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Scotland’s Greatest Preacher, Part 4

by Martin Surridge

Last week was our third article in a series of four, in which we analyzed a powerful sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” by nineteenth-century Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers. The “new affection” of which Chalmers spoke is the most powerful love on offer to humanity. Its “expulsive power” is the ability to totally replace any earthly love or worldly idol currently residing in our hearts. It is, as you might have guessed, the sin-shattering, death-defying love of God the Father, as explained to His children through the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Chalmers knew that, just like today, many followers of Jesus will encounter other people who do not believe. They have yet to accept the love of God into their lives and are, in fact, rather hostile toward such a message of hope and salvation. The Gospels—those first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that tell the story of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, and resurrection—are rejected by so many, because, as Chalmers argues, they are examined through earthly logic. The mysteriousness of the gospel cannot be solved through scientific reasoning. Chalmers explained to his church members that the presence of worldly idols in our hearts, occupying the place where God should be, can actually cause us to reject the gospel. Our earthly affections ground our thoughts in human civilization only and make us embrace society’s method of examination. Chalmers preached that those who do not allow God to expel their idols and fill the space those idols leave behind will not be able to believe the gospel. Men and women who cling onto their earthly affections will argue against the logic of Christian beliefs because they “do not see the love of God in sending His Son unto the world. They do not see the expression of His tenderness. . . . They do not see . . . the sufferings that were endured by Him”1 who carried the weight of sin on the cross. They do not believe because to them it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t make sense because their thought processes are guided by material obsessions and sinful addictions. Finally, their minds operate in such a manner because “they cannot get quit of their old affections, because they are out of sight from all those truths which have influence to raise a new one.”2 Those truths are laid out for us in the gospel.

If the gospel is the answer to the problem of idolatry and rejection of God, how, then, should Christians go about trying to introduce the message of Jesus to the people who are unable to let go of their idols? If an unbeliever is convinced that the story of Christ’s resurrection cannot be true, for what reason might they change their minds?

Thomas Chalmers presented to his congregation in Scotland the twin purposes of the gospel: to pacify and to purify. In other words, to bring us peace and to help us conquer our struggles with sin. 

The gospel brings us peace by assuring us that we are saved by grace and not by works. Followers of Jesus are able to show those who are not Christians what an impact such salvation can produce. Chalmers described that the power of grace is simply life-changing: “Never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation,” he preached, “as when under the belief that he is saved by grace,” because “he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.”3 Chalmers was arguing that to the sinner saved by grace, it becomes of the highest importance that he or she live a life of worthiness and of godliness. To the unbeliever, that would make quite the impression. 

One of the greatest sermons the people of Glasgow had ever heard ended with a beautiful and picturesque piece of spiritual imagery and analogy. Chalmers asked his audience to picture themselves standing on the very edge of a bountiful green world, smiled upon by the warm sun, where the warmth of human companionship can be felt and pleasant homes reside nearby. Standing on that edge, this person must make a choice between remaining in the comfort of their lovely garden, or to step out into space—into black nothingness. Chalmers rightly assumes that it would be an easy choice and that everyone would remain in the garden. Few would leap into the abyss. Yet, what if there were, at that moment, a new planet floating by, one that Chalmers calls “some happy island of blest,”4 which one could reach out and touch, and which held within its atmosphere greater happiness, more wonderful melodies, and even purer beauty of creation? Our venerable Scottish preacher asked, wouldn’t our former garden paradise suddenly become an uninviting wilderness and this new island a welcoming beacon of hope?

What a relief it is that this vision is our reality right at this very moment. Our earthly affections can be expelled, replaced wholeheartedly with the transformative power of God’s love. Through a receiving of the gospel message, our lives are saved, our sins forgiven, and through the power of Christ’s resurrection, our debt is paid. 

Will you be a gospel beacon to those struggling with idolatry? Will you accept the expulsive power of a new affection? 

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