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Visions Of Hope: Character

"I have always been influenced by people of character. When I first went away to school, I was assigned a 'guardian'—a slightly older boy, who was to keep an eye on me and help me settle down. We became firm friends. Years later he became captain of school, played rugby for English Schoolboys, and has recently been made a bishop. He's always been to me a person of quality and character,'' writes William Sykes.


Character—moral strength, back-bone; reputation, good reputation; description of person's qualities

Two biographies, both by George Seaver, have been about men of character, and have influenced me a great deal. The first was Edward Wilson of the Antarctic—the life story of the doctor, zoologist and artist, on Scott's expedition to the Antarctic. Although Scott was the official leader, the qualities of Edward Wilson's character exercised a quiet but decisive influence on the members of the expedition. The second was Albert Schweitzer: The Man and His Mind. Here was portrayed the character of a man with four doctorates, in philosophy, theology, music and medicine, who went on to found and run a mission hospital in a remote part of equatorial West Africa. He was described as a man of moral strength, with impressive qualities.

Recently I've been moved by the writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and several years ago, was privileged to attend a meeting at which she was present. One glance showed me she was a woman of quality and character. A few months ago Jean Vanier and Sheila Cassidy ran a university mission in Oxford. Both spend their lives working for people in need—the physically and mentally handicapped, and the terminally ill. What came over in both of them, was character.

Character has been a source of hope from time immemorial—the character of God, the greatest of all.
As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7 (AV)
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'
Isaiah 6:8

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16

To shame the guise o' th' world, I will begin The fashion—less without and more within.
William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, V. i. 32

Religion is only another word for character, and it is developed in man. Religious education is a growth, and requires time.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 122

Character—in things great and small—is indicated when a man pursues with sustained follow-through what he feels himself capable of doing.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wisdom and Experience, selected by Ludwig Curtius, translated and edited by Hermann J. Weigand, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949, page 217

A truer, nobler, trustier heart,
More loving, or more loyal, never beat
Within a human breast.
Lord Byron, 'The Two Foscari', II. i. 154, in Ernest Hartley Coleridge, editor, The Poetical Works of Lord Byron, John
Murray, 1905, page 603

In Christ was comprehended the fullest conception of greatness and nobleness of character. Every idea of true manhood is in Him.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 150

It is held
That valour is the chiefest virtue and Most dignifies the haver.
William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, II. ii. 81

There is no sight more beautiful than a character which has been steadfastly growing in every direction, and has come to old age rich and ripe.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 43

There is no point so critical of Christian character as the power to maintain love toward all men—not a love of personal attraction, but a love of benevolence, that begets a willingness to bear with them and work for them.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 164

Supreme and tremendous energy and positiveness enter into the spiritual delineation of Christian character. Intense virtues and self-denials, bearing yokes, bearing the cross, sacrificing, crucifying, are enjoined.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 166

Quality and power of emotion are the noblest elements of character; and reason and knowledge and experience work to and for that which is the essential being— namely, emotion, out of which comes disposition.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 45

The character I admire is a character that is a rod of iron to itself and a well-spring of tenderness and pity for others; a character that forces itself to be happy in itself, blames no one but itself, and compels itself to clear away obstacles from the path to happiness for every organism it encounters.
John Cowper Powys, Autobiography, Macdonald & Co. (Publishers), 1967, page 376

People's characters are tested in three ways.- by the circumstances in which they live, by the people whom they meet, and by the experience of their own failures. Their characters are tested by the degree in which these things draw forth from them love and not bitterness, a humble penitence and dependence upon God and not despair.
Father Andrew, SDC, A Gift of Light, selected and edited by Harry C. Griffith, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1968, page 84

I do not think that there can be any life quite so demonstrative of character as that which we had on these expeditions (to the Antarctic). One sees a remarkable reassortment of values. Under ordinary conditions it is so easy to carry a point with a little bounce; self-assertion is a mask which covers many a weakness. As a rule we have neither the time nor the desire to look beneath it, and so it is that commonly we accept people on their own valuation. Here the outward show is nothing, it is the inward purpose that counts. So the 'Gods' dwindle and the humble supplant them. Pretence is useless.
Edward Wilson, in George Seaver, Edward Wilson of the Antarctic, John Murray, 1935, page 232

[The Beatitudes] give the picture of the Christian character in its wonderful attractiveness—that detachment, that readiness to enter into the heritage of human pain, that self-suppressing meekness and humility towards our fellow-men, that strong passion for righteousness, that effective compassion, that singleness of heart, that striving for peace. Yet, where it is not welcomed, it stings by its very beauty, it hardens by its very holiness. Thus there came about the strange result, that when that character was set in its perfection before men's eyes in the person of our Lord, they would not have it. They set upon Him and slew Him. It is in full view of this consequence of being righteous that our Lord speaks this last beatitude, and He gives it pointed and particular application to His disciples.

'Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.'
Charles Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, John Murray, 1897, page 43

As soon as ever a man sets himself seriously to aim at this Christian character, the devil at once puts this thought into his mind—Am I not aiming at what is too high to be practicable? Am I not aiming too high to do any good? If I am to help men, surely I must be like them? I must not be so unworldly, if I am to help men in this sort of world. Now our Lord at once anticipates this kind of argument. He says at once, as it were, No, you are to help men by being unlike them. You are to help men, not by offering them a character which they feel to be a little more respectable than their own, but by offering them a character filled with the love of God. They may mock it for a while; but in the 'day of visitation,' in the day when trouble comes, in the day when they are thrown back on what lies behind respectability, in the day when first principles emerge, they will glorify God for the example you have given them. They will turn to you then, because they will feel that you have something to show them that will really hold water, something that is really and eternally worth having.

Thus our Lord at once proceeds to answer the question, How is a character such as the beatitudes describe, planted in a world such as this, to effect good? It is to purify by its own distinctive savour, it is to be conspicuous by its own splendid truth to its ideal, it is to arrest attention by its powerful contrast to the world about it. This is the meaning of the metaphors which follow the beatitudes...

'Ye are the salt of the earth.' Salt is that which keeps things pure by its emphatic antagonistic savour. 'Ye are the light of the world.' Light is that which burns distinctively in the darkness. 'A city that is set on a hill' is a marked object, arresting attention over a whole country-side.
Charles Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, John Murray, 1897, page 44

The springs of human character lie beyond the reach of outward observation. External action is but an inadequate and often deceptive measure of inward spiritual capacity. What a man does or has done, or within the limits of our brief and bounded life can ever accomplish, is but an imperfect and often blurred and confused expression of the hidden potentialities of the spirit. Of that which constitutes the essence and reality of a human soul an outward observer may easily form a mistaken, can only form a partial and inadequate estimate. Only to an eye which penetrates to the root of character, which can embrace in its judgment the unrealized and boundless possibilities of the future as well as truly interpret the meaning of the past, only to an eye which measures life, not by action merely, but by the principles from which action springs and the inexhaustible productive force that is in them— only to such an eye does the true complexion and character of a human soul lie open. It is perhaps on this principle, translating the technical language of theology into our ordinary forms of expression, that we may represent to ourselves what is meant by being justified not by works but by faith. Stated generally the principle is this, that the true criterion of a human spirit is not outward performances but the ideal to which it is devoted; and, in its application to religion, it is the principle that the divine measure of a Christian life is not outward works or doings but devotion to Christ as its ideal... What we are in God's sight... is determined not by what we do or have done but by the presence in the soul of that inward spirit, principle, characteristic motive and aim—in one word, by that self-surrender, that identifica¬tion with a divine ideal, which constitutes the Christian faith. Poor, imperfect, fluctuating, inadequate may be our attempts to realize that ideal in action, the very best which the best of men do can be only a gradual approximation to it; but all they fain would be, all the splendour of the spirit's future career is already and virtually contained in it. In the soul in which that divine principle dwells, in the soul in which devotion to Christ has become the one supreme, all-dominating motive and aim, it is that, and not the dim imperfect life, the blurred, confused medium through which it struggles into expression—it is that which determines God's judgment of us, makes us what in his sight we are. Underneath the poverty and meanness of the present life, its manifold imperfections and shortcomings, its feeble virtues, its often abortive aspirations and ever imperfect attainments,—all that is but as the beggar's raiment disguising an inward nobility,—underneath all that, what the omniscient eye beholds is the radiant image of a son of God, the hidden splendour of a Christlike purity, the transfigured glory of a soul that has already washed its robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
JohnCaird, University Sermons, James MacLehose and Sons, 1898, volume I, page 116


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