I divide all readers into two classes: those who read to remember and those who read to forget.
William Lyon Phelps

The Elements of Character Ebook

The Elements of Character
Category: Relationships
Ebook cover: The Elements of Character


Title: The Elements of Character

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The weakness and helplessness of humanity, in relation to the fortunes of this life, have been a favorite theme with philosophers and teachers ever since the world began; and every term expressive of all that is uncertain, insubstantial, and unstable has been exhausted in describing the feebleness of man's power to retain in possession the good things of this life, or even life itself. However firmly the hand of man may seem to grasp power, reputation, or wealth; however numerous may be the band of children or friends that surrounds him, he has no certainty that he may not die friendless and a pauper. In fact, the most brilliant success in life seems sometimes to be permitted only that it may make the darkness of succeeding reverses the more profound.

Weak and helpless as we may be in the affairs of this life, there is, however, one thing over which we have entire control. Riches may take to themselves wings, though honest industry exert its best efforts to acquire and retain them; power is taken away from hands that seek to use it only for the good of those they govern; reputation may become tarnished, though virtue be without spot; health may vanish, though its laws, so far as we understand them, be strictly obeyed; but there is one thing left which misfortune cannot touch, which God is ever seeking to aid us in building up, and over which he permits us to hold absolute control; and this is Character. For this, and for this alone, we are entirely responsible. We may fail in all else, let our endeavors be earnest and patient as they may; but all other failures touch us only in our external lives. If we have used our best endeavors to attain success in the pursuit of temporal objects, we are not responsible though we fail.

But if we do not succeed in attaining true health and wealth and power of Character, the responsibility is all our own; and the consequences of our failure are not bounded by the shores of time, but stretch onward through the limitless regions of eternity. If we strive for this, success is certain, for the Lord works with us to will and to do. If we do not strive, it were better for us that we had never been born.

Character is all we can take with us when we leave this world. Fortune, learning, reputation, power, must all be left behind us in the region of material things; but Character, the spiritual substance of our being, abides with us for ever. According as the possessions of this world have aided in building up Character,-forming it to the divine or to the infernal image,-they have been cursings or blessings to the soul.

Before we can understand how Character is to be built up, we must come to a distinct faith in its reality; we must discover to feel that it is more real than anything else that we possess; for surely that which is eternal is more real than that which is merely temporal; it may, indeed, be doubted whether that which is merely temporal has any just claim to be called real.

Many persons confound reputation with Character, and believe themselves to be striving for the reality of the one, when the fantasy of the other alone stimulates their desires. Reputation is the opinion entertained of us by our fellow−beings, while Character is that which we really are. When we labor to gain reputation, we are not even taking a first step toward the acquisition of Character, but only putting on coverings over that which is, and protecting it against improvement. As well may we strive to be virtuous by thinking of the reward of heaven, as to build up our Characters by thinking of the opinions of men. The cases are precisely parallel. In each we are thinking of the pay as something apart from the work, while, in fact, the only pay we can have inheres in the doing of the work. Virtue is its own reward, because its performance creates the kingdom of heaven within us, and we cannot attain to virtue until we strive after it for its own sake.

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