The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


It is by no means conclusive evidence that men are born of God because they are endued with eminent gifts. Some people are very retired in their habits and very diffident in their powers, and especially in the public expression of religion, who at the same time, possess at heart the true grace of the Gospel; while others of a less embarrassed and more obtrusive turn of mind posses peculiar facilities both of thought and expression, and seldom engage in the public acts of devotion without profit to those around them. These at the same time may be deceivers or deceived. Gifts are one thing, and true grace is another thing. The gift of prayer is one thing, and the grace of prayer is another. The gift of spiritual conversation is one thing, and the grace of spiritual conversation is another.

Balaam and Saul were among the prophets, but they were both the enemies of all righteousness. Judas was a public preacher and yet he was an accursed traitor. Many at the last day shall say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name cast out demons," to whom the king shall answer, "I know you not, depart from me you that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:22-23). The eminent gifts and distinguished usefulness of many professing Christians are no doubt imparted to them for the benefit of the church of God, while they themselves are reserved to be cast away.

A man may converse on the subject of religion as though his lips were touched with a coal from off the altar, and yet be at heart ignorant of those things in which he is the instructor of others. Oh, it is a lamentable thought, but it is nevertheless true that "A man may preach like an apostle, pray like an angel--and yet have the heart of a fiend." * The author uses this phrase as descriptive of those who have natural abilities of verbal expression, either in teaching, preaching, or public praying.