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Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection

March 24, 2010 Comments off
By Sinclair Ferguson

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most remarkable men of his time—a mathematician, evangelical theologian, economist, ecclesiastical, political, and social reformer all in one.  His most famous sermon was published under the unlikely title: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he expounded an insight of permanent importance for Christian living: you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Even if we could do so, that would lead only to despair. The first world–centered love of our hearts can be expelled only by a new love and affection—for God and from God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot dwell together in the same heart. But the love of the world can be driven out only by the love of the Father. Hence Chalmers’ sermon title.

True Christian living, holy and right living, requires a new affection for the Father as its dynamic. Such new affection is part of what William Cowper called “the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord”—a love for the holy that seems to deal our carnal affections a deadly blow at the beginning of the Christian life. Soon, however, we discover that for all that we have died to sin in Christ, sin has by no means died in us. Sometimes its continued influence surprises us, even appears to overwhelm us in one or other of its manifestations. We discover that our “new affections” for spiritual things must be renewed constantly throughout the whole of our pilgrimage. If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness (how subtle our hearts are!) without its power. Love for the world will not have been expunged, but merely diverted. Only a new love is adequate to expel the old one. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. Only those who long for Christ’s appearing will be delivered from Demas-like desertion caused by being in love with this world.

How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.

Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his word?” Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent and return to those first works. It would be sad if the deepest analysis of our Christianity was that it lacked a sense of sin and of grace. That would suggest that we knew little if the expulsive power of a new affection. But there is no right living that last without it.

Sinclair Ferguson is an Alliance Council Member and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

This article was previously published in Eternity Magazine, December 1987.

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The spiritual feelings of believers and hypocrites compared

March 22, 2010 Comments off

Ralph Erskine

The Difference between the Pleasant Spiritual Impressions peculiar to true Believers, and those which Hypocrites may have in the Ways of Religion.

1. True and saving impressions are sociable; they accompany one another and go hand in hand together: for example holy fear does not cast out love nor love cast out fear: holy triumph in the Lord does not take away trembling at his presence; nor holy trembling take away triumph: joy does not destroy godly sorrow for sin; nor godly sorrow remove spiritual joy: faith does not destroy repentance; nor repentance destroy faith: the man’s humility does not destroy his boldness before God; nor his boldness of access destroy humility. His low thoughts of himself does not destroy his high thoughts of Christ; nor his high thoughts of Christ destroy his low thoughts of himself: his self-diffidence does not destroy his holy confidence; nor his holy confidence destroy self-diffidence. Nay, instead of destroying one another, they advance and harmoniously help and forward one another.—Whereas the hypocrite’s joy destroys his sorrow; his faith and false confidence destroys and excludes his repentance; his fear destroys his love; and his pretended love to God destroys his fear of him: one good impression he has, destroys another; they cannot keep company together. Whereas spiritual impressions in believers excite and quicken one another.

2. True and saving impressions are unlimited and unstinted; the good frames of hypocrites stinted and limited; insomuch that they rest satisfied without their attainments: so far they go, and reckon they need go no farther, if they think they have so much as will keep them out of hell, or bring them to heaven.

But true believers have restrained measures of grace: whatever holy impressions are made upon them, they still desire more, and more, and more; pressing after consummate perfection: “I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” Phil. 3:13.3. True and saving impressions are habitual impressions; they are like the believer’s daily bread: though a man be not always eating or drinking, yet the taking of food for the nourishment of the body, is a man’s daily habitual activity: so though the believer be not always under a divine impression, or in a spiritual frame of mind, but has his variations, yet he is habitually in this activity; and if any days pass wherein he is destitute of these meals, they are to him as days of famine, and spiritual scarcity; his soul pines and languishes, and is uneasy for the lack of what it would be according to his desires. Whereas hypocrites can be quite easy in the lack of these things, without ever giving a longing look towards the Lord for his returning to them. But the believer dies when he experiences penury and deprivation: these are his melancholy days, his sighing days, till he recover all again, by the Spirit of the Lord returning, and reviving his heart, and restoring his soul. It is true, the established believer learns, in the absence of perceptible enjoyments, to live by faith on the Son of God— indeed, but still that faith gives many a long look for the Lord’s returning to its sweet and sensible embraces.

4. These impressions, in believers, are not only habitual, but natural. If the hypocrite can have any such impressions, they are not natural to him, they are not his element; he has no new nature corresponding thereto: and therefore he cannot endure to be long under any good and spiritual impressions because his carnal unrenewed recoils against it. His carnal mind, being enmity against God, and he is content that the impressions be gone. But to a child of God, these impressions are natural: they are his new nature, his element; they are like the very breath of his new nature; natural to his sanctified part, as breath is to his body: yea, so natural to him, that they are like a part of his life, and the removal of them is like death to him: and hence, when under these sweet and heavenly impressions, he is disposed to give, as it were, a charge to all the world, to beware of disturbing him, and bereaving him of his joy: “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor awake my Love till he please,” Song 2:7.

In a word, the hypocrite and the godly differ in their motions and affections, as the motion of a clock differs from the sun; the one moves by art, the other by nature: the hypocrite’s motions and impressions are like artificial clockwork, under the influence of the common operations of the Spirit, working upon him by some outward means and providences: but the impressions of believers are natural, under the influence of the Spirit dwelling in them: and whatever secondary purposes outward providences and ordinances may have for advancing them, yet they are the fruits of the special operation of the Spirit that is in him, “as a well of water springing up to eternal life.” So that their impressions differ as much as a land flood, that quickly dries up, being only maintained with rain from the clouds, differs from a living spring, which is never altogether dried, even when the flood is abated.

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To those who negate religious affections

September 27, 2009 Comments off

Jonathan Edwards

Having thus considered the evidence of the proposition laid down, I proceed to some inferences.

1. We may hence learn how great their error is, who are for discarding all religious affections, as having nothing solid or substantial in them. There seems to be too much of a disposition this way, prevailing in this land at this time. Because many who, in the late extraordinary season, appeared to have great religious affections, did not manifest a right temper of mind, and run into many errors, in the time of their affections, and the heat of their zeal; and because the high affections of many seem to be so soon come to nothing, and some who seemed to be mightily raised and swallowed up with joy and zeal, for a while, seem to have returned like the dog to his vomit; hence religious affections in general are grown out of credit with great numbers, as though true religion did not at all consist in them.

Thus we easily and naturally run from one extreme to another. A little while ago we were in the other extreme; there was a prevalent disposition to look upon all high religious affections as eminent exercises of true grace, without much inquiring into the nature and source of those affections, and the manner in which they arose: if persons did but appear to be indeed very much moved and raised, so as to be full of religious talk, and express themselves with great warmth and earnestness, and to be filled, or to be very full, as the phrases were; it was too much the manner, without further examination, to conclude such persons were full of the Spirit of God, and had eminent experience of his gracious influences. This was the extreme which was prevailing three or four years ago. But of late, instead of esteeming and admiring all religious affections without distinction, it is a thing much more prevalent, to reject and discard all without distinction. Herein appears the subtlety of Satan. While he saw that affections were much in vogue, knowing the greater part of the land were not versed in such things, and had not had much experience of great religious affections to enable them to judge well of them, and distinguish between true and false: then he knew he could best play his game, by sowing tares amongst the wheat, and mingling false affections with the works of God’s Spirit: he knew this to be a likely way to delude and eternally ruin many souls, and greatly to wound religion in the saints, and entangle them in a dreadful wilderness, and by and by, to bring all religion into disrepute.

But now, when the ill consequences of these false affections appear, and it is become very apparent, that some of those emotions which made a glaring show, and were by many greatly admired, were in reality nothing; the devil sees it to be for his interest to go another way to work, and to endeavor to his utmost to propagate and establish a persuasion, that all affections and sensible emotions of the mind, in things of religion, are nothing at all to be regarded, but are rather to be avoided, and carefully guarded against, as things of a pernicious tendency. This he knows is the way to bring all religion to a mere lifeless formality, and effectually shut out the power of godliness, and everything which is spiritual, and to have all true Christianity turned out of doors. For although to true religion there must indeed be something else besides affection; yet true religion consists so much in the affections, that there can be no true religion without them. He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.

This manner of slighting all religious affections, is the way exceedingly to harden the hearts of men, and to encourage them in their stupidity and senselessness, and to keep them in a state of spiritual death as long as they live, and bring them at last to death eternal. The prevailing prejudice against religious affections at this day, in the land, is apparently of awful effect to harden the hearts of sinners, and damp the graces of many of the saints, and stun the life and power of religion, and preclude the effect of ordinances, and hold us down in a state of dullness and apathy, and undoubtedly causes many persons greatly to offend God, in entertaining mean and low thoughts of the extraordinary work he has lately wrought in this land.

And for persons to despise and cry down all religious affections, is the way to shut all religion out of their own hearts, and to make thorough work in ruining their souls.

They who condemn high affections in others, are certainly not likely to have high affections themselves. And let it be considered, that they who have but little religious affection, have certainly but little religion. And they who condemn others for their religious affections, and have none themselves, have no religion.

There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection it proves that he has no true religion. The right way, is not to reject all affections, nor to approve all; but to distinguish between affections, approving some, and rejecting others; separating between the wheat and the chaff, the gold and the dross, the precious and the vile.

Source: Religious affections, by Jonathan Edwards