( Originally Published 1896 )
The character is more important than the features. A fool may be faultless in form. It will not do to imagine that behind that beautiful bearing and form and countenance there must always be a beautiful character. The earth is full of people, but the well-balanced and well-proportioned characters are scarce as diamonds. Character is what a man is-good or bad. Character depends upon the man, reputation upon public opinion. The one is internal, the other external. Reputation is like a man's shadow - some-times longer, sometimes shorter than he is, but his character is his exact measurement. When persons want to get employment or a responsible position, the question is asked, What is their character ?" Character is the backbone of success, the best capital a man can have. A rich English lord once said that he would give fifty thousand pounds for a good character, for he could immediately make double that sum by it., When your character is gone, all is gone. If you lose your character, it is because you basely surrender it to some vile tempter and voluntarily sell out your body and soul to the devil. Character is worth everything to a man or woman. One truly says, " He who steals my purse, steals trash; he who steals my character steals my all." Character is worth more to us than all the gold of Ophir. It is not what a man has, but what he is, that makes him strong and worthy. Personal beauty we may not have, silver and gold we may have none, but we may all have a rich and beautiful character. What is more desirable than a character enrichedby mental and moral discipline and the experiences whereby God tests, his own children! Rank in God's kingdom is based on character. A man's character depends largely on his thoughts. " As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Thou art what thou art within. A beautiful character is moral beauty, soul beauty - the culminating point of this world's true greatness. This moral beauty and worth, this genuine beauty of soul is linked with the highest manhood and womanhood, and expresses the utmost limit of human achievement.
Every Christian's duty is to establish his Christian character before the world. This is his life-work. Life is not worth living in this woeful world except it be the Christian life with its thoroughly beautiful character. Christians ought to build such consistent, strongly fortified, impregnable characters as will withstand the running fire of the world's unfriendly criticism. What is to hinder our having a sound and symmetrical character? Who can prevent it? An enemy may mutilate and even cremate your body, he may slander and belie and temporarily bespatter your reputation, but he can-not, against your own will, touch your character - your inner, essential being. Your character is what you make it. It is ever in your own hands to be moulded and fashioned in every detail by your own volition; and with the ever-present help of Almighty God, you can make and keep it as pure and beautiful as untrodden snow on an Alpine pinnacle white in the blue holiness of heaven.
Our character being our most precious possession - our all, nothing else should be so carefully guarded. Would that some people were as careful not to pollute their robes of character as they are not to soil their shoes or clothing! The ruin of character may be the work of a moment. The slightest injury done to the pupil of the eye may result in total blindness. One careless drop of ink on the fair page you have written will blot it ineffaceably. How suddenly and unexpectedly you may cut your limb! but days, weeks, and months may be required to heal the wound, and even then the scar remains. Move but a little when your picture is being taken, and your face will be blurred forever. So it takes but one careless moment to destroy a character which required a life-time to build. "Don't write there," said a man to a boy who was scratching letters on a window-pane with a diamond ring. "Why not?" "Because you can't rub it out." Oh how many things people do-little things which they cannot rub out! And this is the way indelible character is formed -little by little. Character is a mosaic. Its beauty is made up of a thousand little things, little deeds of love, little kindnesses and courtesies, little attentions and civilities, just as when nature would make anything especially rare and beautiful, she makes it little-little dew-drops, little pearls, little diamonds. It is not the tallest trees that yield the best fruit, nor the largest flowers that bloom in most beauty and fragrance, nor yet the biggest birds that sing the sweetest.
Character is a gradual growth. It is not something for men and women to put on ready-made, but here a little and there a little, day by day, it grows and strengthens in good or evil. Character depends much on its environments, especially on the social and moral influences that surround it in youth. To start right in life is all-important, for the character of the child is a pretty sure index of what the man will be. As the course of a ship depends, not on the direction of the winds exactly, but on the way the rudder and sails are set, so the career of a man is generally determined by the peculiar shape and training given to him in child-hood. Youth is the seed-time of life, and one is sure to reap what he has sown. " He who spends his younger days in dissipation is mortgaging himself to disease and poverty, two inexorable creditors who are certain to foreclose at last, and take possession of the premises.
That business man-so energetic, prompt, and reliable, began to develop those grand qualities when he was a. boy. It will not be difficult to tell what kind of a man that boy will make who at the age of twelve is on hand in the morning, works hard, plays hard, studies hard, and is never late at school. The girl who lies in bed in the morning when she ought to be up and helping her mother, who neglects her little home duties and is always excusing herself by such expressions as " I forgot, I meant to, I didn't think,'' stands a poor chance-of becoming a good wife and house keeper, a prompt, reliable, beautiful, and noble woman. Such a character is deformed and destitute of symmetry.
The art of character-building should be studied and practiced by all. Sound character is a structure to be. erected, and is composed of elements wisely arranged and combined. It has its foundation in a conscious self-respect, and among the grand features of the super-structure are truthfulness, integrity, and firmness.
Character to be beautiful must be well-proportioned.. All forms of beauty consist of completeness. As we study human characters, why do they so often fail to satisfy us? Is it not because we see some painful defect,. something that is sadly wanting in their general make-up to round them out symmetrically and beautifully? It is sometimes difficult to tell what is the trouble with. certain characters. We know that something is wrong, something is either deficient or redundant, there is a lack of beautiful harmony, but they manage to conceal the particular location of the flaw. The general effect of their lives shows it - they are not a full-orbed, grand success. The soul is darkly obscured if not eclipsed by some intervening mysterious intruder into the other-wise perfect system of their lives. There is a distracting factor or influence.
We judge of characters as we judge of buildings when we pass along the street. There is a beauty in moral consistency which resembles the symmetry of a well-proportioned building. We say of some houses, that they are beautiful or homely, the piazza is too small, the chimney is too high, the roof is too flat, or the wing is out of proportion. A beautiful character is one in which nothing is out of place, like a beautiful room. It is well kept every day, with no room of the house left untidy or unswept. A neglected cellar will breed fever and pestilence in the parlor. "Vacant rooms" are often advertised to let. Beware of vacant rooms in the heart, they are always in demand-Satan wants them. God wants them, too. He wants to fill them with His divine love, so that there will be no room for base, carnal desires. Shall we not sing,
" Love divine, all love excelling,
That only is a beautiful heart that is swept clean, fit for the Master's use, for the dwelling-place of God. A clean thing cannot come out of an unclean, and a clean character and life cannot spring from an unclean heart, no more than a beautiful fountain can be made of muddy water. Moral character is made up of moral qualities. A beautiful character is not a combination of great intellectuality and moral littleness. A man cannot be a little virtuous, a little pure, a little true, a little honest. The circle of graces must be complete without chasms or obliquities. Symmetry is one important source of beauty. As the physical frame cannot be beautiful unless it be well-formed and symmetrical, so all the graces of the moral constitution must be well in their places, carefully cultivated and increased, else there will be no great strength and rotundity of character. All of the graces mutually assist and adorn each other. Faith cannot say to virtue, I have no need of thee, nor knowledge to temperance, I have no need of thee, nor again godliness to brotherly-kindness, I have no need of thee. Each moral virtue is necessary to the formation of one harmonious whole of character, even as certain colors as well as sounds are complementary and must be associated so as to yield a pleasing and beautiful effect. Creation would lose much of it charm but for its infinite variety, yet there is everywhere unity and evidence of one creative Hand. Each family of birds has its peculiar note, yet there is universal harmony. So it is with the specific graces that form a concordant part of the grand chorus of human life and character. All truth, though many sided, is harmonious, and hence beautiful. So all the exercises of moral goodness are consistent and each serves to enrich and beautify all the rest of the lovely group of graces.
A character well-proportioned and nicely balanced in all its parts we do not witness every day. This is doubt-less due to the fact that so few characters are built on the only true foundation-Christ, the " One altogether lovely and the chiefest among ten thousand." There is no possibility of a sound and symmetrical character, except there be a " growing up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." Christian character is an outgrowth-a developing of the divine, regenerating life-principle planted in the heart. It is not to be attained by "culture" and mere intellectual training or development of the so-called manhood within us, nor by patent nostrums in morals and religion, by plasters and poultices on the outside-on the scalp. The best specimen of character that the world can produce independently of all Christian influence will be found to be a dwarf and hideous deformity, and destitute of symmetry and beauty.
It is the character that shapes the conduct, and not the reverse. What a man is determines what he does. His outer life conforms to his inner life. It is the body that makes the clothes warm. In order to do right, a man must be right. How can there be consistent well-doing apart from well-being! It is not possible to drive a straight furrow without a straight eye. Christ gives us the only absolutely straight rule by which to go. Some of his professed followers complain that it is hard to do right. But it is not hard for them to do right if they are right. Of course it is hard to lead a holy life, if one is not holy. Sheep do not even have to try to grow wool-they cannot help it. So if a soul gets filled with the Christ-life, he cannot keep from reproducing that life.
The Psalmist says that " the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." Any one who has seen these glorious trees in their native country, will see the force and beauty ,of the comparison. The godly man shall grow a character like the palm for stateliness with its large ever-green boughs, and bearing an abundance of pleasant fruit. He shall be also like the cedar for symmetrical beauty, "goodly," "excellent," evergreen,-its wood solid, durable, and out of which were built the most magnificient houses. How can a character be other than beautiful that is fashioned after Him who said, "I am. the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley." The rose of Palestine is delightfully fragrant and the lily there has incomparable beauty. Its three inner petals meet above and form a canopy more gorgeous than art ever approached or king ever sat under. Man tries by his art to imitate the beauty of the lilies, but how coarse and poor his work by the side of the delicate texture of the real flowers.
"Consider the lilies how they grow," said Christ. Their wonderful laws of growth are not like man's outward adornment of art. They are fashioned from within. The flowers assume the forms and colors by a law in their own natures. As the divine beauty, like the flower, is the outgrowth of God's essential nature; so the life of every Christian-his character, is the product of the law of love within his renewed and consecrated heart.
"One of the first results of considering the lilies-how they grow-is to bring freshly to our minds the fact that the marvelous loveliness with which they are clothed comes from their individual power to catch the passing elements of earth and air and light and trans-mute them into the beauty that surpasses all the glories of art."
How, then, shall we acquire and cultivate soul beauty? The only true and sure way to grow a strong and beautiful character is to follow Christ, to feed by faith on the Son of God in our hearts, and draw all our life and nourishment from Him, as the branches derive their support from the vine. If one would have and retain physical health, vigor and beauty, there must be a careful attention to food, moderation, diet, exercise, personal habits and cheerfulness.
Joy, temperance, and repose, Slam the door on the doctor's nose."
So beauty of character is acquired and preserved by proper mental, moral, and spiritual food, accompanied by the faithful exercises of moral goodness. The soul can preserve the freshness of eternal youth, if it feeds, on truth, lives on the fruits of the Spirit, which are-" joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," and gives these graces a, practical illustration in the everyday life. It will not do to take so much good food without exercise. Christ enjoins many active duties. He says, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." There can be no true beauty either of body or character without activity. There is no beauty in an idle, lazy, aimless character. " The beautiful in character is something more than the good, just as the beautiful in nature is something more than the useful." We are not only to be good, but do good. To be good is the duty we owe to God; to do good is the duty we. owe to man.
The Lord said of returning Israel, "His beauty shall be as the olive tree." Now, no one would call the olive tree beautiful as compared with many other trees, either as to its gnarled trunk or its unattractive branches and leaves. But on those unpretentious branches grow the rich olives so valuable for sweet oil-for soothing and smoothing purposes, for nourishing the body as well as illuminating the darkness. So he whose beauty is as the olive tree has that higher beauty of usefulness, giving to others light and blessing and the oil of gladness.