The Pastor and His Study, Part 2

Desiring God 1996 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor and His Study

Last night we spoke about the preacher and books. We’ve continued that theme, and how much we’ve valued [that session] ( that has just gone by. Now, I want to take another step and I hope a step higher to the subject of zeal. I say a step higher because zeal is nearer to heaven. Our books, however much we love them, are temporary things. We shall bid them farewell, but zeal is an eternal thing. Angels have no need of books, but they burn with holy zeal. Zeal is a spirit of heaven. God’s work is described as being done by the zeal of the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 9:7, all Scripture references are in the KJV), and our glorified Christ, addressing the church in Revelation 3:19, commands us to be zealous.

A Vital Mark of a Christian

Let me try to begin by giving a few reasons why it seems to me zeal is so necessary for us. The first is that zeal is a mark of a Christian. Before we are ministers or preachers, we have to be Christians. That should ever be the starting point. There is, of course, a formal Christianity which sees no need for zeal. There are those who believe that if people live moral lives and attend church and receive the sacraments, they can be assured of heaven.

Evangelical Christianity has always protested and said that is a view which is totally wrong, that where the Spirit of God creates real life in a soul, there is going to be warmth, and that warmth will show itself by an earnest desire to please God, and if that is not present, then Christianity is not present. Evangelical Christianity has held, and has suffered for holding, that zeal is a mark of the real Christian. One of the Puritans said, “If we are not zealous in religion, we are of no religion, whatsoever we account ourselves to be.”

We know that the pilgrim fathers, the New England Puritans, crossed the Atlantic because they believed that zeal was an essential part of the Christian faith. They could have remained where they were. They could have avoided persecution if they had accommodated themselves to the view that zeal is not a necessary thing, but they pitied their persecutors and only wished that they could be more alive to God. Zeal is surely a mark of a Christian.

James Stalker, early this century, a Scottish preacher, gave some Yale lectures on preaching. He says:

He will make but a poor minister who would not be an earnest worker for God and man even if he were not a minister.

In other words, it would be a very wrong thing if our zeal were connected primarily with our office or work as preachers. As Christians, first of all, we’re to be zealous.

Never a Half-Hearted Preacher

Then the second reason, of course, is the fact that servants of Christ, preachers of his word, are preeminently called to be possessed by holy zeal. Isaiah’s lips were touched with a live coal from off the altar. John the Baptist was a burning and a shining light. Paul was so concerned for the salvation of his judges that Festus said he was mad.

A dull, half-hearted, lukewarm preacher is surely nowhere to be found in the Acts of the Apostles. Zeal is a necessity for the work of preaching. It’s true — as we’ve been acknowledging, and it’s very important we do acknowledge it — that we all have different gifts. Some men, as you well know, who have never been remarkably gifted, have been wonderfully used in the salvation of men and women, but though these men may not have had outstanding gifts, I’m certain that in every instance there were men possessed of real zeal. To be without zeal in the ministry is a tragedy and we can all fall into it.

Jonathan Edwards wrote on this point:

We who are ministers not only need some experience of the saving work of the Spirit of God upon our hearts, but we need a double portion. We need to be as full of light as a glass that is held out in the sun, and with respect to love and zeal, we need to be like angels who are a flame of fire.

Our Need For Zeal

So our subject this morning is this: What is spiritual zeal? How is it to be maintained? How is it to be recovered when it is lost? Now, I start with underlining the point that the maintaining of spiritual zeal is a truly difficult thing. Indeed, I believe it is so difficult that none of us can maintain it without God’s merciful help. The recognition of the difficulty is essential to us. Spurgeon said:

Perhaps the most difficult thing in soul-winning is to get ourselves into a fit state. The dead may bury the dead, but they cannot raise the dead. Until a man’s whole soul is moved, he will not move his fellows. The careless will be unmoved by any man who is unmoved himself. Your Lord was all alive and all sensitive and you must be the same. How can you expect to see his power exercised on others if you do not feel his emotion in yourselves?

A. T. Robertson, professor of New Testament at Louisville has a book on the glory of the ministry. Robertson says:

There are few preachers who do not have a sporadic ambition to please Christ. The trouble is to hold oneself to this high ideal year in and year out — the difficulty of maintaining zeal.

In his Diary, Andrew Bonar says that when he was being ordained to the work of the ministry, an old minister spoke to him very solemnly, and this is what he said:

Remember that very few men and very few ministers keep up to the end the edge that was on their spirit at first.

Reasons for Decaying Zeal

What are the reasons why zeal is difficult and why it decays or may decay in our ministries? Let me just touch on that before I pass on. I’m sure that one reason is that zeal is never likely to be popular with the majority of people. A zealous pastor, a zealous preacher, sooner or later, is going to incur the displeasure of some of his people in most churches. It may be that they are people who have sufficient influence and power to make life very uncomfortable.

So the pain of that situation could be eased by a reduction of zeal, and that is a real temptation. The alternative may be to do what Spurgeon had to do in the first years when he was in London. He put up a text above his bed where he slept, and the text was, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad” (Matthew 5:11–12). But it is, brethren, as I’m sure you know, a real temptation that when spiritual zeal encounters opposition, the temptation can be a wrong moderation that will cool our spirits.

Another reason I’m sure that causes zeal to decay is sometimes the sheer unresponsiveness of our people, or seeming unresponsiveness. Somebody said that preaching is like what we do in the summer when we go to the seashore and we build sandcastles for our children, but when the tide comes in, it all has to be done again. Preaching is doing the same thing over and over, as we’ve been reminded. We go about it laboriously. It involves many, many hours of work and study. We go into the pulpit on the Lord’s day and maybe see very little or no response, and we all want to see some success. The temptation then comes that if our preaching is not leading to some success, maybe we are better — though we may not consciously say this, but we gradually slide in giving more of our time to things that require less spiritual zeal than preaching does — more time to organizing church activities, more time perhaps to being involved in doctrinal questions and social issues, more time simply in talking. Who knows what? There are all kinds of substitutes that offer themselves to us that are a great deal easier than carrying on faithfully and fervently preaching the word of God when we see perhaps very little response.

I do believe then in all these situations, we have to remember that it is never our situation that is really the problem. The problem is that zeal doesn’t have its natural habitat in this world. It has to come down from heaven, and wherever we are, there is no church in this world which is actually conducive to spiritual zeal. We have to bring zeal from heaven. As we read there in James, “You have not because you asked not” (James 4:3).

In the last century, there was a group of ministers listening to a candidate for the ministry. He had finished his training and he was preaching his sermon for licensing. He seemed gifted, able, and there was no fault in the sermon, but one of the old ministers present had a persistent doubt. He said to his colleagues, “I don’t know that he can pray down the Holy Spirit.” Well, you see, that’s really what’s needed. If we are going to continue faithfully all our days, we need help from heaven. We need praying down of the Holy Spirit. Now, I’m speaking simply of the difficulty and underlining that we have to recognize it. If we depend upon ourselves, we’ll very soon become lukewarm.

Dangers of False Zeal

Then I have a word or two on the danger of falling into a wrong zeal instead of maintaining the true zeal. True zeal is difficult. The wrong is quite easy, and we’ve all, I’m sure, fallen into it at some time or another. We need some tests and judgements in our minds to discern and to judge when zeal is wrong. Let me just quickly try to give you one or two of them.

Zeal is wrong when natural animation and liveliness is confused with spiritual fire. You know what I mean. Some people are naturally more animated and lively than others. Some people can’t speak without waving their hands and waving their arms. It may be a happy thing. I was taken to a rodeo last Friday in Texas, which was quite a new experience for me. We don’t do that every day in Edinburgh.

I watched a man selling boxes of the best knives in this world for $10 a piece. My, was he worked up! He was animated, he was lively. It was all natural, it was good. But that is no good in the church. We need fire that’s not kindled by ourselves. There’s a great difference between being in earnest and seeming to be in earnest. One is affectation. One is not real. A congregation may not always be able to tell the difference, but we who preach ought to be able to tell the difference, and we ought very carefully to avoid trying to use mere natural animation as a substitute for real spiritual fervor.

Spurgeon says on this point that “affected zeal” is cold, and it comes only from the mouth. But he says, “Heart fire is true fire.” And like a good preacher, he has a good illustration. He says:

The housewife who perseveres in the old method of making her own bread does not want a great blaze at the mouth of the oven. ‘Oh, no,’ she says, ‘I want the faggots far back and get all the heat in the oven itself and then it becomes of use to me.’” So heart fire is having the fire in the back. Fire in the mouth is simply, cold affected fire.

Pleasing Man Rather Than God

Another characteristic of wrong and false zeal is that almost invariably goes with a measure of pride, or more than a measure of pride. It speaks of pleasing God, but it’s very interested in the praise of men. Jehu said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord” (2 Kings 2:16). False zeal is zeal which ignores our Lord’s warning when he says, “Take heed that you do not your alms before men to be seen of men” (Matthew 6:1). That’s not the Christians’ position. False zeal can make us want to be eminent preachers and eminent Christians. Pride was the source of the trouble in Corinth, as you remember, and it may make us want to covet gifts that will give us position. Richard Baxter says:

Holy zeal is for God, his church, and his cause and not for ourselves. It consists of meekness and self-denial and patience as to our own concerns.

So proud zeal is zeal for public use rather than private. Spurgeon says again:

We must be earnest in the pulpit because we are earnest everywhere. We must blaze in our discourses because we are continually on fire. Zeal which is stored up to be let off only on grand occasions is a gas which will one day destroy its owner.

So zeal has to begin in our private lives, in our private devotions, in our personal studies. If it doesn’t begin there, it’s zeal that’s leading us astray.

Unbalanced Preoccupations

Here’s one other point about false zeal. It’s invariably unbalanced. We read of the Jewish leaders that they had a zeal for God, but it was a zeal marked by fervor for some aspects of truth and a total ignoring of other great fundamental truths:

But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God . . .

We know that liberal preaching, which has done so much in some parts of the world to destroy orthodox Christianity was often marked by a fervor for certain aspects of biblical truth. Perhaps it was the Sermon on the Mount or certain aspects of the life of Christ, totally disregarding great New Testament doctrines, and almost invariably ignoring the Old Testament. False zeal is unbalanced zeal, and it can be our temptation, though we may not be liberals. We can have a high doctrine of Scripture, and yet we can find ourselves becoming over-preoccupied and selective in our handling of the word of God.

Edward Irving was one of the foremost preachers of the last century. His ministry was ruined because he became obsessed with spiritual gifts. It’s possible for us to be obsessed with defending Protestantism, or with unfulfilled prophecy, or with Calvinism, or with whatever you like. Real zeal is zeal for the whole word of God, and a prayerful concern that we won’t be thrown off balance, that we won’t follow isms, but that we’ll give ourselves to the whole of Scripture.

Driven Into Fanaticism

So as I leave that, I do urge you, brethren, and try to urge myself that we must ever be watchful against wrong zeal. Again, we are ignoring church history if we don’t realize that wrong and false zeal has often done tremendous damage. It’s a great mistake to think that the one thing we need is warmth and fire. There can be false fire. The Puritan movement at one point seemed almost to be carrying a whole nation into a condition of gospel blessing, a wonderful advance, and then the whole thing seemed to go wrong. Those of most discernment at the time judged that the real problem was that zeal had been led into excess and fanaticism, and the movement of the Spirit of God was quenched, Christians were divided, and trouble ensued. Exactly the same on a lesser scale happened in the 1740s here in America.

Jonathan Edwards will tell you constantly that the devil drove zeal into fanaticism, and that fanaticism became destructive and it was a powerful weapon for discrediting real revival. I do believe today that one of the dangers we face is that in some circles the whole idea of praying for an awakening and revival is being prejudiced by a misuse and a wrong understanding of Christian zeal. So let us pass from that, but let us never forget that we must be guarded and we must have discrimination.

A Definition of Zeal

Now, let us take up the definition of zeal. Here’s a word we all use. In a sense, we all understand it, but when we come to actually define it from the New Testament, it’s perhaps not so easy. What is New Testament zeal? I find it helpful to think of it in terms of the question, where does zeal stand in relation to other Christian graces?

Think of some of the lists in the New Testament that we have of the Christian’s character and the particular fruits of the Spirit which are given to the Christian. As you think of those lists, I think you will notice the following fact. For example, the Galatians 5 list says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance . . . (Galatians 5:22–23).

That’s a big list and zeal isn’t in it at all. In 2 Peter 1:5–7, I don’t think there’s a reference to zeal there either. In these lists of the fruit of the Spirit, where is zeal ranked in terms of these fruits? The answer is that it isn’t ranked at all, which then alerts us to the fact that zeal is not to be understood as one particular fruit or grace, but rather, it’s something much more comprehensive than that. Zeal, as it were, is the whole temperature and tone of the Christian. It’s a comprehensive thing which affects every fruit and every grace. We know that the words zeō and zēlos are words that have the idea of boiling something until it’s seething hot, hissing hot.

That’s see the New Testament word: “Be fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:10). On this point, on definition, Baxter says:

Zeal is the fervor or earnestness of the soul. It is not a distinct grace or affection, but the bigger and liveliness of every grace in their fervent operations.

Samuel Ward, another Puritan, says the same thing. He says:

Zeal is not a single affection, but a high degree of them all. As varnish is no one color, but that which gives gloss and luster to all (that’s a good illustration, I think). So it is with zeal. It comes from a word framed from the very sound and hissing noise, which hot coals or burning iron make when they meet the contrary. In plain English, zeal is nothing but heat from whence it is that zealous men are often in scripture said to “burn in the spirit.” It is spiritual heat brought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit.

So it’s a comprehensive thing. It affects the whole life of the Christian. If we are truly zealous, then we will be earnestly concerned for the honor of God. We will be urgent in prayer. We will be compassionate in our witness. We will contend for the faith. Zeal affects every part of the Christian life, and that I believe is the reason why the New Testament takes lukewarmness so seriously. If zeal decays, then every Christian grace is going to decay.

Characteristics of Spiritual Zeal

Now, let me move on to two supreme characteristics of spiritual zeal. What are its characteristics?


First, true zeal is Christlike in its nature. No one has ever lived upon this world, except our Lord Jesus Christ, in which zeal for the glory of God and the good of man burned in all its perfection. In the book of prophecy of Isaiah, Christ is described as clad with zeal as with a cloak (Isaiah 59:17). David speaks as a type of Christ in Psalm 119, and he says, “My zeal has consumed me because mine enemies have forgotten my words” (Psalm 119:139).

When David saw the unbelief and the opposition of men to the word of God, his heart burned. The full meaning of the word “consumed me” is there in John’s Gospel when our Lord, beholding the moral desolation in the temple, took those chords and drove out the money changers with indignation. We read:

His disciples remembered that it was written, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”

Zeal was wearing away the life of our Lord, and that’s what we see in every part of his life. In Mark 3, as our Lord is preaching and teaching outside that house, so much so that they could not eat bread. His conduct was so incomprehensible to those who came that they said, “He is beside himself” (Mark 3:21). It was a typical day in our Lord’s life. And our Lord, facing the baptism of suffering, says:

But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! (Luke 12:50).

Christ’s zeal and compassion for the souls of men led him to embrace the cross and all that it meant, and that zeal, of course, was more than simply compassion for men. At its center was devotion to the name of the Father, to the Father’s justice and holiness and truth. Our Lord went gladly to the cross because he knew that transgressors could not be forgiven without God’s holy name being upheld and glorified, that he might be just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus.

Never Such a Holy Zeal Displayed

There is a wonderful sermon in print preached in the last century by the southern preacher James Henley Thornwell of South Carolina. He was preaching at a missionary meeting in New York City and he took for his subject “The Sacrifice of Christ: The Type and Model of Missionary Effort.” The theme of his sermon was that zeal for God’s glory is the principal element in true piety, and he demonstrated that in terms of the life and death of Jesus Christ. He said:

Never, never was there displayed before and never, never will there be displayed again such piety as burned in the bosom of Jesus when he laid down his life of himself. He could not brook the thought that man should be saved at the peril of the divine glory, and whatever his Father’s honor demanded, he was prepared to render at any cost of self-denial to himself.

So the first characteristic of true zeal is resemblance to Christ, Christlikeness. Christ died to make a people like himself. The Holy Spirit is given to make Christ known and to reproduce the life of Christ, the likeness to Christ in us. That means, does it not, that true zeal will always be tender zeal and compassionate zeal. The idea that zeal is harsh and severe is an idea which is utterly contrary to the real nature of the fruit as we see it in our Lord. It discredits true zeal.

Richard Cecil, a preacher in London many years ago, said:

The zeal of some preachers is of an unbending ferocious character. They have the letter of the truth, but they mount the pulpit like prizefighters. It is with them a perpetual scold of their people. This spirit is a reproach to the gospel. It is not the spirit of Christ who labored to win men.

Holy Dissatisfaction

Secondly, true zeal will always make a Christian dissatisfied with himself and with everything short of heaven. When we consider what Christ has called us to be and to do when we contemplate what we are and how little we have done, and the more that we know of Christ, the more we will feel that we have not really begun to serve him. Just a few years before his death, George Whitfield wrote this in his private diary: “I will begin to begin to be a Christian.” I believe that we feel that way because it’s an evidence of our regeneration that a desire for perfection has been put in our souls by the Holy Spirit, a desire to be like him, to be like God. That desire is present in every believer. Jonathan Edward says:

There is an inward burning desire that a saint has after holiness that is as natural to the new creature as vital heat is to the body. There is a holy breathing and panting after the Spirit of God to increase holiness which is as natural to a holy nature as breathing is to a living body.

That longing is a longing that cannot be satisfied in this present world. Christian is someone who looks beyond this present life, and the more true zeal there is, the more we will look to the future. Zeal will make us groan over the disparity that there is between what we believe and what we feel, the disparity between what we want to be and what we are, the disparity between what we know and what we do. Paul knew that. He says:

If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:11–12).

That’s Christian zeal. Zeal, it will never find its fulfillment in this present world. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, I think, perfectly captures Paul’s words. When writing to a friend he says, “I long for love without coldness, for light without dimness, for purity without spot or wrinkle.” I do believe it’s a characteristic of all the preachers that God has eminently used down through the century that this is how they felt. They looked beyond the scenes of time. Their eye was set on something more.

Satisfaction Beyond This World

George Whitfield heard on one occasion that John Wesley was dying, which proved to be a wrong report, but Whitfield wrote a beautiful letter to Wesley, and this is what he said in it:

I pity myself and the church (at Wesley’s dying) but not you. I, poor I, who have been waiting for my dissolution these 19 years must be left behind to grovel here below. Well, this is my comfort. It cannot be long until the chariots will be sent even for worthless me.

Or if you want it in 19th century language, listen to A. A. Hodge. Hodge says:

A man who really has the love of God in his heart is always reaching forward to the things which are before. The more he loves, the more he wants to love. The more he is consecrated, the more consecration he longs for. He has grand ideas and grand aims, but they lie beyond him in heaven.

A mark of true zeal is that it’s never satisfied here below. Here is one more quotation on that point. Samuel Davies, apostle of Virginia, died at the age of 37. He died when he was full of happy gospel laborers. He had just become the president at Princeton. He died in 1761. Not long before he died, he wrote to a friend Thomas Gibbons, and he told him he’s ready to go home. And this is why he was ready:

The mixture of sin and of many nameless imperfections that run through and corrupt all my services give me shame, sorrow, and mortification. Formally, I have wished to live longer so that I might be better prepared for heaven. After long trial, I found this world a place so unfriendly to the growth of everything divine and heavenly that I was afraid if I should live any longer, I would be no better fitted for heaven than I am.

Indeed, I have hardly any hopes of ever making any great attainments in holiness while in this world, though I should be doomed to stay in it as long as Methuselah. Oh, my good Master (breaking into prayer in his letter), if I may dare call thee so. I’m afraid I shall never serve thee much better on this side of the regions of perfection. The thought grieves me. It breaks my heart. But if I have the least spark of true piety, I know that I shall not always labor under this complaint. No, my Lord, I shall serve thee. I shall serve thee through an immortal duration with the activity, the fervor, the perfection of the rapt serif that adores and burns.

So Samuel Davies demonstrates that true zeal is zeal that looks beyond this present world.

How to Recover Zeal

Now, let us move on to the source of true zeal and how greater zeal is to be recovered in our churches today. I do believe, again, church history helps us here, because there have been many times in the history of the church when the church has grown cold and when the fire on the altar has almost gone out. There were points when men spoke of the twilight of Christianity and believed that the great days were past, then God in his mercy has come and zeal has been revived. And how? By the Holy Spirit indeed. We all believe that. Grace comes from him, and comes from him generally first to preachers. Their lives are touched and then the people are touched.

I want to go a little further and ask the question, what is the means the Holy Spirit uses to change preachers? Is it just that as we sleep at night, sovereignly, we wake up in the morning and find that zeal has come? Of course not. I believe the answer is this. The Holy Spirit revives zeal by shedding abroad in the hearts of men the love of God, and that love is the firstfruit of the Spirit. It is always love that brings zeal into action. Love is the parent. Love is the springhead. From love zeal flows, always, in every case.

Isaac Watts, who wrote “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” says, “Divine love in the heart is the commanding passion” — by which he meant everything else comes from that. Where there is much love, zeal will be spontaneous and irresistible. It’s love which causes heat. It’s love which makes us big-hearted. One of the Puritans says, “Zeal is the fruit and effect of our fervent love towards God, as it were, a flame arising from this divine fire.” Now, isn’t that true, brethren? It’s a very simple truth, but I’m ashamed how slow I’ve been to learn it. Zeal comes from love, and love comes from the Holy Spirit.

The Scriptures are so clear. The woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears had zeal that was so exemplified by the explanation. “She loved much” (Luke 7:47), says our Lord. The apostle Paul, being made all things to all men, if by any means he might save some, wrote to the Philippians and said:

Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all (Philippians 2:17).

Paul is facing his sufferings and difficulties and it is all explained by one reason. He says, “The love of Christ constraineth us . . .” God’s love filling his heart made these difficulties light. Love is the key. Love is the key in the Christian life. Love is the key in the pulpit. Absolutely.

The Zeal of Tyndale

I’m sure that this lesson is clear as crystal in the history of the church. The English reformer to whom we all owe so much. Our English Bible, some 95 percent of our authorized version, is the work of William Tyndale. Who was Tyndale? He was a man who was driven out of England in the year 1524. For 10 years, he was persecuted. He was a fugitive and he was hunted on the continent.

At one point, he offered to give himself up to the king on one condition, and that was simply that the Bible should be printed in the English language. The condition wasn’t accepted and Tyndale eventually was martyred in Flanders in Belgium in 1536, but not before he had accomplished the translation of the New Testament and a great deal of the Old Testament.

This is how Tyndale speaks. He’s talking about the inspiration of his labors, and he’s talking in terms of the effect of Christ’s love. He says:

If we be in Christ, we work for no worldly purpose but of love, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “The love of Christ compels us.” We are otherwise minded than when Peter drew his sword to fight for Christ. We are ready to suffer with Christ and to lose life and all for our very enemies to bring them to Christ.

If we be in Christ, we are minded like unto Christ. Christ is all to the Christian man. Christ is the cause why I love thee, why I’m ready to do the uttermost of my power for thee, and why I pray for thee. As long as the cause abides, so long lasts the effect even so as it is always day as long as the sun shines. Do therefore the worst thou canst unto me. Take away my goods, take away my good name. Yet, as long as Christ remains in my heart, so long I love thee, not a wit the less, and so long up thou dear unto me as my own soul, and so long am I ready to do the good for thine evil.

Love is what he desires of me and he has deserved it of me. Thine unkindness compared unto his kindness is nothing at all. Yay, it is swallowed up as a little smoke of a mighty wind and is no more to be seen or thought upon.

That’s the spirit of the Reformation. It’s the love of Christ poured into men’s hearts by the Holy Spirit, and zeal irresistibly following.

All Loves Excelling

Think of John Bunyan. He has a wife and a family, and he spent 12 years in prison. Why? Because of his principles, because of faith and holiness, because of a refusal to compromise. John Bunyan said that he was willing to stay there “if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss grows on my eyebrows.” What sustained him? Well, if you want to know, read his book, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love. He says:

Is there a great heart of love towards us both in the Father and in the Son? Then let us be much in the study and search after the greatness of this love. This is the sweetest study a man can devote himself unto. Every part, crumb, grain, or scrap of this knowledge to the Christian is as drops of honey. Why then do not Christians devote themselves to the meditation of so heavenly, so goodly, so sweet, so comfortable a thing that yields such advantage to the soul? The reason is these things are talked of but not believed. Did men believe what they say when they speak of the love of God and the love of Christ, they would. They could not but meditate upon it.

That’s genuine Christianity, isn’t it? That’s the spirit of the church in her bright days. Well, those bright days passed. Another cold era came, the age of rationalism and the age of reason. Pulpits became frigid, preachers mumbling, and Christ was being obscured until 1738–1740, the First Great Awakening. That awakening was just this truth that I’ve been seeking to put before you, the love of God coming back into the hearts, quite a small number of preachers who began to preach in a new way.

You know the hymn, I’m sure, of Charles Wesley:

O thou who camest from above The purest celestial fire to impart Kindle a flame of sacred love On the mean altar of my heart There let it for thy glory burn With inextinguishable blaze

That was the Methodist revival. It was a recovery of the knowledge of Christ, leading men to give themselves to the proclamation of his word in the face of great opposition and persecution. If you read their letters and diaries, you will find the same thing over and over again.

Love Like Showers Falling Down

Howell Harris of Wales, one of these men, says, “Love fell in showers on my soul so that I could scarcely contain myself.” Someone met Whitfield in 1740 and they said, “He appears to me to be full of the love of God and to be fired with an extraordinary zeal.” Or read the great missionary history of the church from 1790–1800, the pioneer men and women who went out into continents and islands which for centuries had been in bondage and darkness and shame. It was said:

Truth is apparent everywhere. They are moved by love and love moving them to a zeal that nothing could extinguish.

Henry Martin died at the age of 30 and he went to India in 1805. He says:

I could bear to be torn in pieces if I could but hear the sobs of penitence, if I could but see the eyes of faith directed to the Redeemer.

He says too in his journal, at one point he was in a conversation with a Muslim. The Muslim asked Martin, “What is the chief good of life?” Martin replied, “The love of God.” He asked, “What next?” Martin said, “The love of man.” He said, “That is to have men love us, or us to love them?” “To love them,” says Martin, and then Martin said, “He did not seem to agree with me.” To sum this up, Spurgeon says:

If true zeal is to continue, our earnestness must be kindled at an immortal flame, and I know of but one: the flame of the love of Christ which many waters cannot quench.

I must give you one other illustration before I come to a conclusion. D. L. Moody was in New York, facing his great ministry ahead of him, conscious of the poverty of his ministry, and he was earnestly praying to God. One day he said:

Oh, what a day. I cannot describe it. I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for 14 years. I can only say that God revealed himself to me and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience. If you should give me all the world, it would be as a small dust of the balance.

Practical Duties of Rekindling and Maintaining Zeal

Now, my conclusion is two practical duties and I must try to summarize this. To be practical, what are our duties? Let’s not underestimate that we have to do something. The letter of Jude says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). We are not simply to pray. There’s more to be done. We’re to walk in the sunshine. Keep yourselves in the love of God. Or as Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:6, we are to stir up the gift. We are to rekindle the fire. We are to rake it over. We are to actually do things. That’s right.

The Company We keep

Now, there are many things that could be done, but I just want to mention two. First, if zeal is going to be maintained and rekindled, the company we keep is of great importance. We are social beings. We’re going to be social beings in heaven. When our Lord says that the love of many shall wax cold, it’s because iniquity shall abound (Matthew 24:12). We are affected by our company, aren’t we? We as ministers, I do believe, have a great need to associate together with like-minded brethren, as we are doing here these days. You didn’t need to come here. You could get the tapes and you could read the books. It’s not the same. We all need fellowship. We need to meet with one another. We may be just a small company, but we need to be with like-minded men who will quicken the flame. I do believe this is of great importance. Jonathan Edwards says:

Ministers should act as fellow helpers. It should be seen that they exert themselves with one heart and soul with united strength, and to that end they should often meet together and act in concert.

I’m sure that when God is going to work, he always quietly prepares the way by bringing a brotherhood of men together. Maybe it’s not a big brotherhood, but men are gathered together and given a like-mind and a spirit of prayer together. That’s a preparation for greater things to come.

I must refer you to a letter that a very godless man, I’m afraid, Lord Bolingbroke, wrote once to the Countess of Huntingdon. Lord Bolingbroke was one of the men who I think had a hand in your rebellion. That is to say, we had some people in high places in England who thought the country would’ve been better if they hadn’t been there. But anyway, that’s an aside.

He’s talking about Whitfield to the Countess of Huntingdon. The point is this: Whitfield, of course, was a church of England minister, but he didn’t worry himself about bishops or dignities. Whitfield mixed with his own company. That’s how he lived. Well, Bolingbroke says of Whitfield:

His zeal is unquenchable. The bishops and the clergy are very angry with him.

Then he goes on to tell the Countess that the king has asked his grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that Mr. Whitfield should be advanced to the bench of bishops as the only means of putting an end to his preaching. Now, you see, you laughed and it has an amusing side, but it’s deadly serious. He was saying, “Take him out of his company and put him up there with those mighty lords and he’ll soon lose his fire.” See, we are affected. That’s how the ecumenical movement often works. They say, “Will you come and join our board? We’ll give you a position, maybe not a bishop, but we’ll put you up there.” Some men who are evangelicals and who’ve been fervent begin to move in a somewhat broader, colder circle, and a few years down the road, where are they? We are affected by the company we keep. Bolingbroke said, “Make Whitfield a bishop. He won’t be the man he is now.” It’s true.

That’s the first practical point, the company we keep. And we must never forget that the hidden story of the church is the effect of preachers’ wives on their ministries. You don’t read very much about Idelette Calvin, Sarah Edwards, or Susanna Spurgeon, but believe me, these women exercised great influence. They were godly, spiritual women, and they were in the company of the men who were serving the people and their influence. The company we keep is so very vital.

The Need for Meditation

The second practical point I want to make is in a sense a more important one, and that is if zeal is going to be maintained and all recovered, a primary means is always the duty of meditation. I think that meditation takes a much lower place in our ranking of duties than it should have. We believe in preaching, we believe in praying, and we believe in Bible reading, but do we really meditate?

I thought as Kent Hughes was speaking to us in this last session, he didn’t use the word meditation, but wasn’t he talking about that? We have to soak in the text. We have to have time to do it. We can’t rush at it. The Puritans were great men of meditation. Gurnall says that meditation is “bellows to the fire.” Swinnock says meditation is “the best preparation for prayer.” Thomas Manton, in Psalm 119, says, “Meditation is not to store our heads with notions, but to better the heart.” He says:

Study informs the mind, but practical meditation is the wetting and sharpening of a known truth upon the soul. Study is like a winter sun that shines but warms not, but meditation is like blowing up the fire where we do not mind the blaze but the heat. In study, we are like wine merchants that take in wine to store for sale. In meditation, we are like those who buy wine for their own use and comfort.

What is the reason why men have such a barren, dry sapless spirit in their prayers? It is for want of exercising themselves in holy thoughts. Oh, Christians, meditation is all. It is the mother and nurse of knowledge and godliness, the great instrument in all the offices of grace. We resemble the purity and simplicity of God most in the holiness of our thoughts. Without meditation we do but talk one after another like parrots and take up things by mere hearsay and repeat them by rote without affection and life. Meditation makes the truths ready and present to us. Proverbs 6:21 says, “Bind them continually upon thine heart.” Love nails the soul to the object or the thing beloved . . .

Now, Manton was a great favorite with Spurgeon as many of you know. Spurgeon was great on this point of meditation, assimilating things. He told his students that he had gone through the Puritans “like a mouse goes through cheese,” by which he meant he assimilated them as he went. He said that meditation is like when you get a sweet and you don’t swallow it, but you put it under your tongue and you keep it there for an hour or two. That, Spurgeon says, is meditation.

Fix Your Eyes Upon the King

Now, I’m almost done, but the great end of it all is this: You might say, “Meditation on what?” The Puritans come back and say, “Preeminently on the person, the glory, and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Meditate on the king. Set Christ before you. Give yourselves to looking at him.” That’s it. That’s what they say. Meditation is the kindling of love unto God. Richard Sibbes says:

Let us keep this in exercise. Christ is in heaven and glory and we in him are in heaven as verily as if we were there in our persons as we shall soon belong. Let us remember this and then be uncomfortable and earthly minded if we can.

Do you know what happened to Samuel Rutherford? He was for nine years a preacher in the south of Scotland and then he was put in prison in Aberdeen. What did he do in Aberdeen? Oh, he began to meditate more and more on the king, upon Christ, and he said:

I never knew by my nine years of preaching so much of Christ’s love as he has taught me in Aberdeen by six months of imprisonment. I urge upon you communion with Christ, a growing communion. There are curtains to be drawn aside in Christ that we never saw, and unfoldings of love in him. I despair that I shall ever win to the far end of that love. Therefore, dig deep, and sweat and labor and take pains for Christ, and set by time in the day for Christ, as you can.

I close by coming back to the point I was on before. We have to look beyond this world. We are more than preachers. We are Christians, and Christians are citizens of another realm. Our Lord told the disciples that they weren’t to rejoice that demons were made subject to them. There was something greater that they had to keep their eye on, that their names were written in heaven, and that has to be our great hope.

It may be, and we pray for it, do we not, that we will see another real awakening, that real revival will come. We must pray for it and we must work for it. But it could be, to use Calvin’s words, that instead of seeing such days we may see “winter’s frost and snow clouds and adverse seasons.” If we should see that, well, what matters? — so long as we have a foretaste of heaven, so long as we have the assurance that we are going to a world where we’ll burn with love and adoration for God forever.

I close with words of John Ryland, an old Baptist preacher who had so much influence on the 18th century. Ryland says:

Zeal for God’s glory revealed in the gospel is an eternal grace which will endure as long as God exists. It will shine out in heaven in 10,000 splendors and brighter than 10,000 suns. Not a lukewarm, drowsy soul will be found in heaven for all eternity, but all the happy throng will be like millions of the most brilliant intellectual fires, all aspiring upwards towards the throne of God while God himself will return love for love through an eternal duration.

Questions and Answers

What do think of the book, Seeing God by Gerald McDermott?

I’m sorry. I don’t even know it. I’m sure it’s a good book. As I said last night, there are many good books we don’t even know.

How does zeal relate with unction? How are they related?

Well, I don’t know that we can quite put these things into words. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is unction. It’s the felt presence of Christ and of God, isn’t it? It’s where we have that felt presence of Christ, there’s going to be love and compassion and zeal, a combination of things. Unction is what gives our hearers the awareness that they’re not simply listening to a man. Something more is happening. It is the presence of God with the preacher. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11). That’s what we are called to do, isn’t it?

Did I understand you correctly to say that true zeal is always tender zeal? And if so, what about the whip of cords, and not giving dogs what is holy and throwing pearls to the swine?

Yes, that was an overstatement. We once had a little holiday down on the gulf port. We wandered into a church, and didn’t know anything about it. A lady was leading a Bible class and she was all focused upon love and tenderness and sweetness and how this was all apostolic Christianity. So I had to ask a question after a little while, and I asked her that question. I said, “Why does Paul sometimes call people dogs?” So yes, you’re quite right.

What I was trying to say is that too often, zeal is associated with a rough hardness, and that isn’t the character of our Lord, but that doesn’t mean that Christ was not angry. It may be that the lack of anger is one of our sins today. We are commanded to be angry and not sin. There is so much that should move us to deeper indignation as our Lord was moved. Luther says that zeal is love made angry. It’s a good Lutheran definition, isn’t it? So you’re quite right that if everything has to be put under the heading of tenderness, it would exclude certain things that are Christlike.

In the present worship movement there is an emphasis on excitement and energy. How fitting is the word zeal to describe what’s going on in this movement?

I don’t know. I think that the transformation in worship has gone around the world and there is still much debate and much flux. I think what is to be guarded against at all costs is anything that looks like manipulating people or using worship — not for entertainment, because we all condemn that — to try to do something to people. Now, we know that real worship is going to affect us deeply and we long for that and we should see it more in our churches, but we should be very careful against arranging things in order to make a kind of impact, at least that’s why I think about it.

I think it comes through, the sincerity and genuineness of those who are leading in worship. I think it does come through to the people, but in some parts of the world, no doubt here in America, there’s been a lot of promoting things in order to do something to people. Really, often it’s a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a remarkable fact that in real revivals, although there may be great joy and sometimes much weeping, the general characteristic is the stillness that comes upon congregations. I’m sure that can be documented. There is an amazing stillness.

In Williams College in the last century, the President was preaching and a young man was in the congregation who was sleeping as usual. He was not listening. But he woke up, and what woke him up was the extraordinary stillness in the congregation. He said it was like a graveyard. When he woke up, he felt something he’d never felt before. Now, in the revival at Yale in 1802, one of the students was away at the time of the revival. He came back to Yale at the beginning of a new term, and the whole place seemed to be different. Whether the yard or the trees, there was a solemn stillness everywhere.

Now, I know that can be overstated. I do believe we need more joy and rejoicing and we need more sorrow and more tears, but I personally think that too much of the change in worship has been connected with the obsession that communication is our great problem. If a person comes in out of the street, how can he possibly understand Isaac Watts, or whatever? I think that has been taken much too far. I think that the right balance is to do what we’ve been doing here today. We’ve sung Charles Wesley. We’ve sung Jesus, Lover of My Soul. We’ve sung God-honoring newer writings. We want the old and the new together.

I’m very suspicious of anywhere where they chuck out the old completely and say, “No one can pronounce thou and no one understands thou and you must never say thou.” I think that’s just foolish. I think let’s bring in the new together with a measure of the old. Now, I’m sure Dr. Piper could say much more on this subject and it’s not really mine to comment on.