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My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.—Ver. 139.
IN these words you may observe—(1.) Two different persons; (2.) A different carriage mentioned.
1. Two different persons are spoken of, David and his enemies. By enemies is not to be understood those only that were troublesome to himself, but those who were an opposite party to God, who opposed themselves against God and godliness; these without any breach of the law of love may be counted enemies: Ps. cxxxix. 21, 22, ‘Do not I hate them, O Lord,4hat hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that, rise up against thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred; I count them mine enemies.’ It is a comfort and satisfaction to the godly to have no enemies to themselves but such as are enemies to God also, such as rise up against God.
There is a different carriage mentioned, and ascribed to these two parties; on the one side, oblivion and forgetfulness of God’s law; on the other side, zeal.466
[1.] On the enemies’ part, oblivion and forgetfulness of God’s word. The word of God is not effectual usually, but where it is hid in recent memory. They ‘have forgotten thy word;’ a proper phrase to set forth them in the bosom of the visible church who do not wholly deny and reject the word and rule of scripture, but yet live as though they had forgotten it; they do not observe it, as if God had never spoken any such thing, or given them any such rule. They that reject and contemn such things as thy word enforceth, surely do not remember to do them.
[2.] On David’s part here is mentioned zeal, or a flagrant affection, which is set forth—(1.) By the vehemency of it; (2.) By the cause of it.
(1.) By the vehemency of it, ‘My zeal hath consumed me.’ It was no small zeal that David had, but a consuming zeal. Vehement affections exhaust and consume the vital spirits, and waste the body. The like expression is used, Ps. lxviii. 9, ‘The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.’ Strength of holy affection works many times upon the body as well as the soul, especially zeal, which is a high degree of love, and vents itself by a mixture of grief and anger. What a man loves, he would have it respected, and is grieved when it is dishonoured and under disrepute. Both have an influence upon this consuming, this wasting of the spirits that is spoken of in the text, because they had lessened and obscured the glory of God, and violated his law; and there was in him a holy care, ardour, and earnest endeavour to rectify this abuse, and awaken them out of their security, and reduce them to their duty.
(2.) Here was the cause of it. Why was David so much wasted, pined, consumed, and troubled? Because they ‘have forgotten thy word;’ the contempt of God, and the offence of God sat nearest his heart; as if he had said, I should more patiently bear the injury done to myself, but I cannot be coldly affected where thy glory, O Lord, is concerned; since I have had a taste of thy grace, and felt the benefit of thy word, I cannot endure it should be contemned, and it much moves me to see creatures so mad upon their own destruction, and to make so light of thy salvation. Thus was David consumed, not at the sight of his own, but at other men’s sins; and not at others in general, but them, his enemies, that they should make void the law of God. Such was his love to the word, that he could not endure the contempt and violation of it; and such was his compassion to the souls of men, that it grieved him exceedingly to see any of the workmanship of God to perish, to be captivated to the world, to be made factors for the devil, and fuel for hell-fire, and to be so violent for their own destruction.
Doct. That great and pure zeal becomes those that have any affection for the word and for the ways of God.
Here is a great zeal; for David saith, ‘My zeal hath consumed me;’ it preyed upon his spirit. And here is a pure zeal, for he mentions not personal injuries, but disrespect to God’s word. When the same men are our enemies and God’s enemies, we should be more zealous for God’s cause than our own. Now both the greatness and purity of his zeal did arise from his love to the word, as appears from the precedent and subsequent verses. In the precedent verses he had told 467them, ‘Just and upright are thy testimonies, and very faithful,’ therefore ‘my zeal hath consumed me,’ because this word should be slighted and contemned. And it appears also from the following verse, ‘Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.’ He was troubled to see such a holy and pure word to be trampled under foot, and especially that those seem to disown it (he doth not say they deny it) who had generally professed to live under this rule; that they made light and disregarded the precepts, in which I found so much comfort and delight.
In the prosecution of this point I shall—
1. Show what is true zeal.
2. Why all that love the word should have this great and pure zeal. First, What is true zeal? There is a carnal zeal and there is a spiritual zeal.
1. The carnal zeal (to begin with that) is threefold:—
[1.] That which comes from an ill cause, and produceth ill effects. An ill cause, as hatred of men’s persons, or envy at their gifts and excellences, or their success and happiness in the world: James iii. 14, ‘If ye have bitter envying in your hearts.’ It is πικρὸν ζῆλον, if you have bitter zeal in your hearts. There is a kind of bitter zeal, and malignity at their excellency, whether gifts, graces, rank, dignity in the world. And in ver. 16 he tells us this bitter zeal produceth confusion and every evil work. To be consumed and eaten out with envy is little commendable. This is not the zeal of the text. With this zeal were the chief priests filled when they saw that the gospel came into some reputation, and that the people, do what they could, did haunt and frequent it. We read, Acts v. 17, ἐπλήσθησαν ζήλου. We render it, They were filled with indignation; it is in the Greek and in the margin, They were filled with zeal; with this bitter zeal, malignity, envy, indignation, they would bestir themselves to suppress the growing gospel by all the means that possibly they could.
[2.] There is another sort of carnal zeal which hath an ill object, though it may be a good cause from whence it proceeds, such as an ignorant zeal, which proceeds from some love to that which men call religion, but falsely; and so the apostle saith, Rom. x. 2, ‘I bear them witness that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge;’ and such a zeal had Paul when he was a pharisee. He gives an account of it, Gal. i. 12-14, ‘How that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.’ Paul was a man that never acted against his conscience, no, not when he was a pharisee; he still acted according to his light; but when he was blinded by pharisaical prejudices, he wasted the church of God, and was exceedingly zealous for a false religion. Thus is such a zeal as possibly might have a tolerable cause, but it had a bad object, a zeal about the dictates of a deluded conscience, and this zeal, perniciosior est, quo flagrantior, is the more pernicious the more earnest it is. It hath often raised confusions in the church, when men are led with a blind zeal they think for God; if they be under, then they make divisions; if they get a-top, then they are persecuting and oppressing. This is the zeal of a deluded conscience. In short, zeal must have a right object, otherwise it may be great, but cannot be good, pure, and holy.468
[3.] Another false zeal is when it hath no ill object, but it exceeds in the measure and degree, and is far beyond the weight of the thing that it is laid out upon. This is a superstitious, a trifling zeal, which runs out to externals, and is altogether employed about lesser things of religion, as the pharisees, Mat. xxiii. 23, that made a great business about a small matter, tithing mint, and anise, and cummin, but neglected weighty duties, faith, judgment, righteousness, and the great things of the kingdom of God. The apostle tells u?, Rom. xiv. 17, ‘The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,’ in being of this party and that; many all their care and strength of their souls runs out in matters of less importance, keeping up a party and faction in religion; we should first make conscience of principal matters. Superstitious scrupulosity is always damageful, like those that come into a shop to buy a pennyworth of a commodity, and steal a pound’s worth. Oh! they have a great zeal for lesser things when it runs out mightily about outward things, either for that or against that; and in the meantime they cherish the world, pride, envy, carnal evil affections, that are destructive to and the bane of godliness.
2. There is a spiritual holy zeal which we may describe—(1.) By its cause; (2.) by its object; (3.) by its effects; (4.) by its use as to public reformation; (5.) as to its use as to Christians’ private exercises, to carry on the spiritual life with fervour, warmth, and vigour.
[1.] I am to speak of the cause of it. The true cause of holy zeal is love to God and what belongs to God. Zeal is ferventis amoris gradus, a higher degree of love; it is the fervour of divine charity. We should mark still what spirit inflames the zeal that we have. Every man is eaten up with one kind of zeal or another. The zeal of the world eats up many, Ps. cxxvii. 2. They bereave their souls of good, and all for a little pelf; they work in the fires, they load themselves with thick clay. The zeal of the flesh inflames many; they are mad upon carnal delights, can let go all considerations so as they may fulfil their lusts; they are consumed with these kind of zeals. Another spirit should be working in us, a zeal for God; and that comes from an entire love to God. When the soul doth heartily and earnestly love God above all, then there is a strong desire of promoting God’s glory and interest; there should be that spirit which breathes in our zeal, and with this zeal should we be eaten up and spent. Now they that love God will love all them which belong to God. Friends have all things common, so it is between us and God; the injuries done to him will be as grievous to us as if they were done to ourselves: Ps. lxix. 9, ‘For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me;’ and the glory that comes to them is as acceptable as if some great benefit had come to us: Acts xv. 3, ‘Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles, and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.’ Oh! this is great joy to a gracious soul when God’s interest thrives in the world. Oh! this is that they would willingly hear spoken of; their hearts are upon it, when God’s interest stands or falls, such an earnest desire of the glory of God, which is the highest degree and measure of love to God.469
[2.] Let us speak of the object of zeal. In three things God’s interest lies in the world, viz., his truth, his worship, and his servants. Now it is not enough to have zeal that we do not oppose any of these, but they must be tenderly regarded and looked after, and we must be affected with these things as we would with our own concernments. When wrongs are offered to any of these, either to God’s truth, his worship, or his servants, they must go more nearly to our hearts than any personal injuries done to ourselves. What we cannot remedy we must mourn for. All these three concur in Elijah’s speech: 1 Kings xix. 10, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts;’ there is his zeal. Why? ‘For the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant;’ there is his truth perverted: ‘they have thrown down thy altars;’ there is his worship overturned: ‘they have slain thy prophets with the sword;’ there his servants are wronged. So that zeal mainly is concerned when God suffers loss in any of these things. If his truth be perverted, his worship overturned, his servants be despitefully used, vexed, and grieved, then zeal presently shows itself in opposing these things, or in grieving for them.
(1.) Zeal seeks to preserve the truth of God inviolable. Truth is a precious depositum, trust, and charge which God hath committed to the keeping of his people; and without zeal to defend and propagate and maintain it, though with the greatest hazard, it will never be kept, and you will never be faithful to God. We are a kind of feoffees for the present age, and trustees for the future; and the charge of God’s truth is put into our hands, and we must see it be transmitted to the world pure and undefiled. Therefore, Jude 3, ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι, ‘We must contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’ When others would violate the truth we must contend with them: Jer. ix. 3, ‘They are not valiant for the truth.’ A Christian needs not only the labour of an ox, that he may be diligent, but the valour of a lion, that he may appear for God in defence of his truth when it is invaded and encroached upon. And especially doth this concern the officers of the church; this zeal they should have for the word: Titus i. 9, ἀντεχόμενον, ‘Holding fast the faithful word.’ The word signifies to be good at holding and drawing; that is, when others would wrest it out of our hands, we should hold it fast; as a staff that another would take out of our hands, we hold it faster and wrestle with him. So should we wrestle, contend, and hold fast the truth, when others would draw it from us. And Phil. i. 27, ‘Striving together for the faith of the gospel.’ Oh! we should not let one dust of truth perish. This is to be zealous for the truth, standing to, and striving for the defence thereof, in our way and place. If God had not raised up zealous instruments in every age to plead for his truth, what a sad case would the church have been in? Truth would have been buried under a great heap of prejudices, and Christ’s kingdom have been crushed in the very egg, and religion strangled in the cradle. But there is a cloud of witnesses gone before us. In every age God sets up some of all sexes, ages, conditions, that have owned his despised and oppugned truths, and have not counted their lives dear, so as they might give their testimony to the truth of God, Rev. xii. 11, and have more greedily embraced martyrdom than others 470honours and dignities in the church; as Sulpicius Severus observes, they have with greater desire affected the glory of martyrdom and suffering for the truth, that they might be faithful to God and the souls of men in future ages, and to preserve God’s truth inviolate; they have greedily sought this honour to suffer for God. And Ignatius, he could say, Come, saith he, I desire the beasts that are prepared should be let loose for me; it is better to die for Christ than to command the ends of the earth. And Basil, when the Arian emperor threatened those that did oppose his religion should die the death, The wild beasts, let them be let out; would to God it were so, that I had the honour to die for the truth of Christ! This was notably for the increase of Christ’s kingdom, and thus the Lord hath inspired his people with a holy love and zeal.
(2.) For his worship, that that may not be corrupted, but his institutions kept pure. Zeal is conversant about that too: Exod. xx. 5, ‘Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.’ In the first commandment, God forbids a false god; in the second, he forbids the false means of worship, as before the false object. Now, because the means of worship are apt to be perverted, the Lord shows how jealous he was for his worship: ‘I am a jealous God;’ if the institutions of God be perverted, then ‘I will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.’ The children are considered in that commandment, because usually the interest of families is our great snare, when an idol is set up, or a false means of worship. The chiefest false worship is an idol; and the greatest sin is put for all the rest, before an idol, the imagination or invention of men, when that is set up. The Lord speaks of the interest of families, because men are apt to think they shall undo them and their families if they contend in this matter. Now, be you zealous of my worship, for I will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. That the interest of families might not abate our zeal, the Lord takes the family into the curse for the violation, and likewise into the blessing for zeal for his institutions. And so Christ saith, John ii. 17, ‘The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.’ We should be zealous for God’s worship. Ministers should preach zealously, and magistrates govern zealously to purge God’s house, and Christians pray zealously; every one of us, as far as the bounds of our calling will permit, should be zealous for God’s worship. Quis comeditur zelo Domus Dei? saith Austin—who is he that is eaten out with the zeal of God’s house? He that desires that no human invention may be blended and mixed with God’s worship, and would fain amend what is amiss. This zeal is the only right and acceptable principle of reformation, our great indignation against all false worship whatever. I remember the story of Valentinian, who was afterwards emperor, when according to the duty of his place, being captain of the guard to Julian the apostate and emperor, he was engaged to attend him into the heathen temple of fortune, and the priests were to sprinkle the lustrating and holy water—for that ceremony was common to the heathens with the papists—and a drop of it lighted upon Valentinian, he struck the priest that did it, and said, Thou hast defiled me, thou hast not purged me (he thought 471his garments to be contaminated, and not his body sanctified), and he tore off his belt, renounced his honour, rather than he would do any thing that should be contrary to his religion; and for this Julian sent him into banishment, and within a year and a few months, the story tells us, that he received the reward of his holy confession and owning of Christ, the Roman empire. For the soldiers, being weary of this pagan emperor, as soon as he died chose Jovinianus (that had been banished, and a fellow sufferer with him), who recalled him and other Christians from their exile, and after having reigned not full eight months, he died, and Valentinian was chosen emperor in his stead.
(3.) The third thing we should be zealous for is God’s servants; when they are oppressed we should own and cherish them, as good Obadiah did the prophets, who ‘hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water,’ 1 Kings xviii. 4; and Jonathan owned David though his father was greatly displeased with him, and flung a javelin at him, 1 Sam. xx. 32; and Esther pleads for the Jews when they were doomed to destruction, Esther vii. 3; and Nicodemus pleads for Christ that he might not be condemned unheard: John vii. 50, 51, ‘When the council was ready to condemn him, Nicodemus saith to them (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them), Doth our law judge any man before it hear him? And then they went their way.’ That stopped the persecution for that time. Certainly they have little zeal for God, that can see good men perish before their eyes, and have not a word to speak for them. This Nicodemus, that was before infirm and weak, that sneaked unto Christ, that came to him by night, gets courage in the time of need to speak for Christ.
[3.] What are the acts of zeal with respect to these objects?
(1.) It quickens us to our duty, and makes us publicly active for God: Gal. iv. 18, ‘It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.’ Oh! how remiss and sluggish would we be otherwise in matters of God’s kingdom and glory, if we had not a strong degree of love to stir us up to appear for God, in the worst times, and in the way and places that is proper for us! Paul when he saw the whole city given to idolatry, it is said, his ‘spirit was stirred in him,’ Acts xvii. 16; he could not contain; and again, Acts xviii. 5, Paul ‘was pressed in spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.’ That heroical act of Phinehas when he saw the laws of God broken, and nobody ready to vindicate the honour of God; he took a javelin in his hand and thrust the offenders through, Num. xxv. 7; and the Lord saith afterwards, ver. 11, ‘Phineas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.’ He had an extraordinary call to do that; he was high priest, but he went then upon jus zenorum.2020So in the original edition.—ED. So Elijah, 1 Kings xviii. 40, ‘He took the prophets of Baal and brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.’ There was an extraordinary call; but we are all to be active in spreading and defending the truth, and promoting the purity of God’s worship, and welfare of his people, as far as our calling and places permit.
(2.) It maketh us spare no cost, yea, it judgeth that best done for God which costs us most, as David would not serve God with that 472which cost nothing, 2 Sam. xxiv. 25. That is worth nothing that cost nothing in religion. Jezebel she was zealous for Baal, and maintained four hundred of his priests at her table. In the primitive times they gold all things that they had, and had all things common: and the Israelites they offered so plentifully to the tabernacle, that Moses was fain to forbid them, to put a stop, because there was enough given for the advancement of God’s worship, Exod. xxxviii. 8. And therefore certainly they are cold, and have little zeal for God, that love as the Corinthians did, ἀδάπανον εὐαγγέλιον, a gospel without charges, would be at no cost for Christ. This was Paul’s case; there the poor saints of Macedonia which had but from hand to mouth, they ministered to him, and maintained him when he was at Corinth, a rich and opulent town. Paul would depart from his right rather than prejudice the gospel. Therefore they that will be at no cost for Christ, maintaining his truth, upholding his worship, relieving his people, have no zeal.
(3.) It vents itself by holy grief and anger when any of these are violated. (1.) With holy grief. We should be touched, and that to the quick, with other men’s sins, when they neglect their duty, pervert all that is right and honest, and seem not to be concerned with the glory of God, 1 Peter ii. 7, 8. It is said of Lot, ‘his righteous soul was vexed’ at the wickedness of the Sodomites; and ‘he vexed himself,’ not with Sodom’s injuries, but with Sodom’s impurities; he could not redress the evils, but he mourns for them. So the prophet Jeremiah for the stubbornness of the people: Jer. xiii. 17, ‘But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, and mine eye shall weep sore,’ &c. Though they would not hearken, amend, nor any way regard these things, yet it grieved him exceedingly. So you shall see the like of Ezra, chap. x. 6, ‘He mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away.’ The transgression of God’s people was very grievous to him. Thus we read of Eli, 1 Sam. iv. 13, ‘Eli sat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God.’ The glory of God was dear to him; and when religion is in danger, God dishonoured, it leaves a mighty impression upon the hearts of those that have a zeal and strong love to God. (2.) It vents itself by indignation and holy anger; as Christ whipped the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and showed his divine power therein, John ii. 15. And ‘remember them, O God, that defile the priesthood,’ Neh. xiii. 29; and Exod. xxxii. 19. Meek Moses, yet his anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hand; and Ezra ix. 3, ‘When I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head, and of my beard, and sat down astonied.’ Thus deeply are God’s children affected with God’s public dishonour, though not occasioned by themselves, but occasioned by others, and this is to have a zeal for God.
[4.] The qualifications and concomitants of this holy zeal. I will name three:—
(1.) It must be accompanied with knowledge and discretion; that is to say, there must be a distinct knowledge of the cause that we take up, else we may be factors for the devil’s kingdom when we think we are acting for God, and be persecuting the saints when we think we are destroying his enemies. It must be out of the knowledge of the 473 cause of the evil to be renounced and the good to be established. There is a blind zeal: John xvi. 2, ‘Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.’ The pseudo-Christians, the literal Christians, have a blind zeal against the serious Christians, and if they can excommunicate them and throw them out of the church and kill them, they think this is acceptable service to God. All this is blind zeal. In Rom. x. 2, the apostle saith, ‘They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge;’ therefore there must be light as well as heat in this fire, else it is not the fire of the altar, but of a common hearth; nay, we must not only know the truth, but also the worth of the cause. The truth of the cause, that must be guided still by wisdom, and we must observe all the seasonable circumstances in discovering ourselves for God, else it will produce strange, evil, and malignant effects, which tend much to the dishonour of God, and prejudice of the gospel. Look, as a blind horse that is full of mettle, but is always stumbling, so they never act commendably and seasonably. The church of God hath had bitter experience in all ages of the sad effects of misguided zeal; when it hath not been seasoned with knowledge and discretion to time things, it hath tended much to the hindrance of Christ’s kingdom, and the promotion of Satan’s interest in the world. Christ in one place bids us to ‘be wise as serpents,’ Mat. x. 16; and in another place, not to give that which is holy to dogs, ‘nor cast pearls before swine,’ Mat. vii. 6; otherwise we unprofitably sacrifice ourselves, and hinder the good which we would promote. It was a grievous thing to Paul, and pressed upon his spirit, to see all Ephesus given to idolatry, and mightily affected with Diana’s worship; yet we read, Acts xix. 10, he was two years at Ephesus before he spake against Diana; he observed his season before he took the liberty and thought himself bound to speak against that false worship. The historian tells us of Andes, a Persian bishop, that was under Varrans, that, having an unguided zeal, got some Christians together to destroy the temple of fire, which the Persians worshipped. Saith Theodoret, Not as he ought to do; and what is the issue? Varrans the emperor, that was formerly favour able to the Christians, when he saw they affected power, and would destroy the worship of the country, what then? He was filled with cruel persecution, he skinned the backs of some of the Christians, and the faces of others, drew splinters through their flesh, used horrible torments, which the historian takes notice of, and it conduced to the total suppression of the Christian religion. Therefore this wildfire when it runs abroad without discretion, and not being seasoned with prudence, it doth a world of harm to the church of God. We must observe the time, circumstances, and when it is most behoveful for the glory of God, the good of the church, and cause we would promote. See Videlius, lib i. cap. 1.
(2.) This zeal also must be mingled with compassion, that as we mind the glory of God, so we may pity deluded souls. When we are zealous against the sin we must have commiseration of the sinner, as knowing the weaknesses and prejudices of education that are incident to human nature. This is, to be sure, most agreeable to Christ’s pattern. He wept over Jerusalem that stood in a state of enmity to him, Luke xix. 41; and when he was angry with the unbelief 474of his countrymen, at the same time he was grieved at the hardness of their hearts, Mark iii. 5. In Christ’s anger there was more of compassion than of passion. And Samuel he mourned for Saul when he saw him no more, 1 Sam. xv. 35; and the apostle, when he had zealously declaimed against the false teachers, he falls a-weeping, Phil. iii. 18. When we show love to God there should not be a hatred and ill-will to the persons of men, but we should bewail their obstinacy and blindness. Those that are all for destruction, and ready to call fire from heaven, they know not what spirit they are of; they have a fiery zealotic spirit, but that which doth not become the temper of the gospel.
(3.) Zeal must be constant, Gal. iv. 18; the fire on the altar must never go out; we cannot be without it for a moment. There are some that have zeal for a fit, but soon grow weary of it; they are zealous in prosperity, then they are forward and active for God; but when it comes to trouble, they give up all to oppositions. On the contrary, others in their affliction and low estate, they have a warm sense of religion, but when they are all well at ease, they are lost in the delights of the flesh, and drowned in the cares of the world, and their zeal for God is checked. And we see that some in their youth have a good savour and towardliness, and seem to have a very tender conscience, but after their first heats are spent they are very careless, and grow inordinate, and all their zeal for God is gone: Gal. v. 7, ‘Ye did run well; who did hinder you, that ye should not obey the truth?’ David was as zealous when the crown was upon his head as when God humbled him and kept him low. Many think zeal a cumber as they increase in worldly wisdom, and so cast it off. Nay, in gross hypocrites you shall find this, they will be zealous in good company, and as vain and loose in bad. Let any grave servant of God be there, they seem to kindle a great fire, but as soon as they are gone, they put it out again. Ay! but true zeal should always continue and be of a lasting and of an increasing flame.
[5.] To speak of the private and personal use of zeal, what need we have to keep up a warm frame of heart towards God and heavenly things (hitherto we have considered it as it respects God’s public interest); it is also of private use both in resisting of sin, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
(1.) In resisting of sin. A man never doth anything to purpose in purging out sin until he hath a zeal for God: Rev. iii. 19, ‘Be zealous therefore, and repent.’ Repentance is set on and quickened by zeal. Doth zeal, think you, serve only to rectify the disorders of other men, and not our own? No, certainly; we should begin at home; we should take care that God be exalted in our own hearts, as well as his interest be not infringed in the world. First our Saviour adviseth us to pluck out the beam out of our own eyes, Mat. vii. 5. Unless we be blameless ourselves we can have no confidence or hope to do much good to others. The first stone should be cast at ourselves; we should repent of our own sin, our own lusts, the plague of our own heart; if anything we are apt to allow that is contrary to God, this should be a great grief to us. Unless we cleanse our own unclean sinks at home, how can we hope for reformation abroad? Men cry out against public vices, as the lapwing will croak abroad to draw off the person from her own nest; 475it is all but the deceit of the heart; and usually we find it to he so in the world. Most men are better acquainted with other men’s duties than their own; with the magistrate’s duties more than their own, and so other men’s sins more than their own. But it is not so where zeal is unfeigned; there it begins at home; they will allow nothing in their own hearts that may be contrary to God’s interest and to the sovereignty of his Spirit.
(2.) Also in perfecting holiness. The whole business of the spiritual life must be carried on in warmth and vigour: Rom. xii. 11, ‘Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ It is ζέοντες πνεύματι, seething hot in spirit. Nothing done for God should be done negligently, but affectionately. To be lukewarm and key-cold, that makes no work in religion; but when a man hath a great zeal for God, oh! then he profits and gets ground, then sin decays, grace is strengthened, love is more rooted in his heart every day, and he doth more for God. Paul profited in the Jewish religion, Gal. i. 14. Why? Because he was ‘more zealous than others.’ This is the man that will be the honour of God’s ordinances, that man that will show forth the virtue and power of religion, when his heart grows warm for God and zealous for God.
Secondly, Why we ought to look after a great and pure zeal, if we have any love to God and the law of God and his ways.
1. Why a great zeal?
[1.] Because it is not zeal else, if it be not in some good degree; for zeal is a great fire and a vehement flame; not only love, but vehement love; it must needs be great: Cant. viii. 6, 7, ‘For love is as strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave.’ Zeal is cruel as the grave; read it so: ‘Many waters cannot quench love,’ &c. Mark, our love to the ways of God should be of such a nature, such a warm and zealous working of heart towards God, that many floods cannot quench it, that nothing can bribe it. Surely the best things deserve the best affections; therefore whatever we do in religion and for God, we should do it with all our might, Eccles. ix. 10.
[2.] Otherwise it will not do the work. Such as increaseth with opposition; as fire, when you put on more fuel, it grows more vehement; so unless it be a zeal that grows earnest with discouragement, alas! it will soon be quenched. We shall meet with many discouragements from within and without; but when we can resolve with David, the more they scoffed and opposed him, he would ‘be yet more vile,’ 2 Sam. vi. 22. So the more trouble they meet with in the ways of God, the more they will cleave to him, and will please God though with the displeasure of men. True zeal is inflamed with difficulties. As lime, the more water they pour on, the more it burns; as Nehemiah’s courage it sparkled the more the more it was opposed: ‘Should such a man as I flee?’ Should I betray the cause of God? This is the true zeal, when it sparkles by opposition. As Paul, the more they persuaded him, the more he seemed to be bound in spirit to go to Jerusalem, Acts xxi. 13; though they did even break his heart, they could not break his purpose. Such a zeal as is quenched with every drop of water, and goes out with every flout and scorn, will never do it; therefore we had need have a great zeal, that we may harden ourselves against all oppositions we meet with in the way.476
2. It needs to be pure, too; such a fervent affection had need be right, for since it makes men so active and resolute, certainly it should go upon clear grounds. I showed before nothing hath done more mischief in the world than wild zeal; it is like fire out of its place, that sets all the house in a flame; it doth not comfort and refresh those that have it, but it destroys and consumes all. But why must we have pure zeal?
[1.] Because there is a false zeal, and a self-seeking zeal, which men have while they pretend much love to God and good of souls, but are really hunting after their own interest: Gal. iv. 17, ‘They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you that ye might affect them;’ that is, they sought to rend their affections from Paul, and from their faithful pastors, that they might affect them; so he tells us, Phil. i. 15, ‘Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife.’ There may be a zeal that comes merely out of envy and strife;. Jehu could say, ‘Come, see my zeal for the Lord,’ 2 Kings x. 16.
[2.] This false zeal doth a great deal of mischief. It is a dishonour to God to pretend to him, and to put the varnish of our cause upon God. God himself is involved in the deceit, Jer. iv. 10. It is a strange expression to be used to God, ‘Ah! Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.’ The false prophets did it in his name. And it divides the church as well as dishonours God: Gal. iv. 17, ‘They would exclude you, that ye might affect them.’ The meaning is, they would rend you from the body of the Christian church, and alienate the minds of God’s people, so as to devote them to a faction: Phil. i. 16, ‘They preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.’ And it hardens the persons themselves, as Jehu boasted of his zeal, and it was only self-seeking, and the Lord counts it murder, Hosea i. 4.
Use. Have we this pure zeal, such a zeal as David speaks of? There are many notes by which it may be discerned; as—
1. When injuries done to God or religion affect us more than injuries done personally to ourselves; when we carry ourselves in an indifferency in our own cause, but not in God’s. Compare Num. xii. 13, with Exod. xxxii. 19. Moses could with a meek spirit bear all the injuries done to himself, but could not contain himself when he saw injury done to God, but breaks the tables.
2. When the same enemies are God’s enemies and ours. David was sensible not of the inhumanity of his enemies, but that which most troubled him was because they were God’s enemies and forsook his words. David was not so much troubled at Absalom’s rebellion, as dying in his sins.
3. When there is a compassion mingled with our zeal Fleshly anger is all for destruction; holy anger is for conversion, when they grieve, and seek to redress the matter.
4. True zeal is universal; it is most against their own sins, and the sins of those that are nearest, and runs out upon weighty things. But those that tithe mint and cummin, and neglect weighty things, they have not true zeal. There are many instances of this false disproportionate zeal of a conscience, taken up for a turn. When there is a partial conscience—in some things men are mighty scrupulous, and strain at a gnat and swallow a camel—it discovers the hypocrisy that 477lights upon the professors of religion, full of heinous outcries upon small things, yet dashing upon things that are against the fundamentals of the covenant.
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