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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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The original word, in its primary signification, means heat; such as the heat of boiling water. When it is figuratively applied to the mind, it means any warm emotion or affection. Sometimes it is taken for envy: so we render it, Acts 5:17 , where we read, "The high priest, and all that were with him, were filled with envy," επλησθησαν ζηλου : although it might as well be rendered, "were filled with zeal." Sometimes it is taken for anger and indignation; sometimes, for vehement desire. And when any of our passions are strongly moved on a religious account, whether for any thing good, or against any thing which we conceive to be evil, this we term religious zeal. But it is not all that is called religious zeal which is worthy of that name. It is not properly religious or Christian zeal, if it be not joined with charity. A fine writer (Bishop Sprat) carries the matter farther still. "It has been affirmed," says he, "no zeal is right, which is not charitable, but is mostly so. Charity, or love, is not only one ingredient, but the chief ingredient, in its composition." May we not go farther still? May we not say, that true zeal is not mostly charitable, but wholly so? that is, if we take charity, in St. Paul's sense, for love; the love of God and our neighbour.

For it is a certain truth, although little understood in the world, that Christian zeal is all love. It is nothing else. The love of God and man fills up its whole nature. Yet it is not every degree of that love to which this appellation is given. There may be some love, a small degree of it, where there is no zeal. But it is, properly, love in a higher degree. It is fervent love. True Christian zeal is no other than the flame of love. This is the nature, the inmost essence of it. Phinehas is commended for having expressed much zeal against those wicked persons that violated the law of the Lord, Numbers 25:11 ; Numbers 25:13 ; and in Psalms 69:9 , the psalmist says, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up;" my earnest desire to have all things duly ordered about thy worship, and my just displeasure and indignation at all abuses in it, have wasted my natural moisture and vital spirits.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Zeal'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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