And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): The disciples, when their Master was slighted and condemned, thought certainly that they should do as Elijah did―call for fire from heaven to consume them. Revenge will often go for zeal for God. Revenge, or storming at personal affronts or injuries done to ourselves, is looked upon as zeal; then the disciples may not know what spirit they are of. Many times we are acted [on] by the devil when we think we act by the Spirit of God, and that which seems to be zeal is nothing but revenge.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Zeal without knowledge is like wild fire in a fool’s hand.
JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): There is a principle of self which disposes us to despise those who differ from us, and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.
HENRY SCOUGAL (1650-1678): There are but too many Christians who would consecrate their vices and hallow their corrupt affections―whose fierce wrath and bitter rage against their enemies must be called “holy” zeal.
JOHN ROBINSON (1575-1625): Such are rather carried by their own flesh than led by the Spirit of God.
THOMAS MANTON: We should mark still what spirit inflames the zeal that we have…Another false zeal is when it hath no ill object, but it exceeds in the measure and degree, and is far beyond the weight of the thing that it is laid out upon. This is a superstitious, a trifling zeal, which runs out to externals, and is altogether employed about lesser things of religion, as the Pharisees, Matthew 23:23, that made a great business about a small matter, tithing mint, and anise, and cummin, but neglected weighty duties, faith, judgment, righteousness, and the great things of the kingdom of God.
JOHN NEWTON: False zeal spends its strength in defence of names and forms, the externals of religion, or the inventions of men; it enforces its edicts by compulsion and severity: it would willingly call for fire from heaven; but, unable to do this, it kindles the flame of persecution, and, if not providentially restrained, wages war with the peace, comfort, and liberty of all who disdain to wear its chains, and breathes threatening, slaughter, and destruction with an unrelenting spirit: its mildest weapons―which it never employs alone, except where it is checked by a superior power―are calumny, contempt, and hatred; and the objects it seeks to worry are generally the quiet in the land, and those who worship God in spirit and truth: in a word it resembles the craft by which it works, and is earthly, sensual, devilish.
JOHN CALVIN: Very many, under the pretense of zeal, are excessively displeased, when every thing is not conducted to their wish, and, because absolute purity is nowhere to be found, withdraw from the Church in a disorderly manner, or subvert and destroy it by unreasonable severity.
ALEXANDER CARSON (1776-1844): Some may think that they discover zeal for the honour of Christ, when they insist on perfect conformity in order to fellowship. But like the Hebrews to whom Paul wrote, they need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God. Accordingly, we find that when any, in the days of the apostles, confessed their faith in Christ, they were admitted among the disciples.
THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): Zeal is like fire; in the chimney it is one of the best servants, but out of the chimney it is one of the worst masters.
THOMAS MANTON: The church of God hath had bitter experience in all ages of the sad effects of misguided zeal; when it hath not been seasoned with knowledge and discretion to time things, it hath tended much to the hindrance of Christ’s kingdom, and the promotion of Satan’s interest in the world…Therefore this wildfire, when it runs abroad without discretion, and not being seasoned with prudence, it doth a world of harm to the church of God.
JOHN CALVIN: Since it is so, then let us follow the Word of God with simplicity, and also let us be peaceable. Then may our zeal be ruled by that.
THOMAS MANTON: It needs to be pure, too; such a fervent affection had need be right, for since it makes men so active and resolute, certainly it should go upon clear grounds…Nothing hath done more mischief in the world than wild zeal; it is like fire out of its place, that sets all the house in a flame; it doth not comfort and refresh those that have it, but it destroys and consumes all.
JOHN NEWTON: I had rather be silent than plead, even for truth, in an angry, contentious spirit; for every year of my life strengthens my conviction of the importance of that divine aphorism, The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): Heed must be taken that we overshoot not in the best causes, lest if we be overshot, God’s wrath be kindled against us.
THOMAS MANTON: Zeal also must be mingled with compassion, that as we mind the glory of God, so we may pity deluded souls. When we are zealous against the sin we must have commiseration of the sinner, as knowing the weaknesses and prejudices of education that are incident to human nature…When we show love to God there should not be a hatred and ill-will to the persons of men, but we should bewail their obstinacy and blindness. Those that are all for destruction, and ready to call fire from heaven, they know not what spirit they are of; they have a fiery zealotic spirit, but that which doth not become the temper of the gospel…Fleshly anger is all for destruction; holy anger is for conversion.