A Godly Man is a Zealous Man

Thomas Watson
The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn With A Scripture-Pencil:
Some Characteristic Notes of a Man That Shall Go to Heaven
Ch. 4, § 15, pp. 118-126

Grace turns a saint into a seraph. It makes him burn in holy zeal. Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger. It carries forth our love to God, and anger against sin in the most intense manner. Zeal is the flame of the affections; a godly man has a double baptism—of water and fire. He is baptized with a spirit of zeal; he is zealous for God’s honor, truth, worship: “My zeal hath consumed me” (Psalm 119:139). It was a crown set on Phineas’ head that he was zealous for his God (Num. 25:13). Moses is touched with a coal from God’s altar and in his zeal he breaks the tablets (Exod. 32:19). Our blessed Savior in his zeal whips the buyers and sellers out of the temple: “The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17).

But there is a false heat, something looking like zeal, which is not. A comet looks like a star. I shall therefore show some differences between a true and a false zeal:

Kinds of False Zeal.

1. A false zeal is a blind zeal. “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). This is not the fire of the spirit, but wildfire. The Athenians were very devout and zealous, but they did not know for all that. “I found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God” (Acts 17:23). Thus the Papists are zealous in their way, but they have taken away the key of knowledge.

2. A false zeal is a self-seeking zeal. Jehu cries, “Come, see my zeal for the Lord!” (2 Kings 16). But it was not zeal, but ambition; he was fishing for a crown. Demetrius pleads for the goddess Diana, but it was not her temple, but her silver shrines, that he was zealous for (Acts 19:25-27). Such zealots Ignatius complains of in his time, that they made a trade of Christ and religion, by which to enrich themselves. It is probable that many in King Henry VIII’s time were eager to pull down the abbeys, not out of any zeal against popery, but that they might build their own houses upon the ruins of those abbeys, like vultures which fly aloft but their eyes are down upon their prey. If blind zeal is punished sevenfold, hypocritical zeal shall be punished seventy-sevenfold.

3. A false preposterous zeal is a misguided zeal. It occurs most in things which are not commanded. It is the sign of a hypocrite to be zealous for traditions and useless of institutions. The Pharisees were more zealous about washing their cups, than their hearts.

4. A false zeal is fired with passion. James and John, when they wished to call down for fire from heaven, were rebuked by our Savior: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55). It was not zeal, but anger. Many have espoused the cause of religion, rather out of faction and fancy, than out of zeal for the truth.

But the zeal of a godly man is a true and holy zeal which evidences itself in its effects:

Marks of True and Holy Zeal.

1. True zeal cannot bear an injury done to God. Zeal makes the blood rise when God’s honor is impeached. “I know thy works, and thy labor and patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil” (Rev. 2:2). He who zealously loves his friend, cannot hear him spoken against and be silent.

2. True zeal will encounter the greatest difficulties. When the world holds out of danger to discourage us, zeal casts out fear. Zeal is quickened by opposition. Zeal does not say, “There is a lion in the way!” Zeal will charge through an army of dangers, it will march in the face of death. Let news be brought to Paul that he was waylaid; “in every city bonds and afflictions” awaited him. This set a keener edge upon his zeal: “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus!” (Acts 21:13). As sharp frosts by force of contrast make the fire burn hotter, so sharp oppositions only inflame zeal the more.

3. As true zeal has knowledge to go before it, so it has sanctity to follow after it. Wisdom leads the van of zeal, and holiness brings up the rear. A hypocrite seems to be zealous, but he is wicked. The godly man is white and ruddy; white in purity, as well as ruddy in zeal. Christ’s zeal was hotter than the fire, and his holiness purer than the sun.

4. Zeal that is genuine loves truth when it is despised and opposed. “They have made void thy law. Therefore I love thy commandments above gold” (Psalm 119:126-127). The more others deride holiness, the more we love it. What is religion the worse, for others disgracing it? Does a diamond sparkle the less because a blind man disparages it? The more outrageous the wicked are against the truth, the more courageous the godly are for it. When Michal scoffed at David’s pious dancing before the ark, he said, “If this is to be vile, I will yet be more vile” (2 Sam. 6:22).

5. True zeal causes fervency in duty. “Fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:1). Zeal makes us hear with reverence, pray with affection, love with ardency. God kindled Moses’ sacrifice from heaven: “There came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat” (Lev. 9:24). When we are zealous in devotion, and our heart waxes hot within us—here is a fire from heaven kindling our sacrifice. How odious it is for a man to be all fire when he is sinning, and all ice when he is praying! A pious heart, like water seething hot, boils over in holy affections!

6. True zeal is persevering. Though it is violent, it is perpetual. No waters can quench the flame of zeal, it is torrid in the frigid zone. The heat of zeal is like the natural heat coming from the heart, which lasts as long as life. That zeal which is not constant, was never true.

Zeal vs. Moderate Neutrality.

Use 1: How opposite to godliness are those who cry down zeal, and count it a religious frenzy! They are for the light of knowledge, but not for the heat of zeal. When Basil was earnest in preaching against the Arian heresy, it was interpreted as folly. Religion is a matter requiring zeal; the kingdom of heaven will not be taken, except by violence (Matt. 11:12).

Objection: But why so much fervor in religion? What becomes of prudence then? Answer: Though prudence is to direct zeal, yet it is not to destroy it. Because sight is requisite, must the body therefore have no heat? If prudence is the eye in religion, zeal is the heart.

Question: But where is moderation? Answer: Though moderation in things of indifference is commendable, and doubtless it would greatly tend to settling the peace of the church, yet in the main articles of faith, wherein God’s glory and our salvation lie at stake, here moderation is nothing but sinful neutrality. It was Calvin’s advice to Melanchthon that he should not so aspire to the name of ‘moderate’ that at length he should lose all his zeal.

Objection: But the apostle urges moderation: “Let your moderation be known to all” (Phil. 4:5).

Answer 1. The apostle is speaking there of moderating our passion. The Greek word for “moderation” signifies candor and meekness, the opposite of rash anger. And so the word is rendered in another place “patient” (1 Tim. 3:3). By moderation, then, is meant meekness of spirit. That is made clear by the subsequent words, “The Lord is at hand” as if the apostle had said, “Avenge not yourselves, for the Lord is at hand.” He is ready to avenge your personal wrongs, but this in no way hinders a Christian from being zealous in matters of religion.

Answer 2. What strangers they are to godliness, who have no zeal for the glory of God! They can see his ordinances despised, his worship adulterated, yet their spirits are not at all stirred in them. How many are of a dull, lukewarm temper, zealous for their own secular interest, but with no zeal for the things of heaven! Hot in their own cause, but cool in God’s cause. The Lord most abominates lukewarm nominal Christians. I almost said that he is sick of them. “I would thou wert cold or hot,” (anything but lukewarm), “but because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). A lukewarm Christian is only half-baked, just like Ephraim: “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (Hos. 7:8). To keep up a form of religion without zeal is to be like those bodies the angels assumed, which moved, but had no life in them.

I would ask these tepid, neutral professing Christians this question, “If religion is not a good cause, why did they undertake it at first? If it is, why do they go about it so faintly? Why have they no more holy ardor of soul?” These people would gladly go to heaven on a soft bed, but are loath to be carried there in a fiery chariot of zeal. Remember, God will be zealous against those who are not zealous; he provides the fire of hell for those who lack the fire of zeal!

Strive For Godly Zeal!

Use 2: As you would be found in the catalogue of the godly, strive for zeal. It is better to be of no religion than not to be zealous in religion. Beware of carnal policy. This is one of those three things which Luther feared would be the death of religion. Some men have been too wise to be saved. Their discretion has quenched their zeal. Beware of sloth, which is an enemy to zeal: “be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Christians, what do you reserve your zeal for? Is it for your gold which perishes; or for your sinful passions which will make you perish? Can you bestow your zeal better than upon God?

How zealous men have been in a false religion! “They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance” (Isaiah 46:6). The Jews did not spare any cost in their idolatrous worship. Nay, they “cause their sons and daughters to pass through the fire to Molech” (Jer. 32:35). They were so zealous in their idol worship that they would sacrifice their sons and daughters to their false gods. How far the blind heathen went in their false zeal! When the tribunes of Rome complained that they needed gold in their treasuries to offer to Apollo, the Roman matrons plucked off their chains of gold, and rings, and bracelets and gave them to the priests to offer up sacrifice. Were these so zealous in their sinful worship, and will you not be zealous in the worship of the true God?

Do you lose anything by your zeal? Shall it not be superabundantly recompensed? What is heaven worth? What is a sight of God worth? Was not Jesus Christ zealous for you? He sweat drops of blood, he conflicted with his Father’s wrath. How zealous he was for your redemption, and have you no zeal for him? Is there anything you yourselves hate more than dullness and slothfulness in your servants? You are weary of such servants. Do you dislike a dull spirit in others, and not in yourselves? What are all your duties without zeal but mere fancies and nullities?

Do you know what a glorious thing zeal is? It is the luster that sparkles from grace; it is the flame of love; it resembles the Holy Spirit: “There appeared cloven tongues like fire, which sat upon them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:3-4). Tongues of fire were an emblem to represent that fire of zeal which the Spirit poured upon them.

Zeal makes all our pious performances prevail with God. When the iron is red hot it enters best; and when our services are red hot with zeal, they pierce heaven soonest!


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