Holy Zeal and Missionary Endeavor

John Love

Love (1757-1825) was a Church of Scotland minister at London and Glasgow, and an organizer of the modern foreign missions movement. John Macleod wrote of him, “In his early spiritual experience he was very thoroughly searched by the teaching of Jonathan Edwards and the men of the older New England introspective school. This left its mark on his teaching in turn.” When “Rabbi” John Duncan was ordained at Milton Church, Glasgow, in 1836, those who had admired Love’s ministry turned to Duncan as “the Elisha on whom the mantle of their master had fallen.” This sermon is dated 1788, and was published in Love’s Discourses on Select Passages of Scripture (Edinburgh 1829).

“And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence, towards God and towards men.” Acts 24:16

“Be ye filled with the Spirit,” is the commandment of Jesus Christ to his disciples. This corresponds with the largeness of his gracious promises, and with the extent of his duties which he requires. When the soul receives abundant influences of the Spirit, and is inwardly full of that knowledge, faith, repentance, humility, love, gratitude, and godly fear in which religion properly consists; when these holy graces are abundantly expressed, exercised and cherished in the worship of God, according to his sacred institutions; when the various dispensations of Providence as to external matters are wisely regarded and improved; then will that soul be ready to burst forth in a vehement concern for the propagation of true religion among others.

This I shall now dwell a little upon, on account of its importance and excellency, and because it connects the first table of the law with the second.

As in some great machines, a quantity of water, much heated, sends forth a steam which presses upwards to heaven with such violence as to raise up a very great weight out of a very deep pit, so is it in the case under our consideration. In the souls of God’s children, the graces of the Spirit, formerly described, are created, cherished and inflamed. Thence a glorious stream of divine zeal is perpetually ascending towards heaven. And this zeal of his sanctified people God is pleased to employ as the great engine whereby he pulls up other ruined souls from the deep pit of corruption. So the prayer of the dying martyr, Stephen, was one of the chief means whereby Saul, the blaspheming persecutor, was pulled out of the depths of misery.

When a Christian obtains lively views of God and the Redeemer and the mysteries of grace, he is seized with a divine impulse and constraint which powerfully fixes his whole heart upon the Lord his God. Every corner of his heart is full of divine excellency and love, so that there is no room for idols. The whole heart is found scanty enough to entertain so glorious an inhabitant. And it is a great effect of divine power when the matter is brought thus far. But let the views of the soul be a little farther expanded, let the glory of God and of the Lamb be a little more clearly manifested, then ten thousand hearts seem too small an offering to such immense excellency. Then the soul undervalues its own utmost exertions in the service and praises of God, as being unspeakably disproportioned to the worth of the wonderful object which it contemplates. Thus the soul is filled with a happy anguish. It therefore looks abroad for assistance in this work of glorifying God. Such was the state of David’s soul when he made this poetical address to the angels of heaven. “Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.” Ps. 103:20-21. Then the vast multitudes of mankind seem too small, though all were employed to the utmost of their capacity, in glorifying the great God. “And Lebanon,” says the prophet, “is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. All nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity.” Therefore the Christian feels himself deeply interested in the state of religion in this world. With other worlds we have not immediately to do. And there are, even in this small spot, awful tracts of desolation where nothing appears but an hostile opposition to the glory of God. “For wide is the gate and broad is the way which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat.” Therefore much of the concern of renewed souls in this great matter of the glory of God is reduced to a small compass, — the little flock of Jesus Christ, the comparatively small number of the elect of God. And it is no wonder that so great a fire, pent up in such narrow limits, should burn very vehemently. If so many must be lost, what ardor of zeal should be kept alive for the glory of God in the salvation of as many as possible. Nor is it an easy thing for a lively Christian to satisfy his own conscience as to his exercise in this matter. I shall, therefore, point out the particular things which are here to be aimed at.

These are as follows:

I. A pure, fervent, and disinterested zeal in the heart towards the glory of God, respecting others around us. “The zeal of thy house,” says David, speaking as a type of Christ, “hath eaten me up”: that is, hath been ready to devour me, as a consuming flame. This desire of God’s being extensively glorified must, like the sacred fire in the temple, be kept ever burning. The secret language of the soul, in the ears of God, must correspond to such expressions as these, “Let the Lord be magnified,” “Glory to God in the highest,” “Hallowed be thy name,” “Thy kingdom come,” “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven,” “Let the people praise thee, O God, let all the people praise thee.” To see a family, a church, a city, a kingdom, a world, full of the knowledge, the love, and the holy praises of God, would be, to one properly possessed with this zeal, the sweetest of all sights, next to the sight of God himself.

II. This zeal must be attended with an humble acquiescence in the power, the sovereignty, the mercy, and the justice of God, as to his way of glorifying himself among men. They who profess zeal in behalf of the glory of God, at the expense of derogating from his supreme power and absolute sovereignty, are guilty of offering strange fire, and stand in danger of being consumed with their offerings. In all our zeal for God, we must keep our proper distance from his glorious throne, and beware of circumscribing or debasing his irresistible power, and his right of sovereign dominion in disposing of the creatures which he hath formed. To deny God’s power over the will of man, or to dispute his prerogatives as to election and reprobation, is not zeal for God, but proud and rebellious impiety. The sentiments of a saint are such as Job expressed, Job 42:2: “I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee,” and chap. 23:13: “But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doth,” and such as Paul expresses with apostolical authority, Rom. 9:20-21: “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” But, while the Christian thus ascribes strength to God, and bows before his incomprehensible sovereignty, he finds sweet rest in contemplating the immense treasures of God’s preventing mercy towards many of the human race. Joyfully does he think of the love of God, and the bowels of infinite compassion, as stirring from everlasting, and anticipating every created thought and desire of the salvation of men. He rests in the mercy of God as having, in its nature and sweetness, no limits at all; and as, in respect of its objects, taking a fast hold of as many sinners as possible; that is, as many as could be consistent with the glory of the other perfections essential to Deity. The zealous Christian, therefore, takes encouragement in his desires and endeavors for the glory of God, from God’s eternal and irresistible decrees, and humbly waits for their accomplishment. For the decrees of God are, in their own nature, the strongest encouragements to prayer, diligence, and all other expressions of zeal for God. To consider the decrees of God as a hindrance to these exercises is the effect of our corrupt weakness, foolishness or perverseness. A just view of God’s decrees purges zeal from its dross, from the pride and levity which are apt to be mingled with it; but, this being done, the flame burns at once more sweetly and with greater vengeance.

But it is a partial zeal, that respects the glory of God only when connected with the obedience and good of his creatures. I have already intimated that renewed souls see room enough in the active and comfortable glorification of God for all intelligent beings. If it were the will of God, they could wish that no sin had ever been committed, and that no sinful creature were to be found in the universe. But God hath a revenue of glory which he takes to his own infinite perfections from the rebellious part of the creation. Here hypocritical zeal stands still; but that zeal which is genuine follows, adores, and admires these awful paths of God. It partakes with God in his unimpeachable triumphs over the vast multitudes of his impenitent enemies.

And thus I have briefly shown how genuine zeal for God is bridled, sanctified, directed, animated, and supported. The highest pattern of these things is exhibited in the human nature of Jesus Christ. In him not only was there manifested the most fervent and disinterested zeal for God, and benevolence to men, but these principles were sweetened and glorified by the most humble acquiescence in the power, sovereignty, mercy, and justice of God. As a proof and specimen of this, I shall present to your solemn regard the following passages. Matt. 11:25-26: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” John 6:37: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” John 12:31-32: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out: and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Isa. 49:4-5: “Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. And now, saith the Lord, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.” Luke 19:41-42: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” John 16:8-11: “And when he (the Comforter) is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me: of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more: of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” John 17:2, 9: “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. — I pray for them, I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” From these passages it is manifest that the zeal of Jesus Christ, as man, was attended with an humble acquiescence in the power, sovereignty, mercy, and justice of God, as to the way of his glorifying himself among mankind. And of the same quality must that zeal be, which God will accept in us, as the fruit of his Holy Spirit. For, “he that is joined to the Lord, is one spirit with him.”

III. This holy zeal must vent itself in earnest supplications and diligent endeavors to advance the kingdom of God among men. The children of God are called, every one of them, to contend for the interests of his kingdom and glory, in the way of earnest prayer. This is manifest from the three first petitions of the Lord’s prayer, which were recited a little ago. So likewise, Isa. 62:6-7: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” Isa. 45:11: “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, ask me of things to come concerning my sons; and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” Ezek. 36:37: “Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock.” Ps. 122:6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.” II Thess. 3:1: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified.” And to prove the sincerity of these prayers, every Christian, in his proper place, must labor — by his example, his admonitions and instructions, and by his worldly influence and substance, — to promote the glory of God, in the salvation of others around him. Matt. 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Heb. 3:13: “But exhort one another daily, — lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” I Thess. 5:14: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” II Chron. 30:22: “And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites, that taught the good knowledge of the Lord.” And all these things must be vigorously performed, so as to manifest an inward fervor of holy zeal, as is said of Hezekiah, II Chron. 31:21: “And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.”

IV. Holy zeal must express itself in a readiness to suffer, as well as to act, for the glory of God. No limits can be set as to the degrees of suffering to which Christians must cheerfully submit when God calls them, in that way, to manifest his glory. Luke 14:25-27: “And there went great multitudes with him; and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Heb. 10:34: “Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves, that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” Acts 5:41: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Rev. 12:11: “And they loved not their lives unto the death.” Phil. 1:20: “According to my earnest expectation, and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed; but that, with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” And Phil. 2:17: “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” Nor will these things appear grievous, or unreasonable, to persons who are duly enlightened to see the dignity and importance of the glorification of God. On the contrary, the bitterest torments, and death in its most terrifying forms, will appear light and inconsiderable matters, when compared with the infinite dignity of the truths and commandments of the Eternal God; and with the happy fruits connected, by the grace of God, with such sufferings.

“And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence, towards God and towards men.” Acts 24:16

V. This divine zeal disposes a man affectionately to welcome any favorable appearances of the work of God among others, and joyfully to praise God for every known instance of his grace. The genuine symptoms of a gracious change will be, to such persons, highly acceptable, though these should be found only in some few individuals, and accompanied with great weakness and imperfection. For, in the salvation of one sinner there appears, to an enlightened eye, as it were a boundless ocean of divine glory. Who can comprehend the misery which that one person must otherwise have endured, and the sins which he must have committed, through eternity? Who can measure the excellency and extent of that felicity, to which, by conversation, he is introduced? What songs of joyful praise shall he yet sing? “There is,” therefore, “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” We see, in the fourth chapter of John, how the great Redeemer condescended to spend himself, when fatigued and hungry, in a particular conversation for the recovery of one mean and worthless woman. Engaged in this work, he said to the carnal disciples, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.” One single instance of conversion sometimes appears big enough to fill the whole soul of a Christian, for ever and ever, with delightful astonishment. How affectionate are Paul’s expressions, in the Epistle to Philemon, concerning one converted soul! But how much more is God glorified by his people when numerous conversions appear, giving occasion for the prophet’s exclamation, “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” Then the sweet burden of gratitude and praise becomes weighty on enlightened souls, and they know not how to recount, and to extol, the multiplied wonders of grace. What continual effusions of this kind do we find referred to, in Paul’s epistles to the different churches? Such is the effect of genuine zeal in every lively Christian.

VI. This holy zeal takes occasion for its own exercise from the dark and unfavorable appearances among unconverted sinners. These draw forth a holy indignation and mourning. So it was with David, — the man after God’s own heart. Ps. 4:2: “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?” Ps. 14:4: “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.” Ps. 119:139: “My zeal hath consumed me: because mine enemies have forgotten thy words,” and verse 136, “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” And this mournful indignation is attended with an humble faith, and approbation of God’s terrible justice against impenitent sinners, which often break forth in the language of a triumphant expectation of the period when God will vindicate his own glory against the proud rebellions of insolent mortals. “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” Ps. 68:1-2. “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel.” Isa. 37:22-23. These things come in room of that peevishness of spirit which, through the natural blindness of the heart, is apt to arise from the view of a sinful world, so as to make the instances of grace appear of little avail, while so many are left to perish. Instead of this, while every subject of grace appears as a star, brightening the firmament, the glory of divine sovereignty and justice is discerned, shining through the general ruin of mankind. All appears unmixed glory on the part of God. But as, in God, the fire of infinite holiness and righteousness is sweetly united with the meltings of immense compassion, so, in the breasts of God’s children, indignation against the sinfulness of the wicked is tempered with that tenderness of love which leads them to hope, against hope, for interpositions of grace in behalf of the worst of men. Such was Paul’s temper respecting the Israelites, when the condition of most of them had the most desperate appearance. So was Moses often on his face before God in behalf of a people seemingly ripe for destruction. So did the Mediator pray upon the cross for his detestable murderers. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things.” Thus Christians, while they abhor the wicked considered as the enemies of God, do, at the same time, improve in their behalf, every proper season of sovereign mercy.

VII. This holy zeal, being of heavenly extraction, returns to heaven as its proper region. It looks within the veil, and concurs with all the religion which there reigns. It leaps over the bounds of time, and anticipates the glories of that eternal duration, which shall be filled up with most complete and satisfying displays of Jehovah’s glory among his creatures.

I have thus presented to your view the chief materials about which the Christian should exercise his earnest concern, in things immediately relating to God. For though the particular which hath been the subject of this discourse includes in it some important parts of our duty towards mankind, I have hitherto represented these entirely as expressions of zeal for the glory of God. Some of these same duties will fall under our consideration in a different view, as directed towards the good of our fellow creatures.

I proceed, therefore, to the second branch of this part of the subject, namely, that class of duties in which we have an immediate respect to men around us, “a conscience void of offence towards men.”

And I observe here, first of all, that the duty which we owe to our fellow men consists, radically and principally, in a holy love or benevolence towards them. The Scriptures teach this, in express terms: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Gal. 5:14. That is, so far as the law relates to our conduct towards other men, its whole demands may be summed up in this one article, and are virtually included in it. The law requires love to our neighbor, and it requires everything else, as a fruit and expression of this love.

The explication of this important particular would require more time than can be afforded in this discourse. I shall, therefore, at present only make some few remarks for showing how the right love of our neighbor is connected with our love and obedience to God himself.

I formerly hinted that in the lively exercise of love towards God the whole heart is fixed on him and filled with him, so as to exclude all idols. For these no room is left, where God is truly known and delighted in. But God is pleased, in his infinite goodness, to admit our fellow creatures to share with him of our love, though in an inferior degree and manner. 1. This is the first view of the connection between love to God, and to our neighbor; that God, as it were, substitutes a multitude of creatures, made in his own image, who receive at our hands some part of that revenue of love which we owe to himself. And therefore, 2. The commandment of God is our warrant, and our reason, for suffering our hearts to flow out in tender affection towards mankind; and hence, 3. That love which we exercise towards mankind, or towards any individual person, must be entirely subordinated to love towards God. Our supreme love must remain fixed on God himself. Him alone we must love primarily and originally, and with that kind of love which is suited to divine excellency: our love to others must flow from our love to him, and be regulated in its exercises by his will.

4. The exercise of love to God naturally opens the heart to the love of our neighbor; for love to God gives the heart a peculiar softness, and sensibility, and delicacy, and ingenuity, so that when we turn our attention towards our fellow creatures, we are susceptible of impressions from their amiableness, or their necessities. Love to God ennobles and expands the heart; it destroys inordinate self-love, and makes room for worlds of creatures. Love to God gives us a sense of the nature, the excellency, and abundance of that spiritual happiness in which consists the chief good of those whom we are bound to love. These sentiments are confirmed by the following passages of Scripture: Matt. 22:38-39: “This” that is the supreme love of God “is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I John 5:1: “Everyone that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” I John 4:21: “And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also.” I John 4:20: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” I John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.” Gal. 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” Matt. 25:40: “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

But I must now conclude this discourse with some short inferences, by way of application.

1. The things which have been spoken at this time give us a further view of the dignity and excellency of genuine holiness, and how far it is above the reach of corrupted nature; and consequently how precious those influences of the Spirit are which raise up the souls of men to such sweet and sublime exercises. Many people talk of holiness, and of the work of the Spirit, who are little aware of the true nature and glory of these things.

2. There is much reason to lament that cold death which is manifest in many professors of religion with respect to these things. How little of this genuine zeal for God, and love to men flowing from it, is to be found in Christian societies! Here the hypocrisy of many pretensions to faith is awfully discovered. Many who talk highly of religious comfort are so far from any vital experience of these holy exercises which I have been describing, that they cannot endure the mentioning of them. God will get honor to himself by and by in the dismal surprise which shall seize on many such hypocrites when they make their appearance in the invisible world. Therefore,

3. Let us the more closely try our sincerity in this matter. Do we truly condemn and abhor ourselves for our want of such zeal and love? Does the hearing of them excite in us an eager ambition after these things? Have we ever tasted of the heavenly sweetness of these holy exercises of soul? Those who despise the sweetness of the work of Christianity will find at length that their comfort in Christian privileges was but delusion.

4. How deplorable and dangerous is the condition of many souls who are either dead, in a hateful indifference about the interests of God and of mankind, or are inflamed with a false and diabolical zeal to oppose and destroy the true work of God!

“Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

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