air; and he said, “Thank God, I have good health.” I then said, “If you have also peace with God you have two of the best blessings to be enjoyed in this world.” . He replied, with a smile, “I have got that too.” I watched him as he rowed away from us to continue his perilous calling, and wished him God speed.
It was not long before we were introduced to new friends. We had scarcely completed the process of washing, and brushing, and dressing for company, when visitors were announced. My fellow-passenger and I were introduced as “Friends of Mr. Jackson,” and were politely and cordially welcomed by the Messrs. Ramberg, father and son. After the custom-house officer had made an inspection of cargo and papers, and had sealed up our sugar and potatoes, we were conveyed by Mr. Ramberg, jun., to Brevik, about two miles away. The day was fine, and it was a pleasant thing to glide through the bright clear water amid rocks and rocky islands covered with verdure and flowers, and to see before us the town rising from the water's edge, with its painted houses, up the side of the hill, which was crowned by the parish church.
A NORWEGIAN HOME.
We had scarcely set foot on land before we were met by Mr. Sorensen, a friend of our captain, who invited us very cordially into his house. He preceded us up the broad flight of wooden steps, and stood in the porch, hat in hand, and said repeatedly, “Well-bekommen, Wellbekommen,” which is the Norse for “Welcome.” The house, which may be taken as a type of a middle-class house, rested on a foundation of stone about three feet high, and, with the exception of a central chimney, was built entirely of wood. The rooms were papered, the floors were painted, and were without carpets, and the furniture and pictures were similar to what we are accustomed to see in a good old-fashioned English home. There were no open fireplaces to be seen; but in the corner of every room was a tall stove, and in the room which with us is called a drawing-room was a bed for visitors. There was scarcely time to make these observations before the lady of the house entered and received us with as much cordiality as her husband had done. In a little while we were introduced to three daughters, who seemed to range from eighteen years of age to twenty-two, and may be taken as fair specimens of Norwegian beauty. The Norwegian beauty is not of the classic type; but these young ladies had fair complexions, blue eyes, and light hair. They were dressed in a style as tasteful as young ladies in England; and though their faces were broader than those we usually admire, yet their pleasing expression of countenance, and their