Essential Virtue

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
~ Matthew 20:28

The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
~ Genesis 48:16

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.
~ Malachi 3:3

Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
~ Acts 15:14

Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.
~ Exodus 15:16

In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.
~ Titus 2:7-8

Zeal is an Essential Virtue of a Christian, by Jonathan Edwards.

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
— Titus 2:13-14

This is evident from the text because, in the text, it is mentioned as what belongs to (the) description of a true Christian and part of his distinguishing character; and also because ’tis mentioned as a virtue that Christ purchased for all his elect and, not only so, but one great and main thing that he aimed at in that sacrifice which he made of himself whereby they were purchased.

Zeal is a word often used, and persons are often spoken of as being zealous persons, and very commonly ’tis understood, in an ill sense. And such an idea is very commonly annexed to the word as carries in it weakness and pride, superstition and anger. And probably most persons have no distinct notion of what is meant by it, and the notion that they have is a disadvantageous one. The word is so often used to signify some weak and improper heat and vehemence of mind that it scarcely adds anything to the goodness of any person’s character, in the eyes of most, to hear it said of him that he is a zealous man, but rather detracts from it.

But yet we, from time to time, find zeal recommended in Scripture and spoken of as a Christian qualification; and whatever disadvantageous notions persons may have of zeal through the abuse of words, yet that zeal which the Scripture recommends is indeed a noble and excellent qualification. To be zealous in this sense is to be one of an amiable and divine character, and ’tis one thing wherein the excellency of pure Christian virtue does very much appear. To be a zealous man in the Scripture sense of the word is an excellent character of anyone; it has nothing unlovely or unsuitable in it, and is not only very commendable but essential in a true Christian.

To clear up this point, I would:

I. Describe this virtue, or show what it is.

II. Give the reasons why it is to be looked upon as an essential qualification of a Christian.

1. I would show what is true Christian zeal. Christian zeal is a fervent disposition, an affection of mind in prosecuting that which is for God’s glory and in opposing those things that are against it. This affection or disposition of mind is called zeal principally from its fervor or ardency, whereby ’tis like an inward heat or flame in the soul. It might have (been) defined more briefly: a fervent disposition or affection of mind in pursuing the glory of God. For God’s pleasure and glory are the principal object of the exercises of this virtue, and, next to that, the means of pleasing and glorifying God, either the prosecution of those things that lead to, or the removal of the hindrances of it.

But to give a more clear and distinct notion of this excellent quality of mind, I would more particularly describe it by showing what affections are exercised in it, and the manner of their exercise, and the acts in which this virtue exerts itself.

As to the —

First, viz. the affections in which true Christian zeal has its seat, or which are exercised in it:

1. That affection that is principal in this virtue is love. Zeal is an inward heat or fervency of spirit, and love is the flame whence that heat comes. This is the fire that fills the soul with that holy fervor that is called zeal. Love to God and Christ, divine love, is the foundation of all those other affections that are exercised in Christian zeal. Divine love is an active principle. It is fire from heaven (and) may be compared to an holy flame kindled in the soul by a beam from thence. No man is truly zealous without it. It is the spirit that animates and actuates the truly zealous man. He that is zealous from any other principle than love, his zeal is no Christian zeal; it is of a spurious kind. It is nothing amiable; it is a vice and not a virtue. The Psalmist expressed a great love to God when he said, Psalms 119:139, “My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.” And so did Phinehas in that act of which God speaks in Numbers 25:11-13, “he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.”

2. From love to God arises a desire that he may be glorified. One way in which love is exercised in zeal, is desire that this God that is so beloved may be pleased, that his will may be done, that his commands may be obeyed, that his name may be glorified, that he may be feared, that he may be loved, that men may be holy as he is holy and that his kingdom may be advanced, and that everything that is against these things may be removed. The Apostle joins vehement desire and zeal together in 2 Corinthians 7:11, “yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal.”

3. There is in zeal an aversion to what is contrary to God’s command and glory. From that love, which is the principal thing in Christian zeal and the foundation of all the rest that is in it, arises hatred. There is both love and hatred exercised in zeal, the love of God and hatred of sin; hatred of those things that God hates, a hatred of what is against the interest and reputation of religion and opposes the flourishing of Christ’s kingdom.

4. Another affection that is exercised in Christian zeal is a spirit of jealousy for God. Zeal and jealousy in the original of the New Testament are the same word. He that has a spirit of true Christian zeal is jealous for the cause of Christ. If it at any time be injured, a spirit of jealousy is excited in him. And when the interest of religion is touched, his heart is touched and he is shocked3 and alarmed.

5. Another affection that is exercised in true zeal is courage, a spirit of fortitude in enervating the difficulties that are in the way of doing God’s will and the enemies that oppose his glory.

Second. As to the manner wherein these affections are exercised in true zeal, it is with ardor or fervency of spirit. That divine love which is the main thing in Christian zeal is a powerful principle. ‘Tis a fire kindled in the soul by the active sunbeams of the sun of righteousness. That desire that there is, that God’s4 will should be done and his name glorified, is no faint but an ardent desire. That hatred there is to sin in Christian zeal, and the aversion there is to whatever is against God’s glory, has a vehemence (in) it. That jealousy by which they are jealous for the Lord of hosts is also an ardent affection that alarms the soul and awakens its active principles. There is also a fervor of and in those, (a) holy fortitude and courage that is exercised in the heart of him that is zealous with a truly Christian zeal.

Third. As to the acts in which this virtue exerts itself: in one word, it is in pursuing the glory of God. ‘Tis not all holy fervency of spirit that is properly intended by zeal, but it is a holy fervor of mind as it relates to practice only, or the pursuit of the glory of God, as those things that are well-pleasing to him. And therefore ’tis a being “zealous of good works,” as the expression is in the text. There are many examples of true love to God and fervent love to God that don’t properly come within the signification of this term; as for instance, love to God as exercised in delight and complacence and contentment in him, in rejoicing in a view of glory, of his glory, or communion with him and tasting the sweetness of his love. These things are not properly called zeal. But ’tis love with respect to that exercise of it that there is in pursuing his glory that is called zeal.

So ’tis not all truly gracious and ardent desires after God {that are properly called zeal, and so ’tis not all truly gracious and ardent desires} after the enjoyment of God {that are properly called zeal}; but ’tis an ardent desire to do something whereby God may be pleased and honored. So the hatred of sin and the jealousy for God’s honor that is properly comprehended in zeal is exercised in opposing sin and that which is opposite to God’s glory. So the courage and fortitude that is in zeal relates to action, that action that is in pursuing God’s glory.

And these acts that zeal is exercised in are of two kinds:

1. A prosecuting that which tends to promote God’s glory, as when a person exercises a fervency of spirit in doing good works, in loving and glorifying God ourselves, or to promote such things in others. Which appears in an ardent disposition of mind in promoting not only the worship of God but also the good of men. So the zeal of the Corinthians, argued in their deeds of charity (2 Corinthians 9:2). (And the) good of men’s souls; so here Epaphras, Colossians 4:12-13. In one word, (zeal appears in) a fervency of spirit that good may be done for God’s and Christ’s sake, either to do it ourselves or to promote others’ doing of it, whether this good be what immediately respects the honor of God, or nextly concerns the good.

2. It appears in a fervency of spirit in opposing those thing that are against God’s honor. So it was that Phinehas manifested his zeal when he took the javelin, for which God did so greatly reward him (Numbers 25:7-13). So also Christ’s zeal was exercised when he drove the buyers and sellers. Matthew 21:12-13, “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” And also when he looked round about ’em with anger.

Having thus shown what true zeal is, I proceed now, in the —

II. (Second) place, (to show) that (zeal) is an essential virtue of a Christian insomuch that, not only is true zeal a noble attainment of a Christian, but he that is not a zealous Christian is not allowed in Scripture to be any true Christian. For,

First, this is the qualification principally by which true Christians are distinguished from those that are lukewarm. The Scripture distinguishes mankind into three sorts: those that are cold, who are those that have no appearance or show of religion and are not to be looked upon as visible Christians; and those that are hot, i.e. those that are true Christians, that are fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, that have within them that holy ardor and engagedness of mind in religion that has been spoken of; and those that are lukewarm, that is, those that make a profession of religion and have some show of religion, but are not thorough in it, are cold, dull, and lifeless, are an indifferent sort of professor, have no great concern about the honor of God and interest of religion, who are not true Christians and never will be accepted of Christ as some of his if they continue. For we may observe that, of those three, those that are most abominable to Christ are those that are lukewarm, that ben’t zealous Christians. Revelation 3:15-16, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.”5 The lukewarm Christians are more hateful to Christ than the openly profane, than the very heathen that make no pretenses to religion. Christ declares expressly that he had rather men should be quite cold than only lukewarm. “I would,” says he, “that thou were cold or hot.” As the stomach nauseates lukewarm water more than either cold or hot, so doth Christ abominate lukewarm Christians that are destitute of Christian zeal in religion.

Second. This is one thing wherein the power of godliness appears and wherein it differs from the form of it. These two are spoken of by the Apostle in 2 Timothy 3:5, the one as being peculiar to true Christians, the other common to hypocrites with them.

Sincere grace is a powerful principle in the soul, and the power of it appears partly in the nature of its actings. It is no dull, inactive, ineffectual thing. There is an holy ardency and vigor in the actings of grace. It is a kind of inward spiritual fire in the soul, and therefore when a man is converted and God pours out his Holy Spirit upon him, he is said in Scripture language to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. There is an inexpressible ardor of soul when true grace is in exercise, so that the hearts of the saints do as it were burn within them. Luke 24:32, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

And this holy ardor that is in the exercises of true grace rises not in men by contemplation and enjoyment, but has respect to practice. It seeks the glory of God. It struggles after those means that tend to promote it and against those things that do oppose. And so it has the nature of zeal.

He that experiences the power of godliness at times finds within himself breathings and longings of soul— not only after more of a sight of God and more of an enjoyment of him but also holiness and conformity to God — such as have a strength and such a peculiar sort of inward vigor as other desires have not. They sometimes cause the soul to pant after God, and occasion a vehement struggle against sin.

And even in them that have comparatively small degrees of grace, yet God is wont sometimes so far to quicken the principle as to let the powerful nature of it appear in some measure.

There is something in the vigor of the actings of true grace that is inimitable and inexpressible, that does properly show that there is an omnipotent agent at work in the soul of a godly man. This makes true Christians zealous in prosecuting those things that tend to God’s glory and opposing what is against, whereas others, that have only the form of godliness without the power of it, are indifferent, lifeless and lukewarm with respect to these things.

Third. An indifferent and lukewarm spirit does in no wise become the nature of divine objects. Divine objects are infinitely great, immensely surpassing all temporal things in their importance and excellency. When God gives men true grace and rightly disposes their hearts with respect to divine things, he will give ’em such kind of dispositions and affections towards them as do in some measure become their nature and importance. Hence Christ says, he that loves father and mother more than him is not worthy {of him}; he that loves son or daughter {more than him is not worthy of him}; he that takes up {not his cross, and followeth not after him, is not worthy of him}; that is, he that has no other affection towards him than such an one as falls below, or at least is not above, his affection to any temporal objects or enjoyments, his affection and respect is in no wise becoming its object and so will never be accepted (Matthew 10:37-38). And therefore he says elsewhere that he that comes to him and hates not his father, {and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, cannot be his disciple} (Luke 14:26).

But here a question or objection may arise, which I will now take occasion to speak something to. The —

Objection is this: viz. How can it be necessary that men, in order to a being true Christians, should love God above all things else in the world, when we are so often taught that true Christians have so little grace and so much corruption? We are often taught that grace in this life is but an infant state, that grace is but as a spark, faith but as a grain of mustard seed, but that men carry about with them a load of sin, a body of sin and death. His corruption, which is so great, inclines him to love the world and make that his happiness, and, if there be so much of it and so little grace, how can it be that all truly godly men should love God more than the world?

I answer:

Answ. 1. ‘Tis from the nature of the Object loved rather than the degree of the principle in the lover. The Object beloved is of supreme excellency, of a loveliness immensely above all. Worthy he is to be chosen, pursued, and cleaved to, and delighted in, far above all. And he that truly loves him, loves him as seeing this superlative, seeing of it as superlative, and as being convinced that it is far above all. Though a man has but a faint discovery of the glory of God, yet if he has any true discovery of him, so far as he is discovered he sees this; he is sensible that he is worthy to be loved far above all. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of truth, and if he makes any true discovery of God it must be a discovery of him as lovely above all. If such an excellency is not discovered, there is no divine excellency discovered, for the notion of divine excellency is superlative, supreme excellency.

Now that wherein a godly man may be said to love God above all seems to be6 no more than what immediately and necessarily follows from a sight of this supreme excellency. Though it may be a comparatively faint discovery, yet ’tis a convincing discovery. Hence God must be above all in his esteem: for to be convinced that he is more excellent than all, is in fact to esteem him above all.

And so He must be above all in his choice, for the choice follows the esteem. And hence also it will follow that God is above all in his purpose and resolutions. He cleaves to the Lord with purpose of heart and so, in the sense of the scripture, with his whole heart.

Though there may be but little of the principle of love, yet the principle that there is, being built on such a conviction, will be of this nature, viz. to prize God above all. There may be an endless variety of degrees of the principle, but the nature of the object is unalterable. Therefore if there be a discovery of the object, whether in a greater or lesser degree, if that discovery be true and agreeable to the nature of the object, the nature of the principle that is the effect of the discovery will answer the nature of the object. And so it will evermore be the nature of it to prize God above all, though there may be but little of such a principle.

2. Another way whereby grace is predominant in the soul of a saint, is by virtue of that covenant of grace and the promises of God on which Christian grace relies, and which engages God’s strength and assistance to be on its side and to help it against its enemy, which would otherwise be overpowered.

Where God infuses grace, he will give it a predominancy by his upholding of it and time after time giving it the victory, when it seemed for a time to be overborne and ready to be swallowed. This is not owing to our strength but the strength of God, who won’t forsake the work of his hands, and will carry on his work when he has begun it, and always causeth us to triumph in Christ Jesus, who is the author and has undertaken to be the finisher of our faith.

I conclude with a —

Fourth and last reason why zeal is an essential virtue of a Christian, viz. that that affection that is short of this don’t agree with the work that a Christian has to do. The work that a Christian is called to is the work of a soldier; ’tis a warfare. He is not called to sleep but to conflict with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, with spiritual wickedness in high places. He is called to take heaven by violence and to obtain the prize by conquest.7

And therefore ’tis absolutely necessary that he should want the spirit of a soldier. A lukewarm soldier is never like to obtain the victory; he won’t take strong cities and win crowns and kingdoms.

The Scripture tells us of no other way of getting to heaven but by running, and fighting, and obtaining of it as it were by conquest.

And therefore there is no other disposition or spirit that will carry us there but a spirit of zeal, an inward ardency of mind to excite us to acquit ourselves like men in the race and in the battle. Though God will assist those that trust in him and overcome difficulties for them, yet he won’t assist the lukewarm and indifferent, but the fervent, the vigorous and active; nor will he assist any so but that they shall have occasion and exercise for their vigor and zeal. He by his assistance will carry men to heaven though all opposing, but he won’t carry ’em so that they shall (have) no occasion to run; nor will he so fight for them but that their faith and zeal shall be tried in the battle.8


3. Alternative reading: “mocked.” ↩
4. MS: “Gods shewd his ‹will should be› fain Glor pleased & J.” ↩
5. See sermon on this text from 1729 (105). ↩
6. MS: “built seems to be.” ↩
7. See the MS sermon on Matthew 11:12 (1740) for a fuller exploration of this and related themes. ↩
8. The first preaching unit ends here. JE begins the following preaching unit with a recapitulation (which has been omitted) of the text and the doctrine. ↩