The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


Evangelical humility consists in a just view of our own character, and in a disposition to abase ourselves as low as the vileness of our character requires us to lie. The pride of the human heart casts a veil over the character of men and aims to conceal their worthlessness as creatures and their ill dessert as sinners; while the humility of the Gospel throws aside the veil, and discovers that native worthlessness which ought to sink the creature in the dust and that moral deformity which ought to fill the sinner with self-abasement.

The natural spirit of men is an independent, haughty, and proud spirit; and nothing is more certain than that this spirit is in a measure subdued in every regenerated mind. It is no unwelcome sentiment to a godly man that he is absolutely dependent on God. There are seasons when he feels that he is a "worm and no man."

Not more readily does a little child hang upon the care and kindness of its parent, nor the abject poor depend on the daily bounty of their fellow men--than the humble child of God, the daily pensioner upon the divine bounty, conscious of his dependence, waits only upon God as the Source and Sustainer of his every need.

Nor is he less sensible of his unworthiness than of his dependence. At best, he feels as an unprofitable servant. The habitual emotions of his soul are those of the returning prodigal when he said, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son!" (Luke 15:21).

The people of God also cherish quite as deep impressions of their ill dessert as of their unworthiness. Most deeply do they feel that "it is of the Lord's mercies that they are not consumed" (Lamentations 3:22). They do not complain of God though He should sink them as low as they deserve to lie; but from the heart they approve the justice that condemns, while they are allowed to admire and adore the grace that rescues from the condemnation. Nor are sentiments like these the mere dictates of the understanding, but they are in-woven with their habitual experience and conduct, and manifested both toward God and man.

How is the humble and contrite sinner when in the more immediate presence of God, borne down under the impression of his inexcusable deficiencies! How does a view of his moral corruption keep him in the dust before God! How is he ashamed and abased that he is no more holy! How does he desire to be divested of all his pride, to empty himself and feel less than nothing and vanity. His more happy moments are those in which he is enabled to lie abased before God, and in which he has increasing desires to be kept humble to the end of his days.

This humble temper also naturally expresses itself in his relationships with his fellow man. It is indeed no part of his character to make whining pretenses to humility; but if he truly desires more to be humble than to appear humble, this unobtrusive and modest spirit will evince itself in his conduct and conversation. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me" says our Lord Jesus, "for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29).

A man of an ungovernable and ungoverned spirit surely bears little resemblance to the character of Christ. It is not denied that some good men have vastly more native haughtiness, vastly more of the overbearing spirit of the carnal man with which to struggle, than others. But notwithstanding this, real Christians are humble; and their humility will necessarily express itself in the modesty and meekness of their habitual deportment. "Let nothing," says the Apostle, "be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3).

The Spirit of Christianity is congenial with its precepts though it is not in the present life perfectly conformed to them. There is such a thing as in honor preferring one another. There is such a spirit and however those who indulge in the hope of their good estate may be disposed to shrink from the test, such is the spirit of all Christians. Divine "charity" says the Apostle, "boasts not itself, is not puffed up, is not rude" (1 Corinthians 13:4). It is only when, as the elect of God, godly men put on affections of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering--that they exhibit the power and sweetness of genuine religion (Colossians 3:12).

It is only when seated in the lowest place and clothed with humility that they exhibit the amiableness of their gracious character. Well may we call humility a heaven-born grace. Humility is indeed the daughter of the skies, the "meek-eyed child of Jesus" and dwells only with Him, who like herself is born from above.

Does the reader possess this humble spirit?

Do you know anything of this child-like, Christ-like disposition and conduct?

Have you ever been truly abased before God?

Have you ever sunk down to that abyss of self-abasement to which your guilt might sink you?

Have you abased yourself as low as your sin has abased you?

Have you ever taken the place which belongs to you as a sinner against God?

What would you think of God if He should abase you as low as guilt and the curse require you to lie?

And as it respects your contacts with your fellow men and the world, do you evince anything like this meekness and lowliness of demeanor?

You recollect the reproof our Lord gave His disciples when He took a little child and set it in the midst of them, and said, "Except you are converted and become as little children, you can in no wise enter into the Kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:3).

Have you been assimilated to this sweet spirit? Tell me, reader, do you love the praise of men more than the praise of God? If so, can you be a Christian? "How can you believe, who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only?" (John 5:44). "Do you see a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Proverbs 26:12).