The Christian Gentleman
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
It has been said that no man can be a gentleman, who is not a Christian. We take the converse of this proposition, and say that no man can be a Christian, who is not a gentleman.
There is something of a stir among the dry bones at this. A few eyes look at it in a rebuking way.
"Show me that in the Bible," says one in confident negation of our proposition.
"Ah, well, friend, we will take your case in illustration of our theme. You call yourself a Christian?"
"By God's mercy I do."
Answered with an assured manner, as if in no doubt as to your being a worthy bearer of that name.
"You seem to question my state of acceptance. Who made you a judge?"
Softly, friend. We do not like that gleam in your eyes. Perhaps we had better stop here. If you cannot bear the probe, let us put on the bandage again.
"I am not afraid of the probe, sir. Go on."
The name Christian includes all human virtues, does it not?
"Yes, and all God-like virtues in the human soul."
So we understand it. Now the fundamental doctrine of Christian life is this: "As you would that men should do unto you — you do even unto them."
"Faith in Christ is fundamental," you answer.
Unless we believe in God — we cannot obey his precepts. The understanding must first assent, before the divine life can be brought into a conformity with divine laws. But we are not assuming theological ground. It is the life to which we are looking. We said, "The fundamental doctrine of Christian life."
"All doctrine has relation to life, and I contend for faith as fundamental."
We won't argue that point, for the reason that it would lead us away from the theme we are considering. We simply change the form of our proposition, and call it a leading doctrine of Christian life.
"So far I agree with you."
Then the way before us is unobstructed again. You asked us to show you authority in the Bible for saying that a man cannot be a Christian, who is not a gentlemen. We point you to the Golden Rule. In that, all laws of etiquette, so called, are included. It is the code of good breeding, condensed to an axiom. Now it has so happened that our observation of you, friend objector, has been closer than may have been imagined. We have noted your outgoings and incomings on divers occasions; and we are sorry to say that you cannot be classed with the true gentleman.
Gently! Gently! If a man may is a Christian, and not a gentleman at the same time, your case is not so bad. But to the testimony of fact. Let these witness for or against you. Let your own deeds approve or condemn. You are not afraid of judgment, by the standard of your own conduct?
"Of course not."
And if we educe only well-remembered incidents, no offence will be taken.
We go back, then, and repeat the law of true gentlemanly conduct. "As you would that men should do unto you — you do even unto them." You were at Stockbridge last summer?
And took supper at the hotel there, with a small company of strangers?
There was a dish of fine strawberries on the table, among the first of the season. You are fond of strawberries. They are your favorite fruit; and, as their rich fragrance came to your nostrils, you felt eager to taste them. So you counted the guests at the table, and measured the dish of strawberries with your eyes. Then you looked from face to face, and saw that all were strangers. Appetite might be indulged, and no one would know that it was you. The strawberries would certainly not go round, So you hurried down a cup of tea, and swallowed some toast quickly. Then you said to the waiter, "Bring me the strawberries." They were brought and set before you. And now, were you simply just in securing your share, if the number fell below a dozen berries? You were taking care of yourself; but in doing so, were not others' rights invaded. We shall see. There were eight people at the table, two of them children. The dish held but little over a quart; of these nearly one-third were taken by you! Would a true gentleman have done that? You haven't thought of it since! We are sorry for you then. One of the children, who only got six berries, cried through half the evening from disappointment. And an invalid, whose blood would have gained life from the rich juice of the fruit, got none.
"It was a little selfish, I admit. But I am so fond of strawberries; and at hotels, you know, everyone must take care of himself."
A true gentleman maintains his character under all circumstances, and a Christian, as a matter of course. A true gentleman defers to others. He takes so much pleasure in the enjoyment of others, that he denies himself in order to secure their gratification. Can a Christian do less and honor the name he bears?
"It wasn't right, I see."
Was it gentlemanly?
"Perhaps not, strictly speaking."
In the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity still, we fear, for all your profession. Christianity, as a system, must go deeper down into the heart than that. But we have begun with you, friend, and we will keep on. Perhaps you will see yourself a little differently by the time we are through.
A poor carpenter, who had done some trifling work at your house, called, recently, with his little bill of three dollars and forty cents. You were talking with a customer, when this man came into your store and handed you his small bill. You opened it with a slight frown on your brow. He had happened to come at a time when you felt yourself too much engaged to heed this trifling matter. How almost rudely you thrust the coarse, soiled piece of paper on which he had written his bill back upon him, saying, "I can't attend to you now!" The poor man went out hurt and disappointed. Was that gentlemanly conduct? No, sir! Was it Christian? Look at the formula of Christian life. "As you would that men should do unto you — you do even unto them."
"He should have waited until I was at leisure," you answer. "When a man is engaged with a customer who buys at the rate of hundreds and thousands, he doesn't want paltry bills thrust into his face. He'll know better next time."
Have you settled the bill yet?
"No. He called day before yesterday, but couldn't give change for ten dollars."
Why haven't you sent him the trifling sum? He worked over half a day at your house, and your family have been more comfortable for what he did there ever since. He needs the money, for he is a poor man.
You half smile in our face at the suggestion, and say, "Merchants are not in the habit of troubling themselves to send all over the city to pay the little paltry bills of mechanics. If money is worth having, it is worth sending or calling for."
In thought, reverse your positions, and apply the rule for a Christian gentleman; remembering, at the same time, that God is no respecter of persons. In his eyes, the man's position is nothing — the quality of his life, everything.
A gentleman in form, according to the rules of good breeding, is one who treats everybody with kindness; who thinks of others' needs, pleasures and conveniences; and subordinates his own needs, pleasures and conveniences to theirs. He is mild, gentle, kind and courteous to all. A gentleman in feeling does all this from a principle of good-will — and the Christian, from a law of spiritual life. Now, a man may be a gentleman, in the common acceptance of the term, and yet not be a Christian; but we are very sure, that he cannot wave the gentleman, and be a Christian.
You look at us more soberly. The truth of our words is taking hold of conviction. Shall we go on?
Do you not, in all public places, study your own comfort and convenience? You do not clearly understand the question! We'll make the matter plainer then:
Last evening you were at Concert Hall, with your wife and daughter. You went early, and secured good seats. Not three seats, simply, according to the needs of your party; but nearly five seats, for extra comfort. Well, the house was crowded. Compression and condensation went on all around you; but your party held its expanded position. A white-haired old man stood at the head of your seat, and looked down at the spaces between yourself, your wife and daughter; and though you knew it, you kept your eyes another way until he passed on. You were not going to be inconvenienced for anyone. Then an old lady lingered there for a moment, and looked wistfully along the seat. Your daughter whispered, "Father, we can make room for her." And you answered: "Let her find another seat; I don't wish to be crowded." Thus repressing good impulses in your child, and teaching her to be selfish and unlady-like. The evening's entertainment began, and you sat quite at ease, for an hour and a half, while many were standing in the aisles. Sir, there was not even the gentleman in form here; much less the gentleman from naturally kind feelings. As to Christian principle, we will not take that into account. Do you remember what you said as you moved through the aisles to the door?
A friend remarked that he had been obliged to stand all the evening, and you replied:
"We had it comfortable enough. I always manage that, in public places."
He didn't understand all you meant; but, there is One who did.
How was it in the same place, only a few nights previously? You went there alone, and happened to be late. The house was well filled in the upper portion, but thinly occupied below the center. Now you are bound to have the best place, under all circumstances, if it can be obtained. But all the best seats were well filled; and to crowd more into them, would be to diminish the comfort of all. No matter. You saw a little space in one of the desirable seats, and into it you pressed, against the remonstrance of looks, and even half uttered objections. A lady by your side, not in good health, was so crowded in consequence, and made so uncomfortable, that she could not listen with any satisfaction to the eloquent lecture she had come to hear.
We need say no more about your gentlemanly conduct in public places. Enough has been suggested to give you our full meaning.
Shall we go on? Do you call for other incidents in proof of our assumption? Shall we follow you into other walks of life?
Very well. And, now, to press the matter home: Do you, in the sight of that precept we have quoted, justify such conduct in a man who takes the name of Christian? It was not gentlemanly, in any right sense of the word; and not being so, can it be Christian?
Assuredly not. And you may depend upon it, sir, that your profession, and faith, and church-going, and ordinance-observing — will not stand you in that day when the book of your life is opened in the presence of God. If there has been no genuine love of the neighbor — no self-abnegation — no self-denial for the good of others — all the rest will go for nothing, and you will pass over to abide forever with spirits of a like quality with your own.
Who made us your judge? We judge no man! But only point to the law of Christian life as given by God himself. If you wish to dwell with him, you must obey his laws; and obedience to these will make you nothing less than a Christian gentleman — that is, a gentleman in heart as well as in appearance.