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On the Formation of the Christian Character, addresed to those
who are seeking to lead a religious life. By Henry Ware, Jun. Professor of Pulpit Eloquence and the Pastoral Care in Harvard University.
On character depends, in no small degree, not only individual greatness, usefulness, and happiness; but the advancement of society, and the welfare of mankind. Few subjects therefore can be more interesting, or better deserve a minute and careful investigation, than an enquiry into the means which mainly contribute to its formation. In a literary point of view, it is interesting ; in a moral one, it is incalculably important. Could all things which either intimately or remotely, directly or indirectly, lend their aid in producing the effect be ascertained, and the manner and degree in which they contribute be accurately defined, it would, no doubt, more than any thing else, conduce to the formation of a perfect system of education. With man's very limited knowledge of the human mind, this is an end, however desirable, which we fear is not attainable. The same means and the same circumstances operate very differently on different minds-one is depressed and discouraged by the same events which give impetus and energy to the exertions of another; and after the utmost care taken in the formation of a character, it is sometimes almost mortifying to observe how much it seems to have been formed by incidents apparently casual or fortuitous: the perusal of some particular book, the society of some individual, a short conversation, or a single sentence bave been known to awaken feelings and energies which have given a cast and tone to the whole mind. It seems moreover to be born with some persons, or to depend on circumstances over which man has little or no control ; he may improve or correct, but cannot entirely change or destroy it. Much of the cast of character, without doubt, depends even on the conformation of the body, whether robust or sickly, active or inert, perfect or deformed. Still more on the temperament and disposition of the mind, whether patient or irascible, quick or phlegmatic, light and unsteady, or decisive and firm. Some seem to owe little to advantageous circumstances: they are formed with faculties so vigorous, and energies so irrepressible, that they need none of the expedients necessary to foster the powers of ordinary minds. They rise under any circumstances, and can be completely kept down by none. Others seem to owe every thing to the culture bestowed on them : they have nothing original ; but have been shaped and moulded by concurring events. The former may be improved by circumstances; the latter are made by them : the former are gems of inherent worth, transcendant brightness, and in any position must and will shine ; the latter require all the skill and art of the lapidary to give them a lustre and a polish, and owe much more to their setting than to their real value.
But if, as has been affirmed, " A Christian is the highest style of man;" then in like proportion must it be both interesting and important to be acquainted with the means by which such a character is formed; a character which above all others it behoves us to labour to attain ; the only one connected with our eternal, our never-dying interest. And it ought to call forth the liveliest and most heartfelt gratitude from every human being, that whatever mystery may hang over the process, the means for the formation of this character are all clearly developed. He, the Spirit of Truth, who “searcheth all things, even the deep things of God,” has vouchsafed to unfold them in the Scriptures, in lines so legible that he who runs may read, and with a pathos which stirs deeper and seizes more powerfully the passions of the human mind, than any thing within the compass of human conception. The grand means is truth ; but truth so sublime, and yet in many respects so simple, so affecting, so momentous, so infinite, that it leaves no noble or innocent spring of action untouched. It appeals to man's hopes, and his fears ; his joys and his sorrows; it brings all the transports, and all the terrors of a future and eternal state to bear upon the actions, and feelings, and motions of the present moment: it teaches man that earth is but as an attiring room, in which he puts on those moral qualities which constitute the character in which he must appear either with glory or shame, honour or dismay, through an endless duration. It is thus that a character is formed, not like the mere intellectual, which, when unaccompanied by moral qualities, has its limits in time, and its sphere on earth : but which, when ages shall cease to revolve, and the present form and system be broken up; when the very elements of nature shall be dissolved, will be brightening, refining, and ennobling for ever.
The subject therefore of the little volume, whose title is prefixed to these remarks, is one undoubtedly of the very highest importance, and as far as intellectual qualities go, is treated with very considerable ability. It is arranged by the author in the following order -Reading, Meditation, Prayer, Preaching, The Lord's Supper, and Religious Descipline. Under each of these particulars will be found much that is truly valuable in sentiment, expressed in a style of composition at once easy, elegant, and perspicuous. We conceive, however, that whilst there are many interesting and admirable things in the volume, the author claims our gratitude more for the lucid arrangement of his materials, and the concise and perspicuous mode of composition, than by any thing new in his thoughts, or original in his illustrations : in these respects, he is far inferior to some of the same school in America. We are sorry, that for graver reasons than these, we cannot yield to the work our unqualified approbation ; indeed, so far as it relates to sentiment, we fear some of our remarks must partake of the nature of censure. With much that the author states we fully concur ; but on several essential points, we are decidedly at issue with him : we think many of his statements are defective, and some directly at variance with “ the true sayings of God.”
At the root of these lies, we conceive, the author's partial, and unscriptural views of human depravity, or man's fallen condition as a sinner. He seems to imagine that man's nature, so far from being, as the language of Scripture declares, “ desperately wicked," has received
scarcely the semblance of a taint; and that all the innumerable facts, which would prove his wickedness, are to be ascribed to no bias in the human mind to that which is evil ; but to a defective education, vicious example, and untoward circumstances. We are willing to admit that these exert a powerful and a baneful influence on the human mind, and that the opposite may be ranked amongst the chief of the means by which, under the blessing of God, a virtuous character is formed: but after conceding this much, we feel persuaded, that all such explanations leave the principal features in man's depravity unexplained : its depth, its universal prevalence, its desperate malignity, are unaccounted for. Is it not an indisputable fact, that under the best discipline, with the holiest and brightest examples, and in circumstances the most felicitous for the culture of virtue, men have grown up depraved ? Have not some of the holiest parents had some of the basest children ? and under every kind of instruction, as well as every variety of circumstances, does not the human race continue to be sinners? If there be no strong propensity to evil in the heart, no wrong bias in the mind, how shall we account for it, that a generation of innocent beings, imitating a generation of innocent creatures, should nevertheless always prove itself, by its acts both against God and each other, to be depraved? Why should not good examples and good discipline be at least as powerful as bad ; and if it be, whence comes the prevalence of evil ? But with men, professing to admit the divine authority of the Scripture, why do we thus speak ? God himself, in language which cannot be mistaken, has said that the imagination of man's thoughts are evil; that the whole earth hath corrupted its way; that “ from within, out of the heart of man, proceed evil thoughts, adultery, fornications, murder, thefts, covetousness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness;" and that all men, as well Jew as Gentile, stand charged with guilt before God. Wherefore (as a necessary consequence, and indisputable proof of man's depravity) “ by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
This error gives an erroneous cast to the whole volume ; for as in the opinion of the author man's disease is but partial and super
ficial, a slight and inconsiderable taint, so is the remedy which he thinks is adequate to its cure: hence in no part of his volume is there an avowal of the necessity, or the slightest intimation of a change to be wrought in man's moral nature by divine or supernatural agency; with him all is to be effected by moral suasion, by the force of example, and the power of self-control. He defines religion and a religious character, without intimating, that “ except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven;" without alluding to the renewing, enlightening, sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost : indeed, though he is professedly treating the very subject which the Scriptures throughout ascribe to the operations of that blessed and divine Agent; yet so far as that little volume goes we might say, as some who had been partially instructed only in the imperfect dispensation of John the Baptist, “ We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost." Considering the divine nature of that adorable person, the important offices which he deigns to occupy in man's redemption, the prominent place assigned to his sacred influence throughout the New Testament, we look upon such an omission not merely as a direct violation of the principles of Christanity ; it is another Gospel which the Apostles did not preach.
No less defective are the author's sentiments on the nature and design of our Lord's Mediation. We say defective, for we would not have it supposed, that we do not admire and honour the example of our Lord; we consider it “for brightness as a morning without clouds, and for beauty as the grass springing from the earth after rain.” But every thing in its own order. Man wants moral power to imitate, as well as a pattern ; liberty from the bondage of corruption, and freedom from condemnation, as well as a living law.
These example, however perfect, cannot give. With the following quotation, as beautiful as it is correct, on the subject of our Lord's example, we fully concur.
“But if you would discern the full excellence and loveliness of the religious life, do not rest satisfied with studying the law, or musing over the descriptions of it. Go to the perfect pattern, which has been set before the believer, for his guidance and encouragement. Look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. In him are exhibited all the virtues which you are to practise, all the affections and graces which you are to cultivate. In him is that rich assemblage of beautiful and attractive excellences, which has been the admiration of all reflecting men, the astonishment and eulogy of eloquent unbelievers, and the guide, consolation, and trust of faithful disciples. In the dignity and sweetness, which characterize him, how strongly do we feel, that there is much more than a display of external qualities, conformity to a prescribed rule, and graceful propriety of outward demeanor. Nothing is more striking than the evident connexion of every thing which he said and did with something internal. The sentiment and disposition, which reign within, are constantly visible through his interior deportment; and we regard his words and his deeds less as distinct outward things, than as expressions or representations of character. As, in looking on certain countenances, we have no thought of color, feature, or form, but simply of the moral or intellectual qualities which they suggest ; so, in contemplating the life of Jesus, we find ourselves perpetually looking beyond his mere actions, and fixing our thoughts on the qualities which they indicate. His life is but the expressive countenance of his soul. We feel, that, though in the midst of present things, he is led by principles, wrapt in thoughts, pervaded by sentiments, which are above earth, unearthly; that he is walking in communion with another sphere; and that the objects around him are matters of interest to him, no further than as they afford materials for the exercise of his benevolence, and opportunities for doing his Father s will."
All this is quite in unison with our feelings, and our views : but was this the only, was it the chief end for which the Lord Jesus appeared among us ? So we should suppose from this author, and writers of his class. But we have a more sure word of prophecy, and unto that we do well to take heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place. In that word we learn that Christ should come, not only in the character of a Prophet to instruct, but as a Friend to redeem ; not merely to set an example of all virtue, but to atone for transgression—“ To put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” “ He was wounded,” says the prophet, “ for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” “ Behold,” says John, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” Of himself he said, “ The Son of man is come not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life for the ransom of many.” “ This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." His Apostles said of him, “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. Now in the end of the world hath he appeared, to put away sins by the sacrifice of himself. Who his ownself bare our sins in his own body on the tree. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God.” Is it possible to read such words, and not discover the doctrine of the atonement? We feel no hesitation in affirming, that if these words do not convey the idea of substitution, then it is a sentiment which no human language can convey; and we would put it to any opponent of the doctrine to express the sentiment of a vicarious sacrifice in words more clear, or distinct, or less liable to misconception, than these are. A writer of eminence in the polite world, who knew extremely little of theological systems, but who emerging from a careless infidelity, read the Scriptures with attention and good sense, has described the effect produced on his mind by an unbiassed study of the sacred records in the subsequent paragraph. “ That Christ suffered and died as an atonement for the sins of mankind, is a doctrine so constantly, and so strongly enforced through every part of the New Testament, that whoever will seriously peruse those writings, and deny that it is there, may, with as much reason and truth, af