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A Plea for Zeal

Author
Category Articles
Date May 28, 2018

‘Be zealous’
— Revelation 3:19

This watch-word of Christ, it be not now a word in season, I know not when ever it was, or will be. If God should now send through the earth such surveying angels as Zechariah mentions (Zech. 1) could they return any other observation of their travels than this, ‘The whole world lies in luke-warmness’? Zeal hath been little practices, less studied. Zeal is everywhere spoken against; it hath many enemies and few friends.’ The world can no more abide it, than beasts can the elementary fire. Oh! that I had so much zeal as to set it forth in its colours, that I might regain the decayed credit of it with the sons of men as to test it forth in its colours, that I might regain the decayed credit of it with the sons of men. . . He is earnest, or a zealot, whose affections are passionately disposed; his love is ever fervent, his desires eager, his delights ravishing, his hatred deadly, and his grief deep. This being the nature of zeal in general, Christian zeal, differs from carnal and worldly chiefly in its causes and objects. It is a spiritual heat wrought in the heart of man by the holy Ghost, improving the good affections of love, joy, etc., for the furtherance of God’s glory, His word, His house, His saints, and salvation of souls, directing the contrary of hatred, anger, grief, etc., towards God’s enemies the devil, his angels, sin, the world, with the lusts thereof. A zealot, like David (Psa. 119), has zeal in every affection. Love — ‘How I do love thy law, O Lord.’ Hatred — ‘Thine enemies I hate with a perfect hatred.’ Joy — ‘Thy testimonies are my delight.’ Grief — ‘Mine eyes push out rivers of tears . . . because they destroy thy law!’ The frequency of the true zealot is in the spirit, not in show; for God, not himself; guided by the word, not by his humours; such a man’s worth cannot be set forth with the tongues of men and of angels.

It is good to be zealous in good things, and is it not best in the best? Is there any better than God, or the kingdom of heaven? Is it fitting whatever we do, to do it with all our might (Ecc. 9:10)? Only not fitting when we serve God? Is mediocrity in all excellent arts excluded, and only to be admitted in religion? And were it not better to be of no religion, than to be cold or lukewarm in any? Is it good to be earnest for a friend, and cold for the Lord of hosts? What aileth the world? It is afraid, think we, that God can have too much love? Ought not all the springs and brooks of our affection to run into this sea? Who, or what can be sufficient for Him, our Maker and Saviour?In other objects fear excess; here no ecstasy is high enough.

What makes one Christian differ from another in grace, as stars do in glory, but zeal? All believers have a like precious faith; all true Christians have all graces in their seeds; but the degrees of them are no way better discerned than by zeal. All Christians are the excellent of the earth; but the zealot surmounteth them all. One of these is worth a thousand others, one doth the work of many; these are the agents for doing God good service. There is no standing for any of God’s enemies before them; they make havoc of their own and others’ corruptions. All difficulties are but whetstones of their fortitude. The sluggard saith, ‘There is a lion in the way.’ Tell Samson and David so; they will the rather go out to meet them. Tell Nehemiah of Sanballat; he answereth, ‘Shall such a man as I fear?’ Tell Caleb there are Anakins, and he will say, ‘Let us go up at once,’ etc. Let Paul be told that in every city bonds await him; he is not only ready for bonds, but for death. Tell Luther of enemies in Worms; he will go, if all the tile of the houses were devils. They that mean to take the kingdom of God by violence, provide themselves to go through fire and water and carry their zeal in their hands; they say to father and mother ‘I know you not,’ to carnal counsellors, ‘Get you behind me, Satan.’ Zeal is as strong as death, hot as the coals of Juniper, floods of many waters cannot quench it!

If zeal were not some admirable good, the devil and world would not so hate it. Let Festus be the speaker for the rest, for he speaks what all the rest think; you know his mad objection, and Paul’s sober answer in that place, Acts 26:24 and the like, 2 Cor. 5:13; whether we be mad or sober, it is for God and you. A Christian is never right, till he seems to the world to be beside himself; Christ;s own kindred were afraid of Him. The apostles are said to be full of new wine, Acts 2; besides, with these the world is mad, they run at Stephen like mad men, Acts 7; Nicodemus, and such as he, never offends them.

You know what Ahab laid to the charge of Elijah, with the apology he made for himself. This is a stale imputation in ages. The apostles are said to be troublers of the whole earth. In the primitive church all contentions were laid to the martyrs. True it is, where zeal is there is opposition, and so consequently troubles. Christ sets this fire on earth, not as an author, but by accident. The thief is the author of the fray, though the true man strikes never so many blows; the Ahabs of the world trouble Israel, then complain of Elijah.

Oh, say they, but some discretion would do well. It is true, but take withal Calvin’s warning to Melancthon, that he affect not so the name of a moderate man, and listen to such syrens’ songs till he loses his zeal. I have observed that which the world miscalls discretion to eat up zeal, as that which they call policy doth wisdom. The fear of overdoing makes most come too short. Of the two extremities we should most fear lukewarmness. Rather let your milk boil over than be raw. . .As this objection will not so, they fall to right down railing. ‘These puritans, these singular fellow, unfit for all honest company!’ With that which most call puritanism I desire to worship God. For singularity, Christ calls for it, and presseth and urgeth it. What singular thing do you? or what odd thing do you? Shall God’s peculiar people do nothing peculiar? I believe none shall ever please Christ till they appear odd, strange, and precise men to the common sort. Let him that hath a right ear hear what Christ saith to the churches; Be zealous.

Yea, but by what means shall a Christian attain this fire, and maintain it when he hath gotten it? Thou mayest fetch it from heaven by thine own prayer, as did Elias and the apostles, men of infirmities as well as thyself. Pray constantly and instantly. Sermons are bellows ordained for this purpose. Let the word dwell richly in thine heart. Excite thy dullness by spiritual hymns. Read or sing the 116th Psalm and if thou be not zealous, every verse will stick in thy throat. Meditation is another help — Behold the Lord God, especially thy Lord Christ, in His glorious titles and majesty. Consider and reason thus with thyself (O man), canst thou tolerate a sluggard in thy work, if thou be of any spirit thyself? And shall he that is all spirit (for whom the angels are slow and cold enough) take pleasure in thy drowsy and heavy service? Even to Judas He saith, ‘That thou doest, do quickly’ so odious is dullness to Him. Behold Him as one that seeth and knoweth thy works. Behold Him as the beginning of creatures, especially of the new creature. Of, what love hath He shewed thee in thy redemption! Out of what misery into what happiness, by what a price, to what end, but that thou shouldest be zealous of good works. Behold Him as a speedy and royal rewarder of His followers. Take thyself into paradise, represent to thyself, thy crown, thy throne, thy white robes. Look upon these, and faint is thou canst. Behold, also, He is a consuming fire, a jealous God, hating lukewarmness, not only destroying Sodom with fire and Brimstone, and providing Tophet for his enemies, but awakening also his drowsy servants by judgements (as Absalom Joab by firing his corn), his Israelites by fiery serpents. Whom he loved He chasteneth, and keepeth them in the furnace of fiery trails, till they come to their right temper. He standeth and knocketh. If nothing will arouse us, a time will come when heaven and earth shall burn with fire, and Christ shall come in flaming fire, to render vengeance with fire unquenchable. We, therefore, that know the terror of that day, what manner of persons ought we to be?

From God turn thine eyes unto man; set before thee the pillar and cloud of fiery examples, that have led us the way into Canaan. The stories of the Scriptures, the lives of the fathers, the acts and monuments of the church, have special virtue for this effect. If thou canst meet with any living examples, follow them, as they follow Christ, and frequent their company. If thou findest none, let the coldness of the times heat thee, as frosts do fire. Let every indignation make thee zealous, as the ignorance of the monks made Erasmus studious. One way to be rich in times of dearth, it is to engross a rare commodity, such as zeal is. Now, if ever ‘they have destroyed thy law,’ it is now high time to be zealous. . . Consider and emulate the children of this generation, to see how eager every Demas is for worldly promotion. It angered Demosthenes to see a smith earlier at his anvil than he was at his desk.

But here methinks I hear the lukewarm worldling of our times fume and chafe, and ask what needs all this ado for zeal, as if all God’s people were not zealous enough. Such as think they are, or can be zealous enough, need no other conviction to be poor, blind, naked, wretched, and pitiful Laodiceans. Fire is ever climbing and aspiring higher; zeal is ever aiming at that which is before; carried toward perfection; thinking meanly of that which is past, and already attained, condemning his unprofitable service, as Calvin in his last will; this rule tries full conceited Christians.

‘What would you have us to do? We profess, attend church, hear sermons, as Christians ought to do.’ — To such God may well say, Let us have some of this zeal at home and in private. God respects the devotions of those whose families, closets, fields, beds, walks to testify of their worship, as well as churches. ‘We would have you know that we are such as have prayers said or read in our families and household; or else we say some to ourselves at our lying down and uprising; and what more is needed?’ — First, know that zeal knows no such unmannerly courses as to slubber over a few prayers, while you are dressing and undressing yourselves; as most do, half asleep, half awake. Know further, that such as hold only a certain course of daily duties, as mill-horses their round, out of custom or form, are far from that mettle which is ever going forward, growing from strength to strength, and instant duties, in season, out of season; and this says hard to lazy Christians.

‘May we not go too far on the right hand?’ — It is true but liberality fears covetousness and miserliness more a great deal than prodigality; so does zeal, lukewarmness, and coldness more than too much heat and forwardness; the defect is more opposite and dangerous to some virtues than the excess.

‘There are but few such, no, not of the better sort you speak of.’ — Grant there be any, and zealous emulation seeks the highest examples. He that hath true zeal, will strive to purge himself as Christ is pure. ‘Will you have us run before our neighbours, or live without company?’ — Cowards stand and look who goes first; soldiers of courage will cast lots for the onset and fore-rank, for desperate services and single combats.

‘Some indeed care not whom they offend, they are so harsh and fiery.’ — Will true Christianity allow us to bear with any sin? Can hot iron choose but hiss if cold water be cast on it? Can a righteous soul choose but vex itself at evil? Such persons as can listen to profane and filthy speeches, shew what mettle they have for the Lord of Hosts.

‘All are not by nature of so hot disposition, or so fiery-spirited as others.’ — If there be such a dull, phlegmatic creature as hath no life or spirit in anything he goes about, or whom nothing will move; he may plead temperament; and yet grace is above nature. But the best way is, see every man compare his devotion in matters of God with his spirits and mettle in other affairs, wherein his element or delight lies. If the one equal not the other, the fault is not in nature: the oldest man hath memory enough for his money, and the coldest constitution heat enough where it likes.

‘Well, our hearts may be good as the bests, though we cannot shew it.’ — Fire cannot be long smothered, it will either find a vent or go out; zeal will either find word or deed to express itself withal.

‘All have not so much leisure to spend so much time and study about matters of religion; they have somewhat else to do.’ — There are indeed many vanities which distract and divide the mind of worldlings; but zeal counts one thing needful, to which it makes all other stand by. Is there any so good a husband of his time, that will not steal some hour for his pleasure? that cannot spare his God and his soul half an hour, morning and evening? If thou beest not a vain and willing deceiver of thyself and others, deal honestly and plainly with thy soul, try thyself by these few rules; and if thou judgest thyself to come short of them, amend and ‘be zealous.’

The Spirit, knowing that which is spoken to all to be in effect as spoken to none, directs that this message be addressed particularly to the angels, that is ministers, of the churches. . . As in the time of the Old Testament, the custody of the fire and light was the charge of the priest, so here I observe Christ to lay it upon His ministers, interpreting His rule by His practice: ‘Tell the church, tell the angel of the church.’ Implying that they should exceed as far the people as angels do men, and that He will reckon with them for the religion of the people, because cold ministers make bold sinners. We therefore, brethren, upon whom it lies to keep life and heat in the devotion of the world, to consume the dross of heresies, that have fallen into the sink of our times; we that are to make ready our people for the second coming of Christ, is the spirit of Eli, think we, sufficient for us? What manner of person ought we to be, burning in spirit, fervent in prayer, thundering in preaching, shining in life and conversation? Why is it then, my brethren, that some of us pray so rarely and so coldly in private (the evils of our times will not out but by frequent fasting and fervent prayer), in public so briefly, so perfunctorily, and feebly, that we scarce have any witnesses of what we say? Do we love Christ more than ordinary? Would we give proof of our treble love to Him? Let us, then feed His flock with a treble zeal, expressed in prayer, preaching, and living. Let us make it appear to the consciences of all, that the top of our ambition is God’s glory; and that we prefer the winning souls to the winning of the world.

Chiefly mine affections burn within me for the good of mine own nation. For I must bear it record, it hath knowledgee, I would I could say according to zeal. Where is it in divers places of the land to be seen? I had almost said, in my haste and heat, there is none that hath zeal, no, not one, there is no courage for the truth; but that I remember that Elijah was checked for overshooting himself in his too short and quick computation. I hope the Lord hath His fifties among us, though but thin sown in comparison of the swarms of church-papists, of profane atheists, key-cold worldlings, and lukewarm professors. Do we think He will ever tolerate us, in the temper we are in? What is it but a state of neutrality, indifferency, or such mediocrity as will just serve the time, or stand with reputation of neighbours? But behold, He stands at the door and knocks, by plagues, by the hammer of dearths, discontents, fires, inundations, especially by the word; His locks are wet with waiting. He hath indeed brooked and borne us a long time. O, before He shakes off the dust of His feet against us, and turn to some other nation more worthy, let us open the door, that He may come in and sup with us.

The Lord give us not only understanding, but zeal in all things; He baptizes us with fire; He breathes on us, and inspires into us the Spirit of life and power. So shall we run the ways of His commandments.

Samuel Ward, Town preacher at Ipswich, 1603-1639

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