Character And Characters
( Originally Published 1909 )
CHARACTER is the immortal part of man. Character is that part of you and me which shall outlive the stars. Character is a very different thing from reputation. My reputation is what men say of me. My character is what I really am. Reputation is like a glove that you may put on and off at pleasure, or rend to pieces and throw away, but character is the hand itself, and when once it is scarred it is scarred for ever. To say that a man has a good character is to say the best possible thing of him. To say that a man has a bad character, you can say nothing worse of him. My reputation is at the mercy of every vicious tongue and pen in the world. My character is in my own hands and out of gunshot reach of man and devil. With a good character no amount of calumny or slander can harm me. With a bad character, slander and libel only state the facts concerning me.
The finest picture of character and reputation I ever saw was at the shipyards at Portsmouth, Va. In company with some friends, we visited the shipyards there just about the time the Texas was ready to launch, and, walking around the great ship, I asked the master builder how thick the hull of the ship was. He said, " It was two layers of steel about the thickness of your hand." I asked him if those modern guns would throw a ball through her wall. " Yes," he replied, " as easily as a rifle will shoot a lead ball through a white pine plank." " What," I said, " and this battle-ship to cost nearly three million dollars, and you are to launch her out to be punctured and sunk by the first well-directed shot aimed at her? " " No," said he, " you don't understand this ship. Let's go on her upper deck. Come with me." When we reached her upper deck, I looked at her massive turret, I said, " My ! What are those? " He said, " Those are her turrets." I said, " What about them? " He replied, " The walls of her turrets are twelve inches thick, made of the best armor plate. There is not a flat place on her turrets as large as the palm of your hand. A ball fired at her turrets would not stick, and if it did would do no harm." Then I said, " Why have her so strong up here and so weak below? " He said, " Mr. Jones, you do not understand this ship. When she approaches battle, they pump water into her hull and sink her on a dead level with her turrets. Then you may turn the guns of all battleships and forts on her, and you can't phase her." " Well," said I, " what sort of guns will she carry? " He replied, " No ship or fort can stand up before her guns."
My reputation may be riddled by the tongues and pens of others, but if I am a man of good character I sink myself on a level with my character, and then you can turn the guns of earth and hell loose upon me and you can't phase me. But when I turn the guns loose from the turrets of my character, nothing can stand before them.
Character is the result of the harmony of forces in man. The great trouble with humanity lies in the fact that it is all out of harmony with itself. That something that turned angels into devils has struck humanity a hard lick and knocked it all out of harmony with itself.
A man's will may choose something, but his judgment does not approve. Sometimes will and judgment will agree, then conscience will pull back on him. Again will and conscience and judgment may all agree upon a night's debauch, and the poor fellow wakes up saying, " I am sorry to think of my head in the morning." Then whatever else may be said for or against humanity, we know it is not out of harmony with itself.
Let a well-trained musician sit down at that piano; he sweeps the board with his fingers a time or two. A frown gathers on his face and I hear the discordant notes of the instrument. I ask him what is the matter. He replies, " Two of these keys are out of harmony with the others." Then those two keys are out of harmony with everything in all worlds that is in harmony. I say to him, " Close the piano up and tell it to put itself in harmony with itself." He replies, " The piano can't do it." I say, " Who can do it? " " The man who made it," he replies. When the man who made it sits down and begins work, and brings those two keys in harmony with the others that are in harmony, then the whole instrument is in harmony with everything in the universe that is in harmony. And man can't put himself in harmony with himself, but the God who made him can do it. When you and I go up into the presence of a Merciful God, with penitence and prayer, He will take us in His own loving hands and set the Ten Commandments to music in our souls, and every Christian duty to music in our lives, so that ever afterwards when God or the law shall touch a chord of our nature it will vibrate and make music that would charm an angel's ear.
Some men say God did not make them ; that they came up through evolution. I have wondered, if that was true, when Nature would evolute again, and would it be a boy or a girl next time. I do not believe that we came from animalcules to tad-poles, and from tadpoles to lizards, and from lizards to squirrels, and from squirrels to monkeys, and from monkeys to men. Sometimes I believe in inverted evolution. For when I have seen some men I have thought they were headed towards monkeys.
There can be no well-rounded character without the harmony of forces. Liberty is synonymous here with the word harmony. Liberty means the privilege of doing right. License means you may do wrong if you pay the penalty. There is no liberty outside of the boundary lines of the law. God has reserved for Himself no higher privilege than the privilege of doing right. God never moves in the realm of license, because He does not want to do wrong. Therefore, I say, the best thing a man ever did is to do right, no matter what he may have lost in money or so-called friends or political power or social prestige. The worst thing a man ever did is to do wrong, no matter how much money he made or how much power he acquired. Nothing will beat doing right. Nothing is worse than doing wrong.
I have been hunting diligently for thirty years for a man who had found something that would beat doing right. I have found only one and I met him a short while after-wards and he said the thing had busted bad. It would not work.
Character like everything else involving principle must have foundation. Heaven is topless, but it has an enduring foundation. Hell is bottomless; it needs no foundation, for there is not a principle involved in the whole shebang from top to bottom. Our Saviour guarded us at this point when He told us about the man who built his house on the sand, and when the rains and storms beat upon it, it fell, and fell just at the time that the poor fellow most needed a house.
Then He told us of the man who built his house upon the rock, and when the storms and winds came, it stood and stood just at the time when he most needed the house. However calm and quiet this day may be with us, we may be sure that the storm will come by and by. Therefore let's look well to foundations.
If I were seeking an enduring foundation for character, on what would I rest it? You cannot make intellect the basis of character, because some of the most intellectual people I ever knew had no character. Nor can you make the will the basis of character, because some of the most self-willed people I ever saw were characterless. Neither can you make conscience the basis of character, because conscience is largely a thing of education, somewhat like the fellow who said, when he first joined the church, that any little thing he did wrong turned his conscience, but he said, " I have got so now I can steal a horse and it doesn't bother me at all." Therefore the will, the intellect, or the conscience cannot be made the foundation of character.
If I was seeking an enduring foundation on which to rest character, I would make the affections the basis, for what a man loves and what a man hates determines his character, and a man's power to love deter-mines his immortality.
After placing a permanent foundation for character I would build on this wise. High over all I would put the law; right under the law I would put the conscience, and right under the conscience I would put the will, and under the will I would put the affections. Now let law, with its radiating light, fall down upon a well-enlightened conscience, then let a well-enlightened con-science get a good grip on the will, and through the will subjugate the affections, until the man loves everything that is right and hates everything that is wrong, then he will have a foundation as indestructible as the soul is immortal.
Now, having laid the foundation well, I would build character like they builded the Temple of old, without the sound of a hammer, and the first stone I would put on that foundation would be faith. Faith in God, faith in His Word, faith in my fellowman, and faith in myself. Faith affirms, asserts, declares. Doubt denies. One affirms, the other is negative; no character was ever builded by negations. The man who says, I believe, and feels it in his blood and bones, but the knowledge which teaches how to do all good, and at the same time teaches us how to shun the wrong ; the knowledge of good and evil. In the absence of knowledge, superstition and prejudice have the field. But wisdom teaches us how to think, and what to think, and what to do.
With that stone well laid, the next one that fits down on that, without the sound of a hammer, is temperance. Not simply the abstinence from intoxicating drinks; not that something that prevents gluttony in eating, but it is a balance wheel of human life and character. That something that regulates the life and makes me as good on Monday as I am on Sunday. That something that enables me to do well whatever I undertake, and leave nothing till tomorrow that I can accomplish today. It is the balance wheel of the machinery of human life, that regulates its movements.
With that stone well down, the next one that fits on that is patience. Patience has to do with temper, and temper gives ring and resistance to mettle. No matter what passions may have manifested themselves in vengeance or hatred, patience tempers and tones and regulates so that a man can be an anvil, to be struck, as well as to be the hammer that strikes; to be an anvil when he ought to be an anvil, and a hammer when he ought to be a hammer. Patience is in its perfection in the home life. Mother, if you had a little more patience, you would be the best mother, and if you had patience enough, you would be a grand-mother some day. Patience and quiet are twin sisters. He who is the most patient has the best control of the tongue, for we scarcely ever let temper get from under control until the tongue has started on its mission of deadly work. Patience is the gentle hand we lay upon the turbulent spirit, and calm it like the strokes of the master horse-man calm the spirit of a wild and vicious horse. Give me plenty of temper, but give me absolute mastery of it, and I will do no harm. There is no more unseemly sight than a ,mother on a tear with her temper; a father giving vent to unseemly passions in his home. " A soft answer turneth away wrath." We can always control our tempers if we control our mouths, and vice versa.
The next stone I would lay down on patience is God-likeness. This much I know : the more I am like God in thought, in life, in character, the farther I am away from things which debauch, and the nearer I am to every helpful influence that en-nobles character and develops the good that is in me. There is no higher type of character than we find with those who walk and talk with God.
The next stone that fits on that is brotherly love. Every man, my brother; every woman, my sister. Each members of a common family, for we are all brothers. Many of us, however, think we are but step brothers, not kin to each other. Like the old Christian sitting on the roadside, who had just taken the lid off of his dinner bucket to eat dinner. An old tramp walked up and said, " Mister, give me a little piece of bread. I have no money, no home, no bread." The old Christian cut him a slice of bread and started to hand it to him, but said, " Before I give it to you, I will ask the blessing." He looked up and said, " Our Father, which is in heaven, bless this bread we eat. Amen." The old tramp looked at him, and said, " Our Father in heaven?" " Yes," said the old Christian, " He is our Father." " Then," said the old tramp, " if He is our Father, we are brothers, aint we? " The old Christian replied, " Yes, we are brothers." Then spoke the old tramp, " If we are brothers, cut me a thicker piece of bread, and put some meat on it." My idea of brotherly love is this. I have two brothers in the flesh. If either of them had a bed in his home, a plate at his table, a dollar in his pocket, or a drop of blood in his veins too good for me when I should need it, the same I would not call my brother at all. We are brothers and we should be kind. There is not a sweeter, fuller, better word in all the world than kindness. It was simple kindness that always made my mother's voice to me as sweet as an ćolian harp. It was mother's kindness that always made the touch of her hand to me as soft and gentle as the zephyrs put in motion by the angels' wings. For kindness is the mother of sentiment, and sentiment is the divinest element in man. For it is sentiment that lends beauty to the landscape, glory to a sunset, and fragrance to the rose. He who has the most of sentiment is closest akin to his mother, and he who is closest akin to his mother is closest akin to God.
And now the building is finished, except the keystone which we drop into the arch,—Charity. Charity is the crowning virtue. It is the keystone of the arch and not only holds together, but ties together, and strengthens and ennobles every stone in the great arch. Love to God and love to man. Love in the home and love in the church. Love in the world is not only the force that brings us together in sympathy and effort, but it is the crowning grace of virtue, for God Himself is Love. A well-developed character is the most beautiful and symmetrical thing in the world. A lop-sided character is the most unseemly. Look on the broad, generous, noble, splendid royal character, then look on the little, narrow, contracted, selfish, useless character, and we have the two in the picture I now give.
See the little streamlet as it leaps down the mountain side, and passes along in its healthful activity, and it passes near a pool or pond, and the old pond hails it and says, " Whither away, master streamlet? " The little streamlet replies, I am going to the river to bear this cup of water which God has given me." The old pond smiles in its complacency, " Ah, you poor foolish thing. We have had a backward spring and we will have a hot summer to pay for it, and you will be dried up then." " Well," said the little streamlet, " if I am to die so soon, I will use this blessing for the good of others while I have it." The old pond smiled again, and threw its arms around all it had, and said, " I won't let one drop get away. I know I will need it for myself by and by."
And by and by the hot sun did come down, hotter and hotter still, and how about the little streamlet? The trees lined its verdant course, locked its boughs upon its bosom, and would not let a ray of the sun touch the little streamlet. The cattle sipped its tide; the birds sung its praise, and it went on rejoicing in its useful verdant course. And how about the old pond? The sun poured down on its bosom, hotter and hotter still, and by and by the old pond began to breed malaria, and the winds scattered the malaria over the settlement, and the people had chills and fever. By and by the sun came hotter still, then the frogs cast their venom on its bosom. The cattle met at its brink and would not touch its water, and the birds flew away without a note of praise. Then by and by God smote it with a hotter breath, and dried it up from the face of the earth.
And how about the little streamlet? It ran on to the river, and gave all it had to the river, and the river caught it up and carried it to the ocean, and the ocean sent up its incense to greet the skies, then the winds, like waiting steeds, caught up the clouds and carried it thither until it stood right over the little streamlet's mouth, then God tipped the cup and poured the water back into the mouth of the little streamlet. Then the streamlet, with its renewed life and vigor, passed on down near the old pond, now dried up. As it passed it began to sing :