Chapter 7 – Whatsoever Things are Lovely

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

This passage expresses the very point of the Apostle’s subject in this letter, and by one discriminating flash of light points out the difference between the essentials of holy character and the lighter touches of grace and loveliness which may be added to these. Two classes of virtues are here specified, and each class is designated by a special word. “If there be any virtue” called fundamental and essential to holy character. “If there be any praise” denotes those qualities, which, while not essential, are ornamental. The first class includes three specifications; namely, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure.” Without these there can be no morality and no religion. These are the cardinal virtues of life, the solid texture out of which the web is woven, the warp and woof on which the other qualities are embroidered as decorations and adornings. The second class includes also three specifications; namely, “Whatsoever things are honest.” This ought to be translated honorable, venerable, lofty, for it denotes not so much practical righteousness as rather the qualities that demand admiration and veneration. Next, “Whatsoever things are lovely,” those qualities that are inherently beautiful and attractive, and make the possessor to be esteemed and beloved. The third specification is “Whatsoever things are of good report,” those things that constitute influence, reputation and public esteem and respect. These are objects of praise and are to be added to the others. The qualities of virtue are like the solid granite rock; the qualities of praise resemble the luxuriant forest, the verdant grass, the mossy banks, the blooming shrubs and flowers, the sparkling waterfalls that cover those substantial rocks and turn the desert into a garden of beauty and delight. Let us look at these two classes of moral qualities, but especially at the second.

I. The essentials of character. There are three. The first is truth. Our religious character must be founded upon right principles, and having adopted them we must be true to them. Truth must be at once objective and subjective. We must have the truth, and we must be true to it. Sound doctrine must be held by a sound and sincere heart.

Next, “Whatsoever things are just,” covers the whole range of our relationships to our fellowmen, our practical righteousness, our rightness of life in the family, in the social world, and in our business fellowships with others.

Finally, “Whatsoever things are pure,” has reference to our own personal life. It describes a heart cleansed by the blood of Christ, filled with holy motives, thoughts and affections, and leading to right relations toward all men and toward God. These are the essential qualities of the Christian life. Without them there can be no morality and no religion.

2. But next are the graces of Christian character, “the beauties of holiness,” as the Old Testament expresses it. One may be a Christian without these, but not without those mentioned before. They are the refinements of holy character, the lesser touches by which perfection is attained, even as the marble is polished by a thousand little touches. The difference between an ordinary copy and a work of genius lies in minute details which the coarse, uncultivated eye might never be able to detect.

Now, some of these graces are connected with the cardinal virtues already described. That is to say, there are people who may be said to be truthful, and who would not deliberately misrepresent. Yet they will exaggerate, they will shade the truth by little touches and faint colorings which practically do misrepresent and mislead. Then, again, there are some who are, in the main, honest, just and righteous, and would not willfully or knowingly do another a wrong. Yet perhaps they are too careless or too keen, and by little touches of unrighteousness mar the testimony of their lives. Then there are others who are pure in their purpose and intent, but it may be in their dress, manners, deportment, or conversation, compromise their influence enough to miss the full effectiveness of a holy life. Thus it becomes important to give heed to the message: “Let not your good be evil spoken of,” and even in the things that are just and pure and true, to be careful to add the “things that are lovely” and “of good report.”

But there is a distinct field, represented by another class of qualities altogether, which constitute the graces and refinements of the holy life, and of which it is true “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

1. Dignity and self-respect are the things that add to the weight of our character and influence, and may be covered by the first phrase, “whatsoever things are honorable,” or rather, “venerable.” The estimate which others place upon us will always be proportioned to our true estimate of ourselves. There is a great difference between conceit and self-respect. “Let no man despise thee,” is the dictate at once of true instinct and Holy Scripture. The Lord Jesus always bore Himself with true dignity, and allowed no person to be too familiar. Even the disciple that leaned upon His breast looked up to Him with sacred awe. We can be simple, unaffected and humble, and yet carry ourselves with the holy dignity of the sons and daughters of God. Paul was a fine example of true manliness. When unjustly imprisoned, he refused to sneak out and run away, but manfully answered, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, . . . and have cast us into prison; now, do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.” The soul in which the Holy Spirit dwells will always carry itself with sacred loftiness, as well as sweet humility. This is the safeguard of woman, and the glory of man.

2. Modesty is as necessary as dignity, and at once corrects it and adorns it. It does not lower our self-respect, but it simply veils us with the beautiful covering of self-unconsciousness. You may always know John, the beloved, by the fact that he never mentions himself, but speaks of the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” When Moses’ face shone with the brightest glow, he wist not that it shone at all. When beauty is conscious of itself it becomes disgusting. When talent and genius begin to show off, then they sink below contempt. When spiritual gifts and holy services are used to glorify the possessor or the worker, then they become objects of derision and lose their merit. The seraphim not only covered their faces but their feet with their wings, and tried to hide not only their beauty but their work. God gives us the sweetly-chastened spirit that bows its head and stands veiled with heavenly modesty.

3. Personal habits have much to do with the loveliness of our character and our lives. While we do not believe with the old lady that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” yet we certainly believe that cleanliness stands near to godliness. While we do not go so far as to denounce chewing, smoking and snuffing as the basest of crimes, yet it is enough to say that they are not among the things that are lovely, venerable or of good report. And there are a thousand other things which a sanctified soul will learn, by holy intuition and watchfulness, to lay aside as defects if not defilements.

4. Good manners, refinement, and courtesy are among the things that are lovely and attractive in our Christian example. There is an affectation of refinement that is but the gloss and the counterfeit, but the true follower of Jesus Christ will always be gentle and gentlemanly, considerate of others and careful to avoid offense, and will act toward all with whom he comes in contact with that thoughtful consideration and courteous politeness which speak so strongly for Christ. After the greatest gentleman in Europe, Lord Chesterfield, had spent a few days with Archbishop Fenelon, who was as sweet as he was saintly, he remarked, “If I had stayed much longer I should have been charmed into accepting his religion.” “Be courteous” is one of the commands of the Holy Ghost. The Christian lady and the Christian gentleman will carry their good manners into the kitchen and the factory, as well as into the social circle; the wife will be as polite to her husband and her cook as she is to the fashionable caller in the afternoon. The parent will be as gentle and considerate in speaking to his child, as when called to receive some distinguished visitor, or in wearing some courtly air on a great public occasion. Let us adorn the little things and the commonplaces of life with that “manner of love,” which “the Father hath bestowed upon us,” and which He would have us reflect.

5. Propriety, good sense, and the instinct of knowing the fitness of things, and always acting with good taste are among the most charming features of a well-balanced character. It is what the Apostle calls, “the spirit of a sound mind.” The Lord Jesus was always on time and in order. We never find Him making a mistake or doing an unbecoming thing. And so of divine love it is said, “Doth not behave itself unseemly.” A very simple remark, if appropriate to the occasion, is more effective than the most eloquent speech which is out of place. The Holy Spirit will give the heavenly quality of doing the right thing at the right time and in the right manner.