The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Gardiner Spring, 1829


Intimately connected with the spirit of self-denial, is supreme devotion to the honor and glory of God. From the formation of the first angel of light, down to the period when the heavens shall pass away as a scroll—the Creator of the ends of the earth had His eye steadfastly fixed on the same grand object. As all things are of Him, so all will be to Him (Romans 11:36). He who made all things for Himself, cannot fail to pursue the end for which He made them, and to obtain it at last.

When the proceedings of the last day shall have been closed, when the assembled worlds shall have entered upon the unvarying retributions of eternity, when the heavens and the earth shall have passed away and a new Heaven and a new earth, the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, shall have come down from God out of Heaven—He who sits upon the throne shall say "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end!"

In the winding up of the scene, it will appear that God Himself is the first and the last; not merely the efficient cause, but the final cause of all things. The vast plan which has for its object nothing less than the brightest manifestation of the Divine Glory has an unalienable right to the most unreserved devotedness of every intelligent being. To the advancement of this plan, God therefore requires every intelligent being to be voluntarily subservient. All the strength and ardor of affection which we are capable of exercising, must be concentrated here. Every faculty, every thought, every volition, every design—must be devoted to this great cause. The injunction is explicit: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do—do all to the Glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Now the heart of depraved man is obstinately averse to such a course of feelings and conduct. Instead of being supremely attached to God and the good of His Kingdom, men are by nature lovers of their own selves. And here lies the controversy between man and his Maker. God requires men to regard His glory as the great end of their existence, but they disregard His requisitions and prefer their own will and ends to His.

This is the disposition of every natural heart; hence the mortification of this spirit, and the supreme devotion of the heart and life to the service and glory of God—is evidence of a radical change of moral character. It was the character of Jesus Christ that "He went about doing good." God is served and glorified by a life which is actively engaged in seeking the good of others. Where the heart is seriously and intensely interested in the service of God, it cannot be satisfied without accomplishing something for the cause of God in the earth. Our Lord alludes to this evidence of discipleship when He says, "Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit—so shall you be my disciples" (John 15:8).

The true Christian possesses such impressions of his absolute dependence, and has such view of God's entire right to him, that he feels that all he is and all that he has belong to God. And hence his heart in the first place is devoted to the service of God. He has a sacred relish for the duties and designs which he knows every creature of God ought to accomplish.

The service of God is no irksome employment, but one in which he feels heartily and cheerfully engaged. There is nothing to which his affections are so strongly attached and in which he takes so much delight, as in doing good. He loves the work of pleasing and glorifying his Redeemer, and of doing good to his fellow men.

"My food," says the Lord Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34). And the disciple, though far from coming up to the high standard of his Master's example, is in this respect like his Lord. There is a pleasure, a satisfaction of soul he enjoys in the service of God which no other employment can impart. No matter what position he may occupy in the world—he may be a minister of the Gospel, an officer in the church, or a private Christian; he may be a magistrate or a subject, he may be rich or poor, he may be a legislator, a lawyer, or a physician, he may be a farmer, a merchant, a mechanic, or common laborer; he may be a seaman or a landsman, a master or a servant; and if he is a child of God, his heart will be bound up in the work of doing good and in pleasing and serving God.

With his heart, he will also give his thoughts to this interesting concern. This is the ultimate end which will absorb his attention. His thoughts are not indeed always immediately on this object because this is impossible. He is like a man who sets out on a journey. The place of his destination is not in his thoughts every foot of ground he passes over, but it is the point to which his thoughts are perpetually recurring, and from which they are with difficulty diverted and toward which all his course maintains a habitual, if not an invariable tendency.

The Christian habitually carries the great object of his existence into the whole course of human life. In seasons of relaxation and seasons of business, it rests upon his mind. He thinks, and studies, and contrives, and consults how he may, in the best manner and with the greatest success, accomplish his Master's work. With his thoughts, he will also consecrate his time to the service of God. All of his time belongs to God, and though it may be his duty to devote the most of it to secular pursuits, he considers it all as consecrated time.

No child of God can be habitually idle, or waste his time in empty relaxation and vain amusements. Show me the man who lives at his ease, and feels that he has time enough for anything and yet devotes it to nothing; and if to anything, to that which is foreign to the business of a creature who is the possessor only of one short life, and that redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and for which he is shortly to give up his last account—and I will show you a man who is a Christian only in name.

The professed Christian who attends the dance and parties of pleasure, whose precious time is consumed and killed in the perusal of novels, romances, and plays, who is nowhere so happy as at the theater, the horse race, or the card table—is a miserable deceiver and more miserably deceived.

But it is not the mere omission of crimes of this aggravated sort which constitutes a Christian improvement of time. The state and growth of grace in his own soul, the spiritual condition of his family, his friends, his neighbors, the church, and the world; together with the ignorance, the immorality, the vice, the poverty, and suffering of his fellow men—these will redeem his time from idleness from amusements, and often from secular labor.

There is one portion of time which every Christian holds dear. The Sabbath is his delight. He anticipates it, he enjoys it, he reflects upon it as the "sweetest day of all the seven." There are no hours of which he is more frugal, none which he turns to better account than the hours of the sacred Sabbath.

Along with his time, the true believer also devotes his property to God. If there are those who have no property to devote, they form an exception to this remark. But while I say this, I would not forget that our Lord once passed a high estimation upon a "poor widow," because she helped the cause of sacred charity by throwing into His treasury "two mites" when it was literally "all her living." Even the poor may give to the Lord and trust in Him who has promised that those who love Him "shall not lack any good thing" (Psalm 84:11).

But what shall be said of men who are blessed with competency, men who are blessed with abundance—and have nothing to spare for Christ; men who can behold a world lying in wickedness and pagan and Christian lands famishing for the bread of life—and withhold the light of the great salvation; men who can see the woes and hear the lamentations of hard-working people in poverty—without a liberal heart and a giving hand; but that the love of God does not dwell in them.

Christian liberality is one of the indispensable characteristics of true religion, and whenever it is lacking, there is a mournful measure, if not an entire absence, of the love of God in the soul.

Professed Christians sometimes avoid the rigid application of this truth by persuading themselves that covetousness is their besetting sin. And has it come to this, that the child of God has any sin so besetting that the love of duty does not gradually diminish and eventually subdue its power? What besetting sin ever bore such sway in the bosom of a child of God, as to exert an influence habitually paramount to the love of Christ?

What would be thought of a professed Christian who should say that the worship of idols is his besetting sin, or the lust of the flesh, or the love of wine, or bitterness to his neighbor, or dishonesty, or theft is his besetting sin? Would this convince you that an idolater, an adulterer, a glutton, a drunkard, a liar, or a thief is a Christian? No more is a man who makes an idol of his gold. "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming." (Colossians 3:5-6). "You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).

The love of God and of Christian duty, in the mind of a regenerated man, obtains and habitually preserves the ascendancy. Where gold and not duty determines the choice and the conduct of men, the religion of the Gospel is too hard a master to be submitted to. And shall I not say that with their heart, their thoughts, their time, and property—the disciples of Christ consecrate their influence and prayers to God? Yes, the cause of God is the grand pursuit with them. If you would warm and animate their minds, if you would awaken their resolution, fortitude, and zeal, if you would excite their souls to fervent importunity in prayer—it must be by presenting to their thoughts some concern that has a discernible connection with the honor and glory of God.

Whatever may be the life of others, their life is devoted to Him, who loved them and gave Himself for them.

Whatever may be the design of others, their purpose is to glorify God in their bodies and spirits, which are His.

Whatever may be the enjoyment of others, they account not that to be living at all which is not devoted to the great purpose for which life was bestowed.

As to the motive of such a life, it has been incidentally sufficiently developed. The deceiver thought that a man might be devoted to the service of God from motives of self-interest, and yet give no evidence of piety. "Does Job serve God for nothing?" (Job 1:9).

"There is," says Dr. Witherspoon, "certainly in every renewed heart a sense of duty independent of personal and selfish interest. Were this not the case, even supposing a desire of reward or fear of punishment should dispose to obedience, it would plainly be only a change of life, and not a change of heart. It is beyond all question indeed, that our true interest is inseparable from our duty, so that self-seeking is self-interest; but still a sense of duty must have the precedence, otherwise it changes its nature and is no duty at all."

We entreat you then, in inquiring into the evidence of your salvation, to ask yourselves whether you are supremely devoted to God?

Is it the first and highest desire of your soul to honor God?

Is it incited by the hope of reward, or the love of God and duty?

Is the glory of God the end of your conduct?

And do you pursue it, not from regard to yourself, but from regard to God.

Do you find your highest happiness in your duty?