( Originally Published 1896 )
Christian character is that which is founded on Christ and derives its vitality and beauty from Him. And there is no real comeliness, strength and perfection of character that is not derived from the Divine Man. There is something deformed about every life that is not hid with Christ in God. A man may be a profound statesman, a successful financier, a keen inventor, but unless he has God in partnership with him, he will have no great strength and rotundity of character. Intimate fellowship with God can alone make a man calm and even in his temper, prudent and steady in his conduct. He who has the mind of Christ will be wise and truthful, patient and bold, faithful and spiritual.
In vain have men in all ages and lands sought elsewhere for some power to mould and fashion a perfect character. If men will consent to put themselves-intellect, heart, and will - passively into Christ's hands as clay in the hands of the potter, He will shape them to his own perfect will and image. He who is thus made Christ-like, will have strength and beauty. The blessed Lord Jesus by his beauty enraptures, by his bounty enriches. He imparts all the beauty and fruit-fulness that may mark our life. The Christian religion is the only force that can make a human life and character beautiful in all its parts. It is the only practical, world-wide religion, suited to every age and land, to all classes and conditions of people, to the rich and poor, the learned and unlearned, the well, the sick, and the dying. The all-glorious Gospel is adapted to every temperament- to the impulsive earnestness of Peter and to the loving gentleness of John, to the sturdy re-former John Knox and to the winsome John Wesley. What shall we say of the transforming power of a religion that could make a St. Paul out of a hateful persecutor, a John Bunyan out of a cursing tinker, a John Newton out of a miserable blasphemer! A religion thus beautiful and godlike is like a magnet drawing men to it, arresting and changing their downward trend,. and lifting them toward the noble and holy.
That distinguished English clergyman, Rev. W. L.. Watkinson, in a recent sermon on The Transfiguring Power of Righteousness, says:
"Christianity took the coarse Roman slave and brought out of him a refined and noble brother; it took the ancient Briton and Scandinavian and made them holy and beautiful types of human life and service. Today in Africa the same Christianity is bringing out of savages ministers rich in eloquence and sanctity. And in all our missions some lump of mud at the touch of Jesus Christ flashes into a diamond. The fact is, you never know what is in a man until Christ gets hold of him. You never knew what was in a violin until Paganini handled it, and you never know the infinite music of a man's nature until the great Musician has passed along and touched the trembling strings. What a wonderful magician is nature! She touches the clod of the valley, and it sweetens to a myrtle, towers into a - lily, reddens into a rose, mellows into a cluster of purple and gold; she takes a grain of sand, a bit of charcoal, a few salts, and a marvelous alchemy transmutes them into the pearl, the ruby, the diamond, the topaz; she smiles on a shred of vapor, and it turns into a rainbow. But Christ is ever effecting far more wonderful trans-formations, lifting men and women out of the miry clay, and making them so perfect and beautiful that snow would stain and dew defile."
Christians are exhorted by the apostle to " Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." It is not meant that we can improve the doctrine of the Gospel or that we can make it more perfect, any more than we can gild pure gold, or make the lily more white, or the sparkling diamond more lustrous. Christians can adorn the fair and glorious Gospel, not by added embellishments but by reflecting it, making its power visible in their own hearts and lives, by explaining and illustrating it so clearly and beautifully in their own outward conduct and consistent every day lives, that others may admire and love it. The opal's pure transparency is not more beautiful than the Christian's life, exhibiting the lovely hues of divine grace.
As Christ was made in our physical likeness, so we are to present ourselves in his spiritual likeness. We cannot be like Jesus in his divinity, but we can be like Him in his pure humanity. We cannot work miracles but we can reflect his image, his spirit of love and gentleness. We can be true, honest, humble, kind, useful, holy, heavenly-minded. Every Christian should be a walking, living picture of Jesus of Nazareth.
Christians ought to be good because they have such a good leadcr. We cannot be good in all, respects with-out being beautiful also. Who does not long to attain unto the beautiful in Christianity ! Would that the World could see more beautiful Christians, who are full of love, hope and faith-in whom no grace of the spirit is wanting. As flowers blossom on the stem, so the sweet graces of the Spirit bloom out of a sound Christian character. Nothing is more lovely and attractive in this world than a genuine Christian character - fashioned after the pattern of the Christ - the fairest of the fair, the one altogether lovely; and in Christian character itself, nothing is more beautiful than the jewel of consistency. Where there is symmetry and moral consistency of character, there is always both strength and beauty. A Christian need not-nay, cannot be strong on one side and weak on another at the same time. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. A Christian's goodness may be and must be strong on all sides, and such a character he will have, if . he combines strength and beauty. When the Ark of God was brought back to Zion after its long wandering, the Psalmist exultantly exclaimed, " Strength and beauty are in His Sanctuary."
Strength and beauty -" These two elements are seldom combined, either in nature or in art. We see strength exemplified in the lion and elephant, beauty in the dove and bird-of-paradise. Strength is seen in the storm as it sweeps over the landscape and blots out the sweet light of the sun, but we behold beauty in the rainbow fringe that adorns its trailing robes as it retreats over the hills. Strength stands personified in oak and cedar. Beauty looks up from rose and violet. As in nature, so in art. The beautiful is most conspicuous in the Venus-de-Medici, but strength is represented in the dying gladiator. Strength appears in the column that supports the majestic dome, beauty in the carved flowers and foliage that adorn it. In the gospel strength and beauty are combined as nowhere else. It has strength to grapple with and overcome moral evil. It threw down the temples and altars of Greece and Rome and forever banished their mythologies to the region of exploded follies."
Strength and beauty may go together as in the delicate and beautiful leaves that cover the stalwart branches of the oak. So the an whose heart is right has no difficulty in blending meekness, gentleness and humility, with courage, earnestness and activity. The man of firmness can be meek and gentle also. There is no incompatibility between the several virtues of the Christian character. A man may have an iron hand, yet wear a velvet glove, and veil his strength with a beautiful deference and courtesy. Why should the Christian now be weak and one-sided when he has before him all that is most beautiful in the lives of the saints and all the divine resources to draw upon to make him strong and attractive. Bodily deformities cannot always be avoided, but every one may be free from moral obliquities and soul blemishes.
Christian manhood is too much deformed in this age. There are too many spiritual cripples who, as God sees them, are perhaps without feet to run on errands of mercy, or without arms to help the perishing, without ears to hear the voice of suffering, without voices to encourage the desparing, without hearts to beat in sympathy with the unfortunate. As the lack of one string may spoil the melody of the violin, and the absence of one limb from the body takes away its comeliness, se the beauty of a holy life is marred by one grace of the Spirit wanting. A person may have some of the loveliest outward graces, and yet be no Christian possess no soul-beauty. A man may be great, skillful, honest, charitable, diligent in business, and " moral," as the world goes, but, like Naaman, all his real beauty is gone because he has the leprosy-the moral disease of sin upon him. There are multitudes of nominally good people, like the early churches of Asia Minor, whose otherwise beautiful works are marred by the Savior's rebuke, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee." The Christian character can-not be beautiful and at the same time resemble Nebuchadnezzar's image that he saw in his dream-part clay, part iron, part brass, and part gold. How many human characters we are compelled to see that are a hideous compound of weakness and wickedness. There is nothing incongruous about a beautiful Christian life. Some foolishly imagine that when a man becomes a Christian, he loses his manliness, his personality, his strength of character, as though religion is fit only for weaklings and children. The Christian man - the man of real, positive faith in God, is the one man of force that you will find in the world. The grand heroes of the race have been the men whom God has inspired to do and dare. "They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength." God's beautiful characters are well rounded out, possess downright honesty, fearlessness, a clear sense of right, the courage of their convictions and of their contempt, too, for some things. People who discard their individuality and become slaves to conventional forms, public opinion, custom and fashion, cannot develop harmonious and admirable characters. "Symmetrical Christians are not all alike. Of perfectly beautiful elm trees, no two will be duplicates. The individual gifts, the individual calling, the personal environment, will all have their influence in the fashioning of personal traits. The realm of spiritual beauty is broader than any field of nature. Spiritual types are not stereotypes. No growing man is altogether the same to-day that he was yesterday. Some saints are like stately pines, some like yielding willows, and some like oaks; but pine, willow and oak may each be well developed and symmetrical. Even man can make a great variety of constructions which equally manifest beauty and power. These blended elements are always present in the noblest. architecture, in real poetry and mighty music, in swift ships and in that marriage of mind and matter to which we give the name machinery. If man can build matter into endless variety of symmetrical forms, God can certainly do as much with souls as His material.