It’s Thomas Chalmers who is usually credited with at least popularising the phrase, ‘the expulsive power of a new affection,’ if he didn’t invent it himself.
His point was that when the love of God is poured into a soul, the person now has their affections so firmly fixed on their Lord and Saviour that it expels all other, or all inconsistent, loves and affections they might previously have had.
The most obvious area where this shows itself in practice is when people abandon things they previously did, as being simply no longer relevant to their new life. Now that they’ve tasted and seen that God is good, their preferences and priorities are all changed.
Naturally, they turn their backs on things that are glaringly sinful. (In John Bunyan’s allegory, the first casualties in the battle for the soul’s affections included such unsavoury characters as Mr Swearing, Mr Drunkenness, Mr Cheating, and all their type.)
But there is also a category of practices which are not self-evidently sinful, and may not indeed be sinful in themselves, but which carry the stigma of being worldly. And as we know, a worldly Christian is a contradiction in terms.
Worldliness is not something that the contemporary church at large is hugely worried about. At any rate, if worldliness is a concept recognised in the Christian community, people bridle greatly at any suggestion that they might be too worldly, and are liable to react snarkily with their own counter-accusations of legalism and censoriousness, and amplified justifications of whatever practice it might be (usually along the lines either that everyone else is doing it, or that it’s essential in order to win the lost).
Rather than emphasising the differences between a Christian life lived in the light of God’s love, and a worldly life lived with God as far out of sight and mind as possible, the message from today’s church is one of compromise, of contextualisation, of relevance. Recognising that worldly people like worldly things, the church has taken the strategic decision to become worldly in order to become something that worldly people like.
It’s pathetic, and it’s a monstrous tactical error, and it leaves little clusters of more scrupulous brethren floundering around, dodging accusations of censoriousness while struggling to maintain more Christian-like and less worldly-like standards of behaviour and practice, because they know, from scripture and experience, that ‘come out from among them and be separate’ is as non-negotiable now as it ever was, even if they can’t quite express it as clearly or as kindly as they know they should.
Craving acceptance with the world, and desperately trying to escape the censures of the world, consume far too much of our energies, to a thoroughly unhealthy extent. But why should we be like this? In the olden days, when our parents and grandparents were young, and (which I appreciate isn’t quite the same thing) in the Early Church when the apostles were writing, the gospel used to deliver people from all this.
It used to mean something, to say ‘We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God,’ and for the old breed of Christians, it was in times past that they walked according to the course of this world. It used to be that Christians were genuinely dissatisfied with what the world offered, and their tastes quite honestly and unaffectedly converged on spiritual things. Christians used to brace themselves to deal with the consequences of their difference from their unconverted friends.
Instead, today, in ourselves and in others around us, the situation is that spiritual realities, rather than informing and inspiring and shaping our personal character and the lives we lead, now take the position of what’s taken for granted and then left in the background while we carry on living our lives, practically-or-functionally regardless.
If we really believed that the pleasures and joys of gospel truth and the experience of forgiveness were really real, and really better than whatever you might get elsewhere – we would be different people.
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