Character | Plainfield Christian Science Church, Independent

Character

From the March 1893 Christian Science Journal by

Outline of a discourse preached in Chickering Hall Boston Mass.,
by the Pastor of the Church of Christ, Scientist.



“Be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man.” 1 Kings ii. 2.

It is interesting to take note of the prevailing type, or tone of thought among men. Especially is this so, with regard to the current creeds and doctrines. The question asked to-day, is not so much, What do you believe, as it is, What has your creed done towards making a man of you? I think that nine of every ten are searching for a religion that produces manliness, or what signifies the same thing, — character. A large proportion of the ministers are coming to entertain the same impression. It certainly is one of the hopeful signs of the times, that even the ecclesiastics perceive that subtle refinements and technicalities are not what this age requires, but that it stands sorely in need of a more robust, healthy, and manly faith and practice. Several years ago, Matthew Arnold, the great English critic and scholar, wrote a little treatise entitled, “Literature and Dogma.” It created a profound sensation, both of assent and dissent.

The things in it worthy of remark were that “Conduct constituted three fourths of life; “also “that God was a Power not ourselves that worked for righteousness.”

Another thing it said was that the Jews recognized this fact more clearly than any other nation, or race of people who lived in the early ages of the world. They loved righteousness better than any other nation had done.

Not caring to endorse the book as a whole, I do feel that he touched upon vital truths, and that we should subscribe to these statements. They are good as far as they go.

There is nothing on earth so valuable as Character. You will notice that no adjective is prefixed to this word, character; thus, I do not say Christian character, for the evident reason that there can be no character which is not Christian. Here in this world and in all worlds swinging in space, nothing is so grand, so Godlike as character. Certainly the trend of thought on this one point is moving in the right direction. Christian Science extends its hand in friendly greeting and welcomes this advance step onward and upward. This is what Christian Science exists for, — to promote every worthy and spiritual effort, to attain unto a higher realization of what character surely is. What is called the Christian Science healing is not the “end-all-and-be-all,” of Christian Science teaching. It is simply a means towards an end. That end is the production of better lives, or in other words, the promotion of character.

Well, what is Character? What does the word signify? Webster, — always a good authority on definitions, — makes it to be the “cutting sharp, as into furrows, or to engrave, so that a distinctive mark, letter, or figure is made, and so it follows that it is the sum of those qualities which distinguish one person, or individual from another, as saying that one has a good character, while another possesses a bad character.” This answers very well so far as it goes, but it is not quite specific enough. Without attempting to define it in full, let it be remarked that character is the complement, or sum-total of an infinite number of things, or qualities. Character is immeasurably more than the manifestation of one quality or a single line of action, or duty. It is more than is expressed in a given day, or at a particular time. Thus, under a certain stress of circumstances I may act in one way or manner to-day, while to-morrow, under an entirely different set of events, I may display a widely different disposition. We are continually meeting with people and forming either favorable, or unfavorable opinions regarding them. But we ascertain that we are wofully mistaken about their real character. We find that we must “summer and winter” with people for many years, ere we know them thoroughly. We do not descend to the inner-depths of their nature, by a single observation or in a single trial. The current mistake is that we see men and women only in “spots,” and so, form but partial conclusions regarding their lives and characters. We must see men at every point of view, or on all sides of their character, ere we arrive at a correct verdict respecting this matter. For a man’s actual character is the aggregation of every emotion, feeling, sensibility, taste, desire and attribute which the man possesses. It is, in fine, the “entirety” of an individual.

If I might be permitted a moment’s digression, I should like to remark that there is frequently a wide difference between what we call a man’s reputation and his real character. The character is the underlying thing itself, while his reputation is the estimation we have accepted with regard to his character; and since, we are not always in a position to fully understand what the man’s real character is, — seeing we have but limited opportunities for finding him out, — it follows that the two things are frequently widely apart.

Admitting that character is the one thing demanded, also, that it is the complement, or sum-total of all the actions, words, thoughts and sensibilities and feelings of an entire lifetime, we are met with a grave question, viz: What is the real force or agency which is capable of moulding holy, or Godlike character in us? It is declared in the Scriptures “that removing of those that are shaken as of things that are made” is to occur, so that “those that cannot be shaken may remain.”

It behooves us to inquire what the true spiritual forces actually are in character building? As Christian Scientists we heartily accept the current belief in, and desire for better character. Do we, then believe that any of the prevailing systems and creeds of men will secure this ripened character for us? Indeed, we do not. Accepting all that is good and commendable in them, and grateful for whatever of service they have rendered in times past, still, it is here that the teachings and demonstrations of Christian Science as taught in Science and Health come to our rescue as the only force, or divine remedial power capable of re-form-ing the entire current of every thought, word and action so that it becomes agreeable to the perfect will of God. Accepting the prevailing tone of thought as an indication of better things to come, we know that this higher, better realization is to come alone in and through Christian Science as revealed in the wonderful book just referred to. Do you say this is mere assertion without proof? Consider then, that the system of Truth as laid down in Science and Health is something radically different from every other system of belief and practice. They make man and the universe to be both matter and mind. Ours does nothing of the sort. They accept as equal realities, the Good and evil, while we deny all reality to evil, saying that the Good is all in all. They contend that man is both material and spiritual, or body and soul. Christian Science maintains that man is not material, but the offspring of Spirit. Now, here is a vast distinction to begin with. Let it be borne in mind that character is the sum-total of all the qualities and essences which make the complex being we call man. But does this seem unintelligible; is it far-fetched? In the light thrown upon it by a familiar example we shall see what is implied. Let there be two children selected at the age of two, or three years, twins, if you please, and who growing up together would look and act alike, with the same tastes, dispositions, habits as is sometimes the case in such instances, but let them be separated and placed in entirely different families, the one in an ideal Christian Science home, while the other grows to manhood in a home of culture, refinement, and wealth, — one that is religious as this world goes, but utterly opposed to the Christian Science thought and practice. Let it have everything which wealth and culture can obtain for it. Is it not easy to perceive that a tremendous difference will take place as regards this aggregated thing which we call character in these children as they grow to adult years?

One of these children is growing up under the training of such a powerful spiritual influence as that expressed in the Scientific Statement of Being:

“There is no life, substance, or intelligence in matter. All is Mind; there is no matter. Spirit is immortal Truth, matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal, matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God and man is his image and likeness, hence man is spiritual and not material.”* (Science and Health, 452.)

* What follows in this article is so largely based on the Scientific Statement of Being, that we depart from the rule, and allow the quotation to stand. — Ed.↑

The other child grows to maturity with a creed diametrically opposite to this, such as this for instance (it matters little whether it be formulated in words, or not, since it governs all of its actions and moulds its character, just the same): “There is life, substance, and intelligence in matter. Spirit may be immortal Truth in part, but so is matter for aught we know. There is matter and plenty of it, as the material senses declare. Spirit may be real and eternal, but what evidence is there that matter is not equally so? What proof is there that matter is mortal error? Is it not created by the Lord? If Spirit be God, yet is not this divine Being a personal God, partial and limited in His actions and works? If Spirit is God, and man be His image and likeness yet which man is it that is such? for what evidence is there that the man of the five personal senses is not just as much the creation of Spirit, or God, as is the spiritual man? It ought not to be difficult to perceive that the characters which are moulded by each of these diverse systems of doctrine will be as wide apart as the North and South Poles. The influence of two such systems of thought and discipline as these, will like the “tide-swing” of the ocean become tremendous in its significance.

But following the careers of these children, let us take note of a few points that will arise in their life history under the widely different influence of such diametrically opposite systems of doctrine and practice as are suggested by these two platforms. It becomes a first point that in the character of the one growing under Christian Science thought, he is where he sees and realizes that Light is all, since there is no darkness. Christian Science is Light and nothing but Light is expressed in it. So, that this becomes a sine qua non in the teaching of this one. To him, everything he sees, touches, and feels, there is nothing but the Light with its sweet breath of heaven all around him. Certainly there must be a contrast between a child who starts on his career with the healthful conviction that there is nothing but the Light placed before him to guide him on his pathway to the skies, and the child who has been taught to believe that the darkness is as real, at least in this world, as the light. Always on the look-out for error, — since it is more real than the Light, or Truth to his senses, — what is the result on his character but a shadowy phantasmagoria shutting away from his eyes the true glory of existence? He dwells in a cavern where abide only unreal things, for “if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light, but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness, if therefore the light in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?”

Second. The different effects which fear produces on these two children will be another point worthy of remark in their characters. One begins his career by fearing everything as something that may possibly work him deadly mischief. He is afraid of diseases, for was he not taught in his catechism that matter was an “entity” and possessed evil qualities quite as much as it did good? How is he then, to get away from the conviction that it is capable of producing sickness in aggravated forms? He certainly ought to stand in awe of that which his falsely educated senses have told him possesses malific power. Every wind that blows may be death-laden. The very food he eats may possess poisonous qualities. All that he handles, or comes in contact with, is a possible avenue for destruction. How is it possible to develop and mature a strong character into which fear constantly enters as a deterrent force? And by fear, I include all species and degrees of this hateful element of material, mortal sense. How it corrodes and eats out all that is grand, pure, and simple! Ever since “Adam went forth from Eden with solitary step and slow” fear has made men cowardly, weak, mean, and pusillanimous. It makes him enact the part of the snake, — never coming out into the open, and fighting his battles “on the square.” It creates great armies to fight our brothers. Churches dread and envy one another, and plot and counterplot-plot.

Individuals fear each other, while in families it has played riot. It makes mankind suspicious, intriguing, jealous, unprincipled. How true are those words in our great Christian Classic, Science and Health, page 513:

“Fear was the first manifestation of the error of material sense, and is the foundation of all sickness and death . . . The first impression that material man had of himself was one of nakedness and shame.”

But how is it with the child who has been reared on a higher platform and in harmony with immortal Truth? Does he fear and tremble? Not he, for having discovered the true from the false, there is nothing for him to dread. The experience of actual life in Christian Science homes shows that this is not a fanciful statement, since it has been found that in homes where Science and Health has entered as sunlight, many a child has never known what it is to fear, as those of us who did not know of the blessed Science have done and still are doing thus showing that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained praise,” so far reaching and significant are the glorious results of this blessed Truth which has dawned on mankind in this latter part of the nineteenth Century. Third, magnanimity is another of the qualities which enter into all noble character building. What is magnanimity?

Webster defines it as “greatness of spirit.” Or shall we not call it true dignity of demeanor, charming by its very simplicity? It possesses nothing haughty, or important in its bearing. But how is it possible to develop such a high quality of the spiritual unless one drinks at the fountain of divine Science? Surely not from any of the beliefs of error can we derive the true insight which enables us to perceive things in their right and just relations. The correct proportion of all things must arise from understanding what is Truth; and distinguishing Truth from the false claims of error masquerading in its name. How is it possible for a system of doctrine, or belief that recognizes that matter is as real as Spirit, to inculcate the lofty, high morality which is the legitimate fruit of spiritual perception? I do not mean to say that all who bear the worthy name of Christian Scientists, are magnanimous, or that they reflect credit on the cause they profess to love and serve, for we know that not all of us are doing this; but this rather, is what is maintained, — when the Science-Truth is fully comprehended and demonstrated, then, shall its followers manifest such a lofty spiritual sense of magnanimity as never before has appeared among men.

Just one more point must be touched upon out of many that there is not time to consider. It should be evident to a careful observer that no real character can be achieved where there is a lack of genuine, true humility. Humility is a virtue which but few have any right perception regarding. It is associated with weakness, instead of strength, so that it too frequently appears as servility, — a sort of despicable quality, such as Dickens has caricatured in his “Uriah Heep.” But this is not humility; for genuine humility is freedom from all sense of false pride, and mad ambition, maintaining at all times, a calm, steady equipoise of temper and mind. It is that quality which enables one toknow himself, and never allows its possessor to be thrown off his guard, or balance. Consider how rare a thing this is among the men of the world, educated and disciplined though they have been by the culture and training of the universities and schools. What is material sense, or mortal mind doing to repress these mad fires of ambition which blaze up for a time, only to cast down and destroy? All life’s journey through, from the cradle to the sepulchre, the child trained under material influences is taught that success depends on distancing rivals and looking out for the “main chance.” “He who cannot be hammer must be anvil; he who cannot pound, must be pounded upon,” says an old Roman maxim. The people of the world are living in accord with this pernicious precept. They are consumed with an inordinate desire to be at “the top” whether fitted for it or not, and it is frequently the case that they are not. They believe their happiness is conditioned upon gaining these summits of material power and wealth. What has the boasted culture of the schools done towards repressing these foolish, sinful ambitions? And so, the child which by our supposed case was placed under material training and in a home where belief in matter and its laws was equal to, if not greater than its recognition of Spirit and a spiritual realm (which is here and now) is imbibing these false notions and growing to manhood in acquiring these false habits that make it seek its own, instead of those things that are another’s. Its friends desire the same things for him. But how is it with the other child growing under the spiritual influences and training in a real, sincere Christian Science home? Taught to understand that all of its desires are met and supplied by infinite Mind, and that there is nothing but God and His idea, how little inclination is there for it to go astray? Since all of its aspirations are spiritual and are met completely, in God, what desire is there for that which God never created? “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee,” is the language of its chastened affections. The man, or child directed and governed by the standards of material, personal sense, is chaffing, lest it be slighted and unappreciated; and filled with envy, greed, lust, appetite, what sort of a character can such an one rear? what are these but the “hay, stubble, dross” which the fires of purity and truth will burn away? But the mind elevated and purified by divine Love, will gradually realize “that all my need shall be supplied through Jesus Christ.” If you talk of character, know that it alone is acquired in the understanding of spiritual verities, but never amid the illusions and glitter of materiality.

What has been offered is but an outline of an immense Truth, viz: that the real battle ground is from the without to the within. It is letting others alone and attending to that most mischievous personage, — “His Majesty, Myself.” In casting out error from “self” we are taking the shortest and most direct route towards ushering in the better day. It is a work for each one to accomplish, — this building of character, so that it reflects God and His idea perfectly, harmoniously and forever. Removing the rubbish from our own hearts, we effectually dispose of the problem of evil for ourselves, and that for all time. Nothing is more grand, more beautiful than character building. Do not these lines of Oliver Wendell Holmes have an almost divine meaning for each one?

Build thou more stately mansions, O my soul;
As the swift seasons roll:
Leave thy low, vaulted past,
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast;
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outworn shell,
By life’s unresting sea.




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