Thomas Chalmers, a leading light in Scottish evangelicalism and beyond, died in 1847. Through his writings his influence is still felt today. One of his greatest sermons was entitled ‘The expulsive power of a new affection.’ The message was profound. It was biblical and revolutionary and to grasp it changes everything.
So what did he say? He said the human heart is hungry to be filled and so it is, with the love of self, sin and this world. Can the heart empty itself? No, said Chalmers, the heart cannot be unfilled. Which is why we can preach on the evils of this world, the wickedness of sin and the madness of living for self, and people will remain unmoved. We can explain that such a life defiles, corrupts and leads ultimately to everlasting damnation and yet folk will be unchanged. We can marshal our arguments, persuade, browbeat and compel and while people will be challenged, even convicted, in the end nothing changes. They may weep over their sins and resolve to finish with them forever but by Monday morning they’re back where they were! The human heart cannot empty itself. It cannot break with its love of self, sin and this world.
So what is to be done? In answer to this Chalmers said, ‘the only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is through the expulsive power of a new one.’ Therefore we must, he said, preach the good news of God’s grace and the freer we speak of it, the better. When I see that God welcomes prodigal children, that He runs to meet them as they return from the far country, that He embraces them without restraint and without reserve, then my heart will melt. When I understand that He freely loves and freely forgives the sinner; that I do not have to slave on the farm as a hired servant to win His love, then my heart will be conquered. It will be conquered by the love of Christ; a love so free, so strong, so wonderful that it expels all other loves. The strong man has been displaced by one who is stronger. The heart hasn’t merely been emptied of the love of sin and self, only to be repossessed at a later date. On the contrary, the love of God pours like a torrent into the chambers of the soul and as they fill so all other affections are displaced and expelled, hence ‘the expulsive power of a new affection.’
In the words of Chalmers; “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.” And again “We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our heart, than to keep in our hearts the love of God.”
This is not strange to us. If you tell a young man to give up his independence, sharpen his appearance and abandon his lazy habits, he will not. But if he subsequently meets the girl of his dreams then everything will change. Our unreformed bachelor will gladly part with his old ways not just to possess her and but to be possessed. He will give up a lesser freedom in the pursuit of a greater freedom. He is conquered by a love that expels every lesser love.
But what is this creaturely love compared to the all conquering love of Christ, a love which is better than life? As Chalmers says, tell a man to set fire to his house and if his salvation depended on it, he might, with painful reluctance, do it. But if he knows that from the ashes of the old he will instantly get a house ten times the value, he will willingly set fire to it. Therefore, if the love of God in Christ conquers my heart, I will discover the power to finish with the old life and surrender all to Jesus.
Is it time for us to return to Calvary, to stand beneath the cross and look again ‘on Him whom they pierced’? What do we see? We see a man beaten beyond recognition and crowned with thorns. We see an innocent, whipped to the bone and nailed to a cross. But as we look at that broken, bleeding body, we see our Beloved, our Jesus. There is no soft focus, no mood music. He dies a slow, shameful, agonising death. He is shown no pity, no tenderness and no mercy. He becomes the focus of the curse and in so doing exhausts the curse. He burns in the fire of God’s wrath and in so doing quenches the flames in His blood. He drowns in the darkness and chaos of death and in so doing makes an end of death. He is crushed under the avalanche of God’s judgement. He is even forsaken by Abba Father. And at the end of it all, as the water and the blood flow from His wounded side, we realise that His heart is broken. And yet that heart was broken for me. It was my sin that cost Him so dear. It was for my crimes that He was nailed to the tree. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Is it not time to meditate again on the love of Christ, the love which passes knowledge?
Why do some sins cling to me? Why do Sunday resolutions come to nothing on Monday? Why does Christ’s call to ‘deny self and take up my cross’ feel like a threat? Why is there so little change? Is it because I have yet to grasp the grace of God? Is it because I know so little of the expulsive power of a new affection?back