The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
NATURE AND EFFECTS OF TRUE RELIGION
The nature and effects of true religion are described in the Holy Scriptures, under the similitude of a tree planted by the side of a river. The Psalmist says the righteous "is like a tree planted beside rivers of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither." The prophet Jeremiah, also, speaking of the man who trusts and hopes in the Lord, says, "He will be like a tree that is planted by water. It will send its roots down to a stream. It will not be afraid in the heat of summer. Its leaves will turn green. It will not be anxious during droughts. It will not stop producing fruit."
The river, which is ever flowing, represents the abundant provision of God's grace. But a tree may stand so near a river as to be watered when it overflows its banks; and yet, if its roots only spread over the surface of the ground, and do not reach the bed of the river, it will wither in a time of drought. This aptly represents those who appear engaged and in earnest only during remarkable outpourings of the Spirit. They are all alive and full of zeal when the river overflows; but, when it returns to its ordinary channel, their leaf withers; and, if a long season of spiritual drought follows, they become dry and barren, so that no appearance of spiritual life remains. But mark how different the description of the true child of God: "He is like a tree planted by rivers of water." This figure appears to have been taken from the practice of cultivating trees. They are removed from the wild state in which they spring up, and their roots firmly fixed in a spot of ground cultivated and prepared to facilitate their growth. So the Christian is taken from a state of nature, which is a wild, uncultivated state, and placed in a state of grace, by the side of the river, which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. But this tree also "spreads out her roots by the river." When the roots of the tree are spread out along the bed of the river, it will always be supplied with water, even when the river is low.
This steadiness of Christian character is elsewhere spoken of under a similar figure: "The root of the righteous shall not be moved;" "He shall cause those who come of Jacob to take root;" "Being rooted and grounded in love." Hence the prophet adds that the heat and the drought shall not affect it; but its leaf shall be green, always growing; and it shall not cease to bring forth fruit.
And throughout the Scriptures the righteous are represented as bringing forth fruit: "And the remnant that has escaped out of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward." Here is first a taking deep root downward, or the sanctification of the faculties of the soul, by which new principles of action are adopted; and a bearing fruit upward, or the exercise of those principles, in holy affections and corresponding outward conduct.
Again, "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." The bud and blossom are the first exercises of Christian experience. But every tree bears a multitude of false blossoms, which, by the superficial observer, may not be distinguished from the true. They may for a time appear even more promising and beautiful. As it appears in full bloom, it would be impossible for the keenest eye to discover the unfruitful blossoms. But as soon as the season arrives for the fruit to begin to grow, these fair blossoms are withered and gone, and nothing remains but a dry and wilted stem. So, in the first stages of Christian experience, there are many counterfeits. But the real children of God shall not only bud and blossom, but they shall "fill the face of the world with fruit."
In the Song of Solomon, the church is compared to "an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits." The pomegranate is a kind of apple. The tree is low, but spreads its branches, so that its breadth is greater than its height. So the true Christian is humble and lowly, while his good works spread all around him. The blossoms of this tree are large and beautiful, forming a cup like a bell. But when the flowers are double, no fruit follows. So the double-minded hypocrite brings forth no fruit. The pomegranate apple is exceedingly beautiful and delicious, and so the real fruits of Christianity are full of beauty and loveliness.
Again, the church is said to lay up for Christ all manner of pleasant fruit, new and old. But backsliding Israel is called an empty vine, bringing forth fruit unto himself. Here we may distinguish between the apparent good fruits of the false professor and of the real Christian. The latter does everything for Christ. He desires the glory of God and the advancement of Christ's kingdom; and this is his ruling motive. But the former, though he may do many things good in themselves, yet does them all with selfish motives. His ruling desire is to gratify himself, and to promote his own honor and interest, either in this world or in that which is to come.
The fruit which his people bring forth is that on which Christ chiefly insists, as a test of Christian character. "Every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit." He compares himself to a vine, and his followers to branches; and informs them that every branch which bears no fruit shall be taken away. In the passage quoted from the first Psalm, the righteous is said to bring forth fruit in his season. And in the 92nd Psalm and 14th verse, it is said, "They shall still bring forth fruit in their old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;" thus exhibiting a constancy of fruit-bearing, and an uninterrupted growth, even down to old age.
But what is meant by bringing forth fruit in his season? Paul says, "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." Hence we conclude that bringing forth fruit in season must be carrying out the principles of the gospel into every part of our conduct. In another place, the same apostle informs us more particularly what are the fruits of the Spirit are: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control." Let us, then, carry out these principles, and see what influence they will have upon the Christian character.
LOVEis something that can be felt. It is an outgoing of heart towards the object loved, and a feeling of union with it. When we have a strong affection for a friend, it is because we see in him something that is lovely. We love his society, and delight to think of him when he is absent. Our minds are continually upon the lovely traits of his character. So ought we to love God. The ground of this love should be the infinite purity, excellence, and beauty of his moral perfections. He is infinite loveliness in himself. There is such a thing as feeling this love in exercise. In the Song of Solomon, love is said to be "strong as death." Surely this is no faint imagery. Is it possible for a person to exercise a feeling "as strong as death," and yet not be sensible of it? Love takes hold of every faculty of soul and body. It must, then, be no very dull feeling.
Again, the warmth and the settled and abiding nature of love are represented by such strong language as this: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Surely this can be no fitful feeling, which comes and goes at extraordinary seasons. It must be a settled and abiding principle of the soul, though it may not always be accompanied with strong emotion. We may sometimes be destitute of emotion towards the friends we love most. But the settled principle of esteem and preference is abiding; and our attention needs only to be called to the lovely traits in our friend's character to call forth emotion.
David, under the influence of this feeling, breaks forth in such expressions as these: "My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you!" "As the deer pants for the water-brooks, so my soul pants after you, O God; my soul thirsts for God, for the living God!" "My soul longs, yes, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cries out for the living God!" "My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times." Surely there is no dullness, no coldness, in such feelings as these. They accord with the spirit of the command, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." And this was not, with the Psalmist, an occasional lively frame. This soul-breaking longing was the habitual feeling of his heart; for he exercised it "at all times." And what was it that called forth these ardent longings? Was it the personal benefits which he had received, or expected to receive, from God? By no means. After expressing an earnest desire to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, he tells us why he wished to be there: "To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." The object of his love was "the beauty of the Lord;" doubtless meaning his moral perfections.
Intimately connected with this was his desire to know the will of the Lord. For this he wished to "inquire in his temple." And whenever the love of God is genuine, it will call forth similar desire. The apostle John, whose very breath is love, says, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." The child who loves his parents will delight in doing whatever pleases them. But the child who cares for his parents only as he expects to be benefitted by them, will always do as little as possible for them, and that little unwillingly. So in our relations with God. The self-deceived may have a kind of love to God, because he thinks himself a peculiar object of divine favor, and because he still expects greater blessings. But this does not lead him to delight in the commands of God. He rather esteems them a task. His heart is not in the doing of them; and he is willing to make them as light as possible. But the true Christian delights in the law of God; and the chief source of his grief is, that he falls so far short of keeping it.
Again, if we love God, we shall love his image. "And everyone who loves Him who begets also loves theone who has been born of Him." Our love to Christians, if genuine, must arise from the resemblance which they bear to Christ; and not from the comfort which we enjoy in their society, nor because they appear friendly to us. This false professors also feel. If we truly exercise that love, we shall be willing to make personal sacrifices for their benefit. We are directed to love one another as Christ loved us. And how did Christ love us? He laid down his life for us. And the beloved apostle says, we ought, in imitation of him, "to lay down our lives for the brethren;" that is, if occasion requires it. Such is the strength of that love, which we are required to exercise for our Christian brethren. But how can this exist in the heart, when we feel unwilling to make the least sacrifice of our own feelings or interests for their sakes?
But there is another kind of love required of us—the love of compassion, which may be exercised even towards wicked men. And what must be the extent of this love? There can be but one standard. We have the example of our Lord before us. So intense was his love, that it led him to sacrifice personal ease, comfort, and worldly good, for the benefit of the bodies and souls of men; and even to lay down his life for their salvation. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Thus must we lay ourselves out for doing all we can to relieve the sufferings and save the souls of our fellow-men.
Another fruit of the Spirit isJOY. We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord at all times. If we have a proper sense of the holiness of God's moral character, of the majesty and glory of his power, of the infinite wisdom which shines through all his works, the infinite rectitude of his moral government, and especially of that amazing display of his love in the work of redemption—it will fill our hearts with "joy unspeakable and full of glory!" Nor is rejoicing in God at all inconsistent with mourning for sin. On the contrary, the more we see of the divine character, the more deeply shall we be abased and humbled before him. Says Job, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you. Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It was a sight of God which brought this holy man so low before him.
Another fruit of the Spirit isPEACE—peace with God, and peace with man. The impenitent are at war with God; there is therefore no peace for them. God is angry with them, and they are contending with him. But the Christian becomes reconciled to God through Christ. He finds peace in believing in him. The Lord is no longer a God of terror to him, but a "God of peace." Hence the gospel is called the "way of peace," and Christ the "Prince of peace." Jesus, in his parting interview with his beloved disciples, says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." Righteousness, or justice, and peace, are said to have met together, and kissed each other. "We have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." We are brought into a state of reconciliation with God, attended with a settled feeling of delight towards his government. This begets a serene and peaceful disposition of heart. But this gracious work of the Holy Spirit does not stop with these exercises of the mind. It must be carried out in our fellowship with others, and our feelings towards them. Whatever is in our hearts will manifest itself in our conduct. if we exercise a morose, sour, and jealous disposition; if we indulge a censorious spirit, not easily overlooking others' faults; if we are easily provoked, and irritated with the slightest offence; if we indulge in petty strife and backbiting—surely the peace of God does not rule in our hearts.
MEEKNESSis a twin-sister of peace. It is a temper of mind not easily provoked to resentment; or, as the word signifies, easiness of mind. It is the bringing of our wild and turbulent passions under control. It is an eminent work of the Spirit; and we may judge of our spiritual attainments by the degree of it which we possess. The Scriptures abound with exhortations to the cultivation of it. It is preeminently lovely in the female character. Hence Peter exhorts women to put on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is, in the sight of God, of great price.
LONG-SUFFERINGand gentleness are twin-daughters of meekness. Long-suffering is godlike; it is an imitation of the forbearance of God towards his rebellious creatures. He is long-suffering and slow to anger. He does not let his anger burn hot against sinners until all means of bringing them to repentance have failed. O, how should this shame us, who cannot bear the least appearance of insult or injury from our fellow-sinners without resentment! But, if we would be the children of our Father in heaven, we must learn to bear ill-treatment with a forbearing and forgiving temper.
GENTLENESSis one of the most lovely of all the graces of the Spirit. It is a "softness or mildness of disposition and behavior, and stands opposed to harshness and severity, pride and arrogance." "It corrects whatever is offensive in our manner, and, by a constant train of humane attentions, studies to alleviate the burden of common misery." The constant exercise of this spirit is of the greatest importance to the Christian who would glorify God in his life, and do good to his fellow-creatures.
GOODNESSis another fruit of the Spirit. I suppose the apostle here means the same that he expresses in another place by "mercy and kindness." It is doing good both to the bodies and souls of others, as we have opportunity. "Be kindly affectioned one to another." "Be kind one to another, tenderhearted." This is a distinguished trait in the Christian character. It shone forth in all its loveliness in our divine Redeemer. He went about doing good. So ought we to imitate his example. It should be our chief aim and study to make ourselves useful to others; for we thereby glorify God. If we have the Spirit of Christ, this will be our "food and drink."
Another fruit of the Spirit isFAITH. "Faith is credit given to a declaration or promise, on the authority of the person who makes it;" including the idea of confidence in such person, and reliance upon his word. It is a common principle of action in the ordinary affairs of life, in the transaction of which people act according to their faith. If a person believes that his house is on fire, he will make haste to escape. If a man believes a bank note is good, he will receive it for its professed value. If the merchant believes that his customer is able to pay, he will give him goods upon credit. That faith which is the fruit of the Spirit is a hearty belief of all the truths of God's word, including not only the idea of confidence in him—but a love of the truth, and a hearty acquiescence in the will of God declared in it. Faith in Christ includes also the idea of trust, or reliance upon him for salvation. In proportion as we believe the truths of God's word, in the sense here specified, we shall act accordingly.
One reason why the sinner does not repent and turn to God is, that he does not really believe the word of God as it applies to himself. He may believe some of the abstract truths of the Scriptures; but he does not really believe himself to be in the dreadful danger which they represent him; or, if his understanding is convinced, his heart is so opposed to the truth that he will not yield to it. The reason why Christians live so far from the standard of God's word is, that their belief in the truths contained in it is so weak and faint. We all profess to believe that God is everywhere present; yet we often complain that we have no lively sense of his presence. The reason is, we do not fully and heartily believe this truth. So strong and vivid is the impression, when this solemn truth takes full possession of the soul, that the apostle compares it to "seeing him that is invisible." Now, but for our unbelief, we should always have such a view of the divine presence. O, with what holy awe and reverence would this inspire us!
On examination, we shall find that all the graces of the Spirit arise from faith, and all our sins and short comings from unbelief. It is a belief of the moral excellence of God's character which inspires love. It is a belief of our own depravity, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin, which creates godly sorrow. It is a strong and lively faith in all the truths of the Bible which overcomes the world. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." It is an unshaken belief in these truths, presenting the glories of heaven just in view, which supports the Christian in the dark and trying hour of death. It is the same belief which makes him "as bold as a lion" in the performance of his duty. This is what supported the martyrs, and enabled them cheerfully to lay down their lives for Christ's sake. It is this which must support us in the Christian warfare; and our progress will be in proportion to our faith.
TEMPERANCEis another fruit of the Spirit. This consists in the proper control of all our desires, appetites, and passions. The exercise of this grace is of vital importance, not only as it concerns the glory of God, but our own health and happiness.
Thus we see the beautiful symmetry of the Christian character, as it extends from the heart to all our actions, in every relation of life.
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