The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


The preceding pages may perhaps assist you in deciding the question whether you are born of the Spirit and are a child of God. This subject is certainly worthy of every man's serious attention. God has revealed plain and infallible tests of character which all can understand and apply. They are tests by which we must all one day be tried. God will not revoke nor alter them. It is in vain to thrust aside the solemn inquiries which have been made in the progress of these essays. They will meet you when you come to lie on the bed of death; they will meet you in the eternal world. I entreat you, therefore, to examine yourselves as though you were before the throne of the final judgment.

The inquiry is of eternal importance. A mistake here is a mistake for eternity! Under a deep sense of your need of the searching influences of the Divine Spirit as you reflect upon what you have read, adopt the language of the Psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24). "He who is not with me," says the Savior, "is against me" (Luke 11:23).

There must be necessarily in every intelligent being, a conformity to the will of God, or the lack of it. It is as impossible that a man should be neither right nor wrong, as it is that a portion of matter at any given period should be neither at rest nor in motion. It is absurd to suppose that he is neither a saint nor a sinner; neither penitent nor impenitent; neither a believer nor an unbeliever. So long as men possess any moral character, they must view themselves and be viewed by others—either for God or against Him.

In the great contest which enlists the feelings and the power of three worlds it is impossible that there should be a neutral. One side or the other will claim every intelligent being in Heaven, on earth, and in Hell. And it is right they should do so. If the line should now be drawn by the invisible hand of the great Searcher of hearts—on the one side would be the friends of God, on the other His enemies.

Allow me, then, beloved reader, plainly, solemnly, and affectionately to ask the question, "On which side do you stand?" If you possess . . .
nothing more than mere visible morality,
nothing more than the naked form of religion,
nothing more than a speculative knowledge of the system of revealed truth,
nothing more than simple conviction for sin,
nothing more than a vain confidence of your own good estate, connected with some apparent zeal for the cause of God, and a few transient and spurious affections—then how can you be one of the children of the Everlasting Father?

If you are a stranger . . .
to love to God,
to repentance for sin,
to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,
to evangelical humility,
to genuine self-denial
—then how can you cherish the hope that you are a Christian?

If you know . . .
nothing of the spirit of prayer,
nothing of the love of the brotherhood,
nothing of mortifying the spirit of the world,
nothing of growth in grace, of cordial, habitual, persevering obedience to the Divine commands
—then how can it be that you have been "brought near by the blood of Christ"?

If these things are so, "You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8:21).

Does this agitate you? The writer of these pages takes no pleasure in exciting needless alarm. But how can he raise the unhallowed cry, "Peace, peace," when the Eternal God says, "There is no peace!" How can he raise the unhallowed cry, when every note of such a song would only lull the hypocrite into a more deathlike security, and every sentence prove the blow to sink him deeper into the eternal pit?

Poor self-deceived man, who vainly imagines that you are in the way to Heaven while you are in the way to Hell; rather than amuse you with tame, smooth, pretty things, O that I could raise a voice that would make you tremble even in the grave of trespasses and sin! Be entreated to dismiss your deceptions, and to give up your delusive confidence. Cast not the anchor of hope upon a shore so yielding that the final blast will break its hold. However hard the struggle, despair of mercy without being washed in the blood of Jesus. Cherish not a delusion which the king of terrors will tear from your heart!

Do I seem to presume that my readers are hypocrites? Many, I trust, are the dear people of God. Some may be weak in faith, and weak in assurance. Beloved, I would not lisp a syllable to rob you of your confidence. Though weak and trembling, there is everything to encourage and strengthen you. It cannot discourage you to examine closely whether the foundation of your assurance is firm; whether your confidence is built upon the sand, or whether it rests on the Rock of Ages. Feeble Christians are called upon to mourn over their weakness. Their lack of strength is their sin.

Their graces may be well compared to the "dimly smoking flax" (Isaiah 42:3). They emit little that warms and enlightens. Their love is cold; their joys barren and poor. God hides His face, and they are troubled (Psalm 30:7). Tossed, like Peter, upon the tempestuous sea, they have hardly faith even to cry, "Lord, save me, or I perish!" Still they may rejoice. The angel of the everlasting covenant lives. That precious covenant itself recognizes the heart reviving principle, redemption through the blood of Jesus, forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Well, then believer, may you rejoice even in the midst of trembling. What, though you are bowed down under the weight of guilt; what, though poor in spirit, filled with apprehension and almost hopeless; what, though you are like the bruised reed—frailty itself still more frail, ready to fall by the gentlest breeze! "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench" (Isaiah 42:3). No, never. It shall not be broken, but supported, nourished, yes, by a hand that is omnipotent, transplanted to the garden of the Lord and flourishing in the courts of our God.

The Great Head will never disregard the feeblest members of His own body. There is a peculiar adaptability in the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the weaknesses and fears of His people. Early was He designated as One who would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows; commissioned to bind up the broken-hearted, and to comfort all who mourn. The Man Christ Jesus is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15); "He knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14).

The Shepherd of Israel will "gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young" (Isaiah 40:11). It is He who "gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might—he increases strength" (Isaiah 40:29).

O believers! that we all might learn to fasten our affections, to rivet our hopes on the cross of Christ! Here is our comfort. We must think much and make much of Christ. In Him all fullness dwells. He is the Captain of your salvation. He is a Fountain for your impurity, and a Light for your way. It is He who is made unto His people wisdom and righteousness and sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30).

No matter how great your guilt, rest on Him, and He will be increasingly precious: precious in life, precious in death, precious forever. While your life is hid with Christ in God, however languid the throb, it shall never expire. Come then, "lift up the hands that hang down, and comfort the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:12). The heavens and the earth shall sooner crumble into their native nothing—than the feeblest lamb of the Shepherd's fold could stumble and finally fall.

If you have seasons of trial, do not be alarmed. If you have moments of despondency and weakness, do not be dismayed. "Fear not, you worm Jacob, for you shall thrash the mountains and beat them small. Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. He will strengthen you; yes, he will help you; yes, he will uphold you by the right hand of his righteousness" (Isaiah 41:10). Is this not enough? "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

I close, then, by beseeching the reader to devote himself unreservedly to the Lord. "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Render unto God the things that are God's. What higher delight, what greater privilege can you enjoy, than to consecrate all that you are and all that you possess to God! Come then, and make a voluntary surrender of everything to Him and choose His service as your highest delight. Henceforth, let it be your greatest care to honor the Lord who has bought you. "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6-7).

Yes, blessed Redeemer! "O LORD our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but we acknowledge your name alone." O Eternal, Incarnate God! I am Yours, doubly Yours, wholly Yours, Yours forever! Amen.