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

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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