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1887: Zeal for Christ

1887:

ZEAL FOR CHRIST.

Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—You have spent three years with us in preparation for the ministry. Your instructors testify that you have been faithful in your work. We send you out with our blessing. We cherish high hopes for you. May he who has counted you worthy, putting yon into the ministry, grant you a long, and happy, and successful career, in preaching the gospel and in winning men to Christ.

When I pray that your lives may be long, neither you nor I can forget that one who began work with you is not here to-night. Neville graduated before you. He knows more theology now than we all. Somewhere, I doubt not, he is performing nobler service than he could have rendered here. His love of truth, his decision of character, his sweetness of spirit — these remain in our memory. Though dead, he yet speaks to us — urges us not to mourn, not to idle, but to close up the ranks and march on.

The one word which I would give you as your watchword to-night is the word "zeal." It is a lofty word, and our Lord consecrated it when he said that the zeal of God's house had consumed him. And yet the word to many minds, in this age of easy-going indifferentism, has an ill sound. Let me clear it from misconception, by saying that zeal is not necessarily fanaticism. It is zeal for Christ, to which I entreat you. That zeal has none of the attributes of fanaticism: it is neither narrow, nor overwrought, nor hard. Fanaticism is narrow ; it sees only a small portion of the field ; it makes only a partial induction of facts. Zeal for Christ cannot make this mistake, for it has for its object Him who is not only the truth, but the whole truth of God. Fanaticism is overwrought; it is an exaggerated and extravagant enthusiasm ; it throws into a single line the mental power and emotion that were meant to be expended upon the whole realm of duty. Zeal for Christ, on the other hand, can never be overwrought; for love can never love too much when it loves him; all human effort is too weak when matched with his infinite claims ; strive as we may, we never can do enough to secure this highest of all ends — the trinmph of Christ and his truth in the world. Fanaticism is hard; the sensibility and devotion which it pours out upon one limited part of God's creation it withdraws from all the rest; the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution show that an uninstructed conscience may become merciless, and may clothe the executioners of justice in hell-fire. Zeal for Christ, on the contrary, as it proclaims, so it is bound to manifest, the sympathy and love of God; is bound to distinguish between the sinner and his sin; is bound to have compassion upon all that are in error, that it may enlighten them and save them.

I do not mean to say that any zeal among men is absolutely pure,—that would be to claim that sinless perfection has been reached; and, alas, the imperfection of our views and the fact that our motives are mixed show that no such perfect state is ours. But we know that there was once an example of fiery, and yet sinless, aeal. We know that the pure flame of Christ's zeal has been to some degree enkindled in us. What I urge is, that our zeal for Christ may reflect and emulate Christ's zeal for God. Think what its characteristics were. First, there was an absolute faith. One word of God was of more account to Jesus, than all the words of angels or demons or men. My brethren, I would have you trust Christ and his truth, more than you trust all the world beside. Whatever philosophy may say, whatever oppositions of science falsely so-called may arise, whatever habit of skepticism may have become part of the mental structure of our generation, let us admit no doubts, listen to no parleyings, but rather set to our seal that God is true, though every man be thereby made a liar.

And then, secondly, Christ's zeal was distinguished, not only by an absolute faith, but by a passionate devotion. I urge yon to give yourselves to the service of Christ, with the singleness of purpose and the total self-abandonment with which Christ gave himself to God. I do not need to tell you that Christ is God. You believe this. I would have you act upon it. Shall I give you a motto? Take this: Chriato Deo Omnipotenti. Mean by it that to Christ, the omnipotent God, you consecrate yourself utterly, making no reserve, but giving to him all your powers in the utmost intensity of their exercise. O, it is no more than Paul has said before me! I might have taken this motto instead of mine: Mihi Vivere Christus—" for me to live is Christ."

I have urged you to imitate and reflect Christ's zeal — that pure flame of absolute faith and passionate devotion. A vast and impossible achievement, do you say? An ideal never to be reduced to practice by any mortal man? True, if it came to us merely as law, and not as gospel; merely as command, and not as promise. I thank God that there is an easier way to fullfil the injunction and secure the blessing — an easier way than the hopeless way of self-moved and self-sustained obedience. It is by taking Christ himself into our hearts. His zeal can become ours, only when he himself becomes ours. But then, he can become ours, and like Paul, " we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us." Way of the simple! Wisdom of the meek! We have learned something of it in the past. May we resolve anew to-night that we will have no other wisdom and know no other way, but will "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ!"

My dear brethren, it is with a heart of love and hope that I look into your faces for the last moments of our relation as teacher and pupils. What I have said to you is the greatest thing and the best thing I could possibly say. No archangel could give you a message whose substance should be grander, more momentous, more stirring than this; for this Christ in whom I have urged you to put absolute faith, and to whom I have urged you to show passionate devotion — this Christ is all and in all. There are two problems which lie before you for solution — the internal and the external, — and only Christ can help you to solve them. There is the problem of your own heart, your own personal sin, your own advancement in holiness, in short, your own spiritual life. Unless you can overcome sin within you, you can never overcome sin in the world without. But you can overcome sin within you, if you have Christ and his zeal. Why does not the ocean come up into the river channel and flood the river banks? Because the steady outward current drives the ocean waves before it, and takes its tides of fresh water far out to sea. How shall you prevent sin from overwhelming you and destroying you? By having so much of Christ's life within, that you are ever making aggressive movement against the evil, and so thrusting its forces from you. Zeal for Christ will leave no room or chance for the inflowing of temptation.

And then there is the external problem,—we must conquer the world without. There is sin to be convicted, and sorrow to be assuaged, the church to be comforted, the earth to be subdued, the kingdom to be given to Christ —a task as mighty, for hands as feeble, as ever the hands of Christ's disciples were in the first days of the church. And yet they " overcame through the blood of the Lamb," and so may we. Christ made them partakers of his zeal, and so made them "more than conquerors."

May his Holy Spirit communicate to you this zeal, and keep the fire of love and loyalty ever burning within you. Lay yourselves out for Christ; bury yourselves in his work; merge your interests in his; speak, live, only for him. Before you, the mountain shall become a plain. At your word, dead souls shall live. Millennial light shall begin to dawn about you. The kingdom of God shall come. It will make little difference whether your eyes see it or not, if only with your dying breath you can say: "The zeal of thine house hath consumed me." For there is another zeal than yours — a zeal that can accomplish what you cannot. Of all the other work that is needed to supplement our own and to make it effective, we can confidingly and exultingly declare that "the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this." For all our zeal, like the zeal of our Savior, is but an effect and manifestation of that infinite zeal of the divine nature, which is fulfilling in human history the eternal decree that Christ must reign until all enemies are put beneath his feet .