February 5, 2016
Christian zeal [is] indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervor of a sweet flame. For the flame of which it is the heat, is no other than that of divine love.—The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2: Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 352.
Many churches today are looking less like armies engaged in war and more like people taking a nap. Who among us hasn’t seen this decay? Who cannot see a difference between the ancient church and us? In former days, a fire burned within Christians, but our hearts seldom, if ever, burn within us. Formerly, Christians seemed driven by a holy passion, but now little seems to motivate us. Christians of old were at war with their sin and strove for holiness by heavenly strength, but we seem to tolerate sin rather easily and are satisfied to do the minimum of what God requires of us.
What has happened? God did not change; the power of salvation did not change; the call to holiness did not change; the threat of the enemy did not change. So why are so many Christians drowsy rather than being on fire for God? John Reynolds (1667–1727) once asked,
How long shall we lie still under our formal complaints of the decay of Christian piety? How long shall we idly see the retirement of warm religion from the hearts and bosoms of its professors? Are we willing to yield to all the lukewarmness and degeneracy that has overspread us? [Even] the truly pious are dull and heavy in their religion, [and] march on wearily in their appointed race, as if either their Lord had lost His glory or His promise to them; or they [have lost] their faith and hope in Him.... Is it not time to proclaim among the churches, the message of the Mediator sent from heaven to the Church of Laodicea: Be zealous and repent?—John Reynolds, Zeal a Virtue: Or, A Discourse Concerning Sacred Zeal (London: John Clark, 1716), 1-2.
Like the Laodicean church, too many of us have grown lukewarm. We are not zealous for the things of God. Where today do you find zeal for the honor and glory and holiness of God? Where do you see zeal to cut off the offending hand and pluck out the offending eye? Where is zeal for the advance of Christ’s kingdom, which overcomes all obstacles and perseveres to the end? Our lives are not marked by zeal, nor do they reflect the sacrifices necessary to strengthen and embolden true Christian zeal.
Our time is short, and the world around us pursues sin and selfish ambition with all its might. Will we then be cold for our Lord? Christ’s own example should motivate us. Zeal for His Father so consumed Jesus (John 2:17) that He took every opportunity in public and in private to speak of the salvation which He came to accomplish for His Father. Should we not do likewise? Peter tells us that Christ has left us an example so we might walk in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). If He is aflame with love for souls, with hatred for sin, with compassion for the hurting, with grief for the obstinate, should we not do likewise? As Reynolds’s asked:
Did He descend into our mortal flesh, that we should be unconcerned whether we be translated from the world, and go to His glory, or no? Did He abase Himself, and make Himself of no reputation, that we might be made indifferent towards His name and honor? Did He employ thirty years on earth, in an unwearied zeal for His Father’s glory, to excuse us from an emulous ardor [a burning desire to imitate him] in design and love? Did He lay down His life for our salvation, that we may be unconcerned, whether we are saved or no? Did He rise from the dead, and seat Himself in heaven, to excuse us from a solicitude about affairs, that are above, where He sits at the right hand of God? Has He told us of His resolution to return, and judge the world, that we may be secure, and negligent about the issue of that decisive Day? How contradictory to all His love and work is our lukewarmness in His ways? What ingratitude to Him is contained in the bowels of it? What contempt does it pour upon His blood and grace; upon His light and revelation; as if we looked upon them all as unnecessary, impertinent things? Most justly may He say to a lukewarm church, I will spew thee out of my mouth except thou repent.—Reynolds, Discourse, 209–210.
Where then is your zeal? If you have read the Puritans, you may have noticed that their sermons, prayers, and writings encourage believers to “be zealous and repent,” to “put on zeal as a cloak,” to be “consumed with zeal for the Lord’s House and Name,” and to be “zealous for good works” (Rev. 3:19; Isa. 59:17; Ps. 69:9; John 2:17; Titus 2:14). From their sermons and writings, the series that follows will take a look at their vision for Christian zeal.