S. D. Gordon on the Ideal Man

Samuel D. Gordon (1859-1936) served as Ohio’s State Secretary for the YMCA. “He was a widely traveled speaker in high demand. A prolific author, he wrote more than 25 devotional books. He also traveled to Europe and Asia as a missionary. A plain man, controlled by a strong desire to edify God’s people, he won the respect of the learned and at the same time the affection of the simple” (GoodReads). He is especially known for his titles on “Quiet Talks…”

In a chapter on “The Problem of Ambition,” S. D. Gordon expounded on Paul’s resolve in Philippians 3: 12-14: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [emphasis Gordon’s]

In this context he taught on man as body, soul and spirit with relevant insights for functioning according to God’s design:


The man we are talking about just now [the ideal man] is a trinity. There are three of him tied up together. The three are in a scale ascending from lowest to highest. At the lowest there is a body; yet though lowest it is never low; at the lowest it is high. The lowest rung of this ladder is high.

A step up is the mind. Every man has a mind, though quite a number do not seem to have suspected that fact. It is peculiar in its make-up; there is a cold-storage room for facts; a photographer’s highly sensitized plate for receiving impressions of all that comes; and a judge sitting above all to weigh and sift and give decisions and guide all below. And highest of all is the spirit which lives in the body, thinks through the mind, and holds the sceptre of the life. The true man aims steadily to have a trained body, its powers matured or rather maturing, disciplined to obey and under full control. It is to be kept steadily in its place of a faithful servant. That is a very high place, to serve faithfully the purpose intended. He does not coddle his body, nor abuse it; he is not heedless of its requirements; and, above all, he is not ignorant of its nature and needs, and does not allow it to reverse the true order and become master. This man has not attained, but he is reaching, and this is his aim.

A Double Trinity

On the next higher level is another trinity, a trinity within a trinity, for the mind is that. [Gordon uses “mind” as synecdoche–a part representing the whole.  Note his explanation of the faculties of mind, will and emotions. Paul’s term for this middle aspect of man’s basic “trinity” is soul. ] Through the five in-gates of eye and ear, taste and touch and smell, come in the impressions, the information, the facts that are put away. The intellect is the mind’s cold storage for gathering and holding all that comes. It should be kept clear, cool, and calm, ever alertly listening, keen for facts, gathering, weighing, sifting, sorting and pigeonholing them for use.

Then there is the power to feel, the faculty that is impressed by all that comes, and that gives expression to what is felt, the emotional nature. It should be kept soft so as to record quickly and accurately all that comes in. It properly is susceptible, plastic; on the one hand not stupid, nor on the other overexcited or stale. There is perhaps less training of this faculty, except narrowly in strictly professional studies, as music or art or medical skill, than of either of the other two powers of the mind. It should not be repressed, and should not be dominant. Yet to either one of those extremes does the pendulum usually swing.

There is a tendency among men to repress the feelings, especially the finer feelings. There is a tendency among women to yield unduly to the feelings and allow them to rule. Both are extremes to be carefully avoided. A tear may be as manly as rugged strength. And repressed emotion may be as womanly as the finer fibre of woman’s strength. The tears that stand simply for an emotion spending itself out are hurtful; they do but wear away the strength to help that somebody needs. The tears that tell of a motive touched and stirred into action in behalf of that which called them forth are beauteous with rainbow light.

The duty of the feelings is to note accurately all that comes in and report fully to the will above. One should aim to discipline his emotional nature that it may serve him fully. The man one should be has not reached his aim here, but he is steadily stretching up towards it.

Combined with these is the third and highest member of the mental trinity, the will. The will is the king here; the judge on the highest bench from which no appeal may be taken. It is the autocrat on the throne, with no constitution to limit its sway. There are various words used for the will: purpose is the aim or direction of the will; determination is the quality of the will, telling how much or how little the purpose may be depended upon; force is the driving power of the will, telling how much pressure or how little may be brought into play in getting the will’s will done.

The man who would be true to his being keeps all the avenues of approach open to receive all there is, his intellect quietly and steadily at its work, the feelings sensitive but well in hand, the will listening to its servants and ruling fairly over all with a gentle but very firm hand.

Then distinctly above both of these is the spirit, the living spirit who resides within this organism of body and mind [soul], animating and dominating all the powers below, and all the life.

Such a man is ambitious [as in Phil. 3:12-14], in the true sense of that great word. He is reaching steadily towards the highest levels.


From Quiet Talks on Personal Problems, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House 1980, chapter 3. (originally published in 1907 by Revell). Bracketed comments, italics and bold emphases added

– John Woodward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s