The world in the year 397 A.D. was in many ways completely different from our own. Things that are now considered essentials to daily life were not only centuries away from being invented or discovered- no one had even imagined them yet! We often think of modern inventions such as cars and planes, and monumental events such as European contact with North America, but the ancient world was different in even more fundamental ways. In 397 people had no concept of germs or their role in sickness. There was an observed connection between cleanliness and health, but no one understood why, and not all were convinced. Although the “flat earth” theory was already largely abandoned, geocentricism held the day. Average life expectancy was in the twenties, although if you made it past ten years old you have a good chance to make it into your late forties.
For all these reasons and more, a journey from the modern Western world to ancient Rome to 397 might seem more like a visit to another planet than a journey through time! But we need to also remember that in some of the most fundamental and important areas of our lives, people were then, are now, and have always been exactly the same. They had hopes and dreams very much like ours. Many of the same concerns and fears that keep us up at night kept them up as well. And the most important questions in the world, questions about God, sin, and redemption, all had the exact same answers then that they do now.
In or around the year 397, a man named Augustine wrote a book that he called his Confessions. It is his story of how the Lord saved him from his sins. Augustine was an ancient man living in an ancient world- but Augustine was also a Christian. And so he was in the most important ways of all just like many of us: a sinner saved by grace. Take a moment to carefully read this short quote from his Confessions, where Augustine explains what happened when the love of Jesus finally overpowered the love of the world that had previously had such a tight grip upon his heart:
How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.
Augustine sounds a theme in that quote which is the main theme of this short series of posts: Jesus drives it all away. He talks about the “fruitless joys” which he once clung to so tightly, but then he declares that God has come in to his very heart, and in so doing has driven off those old hollow thrills, and has personally replaced them. Where the heart once loved the world and the things in the world, it now loves Christ and finds him to be “sweeter than all pleasure.”
Approximately 1600 years after Augustine published his Confessions a Scottish minister named Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon which developed this same idea from 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. Chalmers titled his sermon The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, explaining that the manner in which Christians can most effectively fall out of love with the world is not through direct combat against it, as though you just sit alone in a room chanting “don’t love the world, don’t love the world, don’t love the world.” That would be boring, weird, and pointless. Rather, the way a Christian can pursue real faithfulness to 1 John 2:15 is through falling more and more in love with Christ. This new love (or “new affection” as Chalmers put it) has an “expulsive power.” That is to say it expels and displaces the old things the heart used to love, which is what is meant by the world.
I currently serve in a ministry role that puts me in regular contact with teenagers. In a Sunday School lesson on living out the Christian life I made a passing reference to The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, and briefly summarized the main points. After that lesson, one of the young people was interested in meeting with me to hear more. In preparation for that conversation, I printed off a copy of Chalmers sermon with the thought that I could give it to the student to read. However, as I read through it I quickly realized that would not be helpful or wise. Although the content of Chalmers message is very good, it is written in a manner that is very difficult for modern readers to understand. In fact, even in the 19th centuryJ.C. Ryle commented
If you take up the sermons preached by that great and wonderful man Dr. Chalmers, you can hardly fail to see what an enormous number of lines you meet with without coming to a full stop. This I cannot but regard as a great mistake… If you would attain a simple style of composition, beware of writing many lines without coming to a pause, and so allowing the minds of your hearers to take a breath.
In was in that context that the series you are now reading was conceived. I decided that it would be helpful to update the language and style of Chalmers sermon, with the basic goal of having something helpful to share with the young people I regularly minister to. In my naiveté and inexperience with such projects I thought this would be a relatively quick and easy endeavor. It was not. And what I ended up with was not a simple update on the language and style.
As I began rewriting another man’s sermon for modern readers, I found myself almost immediately not just updating, but also expanding. I found myself inserting modern illustrations. I found myself developing themes and explaining concepts in my own words. Yet I still attempted to retain the cadence and rhythm of Chalmers original work, preserving particular phrases and following his patterns of thought even when they went in directions I would not have. This partly explains some of the repetition you will find as I post the fruit of this endeavor- it seems to me that Chalmers basically followed the old Puritan style which J.I. Packer has compared to “the turning of a screw,” wherein a point is made again and again from various perspectives in order to drive it deeper and deeper home. I wanted this to be accessible to young people as well as the more mature and studied, so some of these elements have been edited out. Yet others remain.
What then is the result of these efforts? It is not a simple updating of Chalmers, as I have added much new material I can never know if he would agree with or not! Yet it is also not just my own- I wrote this out by reading a section of Chalmers and then turning to my computer and trying to restate what I had read. We could maybe call it a modern update and expansion. By describing it that way I hope to convey the somewhat unique nature of the work as it currently stands.
So perhaps we can call this series something of a hybrid. It is intended to convey the wonderful principles Chalmers laid out in his sermon, but it contains much for which I alone can take the credit or blame. What is more important to me than any of these considerations is that the Lord might use this work to help even one of His precious children see their struggles against sin in a new light, and be overwhelmed by a majestic view of Jesus Christ that truly drives away all other loves. May that new affection work its expulsive power again and again, as it has so many times before.
I started this little introduction out by quoting Augustine. Elsewhere in his Confessions he cried out to God
You awake in us a delight in praising You. You made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its place of rest in you.
That is my prayer for you, dear reader. May the Lord use the expulsive power of a new affection to assist your restless heart in finding its place of rest in Him.
(By: Nicolas Alford)