"Character is consolidated habit, and is ever tending to penance "
- JOSEPH COOK
IN his volume The Professor at the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes asks this question: "Can any man look round and see what Christian countries are now doing, and how they are governed, and what is the general condition of society, without seeing that Christianity is the flag under which the world sails, and not the rudder that steers its course?"
That is an arresting question which, from the individual point of view, comes home to the heart of every Christian man and woman. For the time has arrived when the lives of Christians are about the only Bible which the world will read; when what we are, has more weight than what we say; when deeds speak more loudly than words. It cannot be too frequently affirmed that the final test of a man's Christianity is not in the sphere of opinion, or in that of professed belief; but always and everywhere in the sphere of conscience and of love. Happy the Christian man whose manner of life gives validity and power to his message; whose doctrine and whose life coincident, exhibit lucid proof that he is honest in the sacred cause.
Dr. S. D. Gordon mentions the four great tests of character.
- First, the home test: how a man treats those with whom he lives.
- Second, the business test: how a man conducts himself towards his customers and employees.
- Third, the social test: how a man acts towards those who do not enjoy the same social advantages as himself.
- Fourth, the success test: how a man behaves himself when favouring circumstances bring him wealth, power, position, and honour.
It is related of a great artist that he was wandering in the mountains of Switzerland, when some officials met him and demanded his passport. "I do not have it with me," he replied, "but my name is Dore." "Prove it, if you are," replied the officers, knowing who Dore was, but not believing that this was he. Taking a piece of paper the artist hastily sketched a group of peasants who were standing near, and did it with such grace and skill that the officials exclaimed: "Enough, you are Dore."
The world cares little for mere profession; but the man who emerges successfully from the fourfold test laid down by Dr. Gordon, carries the evidence of his genuineness with him. More and more one feels that our most earnest desire should be, not that of Balaam- "let me die the death of the righteous"; but that of the modern writer who says: "Teach me to live, 'tis easier far to die". It was because of this that Ernest Crosby wrote the poem which contains such heart-searching words:
"So he died for his faith. That is fine
More than most of us do.
But stay! Can you add to that line
That he lived for it, too?
"It is easy to die. Men have died
For a wish or a whim
From bravado or passion or pride.
Was it harder for him?
"But to live - every day to live out
All the truth that he dreamt,
While his friends met his conduct with doubt,
And the world, with contempt
"Was it thus that he plodded ahead,
Never turning aside?
Then, we'll talk of the life that he led
Never mind how he died."
BEFORE we examine these traits of character which, as we have seen, speak more loudly than words, I desire to make it clear that all questions relative to our acceptance of CHRIST as SAVIOUR, and our consequent acceptance by GOD in Him, are regarded as settled. We have learned that it is by the wondrous grace of GOD that we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the LAMB (Revelation 7); that it is by His unmerited favour that we have been saved through faith, and that, not of ourselves, it is the gift of GOD (Ephesians 2); that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us (Titus 3).
But we must also steadily bear in mind that the Book which declares that good works do not constitute salvation, just as definitely proclaims that they ought invariably to accompany salvation; that while they are not its procuring cause, they should always be its resulting consequence; that those who have been accepted in the Beloved, should henceforth labour strenuously to be acceptable to the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6; II Corinthians 5:9).
Such will aim constantly at having a conscience void of offence toward GOD and man; and in lowliness of heart will seek day by day to manifest those lovely graces which are as really the evidence of faith, as flowers are the evidence of springtide. They work, not to the Cross, but from the Cross; not in order to be saved, but because they are saved. Having looked to GOD for salvation (Isaiah 45:22), they now look to themselves, their ways, their acts, their lives, in order that they may ultimately merit the Master's" Well done" (II John 8).
"I would not work my soul to save,
That work my Lord has done;
But I'd fain work like any slave,
For love to GOD's dear SON."
There are four great passages in the New Testament which set forth Christian character in all its winsomeness and power: Matthew 5:3-12, with its nine beatitudes; 1st Corinthians 13, with its sixteen matchless qualities; Galatians 5:22, 23, with its ninefold cluster of heavenly fruit; and II Peter 1:5-8, with its description of fully developed Christian manhood.
The words of Matthew 5 present a character schooled in humility, matured by suffering, instinct with gentleness, and purity, and love.
"First Corinthians 13 is," says Dean Alford, "perhaps the noblest assemblage of beautiful thoughts extant in this our world".
The paragraph in Galatians 5 unfolds the secret whereby we may have days of Heaven upon earth.
Second Peter 1, assuming faith as the foundation, rises majestically, step by step, until the structure is crowned with that love which is the fulfilling of the Law.
Together, these four portions of the Bible set forth a complete and superb philosophy of Christian living; and we do well if, from time to time, we examine ourselves in the light of them. As a help in this direction, I suggest that we memorize them; and that, besides our daily reading of the Word, we definitely set aside a portion of each LORD's Day for prolonged meditation on them.
1 - THE DIGNITY OF UPRIGHTNESS
2 - THE BEAUTY OF COURTESY
3 - THE WINSOMENESS OF KINDNESS
4 - THE GREATNESS OF HUMILITY
5 - THE EXCELLENCE OF TRUSTWORTHINESS
6 - THE HELPFULNESS OF PUNCTUALITY
7 - THE HARMFULNESS OF DEFAMATION
8 - THE GRANDEUR OF EQUANIMITY
9 - THE NOBILITY OF MERCIFULNESS
10 - THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF CHEERFULNESS
11 - THE CHARM OF GENTLEMANLINESS
12 - THE USEFULNESS OF DOING GOOD
13 - THE BLESSEDNESS OF CHRISTLIKENESS