Friday, October 9, 2009

That We Are Really, Which We Are Relatively

What a man does in secret reflects his true character. As Thomas B. Macaulay said, "The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." J.C. Watts, Jr. put it another way: "Everyone tries to define this thing called Character. It's not hard. Character is doing what's right when nobody's looking."

Another measure is how a man behaves in his own household. No one knows our flaws, our weaknesses, our besetting sins, apart from God, better than our family members, those most close to us, who see us when we are "tired or worried or hungry" (C.S. Lewis). It is easy to be religious and upstanding around strangers and even friends, but much harder to exemplify the religious virtues of patience and love and longsuffering around those in our own home. Who we really are is reflected in how we are with our relations.

That is why Philip Henry, who spoke often of family religion, had a certain saying. His son Matthew, the famous Bible commentator, who was certainly in a position to know the true character of his father, wrote the following (J.B. Williams, ed., The Lives of Philip and Matthew Henry, Vol. 1, p. 69):

The Lord having built him up into a family, he was careful and faithful in making good his solemn vow at his ordination, that he and his house would serve the Lord. He would often say, -- That we are really which we are relatively. It is not so much what we are at church, as what we are in our families. Religion in the power of will be family religion. In this his practice was very exemplary; he was one that walked before his house in a perfect way, with a perfect heart, and therein behaved himself wisely. His constant care and prudent endeavour was not only to put away iniquity far from his tabernacle, but that where he dwelt, the word of Christ might dwell richly. If he might have no other church, yet he had a church in his house.

This saying comes from the Preface to the Reader of a work by George Swinnock, Heaven and Hell Epitomized (1663), found in his Works, Vol. 3, p. 219:

Exalt godliness in thy family. If once Christ be chief in thy heart, I am confident he will, to thy utmost power, be so in thy house -- that thou art really, which thou art relatively.

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