Friday, May 30, 2008

Zeal of Love

Pentecost +3 – Year A

Not everyone who say "Lord, Lord" does the work of "Lord, Lord." Here is an excerpt from John Wesley's sermon 92 – On Zeal. It makes the same point – if you've been doing your "Lord, Lord"-ing, and fail to care for an immediate need, you really haven't done a very good job of "Lord, Lord"-ing. Otherwise your eyes and ears would have been tempered or energized to see and hear what needs doing.

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In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival. In a circle near the throne are all holy tempers; — long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, fidelity, temperance; and if any other were comprised in “the mind which was in Christ Jesus.” In an exterior circle are all the works of mercy, whether to the souls or bodies of men. By these we exercise all holy tempers; by these we continually improve them, so that all these are real means of grace, although this is not commonly adverted to. Next to these are those that are usually termed works of piety; — reading and hearing the word, public, family, private prayer, receiving the Lord’s Supper, fasting or abstinence. Lastly, that his followers may the more effectually provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works, our blessed Lord has united them together in one body, the Church, dispersed all over the earth; a little emblem of which, of the Church universal, we have in every particular Christian congregation.

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For example. Every Christian ought, undoubtedly, to be zealous for the Church, bearing a strong affection to it, and earnestly desiring its prosperity and increase. He ought to be thus zealous, as for the Church universal, praying for it continually, so especially for that particular Church or Christian society whereof he himself is a member. For this he ought to wrestle with God in prayer; meantime using every means in his power to enlarge its borders, and to strengthen his brethren, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

But he should be more zealous for the ordinances of Christ than for the Church itself; for prayer in public and private; for the Lord’s Supper; for reading, hearing, and meditating on his word; and for the much neglected duty of fasting. These he should earnestly recommend; first, by his example; and then by advice, by argument, persuasion, and exhortation, as often as occasion offers.

Thus should he show his zeal for works of piety; but much more for works of mercy; seeing “God will have mercy and not sacrifice;” that is, rather than sacrifice. Whenever, therefore, one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, prayer, are to be omitted, or to be postponed, “at charity’s almighty call, when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbor, whether in body or soul.

But as zealous as we are for all good works, we should still be more zealous for holy tempers; for planting and promoting, both in our own souls, and in all we have any intercourse with, lowliness of mind, meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, contentedness, resignation unto the will of God, deadness to the world and the things of the world, as the only means of being truly alive to God. For these proofs and fruits of living faith we cannot be too zealous. We should “talk of them as we sit in our house,” and “when we walk by the way,” and “when we lie down,” and “when we rise up.” We should make them continual matter of prayer; as being far more excellent than any outward works whatever: Seeing those will fail when the body drops off, but these will accompany us into eternity.

But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself, — the end of the commandment, the fulfilling of the law. The Church, the ordinances, outward works of every kind, yea, all other holy tempers, are inferior to this, and rise in value only as they approach nearer and nearer to it. Here then is the great object of Christian zeal. Let every true believer in Christ apply, with all fervency of spirit, to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that his heart may be more and more enlarged in love to God and to all mankind. This one thing let him do: Let him “press on to this prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

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Lastly. If true zeal be always proportioned to the degree of goodness which is in its object, then should it rise higher and higher according to the scale mentioned above; according to the comparative value of the several parts of religion. For instance, all that truly fear God should be zealous for the Church; both for the catholic or universal Church, and for that part of it whereof they are members. This is not the appointment of men, but of God. He saw it was is not good for men to be alone, even in this sense, but that the whole body of his children should he “knit together, and strengthened, by that which every joint supplieth.” At the same time they should be more zealous for the ordinances of God; for public and private prayer, for hearing and reading the word of God, and for fastings, and the Lord’s Supper. But they should be more zealous for works of mercy, than even for works of piety. Yet ought they to be more zealous still for all holy tempers, lowliness, meekness, resignation: But most zealous of all, for that which is the sum and the perfection of religion, the love of God and man.

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