It is true that zeal may be badly directed in such a manner that it becomes a curse, but it may also be turned to the highest and best ends to become a mighty blessing. If fire is not well directed, it may become a curse, but fire also – if well directed – is one of the best servants. J. C. Ryle writes:
“It is always good to be zealous in a good cause.” (Galatians 4:18)
[Martin Luther] boldly defied the most powerful hierarchy that the world has ever seen. He unveiled its corruptions with an unflinching hand. He preached the long-neglected truth of justification by faith, in spite of anathemas and excommunications, fast and thickly poured upon him. See him going to the Diet at Worms, and pleading his cause before the Emperor, and the Legate, and a army of the children of this world. Hear him saying, when men were dissuading him from going, and reminding him of the fate of John Huss, “Though there were a devil under every tile on the roofs of Worms, in the name of the Lord I shall go forward.” This was true zeal.
This again was the characteristic of our own English Reformers. You have it in our first Reformer, Wycliffe, when he rose up on his sick bed, and said to the friars, who wanted him to retract all he had said against the Pope, “I shall not die—but live to declare the villainies of the friars.” You have it in Cranmer, content to die at the stake rather than deny Christ’s Gospel, holding forth that hand to be first burned, which in a moment of weakness had signed a recantation, and saying as he held it in the flames, “This unworthy hand!” You have it in old father Latimer, standing boldly on his faggot, at the age of seventy years, and saying to Ridley, “Courage, brother Ridley! We shall light such a candle this day, as, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” This was zeal.
This again has been the characteristic of all the greatest Missionaries. You see it in Mrs. Judson, in Carey, in Morrison, in Schwartz, in Williams, in Brainerd, in Elliott. You see it in none more brightly than in Henry Martyn. This was a man who had reached the highest academic honors that Cambridge could bestow. Whatever profession he chose to follow, he had the most dazzling prospects of success. He turned his back upon it all. He chose to preach the Gospel to poor benighted heathen. He went forth to an early grave, in a foreign land. He said when he got there, and saw the condition of the people, “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!” This was zeal.
But, reader, to look away from all earthly examples—this, remember, is pre-eminently the characteristic of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself. Of Him, it was written hundreds of years before He came upon earth that He was “clad with zeal as with a cloak,” and “the zeal of your house has consumed me.” And his own words were, “My food is to do my Father’s will, and to finish His work.” (Psalm 66:9; Isaiah 59:17; John 4:34.)
Where shall we begin, if we try to give examples of his zeal? Where should we end, if we once began? Trace all the narratives of His life in the four Gospels. Read all the history of what He was from the beginning of his ministry to the end. Surely if there ever was one who was all zeal, it was our great Example—our Head—our High Priest—the great Shepherd of our Profession, the Lord Jesus Christ. (“Be Zealous”)