Myriads of professing Christians at the present day have not an idea of their own sinfulness and guilt in the sight of God. They flatter themselves that they have never done anything very wicked.

 They have never murdered, or stolen, or committed adultery, or borne false witness. They cannot surely be in much danger of missing heaven. They forget the holy nature of that God with whom they have to do.

They forget how often they break His law in temper, or imagination, even when their outward conduct is correct. They never study such portions of Scripture as the fifth chapter of Matthew, or at any rate they study it with a thick veil over their hearts, and do not apply it to themselves.

The result is that they are wrapped up in self-righteousness. Like the church of Laodicea, they are ‘rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ (Rev. 3:17.) Self-satisfied they live, and self-satisfied too often they die…

Ah! reader, it is a sad and humbling proof of man’s corruption that there is no degree of self-denial and self-sacrifice to which men may not go from false motives. It does not follow that a man’s religion is true because he “gives his body to be burned,” or because he gives his “goods to feed the poor.” The Apostle Paul tells us that a man may do this and yet not have true love. If men go into a wilderness and become hermits, it does not follow that therefore they know what true self-denial is.

If people immure themselves in monasteries and nunneries, or become sisters of charity and sisters of mercy, it does not mean that therefore they know what true crucifixion of the flesh and self-sacrifice is in the sight of God. They may do these things from wrong motives–to satisfy a secret pride and love of notoriety–and not from the true motive of zeal for the glory of God!

If zeal be true, it will be a zeal about things according to God’s mind and sanctioned by plain examples in God’s Word. Take that highest and best kind of zeal which is zeal for our own growth in personal holiness. Such zeal will make a man feel at all times that sin is the mightiest of all evils and conformity to Christ the greatest of all blessings. He will feel that there is nothing which ought not to be done in order to keep up a close walk with God. Is not this just what you see in the Apostle Paul? He says, “I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark.”

There is zeal for the salvation of souls. Such zeal will make a man burn with desire to enlighten the darkness which covers the souls of multitudes, and to bring every man, woman, and child he sees to the knowledge of the Gospel. Is not this what you see in the Lord Jesus? He neither gave Himself, nor His disciples, leisure so much as to eat. Is not this what you see in the Apostle Paul? He says, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

There is zeal against evil practices. Such zeal will make a man hate everything which God hates and long to sweep it from the face of the earth. It will make him jealous of God’s honor and glory, and look on everything which robs Him of it as an offence. Is not this what you see in Phineas, the son of Eleazar, or in Hezekiah and Josiah when they put down idolatry?

There is zeal for maintaining the doctrines of the Gospel. Such zeal will make a man hate unscriptural teaching, just as he hates sin. It will make him regard religious error as a pestilence which must be checked, whatever be the cost. Is not this what you see in Paul at Antioch, when he withstood Peter to the face and said he was to be blamed? Such zeal is honorable before God.

True zeal is tempered with love. It will hate sin yet love the sinner, hate heresy yet love the heretic, abhor every kind of wickedness yet labor to do good, even to the vilest of transgressors. True zeal will expose false teachers, as Jesus did the Scribes and Pharisees, and yet weep tenderly as Jesus did over Jerusalem. True zeal will speak truth boldly, like Athanasius, and not care who is offended, but at the same time will endeavor to speak the truth in love.

Finally, if zeal be true, it will be 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 come so immensely short of his own desires that he will be filled with a sense of his own unprofitableness. He will be amazed to think that God should work by him at all. Like Moses, when he came down from the mount, he will not know that his face shines.

Like the righteous, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, he will not be aware of his own good works. M’Cheyne was one of the greatest blessings that God ever gave to the Church of Scotland. He was a minister insatiably desirous of the salvation of souls. Few men ever did so much good as he did, though he died at the age of twenty-nine. Yet he says in one of his letters, “None but God knows what an abyss of corruption is in my heart. It is perfectly amazing that ever God could bless such a ministry.”

Admire zeal; seek after zeal; encourage zeal. But see that your own zeal be true.

J.C. Ryle

HT: Sola Sisters

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