The Selective Power of Personality

Titus 1:15.---' Unto the pure all things are pure.'

How often these words of the text have been misapplied! I am not condemning what others have written, I am just writing my thoughts. The commonest misuse of them is this. Something offensive has been spoken, something coarse or allusively indecent, and one of the company with a hot heart has protested against the evil utterance; whereon immediately, sometimes with a smile, oftener with the suspicion of a sneer, he is told that unto the pure all things are pure. The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, and such a citation is the devil's handiwork. The text does not mean that good and evil have their being in our thoughts about them. There are things that are everywhere and always wrong, and there is little hope for any man who has learned to tamper with these fixities. In a bare and literal sense it is not true that unto the pure all things are pure. Unto the pure, till the last trumpet sounds, there will be words and actions that are horrible.

What then is the true meaning of the text? Well, it is something of this kind. It is the inspired if proverbial expression of the selective power of personality. Everything with which we come in contact carries a large diversity of meaning. There is nothing we meet with in our common walk but is capable of different interpretations. And how we shall interpret all that wealth, and what we shall see in it as it steals by, all that is really fixed by what we are. By all the influences that played on us in childhood, and all the activities of our maturer years, by every battle we have quietly fought, and every burden we have bravely borne, by the unhindered trend of leisure thought, by temptation, by friendship, by religion---whether for well-being or woe we have forged out our personality. It is the only thing that we possess really, yet it is something more than a possession. It is by that, and that alone, that we interpret everything around us. By that we see---by that we read---by that we interpret God and man and everything. That is the key which unlocks every door opening on to the riches of the universe.

Let us carry that thought into the sphere of language. Through all the range of it, language is colored by the abiding mystery of what we are. It might well seem to the casual observer that there were few things more fixed and definite than words. The fact that there are such books as dictionaries argues for the stability or words. And yet those words, which we are always using, and which seem fixed and rigid as the hills---there is scarce one of them but is affected subtly by this tremendous fact of personality. In every term we use there is some shade of meaning which has never quite been caught by other men. There is some suggestion that is all our own, whether it be a high suggestion or an evil one. And the point is that all that verbal coloring, which gives to our words an individuality, springs from the kind of life we have experienced, and the character we have been forging in the dark.

It is in that sense we understand our Lord when he says that by our words we shall be judged. If we are but drawing on a common stock, there can be no principle of judgment in our minds. But if on the common language that we use we cast the shadow of our deepest self, then in our words, when all the books are opened, there will be more of revelation than we dream. It is a truth of widest application that the style is the man. To put it otherwise, all mastery of language is at the heart of it a moral business. It is not merely an artistic victory; it is a moral and spiritual victory. He who has conquered words and made them serve him, so that they throng to him in power and beauty, has conquered things more powerful than words in the secret battle-places of the soul. Unto the pure all things are pure. It is the inward self that shapes the instrument.

Now if that be largely true of all speech, it is especially true of the great words we use. It is true, for instance, in a very solemn way of the greatest of all words, God. It is colored for us by the hand of memory. It comes to us impoverished and enriched by all that home has been, and all that church has been. The light of all our friendships is upon it, and all the love that has met us as we journeyed, and all the decisions we have taken, and all the sorry refusals we have made. That is why God to one means everything; that is why to another it means nothing. That is why to one it is a name of terror, and to another of infinite encouragement. No definition will ever tell what God is to the soul. It is the soul itself which answers that.

The same thought applies to human life. In the selective power of personality is the secret of our estimate of conduct. It is one of the commands of the New Covenant---'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' That is a warning which we all need against censorious or hasty judgments. But we must remember that Christ never meant, by these words, to disapprove of the faculty of judgment; as a matter of fact we are so constituted that each of us is judging all the time. Every action, whether small or great, is summoned imperiously to our judgment bar. Now there are certain acts so clearly good that the worst of men cannot but admire them; and there are other acts so clearly bad that they are universally condemned. But in between these two extremes lies a whole world of effort and accomplishment, and how we judge all that, when it confronts us, depends on the deep fact of what we are. There is nothing that reaches us but has its contact with the life which is lying hidden in the soul. Things will be great to us if we are great. By all we have struggled for with many a failure, by ever ideal we have lost or won, do we interpret the drama of mankind. A man who has lived purely will find purity on every hand. A man whose life has been a mockery will find all the world a mockery. In every sneer, in every commendation, in every word of praise or word of blame, we are but registering what we have made of life since our feet were on the uplands of the dawn.

We have here one secret of social influence. To see the best in people has a wonderful power of calling out the best; to see the finest, in a world like this, is a sure way of evoking what is fine.

If then we have power by what we see, and if what we see depends on what we are, the most urgent of all social duties is the duty of a man to his own soul. We can have no faith in any social service that springs from careless and unworthy character. There cannot be any vision in such service, and without vision service is in vain. We need a heart that scorns what is contemptible, and clings to the highest, if men and women are to feel the touch that helps them to be better than themselves. Unto the pure all things are pure. We see the best, and help to make it so. Every victory we win alone is aiding our brother to be a better man. Say not you can do nothing for your fellows; you can do more for your fellows than many a noisy demagogue, by being patient, loyal true, and pure in the life which no human eye can see.

In Christ, timothy maranathav