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Oakley's Sermons

Character Revelations of the Human Face

Reading: 2 Cor. 4
Hymns: 532, 537, 533
Text: “The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” 2 Cor. 4:6

The human face is the crowning work of physical creation. It is the greatest thing in the realm of material facts. The earth, the sea, and the sky have yielded many wonderful surprises to those who have patiently sought to know their secrets and their beauties, but they have shown nothing so marvelous as the human face. What a surpassingly rich inheritance has been acquired in the wealth of human faces we purpose for a little time to study.

The human body stands at the apex of creation. It is the most wonderful thing that God made. This we believe if we do not believe in the modern theory of evolution. Our fathers thought that God made the world and all in it after set moulds, each wonderful after its kind, but a separate and distinct creation. In this view the human form, and chief in that the human face, was the last and greatest of the creative acts of God.

Many in our day believe God made the world and all that is in it but not in set moulds, but in rising forms each superior to its predecessor. In this view the goal of all growth, and the end of a effort, is the human body; chiefest in which is the human face. If our thought runs in the latter channel, then we think of the human face as the result of age long upward tendencies, and the goal of all creation. For the face is as wonderful in comparison with the rest of the body as is the human body in comparison with other and lower forms of life. In the face are centered the distinctive traits of superiority. Other parts of the body are not without honor, but they are not so distinctive and exceptional. The heart is essential, but lower forms of life have delicate hearts. The miracle of reproduction is surpassing strange, but all life has power to reproduce itself. The hands are dextrous, but man is not the only being agile with his hands. The feet are prophetic, since by them man stands erect, but the monkeys have feet and stand erect. Indeed the details of the human body are intricate, but the face surpasses them all. For in the face lies the possibility of sight, of hearing, of taste, of smell,-and more than these merely physical attributes, here is to be found the birth marks of man's divinity, and his pledge of a higher and holier life than mere animalism.

If it be said that man is not the only animal in which the senses are found, and that in many of the lower animals the sense are more highly developed than in man, the point while true does not invalidate our contention. It is true that the deer and cat have keener hearing, the dog a better scent, certain birds more discriminating taste, but none of these have all, nor do they appear to know how to use them as does man.

Indeed it is by a comparison of the human face with that of the lower orders of life that we are able to fully appreciate the crowning glory of the human face. For while there are certain resemblances in men to lower beasts there is much more that does not resemble them, and the superiority is evident by the contrast. It has always been a favorite action to make the comparison however. Thus James W. Redfield, M. D. in his work on "Comparative Physiognomy" calls attention to the resemblance of Germans to lions, of Negroes to elephants, of Arabs to camels, of Englishmen to bulls, of Persians to peacocks, of Yankees to bears, of Chinamen to hogs, of Irishmen to dogs, of Jews to goats, and of certain marked resemblances of individuals to vultures, peacocks, apes, storks, cocks, etc. This has all become commonplace in our day, however, since the evolutionary theory has been in vogue. We see now that the fact of importance is not that there are resemblances, but points of superiority, and that the human face has transcended the long line from which it has occurred.

That the face is the crowning work of creation is seen also in its construction. Marvelous beyond all comparison is the delicate machinery of the senses. It is not our purpose this morning to go into a physiological dissertation on the features of the face. The marvelous eye, the significant and expressive eye-brows, the nose, the mouth, the chin, the cheeks, the ears, the teeth, are all more wonderful than the most delicate of our best perfected machinery. Indeed not a little of the great inventions is a poor reproduction of what God has wrought in the machinery of the face. Thus, the cameras of the world attempt to take pictures of the world, as does the human eye. With all the great achievements made, what a poor copy is the very best picture compared to the picture which the eye takes momentarily. Here in the human eye is the world's perfected camera,- to be had with life for the asking. It is covered with a lash that covers it securely, and without any thought being directed to it. It is guarded by heavy forts in the bones of the cheek and forehead. It is sparking with all the fire of life. It is colored with all the beauty of existence. It is bathed with a pure water that may gather on your cheek in the coldest weather but which will not freeze. But the marvel of the eye is not in its protection nor its beauty, but its perfection of service. It will produce series of moving pictures by the hour, with never a groan of machinery and not a break in the flow. It paints with all the kaleidoscopic colors of the rainbow the pictures it makes, instead of painting only in colors of light and darkness. It adjusts its lens to the glare of the brightest light or the felt darkness of the dungeon, with no help from anyone. It never lies [his wife edits "never" to "seldom"]. The ear may confuse sounds- the nose may confuse odors,- but the eye does not lie. I mean of course a perfect eye, and not a base counterfeit. Truly in the construction of the eye we are able to see how great a work of creation it is.

That the face is the crowning work of creation may be seen again in the fact that we look to the face in the great and crucial hours of life. When a young man prays to a young maiden the prayer of love, he does not beseech her hands, or feet or back, that they take him now and forever. He kneels before her, and looks to her face- at least he aught to if he has any sense. If she has any sense she will not answer till he does. When together they stand at the altar and the highest holiest purposes in them are at high tide, they forget all passion, all the past, and have but a dim vision of the future, as they gaze steadfastly into one another's eyes. Indeed, the minister who gets to be more or less of an adept in looking into people's faces, and marking their meaning, sees this searching out of faces and this exchange of thought even when he would not like, not the faces, but the attention of the younger portion of his audience. Sometimes in moments of discouragement, when trouble and vexation of spirit is on one, he wonders why men do not rebel at being born into this world. Why do they not cry out in horror at coming into a world of misunderstandings, and wars and lust, and theft, and all to often the reign of the strongest? Why do they not want to give up the ghost and die, before it all comes to ruin and curse them? Why, indeed? Because men come into this world and the first thing they see to know is the face of a mother over them. Here there is no vexation, no trouble, no disertion, no war. Even if the mother knows it in her own relations, she does not know it with her child. And when at last our race has been run, and we are about to lay aside the mantle we have worn, then at last as at first we look for the face of those we have learned to love and trust. Men do not generally love to turn on their side away from the world to die. They do not like to hide away to the wilderness like a wounded bird to die. Men, when they are sick, think of home and care and mother. Men love to die with their families about them. If it happens, as all too often it does that the end comes in unconsciousness may be it is better even so, for then the last look was of a good-night and not of an eternal good-bye. We dread at times the leaving of the world we have grown accustomed to love- to go to another. We shudder when some one dearly beloved goes, as if he went to strangers. But if we may trust the growing experience we have gained here, we may suppose that the first sight to greet our loved ones in the other world is like that which met them on the threshold of this,- the face of love. We have said enough, I trust, to make it evident that from a comparison with the rest of the system, and with the lower orders of life, from its construction, and from its constancy in the great hours of life, we are entitled to call the human face the crowning work of creation.

The Face is a Mirror of the Soul

We proceed now to point out that the human face is the mirror of the soul; that what we are finds expression in our faces. As the greatest of England's poets said,

"There's no art, To find the mind's construction in the face."

And again as he painted an aged man, he said, "His cheek the map of outworn days". Lavater, than whom there has never been a more observant student of the human face says, "Faces are as legible as books, only they are read in much less time, and are much less likely to deceive us." Said Lord Kames, "The character of a man may be read in his face."

Certain anecdotes collected by Lavater will tell in a quick and sharp way how the face mirrors of real character.

"The father of a young virtuous man who was about to undertake a distant journey, said to him as he bade farewell, "All that I ask of you, my son, is that you bring me back the same face."

"At what do you value my face", a stranger asked of a physiognomist. The latter replied that naturally it was not an easy thing to value.- "It is worth 1,500 crowns", replied the other;"for this sum has just ben lent me on my face by one who did not know me".

"A friend of Count T- who lived in W- one day entered his house with a face which he sought to make gay and serene. After having finished the business which had brought him, he wished to retire. "I shall not let you go out", said the Count.- "That is a strange idea", replied the friend; "it is very necessary that I should go"- "You will not leave my room", replied the Count, locking the door. "In Heaven's name, why do you act thus?" "Because I read in your face that you are meditating a crime".- "Who? I? How can you believe me capable?"- "You are meditating an assassination, or I understand nothing". The other grew pale and confessed that the Count had guessed rightly. He surrendered to the latter a pistol which he was keeping hidden, and told him a sad story. The Count was generous enough to draw his friend from a situation which was about to lead him into crime."

It is well to note that the features of the face which play so large a part in what we call expression, have certain marked characteristics which betray the character. Thus a wide and lofty forehead has been universally considered beautiful, and a sign of intelligence, while the low and receding brow is thought ugly and a sign of inferiority. The nose reveals at once the ethnical and aesthetic elements of the face. The flat nose of the negro is very far removed from the aquiline nose of the Roman. Lavater said an ugly nose could never be associated with an ugly [?] face. It is the most dominating feature of the face. The wit was right who said "He that hath a great nose thinks everybody is speaking about it". Anger, pride and contempt can never be dissociated from the nose. The mouth is the most expressive part of the face and is always in play in sympathy. If the eye is the center of expression and thought, the mouth is the focus of feeling and sensuality. In speaking of the mouth, Lavater exclaimed, "Humanity. How thou / art degraded! What will be my ecstasy in the life eternal when my eyes shall behold the face of Jesus Christ, the mouth of divinity-when I shall utter this cry of joy, "I too have received a mouth like that which I adore, and I dare to pronounce the name of Him who has given it to me. Life eternal to think of thee is already happiness". Herder the Father of the philosophy of history, was not less impressed by the mouth; he wrote; "It is from the mouth that the voice issues, interpreter of the heart and of the soul, expression of feeling, of friendship, of the purest enthusiasm. The upper lip transmits the inclinations, the appetites, the disquietude of love; pride and passion contract it, cunning attenuates it; goodness of heart reflects it, debauchery enervates and debases it, love and the passions incarnate themselves with an inexpressible charm". The chin seems to mark some connection with the will, for all strong willed people like the English have prominent chins, while lower and inferior races have receding chins. It has been often said that man alone has a chin, but this is true only of the skeleton. When the chin is dimpled ever race has agreed in its proverbs that an added loveliness has been reached. The ear is also associated with character, according to its size and contours. Prominent cheek bones, and irregular or ugly teeth also have marked meanings in the human face. We have said enough however to note that even in detail the very features lend themselves not only to expression of the momentary mood, but seem to lend a hand in the betrayal of one's character to the world.

With features singularly as expressive and significant as we have seen the features of the human countenance are, it is no wonder that we may contend that the face is the mirror of the soul. For when all the features combine into action, there is no mood that is not reflected in their mobile movements.

How truly the features mirror the character of a man is seen in portrait painting. The essence of the portrait is not to paint one as he is. It is rather to heighten the effects. By the accentuation of a muscle here, and the attenuation of a feature there, the whole face is changed but a little in its whole appearance, but it is beautified. The greatest painting in the world, we are reminded by Ruskin, is portrait painting. What makes it such is not only that the face is the greatest thing in the realm of the physical world to paint, but that by this process of studying the expression of the features, the artist is able to mirror a beautiful face and a still more significant character.

This same fact is quite as well understood from the reverse side, in the delineation of caricature. Caricature is the same thing as portrait painting reversed. Instead of making the feature that is significant more so, it is made less so. The obnoxious is made unbearable. By this simple trick of adding to the feature a few strokes that tell of the meanness or indifference or brutality, the same face is completely changed. Thomas Nast took Tweed's long nose and curved it ever so little- not to the right as most noses curve- but down, and Tweed looked like a vulture which he was. The public saw it, and banished the vulture.

It is beyond the purpose of our sermon this morning to attempt to tell anything like all that is mirrored in the human face. To do that would be to write the whole volume of the meaning of our life and all that goes to fill it. For there is little indeed that belongs to life that is not written on the open scroll of the face. We aught not pass however without noting that the great and dominant moods of life find expression most easily in the face. Both joy and grief are found there. Love and hatred shine in the same countenance. Contempt and adoration rudely jostle each other. Cruelty and compassion like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde hide under the lineaments of the same face. Delirium is often associated with poetry as with Lord Byron. Mingled hope and fear is common to us all. These are moods that we all know and that no one of us can have escaped noticing.

Our text calls attention to the fact that the very highest fact known to us is capable of expression in the face. "The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". This is saying in another way, that when men most have wanted to know- their priceless heritage when discovered- namely, the insight into the character and love of God this is all written in plain characters in the face of Jesus. The unselfish love of the mother, the otherworldliness of the aged benevolent saint, the pure and naked look of the innocent child,- all this is augmented a thousand fold in the vision we have into the purity found in the face of Jesus.

But if our scriptures make it evident that the highest gamut of living is capable of expression in the human face, they also make it apparent that the very depths of degradation are likewise recorded there. You may read in the faces of young girls hardly out of their teens, whose faces are dyed with cosmetics, like the face of Jezebel,- the glare of whose face is felt even now,- on these young faces you see at certain hours in the streets reflections that light up the lower regions of Hell. Hard, stony, brazen faces, which the world has prostituted and cast away, which picture the degradation of the soul, and mirror it in the face. As it is said that the eye of a murderer will carry for many days the image of his victim, so these faces carry with them the nameless cruelty and selfishness of the sordid life of men. Some day let us hope that the world will see to it that some recompense be made to them.

If it be that the face is able to reflect the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and also the vilest passions of men, I need not be concerned to delineate all the passions and moods between these two, which it is manifestly able to likewise image. There are to faces concerning the face as the mirror of the soul, which need passing thought. One is the unconsciousness of real and lasting beauty. Moses offers us an example of what I have in mind. On the Mount his face did shine; it moreover took on a new and added loveliness and meaning. It is laconically said that Moses wished that his face shone not. So it is of all great and imperishable loveliness. In is unconscious. The beauty that adorns itself, and makes the most of itself before the glass, while admirable in its way, it is a perishable thing and must be handled with care. But the beauty of goodness will outride the dreariest storms of life. A second fact is that like Socrates, the mere contour of the features may not accurately describe the soul. Socrates was the homeliest man of antiquity, and also one of the very best. One must not be too sure that the irregular outline is a scowl. He must be careful not to confound the unchanging with the variable. Matthews well says, "Nature cuts queer capers with men's phizes at times, and confounds all the deductions of philosophy. Character does not put all its goods, and sometimes not any of them, in its shop window". This must be remembered as the exception and not the rule.

We have said enough, I trust, to indicate how that the various passions of men's souls are reflected in their faces, and how truthfully said that the face is the window and mirror of the soul.

The Moulding of the Face

It is high time that we considered for a little in conclusion our personal responsibility for the moulding of our faces. It is already evident as an inference from what has been said that we are able quite largely to determine what sort of face we shall have. There are three factors that mould faces, as they mould all life. These are heredity, environment, and habit. What we get from our fathers, what we get from the surrounding in which we live, and what we put into life are the three and only three factors that mould us. Now of these three, we are not responsible nor can we change the facts of heredity. But we are able to change quite largely the influences of our surroundings, and we are able absolutely to determine habit. No one but ourselves surely are to blame for where we live and what we do.

Note the meaning of this with reference to the face. We are not to blame, for example if we have a long or homely nose; but we are entirely to blame if it red (one may know by your nose what pottage you love) and we are to blame for where we keep it. A man should not stick his nose in everything. We are not to blame if our eyes are blue or gray, or even colorless; but we are to blame if they are bleared, or if they are roving and licentious. We want not evil eyes, but those which are homes of silent prayer. We are not to blame if our mouth is little or big; but we are to blame for the places in which it is found and for the things that are passing through it. We are not to blame if our ears be little or big- or whether they are close to the head or project form it; but we are to blame for the ear of bad company and the sinner that listens to stories of wrong to ourselves or others.

In one word it may be said that there are good and bad faces and that we are to determine which ours shall be.

There are three common types of bad faces known to us all, which we are responsible for, if we wear them.

The scowling face indicates a heart of enmity. When the face scowls, the heart hates. The wrinkles of the cheeks and forehead, are a puur reflection of the furrows in the soul.

The furtive face is the uncertain suspicious looking face of one whose heart is bad but whose life is not known. Deceivers always wear a furtive face. They never look people in the face. Sometimes it is said such faces are false.

The prison face, which you may see in any of the great institutions of expiation like prisons and reformatories. On these faces has been written what hatred, luxury, thirst for gold, inertia which wine alone can conquer, weakness which only rage overpowers, and a debauched sensualism can do. These faces were so made, by the wicked will. If any of us wear such faces, God pity us, for all our friends can read and see us as we are and know that we are to reckon for it. Let us take heart and thank God that if there be bad faces in the world, there are also good ones. The good ones are as marked as are the bad. There are three characteristics of a good face which aught not be missed.

A good face is benevolent. The Golden Rule of religion is to love everyone and always- to love everywhere and all goodness. When the heart knows no hatred, no rancour, no cruelty, nor envy, nor debauchery the face shows it at once by many signs. Such a face we call benevolent.

A good face is frank. It is just the reverse of the furtive false face. It looks you squarely in the eye. A good face does not need to hide anything. It looks for nothing hidden in others


A good face is happy, not with a forced happiness but by the very exuberance of its feeling. Sin brings weakness, disease and suffering. Goodness brings health, and the smile. No doubt sin has a smile, but it is the oblique smile of temptation. A good face is happy.

It will be noted that in these brief indications of the good and bad face, we have been dealing with matters not of intellect, but with feelings and passions. It aught to always be remembered that the feelings leave a sharper imprint on the face than anything else. No one aught to be able to escape the meaning of this. We all feel. Some of us do not know much, but we all feel much. And it is the feelings that most plainly write their characters on our faces. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

One of the most beautiful laws of the universe is that we become like that we love. Faces have reciprocal influences on each other. Children imitate those who are older. Men become like those whom they admire. Frederick the Great always had a bust of Julius Caesar on his bureau. The King of Prussia said that Caesar had inspired him to many great things. Hawthorne never drew a more beautiful picture than of the boy who grew to be like the Great Stone Face, by long years of meditation on that great stone of the Mountains which looks so much like the human face.

This law has its evident meaning in the realm of religion. We become like that we love and worship. Paul never wrote a truer line than this; "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18). "We shall be like him; for we shall se him as he is" (I John 3:2) said the character who most loved Jesus and who perhaps came to be nearest like him.

It is possible then, for us to become like God. As the knowledge of the glory of God became reflected in the face of Jesus Christ, so the love that was in Jesus may become reflected in us. We may become like him. It is a beautious and wonderful thought. How happy are those who press toward that mark.

And as we reach toward we come to realize more and more the greatness of those words with which our scriptures begin, "God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him. Male and female created he them". In these words we have the statement from another and corroborative source that the human form is the highest holiest work of creation. We surely can do no less than strive to be "like Him".