J. R. Miller, 1909
"Be men of courage; be strong." 1 Corinthians 16:13
When Paul would stir up Christians to their best, he bade them to be men of courage. He meant that if they would be manly and act manfully, they would be worthy Christians. No ideal is higher than just to be a man. What is manliness? There is no one exact model. No two men are precisely alike, for every man has his own individuality, which modifies the expression of his life. Besides, no man at his best—is any more than a fragment of a man. We find some lines of beauty in almost every man—but in no one do we find all the qualities of ideal manliness. It has been suggested that if it were possible to gather, through all the centuries, from all the individuals of the whole human race—all the fragments of manly character that through the ages have existed in all, and combine these in one composite character, that would be the ideal man.
While men differ in their individual lives, there are certain great qualities which are essential in all noble manhood.
Truth is one of these. God desires truth in the inward parts. He desires truth in all the life. It is a great thing to be able to say of a man—that you may depend absolutely on any statement he makes to you. What he tells you of another person or of any event or occurrence, you may be positively sure is a fact. Anything a man promises to do—he should do. He should never break a promise to anyone, however trifling the thing promised may be. Failing to keep one's word, may be counted a little thing—but it is really a great thing. If it is only a penny you agreed to pay—pay it the day you said you would. If it is only a postal card you promised to write tomorrow—write it. Let your word be absolutely kept in the smallest matter. Fulfill your lightest engagements. Do always precisely—what you said you would do.
Honesty also is essential in manly character. And the time to begin to build honesty into a character, is in boyhood. A dishonest boy will not grow up into an honest man. We should make it absolutely impossible for us—to touch or even to think of touching or even desiring anything that is not our own.
An explorer in the Arctic regions tells of burying a box of fish in the ice, meaning to send for it later. He did not return to the place for a considerable time. Meanwhile a famine came on. The people knew where the food was concealed. Yet in all their suffering, no one touched it. "Why did you not eat the fish?" asked the explorer in surprise, when he came back and found the food still where he had left it. "It was not ours," was the answer, "and we could not touch it." That is the law of honesty. What is not ours, we should never think of appropriating, whatever our need!
Justice is another essential quality of manliness. Justice is part of love. We should never wrong another. The Golden Rule should dictate all our treatment of others. We should never take advantage of another's ignorance of values, to drive a sharp bargain. We should never put blame upon others, when probably the fault was ours as much as theirs. Or if it was the others fault, it is the Christian way to take it upon ourselves. We always judge unjustly—when we judge harshly. We do not know in our judgments of others, the secret cause of the unbeautiful thing—the mood, or temper, or fret, which displeases us so in them. We blame others, too, when, if we knew the facts, we would pity them. Or it may be something we condemn in another, which, if we saw it in its full light, would reveal beauty, a splendor of self-sacrifice.
Some young men censured one of their number for his stinginess, because he dressed plainly and lived cheaply. Later, they learned that he was caring for an invalid and suffering sister, and that it was in order to provide comforts for her—that he stinted himself. Then they honored him as a hero. We may set it down as a rule that harsh judgments are never just. If we would always be just to each other, we must never judge them—but must love them rather, dealing charitably with them, leaving judgment to God, who knows all, and never can be unjust.
Purity is another quality of manliness. The New Testament has a great deal to say about purity of life. We are not passing through a pure world. It is full of evil and defiling things. Yet the problem of Christian living is to go through the world, keeping our garments clean. "But," someone asks, "how is it possible for anyone to do his work in this world, living amid unclean things, and never take any stain on his own life?"
Someone answers in this way. Just out of reach from his window, the writer says, stretches a wire which carries a heavy current of electricity for light and power. If he could lean far enough out to touch it, death would come to him swifter than a tiger's leap. Yet the doves light on that wire every fair day and are not harmed. Why would the wire mean death to the man if he could reach out from his window and touch it, and why is it a safe resting place for the doves? The secret is that when the doves sit there they touch nothing but the wire. But if the man reaches out of his window and touches the wire with his fingers, he would also be touching the walls of his house, and would thus form a circuit and the deadly current would flow through his body.
We may touch the worst evil in he world without harm or pollution—so long as we are given wholly up to God. But if our own hearts are clasping it and cherishing sin—we cannot move safely through this evil world. Jesus said of his disciples, when he sent them out to carry the gospel to men, "When they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all." Mark 16:18. A man who is given up wholly to Christ can go through this world serving his Master and blessing his fellows, and nothing shall harm him.
Beauty is another quality of true manliness. It is not enough for a man to be true, to live honorably, to be just, to be pure and clean—he must also have in his life whatever things are lovely. All God's works are beautiful. He never made anything that was not beautiful. It is sin which spoils everything. There are many lives that are not lovely in every feature. You see things in others which you cannot admire, things which are not beautiful. Fretting is not beautiful. Bad temper is unlovely. Discontent, jealousy, irritability, unkindness, selfishness are unattractive. It is the work of grace to make lives beautiful. All that grace does in us—is toward the fashioning of beautiful Christian character in us.
On a florist's signboard are the words, "Ugly corners made beautiful." The florist had reference to what he could do to beautify an ugly spot or a piece of landscape. He would trim out the weeds, plant flowers and shrubs, and transform a wilderness into a garden. That is what grace can do in our lives, our homes, our communities and in the world. Some men seem to think that the fine and graceful things are only for women, not for men. But Christ was a man, a perfect, complete man—and there was not a single unlovely thing in his life. He was strong—but also gentle. He was just—but kindly. He was firm—but patient. He was righteous, and his indignation burned like fire against all hypocrisy, all oppression of the poor, all injustice—but his tenderness never failed. Fine manliness is beautiful, like Christ's own. "Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!" Song of Songs 5:16
We should seek ever for beautiful things, and wherever we find anything lovely, we should at once take it into our life. We should make our religion beautiful in every feature. Only thus can we truly honor Christ in this world. Our lives are the only Gospels many people read. Let us be sure we do not misrepresent the Master whom we would recommend, and show to the world wrong examples of him.
Love is also essential to manliness. There is no complete manliness, that is not loving. God is love, and we grow into true Godlikeness only as we grow in lovingness. One writer says, "If we knew our brother as God knows him—we would never dare to despise him any more." Men should love one another. They should be friends to each other. They should help each other to live. Some of your brothers find it hard to be good, to be true, to be beautiful in spirit. Some men have fallen into bad habits and it seems that they cannot overcome them. They want to—but the chains are steel. Help them.
Some men get discouraged. Their work is hard, their battle fierce, and they scarcely ever hear a word of cheer. Fulton, the great inventor, near the close of his life, wrote this pathetic sentence: "In all my long struggle to work out the principles of the steam engine, I received innumerable jeers, opposing arguments, prophecies of failure—but never once an encouraging word." There are many men battling hard, striving to live well, to attain something worth while—who are left unhelped, with only discouragement, and with rarely ever a word of cheer. There is nothing that Christian men can set themselves as a task, that will mean more to their brothers than to become encouragers, givers of cheer. Someone suggests a new Beatitude: "Blessed are the cheer-makers, for they shall be called the sons of the morning."
Love is an essential quality of the finest manliness. Unlovingness is always unmanly, because it is always unchristlike, undivine. Then it is also a mistake. It always does harm in two ways. It harms the person to whom it is done—and it also harms the person who does the unloving thing. Charles Kingsley says, "Whenever we have failed to be loving, we have also failed to be wise; whenever we have been blind to our neighbor's interests, we have been blind also to our own; whenever we have hurt others, we have hurt ourselves much more."
We do not begin to understand what our lives mean to others, who see us and are touched by us. It is possible to do too much advising or exhorting of others—but we never can do too much beautiful living. One can send a blessed influence out through a whole community, just by being a splendid man. He may not be eloquent or brilliant; he may not be a statesman, an architect, a distinguished leader, a noted physician, surgeon, or a gifted orator; but simply to be a worthy, noble, good man—for ten, twenty, thirty years in a community, is an achievement gloriously worth while. Men who are living nobly do not begin to know how many others are living well, too, just because they are.
The noblest thing a man can do in this world—is to be a man, such a man as God has planned in his thought for him to be. He need not be a famous man, a man noted among men, one whose praise is sung on the streets—but a man who is true, brave, pure, just, beautiful and loving, a man who lives for God and for his fellows.