Editor's 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.

Originally published January 1908

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