What Is A Gentleman

Never imagine that the swaggering braggart can move the world; he is as feeble as he is loud. Jesus Christ was the strongest man who ever lived—and the gentlest. He would not have hurt the feelings of a child, and yet he could conquer hell. “He opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed . . . .” [Matthew 5:2, 3.] That was the keynote of his life.

He was always blessing somebody—healing the sick, comforting the sad, cheering the weary, raising the dead; his life was one long series of kindly, brotherly actions. And yet, how he could burn with moral indignation! The same Christ who was tender and gentle and forgiving to the sinners who were tired of the dreary heartache of their useless lives, and longed to be better and do better, could denounce the hypocrites of his day as “a generation of vipers.” [Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33.] We must rid ourselves of the popular delusion that tenderness denotes weakness. It does not. Bullies are weak. Gentlemen are strong. The braggart is impotent; the empty noise of his braying is quickly exhausted, and then he is used up and has nothing to go on with. The man who endures and overcomes is the man who follows Christ in his sweet reasonableness of temper and thought and action. . . .

Ladylikeness of exterior and a sort of “got-up-regardless-of-expense” appearance are not the outward and visible signs of gentlemanliness. Some of the roughest and most erratic men possess the truest hearts and the tenderest spirits. I shall always feel intensely grateful that the blind and blundering Peter was one of the disciples, for it shows that Jesus Christ can sympathize with men who are recklessly enthusiastic. Some of the most useful, genial, and delightful men I have ever met have been impetuous Peters,—true and honest disciples, but afflicted with the unhappy knack of occasionally doing the right thing in the wrong way. They seem to possess every other virtue except caution and prudence. And yet what a gentleman this erratic kind of fellow sometimes is! How sunny his smile! how loving his heart! how honest his voice! how firm the grip of his hand! See how he dries the falling tear; observe how readily he bears the bitterest inconvenience in order to do service for a man who is “down;” notice how he stints himself that he may help any prodigal who happens to be “hard-up;” see how the tiny children love this great-hearted, merry, boyish fellow, climbing all over him, caressing his rough face, and pulling his grizzly beard. Yes, this man knows something of the gentlemanly Carpenter of Nazareth, or he would not be so refreshingly frank, so transparently sincere, so sublimely unselfish. After all, I should rather have the rugged warmth of a firework than the prim and pompous frigidity of an iceberg.

You will always notice that a gentleman possesses a dexterous and most delightful tact. [For instance] at a certain breakfast a guest upset a cup, and its contents soiled the cloth. A neighbor quietly placed a vase of flowers over the stain, and thus hid the blot with beauty. . . .

If we imitate the gentlemanliness of Jesus, . . . we shall look for the good in men, we shall try to ignore their weaknesses, and our judgments will be very kind. We must remember that no man is utterly and irretrievably bad. We all have a good side to our characters—a Dr. Jekyll, who is generous and charitable and upright. And, alas! what life is not embittered and hampered by a ghostly Mr. Hyde, black with iniquity, terrible with hatred, scorched with hell! The evil spirit is part of us; it destroys our rest; it assails us at our weakest points; and when we would do good, there is the desperate and deadly temptation to be reckoned with, and sometimes we are swept along before the withering blast of our unrestrained passions. Life is a mixed quantity. We are bad for a time, then we rise up and declare that we will be Christ’s men. We pray with eager desire and intense earnestness, and immediately afterwards give both hands to the devil. One day we are cursed with hideous and soul-haunting thoughts, and the very next day blessed with all the calm of heaven’s peace. Our life is a maze, a tangled mystery, a grim tragedy. The great lesson to be learned from this duality of purpose is that no character is altogether bad. The worst part of a man’s nature may have caught our attention, and we instantly condemn him as a most hopeless and degraded sinner. What blind injustice! He may all the time be fighting a winning battle with a thousand temptations of which we know nothing. So we must cultivate a gentlemanly kindness in our criticisms, knowing that we shall often experience the pain of defeat ere we know the glory of ultimate victory.

Among other unmistakable indications of true gentlemanliness are chivalry and unselfishness. He is no gentleman, but the meanest and most contemptible of creatures, who is unclean in thought and unchaste in life. One of the most remarkable characteristics of gentlemanliness lies in the fact that it is not so very far removed from womanliness. It has a sacred modesty, a tender regard and respect for weakness and loneliness and inferiority, a deep and genuine reverence for the innocence and purity of womanhood. But, you say, how about manliness? I reply by asking another question, Do you know what manliness means? It signifies virtue. . . . Vice is no mark of cleverness or manliness. It is a shameful, devilish thing that scars the soul, wounds the heart, rends the whole life asunder, and turns the future into darkness.

There is one other mark of the highest Christian gentlemanliness: it absolutely prohibits sickening personalities in conversation. . . . The gentlemanly thing to do is to dwell as much as possible on the best side of human nature. Healthy men will not wish to dine at a dissecting table. Instead of retailing petty gossip about people, and criticizing small mistakes, and exaggerating trifling defects, rise higher, speak of nobler things, manlier thoughts, loftier objects, and try to keep the atmosphere pure and fragrant with charity and brotherly love. Perhaps it has not occurred to you that to ridicule or slander an absent man is the most vulgar and cowardly thing you can do. The apostle has told us that “the tongue is a fire,” [James 3:6] and we know it is so. Nothing stabs so deep as slanderous, resentment, subtle and base insinuations, and scorn to indulge in unwholesome gossip; for, . . . the true gentleman “has no ears for slander, never takes an unfair advantage, and interprets everything for the best.”

But let us come to close quarters, and inquire into some of the indispensable characteristics of a gentleman. In the first place, he is brimming over with brotherliness. Not only is this the first indication of gentlemanliness, it is the very essence and heart of true Christianity. The apostle John evidently thought so, for he said, in his frank, straightforward way, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar;” [1 John 4:20] and again, “Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God;” [1 John 4:7] and then, in a burst of indignation, he declares that the man who hates his brother is a murderer. I firmly believe that the crowning necessity of the church today is not an austere and unbending Puritanism, but a large-hearted, cheerful spirit of Christian brotherliness. While we have been wasting our strength in drawing up resolutions, arranging our formulas, and throttling enthusiasm with red tape, the devil has been winning hosts of adherents by means of cheerful resorts, bright music, and good fellowship. The shallow critic cannot save the world—even the skillful theologian cannot do it. What we want is [brotherly love].

There are men who have fallen in the tragedy of life, and, bleeding and forlorn, they need the hearty hand grasp, the friendly help of brotherly men. We must cast away our supercilious self-conceit and our chilling cynicism. We must get hold of those who have been overcome of evil, and cheer them with words of hope, and encourage them to begin a better life. We must treat with infinite tenderness bewildered, misguided, unhappy souls who have blundered and fallen, and are gradually sinking into despair. Such men will be repulsed by a tract, they will resent an arrogant inquisition into their intellectual eccentricities. But we may love them to Christ. We may gently succor them from their evil selves, and show them the noble character, the mysterious self-sacrifice, and the resistless power of him who was the Friend and Saviour of thieves and harlots. All brotherliness must begin at the cross. Inspired by the supreme revelation of the Father’s love, we shall lose our unworthy pride, our reckless ambition, and our false notions of respectability, and learn the first lesson of gentlemanliness, which is to love our brother even as Christ has loved us.

Reprinted from Shams, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., 1916, 43–54.