Saturday, July 18, 2009

this giddy and tempting world...

With this post, we bring Henry Ware Jr.'s classic of Unitarian piety to a close. I have posted excerpts of each chapter and section of "The Foramtion of the Christian Character" almost since the beginning of this blog. To read the entire series, click here.

"You perceive how urgent is the call for perpetual watchfulness and rigid self-discipline. It is not easy, with much intentional guard over yourself, to keep the spirit habitually right in this giddy and tempting world ; and it is equally difficult to maintain a perfect coincidence between the principle within and the deportment of daily life. Oftentimes, in the emergencies and hurry of business, pleasure, and society, where many things concur to drown the voice of the spirit within, we find the lower propensities of our nature gaining an ascendency, and the law in our members rising in rebellion against the law in our mind. ' The things that we would, we do not, and the things that we would not, those we do;' and sense and passion triumph for the moment over reason and faith. ' The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other.' And how shall we gain the victory in this perpetual contest ? ' Through our Lord Jesus Christ,' says the Apostle; and the means thereto are found in his injunction, ' Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.' Vigilance over every hour and in every engagement, carrying into them the shield of faith and the whole armor of God; and prayer, without ceasing, that your soul may be strong to wield them;—these will secure to you the victory. Sometimes you will find yourself in perplexities and straits, sometimes faltering and irresolute; but never forsaken or cast down, never exposed to temptation which you are unable to bear, or from which there is no way of escape. You may ' do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you."

I have thus spoken of that religious discipline of daily life, in which the Christian character is formed and tried. It will be sufficient to add, in conclusion, that your great concern must be with two things,—your principles and your habits.

First, you must constantly have an eye to your Principles. Take care that they be kept pure, and that you abide by them. They have been well compared to the compass of the ship, on which if the helmsman keeps a faithful eye, and resolutely steers by it in spite of the opposition of winds and wares, he will find the way to his port; but by heedless inattention to it, he is sure to go astray, and be blown whither he would not.

Secondly, have an eye to your Habits. Add to the authority of principle the vigor and steadfastness of confirmed habit, and your religious character become? almost impregnable to assault. It is in no danger of overthrow except from the most cunning assailants in a season of your most culpable negligence. What wisdom and kindness has the Creator displayed in our constitution, that we are able to rear around our virtue the strong bulwark of habit! It is a defence of the weakest spirit against the strongest trial...

...therefore, arrange every thing in your customary pursuits and indulgences to favor the grand end of your being ; so that every act of piety and faith shall be coincident with it; so that little or no effort shall be required to maintain the steady order of daily duty ; and, instead of an opposition, a struggle, a contest, whenever principle asserts its claims, you shall find the ready consent and hearty cooperation of all the habitual preferences, tastes, and occupations, of your life He in whom this is so, is the happy man. He is the consistent man. He is the man to be congratulated, to be admired, to be imitated. Universal harmony reigns within him; no oppositions, no jarring contentions, mar his peace. With him, the flesh and the spirit are no longer contrary the one to the other. His duty and his inclination are one. There is no dispute between what he ought to do, and what he wishes to. But, with one consenting voice, heart and life move on harmoniously, accustomed to and loving the same things. To him the yoke is indeed easy, and the burden light. To him heaven is already begun ; and when at last he shall be welcomed to the joy of his Lord, it will be to a joy which his regulated spirit has already tasted in the labors and pleasures of obedience below.


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