The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


By the heart, I mean the moral faculties—in distinction from the intellectual. Any action is moral, which can be praised or blamed. The moral faculties are those which determine moral action. These faculties are, the Conscience, Will, and Affections. In this division, I do not attempt metaphysical exactness, but only what I can make my readers understand. When I speak of educating these faculties, I do not mean to separate the process from that of pious education in general; for nothing can be well done, in the formation of character, without pious principle and motives at the foundation. But my object is, to speak of the specific means by which these faculties may be cultivated.

It may be necessary for me to explain what I mean by the Conscience, Will, and Affections. Yet it does not fall in with my design, neither would it suit the age and capacities of those for whom I write, to enter into a philosophical description, or analysis, of the faculties of the mind, or affections of the heart. I shall only give such simple explanations as are sufficient for my purpose, and as I suppose will be understood by my readers.

I. THE CONSCIENCE. This is the faculty which determines whether any action proposed to the mind, or any feeling of the heart, is right or wrong. If you will watch the motions of your own mind, you will perceive, whenever anything is proposed to be done or not to be done, something within tells you that it is either right or wrong. If wrong, you find the same something within, urging you not to do it; or, if right, the same impulse moves you to do it. If you do as you are thus urged, you find the same voice within approving what you have done, or, if you do not obey, condemning you. This something within is CONSCIENCE.

You have, doubtless, lived long enough to experience many a conflict, or dispute, between your conscience and your inclinations. You are inclined to do something which your conscience tells you is wrong; but conscience not only tells you it is wrong, but urges you not to do it. Your inclinations, or desires, urge you in the contrary direction; and this creates a conflict. If conscience prevails, then it approves your decision, and you feel happy. But, if inclination prevails, conscience upbraids, and you feel miserable.

As I have defined education, you will see the great importance of educating the conscience. It is the leading moral faculty, and must have a great influence upon the moral character. For the conscience itself may be wrong. It is not itself the rule by which you are to determine what is right and wrong. The Word of God is the rule. The office of conscience is, to determine whether anything you propose to do is agreeable to the rule, and to urge you, accordingly, to do it or not to do it.

Suppose you wish to determine whether anything is straight; you lay a ruler upon it that you suppose to be straight, and if they agree, that settles the matter. Your eye, comparing the object with the ruler, determines whether it is straight or not. But, if the rule applied is crooked, your eye is deceived, and you misjudge. Conscience is the eye of the soul, that compares an action with the ruler. The conscience, then, must be well instructed. You must learn the rule of right from the Word of God, and then conscience will always decide right. But, if you adopt false notions of right and wrong, your very conscience will lead you astray. The first thing, then, in the education of the heart is, to have it filled with right principles; and these you are to obtain from the study of the Bible, and from listening to the instructions of your parents, teachers, and ministers.

The next thing is, always to obey the voice of conscience. If you go contrary to it, and do what conscience tells you is wrong, or neglect what it urges upon you as duty—you weaken that faculty, and harden the heart. When you refuse to hearken to the voice of conscience, the next time it will not speak so loud; and every time this is repeated, the weaker it grows, until at length it is scarcely heard at all, and you may go on and sin almost without restraint.

If you will look back a little while in your own experience, you will see the force of what I say. If you have ever fallen into the habit of secretly disobeying your parents, you will find an illustration of it. The first time you were tempted to disobey, your conscience was very loud against it; but the temptation, falling in with your inclinations, prevailed. Then conscience upbraided you with a voice of terror. But you were not discovered, and no immediate evil followed. The next time the temptation presented itself, the remonstrance of conscience was feeble, and its condemnation light. The next time it was feebler still; until at length you could do with careless indifference what at first made you shudder. But when the power of conscience is gone, there is but one step more to ruin. If, then, you would keep your conscience tender, you must always obey its voice.

Another means of educating the conscience is, the habit of thinking with approbation of what is right, and putting out of the mind with horror all thoughts of what is wrong. The most hateful things, by becoming familiar to the sight, lose much of the horror which they excite at first. A person who had never seen an animal killed would be deeply affected at the sight; but a butcher thinks nothing of it. So, by thinking much of what is wrong, the conscience becomes defiled, and ceases to act with promptness and decision; while, if kept familiar only with the good, it would revolt instantly from the bad.

II. THE WILL. This is the faculty that chooses or refuses. It is the decisive faculty. It is the power that determines action, whether good or bad. It is the ruling faculty of the soul. I said conscience was the leading faculty, because it goes before the action of the will, and moves it to choose what is right. The will is the ruling faculty, because it determines all action. The way to educate the will is, to accustom it to submit to the dictates of conscience. The will, in our fallen and depraved state, is turbulent and unsubmissive. It is not disposed to submit to the law of God, nor to those whom God has set over us. Yet there is nothing of more importance to our happiness and usefulness than the early subjection of the will. If you determine that you will always have your own will, you will certainly be unhappy; for it is impossible that you should always have your own way. But if you early accustom yourself to give up your own will; to submit to the will of God, as made known to you in his word and Providence—to submit to your parents, as those whom God has set over you, and to your own conscience, as the faithful monitor which God has placed in your own bosom—then you will be as happy as you can be in this imperfect state.

This you will not accomplish all at once. It must be the result of experience, trial, and discipline, with the grace of God in your heart. But if you begin to cultivate the habit of submission, in early life, it will save you many a severe struggle and much unhappiness. You have doubtless learned, before this time, that you always get into difficulty at home—when you set out to have your own will. And perhaps you have sometimes, in your impatience at contradiction, secretly wished that you were of age, beyond the control of your parents, that you might do as you pleased. But I assure you, both from my own experience and from what I have seen of the world, that you will not find it any easier to have your own will, after you come to act for yourself. You will not succeed in anything you undertake to do for others, unless you give up your own will; neither will you succeed in making society agreeable to yourself.

Suppose you go to a shoemaker, to get a pair of shoes made, and as soon as you begin to tell him how you wish them done, he answers, "I understand my business; if you want a pair of shoes, I'll make them for you, but nobody can teach me how to do my work?" You would say, "He is a surly creature; I'll have nothing to do with him." Or, suppose you go into company, and you find a young lady who will consent to nothing except what she herself proposes. You would say, "She is a selfish creature; let her enjoy herself alone." But all this comes from mere wilfulness. You never will be comfortable, much less happy, until you are willing to yield to others—when no principle is concerned—but only the mere gratification of your own will. And when one is employed by another, it is perfectly reasonable that he should be directed by his employer, even if what he is directed to do may appear to him unwise.

The only way that you can succeed, and be happy, in anything you may undertake to do for others, is, to submit your will to theirs, and do cheerfully, and without objection, what they require—provided, only, that they do not require you to do wrong. If you will look back, you will find that this wilfulness has been the cause of all the trouble you have got into with your parents, and of nearly all the altercations you have had with your brothers, sisters, and companions. And, if you retain this disposition, it will make you miserable, whatever station in society you may occupy.

A little boy, named Truman, lost his own mother; and when he was four or five years of age, his father married again. His new mother was an excellent lady, very affectionate and kind-hearted toward the children. But one day, when she was teaching Truman how to read, she could not make him say his lesson correctly. She therefore used the rod until he submitted, and read as he ought. He was afterwards overheard talking with himself, about his conduct—"True, what made you treat your dear mother so? Hasn't she always been kind to you?" "Yes, I know she has. She loves me, and tries to do me all the good she can." "Then how could you be so naughty, to treat her so?" "I know I have been a very naughty boy, and treated her very bad indeed when she has been very kind to me; and she was trying then to teach me for my own good." "What can you say for yourself, then? How did you come to behave so?" "I can't say anything for myself; I know it was very mean. I feel ashamed to think I could treat her so; and I'll never do it again as long as I live. But I thought I would just try for once, and see who was master."

The object of this little boy was to have his own will. He was not willing to submit to his mother, until he had tried his strength, to see whose will should prevail. He got a severe chastisement, and had to submit after all. And so it will always be with you, if you set out with the determination, if possible, always to have your own will. You will be always getting into difficulty, and gain nothing by it in the end.

III. THE AFFECTIONS. I shall not undertake, in this place, to give a full and complete definition of the affections. It will answer my present purpose, to say that the affections are the feelings or emotions of the heart. This may not be philosophically accurate; but when my readers come, at a more advanced age, to study mental and moral philosophy, they can enlarge their views. For all practical purposes, this will answer. And what I mean by educating the affections is, to acquire the habit of controlling the feelings, so as to suppress the bad and cultivate the good. You hear people talk of good and bad dispositions. But a good disposition is only the preponderance of good feelings; or in other words, where good feelings and good tempers prevail, we say that person has a good disposition; but if bad feelings and evil tempers predominate, we say he has a bad disposition. There is no doubt a difference in natural dispositions. But with suitable efforts, and especially with the aid of God's grace, much may be done to cultivate and improve them.

With these preliminary remarks, I proceed to give some rules for the cultivation of the affections.

1. CHECK THE FIRST RISINGS OF ILL-TEMPER. The smith, who makes an edged tool—an axe, a knife, or any such instrument—first works the iron and steel into the form which he wishes, and then tempers it. While he is working it, he wants to keep it soft, so that he can work it easy; and this he does by keeping it hot. But after he gets it finished, he heats it in the fire, and dips it in water, so as to cool it suddenly, and that makes it hard. But, if he left it so, it would be so hard that it would break all to pieces as soon as it was used. So he holds it again over the fire, and heats it a little, to take out a part of the temper, and make it just of the hardness that he wishes. An instrument that is very hard is called high-tempered; one that is very soft is low-tempered. This is a good illustration of temper as it appears in us. A high temper is one that is easily excited, and that runs so high as to be in danger of doing great mischief. A low temper is a disposition easy and indifferent, like a knife tempered so little that the edge will turn the first time it is used. Now you need temper enough not to be indifferent, but not so much as to fly all in pieces. And I know nothing on which your usefulness and happiness more depend, than in the proper regulation of your temper; and not your own happiness alone, but the happiness of all around you.

One of the first and greatest moral lessons is, to learn to control your temper. "He that is slow to anger," says Solomon, "is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit, than he that takes a city." But, "He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls." By indulging an ungoverned temper, you expose yourself to many evils. You show the weak points of your character, and lose the good opinion of others, and your own self-respect. You cannot help being ashamed of yourself after having broken out in a sudden gust of anger, or given indulgence to a peevish, fretful spirit. To be ill-humored, peevish, or cross, is to be unhappy, and to make others unhappy.

But a sweet temper will not only make you happy, but, like the balmy breezes of a summer evening, it will shed a sweet fragrance all around you. Nothing will render your character more unlovely than ill-temper. Nor, if habitually indulged at home, can it be concealed even from the most careless observer. You will carry the mark of it wherever you go. There will be the ill-natured scowl, the knit brow, the distorted features, which no sweet-scented soap can wash out, and no cosmetic hide. It will spoil the most elegant features, and mar the most beautiful countenance. But a sweet temper will hide a thousand defects, and render the most ordinary features beautiful and lovely. I do not know anything that adds a greater charm to the youthful countenance. But, if you would have a sweet temper, you must suppress every ill-natured feeling; never allow yourself to be angry at trifles, nor get into a storm of passion on any account: neither indulge a peevish, fretful disposition; but, on the contrary, cultivate and cherish good-nature, in every possible way.

Strive to be pleased with everything around you, unless it is positively bad or sinful; and never allow the ill-humors of others to disturb your own tranquility. The noisy cataract comes splashing its muddy waters over the side of the mountain, leaping from rock to rock, now shouting, now murmuring, now scolding, now rushing on in the wildest fury, until it plunges into the great river. But the river rolls quietly on its majestic way, undisturbed by the babbling waterfall, which only makes a momentary ripple upon the surface of its placid waters. But, suppose the river should stop its course, to quarrel with the noisy waterfall, what would be the consequence? The whole country would be inundated with the fury of its pent-up waters. You cannot afford to get angry with everyone that is disposed to treat you ill. It costs too much. Did you ever see a dog barking at the moon? And what did the moon do? It went right straight on, and minded nothing about it. The moon can't afford to stop and quarrel with the dog that barks at it.

"I know it is very foolish to be angry," perhaps you will say; "but how can I help it? I am suddenly provoked, and fall into a passion before I have time to think of it." The best remedy I can recommend is, that you make it a rule never to be angry until you have had time to consider whether you have anything to be angry about. And, in making inquiry, do not ask whether the conduct that provoked you was bad; but, in the first place, try if you cannot find some apology for it, or some palliation. And, second, whether, admitting it to be as bad as it seems, it is really worth so great a sacrifice of feeling, on your part, as you will have to make, if you indulge your passions. And, among other considerations, ask yourself how this thing will appear a hundred years hence, when both yourself and the person who has provoked you, will be in eternity—"If I indulge my passions in this thing, shall I then be able to look back upon it with pleasure?" Some such reflections as these will tend greatly to cool your anger; and most likely, before you have thought upon the matter many minutes, you will conclude that it is not worth while to be angry.

So likewise, if you are given to fretfulness and ill-humor, consider whether there is any sufficient cause why you should thus make yourself miserable? And you will probably find that all your trouble is imaginary. Remember that everything that concerns you is ordered by the providence of God; and think how much cause of thankfulness you have, every day, for his goodness. And what has he done that you should fret against him? He has perhaps allowed your will to be crossed; but he has done it for your good. Think, also, how this will appear a hundred years hence? "How will my fretfulness appear, when I look back upon it, from another world?" And if there were no sin in it, is there not much folly?—for "why should I make myself miserable?"

2. NEVER GIVE THE LEAST INDULGENCE TO A JEALOUS OR ENVIOUS SPIRIT. To be jealous, is to suspect others of being unfriendly to us, or of a design to injure us. To be envious, is to be displeased with the prosperity of others, especially if they are likely to excel us. The effect of these two passions upon the disposition is very similar.

If you are JEALOUS of any person, you will be always looking for some evil design in his conduct; and your imagination will conjure up a thousand things that never had any existence, except in your own mind. This passion, habitually indulged, very often settles down into a kind of partial insanity. I have known people, whose imaginings, through the influence of jealousy, became realities to their minds, and they would roundly assert as facts, the things that they had imagined respecting others. Such people are perpetually in trouble, because they fancy some one is plotting against them. Your own comfort, therefore, depends on your suppressing the first motions of this evil affection. While you should be on your guard against imposition, and never confide implicitly in strangers, nor put yourself in the power of anyone whose character has not been proved; yet you should presume others to be friendly until they show themselves otherwise, and always give their conduct the best construction it will bear.

Let me give you an example. There is Laura Williams—she is always in trouble, for fear some one does not like her. If any of her companions seem to take more notice of some other one than of herself, she begins to be jealous that their professions of friendship are not real. And if anyone happens not to notice her at once, she considers it a slight; and so her feelings are perpetually disturbed. She is never happy. Sometimes she will weep, as if her heart would break, for some imagined slight; when, in reality, she has no occasion for trouble, and might just as well laugh as cry. She will be unhappy as long as she lives, and perhaps crazy before she dies, if she does not overcome this passion.

ENVY is a more depraved passion than jealousy; but the effect upon the character is nearly similar. You will find a melancholy illustration of the nature and effects of envy, in the story of Haman, in the Book of Esther. Though exalted to the second place in the kingdom, he could not enjoy his elevation, so long as Mordecai the Jew sat in the king's gate. He could endure no rival.

But you will find examples enough of this passion among your own companions. There are those that cannot bear a rival; and if any of their companions excel themselves, they hate them. But consider how base and ignoble such a feeling is. A truly generous spirit will rejoice in whatever is excellent—will love excellence wherever it appears; but an envious and selfish spirit would monopolize everything to itself, and be offended, if excelled by others. Every noble sentiment revolts at the spirit of envy; so that this base passion always defeats itself. The envious person would be exalted above all—but envy debases him below all, and renders him despicable and miserable!

3. ACQUIRE THE HABIT OF REGARDING EVERYONE WITH FEELINGS OF GOOD-WILL. There are some people, who accustom themselves to look upon others with a critical eye, and seem to take pleasure in detecting and exposing their failings. This leads to misanthropy; it makes people ill-natured. It leads them to look upon almost everyone as an object of aversion. If this disposition begins in early life, and continues to be cultivated, it will grow and increase, until it settles at last into a sour, morose, malignant temper, that can never look with pleasure or satisfaction upon any human being.

Instead of indulging such a temper, you should look with feelings of good-will upon everyone. Do not regard others with a fault-finding critical eye. If they are not incorrigibly bad, so as to render them dangerous associates, overlook their faults, and study to find out some redeeming qualities. Consider that they belong to the same great family—that they are as good by nature as yourself—that they have immortal souls, to be saved or lost. Try what excuses or apologies you can find for their faults in the circumstances in which they have been bred. And though you may not see fit to make choice of them as your friends, yet feel kindly towards them. But especially, do not forget that you are not faultless yourself. This will exert a softening influence upon your own character; and you will find yourself much more happy in studying the good qualities of others, and exercising feelings of charity and good-will toward them, than you will in criticizing and finding fault. The one course will make you amiable and happy—the other, unlovely and miserable.

4. GIVE FREE INDULGENCE TO EVERY NOBLE AND GENEROUS SENTIMENT. Rejoice when you see others prosperous. Why should you be unhappy, that another is more prosperous than yourself, if you are not injured by it? If you love your neighbor as yourself, his prosperity will be as grateful to you as your own. Rejoice, also, in the excellence of others. A truly noble heart loves excellence for excellence's sake. A generous heart is forgetful of self; and when it sees excellence, it is drawn toward it in love. It would scorn to put 'little self' between it and a worthy object.

This disposition should also be carried out in action. A generous and noble spirit will not always be contending for its own rights. It will yield rather than contend. Contention, among companions and associates, for each other's rights, is a source of great unhappiness; and when it becomes habitual, as it sometimes does among brothers and sisters at home, it spoils the disposition. "That is mine," says one. "No," says the other, "it is not yours, it is mine." And without waiting quietly to look into the matter, and investigate the question of right, they fall into a sharp contention. The matter in question was a mere trifle. It was not worth the sacrifice of good-nature which it cost. How much better both would feel, to keep good-natured, and give each other the reasons for their claims; and if they cannot agree, for one or the other to yield! Or, rather, how much more noble, if the contention would be—which shall be allowed the privilege of yielding! There is more pleasure in one act of generosity, than in all that can be enjoyed by selfish possession; and nothing will render you more lovely in the eyes of others than a noble and generous disposition.

5. BE GENTLE. Gentleness is opposed to all severity and roughness of manners. It diffuses a mild, soft, amiable spirit through all the behavior. It has much to do with the cultivation of the affections. Where this is lacking, none of the amiable affections will flourish. A gentle spirit will show itself in a gentle behavior, and a gentle behavior will react upon the spirit, and promote the growth of all the mild and amiable affections. You can distinguish the gentle by the motion of the head, or the sound of their footsteps. Their movements are quiet and noiseless. There is a charm in their behavior which operates to secure for them the good opinion of all.

6. BE KIND. Every kind act that is performed increases the kind feelings of the heart. If you treat your brothers and sisters kindly, you will feel more kindly toward them; while, if you treat them with harshness and severity, or ill-treat them in any manner, it will seal up your affections toward them, and you will be more inclined to treat them with coolness and indifference. If you are habitually kind to everyone, embracing every opportunity in your power to perform some office of kindness to others, you will find your good-will toward all increasing. You will be universally beloved, and everyone will be kind to you. See that little girl! She has run back to assist her little brother, who has lost his shoe in the mud. How kindly she speaks to him, to soothe his feelings and wipe his tears! Some sisters that I have seen would have been impatient of the delay, and scolded him in a cross and angry manner for the trouble he made. But with a heart full of sympathy, she forgets herself, and is intent only on helping him out of trouble, and quieting his grief. But she has hardly got under way again, before she meets a little girl, who has just fallen down and spilled her berries, crying over her loss. Without once thinking of the trouble it would give her, she speaks kindly to the little girl, helps her pick up the lost fruit, and then assists her to pick enough more to make up her loss. Everywhere she is just so, always glad of an opportunity to show kindness to everyone she meets. And she gets her pay as she goes along. The happiness she feels, in thus being able to contribute to the comfort of others, is far beyond anything she could receive from mere selfish enjoyment. And, in addition to this, she gets the good-will of others, which makes them kind to her in return.

7. KEEP SELF OUT OF VIEW, AND SHOW AN INTEREST IN THE AFFAIRS OF OTHERS. This will not only interest others in you, but it will tend to stifle selfishness in your own heart, and to cultivate unselfish feeling. Sympathize with others; enter into their feelings; and endeavor, in heart and feeling, to make their interest your own; so that there may be a soil for unselfish feeling to grow in. If you see others enjoying themselves, rejoice with them. Make the case your own, and be glad that they have occasion to rejoice. "Rejoice with those who rejoice." If you have truly benevolent feelings, it will certainly be an occasion of joy to you to see them prosperous and happy, whoever they are. On the other hand, sympathize with misery and distress. "Weep with those who weep." Wherever you see misery, let it affect your heart. And never fail, if it is in your power, to offer relief. And, often, you can afford the best relief to those of your own age—your companions, but especially your inferiors—by showing that you are affected with their troubles, that you sympathize with them. Cultivate the habit of feeling for others. When you see or read of the sufferings of the poor, when you read of the condition of the heathen, who know not the way of salvation, let your sympathies flow forth toward them. Learn to feel for others' woe, and it will improve your own heart. But, besides this, you will find yourself rewarded with the affections of others.

Thus I have given you a few brief hints, to show how the affections may be cultivated. I must leave you to apply them in practice to every-day life, and to carry out the principle, in its application to all the circumstances in which you may be placed; which principle is, as much as possible, to repress and refrain from exercising every bad feeling or affection, and to cherish and cultivate the good, bringing them into exercise on every fit occasion, that they may grow into habits.

You will see, by what I have said under the various heads of this chapter, that the idea of educating the heart is no mere figure of speech, but a reality, of great importance to your character and well-being through life. Your parents and teachers will, of course, pay attention to this matter; but they cannot succeed in it without your cooperation. And with you it must be an every-day work. You must carry it out in all your conduct and feelings, and seek the grace of God to aid you in so difficult a work. Without an educated heart, you will never make a gentleman. The fine feelings and good tempers which I have described are indispensable to good breeding. You cannot have polished manners with a rough heart. You may put on the gentleman; but it will appear out of place. You cannot change the nature of a pig. You may wash him over and over again, and make him ever so clean; you may even dress him up in white linen garments—but he will immediately return to his wallowing in the mire.