Every pastor dreams of having his sermon become a Christian classic. For most of us, our sermons will long be forgotten after our deaths, but occasionally a sermon provides a lasting legacy for centuries after the message was originally preached. One such sermon was written by a Scottish minister named Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847). The sermon was entitled The Expulsive Power of a New Affection and preached from the text of 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.” Though the sermon is well worth the time to read in its entirety, I hope to provide you with some key summaries of the sermon and comment on its continual relevance for today.
Chalmers on the Power of New Affections
Chalmers main argument is that the only way to discard an old affection (love) is to have it replaced with a new affection. Often times when people attempt to grow in virtue and holiness, they do so by attempting to withdraw themselves away from the vanities of the world. In legalism, they create boundaries and rules to isolate themselves, so that they will not pursue sin. Chalmers believed such an approach to be severely misguided and ineffective. Even if one does successfully leave behind the love of the world in practice, they’ve yet to root out the love of the world in their hearts. As a result, they only leave behind a “cheerless vacancy” as one worldly love is exchanged for another (most often pride!).
For Chalmers the only way to eliminate these worldly pursuits and loves is by “stimulating another.” Only the power of a new affection can expel the sinful loves of the heart. Chalmers preached,
It must be by substituting another desire, and another line or habit of exertion in its place-and the most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object, is not by turning it away upon a desolate and unpeopled vacancy-but by presenting to its regards another object still more alluring.
The human heart must love something or someone. God has designed the human being to be motivated by the loves of the heart. No rational arguments or will-power will overcome the distorted and misdirected loves of the heart. In Chalmers words, “The heart must have something to cling to-and never, by its own voluntary consent, will it so denude itself of its attachments, that there shall not be one remaining object that can draw or solicit it.” The only way to expunge the love of the world out of our hearts is by latching on and stirring up our affections for the God who is love. So, “The only way to dispossess it (the heart) of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”
This new affection comes about by the sheer grace of God. As the Spirit gives us new eyes to see the glory of God in the sending of his son Jesus into this world for our redemption, the beauty of God captivates the loves of our hearts. Again, Chalmers proclaimed,
Neither they nor any one else can dispossess the heart of an old affection, but by the expulsive power of a new one-and, if that new affection be the love of God, neither they nor any one else can be made to entertain it, but on such a representation of the Deity, as shall draw the heart of the sinner towards him.
The gravity of our loves, pull us towards them. When the Spirit of God brings about this new affection of genuine love towards God, the power of the new affection pulls us out of the orbit of worldly loves into the glory of God.
Relevance for Today
I’m convinced of the relevance of Chalmers argument for today. The Christian church has developed an overly rational understanding of Christian discipleship. We believe human beings to be nothing more than brains-on-a-stick. Like computers, if we can only input the right data, then we would compute the right result. Pastors and Christian educators structure their discipleship programs around this paradigm. We think, “If we could only get them to attend the right bible study, or read the right book, or listen to the right sermon, then we would see spiritual growth!” But the reality is this: data doesn’t change a person’s heart. There are plenty of people in our churches who know plenty of facts about Jesus and the Bible, but remain enslaved to sinful loves. In spiritual formation, we must seek to cultivate new loves within people’s hearts, utilizing the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, preaching, etc.) as conduits for the Spirit’s work. In our discipleship, we must learn to engage the mind, but aim for the heart. Then, by the Spirit’s power, he will expel lesser affections with the new affection of extravagant and exclusive love towards Jesus Christ.