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Essays on The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character (1829) by Gardiner Spring, D.D.



There are errors on the subject of faith in Christ, which it is nowhere more important to observe and avoid, that when we consider it as a test of Christian character.  There are those who affirm, that the faith of the Gospel is nothing more than a general assent to the doctrines of revelation, unaccompanied by love to them, or a dependence on Christ for salvation.  It is not necessary to animadvert 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 is it possessed by some of the vilest men on the earth, as well as by the fallen spirits in hell  (James 2:19).

There are also, those who teach, that the faith of the Gospel 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 acceptation of the term.  Hence the stronger a man’s persuasion of his own 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 should be deceived in their hopes, and fail of everlasting life, are stigmatised 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 interested in Christ’s redemption; and if any one 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 without us; namely, on Christ and the truths concerning him; but if it 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; and 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, received not the love of the truth as synonymous with the phrase, 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 ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, ye might have life in his name.” (John 20:31)  “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Rom. 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 for ever.  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-reviving truth, that “he so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth 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 “whosoever cometh to Jesus Christ, he will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).  And he is emboldened to go.  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, or stumbles at the corner-stone which is laid in Zion, but glories in the cross of Christ, and is happy to adventure his all for immortality on this sure foundation: and thus does he “receive, and rest on Christ alone for salvation as he is offered in the Gospel.”  And this is faith in Christ.

This heavenly grace, is one of the fruits of the spirit, and evidences of regeneration. “He that believeth shall be saved” (John 3:36).  “No man can say, that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3).  Whosoever believeth 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 Saviour 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 Sion?  Have you from the heart, received the record, that God has given of his Son?  Have you discovered any thing in Christ, that qualifies him to be your Saviour, and that can encourage guilty, miserable men to trust in his grace?  Is he precious to you, as to those who believe? Is it your happiness to commit your cause to better hands than 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 every thing you are, and have done, and can perform, in your own view, nothing, 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 the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith?  (Phil 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 Saviour? 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 be 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 ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:22-23).


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