Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
I. IT MUST BE FOUNDED UPON KNOWLEDGE OF AND JUDGMENT ABOUT THE MATTER WHICH ENGAGES OUR ZEAL. It is for wanting this that the apostle blames the zeal of the Jews. The necessity of such knowledge is, one would think, obvious, for without it our zeal may, for aught we know, be engaged in a bad cause. The man who, designing to make great haste, either shuts his eyes or takes no notice whither he goes, is the likeliest to stumble or go astray. Let us, then, take care that, before we suffer our zeal to grow warm for or against any cause, we get as thorough a knowledge of it as we can. And yet, as history shows, most of those in every age who have shown the warmest zeal have discovered the greatest ignorance, and where there has been most knowledge there has been most candour and forbearance towards those of a different opinion.
II. MUST RE FREE FROM PREJUDICE AND PARTY VIEWS, and PROCEED FROM A SINCERE REGARD TO TRUTH AND VIRTUE. It is not my being thoroughly acquainted with a cause that will justify my zeal in it. If, knowing a thing to be false or unlawful, I strenuously insist upon it, all the zeal I express is faulty. Nay, though it be truth or duty, if my zeal is occasioned by prejudice, it is not of the right kind. We ought therefore to be very careful about the springs from whence our zeal flows. When the heart glows with an ardent love to God and for the cause of truth and virtue, there will be very little danger of running into extremes.
III. MUST ALWAYS BE PROPORTIONED TO THE MOMENT OF THE THINGS ABOUT WHICH IT IS ENGAGED. The more important the thing is, the warmer may our zeal be, either for or against it; and the less important, the less need is there of being much concerned about it. That zeal is very irregular which is equally warm upon every occasion. It would be endless to tell you what trifling matters have given occasion to the most furious contests in the Christian Church.
1. Since it is of vastly greater importance to us that we should judge right in matters of doctrine and behave well in matters of practice ourselves than that others should do so, it follows that our zeal ought principally to be employed this way. Nothing is more common than to see the same men who express a great concern that others should think and act just as they do in matters of religion shamelessly careless in their own searches after truth, and in regulating their own conduct.
2. Plain duties are of more importance than matters of speculation, and therefore regular zeal will be more solicitous about the former than about the latter. And yet, as if mankind were resolved to act preposterously, they have generally acted from the opposite principle. Observe how contentedly some of the warmest zealots can let a drunkard, a swearer, etc., live peaceably by them, and yet take fire immediately on the utterance of a contrary opinion. But will not God much more easily pardon an error in judgment than badness of life?
3. Peace and love among Christians are of unspeakably more importance than any particular form of church government or any religious rites, and therefore if our zeal be regular, we shall be much less concerned about imposing these than for the securing peace and love among all good men.
IV. MUST RE ATTENDED WITH CHRISTIAN CHARITY, and must never break in upon those rights which all claim in common as men and Christians. Nothing has been more common than for intemperate zeal to do the greatest mischiefs and commit the most bare-faced violations of justice and humanity, under the pretence of charity to men's souls and a hearty concern for their everlasting welfare.
V. MUST BE UNDER THE CONDUCT OF CHRISTIAN PRUDENCE, by which I mean the prudence that will direct to the choice, and in the use of the properest methods, and the fittest seasons for promoting these good ends.
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.