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Scotland's Greatest Preacher, Part 2

by Martin Surridge

How can anyone not love the world?

 Last week we examined the life and message of notable Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers, the Christian minister who left the idyllic stone-walled village of Kilmany to pursue a difficult career path ministering to the urban poor in industrial Glasgow. We studied Chalmers’s world famous sermon on affection, which we imaginatively re-titled “When You Love Jesus, Nothing Else Can Compare,” wherein he demonstrated how the affections of humanity—whether it’s a love of academic or professional success, athletic glory, or competitive gaming—fail to grant us a lasting sense of joy. Nothing in this world is lasting, he explained to his congregation. If men and women are to find any sort of real happiness and joy in life, it is only through the love of Jesus. 

Chalmers described how something always fills up our hearts; there cannot be an absence of any desire at all. The nineteenth-century minister logically deduced that if God is absent, something takes His place. Likewise, if the earthly desires leave our hearts, then God can step in and fill their place. However, that is so often the most difficult part. How or why would humankind voluntarily surrender the chase for their most-prized desires? 

In our time together last week, we discussed how Chalmers delicately used a series of examples based upon the types of troubled people in his community who had become lost within the destructive whirlpool of their own desires. It was not for a lack of trying that the victorious general or the workaholic executive was unable to let go of their misplaced affections. Rather, it was because they didn’t have anything bigger to fill the vacuum that such a removal would create. According to Chalmers, men and women everywhere are unable to let go of the modern idols they have created because they can’t envision a future without them, and because they’re not willing to risk losing them in order to gain something so much better. 

So often Christian teachers instruct churchgoers not to love the world, but Chalmers countered that it is nearly impossible to tell people not to love the world because, as he preached, “the world is the all of a natural man. . . . He loves nothing above it, and he cares for nothing beyond it.”1 Humanity knows nothing else other than the world, and so we will naturally create earthly idols and dedicate our affections to them. Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many teenagers see religion as unexciting! So many people associate affection and joy with the idols of this world. Chalmers said that when Christians ask their brothers and sisters to “love not the world,” they are, in a sense, passing a sentence of exile or “expulsion” on the items that are closest to a person’s heart. Chalmers doesn’t actually use the word “items,” though, to describe the contents of our hearts; rather, he uses the term “inmate.” This is an interesting word, given that we usually think of inmates as residents of a jail, and that is exactly what Chalmers preaches is within our hearts: prisoners. God did not design our hearts to hold within them a series of false gods set up upon earthly altars. Why not surrender them completely before they, too, make a prisoner of us, especially when there’s something so much better waiting in store?

Chalmers used an interesting analogy in his sermon to help explain this concept. He spoke of a man who loved wealth more than he cared for anything else in his life, and this man was asked to give it all up. Perhaps the taxman had finally gotten the better of him. Perhaps business partners were suing him or family members were trying to acquire their fair share. The Scottish minister said that it is very challenging for us “to estimate the magnitude and the difficulty of such a surrender.”2 After all, what would replace this monumental loss? For a worshipper of wealth, what else might we expect? Chalmers explained that it would be like a man asked to set fire to his own property. Who would do such a thing except under threat of death? However, there would be such a way to convince a homeowner to do such a reckless act. Igniting such a devastating inferno could be done willingly, Chalmers declared, “if he saw that a new property of tenfold value was instantly to emerge from the wreck of the old one.”

None of us will have to commit insurance fraud for this to happen. Instead, this metaphor serves to show how God, in His infinite mercy and grace, will swoop in, rescue us from sin, and fill the spot where our previous affections used to reside. 

Next week we will continue to study this important sermon from Thomas Chalmers, when he instructed his congregation on the next crucial part of the journey: replacing our earthly affections with God. How can we recognize our earthly idols when we see them?

If I have piqued your interest, take some time to read Thomas Chalmers’s sermon for yourself at: http:www.// 

1 Chalmers, Thomas. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” p. 4.

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