MY DEAR SISTER,
In my first letter, I spoke of the importance of growth in grace, and enumerated some of the fruits of the Spirit. I revert to the same subject again, for the purpose of showing the importance of cultivating the several Christian graces in due proportion, so as to attain to a uniform consistency of character.
Nothing delights the senses like harmony. The eye rests with pleasure on the edifice which is complete in all its parts, according to the laws of architecture; and the sensation of delight is still more exquisite, on viewing the harmonious combination of colors, as exhibited in the rainbow, or the flowers of the field. The ear, also, is ravished with the harmony of musical sounds, and the palate is delighted with savory dishes. But take away the cornice, or remove a column from the house, or abstract one of the colors of the rainbow, and the eye is offended; remove from the scale one of the musical sounds, and give undue prominence to another, and harmony will become discord; and what could be more insipid than a savory dish without salt?
So it is with the Christian character. Its beauty and loveliness depend on the harmonious culture of all the Christian graces. If one is deficient, and another too prominent, the idea of deformity strikes the mind with painful sensations, somewhat similar to those produced by harsh, discordant musical sounds, or by the disproportionate exhibition of colors.
It was, probably, with an eye to this, that the apostle gave the exhortation above quoted. He was exhorting to growth in grace; and he would have the new man grow up with symmetrical proportions, so as to form the "stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus," not having all the energies concentrated in one member, but having the body complete in all its parts, giving a due proportion of comeliness, activity, and strength to each. Thus, he says, Add to your faith virtue. By faith, I suppose we are to understand the elementary principle of the Christian character, as exhibited in regeneration; or the act which takes hold of Christ. But we are not to rest in this. We are to add virtue, or strength and courage, to carry out our new principle of action. But this is not all that is needed. We may be full of courage and zeal; yet, if we are ignorant of truth and duty, we shall make sad work of it, running headlong, first into this extravagance, and then into that, disturbing the plans of others, and defeating our own, by a rash and heedless course of conduct.
Young Christians are in danger of making religion consist too exclusively in emotion, which leads them to undervalue knowledge. But while emotion is inseparable from spiritual religion, knowledge is no less essential to intelligent emotion. Ignorance is not the mother of devotion; and though a person may be sincerely and truly pious, with only the knowledge of a few simple principles, yet, without a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of religious truth, the Christian character will be weak and unstable, easily led astray, and carried about by every wind of doctrine. Knowledge is also essential to a high degree of usefulness. It expands and invigorates the mind, and enables us, with divine aid, to devise and execute plans of usefulness, with prudence and energy.
But knowledge alone is not sufficient; nor even knowledge added to faith. Temperance must be added, as a regulator, both of soul and body. All our appetites and passions, desires and emotions, must be brought within the bounds of moderation. And to temperance must be added patience, that we may be enabled to endure the trials of this life, and not to faint under the chastening hand of our heavenly Father. As it is through much tribulation that we are to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we have need of patience, both for our own comfort, and for the honor of religion. Indeed, no grace is more needful, in the ordinary affairs of life. It is the little, every-day occurrences that try the Christian character: and it is in regard to these that patience works experience. Many of these things are more difficult to be borne than the greater trials of life, because the hand of God is less strikingly visible in them. But patience enables us to endure those things which cross the temper, with a calm, unruffled spirit; to encounter contradictions, little vexations, and disappointments, without fretting, or repining; and saves us from sinking under severe and protracted afflictions.
To patience must be added godliness, "which is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." To be godly, is to be, in a measure, like God. It is to be "renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created us," and to have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus. This is the fruit of that patience which works experience, and results in hope, which maketh not ashamed.
To godliness must be added brotherly kindness; which is but acting out the state of heart expressed by godliness, which indicates a partaking of divine benevolence.
Then comes the crowning grace of CHARITY, "which is the bond of perfectness," comprehending the whole circle of the social virtues.
Where all these qualities exist, in due proportion, they will form a lovely character, harmonious and beautiful as the seven colors of the rainbow; yea, with the addition of an eighth, of crowning lustre. But, if any one suffers his religious feelings to concentrate on one point, as though the whole of religion consisted in zeal, or devotional feeling, or sympathy, or the promotion of some favorite scheme of benevolence, you will find an exhibition of character as unlovely and repulsive as though the seven colors of the rainbow should concentrate in one, of livid hue, or pale blue, or sombre gray; as disagreeable as though the sweet melody of a harmonious choir were changed into a dull, monotonous bass; and as unsavory as a dish of meats seasoned only with bitter herbs.
This disproportionate development of Christian character is more frequently seen in young converts: especially such as have not received a thorough Christian education, and are, consequently, deficient in religious knowledge. They find themselves in a new world, and become so much absorbed in the contemplation of the new objects that present themselves to their admiring gaze, that they seem almost to forget that they have any other duties to perform than those which consist in devotional exercises. If these are interrupted, they will fret and worry their minds, and wish for some employment entirely of a religious nature. They wonder how it is possible for Christians to be so cold, as to pursue their worldly employments as diligently as they do who take this world for their portion; and often you will hear them breaking out in expressions of great severity against older Christians, because they do not sympathize with them in these feelings. Their daily employments become irksome; and they are tempted even to neglect the interests of their employers, with the plea, that the service of God has the first claim upon them. But they forget that the service of God consists in the faithful performance of every social and relative duty, "as unto the Lord, and not to men," as well as the more direct devotional exercises; and that the one is as essential to the Christian character as the other. The Bible requires us to be "diligent in business," as well as "fervent in spirit;" and the religion of the Bible makes us better in all the relations of this life, as well as in our relations with God.
Young Christians are also prone to undervalue little things. The greater things of religion take such strong possession of their souls, that they overlook many minor things of essential importance. In seasons of special religious awakening, this mistake is very common; in consequence of which, many important interests suffer, and the derangement which follows, makes an unfavorable impression as to the influence of revivals. The spirit of the Christian religion requires that every duty should be discharged in its proper time. The beauty of the Christian character greatly depends on its symmetrical proportions. A person may be very zealous in some things, and yet quite defective in his Christian character. And the probability is, that he has no more religion than shows itself in its consistent proportions. The new energy imparted by the regenerating grace of God may unite itself with the strong points of his character, and produce a very prominent development; while, in regard to those traits of character which are naturally weak, in his constitutional temperament, grace may be scarcely perceptible. For instance, a person who is naturally bold and resolute, will be remarkable, when converted, for his moral courage; while, perhaps, he may be very deficient in meekness. And the one who is naturally weak and irresolute, will perhaps be remarkable for the mild virtues, but very deficient in strength and energy of character. Now, the error lies in cultivating almost exclusively those Christian graces which fall in with our prominent traits of character. We should rather bend our energies, by the grace of God, chiefly to the development of those points of character which are naturally weak, while we discipline, repress, and bring under control, those which are too prominent. This will prevent deformity, and develop a uniform consistency of character.
There is, perhaps, a peculiar tendency to this one-sided religion in this age of excitement and activity; and the young convert, whose Christian character is not matured, is peculiarly liable to fall into this error. The mind becomes absorbed with one object. The more exclusively this object is contemplated, the more its importance is magnified. It becomes, to his mind, the main thing. It is identified with his ideas of religion. He makes it a test of piety. Then he is prepared to regard and treat all who do not come up to his views on this point as destitute of true religion; though they may exhibit a consistency of character, in other respects, to which he is a stranger. This leads to denunciation, alienation of feeling, bitterness, and strife. But one of God's commands is as dear to him as another; and we cannot excuse ourselves before him, for disobeying one, on the ground that we practise another. The perfection of Christian character consists in the harmonious development of the Christian graces. This is what I understand by the "stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus;" a man who has no deformity; who is complete in all his members and all his faculties. That you may attain to this, is the sincere prayer of
Your affectionate Brother.