Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most brilliant men Scotland has ever produced. Amongst his many achievements he was chair of moral philosophy at St. Andrews University and later chair of theology in Edinburgh. His influence and impact were truly massive and this short biography is well worth a read by way of introduction.
It is his sermon ‘The expulsive power of a new affection‘ by which he is probably best known. It is based on 1 John 2:15 ‘” Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” and in the sermon Chalmers shows us how the gospel is God’s means not only of forgiving our sin but bringing about the heart transformation that God promises us in the New Covenant.
Chalmers demonstrates how the gospel alone has the power to truly set us free from sin. Where will-power and external religion are powerless to bring about the necessary change of heart it is the gospel that has life-changing power.
How does it work? Quite simply ‘the ONLY way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one ‘ because ‘what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed‘.
As we strive for godliness and if we’re in ministry as we strive to lead others to godliness let us seek the beauty of Christ and let us nurture a new greater love, the love for Christ that delivers us from sin.
Below is an extract from the sermon:
The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one….Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine [leading to godliness]….
On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities that he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.
Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable…to…godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.
Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.
[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed–and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.
It is thus that the boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more ‘mature’] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable….
The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us–it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, and the only way that deliverance is possible.
Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies….Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.
Ever wondered how to encourage students to feed themselves by reading great books?
1. Meet 1-2-1 to read with students ie teaching students how to read by reading with them
2. Book clubs – ‘opt in’ open invitations to join a group. The group could meet for 2 hours. In the first hour people read the material silently and in the second hour you discuss. A variation on this is to read an audiobook by listening to it together and then discussing.
3. Reading weeks eg end of term or end of year getaways with the aim of read through one book, talking and praying in the big points.
4. Peer-to-peer reading initiatives. Pick a book and encourage students to read it with each other in small groups of 2 or 3. Invite students to feedback in the student meeting on how it’s going
5. Regularly review books in services and student meetings
6. Get students to review books in student meetings – teach them how to review a book well
7. Blog about books
8. Give books away in meetings – really. Maybe after reviewing a book offer a free one to the first 2 people who put a hand up.
9. Get good books into the hands of students through a good book stall
10. Get into good reading habits yourself and modelling to students how to read well
11. Mention good books in sermons and talks
12. Offer a challenge eg ‘1,000,000 word challenge’. If you read for 15 minutes a day, six days a week you’ll read a million words in a year. That’s 20 decent size books.
13. Provide ideas on what to read by giving a balanced book list. Maybe put 12 books on the list to encourage them to read one book a term and one for the summer for each of their three years.
14. Teach on the value and need for reading: Seminar(s) on ‘why read, what to read, how to read’
15. Focus on getting leaders to read. Develop habits in young leaders not just to be buyers of books but readers.
16. Read books as a church staff team or as a student team.
17. Read 4 books a year with apprentices or ministry trainees
18. Help students to read classic books by running a short series in church maybe something like ‘books that changed the world’ eg Pilgrim’s Progress
19. Inspire the reading of classics by watching a film on Luther and then reading Freedom of a Christian or watching the Francis Schaeffer story and reading a Schaeffer book.
20. Inspire the reading of classics by doing a short biography in a service of the life of the author
21. Compel students to read evangelistic books that they will then give away to their friends.
Don Carson has said ‘we don’t pray because we don’t plan to pray’. The same can be said of reading. In a culture saturated with more immediate forms of amusement we find it so much easier to be entertained than educated. Reading takes effort, reading requires energy,reading means discipline, reading is never achieved without organisation. But reading is essential to our spiritual lives.
In a short series of posts I want to ask Why read? What to read? How to read?
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15
The number of theological books should…be reduced, and a selection should be made of the best of them; for many books do not make men learned, nor does much reading. But reading something good, and reading it frequently, however little it may be, is the practice that makes men learned in the Scripture and makes them pious besides.
Just think how reading can change you!
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