Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a Scottish preacher and inspiration of William Wilberforce, preached one of the greatest and most well-known sermons in history called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”
This sermon is based on the words of 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” and powerfully lays out why it doesn’t work to merely tell people to stop their sin or love for the world. Sin has a magnetic power that attracts us; and unless a greater power grips our heart, we remain powerless to change.
While Chalmers’ nineteenth century language may seem a little Yoda-like to us at times, the collection of eleven quotes/excerpts below will give a quick summary of Chalmers’ message and help you learn “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”
The ascendant power of a second affection will do, what no exposition however forcible, of the folly and worthlessness of the first, ever could effectuate.
There is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered; but as to its desire for having some one object or other, this is unconquerable…
Such is the grasping tendency of the human heart, that it must have a something to lay hold of and which, if wrested away without the substitution of another something in its place, would leave a void and a vacancy as painful to the mind, as hunger is to the natural system.
To bid a man into whom there has not yet entered the great and ascendant influence of the principle of regeneration, to bid him withdraw his love from all the things that are in the world, is to bid him give up all the affections that are in his heart. The world is the all of a natural man. He has not a taste nor a desire, that points not to a something placed within the confines of its visible horizon. He loves nothing above it, and he cares for nothing beyond it; and to bid him love not the world, is to pass a sentence of expulsion on all the inmates of his bosom. To estimate the magnitude and the difficulty of such a surrender, let us only think that it were just as arduous to prevail on him not to love wealth, which is but one of the things in the world, as to prevail on him to set wilful fire to his own property. This he might do with sore and painful reluctance, if he saw that the salvation of his life hung upon it. But this he would do willingly, if he saw that a new property of tenfold value was instantly to emerge from the wreck of the old one.
In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new.
The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom.
The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.
Thus may we come to perceive what it is that makes the most effective kind of preaching. It is not enough to hold out to the world’s eye the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration, however pathetic, of the evanescent character of all its enjoyments. It is not enough to travel the walk of experience along with you, and speak to your own conscience and your own recollection, of the deceitfulness of the heart, and the deceitfulness of all that the heart is set upon.
When he is told to love God supremely, this may startle another; but it will not startle him to whom God has been revealed in peace, and in pardon, and in all the freeness of an offered reconciliation.
Tell a man to be holy and how can he compass such a performance, when his alone fellowship with holiness is a fellowship of despair? It is the atonement of the cross reconciling the holiness of the lawgiver with the safety of the offender, that hath opened the way for a sanctifying influence into the sinner’s heart; and he can take a kindred impression from the character of God now brought nigh, and now at peace with him. Separate the demand from the doctrine; and you have either a system of righteousness that is impractical, or a barren orthodoxy. Bring the demand and the doctrine together—and the true disciple of Christ is able to do the one, through the other strengthening him.
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—and no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God, than building ourselves up on our most holy faith.
Chalmers’ message should make us realize that unless our affections our changed to love God supremely, we will not escape the pull of the world. This is a helpful truth for those in ministry; when seeking to warn people against the dangers of sin, we must present our glorious and merciful God as someone so great and to be greatly desired so that listeners will be moved to desire with all of their hearts. (Some might call this the pathos of preaching.)