The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


No man may certainly conclude that he is born of God merely because he indulges strong confidence that he is a Christian. If to be strongly persuaded that we are Christians would make us Christians, there would be no such thing as being deceived by false hopes and delusive presumption.

A man may be persuaded that he is a child of God because he discerns in himself the Spirit of Jesus Christ; and in such a persuasion, he has reason to place confidence. But there is a persuasion of our acceptance with God that does not differ from the hope of the hypocrite and the self-deceived.

Some men are confident that they are saved because they think they do not deserve to be damned; they believe God is too merciful to damn them.

Others presume themselves to be saved because they have never done any harm.

Others hope to be saved because they have done a great deal of good.

Others have assurance because they believe they possess the spirit of true Godliness.

And others hope to be saved for no other reason than they believe they will be saved.

Now most of these are, and all of them may be, mere delusion. There is no man saved except by grace in Jesus Christ, and therefore, there is no man who does not deserve to be damned. By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God. Neither is God too merciful to damn men who deserve to be damned, for while He saves thousands who deserve to perish, He demands, "How can you escape who neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3).

As to those who feel that they have never done any harm or have done a great deal of good, the Scriptures declare that they are vile enough to make it necessary for the Son of God to die for their salvation, and for the Spirit of God to effectuate an entire change in their character without which it is impossible for them to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3,5).

Men too may believe they possess the true spirit of Godliness and yet not possess it. They may suppose that Godliness consists in something which falls far short of true Godliness, and even if they suppose it to consist in that which the Scriptures represent it to consist, they may not possess it. There is a love, a repentance, a faith, a hope, a joy, a self-denial, which are of mere human origin and spurious. The religious affections of many men are founded in supreme selfishness. They are willing to love and serve God just so far as they believe He is willing to love and serve them, and no farther; and this is "burdening him with their sins" (Isaiah 43:24).

The religion of such men consists in being very anxious about their own welfare, but very little concerned for the honor and glory of God. It is easy to say, "Pardon is mine; grace is mine; Christ and all His blessings are mine; God has freely loved me; Christ has graciously died for me; and the Holy Spirit will assuredly sanctify me in the belief of these precious truths."

It is no Herculean task for an ardent mind and an unsanctified, enthusiastic heart, to make these discoveries. This is a kind of confidence which the subtle deceiver is interested to cherish. The joys and sorrows, the zeal and devotion, which spring from this delusion, constitute a sort of religion which the blindness and deceit, the self-flattery and pride of the carnal heart very easily substitute for true Godliness.

And what if a man firmly believes he will be saved? What if he imagines he has the assistance of the Spirit of God in "working out this faith in himself"? Saving faith does not consist in believing that one shall be saved.

There is a difference between true faith in Jesus Christ and believing that we shall be saved; between being actually a partaker in His salvation, and the persuasion of our minds that we are partakers. Men may have strong persuasions of their spiritual safety, who spoil themselves with their own deceivings, and might well say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?" A man may have strong hopes who has no saving religion. What is the assurance and hope of the hypocrite, when God takes away his soul?