HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.
MP3 AUDIO LIBRARY
"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Rom 3:27-28
HOME > Doctrine > Character of a Christian - an excerpt from "Religious Affections" by Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
On the Character of a Christian
The evidence of this in the Scripture is very abundant. If we judge of the nature of Christianity, and the proper spirit of the Gospel, by the Word of God, this spirit is what may, by way of eminency, be called the Christian spirit; and may be looked upon as the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians as Christians. When some of the disciples of Christ said something, through inconsideration and infirmity, that was not agreeable to such a spirit, Christ told them, that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of, Luke 9:55, implying that this spirit that I am speaking of, is the proper spirit of his religion and kingdom. All that are truly godly, and real disciples of Christ, have this spirit in them; and not only so, but they are of this spirit; it is the spirit by which they are so possessed and governed, that it is their true and proper character. This is evident by what the wise man says, Prov. 17:27 (having respect plainly to such a spirit as this): “A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.” And by the particular description Christ gives of the qualities and temper of such as are truly blessed, that shall obtain mercy, and are God’s children and heirs: Matt. 5:5, 7, 9, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” And that this spirit is the special character of the elect of God, is manifested by Col. 3:12-13:
Every thing that appertains to holiness of heart, does indeed belong to the nature of true Christianity; and the character of Christians; but a spirit of holiness as appearing in some particular graces, may more especially be called the Christian spirit or temper. There are some amiable qualities and virtues, that do more especially agree with the nature of the Gospel constitution, and Christian profession; because there is a special agreeableness in them, with those divine attributes which God has more remarkably manifested and glorified in the work of redemption by Jesus Christ, that is the grand subject of the Christian revelation; and also a special agreeableness with those virtues that were so wonderfully exercised by Jesus Christ towards us in that affair, and the blessed example he hath therein set us; and likewise because they are
These things are spoken of as what are especially the character of Jesus Christ himself, the great head of the Christian church. They are so spoken of in the prophecies of the Old Testament; as in that cited Matt. 21:5: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” So Christ himself speaks of them, Matt. 11:29: “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” The same appears by the name by which Christ is so often called in Scripture, viz., the Lamb. And as these things are especially the character of Christ, so they are also especially the character of Christians. Christians are Christlike; none deserve the name of Christians, that are not so in their prevailing character. “The new man is renewed, after the image of him that created him,” Col. 3:10. All true Christians behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image, by his Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:18. The elect are all predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, that he might be the first born among many brethren, Rom. 8:29. As we have borne the image of the first man, that is earthly, so we must also bear the image of the heavenly; for as is the earthly, such are they also that are earthly; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly, 1 Cor. 15:47-49. Christ is full of grace; and Christians all receive of his fullness, and grace for grace; i.e., there is grace in Christians answering to grace in Christ, such an answerableness as there is between the wax and the seal; there is character for character: such kind of graces, such a spirit and temper, the same things that belong to Christ’s character, belong to theirs. That disposition, wherein Christ’s character does in a special manner consist, therein does his image in a special manner consist. Christians that shine by reflecting the light of the sun of righteousness, do shine with the same sort of brightness, the same mild, sweet, and pleasant beams. These lamps of the spiritual temple, that are enkindled by fire from heaven, burn with the same sort of flame. The branch is of the same nature with the stock and root, has the same sap, and bears the same sort of fruit. The members have the same kind of life with the head. It would be strange if Christians should not be of the same temper and spirit that Christ is of; when they are his flesh and his bone, yea, are one spirit, 1 Cor. 6:17; and live so, that it is not they that live, but Christ that lives in them. A Christian spirit is Christ’s mark that he sets upon the souls of his people, his seal in their foreheads, bearing his image and superscription. Christians are the followers of Christ; and they are so, as they are obedient to that call of Christ, Matt. 11:28-29, “Come unto me; and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly of heart.” They follow him as the Lamb: Rev. 14:4, “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” True Christians are as it were clothed with the meek, quiet, and loving temper of Christ; for as many as are in Christ, have put on Christ. And in this respect the church is clothed with the sun, not only by being clothed with his imputed righteousness, but also by being adorned with his graces, Rom. 13:14. Christ, the great Shepherd, is himself a Lamb, and believers are also lambs; all the flock are lambs: John 21:15, “Feed my lambs.” Luke 10:3, “I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves. “The redemption of the church by Christ from the power of the devil, was typified of old, by David’s delivering the lamb out of the mouth of the lion and the bear.
That such manner of virtue as has been spoken of, is the very nature of the Christian spirit, or the spirit that works in Christ, and in his members, and in the distinguishing nature of it, is evident by this, that the dove is the very symbol or emblem, chosen of God, to represent it. Those things are fittest emblems of other things, which do best represent that which is most distinguishing in their nature. The Spirit that descended on Christ, when he was anointed of the Father, descended on him like a dove. The dove is a noted emblem of meekness, harmlessness, peace and love. But the same Spirit that descended on the head of the church, descends to the members. “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts,” Gal. 4:6. And “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” Rom. 8:9. There is but one Spirit to the whole mystical body, head and members, 1 Cor. 6:17, Eph. 4:4. Christ breathes his own Spirit on his
Meekness is so much the character of the saints, that the meek and the godly, are used as synonymous terms in Scripture: so Psalm 37:10-11, the wicked and the meek are set in opposition one to another, as wicked and godly: “Yet a little while and the wicked shall not be; but the meek shall inherit the earth.” So Psal. 147:6, “The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.”
It is doubtless very much on this account, that Christ represents all his disciples, all the heirs of heaven, as little children: Matt. 19:14, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the
But here some may be ready to say, ‘Is there no such thing as Christian fortitude, and boldness for Christ, being good soldiers in the Christian warfare, and coming out boldly against the enemies of Christ and his people?’
To which I answer, ‘There doubtless is such a thing.’ The whole Christian life is compared to a warfare, and fitly so. And the most eminent Christians are the best soldiers, endued with the greatest degrees of Christian fortitude. And it is the duty of God’s people to be steadfast and vigorous in their opposition to the designs and ways of such as are endeavoring to overthrow the kingdom of Christ, and the interest of religion. But yet many persons seem to be quite mistaken concerning the nature of Christian fortitude. It is an exceeding diverse thing from a brutal fierceness, or the boldness of the beasts of prey. True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting, and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies. But the passions that are restrained and kept under, in the exercise of this Christian strength and fortitude, are those very passions that are vigorously and violently exerted in a false boldness for Christ. And those affections that are vigorously exerted in true fortitude, are those Christian, holy affections that are directly contrary to them. Though Christian fortitude appears, in withstanding and counteracting the enemies that are without us; yet it much more appears, in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us; because they are our worst and strongest enemies, and have greatest advantage against us. The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more, than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world. The Scripture seems to intimate that true fortitude consists chiefly in this: Prov. 16:32, “He that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.”
The most direct and sure way in the world, to make a right judgment what a holy fortitude is, in fighting with God’s enemies, is to look to the Captain of all God’s hosts, and our great leader and example, and see wherein his fortitude and valor appeared, in his chief conflict, and in the time of the greatest battle that ever was, or ever will be fought with these enemies, when he fought with them alone, and of the people there was none with him, and exercised his fortitude in the highest degree that ever he did, and got that glorious victory that will be celebrated in the praises and triumphs of all the hosts of heaven, throughout all eternity; even to Jesus Christ in the time of his last sufferings, when his enemies in earth and hell made their most violent attack upon him, compassing him round on every side, like renting and roaring lions. Doubtless here we shall see the fortitude of a holy warrior and champion in the cause of God, in its highest perfection and greatest luster, and an example fit for the soldiers to follow that fight under this Captain. But how did he show his holy boldness and valor at that time? Not in the exercise of any fiery passions; not in fierce and violent speeches, and vehemently declaiming against and crying out of the intolerable wickedness of opposers, giving them their own in plain terms: but in not opening his mouth when afflicted and oppressed, in going as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, not opening his mouth; praying that the Father would forgive his cruel enemies because they knew not what they did; not shedding others’ blood, but with all conquering patience and love, shedding his own. Indeed one of his disciples, that made a forward pretense to boldness for Christ, and confidently declared he would sooner die with Christ than deny him, began to lay about him with a sword: but Christ meekly rebukes him, and heals the wound he gives. And never was the patience, meekness, love, and forgiveness of Christ in so glorious a manifestation, as at that time. Never did he appear so much a lamb, and never did he show so much of the dove-like spirit, as at that time. If therefore we see any of the followers of Christ, in the midst of the most violent, unreasonable, and wicked opposition of God’s and his own enemies, maintaining under all this temptation, the humility, quietness, and gentleness of a lamb, and the harmlessness, and love and sweetness of a dove, we may well judge that here is a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
When persons are fierce and violent, and exert their sharp and bitter passions, it shows weakness instead of strength and fortitude. 1 Cor. 3 at the beginning, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”
There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those that they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. True boldness for Christ is universal, and overcomes all, and carries men above the displeasure of friends and foes; so that they will forsake all rather than Christ; and will rather offend all parties, and be thought meanly of by all, than offend Christ. And that duty which tries whether a man is willing to be despised by them that are of his own party, and thought the least worthy to be regarded by them, is a much more proper
As some are much mistaken concerning the nature of true boldness for Christ, so they are concerning Christian zeal. It is indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervor of a sweet flame. For the flame of which it is the heat, is no other than that of divine love, or Christian charity; which is the sweetest and most benevolent thing that is, or can be, in the heart of man or angel. Zeal is the fervor of this flame, as it ardently and vigorously goes out towards the good that is its object, in desires of it, and pursuit after it and so consequentially, in opposition to the evil that is contrary to it, and impedes it. There is indeed oppositions and vigorous opposition, that is a part of it, or rather is an attendant of it; but it is against things and not persons. Bitterness against the persons of men is no part of it, but is very contrary to it; insomuch that so much the warmer true zeal is, and the higher it is raised, so much the farther are persons from such bitterness, and so much fuller of love, both to the evil and to the good. As appears from what has been just now observed, that it is no other, in its very nature and essence, than the fervor of a spirit of Christian love. And as to what opposition there is in it to things, it is firstly and chiefly against the evil things in the person himself, who has this zeal: against the enemies of God and holiness, that are in his own heart (as these are most in view, and what he has most to do with); and but secondarily against the sins of others And therefore there is nothing in a true Christian zeal, that is contrary to that spirit of meekness, gentleness, and love, that spirit of a little child, a lamb and dove, that has been spoken of; but it is entirely agreeable to it, and tends to promote it.
It is so as to a forgiving spirit, or a disposition to overlook and forgive injuries. Christ gives it to us both as a negative and positive evidence; and is express in teaching us, that if we are of such a spirit, it is a sign that we are in a state of forgiveness and favor ourselves: and that if we are not of such a spirit, we are not forgiven of God; and seems to take special care that we should take good notice of it, and always bear it on our minds: Matt. 6:12, 14-15, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. For if ye forgive men their trespassed your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Christ expresses the same again at another time, Mark 11:25-26, and again in Matt. 18:22, to the end, in the parable of the servant that owed his lord ten thousand talents, that would not forgive his fellow servant a hundred pence; and therefore was delivered to the tormentors. In the application of the parable Christ says, ver. 35, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”
And that all true saints are of a loving, benevolent, and beneficent temper, the Scripture is very plain and abundant. Without it the Apostle tells us, though we should speak with the tongues of men and angels, we are as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; and that though we have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, yet without this spirit we are nothing. And there is no one virtue or disposition of the mind, that is so often, and so expressly insisted on, in the marks that are laid down in the New Testament, whereby to know true Christians. It is often given as a sign that is peculiarly distinguishing, by which all may know Christ’s disciples, and by which they may know themselves; and is often laid down, both as a negative and positive evidence. Christ calls the law of love, by way of eminency, his commandment: John 13:34, “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” And chap. 15:12, “This is my commandment, that ye love one
And the Scripture is as plain as it is possible it should be, that none are true saints, but those whose true character it is, that they are of a disposition to pity and relieve their fellow creatures, that are poor, indigent, and afflicted: Psal. 37:21, “The righteous showeth mercy, and giveth.” Ver. 26, “He is ever merciful, and lendeth.” Psal. 112:5, “A good man showeth favor, and lendeth.” Ver. 9, “He hath dispersed abroad, and given to the poor.” Prov. 14:31, “He that honoreth God, hath mercy on the poor.” Prov. 21:26, “The righteous giveth, and spareth not.” Jer. 22:16, “He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him: Was not this to know me? saith the Lord.” Jam 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” etc. Hos. 6:6, “For I have desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God, more than burnt offerings.” Matt. 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. “2 Cor. 8:8, “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” Jam. 2:13-16, “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” 1 John 3:17, “Whoso hath this world’s good and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” Christ in that description he gives us of the day of judgment, Matt. 25 (which is the most particular that we have in the Bible), represents that judgment will be passed at that day, according as men have been found to have been of a merciful spirit and practice or otherwise. Christ’s design in giving such a
Thus we see how full, clear, and abundant, the evidence from Scripture is that those who are truly gracious, are under the government of that lamb-like, dove-like Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that this is essentially and eminently the nature of the saving grace of the Gospel, and the proper spirit of true Christianity. We may therefore undoubtedly determine, that all truly Christian affections are attended with such a spirit, and that this is the natural tendency of the fear and hope, the sorrow and the joy, the confidence and the zeal of true Christians.
None will understand me, that true Christians have no remains of a contrary Spirit, and can never, in any instances, be guilty of a behavior disagreeable to such a spirit. But this I affirm, and shall affirm, until I deny the Bible to be anything worth, that everything in Christians that belongs to true Christianity, is of this tendency, and works this way; and that there is no true Christian upon earth, but is so under the prevailing power of such a spirit, that he is properly denominated from it, and it is truly and justly his character, and that therefore ministers, and others, have no warrant from Christ to encourage persons that are of a contrary character and behavior, to think they are converted, because they tell a fair story of illuminations and discoveries. In so doing, they would set up their own wisdom against Christ’s, and judge without, and against that rule by which Christ has declared all men should know his disciples. Some persons place religion so much in certain transient illuminations and impressions (especially if they are on such a particular method and order) and so little in the spirit and temper persons are of, that they greatly deform religion, and form notions of Christianity quite different from what it is, as delineated in the Scriptures. The Scripture knows of
It is true, that allowances must be made for men’s natural temper, with regard to these things, as well as others; but not such allowances, as to allow men, that once were wolves and serpents, to be now converted, without any remarkable change in the spirit of their mind. The change made by true conversion is wont to be most remarkable and sensible, with respect to that which before was the wickedness the person was most notoriously guilty of. Grace has as great a tendency to restrain and mortify such sins, as are contrary to the spirit that has been spoken of, as it is to mortify drunkenness or lasciviousness. Yea, the Scripture represents the change wrought by Gospel grace, as especially appearing in an alteration of the former sort: Isa. 11:6-9, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” And to the same purpose is Isa. 65:25. Accordingly we find, that in the primitive times of the Christian church, converts were remarkably changed in this respect: Tit. 3:3, etc., “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior towards man appeared; he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” And Col. 3:7-8, “In the which ye also walked sometime, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications out of your mouth.”"
Jonathan Edwards, excerpt from "Religious Affections"
"But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Psa 37:11 KJV
Copyright © HAIL and FIRE