I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh –Romans 9:1-3 (ESV)
The lectures of Thomas Chalmers on the book of Romans are wide ranging, intellectually sophisticated, and warmly devotional, combining exegetical thoroughness with a capacity to relate his doctrine to the philosophical trends of his day and the pastoral needs of his hearers.
Given the debates which raged in nineteenth century Scottish theological thought around election and the extent of the atonement, his lectures on Romans 8 and 9 are of pivotal significance. Here the great Scottish theologian marshals his formidable powers in exposition to recover a view of God’s sovereignty which is absolute, mysterious and worthy of humble adoration. The author can negotiate with Bacon, Locke, and a host of his contemporary thinkers, while also demonstrating the unique and soul stirring contribution which theologians such as Jonathan Edwards have made in seeking to understand the mind of God as revealed in Scripture. Most refreshing, however, is Chalmers’ insistence that these deeper meditations have continual reference to Christian living.
The second sermon on Romans chapter 9 is a marvellous case in point. Having laid out the sincerity of the Apostle Paul in desiring the salvation of his kinsmen from Romans 9:1-3 in his previous lecture, Chalmers then identifies the uses of this doctrine for Christian living. He rejects abstract principles in favour of close application, addressing the hearts and conscience of his hearers and readers about their responsibility to seek to reach their children and closest family members with the gospel of Christ. Chalmers insists that it is the duty of godly parents to shepherd the hearts of the ‘young immortals who are under their own roof’ (p.321), leading them and guiding them, praying for them and urging them to follow Christ as Saviour. This, he argues, should be among the chief burdens of our hearts.
Such counsel is articulated in strong principles which are accompanied by rich pastoral advice. A summary of Chalmers’ thought in this area is of tremendous benefit to us in the present-day context of seeking to lead our children (and our children’s children!) to trust in Jesus:
1. Heavenly ambitions for our children should outweigh our earthly aspirations on their behalf. All parents worthy of the name will long that their children might prosper in their own generation, that they will reach their full potential, and that the gifts they have been given might find fullest expression. This is a natural instinct, but it should be matched by the spiritual instinct of desiring that they might know ‘preferment in heaven’ (p.317). Our hearts should be as attuned to what our children will face when they leave this earth, as when they graduate from college.
2. Our instinct for our children’s welfare should be matched by a concern for their spiritual destiny. If it is unthinkable, that any parent should remain unconcerned if their child should ’perish in a conflagration or storm’, how much more should we covet their protection from ‘all the fearful things that are reported on the other side of death, where the fury of an incensed Lawgiver is poured upon all who have fled not to Christ’. (p.317-18)
3. Evangelising our children is a great measure of how seriously we take the claims of the gospel. Chalmers is concerned that his hearers own ‘a mere verbiage of orthodox phraseology’ (p.320), but that they haven’t come to a true saving knowledge of Christ. Surely, he reasons, if we believe the central truths of the gospel this will show itself in how we minister to our families. This searching question must be weighed seriously by all parents, ‘if you love your children and at the same time are listless about their eternity, what other explanation can be given than that you believe not what the Bible tells of eternity?’ (p.320). Parents will give account at the judgement for how they have taught the gospel to their children, surely such a firm fact should move us to resolute and unflagging action.
Evangelising our children is a great proof of our own sincerity as Christians. The Christian parent does not view their children as ‘the inmates of a habitation that is to last forever’ (p.321), but is to recognise and teach that we are passing through this world. Our ambitions for our children’s souls are a stronger measure of our sincerity of faith than our ambitions for their material welfare.
These principles should be a great impetus to action, and it is in their application that Chalmers is at his pastoral best. He understands the obstacles we can face and feel when sharing the gospel with our nearest and dearest. There can be an unconquerable sense of reluctance to speak of spiritual things, a reticence which the author holds to be a work of the devil in restraining us from sharing the Saviour. The believer’s calling, however, is to resist the devil in the knowledge that he must flee from us. If we are labouring under a lethargic or apathetic spirit when it comes to family worship or familial evangelism we must make that a matter for prayer and earnest spiritual endeavour. These obstacles to sharing Christ must be surmounted, given the great urgency of bringing the gospel to the souls of our families.
Behind all of this is the promise of great reward. We are uniquely placed to speak to our children about Christ with candour, and when we overcome the ‘tremors and delicacies’ of making Jesus known we will ‘at times realise within the precincts of our home the noblest achievements of the missionary’ (p.325).
How our consciences need to be clear in this area, and what a rebuke Chalmers’ teaching is to the tepid spirituality which can so readily characterise the Christian home. We need Paul’s longing for our own kinsmen, a deep seated desire that they would be saved, and a willingness to stretch every fibre of our frame to make Christ known. Our children are influenced in so many ways by their world, the spirit of materialism is endemic, we are charged to see them not merely as beloved children, but precious souls for whom we will give account.