« AnteriorContinuar »
Zeal that occasioned the still more horrid massacre in Ireland; the like whereof, both with regard to the number of the murdered, and the shocking circumstances wherewith many of those murders were perpetrated, I verily believe never occurred before, since the world began. As to the other parts of Europe, an eminent German Writer has taken immense pains, to search both the records, in various places, and the most authentic histories, in order to gain some competent knowledge of the blood which has been shed since the Reformation. And computes, that partly by private persecution, partly by religious wars in the course of forty years, reckoning from the year 1520, above forty millions of persons have been destroyed!
2. But is it not possible to distinguish right Zeal from wrong? Undoubtedly it is possible. But it is difficult: such is the deceitfulness of the human heart! So skilfully do the passions justify themselves! And there are exceeding few treatises on the subject; at least, in the English language. To this day I have seen, or heard of only one Sermon; and that was written above a hundred years ago, by Dr. Spratt, then Bishop of Rochester, so that it is now exceeding scarce.
3. I would gladly cast in my mite, by God's assistance, toward the clearing up this important question, in order to enable well-meaning men, who are desirous of pleasing God, to distinguish true Christian Zeal from its various counterfeits. And this is more necessary at this time than it has been for many years. Sixty years ago there seemed to be scarce any such thing as religious Zeal left in the nation. People in general, were wonderfully cool and undisturbed about that trifle, Religion. But since then, it is easy to observe, there has been a very considerable alteration. Many thousands, almost in every part of the nation, have felt a real desire to save their souls. And I am persuaded there is at this day more religious Zeal in England, than there has been for a century past.
4. But has this Zeal been of the right or the wrong kind? Probably both the one and the other. Let us see
if we cannot separate these, that we may avoid the latter and cleave to the former. In order to this, I would enquire,
I. What is the nature of true, Christian Zeal?
I. And, first, What is the nature of Zeal in general, and of true Christian Zeal in particular.
1. The original word, in its primary signification, means heat, such as the heat of boiling water. When it is figuratively applied to the mind, it means any warm emotion or affection. Sometimes it is taken for envy. So we render it, Acts v. 17, where we read, "The High-Priest, and all that were with him, were filled with envy:" λnonov Znhov• (although it might as well be rendered, were filled with Zeal.) Sometimes, it is taken for anger and indignation; sometimes, for vehement desire. And when any of our passions are strongly moved on a religious account, whether for any thing good, or against any thing which we conceive to be evil, this we term, religious Zeal.
2. But it is not all that is called religious Zeal, which is worthy of that name. It is not properly religious or Christian Zeal, if it be not joined with Charity. A fine Writer, (Bishop Spratt,) carries the matter farther still. "It has been affirmed," says that great man, "No Zeal is right, which is not charitable, but is mostly so. Charity or love is not only one ingredient, but the chief ingredient in its composition." May we not go further still? May we not say, that true Zeal is not mostly charitable, but wholly so? That is, if we take Charity in St. Paul's sense, for love; the love of God and our neighbour. For it is a certain truth, (although little understood in the world,) that Christian Zeal is all love. It is nothing else. The love of God and man fills up its whole nature.
3. Yet it is not every degree of that love, to which this appellation is given. There may be some love, a small degree of it, where there is no Zeal. in a higher degree. It is fervent love.
But it is properly, love
is no other than the flame of love. This is the nature, the inmost essence of it.
II. 1. From hence it follows, that the properties of love, are the properties of Zeal also, Now one of the chief properties of love, is Humility: love is not puffed up. Accordingly this is a property of true Zeal: humility is inseparable from it. As is the degree of Zeal, such is the degree of humility: they must rise and fall together. The same love which fills a man with zeal for God, makes him little, and poor, and vile in his own eyes.
2. Another of the properties of love is Meekness: consequently it is one of the properties of Zeal. It teaches us to be meek, as well as lowly: to be equally superior to anger or pride. Like as the wax melteth at the fire, so before this sacred flame, all turbulent passions melt away, and leave the soul unruffled and serene.
3. Yet another property of love, and consequently of Zeal, is unwearied Patience; for "love endureth all things." It arms the soul with entire resignation to all the disposals of divine Providence, and teaches us to say, in every occurrence, "It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good." It enables us, in whatever station, therewith to be content: to repine at nothing; to murmur at nothing; "but in every thing to give thanks."
4. There is a fourth property of Christian Zeal; which deserves to be more particularly considered. This we learn from the very words of the Apostle, "It is good to be zealously affected," (not to have transient touches of zeal, but a steady rooted disposition,) "in a good thing:" in that which is good; for the proper object of Zeal, is good in general. That is, every thing that is good, really such, in the sight of God.
5. But what is good in the sight of God? What is that religion, wherewith God is always well pleased? How do the parts of this rise one above another? And what is the comparative value of them?
This is a point exceedingly little considered, and, therefore, little understood. Positive divinity, many have some
knowledge of. But few know any thing of comparative divinity. I never saw but one tract written upon this head: a sketch of which it may be of use to subjoin.
In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne, which is erected in the inmost soul: namely, love to God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival. In a circle near the throne, are all holy tempers; long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, fidelity, temperance: and if any other were comprised in the mind which was in Christ Jesus. In an exterior circle are all the works of mercy, whether to the souls or bodies of men. By these we exercise all holy tempers; by these we continually improve them, so that all these are real means of grace, although this is not commonly adverted to. Next to these are those that are usually termed works of piety: reading and hearing the word, public, family, private prayer, receiving the Lord's supper, fasting or abstinence. Lastly, that his followers may the more effectually provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works, our blessed Lord has united them together in one body, the Church, dispersed all over the earth; a little emblem of which, of the Church universal, we have in every particular Christian congregation.
6. This is that religion which our Lord has established upon earth, ever since the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This is the entire, connected system of Christianity and thus the several parts of it rise one above another, from that lowest point, the assembling ourselves together, to the highest, love enthroned in the heart. And hence it is easy to learn the comparative value of every branch of religion. Hence also we learn a fifth property of true Zeal. That as it is always exercised Ev xaλw, that which is good, so it is always proportioned to that good, to the degree of goodness that is in its object.
7. For example. Every Christian ought, undoubtedly, to be zealous for the Church, bearing a strong affection to it, and earnestly desiring its prosperity and increase. He ought to be thus zealous, as for the Church universal,
praying for it continually, so especially for that particular Church or Christian Society, whereof he himself is a member. For this he ought to wrestle with God in prayer; mean time using every mean in his power, to enlarge its borders, and to strengthen his brethren, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.
8. But he should be more zealous for the ordinances of Christ, than for the Church itself: for prayer in public and private, for the Lord's Supper, for reading, hearing, and meditating on his word; and for the much neglected duty of fasting. These he should earnestly recommend; first, by his example, and then by advice, by argument, persuasion, and exhortation, as often as occasion offers.
9. Thus should he shew his Zeal for works of piety; but much more for works of mercy; seeing "God will have mercy and not sacrifice;" that is, rather than sacrifice. Whenever, therefore, one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, prayer, are to be omitted, or to be postponed, "at charity's almighty call:" when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbour, whether in body or soul.
10. But as zealous as we are for all good works, we should still be more zealous for holy tempers: for planting and promoting in our souls, and in all we have any intercourse with, lowliness of mind, meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, contentedness, resignation unto the Will of God, deadness to the world and the things of the world, as the only mean of being truly alive to God. For these proofs and fruits of living faith, we cannot be too zealous. We should “talk of them as we sit in our house," and "when we walk by the way," and "when we lie down," and "when we rise up." We should make them continual matter of prayer; as being far more excellent than any outward works whatever seeing those will fail when the body drops off; but these will accompany us into eternity.
11. But our choicest Zeal should be reserved for Love itself, the end of the Commandment, the fulfilling of the law. The Church, the ordinances, outward works of every