Doctrine Is Necessary for Holiness | Thomas Chalmers

This year I’ve resolved to add a new habit to my weekly routine: reading a sermon each Monday or Tuesday. To be honest, I did so the first week of the year because I was sick and didn’t want to do anything at all, so I grabbed a book of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s sermons and read one. That time was so spiritually refreshing that I decided to continue the pattern, reading a sermon from a different theologian each week, and it has indeed been wonderful.

The quotation that I am sharing below comes from the sermon that I read last week, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers. Although I am fairly well-versed in church history, I knew nothing about Chalmers apart from having seen his name on occasion. Thankfully, Crossway’s new series of short classics, which appear to have been inspired by Ligonier’s new translation of Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life (not a bad thing in the slightest!), has brought this little gem into my hands.

The text of Chalmers’ sermon is 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.” Yet, as John Piper notes in the foreword, this is not an “exposition from the biblical text” but was “intended as an illumination (not an exposition) of 1 John 2:15” (p. 14). Chalmers’ basic premise is that only the love of God is powerful enough to supplant the love of the world within our hearts. No amount of rationalizing the vanity of the world will severe our affections to it; we require a new and superior affection.

I share the following quotations as one of my many highlights, although it seems particularly needed since so many Christians today appear to believe that sound doctrine and holy conduct are only tangentially related to one another. Chalmers, however, makes the case that the doctrines of Christianity are precisely what give us the very ability to live a life of holiness. Indeed, not long after this paragraph, he states: “Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the gospel and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is” (p. 67).  

The man who believes in the peculiar doctrines will readily bow to the peculiar demands of Christianity. 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. When told to shut out the world from his heart, this may be impossible with him who has nothing to replace it—but not impossible with him who has found in God a sure and satisfying portion. When told to withdraw his affections from the things that are beneath, this were laying an order of self-extinction upon the man who knows not another quarter in the whole sphere of his contemplation to which he could transfer them—but it were not grievous to him whose view has been opened up to the loveliness and glory of the things that are above, and can there find for every feeling of his soul a most ample and delighted occupation. When told to look not to the things that are seen and temporal, this were blotting out the light of all that is visible from the prospect of him in whose eye there is no wall of partition between guilty nature and the joys of eternity—but he who believes that Christ hath broken down this wall finds a gathering radiance upon his soul as he looks onward in faith to the things that are unseen and eternal. 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 sanctifying influence into the sinner’s heart, and he can take a kindred impression from the character of God now brought nigh and now a peace with him. Separate the demand from the doctrine and you have either a system of righteousness that is impracticable 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. The motive is adequate to the movement, and the bidden obedience of the gospel is not beyond the measure of his strength just because the doctrine of the gospel is not beyond the measure of his acceptance. The shield of faith and the hope of salvation and the Word of God and the girdle of truth—these are the armor that he has put on; and with these the battle is won and the eminence is reached and the man stands on the vantage ground of a new field and new prospect. The effect is great, but the cause is equal to it—and stupendous as this moral resurrection to the precepts of Christianity undoubtedly is, there is an element of strength enough to give it being and continuance in the principles of Christianity. The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one, and, by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil.

Pp. 62-65

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