7. Aim at CONSISTENCY in your Christian character.
There is a beauty in moral consistency, which resembles the symmetry of a well-proportioned building—where nothing is deficient, nothing excess. Consistency can only be acquired and maintained by cultivating every part of the Christian character. The circle of Christian virtues must be complete, without chasms or insincerity. A character which is well proportioned and nicely balanced in all its parts, we are not very frequently permitted to witness. For, while in one branch there is vigor and even exuberance, in another there may be the appearance of feebleness and fruitlessness. The man who is distinguished for virtues of a particular class, is apt to be deficient in those which belong to a different class.
This is so commonly the fact, that many entertain the opinion that the same person cannot excel in every virtue. Thus it is not expected that the man of remarkable firmness and courage should at the same time be distinguished for meekness and gentleness. But after making due allowance for a difference of constitutional temperament, we must maintain that there is not, nor can there be, any incompatibility between the several virtues of the Christian life. They are all branches of the same root, and the principle which affords nourishment to one, communicates its virtue to all.
As all truth is harmonious, however it may, on a superficial and partial view, seem to be contradictory; so all the exercises of moral goodness are not only consistent, but assist and adorn each other. This is so much the case, that symmetry of Christian character has, by some distinguished writers, been laid down as a necessary evidence of genuineness. And it has been insisted on, as probable, that where one virtue seems to exist in great strength, while others are
remarkably lacking, it is a mark of spuriousness.
There is much reason in this view of the subject; for men are frequently found whose zeal blazes out ardently and conspicuously, so as to leave most others far back in their shadows, while they are totally destitute of that humility, meekness and brotherly kindness which form an essential part of the Christian character. Some men are conscientious and punctilious in the performance of all the external rites and duties connected with the worship of God—who are inattentive to the obligations of strict justice and veracity in their fellowship with men. And on the other hand, many boast of their morality, and yet are notoriously inattentive to
the duties of religion.
Real Christians, too, are often chargeable with inconsistency, which arises from a lack of clear discernment of the rule of moral conduct in its application to particular cases; for while the general principles of duty are plain, and easily understood by all; the ability to discriminate between right and wrong in many complicated cases is extremely rare. This delicate and correct perception of moral relations can only be acquired by the divine blessing on our assiduous exertions. It is too commonly taken for granted that Christian morals are a subject so easy, that all close study of it is unnecessary. This is an injurious mistake. Many of the deficiencies and inconsistencies of Christians are owing to a lack of clear and correct knowledge of the exact rule of moral conduct. On no subject will you find a greater diversity of opinion, than in regard to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of particular practices. And even godly men are often thrown into difficulty and doubt respecting the proper course to be pursued.
But while many cases of inconsistency arise from ignorance of the exact standard of rectitude, more must be attributed to heedlessness and forgetfulness. Many Christian people do not act sufficiently from principle, but too much from custom, from fashion, and from habit. Thus many actions are performed without any inquiry into their moral character. There is an dullness in that person’s moral sensibility, which permits evils to pass without censure.
Another cause of the inconsistency so commonly observed, is the prevalence which certain passions or appetites may obtain, in the time of temptation. The force of the internal principles of evil is not perceived when the objects and circumstances favorable to their exercise are absent. As the venomous adder seems to be harmless while chilled with cold, but soon manifests his malignity when brought near the fire—so sin often lies hid in the bosom, as though it were dead—until some exciting cause draws it forth into exercise. And then the person himself is surprised to find the strength of his own passions, above anything which he had before conceived. Thus men often act, in certain circumstances, in a way altogether contrary to the general tenor of their conduct.
It is by no means a fair inference from a single act of irregularity, that the person who is guilty of it has acted hypocritically in all the apparent good actions of his former life. The true explanation is, that principles of action which he has commonly been able to govern and restrain, acquire, in some unguarded moment, or under the power of some strong temptation, a force which his good principles are not at that moment strong enough to oppose. The man who is usually correct and orderly may thus be overtaken in a fault; and as all people are liable to the same frailties, there should exist a disposition to receive and restore an offending brother, when he gives sufficient evidence of penitence.
Man at his best estate in this world is an inconsistent creature. The only people in whom this defect is not observed are the men who by grace live near to God, and exercise a constant jealousy and vigilance over themselves. But when faith is weak and inconstant, great inconsistencies will mar the beauty of the Christian character.
Young people ought, therefore, to begin early to exercise this vigilance, and to keep their hearts with all diligence, lest they be ensnared by their own passions, and overcome by the power of temptation. I counsel you then, my young friends, to aim at consistency. Cultivate assiduously every part of the Christian character, so that there may appear a beautiful proportion in your virtue.
The reflections to which I have been led in speaking of consistency of Christian character, suggest the importance of urging upon you the government of your passions. A man who has no control over his passions is justly compared to a ship at sea, which is driven by fierce winds, while she neither is governed by the rudder nor steered by the compass. By indulgence, the passions gain strength very rapidly; and when once the habit of indulgence is fixed, the moral condition of the sinner is most deplorable, and almost desperate.
To preserve consistency, it is necessary to be well acquainted with the weak points in our own character, to know something of the strength of our own passions, and to guard beforehand against the occasions and temptations which would be likely to cause us to act inconsistently with our Christian profession. Many men have successfully contended with their own passions, and although naturally of a hasty and irritable temper, have, by constant discipline, brought themselves into a habitual state of calmness—so that however they may be conscious of the strugglings of the natural passions, they are kept so completely under restraint—that to others they do not seem to exist!
The anecdote which is related of Socrates and the physiognomist is instructive on this point. When the latter, upon examining the lines of the philosopher’s face, pronounced that he was a man of bad temper, and exceedingly irascible, the disciples of Socrates laughed him to scorn, as having betrayed the weakness of his art by so totally mistaking the true disposition of their master. But Socrates checked their ridicule by acknowledging that his natural temper had been truly represented by the physiognomist, but that by self-discipline, he had been able to acquire such a mastery over his passions, that their existence was not apparent.
To achieve a victory of this kind is more honorable than to conquer in the field of battle; according to that of the wise man, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his own spirit than he who takes a city.” (Prov 16:32) And again, “He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” (Prov 25:28) Learn then, my young friends, to bridle your passions, and govern your temper, from your earliest days.
– Archibald Alexander; Counsels of the Aged to the Young (See here for more info)