Readers of the Decablog probably assume we just forgot about the blog altogether, but we’ve actually been busy writing a book. In Praise of Old Guys will be released on April 20th at wrathandgrace.com or amazon.com.
When the Reformation happened, it took place upon the shoulders of giants. No, not literal giants, as Joshua and David had killed most of them. I’m talking about the Church Fathers. As just one example, a Logos search of the two volume McNeill edition of Calvin’s Institutes reveals 7 results for Justin Martyr, 18 for Irenaeus, 57 for Tertullian, 20 for Clement, 31 for Origen, 78 for Cyprian, 79 for Bernard, 89 for Chrysostom, 8 for Basil, 74 for Jerome, 14 for Eusebius, 15 for Cyril, 13 for Athanasius, and a whopping 779 for Augustine. This demonstrates that Calvin was trying to “reform” the church, not create a brand new one.
The idea is very simple. There is, as Jude says, a “Faith … once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Church Fathers are those men–those bishops, pastors, and elders who faithfully passed down this Faith in the days of the early church. Therefore, to see if our own ideas line up with orthodoxy, we have to know what the Church Fathers believed and taught (of course, I’m not saying they all agreed on everything, or that some of them didn’t hold to unusual or even heretical doctrines on secondary issues, but on the essentials, these are the men who fought the good fight of truth and faithfully held firm to the Apostolic teaching).
This post will introduce and briefly sketch a several of the most important Church Fathers. I’ll take the famous 38 Volume Church Father’s set printed in the 19th century and still in publication to this day as my outline for this entry. This set divides the Fathers into two basic categories: Ante-Nicene Fathers are those who lived prior to the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D). They include (but are not limited to):
- Vol. 1 – The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus
- Vol. 2 – Tatian, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria
- Vol. 3 – Tertullian
- Vol. 4 – Origen
- Vol. 5 – Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian
- Vol. 6 – Dionysius, Julius Africanus
- Vol. 7 – Lactantius, Victorinus, Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Early Liturgies
- Vol. 8 – Apocrypha of New Testament
- Vol. 9 – New Testament Pseudepigrapha
Then there are Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers who go up until around the middle of the 8th century. These include:
- Second Set – Augustine and Chrysostom
- Third Set – Basil, Jerome, Hilary, Eusebius, Cyril, Ambrose, the Ecumenical Councils, and many more.
These can be further subdivided into three to five categories which show the ethnic, geographical, and temporal diversity of the groups:
- Apostolic Fathers
- Greek Fathers: Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Cappadocian Fathers, John Chrysostom, and Cyril.
- Latin Fathers: Tertullian, Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory.
- Syriac Fathers: Aphrahat, Ephrem, Isaac of Antioch, Isaac of Nineveh
- Desert Fathers.
The following brief biographies come from Introduction and Biographical Information, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005). I put there here as much to provide a go-to resource as to acquaint you with these amazing men. The first set are Ante-Nicene Fathers:
- Justin Martyr (c. 100/110–165; fl. c. 148–161). Palestinian philosopher who was converted to Christianity, “the only sure and worthy philosophy.” He traveled to Rome where he wrote several apologies against both pagans and Jews, combining Greek philosophy and Christian theology; he was eventually martyred.
- Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 135–c. 202). Bishop of Lyons who published the most famous and influential refutation of Gnostic thought.
- Athenagoras (fl. 176–180). Early Christian philosopher and apologist from Athens, whose only authenticated writing, A Plea Regarding Christians, is addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, and defends Christians from the common accusations of atheism, incest and cannibalism.
- Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215). A highly educated Christian convert from paganism, head of the catechetical school in Alexandria and pioneer of Christian scholarship. His major works, Protrepticus, Paedagogus and the Stromata, bring Christian doctrine face to face with the ideas and achievements of his time.
- Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155/160–225/250; fl. c. 197–222). Brilliant Carthaginian apologist and polemicist who laid the foundations of Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy in the West, though he himself was later estranged from the catholic tradition due to its laxity.
- Origen of Alexandria (b. 185; fl. c. 200–254). Influential exegete and systematic theologian. He was condemned (perhaps unfairly) for maintaining the preexistence of souls while purportedly denying the resurrection of the body. His extensive works of exegesis focus on the spiritual meaning of the text.
- Hippolytus (fl. 222–245). Recent scholarship places Hippolytus in a Palestinian context, personally familiar with Origen. Though he is known chiefly for The Refutation of All Heresies, he was primarily a commentator on Scripture (especially the Old Testament) employing typological exegesis.
- Cyprian of Carthage (fl. 248–258). Martyred bishop of Carthage who maintained that those baptized by schismatics and heretics had no share in the blessings of the church.
- Novatian of Rome (fl. 235–258). Roman theologian, otherwise orthodox, who formed a schismatic church after failing to become pope. His treatise on the Trinity states the classic Western doctrine.
- Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260/263–340). Bishop of Caesarea, partisan of the Emperor Constantine and first historian of the Christian church. He argued that the truth of the gospel had been foreshadowed in pagan writings but had to defend his own doctrine against suspicion of Arian sympathies.
- Dionysius of Alexandria (d. c. 264). Bishop of Alexandria and student of Origen. Dionysius actively engaged in the theological disputes of his day, opposed Sabellianism, defended himself against accusations of tritheism and wrote the earliest extant Christian refutation of Epicureanism. His writings have survived mainly in extracts preserved by other early Christian authors.
- Julius Africanus (c. 160–c. 240). First Christian chronographer who influenced later historians such as Eusebius. Born in Jerusalem, he was charged with organizing a library in the Pantheon at Rome. He was acquainted with Origen during the time he studied in Alexandria and corresponded with him. He died in Palestine.
- Lactantius (c. 260–c. 330). Christian apologist removed from his post as teacher of rhetoric at Nicomedia upon his conversion to Christianity. He was tutor to the son of Constantine and author of The Divine Institutes.
- Victorinus of Petovium (d. c. 304). Latin biblical exegete. With multiple works attributed to him, his sole surviving work is the Commentary on the Apocalypse and perhaps some fragments from Commentary on Matthew. Victorinus expressed strong millenarianism in his writing, though his was less materialistic than the millenarianism of Papias or Irenaeus. In his allegorical approach he could be called a spiritual disciple of Origen. Victorinus died during the first year of Diocletian’s persecution, probably in 304.
The Second list are Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers:
- Ephrem the Syrian (b. c. 306; fl. 363–373). Syrian writer of commentaries and devotional hymns which are sometimes regarded as the greatest specimens of Christian poetry prior to Dante.
- Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315–367). Bishop of Poitiers and called the “Athanasius of the West” because of his defense (against the Arians) of the common nature of Father and Son.
- Basil the Great (b. c. 330; fl. 357–379). One of the Cappadocian fathers, bishop of Caesarea and champion of the teaching on the Trinity propounded at Nicaea in 325. He was a great administrator and founded a monastic rule.
- John Chrysostom (344/354–407; fl. 386–407). Bishop of Constantinople who was noted for his orthodoxy, his eloquence and his attacks on Christian laxity in high places.
- Jerome (c. 347–420). Gifted exegete and exponent of a classical Latin style, now best known as the translator of the Latin Vulgate. He defended the perpetual virginity of Mary, attacked Origen and Pelagius and supported extreme ascetic practices.
- Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Bishop of Hippo and a voluminous writer on philosophical, exegetical, theological and ecclesiological topics. He formulated the Western doctrines of predestination and original sin in his writings against the Pelagians.
- Cyril of Alexandria (375–444; fl. 412–444). Patriarch of Alexandria whose extensive exegesis, characterized especially by a strong espousal of the unity of Christ, led to the condemnation of Nestorius in 431.
- Obviously, many more names could be added to both lists.
Christianity is an historic faith. We are not supposed to be reinventing the wheel all the time. In fact, that is the definition of heresy, for the word “heresy” comes from a word meaning, “to choose.” Heretics choose what they want to believe, regardless of 2,000 years of church history. Rooting ourselves in the Fathers who handed down the Faith once for all entrusted to the Saints through their worship and theology, while battling unbelieving and heretical thought, is important and invaluable.
My suggestion in getting started here is that you pick two or three of those in this list that interest you, do a little more research on them, pick one, scrap all that and start with Justin! I only say that because he’s my favorite. But seriously, pick one and then go for it. Then, before you know it, you’ll be an expert and will surely desire to read even more.
(by: Doug Van Dorn)
Sanctification is the progressive increase of holiness a Christian experiences in their life. It is not instant when a heart is born again, and it is never fully complete while we still live in this world. That is why this message about the expulsive power of a new affection is so necessary- the Christian will continue to battle sin everyday of his life. But by grace, it is a battle in which we are called to engage, and in which we can have the sure hope of progressive victory.
And the beautifully unexpected way the grace of God works in our lives is this- the freer the gospel, the more sanctifying the gospel.
The more the gospel is received as a doctrine of pure grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine of real life change.
This is one of the greatest secrets of the Christian life- the more a man clings to God completely, seeing himself as one who has nothing to offer and in absolute need of grace, the more he is able to achieve in growth and service. If your hope is a legalistic command of “do this and you will live,” then a spirit of fearfulness will flood your heart. Your relationship to God will be one of hopeless bargaining that will destroy your confidence and crush your hope. You know your own heart too well to hope in your own abilities to keep these bargains. You know you will really be perusing your own selfish desires rather than His glory. Such a foolish system cannot and will not save.
It is only when the gospel is received as a true gift, without money and without price, that our hope can be genuinely secure. It is only then that true rest in God can be experienced. It is only then that real Christian relationship to God can flourish. A radical truth must be grasped: that because of what Christ has accomplished God rejoices over us and desires to do us good. The truest earthly joy lies in the Christian heart that has grasped that truth well. The gospel wakes us up from something like a bad dream and shows us the real happiness of the redeemed life in Christ.
Salvation by grace- salvation by free grace, not of works, based solely on the mercy of God- is indispensible both to the deliverance of our souls from God’s just condemnation and the deliverance of our hearts from the chilling weight of worldliness. If even a whisper of legalism is allowed to remain in the gospel then all is lost. The Gospel is like a fire that melts our icy hearts- and so the freer it is the better.
Some fear that a gospel this free will lead to Christians who don’t care about worldliness and have a casual attitude toward their sin. Actually, the precise opposite is true. A truly free gospel makes the Christian hate his sin all the more. Along with the light of a free gospel there is love for that very same gospel. If we decrease the freeness of the gospel we dim the light. We will likewise decrease the love it produces in our hearts, chasing it away with our misplaced fears.
The redeemed sinner will never find a greater motivation to real life change and growth than the belief that he is saved by grace alone. That is the truth that will fuel his fight. That is the truth that will motivate him to offer his heart completely to the Lord and to deny sin a hold within. To do this work well, ought we to give the Christian the best weapons? There is no sharper sword than the truly free grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not just theory or good ideas, this is the way we are called to live. If you are struggling to fall out of love with the world in faithfulness to 1 John 2:15, see in these things a ray of hope. There is no other way to keep the love of the world out of your heart than to keep your heart full of the love of God. And there is no other way to fill your heart with the love of God than by building yourself up in gospel faith. The denial of the world, which is impossible for those who deny the gospel, is possible to those who believe. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Trying to fall out of love with the world without falling more in love with God is trying to do hard work with ridiculously wrong tools. It is like trying to dig a ditch with a noodle instead of a shovel; it will never work. And it is tragic, because the more effort poured in the further away from grace you will feel. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) and the only way to expel lawbreaking worldly love from your heart is to replace it with that love which delights to pursue God’s Law, because it loves God the Lawgiver Himself.
Two Worlds Imagined: A Closing Dream
Imagine yourself in a vast and empty expanse. Before you there is a world. As you look toward it you see that it is a world full of wealth and riches. The people have pleasant faces and live in pleasant places. The sun lightly plays upon them and you see that they are living together in peace and harmony. Imagine that happy world in your mind, and then imagine another along side it. It is dark and unknown to you. Whatever it holds is shrouded in mystery.
Which world would you choose? Would you leave the bright world of love for the darkness of the unknown? Would you leave the joys of family for lonely isolation? Would you leave your home to be a stranger? Would you not cling tightly to the bright lights you know over the fear of an unexplored darkness?
But imagine in your dream that a new and brighter light suddenly breaks out from the previously darkened world. It does not come slowly, but rather it nearly blinds you as it explodes in a brilliance you have never seen. Colors you did not know existed blend together with indescribable effect. And with this new and brighter light comes music, playing a melody you have never heard but will now never forget. Here you see a more pure beauty, a more heartfelt love, a sweeter peace, a real kindness, and a true joy. It is the joy of a world united and reveling in the shared experience of redeeming grace. Over this world is stretched like a banner the love of God. The God of the universe has fixed his attention, care, and mercy upon this world and He will never pull back from it. This is a world of no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears. And it is calling you to join them. It is calling you to come home.
Do you now imagine that what was once to you a wilderness has become the world to which your heart runs; and the world that was once so attractive to you is now the true wilderness by comparison?
What an unknown wilderness can never do, a world of true love can most certainly accomplish. So also, if we only fix the affections of our heart on the world we see around us, we will always remain a slave to it.
If this world is all we see, we will love this world and we will not relent, no matter how hard we try. We will never pry its grip from our heart by direct effort alone.
But if we through faith fix our sights upon a greater world, we will naturally fall out of love with the old one as we fall more in love with the new.
It is then that we will truly know the expulsive power of a new affection.
It is then we will learn this central and crucial truth:
When through the gospel Jesus shows us a greater love, Jesus drives all else away.
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.
(1 John 2:15)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)
Now we can begin to see what sort of preaching will bring real change in the lives of people. We don’t just need a mirror held up to show us how imperfect we are. We don’t just need to be told how worthless and destructive the world is. We don’t just need to be told how dirty our hearts are and how false our love for the world is. Real gospel preachers need not have the skill or the desire to accomplish those tasks. A man may not be able to describe such sorrows with vivid and soaring speech, he may not be able to practically identify with those who so struggle at every point, but God may use him still to expel the very lies he may struggle to understand or explain. A preacher should faithfully explain the depths and the beauty and the riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A suffering sinner doesn’t need a poet to describe his sorrows to him; he needs a pastor to apply the healing balm of Jesus Christ. Rather than be one who catalogs and then rails against the manifold dragons of the world, let the preacher of the gospel wield the sword that can actually slay the beast.
The preacher cannot know all that is bound up in every heart before him. He is not a magician. But he can shout out the truth, which when it gets into your heart will be like Aaron’s staff in the Exodus account- the staff that turned into a snake and ate up the others thrown forward by the false prophets of Egypt. The preacher need not be a master of describing the condition of the natural heart, nor must he be intimately acquainted with your individual struggles. He is entrusted with the description of that greater love which withers up the old and leaves in their place a new creation in Jesus Christ. Let the church never cease to preach like this. We have the only power that can pry the love of the world out of a human heart.
Reader, I urge you directly- open your heart to the love of Him who is far greater than the world. Let the gospel clear away the stifling fog of unbelief that is hiding and clouding the face of God. Hear this plea- He claims your love! Everything he has done and is doing in the world by the power of His Spirit has been about reclaiming a sinful world to Himself. The God of love has so clearly made His heart known, that only faith and understanding are needed to call your heart back to love for Him.
Doctrine and Demand in the Worldly Heart
In light of all we have seen it becomes plain how little credit we should give to those people of the world who despise our Christian beliefs. By now you surely see that to describe them as “people of the world” is most accurate. A worldly person (as they may be called) thinks that the new birth is a complete fiction. All of his love is wrapped up in the world around him, and he sees nothing there of new births, spiritual hearts, the crucifixion of the old man, the blessings of the gospel, or any other of our most precious doctrines. He sees all of this as totally opposite to what he has observed around him, and by that standard he rejects it. When he sees the changed life of the Christian, when he sees a friend or family member turn away from worldliness and fall in love with God, he simply dismisses it as a religious fervor- a nice distraction to the simple minded, but far beneath him personally.
Such a man continues unmoved and undaunted in his worldliness. Love for the world does not always look sinister and depraved- often it is exposed through a simple apathy toward the gospel and a total preoccupation with the things of a limited earthly horizon: how much will I make and who will I be seen with? If the thought of death or what comes after ever intrudes into the worldly man’s sights, it never does so with any power to bring conviction or change. Typically such a man will have a vague concept of “living a good life” and being at least better than those around him, and on that foundation he rests his hope- if hope is not too strong a word for the casual attitude so many adopt towards eternal things. If they believe in God at all, they seem to believe that they will be happily transported from a world in which they have had almost nothing to do with God into a world in which they will have everything to do with God for all eternity. To the worldly among us all this talk of love for God, walking by faith, knowing our hearts, and the expulsive power of which we speak means absolutely nothing.
Christianity demands that we fall out of love with the world, but such a person has no interest in the demands of Christianity. This is because they have no interest in the doctrines of Christianity. Why would they care about doing the work (falling out of love with the world) described in the Bible when they don’t even believe the words of the Bible? The work will always be beyond your reach when the words are beneath your attention.
They cannot see spiritual truth because their eyes are bound tight with the blindfold of unbelief. They do not see the love of God in sending Jesus into the world. They do not see the Father’s mercy in delivering over Jesus to die for us. They do not see the power of the cross to save, that Christ has suffered in our place, bearing all the punishment that we deserved to endure. They do not see that God is both perfect justice and perfect love- passing over our sins, but only because they were paid for in full by Jesus. The new birth is a mystery to them- that God would take a spiritually dead heart that is in rebellion against Him and breath in the Christ-loving power of new spiritual life. If they would only look to Christ with believing eyes all mysteries and troubles would vanish. As it is, they will remain locked in to their love of the world because they have never looked with faith to the one who can drive it all away. They have never gazed at that brighter light of a greater love. And in this there is at least consistency- they do not fall out of love with the world because they do not love God more, nor do they care to even try.
Doctrine and Demand in the Born Again Heart
But if there is a consistency in error, is there not a like consistency to be found in truth? The man who actually believes in the doctrines of Christianity will be ready to submit to the demands of Christianity. When a man is told to love God supremely, to love Him more than all others and to give Him alone the throne of the king in his heart- the worldly heart is shocked and offended. Yet this will not shock or offend the person to whom God has been revealed as the One who offers peace and pardon through the reconciliation of the gospel. Shutting out the world from your heart is impossible if you have nothing to replace it with, but it is not impossible for the one who has found God to be his sure and satisfying portion. Turning the heart away from things below is not a grief to the one who has seen the beauty of the things above. When all you have is love for the world, turning away is like blotting out the light. But when you love God more you know and experience that brighter light of heavenly glory. Through the gospel Jesus Christ has dealt with our sins, destroying the wall blocking out the joyous heat and near blinding glow of the love of God for us. This light is treasured not with physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith and in the heart that has been born again by this very same power.
The holiness of life that Christianity demands is hollow unless it is preceded by the doctrines of Christianity. In fact, it is worse that hollow. It is a false gospel that leads only to despair. And the answer is never to minimize the holiness to which we are called, for to do that we would have to minimize the Holiness of the One who is doing the calling. Rather, we must see and believe this doctrine- that on the cross Jesus Christ has reconciled the vast gulf between the holiness of God and our sinfulness. He has atoned for our sin through his own sufferings in our place. He has paved a road for a new influence to break into our hearts. He has brought us back to God, not in slavish fear but in glorious gratitude. The Holiness of God can now be our cherished friend rather than our terrifying enemy.
If the demands on our lives that Christianity makes are separated from these central Christian doctrines you will either have a legalistic and pointless life-code or a dead traditionalism. But when doctrine and demand are brought together, the true Christian with a truly born again heart is able to grow in the one by the strength of the other.
The gospel is the only possible motivation in living the Christian life that actually works.
The demands of the gospel upon your life are not beyond your strength if the truth of the gospel is not beyond your acceptance.
You can change, not because you are strong enough, but because the gospel is true enough.
Think about the language used to describe the Christian’s spiritual armor. Think about those very words- the Christians spiritual armor! Why would we need armor? Because we are called to fight. We are called to strive and work and grow. Christianity involves personal effort. But look at what sort of armor we are called to put on: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:10-20). The power of our weapons lies not in our own strength, but rather in those things that have reference to our God- faith, salvation, truth and the Spirit through His word. These are the weapons with which the battle is won, new heights are conquered, and a Christian is able to look out on new vistas of God’s grace from places he previously never would have known nor hoped to achieve.
Christianity demands powerful life-change, but it supplies a power equal to the task.
The Christian life can only be sustained by the power of Christian truth.
The gospel brings both pardon and purification, and it is important to see the relationship between them. The best way to cast out an impure love is to replace it with a pure one, and by the love of what is good expel the love of what is evil.
(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)
The Natural Heart
Perhaps now you see why it is that your heart clings to its present loves with so much strength, and why you may feel powerless to overcome whatever sinful desire the world is currently holding out to you. Your heart will never cooperate with you if you hold out to it only the prospect of a lonely denial. It will not consent to be desolate; it will not welcome emptiness. As we have been saying, a new and greater love is required to dislodge the old one. The neon attractions of the world will not be overshadowed by retreat into darkness; they must be overwhelmed by something even brighter.
It is not enough to argue against the world’s foolishness.
It is not enough to point out the world’s lies.
It is not enough to even threaten violence.
All these the heart will resist to the bitter end.
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.
1 John 2:15 is perhaps the most direct charge in the entire Bible against the desires of our sinful nature. To say to someone who has never been born again, “do not love the world or the things in the world,” is to ask him to give up every love he knows. Prior to grace, the world is his all in all. He has neither taste nor desire for anything beyond the narrow horizons of this visible world. He loves nothing above it and cares for nothing beyond it; and so to ask him to remove these loves is to ask him to remove his very heart itself and cast it away.
We might as well ask him to throw away his life savings and burn down his house. He might do this if he saw that his life somehow depended on it, but only with great sorrow and reluctance- for although his life would be saved it would be greatly reduced in comfort. But even this he would do willingly if only he saw that from those ashes would instantly emerge wealth of ten thousand times greater value than that which he burned, and all this from the very scene of his previous loss. In this second case there is a new and greater desire to displace the old one and make what was once a treasure seem an easy thing to burn. But to the man with no such hope, there can be no good reason to burn down what he now loves.
If falling out of love with the world is truly essential to the Christian life, then we begin to see why it is necessary to describe the experience of salvation with words of stark and extreme distinction. It is true that by grace we are “born again,” but we also “crucify” our old selves. The new spark of Christianity is both the dawn of a new life and the dusk of an old one. Something is born; and something dies.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
By this time you should well understand how powerless it is no simply demonstrate the insignificance of this world. This by itself can actually (if it does anything) cause harm. You have experienced for yourself the way that the heart so easily returns to that which it wept over and railed against yesterday. One day you may have a clear sense of how short your time on earth will be and be very encouraged to use your days well. You may be very sobered by the consideration of the realities of heaven and hell, and the fleeting nature of human life, and may make promises and resolutions regarding your remaining days. But tomorrow comes, and the world is all around, and your heart springs back to familiar loves of both desire and possession. You jump back in to dead-end foolishness with a renewed and tragic joy. It is as though the convictions of yesterday were some sort of dream, and even the church itself, which was on Sunday the scene of your resolution, becomes on Monday a joke to you with no power to pull down the strongholds to which you are bound.
Our hearts have thrones. That is to say, something will always sit there as king in the seat of supreme love. Think again of 2 Cor. 5:17. Simply throwing out the old king is like only claiming the first half of that verse- old things have passed away. It is true that the removal of the old king is essential, but thrones never remain unoccupied for long. A new king must reign, and if he does not, the old one will return with a renewed power and a firmer grip. It is not enough that old things pass away, it is necessary also that the new come and claim the throne. Only then will you begin to see the very nature of your heart- the magnet within you that is always yearning and reaching for something- harnessed and redirected in such a manner that it is your friend and not your enemy. It is only then that real change can begin to occur.
The Born Again Heart
Now we can begin to grasp the true importance and beauty of the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. The love of God and the love of the world are not merely rivals; they are enemies. They are polar opposites. They are so opposed to one another that they cannot both exist within us. We have already affirmed how impossible it is for the heart to cast out the world by its own power, leaving nothing but a barren wilderness within.
Your heart isn’t made that way; and the only way to dislodge it of a worthless love is through the expulsive power of a new one.
This expulsive power can be illustrated by a deep well with garbage littering its floor. Your heart is the well and the garbage is the love of the world within you. If the well is far to deep for you to reach down and remove the filth by hand, how is this trash to be expelled? You may stretch and reach for years but your arm will never be long enough to clean it out. But imagine you attempted a new method- not brute strength but the careful application of wisdom. Imagine you directed a steady stream of clean water into the well itself. The force of this torrent is of such power that it causes the trash littering the deep to swirl about and be lifted with the rising flow. Eventually the old trash is raised to the top of the well and is forced out onto the ground. What has happened? The trash has been removed, not by direct action against it, but rather through the expulsive power of a newly introduced element.
When the well is full, the trash is forced out. So it is with the expulsive power of a new affection.
There is nothing on earth that exceeds the magnitude of change we are discussing. We must never underestimate the radical and revolutionary command before us. When the New Testament tells us to not love the world or the things in the world, this command comes to the natural heart as a call to absolute self-annihilation.
Yet the very source that commands us toward such a radical act of obedience places within our reach just as radical a means of obedience. God’s Word gives both the command and the only possible power that can lead us into faithfulness. It brings to the very door of our hearts a new love to sit upon the throne within, one that will either master all others or drive them out completely.
Our old love is the world; but He who made the world is greater beyond comparison.
In the gospel we behold God Himself; that we might love him more than we ever loved the cheap thrills of the world.
This may at first seem strange, that beholding God would have such a positive effect upon us. If we can be Biblically honest about anything it is this: God is holy and we are not. How can beholding the God who stands in righteous judgment over our sins inspire anything but terror and dread in us? The answer lies in the free grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is only in the gospel that we see God Himself as our salvation and are not frozen in fear by our guilt, for we come to him through Jesus the Mediator. Jesus was sent by His Father to redeem lost sinners and gather them into His kingdom. His perfect life stands in place of our failures; His death stands in the place of our guilt; his resurrection stands in the place of death’s claims against our soul. All these things are His to give us; and we receive them by faith alone. It is the bringing in of this new and better hope that draws our hearts to God.
If we live without this gospel hope, we will never love God; and if we don’t love God, we will always love the world.
It is God alone, beheld by us in Christ, who can kick the old king off his throne. Beholding God “in Christ” means we look with gospel eyes and listen with gospel ears. Gospel eyes see God no longer as the offended and wrathful judge, but by faith (which is itself the gift of this very God!) are awestruck by his glorious grace displayed in Jesus Christ. Gospel ears hear not the thundering voice of condemnation, but the sweet offer of reunion, pardon, and acceptance. It is then that a love greater than all prior loves is stirred. It is then that love for the world begins to be expelled from the born again heart.
It is when we taste the sweet liberty from a previous bondage, when we know the delight of being a redeemed child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, when we are adopted as a son or daughter of the King that our hearts are delivered from the tyranny that once held them tight. Where bondage reigns, love withers and grows cold. Within this new and greater love there is a greater and more glorious Master. And our faith in Christ alone, which is the sole means of our salvation from sin, is also the sole means of all moral and spiritual progress. It is not that our faith itself is mighty, nor is the process effortless on our part, but it is the target of our faith that is the source of all real power to change. Natural hearts are bound to love only the world, born again hearts are free to love their Savior more, and experience the expulsive power of this new affection.
(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)