Introductory Note:

While looking for a solid definition of character, I came across W.S. Bruce’s 1908 book The Formation of Christian Character. Besides a couple of other works, I could find no other information about Bruce, who I assume to have been a professor. It goes to show that there are buried gems of wisdom from saints of the past just waiting to be rediscovered.

Below is an excerpt from the book’s introduction in which Bruce outlines why “Christian” and “character” can’t be separated.

Brian Morykon

Our aim in this volume is definite and practical. We wish to describe the genesis and growth of Christian Character. It is highly desirable that we should know what are the specific features of the character which is rooted in Christ, and which is molded by His Holy Spirit. Nor can any study be more practical and useful than that which concerns itself with the organizing of endowments, impulses, and tastes into a character of robust strength and Christlike beauty.

Christian Character is the most interesting chapter in the modern science of Christian Ethics. But in books on this subject, as yet mainly written in Germany, it is treated in such a formal manner that its importance is not readily perceived. In this volume we shall endeavour to discuss the matter in a popular style; and we trust that the great usefulness of the subject may become patent to all our readers.

The title of the book is a protest against two opposite errors that have found currency in circles widely apart. There are, on the one hand, some very good people who emphasise the Christian,” and give little heed to the character.” Such people are exceedingly impatient of exhortations to duties, and of insistence on the virtues that are genial to a godly life. If only an earnest gospel be proclaimed, they maintain that the duties of the Christian life will spring spontaneously out of the soil of piety. Give us the warm, loving gospel of Jesus Christ, they say, and we can do without lectures on virtues and obligations.

To others, of a different type of mind, there appears to be little if any connection between the character and the Christian.” They believe that morality, may be sufficiently well practised without the inculcation of Christian truths, and even without any belief in them. Naturalism in ethics is fashionable in many quarters. There are loud voices to-day that say to us, Put away your Christian creeds; they are useless appendages to morals. The social machine will work smoothly without your Bibles and your Prayer-books. Morality is independent of the sanctions of religion. Character can easily thrive without Christianity.”

The title we have chosen for this volume indicates our belief that those two halves must be knit together into a logical whole in order to constitute the abiding strength of manhood. Without character the Christian is a moral weakling, a babe in Christ. 

He occupies only the lowest standard of. the school of grace. His place is in the infant room, not in the university. His food is milk, not strong meat.

The moralist who, from the other side, despises the aid of religion, throws away one of the best safeguards of his life. The Spirit of Jesus Christ helps Virtue to preserve her tranquil balance. The religion of Christ has a wonderful staying power. It makes a man kindlier, nobler, better, gives constancy to purpose and consistency to action. It fills the heart with love and the soul with peace. Some moralists, who have thrown religious beliefs overboard, have had in times of storm and stress to invent a makeshift for religion. We have only to go to France to find a philosophy that first forsook the worship of Christ, and then, with strange inconsistency, had to borrow the necessary sanctions and motives from what is called the religion of humanity.

This goes to prove that between the moral and religious elements in human life there is an essential and organic connection. The Christian man is man at his highest moral efficiency. He is the man with the richest ethical experience. Christian graces are the finest flowering of human virtue. When the Spirit of God begins to quicken and nourish the roots of piety, obligation becomes joyous service, and duty changes its name to de light. It gives to all virtuous activity stability, encouragement, and permanence. Morality is more securely based and more powerfully sanctioned. The ethical and religious factors are interwoven in, and give firmness to, the texture of the fabric of Christian character. Dissociated from faith in God, character would lose in beauty and in strength.

Christianity has always laid emphasis on the inwardness of morality, and has reminded men that Being is as important as Having or Doing. It has also presented a new ideal of character in the person of its Founder; and all its ethical teaching it connects with the Christ who dwells in the heart by faith. When the truth is made to centre in His glowing personality, it acquires the force of a flame of holy enthusiasm. Duty gets a new dynamic; ethics receives a new baptism. 1

Most of all, the Christian religion supplies powerful motives in the formation of character. When St. John says, Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God : and we are, he makes the most forceful appeal in favour of holiness that it is possible to make to the heart and conscience. Loyalty unites with love to bind us to goodness. When the Christian man says, I hope yet to be like Him, and to see Him as He is, he feels the power of the moral imperative to purify himself even as He is pure.”

It was here, at the fountainhead of character, that the ancient philosophy of Greece, otherwise so grand and so instructive, had to confess its impotence. The contrast between its defects in this respect and the characteristic moral energy of the Christian religion is pointed out by one of the most impartial writers of recent times. 

In his History of European Morals, Mr. W. E. H. Lecky says: It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love, and has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the highest incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an influence, that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind, than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all the exhortations of moralists.”

[1] Cf. Domer, System of Christian Ethics (T. & T. Clark), p. 54.

Text First Published January 1908