Zeal*

Bibliology
Christology
Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:23).

“The Kingdom of Heaven,” said our Lord, “is like a treasure hid in a field” (Matthew 13:44). One day a man is turning over the stones which lie in a heap in a corner of the field, and he finds under them an iron chest, and this chest he believes to be full of gold. Then he carefully covers it up again with stones and earth, and goes off in the greatest excitement to the owner of the field, and offers him a price, and when that is refused he sells his house, and garden, and everything he can turn into money, and gives that to the owner in exchange for the field.

I fear this is rather a picture of what ought to be than what is. No doubt, we ought to show as great eagerness to gain the Kingdom of Heaven as did that man to buy the field. No doubt we ought to be as eager as he to cast away everything that stands in the way, to divest ourselves of everything we have, that we may gain the Kingdom of Heaven. But, as a matter of fact, we show little eagerness about it, and we are indifferent whether we gain it or lose it.

What we need is more zeal, more enthusiasm, more earnestness in our quest.

King Solomon built the Temple at Jerusalem. He was engaged on it seven years, and after that, he built his own house, and on that he spent thirteen years. He, therefore, spent nearly twice as much time and labor, and I doubt not money, on his own house as he did on the work of God’s house. He was wise and good, and he did a great deal for God; but he did more for himself, and not only for himself, but for his wives, since he built for them as well.

It is so with us. We are ready to do something of God’s work, to seek a little the Kingdom of Heaven, but we do not put our heart in that work. All our heart and zeal is reserved for our own worldly affairs and our temporal interests.

One day a heathen maiden came to the princess Pulcheria, sister of the Emperor Theodosius, to complain to her that she was an orphan, and that her two brothers had turned her out of the house on her father’s death and had taken all his inheritance to themselves. Now the Emperor Theodosius, brother of Pulcheria, a young man, was behind a curtain, and heard the girl pleading her cause with many tears; and he saw how beautiful she was, and he loved her, and resolved to make her his wife and exalt her to be Empress of the East. Pulcheria invited her to come another day, and then she told the maiden what was intended. After that she was taught the faith of Christ, and was baptized, and is known in history as the Empress Eudoxia.

Now when she came from her baptism, Pulcheria noticed that she was crying, and she went to her lovingly and said, “Why are you bathed in tears, Eudoxia?” And then the young girl answered, “When you told me that I was to become the wife of Theodosius, and Empress of the East, my heart was like to burst with joy; but now that I have been made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven, I feel no such exceeding joy, but take it all without any emotion,—and I am grieved at my coldness and want of faith. That is why I am crying.”

Is it not very much the same with us? Anything that concerns our earthly welfare fills us with excitement, but we trouble ourselves little about our spiritual concerns. If we have a chance of getting £50 a year, we are full of delight; but we receive the precious gift of God without even gratefulness. If we knew that an inheritance of a £1,000 was ours if we applied for it, would we not apply? But when it comes to our approaching the altar of God to receive the Bread of Heaven, the priceless gift of the body of our Lord, which will infuse into our mortal flesh the germ of immortality, we turn listlessly away. If we had an acquaintance who, we thought, could put us into a good way of making our fortune, we would be at his heels; but we are cold and careless about seeking God in His house, and in prayer, and yet our eternal welfare depends on our retaining His favor.

Now, this is not a satisfactory condition to be in. “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by storm” (Matthew 11:12) said our Lord. He meant that if Heaven is to be won, it must be won by those who are in earnest, and vehement in their desire to get it.

Half-hearted soldiers are not good soldiers. Half-hearted servants are poor servants. Half-hearted workers are unsatisfactory workers.

The battle we have to fight is a hard one. It is a battle against flesh and blood, against Satan and all his host, against the world, and against our own will. Is such a battle to be won when we go into it without any desire to be conquerors? We are servants of God, and given a work in this world to do. Are we likely to do it if half-hearted? Are we likely to keep His commandments, if we care just a little to please Him, but only a little? Are we likely to win our wage, Eternal Life, if we do not work zealously, but waste the time of work in half-hearted trifling with our task?

No, we must be in earnest. We want zeal. How are we to acquire this? This is what the Holy Spirit gives. Before Pentecost the disciples were half-hearted; and when temptation and trial came, they fell away and did not follow their Master. But after the Holy Spirit came down, then they were of one heart and mind (Acts 4:32), and their souls were inflamed with zeal, they cared nothing what became of them, so long as they won the Kingdom of Heaven. “I count all things as dung,” said Paul, “if so be I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

The Holy Spirit is still in the Church, and still His mission is to impart zeal. He will come to you, if you pray, and will inflame you with that fire that will make your “hearts burn within you” (cf Luke 24:32), and give you no rest till you have set about the work appointed you by God.

“I am come,” said Christ, “to send fire on the earth: and what will I, if it be already kindled?” (Luke 12:49). That fire is the fire of zeal; and it is for that fire we pray in the Whitsuntide hymn, “Come Holy Spirit, our souls inspire, And lighten with celestial fire.”

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot … So then because you
are lukewarm … 
I will spew you out of My mouth”
~Jesus (Revelation 3:15, 16)

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: St Anthonys Light, Cornwall, England

*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 50. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.

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