The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829

(Al Martin & Ernie Reisinger, 1979)

What must I do to be saved?

How may I know that I am saved?

It is obvious that these are two different questions, and it is just as clear that the Bible gives a specific answer to each of them.

In answer to the first question, the Biblical directive is unmistakable. One must repent of sin and believe in Jesus Christ the Lord if he is to be saved (Acts 20:21). All Spirit-wounded, convicted sinners must be urged to look away from themselves, and in a penitent faith to fix the gaze of their souls upon Christ alone for mercy as He is offered to them in the Gospel.

But the second question demands a different answer. How one may know that he has truly repented and believed is not a question concerning the ground or means of one's acceptance before God, but rather the proof and evidence of one's saving relationship to Him in Christ. The Bible's answer to this question is that we must "examine ourselves and prove ourselves whether we are in the faith." Accompanying that command the same Scriptures lay out objective evidence of the fruits of true repentance and faith.

Great confusion and subsequent delusion has flooded the professing church in our generation through a failure to distinguish the difference in the Bible's answer to these two questions.

In most Evangelical circles today anyone who asks the question "How may I know that I am saved and that I have truly repented and believed?" is encouraged to simply rest on a text which declares that all believers are saved. But this is circuitous reasoning and fails to come to grips with the real issue.

The answer given to this vital question by the author of this little volume proceeds along a different line of evidence, one which has far more of the sanction of the Bible and of Historic Christianity. His thesis is that there are what he terms "distinguishing traits" evidenced in the true sons of God, which traits are the accumulative indication that God has begun a good work in the soul. Thus he begins his essays by stating some of those things which are not an evidence that we have been savingly joined to Christ, and he concludes his treatise by setting forth those traits of life and character which form conclusive evidence of the work of God in the heart of a man.

That this particular approach to the burning question "Am I or am I not saved?" is a far more Biblical one than that approach generally given in our day is clearly evidenced by the following factors:

(1) the whole drift of Biblical teaching enjoins us to consider the objective evidence of God's work in our hearts, and on that basis to conclude whether or not we are the true children of God. See Matthew 7:21; John 10:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:19; Galatians 5:19 thru 21; and Hebrews 5:9.

(2) The specific teaching of the First Book of John. In 1 John 5:13 John states that his reason for writing his letter was that men might be assured of the possession of eternal life. How did he accomplish this objective? Not by giving them a string of texts upon which to base their confidence, but by displaying a set of tests whereby they might evaluate the reality of their professed faith.

For example, he said "Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3). Again, we know that we have passed from death unto life, if we love the brethren (1 John 3:14). See also 1 John 1:6; 2:3-4,9-11, 15-17; 3:3-10, 13-15, etc. It is only as we are willing to lay our lives alongside the objective standard of God's description of a true Christian that we can obey the command of God's Word to "examine ourselves and prove ourselves whether we are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5).

It seems quite obvious that the author drew heavily from the basic outline and concepts as set forth in Jonathan Edwards' classic work on "The Religious Affections". In fact, one might say that Dr. Spring has taken the cream of Edwards' immortal work and made it accessible and readable for the average layman.

There are a few places, such as the chapter on Self-Denial, where the author deals with definitions and distinctions which may seem to be more philosophical than practical. The reader must resist the temptation to merely skim these sections under the assumption that they are irrelevant and unimportant. Our age is one of intense pragmatism and few are willing to pause to consider the area of motivation as it relates to religious activity. Yet the Bible is clear in its statements that motivation is many times the only thing distinguishing an act as a virtuous deed or as a sin. (See Matthew 6:1 and following.) We would encourage the reader to grasp the fine distinctions and to use his God given faculties of thought in order to penetrate beneath the surface of things. All of us will be forced to do so in that great Day when the "Lord shall come and shall bring to light the hidden things of darkness" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

The author of these essays was the distinguished pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City for over fifty-five years. There is an excellent article on his life and ministry printed in the Banner of Truth, Volume 31, September, 1963. The article, entitled "Lessons from the Ministry of Dr. Gardiner Spring," affords some helpful insights into the factors which molded the man who produced the searching pages of this book.

This present form of the book was adapted from the fifth edition, published in 1829 under the title, "Essays on the Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character".

One final word as to the plan of editing which was followed in preparing this present edition. Most of us are aware that there is a constant flux in the meaning of words. Words which accurately conveyed a Biblical concept in 1829 may not do so today. It has been the attempt of the editors to change words and phraseology only where this was necessary to produce a greater accuracy in the communication of these basic truths to this present generation. In the 1829 edition there were no references given to the Scriptures quoted. The editors felt it would be wise to state the references wherever possible so that all assertions might be checked by the "law and testimony."

It is our prayer that God may use this book in the following ways:

(1) To confirm the faith of such as are the true children of God, but who lack assurance based upon Biblical principles.

(2) To strip away the false hopes of such as are deluded and whose delusion has been confirmed by the erroneous teaching on the subject of assurance which is so prevalent in our day.

(3) To clarify these issues to those who stand in that awesome place of being expositors and teachers of God's Holy Word, so that they may find fuel for the fires of their own hearts and for their public ministry of the Scriptures.

With such an end in view we commend this volume to each reader for his careful and prayerful study, convinced that the sovereign God who has led to the rediscovery of this particular work will attend its republication with His blessings to the accomplishment of His own purpose.