I need to confess that I have kind of a crock pot brain. I throw things in there and hope that applied heat for an extended period of time will result in an acceptable stew. Occasionally something will just float to the surface and surprise me, something that happened to me just last week.
I was sitting in one of the Grace Agenda talks, don’t remember which one, and a phrase just popped into my head. That phrase was “the expulsive power of a new affection.” I thought initially it might be something from Jonathan Edwards, but when I looked it up, it turned out to be a sermon title from Thomas Chalmers — which I then read. Good stuff.
Before telling you how it connects (everything), allow me to summarize Chalmers’ point. He was arguing that moralism cannot motivate men and women to live properly simply by disparaging the vanity and evanescence of the world. That is easy to do, and the folly of the world can be made thoroughly obvious, but still nothing changes. In order for something to actually change, there must be a “new affection” implanted, which happens to an individual at conversion.
The reason the world can be effectively disparaged and yet worldlings don’t change is because they have no way to change. They are like Peter, only in reverse. He told Jesus, when he was asked if he was going to depart also, that he had nowhere to go. “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Chalmers argued that the human soul must have an object of affection. It is an iron law of our constitutional makeup. We cannot stop setting our affections on something — and if all we have is the world, it will be something in the world. If all we have is three straws, it will be one of those three straws. If someone comes along and points out that setting your affections on straws is “dumb and stupid,” you might agree with that observation entirely. But you still wouldn’t be able to do anything else because that is all you have. Where else can you go?
In order for anything to change, there must be a new affection. Christ must be offered through the gospel, and Christ must be loved. When He is loved, we then see the expulsive power of a new affection — the things that were necessarily dear before (even though acknowledged by the one who loved them as stupid vanity) are expelled to the outer darkness. Thus far Chalmers.
The reason I was so pleased that the phrase popped into my head is that it helped make sense of a number of corporate realities. Let me use two examples — one cultural and one ecclesistical.
I am currently reading a book called The Age of Melancholy by Dan Blazer. It is not a Christian book, but I am finding its discussion of the corporate nature of mental health to be fascinating. Why is it that so many modern Americans are on antidepressants (about one in ten), just to help them “cope”? About 23% of women in their 40s and 50s take them. We are a generation that never had it so good, and yet here we are.
We can have social critics rail against the ubiquitous pill-popping, and it doesn’t even slow us down. We can laugh as we drive by a school that has a big sign out front that declares it a drug-free zone — provided we don’t count the drugs dispensed by a school nurse who is employed full time for that purpose. But our laughter changes nothing. What is needed is the expulsive power of a new affection.
But we have plenty of representatives of that new affection in our body politic — we have lots of Christians around. But these are Christians who have been trained to keep the light under the bushel, and the salt in the bin.
In a church let us say there is some major house cleaning that needs to occur. There are a few folks at Sardis who have kept their garments clean (Rev. 3:4), but the spiritual condition of the rest of the place is meh. There needs to be a corporate demonstration of the expulsive power of a new affection. But that new affection has to be more than just present. It has to be out there. Jesus has to be loved, and praised, and talked about.
I am convinced that we have plenty of Christians, carriers of this new affection. But for various reasons, we are chary of “unleashing it.” In corporate settings, this expulsive power is experienced (often) as a convulsive power first. And that is just one reason why we are jumpy about it. But Paul tells us how to behave in this regard.
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Phil. 2:14-16).
The contrast of a shining light against a backdrop of darkness is not a subtle distinction. And as we shine out as lights, what we are doing. We are holding forth the word of life.
The word of life has an expulsive power. It expels death. Jesus is that expulsive power. Jesus named is that expulsive power.