The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


In the preceding essays I have referred to several things which neither prove nor disprove the existence of true religion in the soul.

A man may be unexceptionable in his moral deportment;
he may be well instructed in all the doctrines of the Gospel;
he may put on the form of religion;
he may be endued with eminent gifts;
he may have been the subject of deep convictions;
he may himself be persuaded that he is a converted man, and be able to specify the particular time when he supposes he was converted
—and still it is possible this very man may be in the gall of bitterness, and bonds of iniquity! We do not affirm that this is any evidence against his conversion, but only affirm that it is not conclusive evidence that he is converted. The view we have taken, therefore, is only a negative view and decides nothing.

We are still left in darkness and embarrassment as to the great question. Upon the details of the positive and satisfactory evidences of the new birth it is now our purpose to enter.

Among the most convincing of these is love to God. Love to God involves a conviction of His excellence, an inner contentment towards the revelation of His nature and gratitude for His favors. The man who possesses this sublime affection has reason to believe that his character differs from what it was by nature.

The carnal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). Though unrenewed men may possess some true knowledge, both of the natural and moral perfections of the Deity, and though they cannot contemplate His greatness and goodness without discerning His excellence—still they take no delight in His excellence, they feel no benevolence toward His interests, no true gratitude for His favors.

But this deep root of disaffection toward God, is superseded in the renewed mind by holy love. As the first and great commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your understanding" (Luke 10:27). The love of God is the first and highest affection of the renovated heart. It belongs to true love always to have correct perceptions of its object. The new born soul does not clothe the Divine Being with such attributes and such only as suit a depraved taste, and then fall down and worship Him—but he loves the true character of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures; for to love a false character of God, you perceive, would be to hate His true character.

The cause of love to God is the agency of the Holy Spirit.

The foundation and motive of love to God is His intrinsic excellence.

When Moses exclaimed, "Who is like unto you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like unto you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!" (Exodus 15:11), he discovered an excellence and glory in the divine nature which filled his mind with esteem and inward delight.

Love to God does not differ in its nature from love to any other object. If you love your friend, unless your love is base and mercenary, it is because you see something in the character of your friend that is amiable and lovely. "In the exercise of true love to any object, there is pleasure taken in the object itself." Thus, the excellence of God is the foundation of all sincere love to Him.

True love to God essentially consists in being pleased that He is just such a Being as He is revealed in Scripture.

His wisdom is unerring.

His power is irresistible.

His purity is unblemished.

His goodness is universal and unselfish.

His justice is inflexible.

His grace is infinite.

His designs are all eternal and immutable.

These are excellencies which fill the new born soul with pleasure and admiration. On such a Being the mind can rest as its chief happiness; and the favor of such a Being it can prefer to every other enjoyment.

There is a vast difference between such an affection and that selfish and unhallowed friendship to God which terminates on our own happiness as its supreme motive and end. If a man, in his supposed love to God, has no ultimate regard except to his own happiness; if he delights in God, not for what He is, but for what He is to him; in such a sentiment there is no moral virtue.

There is indeed great love of self, but no true love to God. But where the enmity of the carnal mind is slain, the soul is reconciled to the Divine character as it is revealed in Scripture. God Himself, in the fullness of His manifested glory, becomes the object of devout and delighted contemplation. In his more favored hours the views of a good man are in a great measure diverted from himself. As his thoughts glance toward the varied excellence of the Deity he scarcely stops to inquire whether the Being whose character fills his mind and in comparison of whose dignity and beauty all things are atoms and vanity, will extend His mercy to him. It is enough for him that He supremely regards His own glory. So long as God is brought into view, he feels that it were impossible for him to be miserable. His soul cleaves to God, and in the warmth and fervor of devout affection, he can often say, "Whom have I in Heaven but you, and there is none on the earth that I desire beside you. As the deer pants after the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, O God!" (Psalm 73:25; Psalm 42:1)

Nor is it less obvious that with this sentiment of delight in the Divine excellence, there is combined a benevolent regard toward Him and the interests of His Kingdom. It is the ardent desire, the highest wish to every sanctified mind that in all His works and all His designs, by all His creatures in all places of His dominion—God should be glorified.

Benevolence toward God is a constituent part of love to Him. The Infinite Being who is capable of enjoying an infinitely brighter degree of happiness than all other beings beside, necessarily shares largely in the benevolent affections of every devout mind.

Nor does the view we have given exclude the idea of gratitude to God. While the first exercise of love to God is and must be antecedent to the persuasion that God loves us—no man who loves God for the excellence of His character can refrain from loving Him for His communicated goodness. That the God of Heaven should uphold, bless, sanctify, pardon, and save a wretch like him—angels have no such cause for gratitude as this! Such is the nature of this sublime affection.

And it is important to remark that wherever it exists in the soul, it bears predominant sway. It is supreme love. "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37). God neither requires nor will he accept a divided heart. He is a jealous God, and no rival may participate in the affection due to Him. I do not say that love to God is never intermitted by a baser affection, for the best of men have their seasons of declension and sin as well as of advancement and spiritual vigor. Still when the love of God actually exists in the soul, every other love is a subordinate affection. Here then have we one very obvious characteristic of true religion.

Do my readers know by experience what it is to love the infinitely great and ever blessed God? You must be conscious of your love to God, before you have Scriptural evidence of His love to you. You have just as much right to call in question God's love to you, as you have a right to call in question your love to Him.

Is then your heart right with God?

Do you love God for what you imagine Him to be, or for what He really is as revealed in Scripture?

Are you pleased with His character as revealed in Scripture, and do you love every part of it?

Do you love His holiness as well as His grace, and His justice as well as His mercy?

Do you love Him merely on account of His love to you or do you love Him because He is in Himself lovely?

Do you love Him merely because you hope He will save you, or do you think you would love Him if you supposed He would damn you?

Is your love to God supreme?

Whom do you love more than God?

In whose character do you behold more beauty?

Whose blessedness is the object of warmer desires, or more vigorous exertion?

To whom are you most grateful?

It can be no difficult matter for you to reply to these inquiries. There may be danger but surely there can be no necessity of being deceived in a case so plain.

Supreme love to God is decisive evidence of the renewed heart. When the soul is ushered from the darkness of sin into God's marvelous light, it beholds God in an infinitely different light from what it ever beheld Him before.

God is everywhere. There is a non-expressible beauty, a mild glory in almost every object, because it is the work of His hand and reflects the excellence of His nature. Think how excellent a Being God is, and how exalted would be the happiness to enjoy Him to perfection and to be swallowed up in Him forever.

To see and to love that which is infinitely lovely, to behold and to adore that which is supremely adorable—is the character and the blessedness of the heavenly world. The early dawn of this spiritual light, the first glow of this pure affection, is the glimmering of that sacred fire which will burn with a purer and a brighter flame throughout interminable ages.

Do you then love God? If so, the question as to your own spiritual condition is at rest. If you are a friend to God, God will be an everlasting friend to you. Nothing shall separate you from His love. Neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord (Romans 8:38-39).