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character is the best of all possessions, cheaply purchased (if need be) by a long protracted agony of pain, those sufferings which are required to bring us to perfection must be regarded as proofs of the great Father's care. If God failed to inflict them, if He interfered to prevent them, He would not be a God of love.
Hence we have found a rational basis-small it may be, but immovably secure—for that faith which believes that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed; that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; that the Creator is the Father of His creatures, extending His tender mercies over all His works, and leading the whole creation by a right way, though it be oftentimes by a way they do not understand. With this foundation for our faith, we may look forward with sure and certain hope to that
“One far-off divine event
To which the whole creation moves.” Just as a grain of seed falls into the ground and dies, that it may rise again the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear; just as babyhood gives place to childhood, childhood to youth, youth to
manhood; just as the sublimest music involves the resolution of discords; just as there are men and women in the world to-day who feel already more than compensated for the toils, struggles, and privations of the past — who can say with Newman,
“ I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart-pang, or throbbing brow:
And sweet its memory now ;”—
so all the chances and changes of this mortal life are but preparations for a better, where we shall be made glad according to the days wherein we have been afflicted, and the years in which we have seen evil, with a gladness sweeter, purer, deeper than could ever have been ours but for those days of evil and those years of affliction.
The Formation of Character.
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already per
fect; . .. but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—PHILIPPIANS iii. 12-14.
T PROPOSE in this and the four following 1 sermons to discuss some fundamental principles, which it is absolutely essential for us to bear in mind, if we would succeed in forming for ourselves a perfect character. Let us look, in the first instance, at the virtue of humility, which is the prerequisite, the sine quâ non, of the attainment of moral perfection.
Aristotle, in his ‘Ethics,' gives a curious description of what he considered an ideal character. The “large souled” or “high minded”
man occupies himself entirely with honour. He receives a certain amount of pleasure, just so much as is compatible with his dignity, when the illustrious treat him with respect; but he justly despises the majority of his neighbours. He hates to accept a favour, for he wants his superiority to be universally recognised. When he is compelled to accept presents, he always gives larger presents in return, so that he may never be under an obligation. There is nothing which he considers great: hence he never wonders. His lofty-mindedness even shows itself by his speaking in a loud voice, and walking with a stately gait. This ideal, as Aristotle himself pointed out, could, of course, only be attained by a man of birth, brains, and wealth. If others aimed at it, the virtue of magnanimity became, in them, the vice of conceit.
Now, as Aristotle always tested the correctness of his doctrines by their agreement or disagreement with popular opinions and practices, we may be sure that, in this description, he was only generalising views which were common at the time. And though, owing mainly to the influence of Christ, such grotesque exhibitions of pride would no longer be tolerated, that vice is even yet more frequently to be met with than
any other human failing. “Other vices,” says Dr Johnson, “tyrannise over particular ages, and triumph in particular countries. Rage is a failing of youth, avarice of age. Revenge is the predominant passion of one country, avarice of another. But pride is a native of every country, infects every climate, and corrupts every nation.”
What makes pride so common is the fact that it can adapt itself to all circumstances, it can be exercised upon anything. It is just taking too exalted an estimate of our own qualities, because they are our own. If a man has no good characteristics of which to be proud, he will pride himself on bad ones. As old John Berridge quaintly puts it, “Pride has such a wonderful ‘appetite that it can feed kindly even on grease and garbage. It will be as warm and snug in a cloister as in a palace, and be equally delighted with a foul oath and a fine prayer.” The virtuous man thinks too much of himself on account of his virtue, while the thoroughly vicious man plumes himself on the success and magnitude of his crimes. Some take pride in being rich, others in being poor; some in good clothes, others in bad; some in their education, others in their want of education; some in having had a grandfather, others in the fact that they are self-made;