The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


There are errors on the subject of faith in Christ which it is nowhere more important to observe and avoid, than when we consider it as a test of Christian character. There are those who affirm that saving faith is nothing more than a general assent to the doctrines of revelation, unaccompanied by love for them or a dependence on Christ for salvation. It is not necessary to remark critically upon this description of faith, for every man who reads the Bible must perceive that faith in Christ is there described as a holy act. But if it is nothing more than the assent of the understanding to the doctrines of the Gospel, then it is possessed by some of the vilest men on earth as well as by the fallen spirits in Hell (James 2:19).

There are also those who teach that saving faith consists in a strong persuasion of our personal piety. If a man believes that he is one of God's elect people, that Christ loved him from eternity, that He died for him in particular, and that he is a regenerated, pardoned sinner—this persuasion is by many supposed to constitute him a believer in the Scriptural acceptance of the term. Hence, the stronger a man's persuasion of his own saving interest in Christ and the blessings of his salvation, the stronger his faith!

And hence the sentiment has obtained that unbelief consists in not believing or doubting that we are Christians, and all those fears which disturb the peace of good men, and all those apprehensions lest they be deceived in their hopes and fail of everlasting life—are stigmatized as unbelief.

Now, that these cannot be either the faith or unbelief of the Gospel is abundantly evident from a number of considerations on which we cannot enlarge and will merely suggest.

Nothing can be the object of saving faith except what is revealed in the Scriptures. Now it is nowhere revealed in the Scriptures that any one of us in particular is pardoned and justified and individually a partaker of Christ's redemption. And if anyone imagines that this revelation has been made to him in particular, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him. Besides, the Scriptures always represent faith as terminating on something outside of us, namely, on Christ and the truths concerning Him.

But if saving faith consist in a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation, it must terminate principally on something within us—namely, the work of grace in our hearts. How inferior is such an object of faith to the all-sufficiency and glory of the great Redeemer!

It is not easy to give a definition of faith that comprehends all its properties. In its most general character, it is reliance upon the testimony of God's Word. It is receiving the truth in the love of it. The Apostle Paul uses the phrase "they received not the love of the truth" as synonymous with the phrase "they believed not the truth."

Faith, however, when viewed as an evangelical grace, possesses altogether a peculiar character. It is not simply reliance upon the divine testimony, but particularly upon the truth of God revealed in the Scriptures concerning Jesus Christ. So the Scriptures themselves represent it. "These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in his Name" (John 20:31). "If you shall confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9).

I cannot better describe this grace than by adverting to the state of mind which precedes and exercises it. When, by the operations of the Holy Spirit, a man is made sensible that he has sinned against the Holy God, he deeply feels that he is fallen, guilty, condemned, and undone. He sees that he lies at the mere mercy of that God whom he has offended, who is under no obligation to pity him, and may most righteously destroy him forever. Under the righteous sentence of a holy law, he does not see how God can be just, and yet extend pardoning mercy to a wretch like him—until he becomes acquainted with that soul receiving truth that he so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

In this wonderful expedient, he discovers a remedy which vindicates the authority of the divine law in the dispensations of pardoning mercy, and relieves his soul from the oppressive apprehension that there is no forgiveness with God. Through this Redeemer he ascertains that he is invited and commanded to return to God with the hope and assurance of mercy; and is confirmed in the belief that whoever comes to Jesus Christ, he will never cast out (John 6:37).

And he is emboldened to go to Christ. The good deeds, the religious performances, which once used to encourage him, afford him no encouragement now; but renouncing them all, he returns to God with an implicit, active, and exclusive reliance on Jesus Christ and His Redemption as God's appointed way of saving sinners. He approves of this method of salvation, he delights in it, he chooses it as his only refuge. He no longer rejects the mystery of the cross nor stumbles at the cornerstone which is laid in Zion, but glories in the cross of Christ and is happy to commit his all for immortality on this sure foundation, and thus he receives and rests on Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel.

This is faith in Christ. This heavenly grace is one of the fruits of the Spirit and evidences of regeneration. "He who believes shall be saved" (John 3:36). "No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1).

Do you possess this heaven-inspired grace?

What do you know of Jesus Christ as the Savior of sinners?

What glory have you ever discovered in that great moral wonder, "God manifest in the flesh" as the Prophet, the Priest, the King in Zion?

Have you from the heart received the record that God has given of His Son?

Have you discovered anything in Christ that qualifies Him to be your Savior, and that can encourage guilty, miserable men to trust to His grace?

Is He precious to you as to those who believe?

Is it your happiness to commit your cause to better hands than to your own, to relinquish all your self-righteous confidences, and cast yourself into the arms of Jesus?

What things were gain to you, do you count loss for Christ?

Is everything you are and have done and can perform, in your own view—nothing but rubbish, that you may win Christ and be found in Him, not having your own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith? (Philippians 3:8-9).

In a word, with a just view of the character and a supreme attachment to the Person of Christ, can you yield yourself into His hands as a full and complete Savior? Can you look to Him . . .
to be sanctified by His Spirit,
to be governed by His laws,
to be protected by His power,
to be saved by His death,
to be disposed of at His pleasure,
and to the means of promoting His glory?

If you can, all is well. In the comprehensive promise of that covenant to which faith makes you a party, lie concealed the life and immortality of the Gospel. Life and death, earth and Heaven, things present and things to come, joys high, immeasurable, immortal, 'what shall I say? All are yours and you are Christ's and Christ is God's (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).