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BY REV. J. B. CONDIT,,
COMPLETENESS OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
" And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowl.
edge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brocherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity.”—II PETER i., 5—7.
The formation of Christian character demands close attention. It will not of itself put on those features which are most desirable. If it is left to take the shape which surrounding influences will give to it, it will assume but very imperfectly the beautiful mould of the Gospel. If its formation is not cautiously directed, what it has not of the traits of a child of grace, rather than what it has, will command attention.
Grace in the heart is definite and operative, laying the foundation for a radical distinction of character. But while in one sense, it is a single principle, it manifests itself in a variety of Christian virtues. Each of these is with propriety called a grace. One can be marked in distinction from the others; these several qualities or exercises, being exhibited in different relations. The time will occur when each will be put in requisition. One may properly be said to be first-first in development, or first in command. Yet all have their important offices and relations, in which they will be necessarily acted out. One ray of light falls on the prismatic glass. It is reflected in different colors, plainly defined, yet each mingling with that which is next to it; all the necessary constituents of one ray of light. So are the manifestations of grace through the glass of the Christian character. The spiritual light is reflected in various moral colors, yet all necessary to the perfect representation of grace in the heart. For the exercise of these Christian virtues, the inspired penman gives command in the text: And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, (or courage, as some interpret the original) and to virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. Faith is that act of the soul which secures its safety in Christ; but the character of the Christian is not fully brought outy unless faith is attended with this sisterhood of the graces, and crowned with charity or love to all mankind. These are the elements that must be combined to form the character on the scriptural model.
The object of this discourse is, to show the importance of aiming at completeness of Christian character.
By completeness of Christian character, I do not mean that perfection in holiness, which implies the absence of all sin. This indeed is the standard of attainment which every good man must keep in view, and toward which he must direct his energies. Without detracting at all from the importance of this duty, the object now before us is designed to be distinct from this; looking at the harmony of the Christian character, as consisting in the presence of all its essential virtues, rather than the perfect growth of the whole. Neither is it supposed that in a complete character when attained, all the graces will appear equally prominent. The native temperament of an individual will affect more or less the cast of his character when he becomes a Christian. As his natural qualities are ardent and bold, or soft and gentle, they will stamp a characteristic impress on his piety. There are also peculiarities in the circumstances of Christians which demand an advance in some particular virtues, which, in other circumstances, would be subordinate in importance. I design to show the necessity of giving the several Christian virtues their appropriate place: that each may appear with that distinctness which belongs to it, among the features of a man of God in ordinary circumstances. Faith will not do without knowledge, nor knowledge without patience, nor these without temperance, brotherly kindness, and charity. The symmetry of the character will be destroyed, if each does not fill the place which is assigned to it. Instead of permitting the character to shoot out chiefly in one direction, let its progressive developments be kept in fair proportion. Instead of cultivating one quality, until, compared with the rest, it is overgrown, let all be nurtured according to scriptural proportions. Instead of forming a character which here and there, in spots, shall send out light, let it be that which like the disk of the sun shall send out a ray of light from every point in its surface.
1. This completeness of religious character is necessary, to give to it its attractive beauty and loveliness.
It is proper to speak of the beauty of piety. It is that which adorns, and purifies, and elevates mån. The sweetness and grace which it confers, exceed all the accomplishments of fashion, or poetry, or philosophy. But when embodied in human character, an important element of its attraction, is the harmony of its parts. Each grace is indeed a pearl, in itself beautiful, fashioned and polished by the Holy Spirit; but all must be set together and in order in the coronet of piety, and thereby the lustre of each, and the glory of the whole are increased. The artist in his picture aims not only at variety of objects, but also at variety in the relative distances and colors on the canvass ; that everything may be
in its place, and one thing, by alliance or opposition, set off another. The beauty of the human frame depends much on having every organ in proper position and size. A little deviation from these proportions is a deformity. The finest structure of mind is that in which all the faculties are cultivated and exercised according to their relative importance—no one neglected, no one in excess. This principle is obvious in its application to Christian character. To apply to the individual, the language in which the Spirit points to the whole church; the several parts of his piety should be as a body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, making increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love. If one spiritual organ is excessively prominent, it may startle and attract notice, like such a deformity in the natural body; but the comparative diminution of the other organs, equally important in their place, detracts from the beauty of the Christian's stature. In its several parts it is not fitly joined together, and there is not an effectual working in the measure of every part.
I may here refer to the moral beauty of the divine character. Every perfection of that character is in itself excellent and glorious. But there is a peculiar loveliness derived from the harmonious exhibition of the different attributes. They are thus exhibited in the material creation of God. In the scene where one of his attributes is especially manifested, in close proximity, or intermingled, we find traces of others. With the glory of his power is mingled the majesty of his wisdom; and hand in hand with these appears his infinite goodness. It is so also in God's moral administration. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. In the most imposing scene in which God's mercy was ever revealed, bis justice shone in its brightest display. In all the condescending acts of his kindness and grace, he shows his unsearchable greatness. This is an illustration of the principle now under consideration. Religious character possesses a moral beauty and attraction, where there is a completeness and harmony in its elements. It will arrest the attention of the world. It will be marked in its admirable fitness for every relation and circumstance of life; furnishing its possessor for every scene, whether of sorrow or of joy; for the hour of sickness of persecution, of poverty, and of danger. It will invest his life and character with a daily beauty in the eyes of men, as he moves in the family circle, meeting its trials and discharging its trusts; as he engages in the business and intercourse of life, having all pervaded with the very spirit and law of the Gospel; and in the church, in the world, at home and abroad, in making his wealth and in using it, religion filling out every department of his character will impart to it peculiar loveliness. To such a trait of piety, God evidently directs attention, when he says by his prophet, "I will be as the dew unto Israel, he shall grow as the lily and cast forth his roots as Lebanon, his branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell shall be as the wine of Lebanon."
II. Completeness of Christian character is important, to convince men of the reality of religion.
I am not about to take the side of the world in its neglect or denial of religion because of the imperfections of those who profess it. The system of Christianity in the Bible is complete-complete in its foundation and in its structure. If the character is fully moulded under its influence, it will also be complete. But mere human character has never taken the complete image and superscription of that Gospel system. The world judges of religion from its incomplete impression, rather than from its own perfect original form. That which is the defect of the man, they make the defect of the system. The system presents itself before the world in its original purity and excellence. It challenges examination and trial. Where is the defect in it? What single prin. ciple is wanting to make the character what it ought to be, it all its principles are practically adopted and illustrated ? If its full power were received, would it not sanctify every living energy, and impress every lovely quality ? Oh, that men could look at the gospel as it is, in its own inherent excellence and glory!
But it is still true that the professors of religion must be regarded in an important sense as its representatives, appointed to illustrate its principles, to prove their reality and power. Hence it is allimportant that they overlook no one of those principles. It is not the fanatic, running wild with some single element of the gospel, who is made the standard of judgment by the world. When he makes so much of faith, to the neglect of the other graces, that he determines to live by it without labor, professing to confide in the God of Elijah to take care of him; men set it to the account of human weakness, rather than against the reality of religion. It is that absence of some of the Christian virtues in the ordinary relations of life, with which superstition or mental weakness is not chargeable, which awakens their doubts. It is the fact that one part of the Christian's life or character is so far from agreeing with the other. You may select examples on every side. The individual who shines with generosity and compassion, who drops the tribute of charity at the poor man's door, ever ready to lift a hand and open his treasures to relieve the miserable, in so doing illustrates an important Christian virtue. But as you move around with him in the circles of life, perhaps you see him the subject of violent angry passion, or hear him whispering in corners against otherz, or sce him touching secret springs, that he may obtain advantage to himself at the expense of his neighbor. lle may be one who is zealous in temperance, but is destitute of brotherly kindness, being censorious in speech. Perhaps he is a man of wealth, who prays for the coming of Christ's kingdom and the conversion of the world, but he is vigilant to escape the calls which are made for a portion of his property to promote this object, and yet he professes to have consecrated himself and all that he has to God. Is he a student in the midst of ungodly companions? I recall such an one; he was ever deeply solicitous for the spiritual welfare of his associates; willing to bear reproach, and even rejoicing in it. But at the commencement of many a day, he resolved that he could best serve God for that day, in the neglect of his studies and the regular duties of college. Is he a man of courage, bold in reproving and opposing sin, perhaps he is destitute of that patience, which endureth reproach-dictating the "soft answer, which turneth
away wrath." Many are the illustrations that might be gathered from the Christian church, showing how the testimony of its members to the reality of religion is weakened by their inconsistencies. One aspect of their character witnesses for it, but to an uncharitable world, the other witnesses against it. When that character shall come any where near to an exemplification of every department of piety, with what an overwhelming voice will the truth go to the hearts of sinners. Is it too much to hope, professed followers of Christ, that you feel in some degree your responsibility to set forth an illustration of these several attributes of character? But on examination, can you not discover that you are permitting a breach in this circle of graces, which is visible to the world, and which by diligence and prayer might be supplied ? And is it not possible that by so doing you might carry conviction to the mind of an impenitent friend, that would result in his salvation ? Ponder, I pray you, these questions—as they bear on your character, as a parent, as a man of business, as a Sabbath school teacher, in social, in public life.
III. Completeness of Christian character is necessary to the most vigorous and useful action.
Vigor of Christian character is desirable; for in proportion to its vigor will be the influence that goes out from it to bless man. When the apostle has given the injunction in the text to cultivate these several graces, he adds, "For if these things be in you and abound, they make you, that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They are all essential to the power of the Christian. Who, for the sake of attaining the greatest amount of physical force, would seek to have any single part of the body grow to a size disproportionate to the other parts? Is there not such a connection between the different parts, that in a vigorous effort, the strength of the whole is rallied? Can the hand say to the foot, I have no need of thee? By exercising one part more than another its power will be increased; but a strong man is one whose whole muscular energy is great. The same is true of the faculties of the mind. The mind is most vigorous, comprehensive and sure in its action, in which all the powers are trained according to their relative importance.