And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest.
JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): Hardly any word in our language is more misunderstood or abused, than zeal. It is used in the New Testament indifferently in a good or bad sense, and it is considered as a vice or virtue, according to its object and principle. It sometimes denotes envy, indignation, or disdain, an obstinate and ignorant opposition to the truth, a misguided warmth in unnecessary things, and a contentious, disputatious temper. A zeal replete with these characters has too frequently been the bane and opprobrium of the Christian church.
THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): There is a carnal zeal and there is a spiritual zeal.
RICHARD GREENHAM (circa 1535-circa 1594): There are divers kinds of zeal: there is a zeal of the world, there is a zeal of the flesh, there is a zeal of false religion, there is a zeal of heresy, and there is a zeal of the true Word of God. First, we see the zeal of the world maketh men to labour day night to get a transitory thing. The zeal of the flesh torments men’s minds early and late for a momentary pleasure. The zeal of heresy maketh men travel and compass sea and land, for the maintaining and increasing of their opinion. Thus we see every man is eaten up with some kind of zeal. The drunkard is consumed with drunkenness, the whoremonger is spent with his whoredom, the heretic is eaten with heresies.
THOMAS MANTON: There is a carnal zeal which comes from an ill cause―as the hatred of men’s persons, or envy at their gifts and excellences, or their success and happiness in the world: James 3:14, “If ye have bitter envying in your hearts.” It is [in the Greek] if you have bitter zeal in your hearts. There is a kind of bitter zeal, and malignity at their excellency, whether gifts, graces, rank, dignity in the world. And in verse 16 he tells us this bitter zeal produceth confusion and every evil work…With this zeal were the chief priests filled when they saw that the gospel came into some reputation, and that the people, do what they could, did haunt and frequent it. We read, Acts:17, They were filled with indignation; it is in the Greek and in the margin, They were filled with zeal; with this bitter zeal, malignity, envy, indignation, they would bestir themselves to suppress the growing gospel by all the means that possibly they could.
There is another sort of carnal zeal which hath an ill object, though it may be a good cause from whence it proceeds, such as an ignorant zeal, which proceeds from some love to that which men call religion, but falsely; and so the apostle saith, Romans 10:2: I bear them witness that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
A. W. PINK (1886-1952): There is a zeal which is not according to knowledge. There is an ardour which is merely of nature and not prompted by the Holy Spirit.
J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Zeal without doctrine is like a sword in the hand of a lunatic.
THOMAS MANTON: And such a zeal had Paul when he was a Pharisee. He gives an account of it, Galatians 1:12-14: How that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. Paul was a man that never acted against his conscience, no, not when he was a Pharisee; he still acted according to his light; but when he was blinded by Pharisaical prejudices, he wasted the church of God, and was exceedingly zealous for a false religion. This is such a zeal as possibly might have a tolerable cause, but it has a bad object, a zeal about the dictates of a deluded conscience, and this zeal is the more pernicious the more earnest it is. It hath often raised confusions in the church, when men are led with a blind zeal they think for God; if they be under, then they make divisions; if they get a-top, then they are persecuting and oppressing.
JOHN NEWTON: When the judgment is well informed, and the understanding duly enlightened by the Word of God, the more warmth the better; but this earnestness, in an ignorant or prejudiced person, is dangerous and hurtful to himself and others.
ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): A furious zeal in matters of religion is detestable in the sight of God…The zeal that made the Papists persecute and burn the Protestants was kindled in hell. This was the wrath of man, and did not work any righteous act for God; nor was it the means of working righteousness in others; the bad fruit of a bad tree.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): If we wish to have a zeal which God approves, we must be ruled by true knowledge and be taught by His Word.
THOMAS MANTON: It must be accompanied with knowledge and discretion; that is to say, there must be a distinct knowledge of the cause that we take up, else we may be factors for the devil’s kingdom when we think we are acting for God, and be persecuting the saints when we think we are destroying his enemies. It must be out of the knowledge of the cause of the evil to be renounced and the good to be established. There is a blind zeal: John 16:2, Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. The pseudo-Christians, the literal Christians, have a blind zeal against the serious Christians, and if they can excommunicate them and throw them out of the church and kill them, they think this is acceptable service to God. All this is blind zeal. In Romans 10:2, the apostle saith, They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge; therefore there must be light as well as heat in this fire, else it is not the fire of the altar, but of a common hearth.