Practical Religion – J.C.Ryle – Zeal

Synopsis and selected quotes as follows:

My object in this paper is to plead the cause of zeal in religion. I believe
we ought not to be afraid of it, but rather to love and admire it. I believe
it to be a mighty blessing to the world and the origin of countless benefits
to mankind. I want to remind Christians that “Zealot” was a name given to one
of our Lord Jesus Christ’s Apostles, and to persuade them to be zealous men.

What is zeal in religion?
When can a man be rightly called zealous in religion?
Why is it a good thing for a man to be zealous in religion?

What is zeal in religion?

This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a man, that it impels him
to make any sacrifice–to go through any trouble–to deny himself to any
amount–to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend himself and be
spent, and even to die–if only he can please God and honor Christ.

A zealous man in religion is preeminently a man of one thing. It is not
enough to say that he is earnest, strong, uncompromising, meticulous,
wholehearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one
thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one
thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies–whether he has
health, or whether he has sickness–whether he is rich, or whether he is
poor–whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense–whether he is
thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish–whether he gets blame, or
whether he gets praise–whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame–for
all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing, and
that one thing is to please God and to advance Gods glory.

If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no
rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This
is what I mean when I speak of zeal in religion.

Ryle then makes the following points:
We all know the habit of mind that
– makes men great in this world (Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, Peter the Great etc.)
– makes men great in teh sciences of this world (Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo, Ferguson, James Watt)
– makes men rich

This habit of mind was
– the characteristic of all the Apostles Acts 20:24,Phil 3:13-14
– the characteristic of the early Christians Acts 28:22
Look at Ignatius cheerfully traveling to the place where he was to be devoured by lions, and saying as he went, “Now do I begin to be a disciple of my Master, Christ.” Hear old Polycarp before the Roman Governor, saying boldly, when called upon to deny Christ, “I have served Christ for 86 years and He has never offended me in anything, and how can I then insult my King?” This was true zeal.
– the characteristic of Martin Luther
– the characteristic of our own English Reformers – Wickliffe, Cranmer, Latimer – You have it in old Latimer, standing boldly on his kindling wood for the fire, at the age of seventy years, and saying to Ridley, “Courage, brother Ridley! We shall light such a candle this day that, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” This was zeal.
– the characteristic of all the greatest Missionaries
– pre-eminently the characteristic of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself – Psalm 69:9,Isaiah 59:17,John 4:34.

If these things are true, we should not only beware of running down zeal, but we should also beware of allowing zeal to be run down in our presence. It may be badly directed, and then it becomes a curse-but it may be turned to the highest and best ends, and then it is a mighty blessing

When is a man truly zealous in religion?
If zeal be true, it will be
– a zeal according to knowledge – Rom 10:2, Acts 22:3
– a zeal from true motives – there is such a think as zeal from party spirit, mere selfishness, love of prase (2 Kings 10:16)
– a zeal about things according to God’s mind, and sanctioned by plain examples in God’s word e.g. zeal for our own growth in personal holiness, for the salvation of souls, zeal against evil practices, for maintaining the doctrines of the gospel
– a zeal tempered with charity and love
– a zeal joined to a deep humility
A truly zealous man will be the last to discover the greatness of his own attainments. All that he is and does will fall immensely short of his own desires, that he will be filled with a sense of his own weakness and be amazed to think that God should work through him at all. Like Moses, when he came down from the Mountain, he will not be aware that his face shines – Whitefield, M’Cheyne

I ask you to remember the description because of the times in which we live. Beware of supposing that sincerity alone can ever make up true zeal-that earnestness, however ignorant, makes a man a really zealous Christian in the sight of God. There is a generation in these days which makes an idol of what it calls “seriousness” in Christianity. These men will allow no fault to be found in a man who is serious. Whatever his theological opinions may be-if he is a serious man, that is enough for these people, and we are to ask no more. They tell you we should just ignore the minute points of doctrine and any questions about words and names, about which Christians are not agreed. Is the man a serious man? If he is, we ought to be satisfied. Seriousness in their eyes covers over a multitude of sins. I solemnly warn you to beware of this dubious doctrine. In the name of the Gospel, and in the name of the Bible, I enter my protest against the theory that mere seriousness can make a man a truly zealous and holy man in the sight of God.

These idolaters of seriousness would make us believe that God has not given us a standard of truth and error, or that the true standard, the Bible, is so obscure, that no man can find out what truth is by simply reading it. They pour contempt upon the Word, the written Word, and therefore they must be wrong

Why is it good for a man to be zealous?
– Zeal is good for a Christian’s own soul.
– Zeal is good for the professing Church of Christ generally

It may be a sad truth that one sinner destroys many good people; but it is also a blessed truth that one zealous Christian can do a lot of good. Yes: one single zealous man in a town-one zealous man in a congregation-one zealous man in a society-one zealous man in a family, may be a great blessing.

– Zeal is good for the world

Zeal may make mistakes. Zeal may need directing. Zeal may lack guiding, controlling, and advising. Like the elephants on ancient fields of battle, it may sometimes injure its own side. But zeal does not need to be restrained in a wretched, cold, corrupt, miserable world like this. Zeal, like John Knox tearing down the Scottish monasteries, may hurt the feelings of narrow-minded and sleepy Christians. It may offend the prejudices of those old-fashioned religionists who hate everything new, and (like those who wanted soldiers and sailors to go on wearing pigtails) abhor all change. But zeal in the end will be justified by its results. Zeal, like John Knox, in the long run will do infinitely more good than harm. There is little danger of there ever being too much zeal for the glory of God. God forgive those who think there is! You know little of human nature. You forget that sickness is far more contagious than health, and that it is much easier to catch a cold than to give warmth.

Ryle ends with exhortations to readers of differing positions – to those who make no decided profession of religion, to those who make a profession of being decided Christians and are yet lukewarm in their practice, and to readers who are truly zealous Christians.

It may be true that wise young believers are very rare. But it is just as true that zealous old believers are also very rare. Never allow yourself to think that you can do too much-that you can work too hard and long for the cause of Christ. For every person that does too much I will show you a thousand who don’t do enough. Instead think that “Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4). Give, teach, visit, work, and pray as if you were doing it for the last time.

Take to heart the words of a zealous Christian, who said, when told that he ought to rest a little, “What should we rest for? Don’t we have all eternity to rest?”

Do not fear the reproach of men. Do not faint because you are sometimes abused. Don’t let it bother you if you are sometimes called a bigot, a zealot, a fanatic, a crazy person, and a fool. There is nothing disgraceful in these titles. They have often been given to the best and wisest of men. If you are only zealous when you receive praise for it-if the wheels of your zeal must be oiled by the world’s commendation, your zeal will be short-lived. Do not care for the praise or the frown of man. There is only one thing worth caring for, and that is the praise of God. There is only one question worth asking about our actions: “How will they appear in the day of judgment?” Amen.