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It is sometimes thought that good manners—by which, I suppose, we mean a behaviour which is agreeable to others in the little affairs of common intercourse--are an accomplishment which can be learnt by rule and precept, and put on and off at pleasure, like a dress. This is a mistake. Manners are a part of the man. Manners flow from character. Manners, as both the Latin and the Greek as well as the English language teach us, do not belong to the mere outward form and appearance of a man, but
grow outwards from within, and are intimately connected with his morals and the habits of his life. Manners make the
and are the man. Good manners are not to be learnt, like any trade, by rule and practice. There are no rules which, by themselves, are sufficient to make a man behave rightly in his intercourse with his fellow-men, unless we go to the root of the matter and send him to the laws of God. Good manners rest on right feeling, and right feeling can only be produced by true religion. So that, really, the only way to aim at having good manners is to aim at being good. There is not any shorter road to this much-longed-for consummation.
The conduct of the Pharisees on this occasion is a plain evidence of this. Among them, as we cannot doubt, were men who knew the world and thought themselves polished gentlemen, and would have condemned the violation of those laws of manner and propriety which were commonly recognized among the class in which they moved. And yet these men of the world, these so-called gentlemen, are not aware that their manners are bad, when they push themselves forward, and use the most strenuous efforts that others may have a worse position and be deprived of an
advantage which they are eager to obtain themselves. Does not this show us that the customs of the world, and the habits of society, and the laws of honour, and other such like codes of conduct, whatever service they may render and whatever functions they may discharge, are not sufficient guides of behaviour, and are no security for right action, in cases where propriety of demeanour will depend on real delicacy of feeling and a refined gentleness of heart?
The truth is, the Pharisees were guided in such matters by merely worldly principle. Their religion was hollow and hypocritical, and did not influence their lives. In things like these, their conduct was regulated by worldly custom, and custom led them astray. The world looks rather to what is outwardly fair than to what is really fine and delicate, and the world of that day saw nothing unbecoming in that preference of self to others which our Lord condemned. If a gloss can be given to society, and if all which in appearance is harsh and rough can be kept from intruding itself into notice, the world is satisfied. The world looks to semblances,—to that which seems proper rather than to that which is right, and therefore it is not a guide which can be trusted. It judges by custom and opinion rather than by unchanging laws of truth. And though it is often right, and often leavened in some considerable measure by true religious principle, it will fail to direct men truly, whenever the fluctuating current of human opinion is not directed in its movements by the unerring laws of God. Religion is the ground on which manners, like everything else which is good, alone can rest. Good conduct, good feeling, good manners can be built on no foundation except the love and fear of
God. Holiness is the school of manners, because holiness cultivates and refines the heart.
II. It may next be noticed that self-forgetfulness is the essence of good manners, as of all else that is noble in character and in life.
It has been remarked by a great English moralist, whose words are quoted by one who comments upon this passage, that “the universal axiom in which all complaisance is included, and from which flow all the formalities which custom has established in civilized nations is, that no person should give any preference to himself.” And another, whose knowledge of mankind is undisputed, has observed that “pride, ill-nature, and want of sense are the three great sources of ill-manners.” This last assertion is in entire agreement with the first, and the two combined would lead to the conclusion that when a man can estimate his own importance lightly and that of others highly, and when he can so far deny himself as to sacrifice his own pleasure or convenience, in order that others may enjoy the good which he resigns, he has sown the seed of good manners which time and knowledge will ripen into fruit.
To make a real gentleman you must make a Christian. A truly gentle person is not a man who has been merely polished by society, as a stone by running water, till all that is rough and disagreeable has been rubbed away from him ; for a refinement such as this is often to be met with in closest contact with a cold and selfish heart, which can be guilty of the meanest actions, and can feed itself upon
peace and happiness of others, as savage beasts upon their prey. Manners such as these are nothing but a wash of gilding covering the basest metal; they are not
fine and solid gold. A gentleman is one who has felt the force of that appeal of the Apostle when he says, “Now I, Paul, beseech you by the gentleness of Christ." Christ has been his teacher, and he has learnt his manners in the school of Christ. Charity has made him gentle. Charity which seeketh not her own, has taught him not to seek his own things but “ the things of others,” and “the things of Jesus Christ.” Charity has instructed him to suffer long, and to be kind, and not to be provoked easily. Charity has made his heart good, and therefore his manners and whatever issues from his heart good also. He is or he strives to be-soft, gentle, kind, affable, patient, meek, tractable, obedient, and that not in look and appearance only but in sincerity and reality, not seeming without being or being without seeming, but seeming what he is and being what he seems. " Show me," says one,
who in his conversation discovers no signs that he is puffed up with pride; who never behaves himself unseemly or with impropriety; who neither envies nor censures; who is kind and patient towards his friends; who seeketh not his own, but considers others rather than himself, and gives them the preference: I say, that man is not only all that we intend by a gentleman, but much more: he really is, what all artificial courtesy affects to be, a philanthropist, a friend to mankind; whose company will delight, while it improves, and whose good will rarely be evilspoken of. Christianity, therefore, is the best foundation of what we call good manners ; and of two persons, who have equal knowledge of the world, he that is the best Christian will be the best gentleman.” Charity, which is no where learnt truly except in Christ's school, and which none can
fully teach but God's good Spirit, is the basis of good manners, for it teaches a man to live for others, and to forget himself.
And the gentleman who has been formed thus knows his place always, for he has but one place. He takes the last, the lowest, the worst place. He esteems “ others better than himself.” He gives way to all who will
go before him. He yields to all whom with a good conscience he can obey. Is there a risk to be run, he suffers not another to encounter the danger, but his place is then the foremost in the race. Is there a loss to be suffered or a pain to be endured, he makes himself the sacrifice, and to save others himself he will not save. In all such cases as these the post of danger is the post of honour, and he chooses for himself the post of honour, because he seeks that true honour which comes from God alone. On the other hand, is a good to be enjoyed, an advantage to be gained, a preference to be secured, then he who was the first to meet the evil is the last to reap the good. He chooses for himself the worst, and resigns for himself the best. He acts always in the spirit of his Master, who " came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”. He postpones himself to others. He prefers others to himself.
So that no one who has learnt the first principles of Christianity can ever be at any loss in this particular. It is a maxim with every one who has taken Christ for his example, that he must always and in everything take up the cross. The rule of selfsacrifice and self-denial is not a rule which fits itself to great occasions, but refuses to be applied to little matters and the concerns of ordinary life. Christians