“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 2:14.
We should be forward and cheerful in well doing. Zeal is “a higher degree of love”: the more love, the more forward in acting. Certainly, zeal will readily set us a-work to do all we do willingly, freely, and cheerfully, as the Apostle intimates, “For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many” (2Co 9:2). It is not zeal to stand bucking and disputing every inch with the Spirit of God. You are not only called to the bare practice of good works, but you must be first and most forward and leaders of others. Watch [for] opportunities to do good, and take hold of them when they are offered. We should be glad of an opportunity offered, wherein to discover our affection to God and our hatred to sin. This is zeal: to be willing and forward.
2. To be zealous is to be self-denying and resolute notwithstanding discouragements. Zeal is a mixed affection. It consists partly of love and partly of indignation. So when I am zealous of a thing, I love that thing and shake off and hate all that lets and hinders it. Zeal sets us a-work and holds us to it notwithstanding discouragements. Zeal will not stick at a little labor and charge; the more resistance, the more glory! God’s children are glad that they may not serve God with that which cost them nothing, as David professeth, “Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2Sa 24:24). Certainly men are not zealous and their hearts are not set upon the ways of God, when every slight excuse will serve the turn, and every little profit draws them away, and every petty business doth hinder them and break off communion with God, and every slender temptation doth interrupt and break off all their purposes and resolutions to duty and obedience, be it prayer, charity, or acts of righteousness. We must be resolute for “it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing” (Gal 4:18).
3. To be zealous of good works imports diligence and earnestness to advance piety to the highest pitch…Is he zealous that is contented with a little charity, with a little worship only? Sloth and idleness will not stand with zeal: “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom 11:11). Thus, it will be when we are seething hot in spirit…A large affection cannot be contented with mean things and low degrees of holiness…Those that are planted into this noble Vine, Jesus Christ, are full of good works.
4. To be zealous of good works is to be constant to the end. The fire on the altar never went out, but it was always maintained and kept in; so we must never let the fire of zeal go out. Zeal is not like fire in straw. Alas! Sudden fervors are soon spent…But it is like fire inwood that casts a lasting heat: “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing” (Gal 4:18). Not at first only for a fit or pang; that doth not come from sanctification; therefore, you should keep up your fervor. Watch against all decays, especially in age. The motions of youth are very vehement, for youth is full of eager spirits and seems to be all on fire; but many times these motions are not so sincere. But the actions of age are more solid, though many times they [lack] vigor and heat. Therefore, strive to keep up your zeal: “Ye did run well, who did hinder you?” (Gal 5:7). Carnal men, when their first heats are spent, give over: they grow cold, careless, and indifferent in matters of religion…
THE RESPECT AND PLACE OF ZEAL IN GOOD WORKS IS A NOTE OF GOD’S PEOPLE AND A FRUIT OF CHRIST’S DEATH:
1. It is a note of God’s people. There is in the new creature a propensity and inclination to good works. As all creatures are created with an inclination to their proper operations, such a willing tendency is there in the new creature to those actions that are heavenly. As sparks fly upward and a stone moves downward, so the new creature is carried to obedience and holiness from a free principle with-in…Good works are a note of the new creature: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph 2:10). As an artificer sets a mark upon his workmanship that he might know it, so God sets a visible mark upon His servants: He doth not make a
new creature for old works. Good works are witnesses that you can bring to evidence the truth and power of grace. Luther saith, “Good works are faith incarnate,” that is, faith is manifested by them, as the Son of God was manifested in the flesh. They are witnesses to the world, to yourselves, and unto God that you are His. They are signs and witnesses to the world. This is the badge by which God would have His peculiar children known—not by pomp and worldly splendor, not by any outward excellency, riches, greatness, and estate, but by zeal to good works.
There are no barren trees in Christ’s garden…Our heavenly Father would be glorified in His servants’ bringing forth much fruit: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (Joh 15:8). God standeth much upon His honor. Now it is for the honor of God that all which are planted and grafted into Christ should be full of good works…Look: as in a tree, the sap and life is hid, but the fruit and apples do appear, so zeal of good works is that which appears…It is the difference between us and hypocrites: a hypocrite, like a carbuncle, seems to be all on a fire; but when you touch it, it is quite cold. So they pretend to religion, talk much, but have no true regular zeal, no spiritual warmth. It is notable our Lord Himself proves His divine original by His works, “Though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him” (Joh 10:38). So is this the sensible evidence you are in Christ and Christ in you.
Graces are not always evident in feeling, but in fruit; the effects cannot be hid. Then they are signs and evidences to God Himself. The Lord will look upon them as marks and evidences of His people…That the faith of the elect might be found to praise and honor, He will have works produced. Not that God wants evidences of our sincerity, but He will have all the world know we have not been unfruitful. A man that expecteth to be posed is preparing to answer, and would give something to know the questions aforehand. Christ hath told us what are the questions upon which we shall be examined and taxed at the Day of Judgment. He will say, “Have you fed and clothed My people? Have you ministered to their necessities? Have you relieved them with spiritual counsel and admonition? Have you been good, holy, and just?” (cf. Mat 25:31-46). Therefore, let us provide to give an answer that we might not be ashamed at the Last Day. Thus, this zeal for good works hath the place and room of a witness: to God, as the rule and measure of His process; to ourselves, as the ground of our assurance; and to the world, as the great vindication of the honor of our profession.
2. It is a fruit of Christ’s death…Certainly, God hath not been at all this cost and labor for nothing. He did not project the sending of Christ, and Jesus Christ did not so give up Himself in the work of redemption for nothing, but [rather] to inflame us to a great height of piety. They that live at a low rate of holiness cross and disgrace the whole design of the Gospel. They are not apprehensive of the love of God in giving Christ or the love of Christ in giving Himself. Our redemption was carried on in such a way, not only that the comfort, but also the duty of the creature might be raised to the highest.
Partly, again, as Christ hath purchased the gift of the Spirit to fit us for good works, yea, to make us zealous in them: “According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Tit 3:5, 6). Now the Spirit dwelleth in our hearts to set our graces a-working: “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (Joh 4:14). So John 7:38, 39: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him shall receive.” The Spirit is not a fountain sealed up, but flowing forth. The Spirit of God is a mighty Spirit and comes in upon the soul not only as a gentle blast, but as a mighty rushing wind! He comes not only in the appearance of a dove, but of cloven tongues of fire (Act 2). He comes as a Spirit of power to quicken and awaken the soul to great heights and fervors in obedience.
Look: as men acted by Satan (the unclean spirit) are restless in evil and carried headlong as the herd of swine into the sea, so those that are acted by the Spirit of God are much more carried on with great earnestness in the ways of God. The devil hath not such advantages to work upon his instruments as the Spirit of God hath upon us. The devil works and operates in all the children of disobedience: “The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). But the devil cannot work but by man’s consent, neither can he work immediately upon the soul, but only by the senses and by the fancy, but the Spirit of God can work immediately upon them in whom He acts. Therefore, being acted by Him, they must needs be zealous and earnest; for the Spirit of God “knows no slow motions”… When the Spirit puts forth its force upon the soul, such as are drawn by the Holy Ghost are not in jest, as carnal men are, but in earnest. They do not
dally with religion, but make it their great business to surprise heaven and carry on constant communion with God: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mat 11:12).
USE 1: Grace is no enemy to good works. Libertinism is ancient and natural. Christ died to improve piety, not to lessen it, but to raise it to the highest, to make us zealous of good works that we might be carried on to heaven with full sails. Therefore, he that grows looser, less watchful against sin, less diligent in the exercise of holiness, less frequent in communion with God, less humble and penitent after committing of sin, offers the greatest abuse to grace that may be and perverts its natural use. There is no freezing by the fire. We may freeze indeed by painted fire: that may make us contract chilliness and drowsiness. But true grace is a fire that warms and inflames our affections. Christ came to make us more cheerful and lively, but not slack, careless, and cold…A cold Christian will have but cold comfort. For whom did Christ die? For those that are zealous of good works…It is not cold prayers, yawning devotions, and drowsy wishes when men are half-asleep that will serve in this case. Heaven is gotten by force and surprised by onset and storm. It signifies breaking through the rail, and all restraints that are set to keep us off from God.
USE 2: To stir us up to this zeal of good works. In a dead and drowsy age, we need an alarm. Knowledge hath now devoured practice in these decaying times. Seneca complains men are altogether studious for filling their brains, not warming their hearts. And when once men became more learned, they were less good. The world is altogether for storing the head with notions, empty and airy strains; so that if Christ should come amongst us, He would find few zealous, but a company of lazy Christians that live at a low, cheap rate of Christianity. High-flown we are indeed in our fancies, in notions and pretences, but low and flat in practice and conversation. Usually thus it is in the time of the church’s prosperity; like a river, it loseth in depth what it gains in breadth. Then it hath many friends, but their love is not so strong nor so hot as at other times…Thus it often falls out with the church of God that, when religion is fair, many take up the profession, but alas! It is but weak and spiritless without any life and vigor…Therefore, let us inquire what kind of enforcements and considerations are likely to be most operative to press us to this zeal and care of good works.
Consider how violent and earnest carnal men are in the ways of sin, and shall they serve Satan better than you serve God? Oh! Consider, you have a better master, better work, and better wages. Their master is the devil; their work is the basest drudgery, being slaves to their own lusts; and their wages are suitable: their reward is everlasting damnation and a separation from the presence of the Lord. How active are wicked men for the kingdom of darkness! How zealous and earnest to ruin themselves, as if they could not be damned soon enough…God bids the prophet look upon this sight (as indeed it is worthy of a Christian consideration): Seest thou what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto other gods” (Jer 7:17, 18). What a busy diligence is here to promote their false worship! Fathers, children, husbands, wives—they all put their helping hands to the work and find some employment or other. Where will you have a family so earnest and zealous to set up the work of God? Oh! How can you look upon such a spectacle as this without shame, that a lust should have more power with them than the love of God with you?...You have higher motives, nobler employment; your work is the perfection of the creature; the noblest faculties are exercised in the noblest way of operation; your rewards are more excellent; and you have greater advantages and helps. Shall they take more pains to undo their souls than you do to save your souls? We read in ecclesiastical story, when Pambus saw a harlot curiously dressed, he wept, partly to see one take so much pains for her own eternal ruin, and partly because he had not been so careful to please Christ and to dress up his soul for Christ as she was to please her wanton lover. Christians, whenever you are cast upon such a sight or spectacle, when you come by a shop, and see men labor and toiling out their hearts, and all this for temporal gain, doth it not make you blush and be ashamed that you are so negligent and careless in the work of God?
Consider you yourselves have been violent and earnest in the ways of sin: will you not do as much for God? How may every one say, “When I was a wicked and carnal man, I followed it with all my heart, and shall I do less now in a state of grace?” The Apostle hath a notable expression, “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Rom 6:19). Mark how the Apostle brings it in with a preface, “I speak after the manner of men,” that is, men in common sense and reason judge it equal that they should be as diligent to come up to the height of sanctification and as zealous of good works, as ever you were to come up to the height of sin and were zealous for hell. Should you not have as much care to save yourselves as to ruin and damn yourselves? You made haste to do evil,
as if you could not be damned soon enough; now, in reason, you should be as zealous for God as [you were] for Satan. Heretofore we could riot away the day and card away the night; and shall not some days be spent in fasting and prayer? Shall every hour be begrudged that is bestowed upon God?...It is an equitable, modest, and just proposal that I make, and with condescension to your infirmities, that you should be as earnest and zealous for God, and to grow in grace, as ever you were zealous to increase your guilt and sin. Formerly, I never ceased until I got to the top, until I was so wicked that I could hardly be more wicked. Why should I not now labor to grow in grace? Can conversion be right when sin had more of our thoughts than ever God had?...
Consider what Christ hath done in purchasing our salvation. It was no play and sport to redeem [sinners]. Christ was not in jest when He yielded up Himself to be tempted, to be persecuted, to be crucified, to be exercised with bitter agonies; and is all this expense and cost for nothing? The temptations of Christ and the sorrows of His cross all show that it is no easy matter to bring a soul to heaven; and, therefore, shall not we be zealous? Carnal and careless Christians do lessen Christ’s sufferings interpretatively, as if they were not so great. They trifle and dally, and compliment in religion, and so do not make it so weighty a matter to save their souls: “Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luk 24:26); and, “Thus it behoved Christ to suffer” (24:46). As matters were laid in God’s decree, nothing else would serve the turn: Christ ought to suffer; it was foreordained.
But you will say, “How do you force this zealousness and earnestness for good works out of what Christ hath done! For if He hath done so much, what need we do any more?” I answer—He is gone to heaven as the Captain of our salvation, and we must follow Him in the same way; He is gone to seize upon heaven in our right, but we must force our way thither. Canaan was given to Israel, but they were to take possession by the sword. [Likewise], Caleb was to drive out the giants out of Hebron, though it was given him. So, though heaven be given and Christ hath seized upon it in our right, yet we have our conflicts. Indeed, the power of Satan is broken, his head bruised, yet there are some relics of the battle left for our exercise. Therefore, be earnest, be zealous.
Consider how odious want of zeal is to God. He will not own a cold, careless, neutral spirit: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16). Cold, lazy professors, that have nothing but a dead form, are as lukewarm water to the stomach; and there is nothing the stomach nauseates so much as that which is lukewarm. So will God cast them out with much loathing…
Consider how dishonorable it is to the living God to serve Him with a dead heart and cold affections, when He hath indented with you upon such glorious and noble terms…“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:14). God, that is a living God, must have lively service; but men worship Him as a dead idol…What you do, it must be done with all the heart and all the might. Consider, religion is not a fancy. You do not worship the vanities of the Gentiles; therefore, be not dead, cold, and careless. You worship the living God, and He will be served with life, zeal, and strength of affection.
From Sermon 22 in “Sermons upon Titus 2:11-14” in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 16,