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Scotland’s Greatest Preacher, Part 3

by Martin Surridge

In the last two issues, we have been exploring the words of the legendary Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers. His powerful sermons were not the type that inspired idle chatter and bored doodling among church members. Rather, his words resonated with his congregation at the time as well as with the tens of thousands of Christians who study his message years after Chalmers died. From the slums of Glasgow, this influential pastor spent much of his adult life ministering to the poorest residents of Scotland’s biggest city. He taught any and all who would listen about the sadness and emptiness that comes as a result of loving the idols of this world—money, success, competition, and entertainment. Chalmers told them of the void, the dark vacuum that is created when we try to give up our addictions “cold turkey,” to use a phrase from today, without a suitable alternative to take their place. 

Chalmers then presented that alternative. Instead of living tethered to the leash of an earthly love, humanity must embrace the “Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” which was the title of his most significant sermon and which simply means that Christ’s love has a unique capacity to fill our hearts and replace its previous worldly residents. However, Chalmers knew that it is often difficult to recognize the symptoms of idolatry when we, ourselves, are the worshipper. In order to attain that new “expulsive” power that can swoop in and remove our unwanted addictions, each of us must acknowledge that we cannot serve both God and man, that we are unable to love the world as well as the Creator of this world. 

Chalmers explained in his sermon that it’s not just that the love of God and the love of the world are rivals, competing for our affections. They are, he taught, enemies who “cannot dwell together in the same” heart. He referenced the Gospel of John and the commandment in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (NIV).1 The truth is that Chalmers made perfect sense. When we love the world and the things within it, we do not have the love of the Father within us because we leave no room for Him. They cannot exist in the same heart. They are not merely competitors, occupying storefronts next to each other in the same shopping mall; they are like two similarly charged magnets, whose very presence repels the other, no matter how persistently you attempt to attach them. 

As we studied last week, however, we know that the heart doesn’t want to get rid of the earthly affections stored within it. It is natural for humans to love the things of this world. Chalmers compared the heart to a pesky rubber band, describing how when we try to rid ourselves of our idols, they snap right back into place due to what the preacher called the heart’s “innate elasticity.” It’s an amusing image, perhaps, but a rather sobering concept. Chalmers spoke of the heart’s hesitancy to make itself a barren “wilderness.” 

So we return to the idea of asking the “expulsive power” of God’s love and mercy to enter our hearts and replace those burdens that weigh us down, which we falsely believe to be propping us up. If we give up our worldly obsessions, though, and if we were to change so completely, would we even be the same person anymore? 

It can be rather scary to think of such a transformative experience. If an earnest Christian man or woman were determined enough to expel the false idols of the world from their heart, what sort of transformation might they expect to happen? Would it be like a monstrous, idolatrous creature writhing in pain and shrinking back down, returning to something more humanlike? What does it look like and feel like when God enters our lives? 

Thomas Chalmers preached on this very transformation to his congregation in Scotland. He said that it’s far from a painful experience. When believers ask the Holy Spirit to replace our idols, filling our hearts with God’s mercy and forgiveness, Chalmers described what happens. God, he said, will dismantle terrors, enable faith, and release us “from the spirit of bondage.” He presents us the opportunity to “see His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and to hear His beseeching voice,” encouraging us to return to Him with “a full pardon and a gracious acceptance.”2 Chalmers preached that our heavenly Father pours the spirit of adoption upon us, and we are “delivered from the tyranny of former desires.”3

So, is this transformation life-changing and overwhelming? Certainly, but not in such a manner that should make young Christian men and women scared or anxious. 

How, then, should this joyful concept be spread to the world? While the sermons of Thomas Chalmers are exciting and filled with hope, there is an original, ancient message even more incredible, divinely inspired, and written by God’s handpicked messengers who lived thousands of years ago. 

Next week, we will conclude our series on “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by studying the last step Chalmers presented to his congregation in this particular sermon: the gospel message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection cannot simply be preached, it must be lived.

1 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. 2 Chalmers, Thomas. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” p. 6. 3 Chalmers, Thomas. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” p. 6.Martin Surridge is an English teacher at Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Washington. He holds a graduate degree in teaching from Walla Walla University. In his free time, Martin enjoys history, board games, and exploring the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Lauren.

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