The Building of Character

J. R. Miller, 1894, Philadelphia

The Building of Character

The building of character is the most important business of life. It matters little what works a man may leave in the world; his real success is measured by what he has wrought along the years in his own being.

True character must be built after divine patterns. Every man's life is a plan of God. There is a divine purpose concerning it which we should realize. In the Scriptures we find the patterns for all the parts of the character, not only for its great and prominent elements—but also for its most minute features—the delicate lines and shadings of its ornamentation. The commandments, the beatitudes, all Christ's precepts, the ethical teachings of the apostles—all show us the pattern after which we are to fashion our character.

It is a great thing for us to have a lofty thought of life, and ever to seek to reach it. Said Michael Angelo: "Nothing makes the soul so pure, so religious, as the endeavor to create something perfect; for God is perfection, and whoever strives for it, strives for something that is godlike." The seeking itself, makes us nobler, holier, purer, stronger. We grow ever toward that for which we long. Many searches are unrewarded. Men seek for gold—and do not find it. They try to attain happiness—but the vision ever recedes as they press toward it. The quest for true nobleness, is one that is rewarded. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness—for they shall be filled," is our Lord's own word. Longing for spiritual good shall never be in vain. And unceasing longing, with earnest reaching after the good, lifts the life into the permanent realization of that which is thus persistently sought.

There are certain things essential in all building. Every structure requires a good foundation. Without this, it never can rise into real strength and grandeur. The most beautiful building reared on sand, is insecure and must fall. There is only one foundation for Christian character. We must build on the rock; that is, we must have, as the basis of our character, great, eternal principles.

One of these principles is TRUTH. Ruskin tells us, that in a famous Italian cathedral there are a number of colossal figures high up among the heavy timbers, which support the roof. From the pavement, these statues have appearance of great beauty. Curious to examine them—Ruskin says he climbed one day to the roof, and stood close beside them. Bitter was his disappointment to find that only the parts of the figures which could be seen from the pavement were carefully finished. The hidden side was rough and unfinished.

It is not enough to make our lives true—only so far as men can see them. We have but scorn for men who profess truth, and then in their secret life—harbor falsehood, deception, insincerity. There must be truth through and through, in the really noble and worthy building. A little flaw, made by a bubble of air in the casting, has been the cause of the breaking of the great beam years afterward, and the falling of the immense bridge whose weight rested upon it. Truth must be in the character—absolute truth. The least falsehood mars the beauty of the life.

Another of these essential principles is PURITY. "Whatever things are pure," says the apostle, in the same breath with whatever things are true, and just, and honorable. It is a principle of Scripture, that a man who lives badly, can never build up a really beautiful character. Only he who has a pure heart can see God, to know what life's ideal is. Only he whose hands are clean, can build after the perfect pattern.

LOVE is another quality which must be wrought into this foundation. Love is the reverse of selfishness. It is the holding of all the life as Christ's—to be used to bless others. "So long as I have been here," said President Lincoln, after his second election, "I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man's bosom." That is one phase of love—never needlessly to give pain or do hurt to a fellow-being. The other part is the positive—to live to do the greatest good to every other being, whenever opportunity offers.

Truth, purity, love—these are the immutable principles which must be built into the foundation of the temple of character. We never can have a noble structure, without a strong and secure foundation.

On the foundation thus laid, the character must be build. No magnificent building ever grew up by miracle. Stone by stone it rose, each block laid in its place by toil and effort. "You cannot dream yourself into a godly character," says a writer; "you must hammer and forge yourself one." Even with the best foundation, there must be faithful, patient building unto the end.

Each one must build his own character. No one can do it for him. No one but yourself, can make your life beautiful. No one can be true, pure, honorable, and loving—for you. A mother's prayers and teachings, cannot give you strength of soul and grandeur of spirit. We are taught to edify one another, and we do, indeed, help to build up each other's life-temple. Consciously or unconsciously, we are continually leaving touches on the souls of others—touches of beauty—or of marring. In every book we read, the author lays something new on the wall of our life. Every hour's companionship with another gives either a touch of beauty—or a stain to our spirit. Every song that is sung in our ear—enters into our heart and becomes part of our being. Even the natural scenery amid which we dwell—leaves its impression upon us. Thus others, thus all things about us—do indeed have their place as builders of our character.

But we are ourselves the real builders. Others may lift the blocks into place—but we must lay them on the wall. Our own hands give the touches of beauty—or of blemish, whatever hands of others hold the brushes or mix the colors for us. If the building is marred or unsightly when it is finished—we cannot say it was some other one's fault. Others may have sinned—and the inheritance of the sin is yours. Others may have sorely wronged you—and the hurt yet stays in your life. You never can be the same in this world that you might have been, but for the wounding. You are not responsible for these marrings of your character which were wrought by others' hands. Still you are the builder—you and God.

Even the broken fragments of what seems a ruin—you can take, and with them, through God's grace, you can make a noble fabric. It is strange how many of earth's most beautiful lives, have grown up out of what seemed defeat and failure. Indeed, God seems to love to build spiritual loveliness out of the castaway fragments of lives, even out of sin's debris. In a great cathedral there is said to be a window, made by an apprentice out of the bits of stained glass that were thrown away as refuse and worthless waste, when the other windows were made—and this is the most beautiful window of all. You can build a noble character for yourself—in spite of all the hurts and injuries done to you, wittingly or unwittingly, by others—with the fragments of the broken hopes and joys, and the lost opportunities which lie strewn about your feet. No others by their worst work of hurt of marring—can prevent your building a beautiful character for yourself!

When the ancient temple of Solomon was reared, the whole world was sought through, and its most costly and beautiful things were gathered and put into the sacred house. Likewise, we should search everywhere for whatever things are true, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are pure—to build into our life. All that we can learn from books, from music, from art, from friends; all that we can gather from the Bible and receive from the hand of Christ himself—we should take and build into our character, to make it worthy. But in order to discover the things which are lovely, we must have the loveliness in our own soul. "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful," says one, "we must carry it in our own heart, or, go where we may, we shall not find it!" Only a pure, true, loving heart—can discover the things which are true, pure, and loving to build in the character. We must have Christ in us, and then we shall find Christly things everywhere, and gather them into our own life.

There are some people who, in the discouragement of defeat and failure—feel that it is then too late for them to make their character beautiful. They have lost their last opportunity, it seems to them. But this is never true, for the people for whom Christ died. A poet tells of walking in his garden and seeing a birds' nest lying on the ground. The storm had swept through the tree and ruined the nest. While he mused sadly over the wreck of the birds' home, he looked up, and there he saw them building a new one amid the branches. The birds teach us immortals a lesson. Though all seems lost, let us not sit down and weep in despair—but let us arise and begin to build again. No one can undo a wrong past. No one can repair the ruins of years that are gone. We cannot live our life over again. But, at our Father's feet—we can begin anew as little children, and make all our life new.

We may as well confess that it is not pleasant to be told of our faults. Poets and other writers tell us that he is our truest friend—who does not shrink from holding the mirror to our face. Nevertheless, we do not like it. As a rule, he who proves such a friend to another, finds himself a sinecure in his friendship thereafter. Even that may not be too great a price to pay, however, for the privilege of doing for one we love—a service which shall take from his life a sad blemish or a serious flaw!

No doubt there are faults in us which we ourselves do not see. Our eyes are so set in our heads that they look out—and not in. It is easier, therefore, for us to detect spots in others—than in ourselves. So it comes about, that in most of us, there are blemishes of which we are altogether unaware. The Bible speaks of sins of ignorance. So there are sins which we commit, of which we are not conscious. In one of the Psalms, there is a prayer to be cleansed from secret or hidden faults. So we have faults which are not seen by ourselves.

Then we all have in us many things, both good and bad, which our fellow-men cannot see—but of which we ourselves are aware. We cannot reveal ourselves perfectly, even to our own bosom companions. With no intention to hide anything, even desiring to live a perfectly open life, there will yet be many things in the inner depths of our being, which our nearest friends cannot discover. No one but ourselves, know the motives which actuate us. Sometimes neighbors praise our good deed—when we know well that the good was blurred by a self-seeking intent. Or others may criticize something we do, charging us with a wrong spirit—when we know in our heart, that it was true love which prompted it.

We are both better and worse than others think us to be! The BEST things in godly lives, do not flash their beauty before human eyes. None of us can ever show to others, all in us that is worthy. There are countless stars in the depths of the sky which no human eye ever sees. Human lives are deeper than the heavens in which the stars are set; and in the depths even of the most commonplace soul, there are more splendors unrevealed to human gaze, than are revealed. Who is there who says all the truth he tries to say, when he attempts to speak of or for his Master? What singer ever gets into his song all the music that is in his soul, when he sings? What painter ever transfers to his canvas all the loveliness of the vision which fills his heart? What Christian ever lives out all the loyalty to Christ, all the purity and holiness, all the gentleness and sweetness, all the unselfishness and helpfulness, all the grace and beauty—which he longs to show in his life? Even in those who fail and fall in defeat, and whose lives are little but shame and sin—there are yet gleams of beauty, like the shattered fragments of a once very noble ideal. We do not know what strivings, what penitences, what efforts to do better, what tears of sorrow, what hungerings after God and heaven, there are in the heart even of the depraved, in whom the world, even nearest friends, see nothing beautiful. No doubt in every life, there is some good, which human eyes cannot see.

But there is EVIL, also, which our friends cannot detect—things no one suspects—but of which we ourselves are painfully aware. Many a man goes out in the morning to be loved and welcomed by his friends, and praised and honored by the world—yet carrying in his own breast the memory of some deed of sin or shame committed in secret the night before! "If people only knew me," he says, "as I know myself—they would scorn me instead of trusting me and honoring me." All of us are conscious of miserable things hidden within us—secret evil habits wrought into life, the play of unholy thoughts and feelings, the rising up of ugly passions and tempers, the movements of pride, vanity, self-conceit, envy, jealousy, doubt, which do not reveal themselves to any other eye. There are evils in everyone, of which the person himself knows—but which others do not even suspect.

But there also are FAULTS, unlovely things and sins in our hearts, of which we ourselves are unaware. There is an eye which pierces deeper than our own into our souls. In one place Paul says, "I know nothing against myself: yet am I not hereby justified; but he who judges me is the Lord." It is not enough to be innocent of conscious transgression; there are sins of ignorance. Only God sees us through and through. We must live for his inspection and approval.

We cannot see our own FAULTS—even as our neighbors see them. The Pharisee in his prayer, which really was not a prayer at all, spoke much of other people's sins—but saw none in himself. We are all much like him. We are prejudiced in our own favor. We are very charitable and tolerant toward our own shortcomings. We make all manner of allowance for our own faults, and are wonderfully patient with our own infirmities. We see our good things magnified; and our blemishes in a light which makes them seem almost virtues. So true is this, that if we were to meet ourself some day on the street—the self which God sees, even the self which our neighbor sees—we probably would not recognize it, as really ourself. Our own judgment of our life, is not unmistakable. There is a self which we do not see.

Then we cannot see into the FUTURE, to know where the secret tendencies of our life are leading us. We do many things which to our eyes appear innocent and harmless—but which have in them a hidden evil we cannot see. We indulge ourselves in many things which to us do not appear sinful—but which leave on our soul a touch of blight, a soiling of purity—of which we do not dream. We permit ourselves many little habits in which we see no danger—but which are silently entwining their invisible threads into a strong cable, which some day shall bind us hand and foot. We omit self-denials and sacrifices, thinking there is no reason why we should make them, unaware that we are lowering our standard of living, and permitting the subtle beginnings of self-indulgence to creep into our heart.

There is another class of hidden faults. Sin is deceitful. No doubt there are many things in most of us—ways of living, traits of character, qualities of disposition—which we consider, perhaps, among our strong points, or at least fair and commendable things in us—which in God's eye are not only flaws and blemishes—but sins! Good and evil in certain qualities—do not lie very far apart. It is quite easy for devotion to principle—to shade off into obstinacy. It is easy for self-respect, consciousness of ability—to pass over into miserable anger, when the truth is, he is only giving way to very bad temper. It is easy to let gentleness become weakness, and tolerance toward sinners tolerance toward sin. It is easy for us to become very selfish in many phases of our conduct—while in general we are really quite unselfish.

For example: A man may be giving his life to the good of his fellows in the larger sense, while in his own home he is utterly regardless of the comfort and convenience of those nearest to him. Outside the home—he is polite, thoughtful, kindly; within the home—he cares not how much trouble he causes, exacting and demanding attention and service, and playing the petty tyrant, instead of the large-hearted, generous Christian. Who of us does not have secret blemishes—lying alongside his most shining virtues? We do not see them in ourselves. We see the faults cropping out in our neighbor, and we say, "What a pity, that so fine a character is so marred!" And our neighbor looks at us and says, "What a pity that with so much that is good—he has so many marring faults!" Sin is deceitful.

The substance of all that has been said is, that besides the faults our neighbors see in us, besides those our closest friends see, besides those of which we ourselves are aware—all of us have undiscovered errors in our life—hidden, secret faults, of which only God knows.

If we are living truly, we want to find every flaw or blemish there is in us—of whatever kind. He is a coward who shrinks from the discovery of his own faults. We should be glad always to learn of any hidden unloveliness in ourselves. Someone says, "Count yourself richer that day in which you discover a new fault in yourself—not richer because it is there—but richer because it is no longer a hidden fault; and if you have not yet found all your faults, pray to have them revealed to you, even if the revelation must come in a way which hurts your pride."

It is dangerous to allow any faults, however small—to stay in our life; but hidden faults are even more perilous, than those of which we are aware. They are concealed enemies, traitors in the camp, unrecognized, passing for friends! No good, true, and brave man—will allow a discovered sin of fault to stay unchallenged in his life. But undiscovered sin lurks and nests in a man's heart, and breeds its deadly evil in his very soul. Before he is aware of its presence, it may eat out the heart of his manhood, and poison the very springs of his being.

Hidden faults, remaining undiscovered and uncured in us—will hinder our spiritual growth, and we shall not know the reason for our moral weakness, or lack of power. They will also defeat the working out of the divine plan in our life. When Canove, the great sculptor, was about to begin work upon his statue of Napoleon, it is said that his keen eye saw a tiny red line running through the upper part of the splendid block of marble, out of which he was to carve the statue. The stone had been brought at great expense from Paris for this express purpose. Common eyes saw no flaw in it—but the sculptor saw it, and would not use the marble.

May it not be so ofttimes, with lives which face great opportunities? God's eye sees in them some undiscovered flaw or fault, some tiny line of marring color. God desires truth in the inward parts. The life which pleases him must be pure and white throughout. He who clings to discovered faults, refusing to cast them out—or he who refuses to let the candle of the Lord search out the hidden faults in him, that he may put them away—is marring his own destiny. God will not use him for the larger, nobler task or trust—for which he had planned to use him. The tiny red line running through the marble, causes it to be set aside and rejected. What shall we do? God alone can know our hidden faults. We must ask him to search our hearts and try our ways—and to cleanse our lives of whatever evil thing he finds in us. Our prayer should be—"Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from hidden faults." "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." Psalm 139:23-24

Life's second chance

If we had but one chance in life, it would fare badly with most of us. We do scarcely anything perfectly, the first time we try to do it. Nearly always do we fail. Not many lives are lived beautifully, without a break or a lapse, from childhood to old age. If, therefore, the opportunity of choosing good came to us only once, and was then forever withdrawn, few of us would make anything of our life. We are in the habit of saying that opportunities never come twice to us.

This is true—but it is not the whole truth. No single opportunity comes twice—but other opportunities come. Though we have failed once, that is not the end. The past is irrevocable; but while there is even the smallest margin of life remaining, there is yet another chance.

Jeremiah tells us of visiting a potter's house, and watching the potter as he wrought on the wheels. His work was marred in his hands in some way. But instead of throwing it away, he made it into another vessel. The second vessel was not so beautiful as the one the potter first intended to make—but it was useful. The clay had a second chance.

The prophet's parable had its first meaning for his own people—but its lesson is for all time. For one thing, it tells us that God has a plan for every life. The potter has a pattern after which he intends to fashion his vessel. For every human life there is a divine pattern, something which God means it to become. This first thought of God for our lives is the very best thing possible for them.

We learn, again, from this ancient acted parable—that our lives may be marred in the living, so that they shall never attain God's beautiful ideal for them. There is a difference, however, between a lump of clay and a human life. The marring of the clay may be the potter's fault, or it may be the result of an accident; at least, it cannot be the fault of the clay itself. If a misshapen jar or bowl comes into your hands, you would not say, "what a careless piece of clay it was—which made itself into this irregular form!" Rather you would say, "What a careless potter it was—who spoiled this vessel, when he had the soft clay in his hands!" But when a life is marred, and fails of the beauty and nobleness which it was designed to have—you can not blame God. You cannot say, "I was clay on the wheel, and the great Potter gave the wrong touch, and spoiled the loveliness that ought to have been wrought in my life." You are not clay—but a human soul. You have a will, and God does not shape you as the potter molds his plastic clay. He works through your own will, and you can resist him, and can defeat his purpose for your life, and spoil the noble design into which he would fashion you. The blotches in this fair world—are all the sad work of human hands, never of God's hands.

But this is not all of the lesson. The potter took the clay again when the vessel he meant to make was marred, and with it made another vessel. The second could not be so fine nor so large as the first would have been, because of the marring. Yet it was better that there should be an inferior vessel made—than that the clay should be thrown away. It is thus that God deals with human souls. He does not cast off the life which has failed of its first and best possibilities. Even in the ruins of a soul—there are divine elements, and so long as a little fragment remains, God wants to give it still another chance.

It is said that one day Carlyle suddenly stopped at a street crossing, and, stooping down, picked up something out of the mud, even at the risk of being knocked down and run over by passing vehicles. With his bare hands he gently rubbed the mud off this thing which he had picked up, holding it as carefully and touching it as gently as if it had be something of great value. He took it to the pavement and laid it down on a clean spot on the curbstone. "That," said the old man, in a tone of sweetness he rarely used, "is only a crust of bread. Yet I was taught by my mother never to waste anything. I am sure that the little sparrows, or a hungry dog, will get nourishment form this bit of bread."

This is a suggestion of the way God looks upon a human life which bears his image. The merest fragment of life he regards as sacred. So long as there is the least trace of divine possibility in a human soul, he is ready to make something out of it, to take it out of the mire and give it another chance. "The vessel that he made was marred in the hands of the potter; so he made it again—another vessel."

In Florence, one of the treasures of are admired by thousands of visitors is Michael Angelo's representation in marble of the young David. The shepherd boy stands with firm foothold, the stone grasped tightly in his right hand, ready to be sped on its holy errand. When the statue was unveiled, three hundred and fifty years ago, it caused an unparalleled sensation among all lovers of art. It is, indeed, a marvelous piece of sculpture.

But the strangely winning thing—is the story of that statue is, that it was the stone's second chance. A sculptor began work on a noble piece of marble—but, lacking skill he only hacked and marred the block. It was then abandoned as spoiled and worthless, and cast aside. For years it lay in a back yard, soiled and blackened, half hidden among the rubbish. At last Angelo saw it, and at once perceived its possibilities. Under his skillful hand, the stone was cut into the fair and marvelous beauty which appears in the statue of David. Yet it is said, that the completed work is not quite perfect; that because of the first cutting of the stone—the final result is marred.

This is another form of the parable of the potter. From a spoiled and castaway block—was hewn this splendid work of art. Though a life has been spoiled by unskillful hands, so that it seems as if all were lost, there is one, the great Sculptor, who can take the marred, disfigured block, now lying soiled amid the world's rubbish—and from it carve yet a marvel of beauty—if not all that it might once have been, at least a very beautiful character.

There is a little poem that tells of a bird with a broken wing which one found in a woodland meadow:

"I healed it's wound, and each morning
It sang its old sweet strain;
But the bird with the broken pinion
Never soared as high again.

I found a young life broken
By sin's seductive art;
And, touched with a childlike pity,
I took him to my heart.

He lived with a noble purpose,
And struggled not in vain;
But the life that sin had stricken
Never soared as high again.

Yet the bird with the broken pinion
Kept another from the snare;
And the life that sin had stricken
Raised another from despair."

This little poem teaches two lessons. One is, that the second chance is not so good as the first. The bird with the broken wing never soared as high again as it had soared before. The young life which sin had broken—but which grace had healed, never was quite so beautiful again as before it was stricken, never soared so high in its flight as it would have done—if sin had not hurt it.

There is an impression among some people—that a man is a better man after having tasted sin, after knowing evil by experience —and then repenting, being forgiven, and restored. This is a mistaken impression. Innocence is far better than despair; but a life is never so beautiful after sin's fires have swept over it—as it would have been if it had been kept untarnished, and had realized God's ideal for it. The bird with the broken pinion, never soared so high again. There are some things we never get over. The wounds may be healed—but the scars remain. There are some losses we can never get back. Esau wept bitterly over the losing of his birthright—but wept in vain; he never could get again what he had profanely bartered off for a trifle. Lost innocence never can be restored!

The other lesson which the poem teaches is the same we have found already in the parable of the potter. The bird with the broken pinion was not useless; it kept another bird form the snare. Through its own hurt it had gotten a power of helpfulness which it never could have had without its experience of wounding and marring. The same is true of human lives, which have failed and have fallen into sin.

"The life that sin had stricken,
 Raised another form despair."

There is not doubt that there is a work possible to those who have been hurt in sin's battle and have been lifted up again, which they never could have done without the sad experience through which they have passed. John Gough never could have pleaded with such burning eloquence for temperance, as he did for so many years—if he had never himself known from experience, the terrible bitterness of the curse of strong drink. His own life was marred by the dissipation which marked his earlier years, and which dragged him down into debasement; and he could never win the nobleness and beauty which would have been possible to him—if he had never so failed and sinned against himself. But he took his second chance when the first was lost forever—and grew into great strength of character and into abounding usefulness. It is even doubtful if he would ever have made so much of his life—had it not been for the losing of its first chance, and the imperiling of all, which wrought afterward in him as such mighty motives, impelling him to such heroic life and such noble service for his fellow-men.

The lesson is plain. It is for all of us. It is not for one great experience alone—but has its perpetual application; for we are continually missing the things which are the first and the very best in life's opportunities. It is sad that we do this, and we should rigidly train ourselves to make the most we can of every opportunity in life which comes to us. But when we have failed, we should not spend a moment in regret; for regret is vain and useless, and only helps to eat away the strength that remains. We should turn instantly and with resistless energy to the saving of what is left! There is always another chance—even down to the life's last moment in this world!

Getting Help from Criticism

Perfection in life and character, should be the aim of every Christian. Our prayer should ever be, to be fashioned into spotless beauty. No matter what the cost may be, we should never shrink from anything which will teach us a new lesson, or put a new touch of loveliness into our character.

We get our lessons from many teachers. We read in books, fair lines which set holy tasks of attainment for us. We see in other lives, lovely things which inspire in us noble longings. We learn by experience, and we grow by exercise. We may get many a lesson, too, from those among whom we live. People ought to be a means of grace to us. Mere contact of life with life—is refining and stimulating. "Iron sharpens iron—so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."

The world is not always friendly to us. It is not disposed always to pat us on the back, or to pet and praise us. One of the first things a young man learns, when he pushes out from his own home, where everybody dotes on him—is that he must submit to criticism and opposition. Not all he does receives commendation. But this very condition is healthful. Our growth is much more wholesome in such an atmosphere, than where we have only adulation and praise.

We ought to get profit from criticism. Two pairs of eyes should see more than one. None of us have all the wisdom there is in the world. However wise any of us may be, there are others who know some things better than we know them, and who can make valuable and helpful suggestions to us—at least concerning some points of our work. The shoemaker never could have painted the picture—but he could criticize the buckle when he stood before the canvas which the great artist had covered with his noble creations; and the artist was wise enough to welcome the criticism and quickly amend his picture, to make it correct. Of course the shoemaker knows more about shoes, and the tailor or the dressmaker more about clothes, and the furniture-maker more about furniture, than the artist does. The criticisms of these artisans on the things in their own special lines, ought to be of great value to the artist, and he would be a very foolish painter who would sneer at their suggestions and refuse to profit by them.

The same is true in other things besides are. No one's knowledge is really universal. None of us know more than a few fragments of the great mass of knowledge. There are some things somebody else knows better than you do, however wide your range of learning may be. There are very humble people who could give you suggestions well worth taking on certain matters concerning which they have more correct knowledge than you have. If you wish to make your work perfect you most condescend to take hints and information from anyone and everyone who may be ready to give it to you.

It is true, also, that others can see faults and imperfections in us—which we ourselves cannot see. We are too closely identified with our own life and work to be unprejudiced observers or just critics. We can never make the most and the best of our life, if we refuse to be taught by other than ourselves. A really self-made man is very poorly made, because he is the product of only one man's thought. The strong things in his own individuality are likely to be emphasized to such a degree that they become idiosyncrasies, while on other sides his character is left defective. The best-made man is the one who in his formative years has the benefit of wholesome criticism. His life is developed on all sides. Faults are corrected. His nature is restrained at the points where the tendency is to overgrowth, while points of weakness are strengthened. We all need, not only as a part of our education, but in all our life and work—the corrective influence of the opinions and suggestions of others.

But in order to get profit from criticism, we must relate ourselves to it in a sympathetic and receptive way. We must be ready to hear and give hospitable thought to the things that others may say of us and of what we are doing. Some people are only hurt, never helped, by criticism, even when it is most sincere. They regard it always as unkindly—and meet it with a bitter feeling. They resent it, from whatever source it may come, and in whatever form—as something impertinent. They regard it as unfriendly, as a personal assault against which they must defend themselves. They seem to think of their own life as something fenced about by such sanctities, that no other person can with propriety offer even a suggestion concerning anything that is theirs, unless it is in the way of commendation. They have such opinions of the infallibility of their own judgment, and the flawless excellence of their own performance, that it seems never to occur to them as a possibility, that the judgment of others might add further wisdom, or point out anything better. So they utterly refuse to accept criticism, however kindly, or any suggestion which looks to anything different from what they have done.

We all know people of this kind. So long as others will compliment them on their work, they give respectful attention and are pleased; but the moment a criticism is made, however slight, or even the question whether something else would not be an improvement is asked, they are offended. They regard as an enemy anyone who even intimates disapproval; or who hints, however delicately, that this or that might be otherwise.

It is hard to maintain cordial relations of friendship with such people, for no one cares to be forbidden to express an opinion which is not an echo of another's. Not many people will take the trouble to keep a lock on the door of their lips all the while, for fear of offending a self-conceited friend. Subsequently, one who rejects and resents all criticism, cuts himself off from one of the best means of growth and improvement. He is no longer teachable, and, therefore, is no longer a learner. He would rather keep his faults, than be humbled by being told of them in order to have them corrected. So he pays no heed to what any person has to say about his work, and gets no benefit whatever from the opinions and judgments of others.

Such a spirit is very unwise. Infinitely better is it, that we keep ourselves always ready to receive instruction from every source. We are not making the most of our life—if we are not eager to do our best in whatever we do, and to make constant progress in our doings. In order to do this, we must continually be made aware of the imperfections of our performances, that we may correct them. No doubt it hurts our pride to be told of our faults—but we would better let the pain work amendment, than work resentment. Really, we ought to be thankful to anyone who shows us a blemish in our life, which we then can have removed. No friend is truer and kinder to us—than be who does this, for he helps us to grow into nobler and more beautiful character.

Of course there are different ways of pointing out a fault. One person does it bluntly and harshly, almost rudely. Another will find a way to make us aware of our faults without causing us any felling of humiliation. Doubtless it is more pleasant to have our correction come in this gentle way. It is also the more Christian way to give it. Great wisdom is required in those who would point out faults in others. They need deep love in their own heart, that they may truly seek the good of those in whom they detect the flaws or errors, and not criticize in a spirit of exultation. Too many take delight in discovering faults in other people and in pointing them out. Others do it only when they are in anger, blurting out their sharp criticisms in fits of bad temper. We should all seek to possess the spirit of Christ, who was most patient and gentle in telling his friends wherein they failed.

Harm is done ofttimes, by the lack of this spirit in those whose duty it is to teach others. Paul enjoins fathers not to provoke their children to anger, lest they be discouraged. There are parents who are continually telling their children of their faults, as if their whole existence were a dreary and impertinent mistake, and as if parents can fulfill their duty to their children only by continually nagging at them and scolding them.

Those who are anointed to train and teach the young, have a tremendous responsibility for the wise and loving exercise of the power that is theirs. We should never criticize or correct—but in love. If we find ourselves in anger or cherishing any bitter, unkind, or resentful feeling, as we are about to point out an error or a mistake in another person, or in the other's work—we would better be silent and not speak—until we can speak in love. Only when our heart is full of love, are we fit to judge another, or to tell him of his faults.

But while this is the Christian way for all who would make criticisms of others, it is true also, that however we learn of our faults, however ungentle and unsympathetic the person may be who makes us aware of them—we would better accept the correction in a humble, loving way and profit by it. Perhaps few of us hear the honest truth about ourselves until someone grows angry with us, and blurts it out in bitter words. It may be an enemy who says the severe thing about us—or it may be someone who is base and unworthy of respect; but whoever it may be, we would better ask whether there may not be some truth in the criticism, and if there is—then set ourselves to correct our deficiency. In whatever way we are made aware of a fault, we ought to be grateful for the fact; for the discovery gives us an opportunity to rise to a better, nobler life, or to a higher and finer achievement.

There are people whose criticisms are not such as can profit us. It is easy to find fault, even with the noblest work. Then there are those who are instinctive fault-finders, regarding it as their privilege, almost their duty—to give an opinion on every subject which comes before them—and to offer some criticism on every piece of work that they see. Their opinions, however, are usually valueless, and ofttimes it requires much patience to receive them graciously, without showing irritation. But even in such cases, when compelled to listen to unjust and harsh criticisms from those who know nothing whatever of the matters concerning which they speak so authoritatively, we would do well to receive all criticisms and suggestions in good temper and without impatience.

An interesting story of Michael Angelo is related, which illustrates the wise way of treating even ignorant, meddlesome, and impertinent criticism. When the artist's great statue of David was placed for the first time in the Plaza in Florence, all the people were hushed in wonder before its noble majesty—all except Soderinni. This man looked at the statue from different points of view with a wise, critical air, and then suggested that the nose was a little too long. The great sculptor listened quietly to the suggestion, and taking his chisel and mallet, he set a ladder against the stature, in order to reach the face, and climbed up, carrying a little marble dust in his hand. Then he seemed to be working carefully upon the objectionable feature, as if changing it to suit his critic's taste, letting the marble dust fall as he wrought. When he came down Soderinni again looked at the figure, now from this point of view and then from that, at last expressing entire approval. His suggestion had been accepted, as he supposed, and he was satisfied.

The story furnishes a good illustration of a great deal of fault-finding to which we must listen. It is unintelligent and valueless. But it cannot be restrained. There is not subject under heaven on which these wise people do not claim to have a right to express an opinion, and there is no work so perfect that they cannot point out where it is faulty and might be improved. They are awed by no greatness. Such criticisms are worthy only of contempt, and such critics do not deserve courteous attention. But it is better that we treat them with patience. It helps at least in our own self-discipline, and it is the nobler way.

This, then, is the lesson—that we should not resent criticism whether it be made in a kindly or in an unkindly way; that we should be eager and willing to learn form anyone, since even the humblest and most ignorant man knows something better than we do, and is able to be our teacher at some point; that the truth always should be welcomed—especially the truth about ourselves, that which affects our own life and work—however it may wound our pride and humble us, or however its manner of coming to us may hurt us; and that the moment we learn of anything that is not beautiful in us—we should seek its correction. Thus alone, can we ever reach the best things in character, or in achievement.

Fellow-workers with God

There are many things which God does, in which we can have no part. A child wished he could be a painter, that he might help God paint the clouds and skies and sunsets. God needs no help in this work. He wrought unhelped by creature-hand, in making the worlds. In providence, too, he has no fellow-worker. No one assists him in keeping the stars in their orbits, in sending rains and dews and summer sunshine. No one helps him paint the roses and the lilies.

But there are other things in which God permits us to be his co-workers. He calls us up close beside him to work with him, doing a part—while he does a part. A story is told of an artist who greatly desired to have a share in the decorating of a famous building. If he could not do it all, he asked that he might be permitted to paint one panel of one of the great doors. If this request could not be granted, he craved to be allowed at least to hold the brushes for the master who should do the work. If it was deemed to be such an honor and privilege to do even the smallest part on a building of only earthly glory, what an honor it is to work with Christ in the building of his great spiritual temple!

Yet this privilege is ours. We may not help God paint his clouds and sunsets—but we can put tints of immortal beauty upon human souls. In a certain sense we are fellow-workers with God in all the affairs of our lives. We often imagine we are doing certain fine things without God's help. But we are not. A man makes great inventions, constructs wonderful machines, harnesses steam and electricity, and says, "See what I have done!" But who puts into nature, the mysterious forces and energies which he has made available for practical use? In their inventions and discoveries, men only find the powers God stored away ages since. Men are only discoverers and adjusters. They run wires on poles, or lay cables in the sea; but the currents that flash through them carrying messages of business, commerce, joy, or sorrow—come from God's hidden reserves of energy. Men are working with God, and their part is small.

In spiritual life it is also true that we are fellow-workers with God. He calls us to stand beside him and do a part, while he does a part. When a mother, with great joy in her heart, takes her baby into her arms and looks into it face, God says to her, "Take this child, and nurse it for me." It is God's child. He wants it trained, its powers developed, so that when at length the man stands before his tasks he may not fail—but may do them well. Yet God gives into the mother's hand the duty of nursing the child for him, teaching it, putting into its heart gentle thoughts, wooing out the sweet love which sleeps there, and thus preparing the life for its place and work. Yet alone she cannot do anything. God and the mother are fellow-workers in the training of the life.

The teacher sits down with his class. The end of the teaching is, the bringing of the scholars to Christ, the building up in them of a Christian character, and the leading of them out into ways of usefulness and loving service. What is the teacher's part? He can make plain to his class the Word and will of God, and he can also represent Christ to them, showing them in his own life glimpses of the divine compassion, tenderness, yearning, truth, purity, and love. But he cannot himself do what needs to be done in their young lives; only God can do that. But God works through the teacher. God and he are fellow-workers.

So it is in all Christian work. We have our part. God has ordained that the heavenly treasure shall be put in earthen vessels. We must never forget, however, that we are not doing the work ourselves. Saddest of all things in Christian workers—is the losing out of the heart of the sense of dependence upon God, the leaving out of Christ, the feeling that they are doing the things alone. God will work through us—only when we humbly, in faith and love and self-renunciation, lay ourselves into his hands, that his life may flow through us into the lives we are seeking to bless.

We are the chisel, with which God carves his statues. Unquestionably we must do the work. Our hands must touch men's lives and beautify them. The mother, the teacher, the Christian friend—must carve and mold the life of the child into the beauty of the Lord. But the human worker is only the chisel. The sculptor needs his chisel—but the chisel can do nothing, produce no beauty, of itself. We must put ourselves into Christ's hand—that he may use us.

There is a hallowing influence in this thought that we are working beside God in what he is doing on immortal lives. Are we worthy to do it? Hawthorne, speaking of a block of marble and the possibilities of beauty which lie in it, waiting to be brought out, said that the stone assumed a sacred character, and that no man should dare touch it unless he felt within himself a consecration and priesthood. If this is true when it is only a block of marble that is to be wrought upon—how much more is it true of a human soul—a child's life, for example, laid in a mother's arms; any life laid in your hands or mine—we may free the angel which waits within it! It is a most sacred moment when a life is put before us—to be touched by us.

Suppose that the mother—suppose that you or I—should not do the holy work well, and the life should be marred, hurt, stunted, its beauty blurred, its purity stained, its development impaired, its power weakened; think of the sadness of the result. How sweet the mother must keep her own spirit—how gentle, how patient, how pure and true, while she is working with God in nursing her child for him! How heavenly must the teacher keep his temper, how quiet, how unselfish, how Christlike, when he is sitting beside the Master, working with him on the lives of the scholars! How softly we should all walk continually, with reverent, chastened, uplifted feeling and hallowed spirit, as we remember that we are fellow-workers with God!

There is here, also a strong impulse to faithfulness. The work we do for God and with God—we must do well. We are tempted to say, "My part is not important; it is so small. It cannot matter much to God whether I do it well or bad. He does not need my little part." But that is not true. Our least part is important. God needs our faithfulness. He needs the mother in training the child—needs the most conscientious, most painstaking, most beautiful work she can do. If her hand slacks even only for one day, doing its part carelessly, less than faithfully, there may be a blemish, a marring in the child's life, which shall reveal itself years hence. The completeness of the finished work depends always on our doing our best. We rob God if we are ever less than faithful.

There is special encouragement in this truth for those who feel unequal to the duty that the Master assigns to them. They see others who do beautiful things which bless and brighten the world—but it seems to them that all they can do is so commonplace, so homely, so full of blurring and fault—that it is not worth while for them to do it at all. But the clumsiest hands truly surrendered to God—may do work which is most beautiful in his sight.

Long ago, in quaint old Nuremberg, lived two boys, Albrecht Dzer and Franz Knigstein. Both wished to be artists, and both studied and worked with great earnestness. Albrecht had genius; but Franz had only love for art, without the power to put on canvas the beautiful visions which haunted him. Years passed, and they each planned to make an etching of the Lord's Passion. When the compared their work, that of Franz was cold and lifeless, while Albrecht's was filled with beauty and pathos. Then Franz saw it all, and knew that he could never be an artist. His heart was almost broken; but he said in a voice choked with tears, yet full of manly courage, "Franz, the good Lord gave me no such give as this of yours; but something, some homely duty, he has waiting somewhere for me to do. Yet now—you be artist of Nuremberg, and I"—

"Stay, Franz be still one moment," cried Albrecht, seizing his pencil. Franz supposed Albrecht was adding some finishing touches to his exquisite drawing, and waited patiently in his attitude of surrender, his hands folding together. With his swift pencil Albrecht drew a few lines and showed the sketch to his friend.

"Why, those are only my hands," said Franz. "Why did you draw them?"—"I took them" said Albrecht, "as you stood there making the sad surrender of your life so very bravely. I said to myself, 'Those hands that may never paint a picture can now most certainly make one.' I have faith in those folded hands, my brother-friend. They will go into men's hearts in the days to come."

Albrecht's words were true prophecy. Into the world of love and duty has gone the story so touching and helpful in its beautiful simplicity; and into the world of are has gone the picture—for Albrecht Dzer's famous "Folded Hands" is but a picture of the hands of Franz Knigstein as they were folded that day in sweet, brave resignation, when he gave up his heart's dearest wish, and yet believed that the Lord had some homely duty still worth his doing.

This charming story tells us that if we cannot do the beautiful things we see others doing for Christ, and which we long to do—we can at least do some lowly work for him. It teaches us, too, that self-surrender to God, though our heart's fondest hope is laid down—is, in God's sight, really the most beautiful thing we can do with our life. It teaches us also, that the hands which can do no brilliant thing for God, may yet become hands of benediction in the world. If we are truly fellow-workers with God, he can use whatever we have—that we really surrender to him. And ofttimes he can do more with our failures, than with our successes.

Not only are we fellow-workers with God—but also with each other. Sometimes we are tempted to be envious of others who are working by our side. They seem to overshadow us. It hurts us to hear them praised. It appears to us—as if they wronged us in some way, by drawing off some measure of attention from us, by obscuring our little work in the brilliance of their larger or more conspicuous achievement. It should cure us of all such miserable feelings, to remember that in God's perfect plan, each has his own particular part to do in the great whole. The work of our brother next to us is his—not ours. We could not do it—even if he were not in his place. The fact that he does his part well, and receives approval and commendation, will not detract from our commendation if we are faithful in our own place.

The work of no one is more than a fragment at the best. Nobody finishes anything in this world. The strongest, the most skillful, the longest-lived, only puts a few touches on something of God's. Perhaps he begins a piece of new work, and then leaves it for others to continue; or perhaps he enters into the labor of others who have come before him, carrying it on a little farther. One sows, another reaps—we are co-workers. Our work well done, will be all the more perfect if those who work with us do their part well; and no matter how others are praised, God's approval of us will depend upon our own faithfulness.

Our debt to others

The true standard of greatness—is service. It is not what our life is in gifts, in culture, in strength—but what we do with our life, which is the real test of character. Our Lord taught this truth when he said, "Whoever wants to become great among you—must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first—must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:43-45. It has been well said: "He only is great of heart—who floods the world with a great affection. He only is great of mind—who stirs the world with great thoughts. He only is great of will—who does something to shape the world to a great career. And he is greatest—who does the most of all these things and does them best." We are to hold all that is in us at the service of our fellow-men, in Christ's name.

Paul speaks of himself as debtor to everyone, Greek and barbarian, wise and foolish. It was love that he owed—the only kind of debt that he believed in. He said elsewhere, "Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another." Romans 13:8. Love is a debt which never can be altogether settled. You may pay it all off today—but tomorrow you will find it heavy as ever. It is a debt which everybody owes to everybody. Nor can it be paid off with any mere sentimental love. It cost Paul a great deal to settle his obligations and pay his debts to other men. There is a sort of philanthropic sentiment which some people have which does not cost them very much—an eloquent speech now and then in behalf of their pet cause, and perhaps an occasional contribution of money. But to pay his debts to men, Paul gave up all he had, and then gave himself up to service, suffering, and sacrifice to the very uttermost. True love always costs. We cannot save our own life—and pay the debts of love we owe. "Little children, we must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth." 1 John 3:18

We are in debt to everybody! It is not hard to recognize this indebtedness to the gentle, cultured, well-to-do Greeks. Anybody can love them and be kind to them, they are so beautiful and sweet. The trouble is with the barbarians. They are not of "our set;" they are not refined. They are crude and wicked; they are heathens. It is not so hard, either, to love them in a philanthropic way as heathens, far off and out of our sight, as it is in a close, personal, practical way, when they come to live next door to us, and when we must meet them every day. But the truth is, we are as really debtors to these barbarians as we are to the Greeks. Perhaps our debt to them is even greater, because they need us more.

It is well that we should get a very clear idea of our true relation as Christians, to all other people. We owe love to everyone—and love always serves. Serving is an essential quality of love. Love does not stand among people commanding attention and demanding to be ministered unto, exacting rights, honor, respect. Love seeks to give, to minister, to be of use, to do good to others. There are many people who want to have friends, meaning by friends pleasant people who will come into their comfort, who will advance their interests, who will flatter their vanity, who will make living easier for them. But that is not the way Christ would define friendship. He would put it just the other way. The true Christian desire is to be a friend to others, to do things for them, to minister to their comfort, to further their interests, to be a help and a blessing to them. That was Paul's thought when he said that he was a debtor to every man. He wanted to be everyone's ministering friend. When a man stood before him, Paul's heart yearned to do him good in some way, went out to him in loving thought, longed to impart to him some spiritual gift, to add to his comfort, happiness, or usefulness. It is thus, that we should relate ourselves to every human being who comes within our influence. To every person we meet we have an errand.

This does not mean that we should be officious and obtrusive in pressing our help upon those we meet. There is a story of one whose prayer was that he might be permitted to do a great deal of good without even knowing it. Love works most effectively when it works unconsciously, almost instinctively, inspired from within. That is the best service, which flows out of the heart and life—as light from the sun, as fragrance from a flower. Then it bestows its blessing or does its good unobtrusively. You friend does not come to you and say, "I want to cheer you up. I want to cure you of that bad habit. I want to give you more wisdom. I want to help you to be noble." If he came thus, announcing with flourish of trumpets his benevolent intention toward you, he would probably defeat his purpose. But he comes as your friend, with no program, no heralding of his desire; comes loving you, and bringing into your life the best that is in his own life, sincerely yearning in some way to be a help to you. Then virtue passes from him to you, and new happiness and blessing come to you from him—you know not how. You have new courage, new gladness, new inspiration. Sin then seems even more ignoble and unworthy, and holiness shines with brighter radiance. You are strengthened in your purpose to live worthily. You are more eager to make the most of your life. Thus love unconsciously, and without any definite plan, quickens and inspires another life to do its best. There is no other way of paying our debt of love to others, which is so Christlike as this. Love gives itself, its own very life, to become life to others.

"O Lord! That I could give my life for others,
With no ends of my own;
That I could pour myself into my brothers,
And live for them alone!"

The whole drift of Christian teaching and impulse is on the line of this lesson. Our Lord's definitions and illustrations of love all emphasize this quality of helpful serving. "Not to be ministered unto—but to minister," was the saying that epitomized the whole motive of his own blessed life. The good Samaritan was the Master's ideal of the working of love in human experience. When asked who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven, his reply was very plain and clear—he who serves the most fully and the most unselfishly.

Paul, who so wondrously caught the spirit of his Master, has many words which show varying phases of the truth that love's very essential quality is unselfish helpfulness, the carrying of the life with all its rich gifts and powers in such a way that it may be a blessing to every other life it touches. "Love seeks not its own." Love's thought and service—are for others. "You ought to help the weak." "We then that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." There are those who are weak in body, and must lean on the strength of others. We ofttimes see illustrations of this in homes where the invalid of the household draws the strength of all the family to his helping. But physical weakness is not the only weakness. There are those who are spiritually weak—feeble in purpose, broken by long sinning, until almost no strength remains in them, or enfeebled by sorrow. The law of love, that the strong should bear the infirmities of the weak, is quite as applicable in the sphere of life as in the case of physical weakness.

In these later days, men are doing wonderful things for those who are suffering from infirmities. They educate the blind, until the privation of blindness is almost blotted out. They teach the dumb to speak. They take imbeciles and the feeble-minded, and with almost infinite patience they find the soul, as it were, which lies hidden in the remote depths of the being, and call it out, ofttimes restoring to sanity and to usefulness, lives which seemed hopelessly imbecile. This is very beautiful. It is all the work of Christianity. Heathen civilization had no sympathy with weakness, and no patience with it. The sickly child, they said, would better die. The lame, the blind, the dumb, the insane, were simply cast out to perish. Christianity has filled the world with love. The other night four of the wisest physicians in a great city sat by a young child's crib through all the watches, doing all that science and skill could do to save the little one's life. It is Christianity, which has taught such lessons as this.

We need the same interest in the spiritual helping of those who are weak. Those who are strong should give of their strength to support and uphold the weak. Those have experience, should become guides to the inexperienced. Those who have been comforted, should carry comfort to those who are sorrowing. We are to be to others, what Jesus would be if he were in our place! The best that is in us, should ever be at the service of even the least worthy who stand before us, needing sympathy or help. If we have this feeling, we should look at no human life with disdain. It will put an end to all our miserable pride, to all our petty tyrannies and despotisms. Love will lead us to ask concerning everyone who passes before us, not, "What can I get from this man for my own gain? How can I make him serve me?" but rather, "What can I do to help this brother of mine, to add to his happiness, to relieve his trouble, to put him in the way of successful life, to comfort his sorrow, and to give him pleasure?"

If this were the habitual attitude of love, paradise would soon be restored. We live continually in the midst of great human needs, and everyone has something to give, something that would help a little, at least, in supplying these needs. If we have but our five barley loaves, and bring them to our Master for his blessing, we can go forth and with them feed thousands.

We need not fear that in giving out our paltry store, that we shall impoverish ourselves. No, it is by selfishly withholding our little that impoverishment will come to us. Had the woman refused to feed the hungry stranger at her gate, her meal and oil would have sufficed for only one little day for herself and her son. But she recognized her scanty supply; and, lo! it lasted for them both through all the time of the famine. If we use what we have for ourselves alone, it will waste and soon be done, and we shall starve. But if we pay our debt of love, and share our little, it will multiply, and will last unto the end.