RPM, Volume 15, Number 11, March 10 to March 16, 2013

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

(Series on 1 John: No. 7)

By Robert Rayburn

You might suppose that the great challenge of the ministry is getting a church to grow; or having a happy relationship with the elders and deacons, or perhaps learning Greek and coming to understand the Scriptures aright. Those are challenges all right; but there is another challenge that the minister faces, every week of his ministerial life, a challenge that few ministers ever master, a challenge that I, certainly, rarely meet with success: and that challenge is finding an arresting, interesting, appropriate sermon title for the bulletin every week. No seminary class prepares you, no Puritan divine ever wrote a book telling you how to do it; you are either clever enough to come up with a catchy title or you are not; and, early in my ministry I had to accept the fact that entitling sermons was not my gift. Every Friday as Sharon Rogland paces her office, glaring at me and looking at her watch, as I stare blankly at the rough draft of the bulletin unable to think of any title for this week's message, I am cruelly reminded of my shortcoming.

What do you think of the title I have chosen for this sermon: 'The Expulsive Power of a new Affection.' Well, if you thought it was quite clever or stately or both, you need not be surprised, for I did not think of it myself; it is actually the title given by Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish theologian and Pastor to one of his most famous sermons, a sermon which was preached on our very text this morning, 1 John 2:15. Indeed, Chalmers' sermon by this title is a classic; studied in seminary homiletics classes, and almost always included in published collections of the great sermons of the Christian church, alongside such other classics as Chrysostom's 'Excessive Grief at the Death of Friends, 'and Edwards' 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.'

I will tell you what Chalmers meant by his curious title in a moment.

First, let me remind you that John, at this point in chapter 2, is in the midst of a small digression. He has introduced two of the three tests of genuine faith in Christ, two of the three ways he will recommend by which we may judge whether we have eternal life or not. He has said that those who truly believe in Christ will keep his commandments and, further, that those who are Christians in truth and not counterfeits, will love one another in the church. And he put those points quite sharply in the early verses of chapter 2. But, he did not want his readers to think that, for all his sharpness of tone, he thought that they were counterfeits themselves, and so he paused in his exposition of the tests of life, to say some complimentary things about them. He spoke to the church in its constituent parts: the new Christians, the believers who were, so to speak, in their spiritual young adulthood, and finally, the fathers and mothers of the faith and of the church.

He will return to his main theme in v. 18, but before he does, he cannot forbear to add to his commendation of these Christians some exhortation and warning. They are living the Christian life, but they must continue to do so, and especially they must continue to resist the allurements of the world and follow the Lord fully.

'Love not the world or anything in the world' that is his exhortation and warning. But those words present us with a problem. Are we to hate the world? Did God not make the world; and are we not to love even our enemies? And did God himself not love the world and give his Son to save the world?

Well the word 'world' is used in a variety of ways in the Bible; just as we use the word today with different meanings. We can use 'world' to mean this planet earth and all that it contains; or we can mean by it all people who live on earth, as when we speak of world peace, or world opinion. Or we can use the term to identify a particular outlook and pattern of life, as when we speak of the free world and the communist world; or the old world and the new world; the modern world and the ancient world. Or we can use the term for something quite small and specific, the world as it appears to a certain individual, as when we say, he lives in a world of his own, or when we speak of our world or my world.

The Bible uses the word in many of the same ways, but in some others as well, as a result of the fact that the Bible looks at the world not only from our perspective as human beings, but from God's perspective as its Creator, Savior, and Judge.

And this explains a very common use of the word in the Bible to refer to the present order of mankind in the grip of sin and in a determined and resolute rebellion against God. Jesus himself, in John 15:18, told his disciples that the world hated him and would hate them as well. And it is the world, in this sense, what one commentator terms: 'the life of human society as organized under the power of evil,' which John here says we must not love.

But even understanding 'world' in that way, as the unbelieving humanity, ranged against God, under the spell and the influence of Satan, we must still be careful to understand John's meaning. He is not saying that we shouldn't love even that world in the sense of wishing it good and salvation and seeking to care for and have compassion upon those masses of lost humanity, without God and without hope in the world. We are obliged to love the world in that way, as the Bible often says.

But, by 'love' here, John means not the holy love of Christians by which they share Christ's love with others; but rather the selfish love of participation. He is telling us not to set our own hearts on the godless world, to want to be a part of it, to make our home there, to seek its pleasures and rewards.

And in making that exhortation and issuing that warning, John makes this great point: that the allurements of the world are so powerful, so subtle, so all-encompassing that nothing short of the most profound considerations and counterweights can conquer them and subdue them in our hearts. And he offers two such considerations and counterweights in these three verses.

I. The first consideration heavy enough to break the grip of the world upon our hearts is that love for the world is completely incompatible with love for God.

If you love the world, John says, you cannot love the Father--the world and God are at such odds, are so violently and diametrically opposed to one another, they are at such crossed purposes, that it is simply impossible to love them both at the same time. Truly to love God requires one to love what he loves, to treasure what he treasures, to take his part and to have his interests in one's heart. But to do that is to set oneself against everything the sinful world stands for and values and seeks. And, similarly, if you love the ways of the world and want to belong to it, then you are, by that very fact, choosing against God, against his will, and against his interests, and that is not loving God.

Now, this was Thomas Chalmer's point with his famous sermon with its famous title: 'The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.' The point Chalmers was making with the title and with the sermon, was that the love of the world was so strongly rooted in our hearts, the allurements of the world so well-suited to our natural desires and propensities, that the only possible way that that love would ever be banished from our hearts would be if another, stronger, purer, more tenacious love should come into our hearts and drive the other love out. The Expulsive Power of a New Affection--that is, the power of love for God to expel from our hearts our former love for the world.

And if you will consider John's 'trinity of evil' in v. 16, if you will seriously ponder and measure the power of those worldly passions he speaks of, you will also realize how nothing short of a genuine love for God would suffice to displace in our hearts the love for the world which otherwise must rule there.

Look briefly with me at these three evil influences:

The first is the cravings of sinful man, literally, the lust of the flesh or sinful nature (the Greek word is the same as the NIV renders 'lust' in the next phrase--the word is used twice in a row by John, but the NIV has translated it with two different English words: cravings and lust).

And what a mass of cravings we are and what selfish, sinful, dark cravings they are. When John Owen referred to the human heart as a standing sink of abominations, it was not exaggeration for effect, it was an honest man speaking the truth about himself and others. And all of us know it to be so, however unwilling we may be at times to admit it to ourselves or others. But the fact is that every day, every hour, there are in our hearts desires and passions that we would be mortified for anyone else to discover; we hide away from everyone else huge areas of our lives because they are so shameful. Cravings of every kind: for the worship of others; for money and possessions; for sexual pleasures; for power; for revenge; and the like.

Think for just a moment of one of the least and the most benign of these cravings, the craving for ease. What is it accept this craving of our flesh for the easy way that keeps us from even such a simple duty and immense privilege as praying on our knees for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 30 minutes out of an entire day, when the Almighty himself promised to listen to us whenever we pray to him, and to answer every prayer we sincerely offer. It is amazing how that single craving undoes so much of our Christian life and has such a grip upon our lives; and that is but one and one of the least of the cravings of our sinful nature!

Then John speaks of the lust of the eyes, by which he means our tendency to be captivated and drawn by the outward show of things without measuring their true value. As quickly as we see something, our hearts are set aflame, often in direct contradiction of what we know to be good, right, and true. Alexander Whyte once wrote: 'the eye is the shortest and surest road to the heart. The fact is, we would never know how malignantly wicked our hearts are but for our eyes. But a sudden spark, a single flash through the eye falling on the gunpowder that fills our hearts, that lets us know a hundred times every day what at heart we are made of.'

Tell me, Christian man sitting before me this morning, if the Apostle John and still more the Holy Spirit behind him has not spoken the truth about you when he spoke of the lust of the eyes. And Christian women, is it not your eyes and what they see and take note of every day that sets aflame your envyings and your jealousies and your covetousness and sets them all aflame with such heat that for all you can tell the Lord might just as well have never said all that he has said in his Holy Word about loving others, and being content in whatsoever state we are in, and if we have the Lord we have everything, and all the rest.

And then, says John, there is the pride of life. That is literally what John wrote; the NIV has paraphrased John's Greek with its 'boasting of what he has and does'. That infernal desire to be first, that constant tendency, no urge and compulsion to be set above others. Shakespeare was describing not only King Henry the 8th but every man and every woman when one of his characters said of the King: 'but I can see his pride peep through every part of him.'

Oh, yes; PRIDE. And in how many ways it appears in our hearts, our speech, and our behavior; including that very dark side of pride that urges us, if we are unable to rise above others in our own strength, at least to rejoice in secret when others around us sink lower.

I was in a long checkout line at the grocery store this week, and while I was waiting, I glanced through an article in the most recent TV Guide in which Robert Culp was reported to be wanting credit for Bill Cosby's extraordinary career as a TV actor. According to Culp, he had to teach Cosby how to act when they were first paired as the stars of the TV program 'I Spy' back in the 60s. And he was expressing his resentment that Cosby neither gave him the credit for his huge success or even bothered to look him up in Hollywood any more. The pride of life: boosting yourself and lowering others; it is the life's blood of Hollywood and, alas, of our own hearts as well.

I confess to you that this very week I had secretly to struggle not to rejoice in some genuinely bad news, because in the twisted counsels of my own heart the news could be taken, in some small way, as raising me by lowering another. And, believe me, it is possible for me to confess that dark secret to you, only because I am so well aware of how your hearts also so often boil over with the same dark pride of life.

Base desires, false values, and egoism; that is John's diagnosis of worldliness and the condition of anyone who loves the world, and, the condition of every Christian to the extent that he or she loves the world at any moment of life. When Freud said that the bottom principle of human life was the will to pleasure, and Adler said it was rather the will to power; these students of human nature were only grasping at single aspects of that naturalism and materialism and egocentrism which John has more comprehensively and accurately described in verse 16.

And such passions as these; so deeply rooted as they are; so well suited to the sinful nature as they are; will not be expelled from any heart except by a new love, still stronger, still more potent, still more arresting and gripping--and the only such love there is in the cosmos is the love for God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. And besides the fact that the love of the world is incompatible with the love for God; John adds this second consideration, sufficient to break the grip of this world upon a Christian's heart: viz. that this world is doomed and is soon to pass away, and that only what is done for God will last and only the one who lives for God will live forever.

Chalmers knew of what he spoke when he preached his sermon on the Expulsive Power of a New Affection. For Chalmers had lived a long time as an unbeliever; indeed, he had been a minister for a long time as an unbeliever. Indeed, while a minister in those unbelieving years he cared more about astronomy and mathematics, at which he was expert, than he cared about the Bible, which he hardly ever read; and his sermons were lectures in morality rather than the proclamation of Christ and salvation. They were, that is, until the Lord visited this man with a severe illness and the spectre of death and eternity was brought home to his mind and heart and the gospel born in upon his soul. He returned to his pulpit a new man, preaching with a passion he never had before, Christ and him crucified. As one of his parishioners put it, suddenly 'the world to come cast an awful shadow over every sermon.' He had come to know that this world was passing away...

So this sinful world and order will come to seem tawdry and futile and worthless to any heart which has been granted by the Spirit of God some glimpse of what is to come; of what will become of this sinful world and of what awaits those who neither love the world nor anything in the world.

Many folk in Charleston, S.C. recently may have loved their seaside homes; but it was not so difficult for them to decide to walk away and leave their homes behind, when it became clear to them that in a matter of hours Hurricane Hugo would arrive with waves and winds which would leave their homes nothing but empty slabs of buckled concrete scattered with sand and debris. And so it ought to be for us, whose citizenship is in heaven by faith in Christ; and who know by the sure word of God that the world and its desires will be destroyed on the great day of the Lord--a day coming sooner than anyone thinks!

What ought to be our response to John's challenge? We, who are Christians, who love the Lord God and who, in our truest selves, do not love the world and do not want those worldly loves and passions which still remain in our incompletely sanctified hearts to express themselves, but rather want to subdue and finally to put to death the lust of our flesh, the lust of our eyes, and the pride of our lives.

We will do such things as these:

We will step cautiously into the world each day; always on guard against that which could set our passions aflame. As Charles Simeon put it, when speaking of the world as a place for Christians to go into as necessary and then out again as soon as possible: 'I was tinder and did not like to go near sparks.'

We will study sin and worldly passion, especially our own, until we have convinced ourselves still more that the children of God have no business whatsoever tolerating that in their lives; and until we rise against it with the proper measure of revulsion and disgust and holy determination.

And we will, still more, take John' and Thomas Chalmer's advice, and cultivate those new affections, that love for God and love for his heavenly country, that alone are powerful enough to expel the love for this world out of our hearts.

Do that this very day, and this very week. Study to love God with a greater passion and to love heaven with a more ardent hunger and thirst. Read Revelation 21 and 22; or Baxter's Saints' Everlasting Rest; or Rutherford's Letters or Charles Colson's book, Loving God or any other book that will set God and heaven before your eyes; and pray that you might love him more and make a vow or, at least a promise, that you will manfully resist some particular piece of worldliness in your life as a witness born to your Father in Heaven that you would have your heart be full of love for him and empty of love for this world.

No more, believers, mourn your lot,
But if you are the Lord's,
Resign to them that know him not,
Such joys as earth affords.
To take a glimpse within the veil,
To know that God is mine,
Are springs of joy that never fail,
Unspeakable! Divine!
These are the joys which satisfy,
And sanctify the mind;
Which make the spirit mount on high,
And leave the world behind.

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