Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, x, 1.
"Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved."

MAN on the one hand might like to be put into a state of happiness without holiness; but God on the other hand does not like that such a happiness shall be conferred upon him. Let a sinner pray with all fervency for his deliverance from hell and translation into heaven - he prays for that which is not agreeable to the will of God, if he desire not at the same time to be filled with heaven’s charity and heaven’s sacredness. Heaven we are told is that pure and holy place into which nought that is impure and nought that is unholy can enter; and the sinner who cries for salvation yet would keep by his impurities, is wasting the desirousness of his heart on an object that is impossible. It is most assuredly not God’s will that heaven should be peopled with any but those, who, of the same family likeness with Himself, reflect His own image back again upon that throne which is irradiated with the lustre and the loveliness of all virtue. It is said that when He first willed the visible creation into existence, and looked over that terrestrial platform which His hand had garnished with so many beauties, He pronounced it to be all very good. Even for the graces of mute and unconscious materialism the Divinity may be said to have a taste and an approbation; and in the tints and the forms of Nature’s glorious panorama, its ocean and its landscapes and its skies, hath the Supreme Architect of our universe embodied His own primary conceptions of the fair and the exquisite and the noble. He delights in beauty, and is revolted by deformity even in the world of matter; and the far higher characteristics which obtain in the world of spirits, call forth proportionally higher and stronger affections in the breast of the Godhead. He loves the happiness of His creatures, but He loves their virtue more. And so from that moral landscape in paradise by which His own immediate presence is surrounded, all that offendeth shall be rooted out. There is nought of the sinful or the sordid that can be admitted there. The God who loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity would not tolerate the sight of what is evil. Heaven is the place of His own especial residence; and He will fill and beautify it according to His own taste for the higher graces of the mind, to His own conceptions of spiritual worth and spiritual excellence. To suit Him, it must be a land of uprightness; and love must be the music which gladdens it; and the atmosphere which blows and circulates around its habitations must be one of ethereal purity. Himself will lay out and decorate the precincts of his own dwelling-place - nor will He suffer aught to settle there which can violate the moral harmony of such a scene, or mar the spectacle of its perfect. and unspotted holiness.

Now remember that in praying to be saved, you just pray that such a heaven may be the place of your settlement through all eternity. Else there is no significancy in your prayer. It is not enough that you seize by faith on a deed of justification. You must with diligence and effort and all the expedients of moral and spiritual culture, enter forthwith on a busy process of sanctification. It is well that Jesus Christ hath by the expiation of the cross, moved away that barrier which obstructed our access to the Jerusalem above. But, now that a way for the ransomed of the Lord is open, let us forget not that it is a way of holiness. There is a work of salvation going on in heaven, and by which Jesus Christ in some way that He hath not explained is there employed in preparing a place for us. "I go to prepare a place for you." But there is also a work of salvation going on in earth, and by which Jesus Christ through His word and Spirit is here employed in preparing us for the place. And our distinct business is to be ever practising and ever improving ourselves in the virtues of this preparation. It is not a selfish affection for happiness in the general which forms the leading principle of Christianity. It is a sacred affection for that happiness which lies in holiness - or rather for that holiness, which, to every being possessed of a moral nature, brings the best and the highest happiness in its train. In one word, if you take the right aim for salvation, it must be a moral heaven to which you aspire; and ere you can find entrance into such a heaven you must be moralised.

This desire for salvation then, if rightly understood, is desire for a present holiness. This longing after heaven at the last, is, with every honest and intelligent disciple, a longing after the virtues now which flourish there. There will be an immediate entrance on heaven’s uprightness and heaven’s piety. So long as we are in this world, we have neither reached the hell or the heaven of eternity. They are only on the one or other of those paths which lead to them. Now to turn from the wrong to the right path, is just to turn from sin unto sacredness. And, in the very act of so turning, we receive strength for all the fatigues of that new journey which leadeth unto Zion. Turn unto me says God, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you. This influence from on high will be given to your efforts and your prayers. Your prayer for some abstract and indefinite beatitude in another state of being, is not a prayer which accords with the will of God; and can no more be listened to by Him or meet with acceptance, than any sordid or selfish petition for some luxury or splendour of this world which your heart is set upon. But when, instead of this, the prayer is for that beatitude which lies in holiness; when it is a prayer for the very beatitude of the good and the glorified spirits in heaven; when the desire for a joyful eternity above is thus consecrated by a desire for grace and godliness below; in one word, when, in place of a mere animal or selfish aspiration for the comfort, it becomes a moral and a sacred aspiration for the character of heaven, the prayer to a holy Creator from a creature desirous to be holy - then, in the answer of such a prayer, will the gospel make full vindication of that gracious economy which it announces to the world. The pardon of his sins through the blood of Christ, is as free to him as are the light and air of heaven to the commoners of nature. The Spirit who gives him victory over his sins, and upholds him on his advancing way to all righteousness, is alike free to him - nor does there exist one obstacle in the way of his salvation, who is honestly intent to be as he ought and to do as he ought. This argument is not wholly inapplicable at a sacramental season, which generally more than usual is a season of devotion. There comes now upon many a spirit a greater than its wonted desirousness about the things of eternity; and there is withal the irnagination that what you are to do upon the morrow, is somehow connected with the furtherance and the security of your everlasting interests.

Now the impression which I want to leave upon you is, that your good in a future world can in no conceivable way be promoted by it, but in so far as it subserves your goodness in this world. The literalities of a sacramental observation will of themselves avail you nothing; and there is superstition, at once the most deceitful and degrading superstition, in the thought that your claim for heaven can at all be improved by an act of sacredness which leaves not one habit or one affection of sacredness behind it. This we particularly address to those who make due presentation of themselves on the communion Sabbath, and discharge themselves of all the punctualities of the communion table, and yet the whole year round cleave most tenaciously and with hearts full of secularity to the dust of a perishable world - who in hand and in person intromit with all the forms of the ordinance, but catch not so much as one breath upon their spirits from the air of the upper sanctuary - or, if they do experience among the solemnities of a rare and remarkable occasion some transient inspiration, all is dissipated, and goes to nought, when they return to their homes and thence lapse again into all the earthliness of their unchanged natures. Be assured that the part you thus take in what may be called the mechanism of a sacrament, without any part in the mind which should animate and pervade it, will leave no other bearing on your immortal state than just to aggravate your condemnation; and therefore to escape the guilt which lies in this mockery of Heaven, and to turn the morrow’s service into the real purposes of your salvation, let me entreat you to open your heart to the affecting realities which are couched in the symbols and shadowed forth as it were in the acts of the institution. The bread and the wine which are the memorials of your atonement should encourage even the guiltiest of you all to draw nigh in faith - for there is no guilt beyond the reach of that atonement. But remember that you also draw nigh with full purpose of heart after the new obedience of the gospel. Coming thus, you are warranted to sit down at the table of the sacrament; and the prayers of a heart desirous of a present holiness as of a future heaven, will most surely meet with acceptance, and as surely be answered with power. Your prayer to be saved from the punishment of sin, lifted while the emblems of the Redeemer’s sacrifice are before you, will most certainly prevail. Your prayer to be saved from the power of sin, lifted in the presence of Him who is Master of the assembly and to whom the dispensation of the Spirit has been committed, will as certainly prevail; and your joining in this ordinance will contribute to save, just in as far as it contributes to sanctify you.

But I have all along spoken as if this were a direct prayer for the object of one’s own personal salvation. Whereas it is an intercessory prayer, and suggests what we ought to do for the salvation of those who are dear to us. Paul had made many a vain effort for the salvation of his countrymen. In every city where he found them, be began with the Jews ere he addressed the overtures of the gospel to the Gentiles. His obligation to them was the first obligation of which he acquitted himself. In the discharge of it he incurred many a hazard; and brought upon himself the hatred of those who had been formerly his friends; and made prodigious exertion in the way of travelling, and preaching, and doing all the labours of the apostolical office, in behalf of these his kinsmen according to the flesh; and not till compelled by the hostility of a whole nation either to flee from place to place, or turn him to the Gentiles, did he desist from the strenuousness of his efforts to secure the immortal well-being of those in his own family or in his own land. And even after every effort failed, still he had recourse to prayer. The desire of his heart was not extinguished by the disappointment he met with upon earth; but when baffled and thrown back upon him there, it took an upward direction to heaven - when obstructed on all sides by the resistance of man, it ascended without obstruction to the throne of God. Even in the busiest period of his work and his warfare for the conversion of these obstinate Israelites, be mixed with his activities his prayers - but after that the activities wore repressed, the prayers continued to arise. He was forced to desist from the labours of the hand - but the love in his heart still abode unquenched and unquenchable; and when he could do no more, he prayed for them. This survived the longest and the last of all the other expedients; and long after he had found it was vain to labour, he did not think it was vain to pray.

This might serve as admonition to those whose hearts are set on the eternity of relatives or friends - to the mother who has watched and laboured for years that the good seed might have fixture in the hearts of her children, but does not find that this precious deposit has yet settled or had occupation there, to the sister whose gentle yet earnest remonstrances have been wholly unable to controll a brother’s waywardness - to that one member perhaps of a family whom the grace of the Spirit hath selected, and who now strives and supplicates in the midst of an alienated household, that all may be arrested in their way and turned unto God - to that holy and heaven-born disciple, whom the pollutions of the world have touched not; but who standing alone in a companionship of scorners, mourns over the profaneness and the profligacy that hitherto have marked all his solemn warnings, all his friendly but ineffectual protestations. All these may, like other zealous missionaries, have had but a hard experience. They may have long been in contact and collision with the power of sin and unbelief in the hearts of others, and had much to discourage them. Their fidelity may have given offence - their affectionate counsels may have been spurned - their moral earnestness may have been laughed at - all their expedients to impress or to convince may have vanished into impotency - their very speech may at length become a signal for the attitude of suspicion and of prompt resistance on the part of their fellows - And so their every argument might only strengthen, might only confirm, the impenitency which it was meant to soften or do away. In these, anti in many other ways, might they receive most palpable intimation that they are doing no good; and even perhaps but fixing more inveterately than before the distaste of children or of friends for God and godliness. And so might they be tempted to desist, even as the apostles desisted, from their countrymen. Yet let them never forget, that what has heretofore been impracticable to performance may not be impracticable to prayer. With man it may be impossible; but with God all things are possible. That cause which has so oft been defeated and is now hopeless on the field of exertion, may on the field of prayer and of faith be triumphant. Never cease then your supplications to the sanctuary above, for that power to turn the unregenerate and subdue them - which all your experience has told you does not reside unless it be given, in the earthen vessels that are below. Let those anxieties for the Christianity either of your household or of your acquaintanceship, which have hitherto been so unproductive of good - let them still continue to be unbosomed as before in the ear of your Father in heaven. He willeth intercessions to be made for all men, and He willeth all men to be saved. These declarations place you on firm and high vantage-ground in praying for human souls; and never, we may be well assured, never can any intercession be lifted with greater acceptance than that of a Christian parent, when he asks in behalf of those children who now gladden his home upon earth - that they shall be preserved and permitted to spend with Him their eternity in heaven.

It must not be disguised however, that this is a matter on which parents may delude themselves - that in their disinclination to spiritual things, and their indolence together, they may be glad to stand exonerated from the fatigues of performance, and take refuge in the formalities of prayer - that under the semblance of doing homage to the omnipotence of grace, they may omit the doing of those things which it is the office of grace to make effectual for the conversion of the human spirit - that in contemplating the part of the Holy Ghost as the agent, they may forget their own part as the instruments of this mighty operation: And therefore would we warn them lest they turn the orthodoxy of their creed, into a justification for the laxity and remissness of their conduct. That prayer never can avail which is not the prayer of honesty; and it is not the prayer of honesty, if, even though you pray to the uttermost for the religion of others, you do not also perform to the uttermost. Could we only purge the prayers of men of all their hypocrisy, then should we behold the promises of the Bible nobly accredited by the verifications of experience; and the interchange of petitions and their responses between heaven and earth would demonstrate to the eye of observation, that there was indeed a living reality in the gospel. Even as it is, though we cannot just say that Christianity always runs in families, yet frequent enough are the instances of a transmitted faith and a transmitted holiness from parents unto children - to assure us that did the former but acquit themselves in all strenuousness and with all supplication, of their duty, the blessing of an efficiency from above would descend upon the souls of the latter; and. manifold more than at present would be the examples of those who were born unto Christian parents being also born unto God.
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