Today I read chapter 49 in Sinclair Ferguson’s collection of essays on the Christian life titled In Christ Alone. This forty-ninth chapter has the heading “Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection”, and in it Ferguson takes off from the famous but forgotten (probably by several generations now) sermon of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”
The question Ferguson faces and answers is the one I have placed in the heading to this post. Every Christian faces the reality in his life that he is not as inflamed by the gospel as he once was, resulting in a fresh wave of worldliness in one’s life. So how do we overcome this and renew our first love?
Ferguson’s counsel on this point is wise and simple. I pray that it also helps give you guidance in what is a frustrating reality in our lives as God’s children.
How can we recover the new affection for Christ and His kingdom that once so powerfully impacted our lifelong worldliness and caused us to crucify ‘the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24)?
What was it that created that first love? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.
We are not naturally capable of loving God for Himself; indeed, we hate Him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much (Luke 7:47). We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God Himself (Rom.5:2, 2, 11). This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities – Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God – filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable, that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.
The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amaz- ing’ – when we return to Christ and the cross where God’s love for us was demonstrated to us (Rom.5:8) – does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.
Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions:
Where is the blessedness I knew,
when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent, and return to those first things (Rev.2:5). Kindle ed.