“The Christian’s armour will rust, except it be furbished and scoured with the oil of prayer.”
–William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1662/2002), 2: 289.
“The Christian’s armour will rust, except it be furbished and scoured with the oil of prayer.”
–William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1662/2002), 2: 289.
“David shows how it is that the heavens proclaim to us the glory of God, namely, by openly bearing testimony that they have not been put together by chance, but were wonderfully created by the supreme Architect.
When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguish the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendour which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of His providence.
Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation; but the heavens themselves, although God should say nothing on the subject, proclaim loudly and distinctly enough that they have been fashioned by His hands: and this of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of His glory.
As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.”
–John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1: 309. Calvin is commenting on Psalm 19:1.
“Does any reader of this paper need a friend? In such a world as this, how many hearts there are which ought to respond to that appeal! How many there are who feel, “I stand alone.”
How many have found one idol broken after another, one staff failing after another, one fountain dried after another, as they have travelled through the wilderness of this world.
If there is one who wants a friend, let that one behold at the right hand of God an unfailing friend, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let that one repose his aching head and weary heart upon the bosom of that unfailing friend, Jesus Christ the Lord.
There is one living at God’s right hand of matchless tenderness.
There is one who never dies.
There is one who never fails, never disappoints, never forsakes, never changes His mind, never breaks off friendship.
That One, the Lord Jesus, I commend to all who need a friend.
No one in a world like this, a fallen world, a world which we find more and more barren, it may be, every year we live,—no one ever need be friendless while the Lord Jesus Christ lives to intercede at the right hand of God.
Does any reader of this paper need a priest. There can be no true religion without a priest, and no saving Christianity without a confessional.
But who is the true priest? Where is the true confessional? There is only one true priest,—and that is Christ Jesus the Lord.
There is only one real confessional,—and that is the throne of grace where the Lord Jesus waits to receive those who come to Him to unburden their hearts in His presence.
We can find no better priest than Christ. We need no other Priest.
Why need we turn to any priest upon earth, while Jesus is sealed, anointed, appointed, ordained, and commissioned by God the Father, and has an ear ever ready to hear, and a heart ever ready to feel for the poor sinful sons of men?
The priesthood is His lawful prerogative. He has deputed that office to none.
Woe be to any one upon earth who dares to rob Christ of His prerogative!
Woe be to the man who takes upon himself the office which Christ holds in His own hands, and has never transferred to any one born of Adam, upon the face of the globe!
Let us never lose sight of this mighty truth of the Gospel,—the intercession and priestly office of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I believe that a firm grasp of this truth is one great safeguard against the errors of the Church of Rome.
I believe that losing sight of this great truth is one principal reason why so many have fallen away from the faith in some quarters, have forsaken the creed of their Protestant forefathers, and have gone back to the darkness of Rome.
Once firmly established upon this mighty truth,—that we have a Priest, an altar, and a Confessor,—that we have an unfailing, never-dying, ever-living Intercessor, who has deputed His office to none,—and we shall see that we need turn aside nowhere else.
We need not hew for ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water, when we have in the Lord Jesus Christ a fountain of living waters, ever flowing and free to all.
We need not seek any human priest upon earth, when we have a divine Priest living for us in heaven.
Let us beware of regarding the Lord Jesus Christ only as one that is dead. Here, I believe, many greatly err. They think much of His atoning death, and it is right that they should do so.
But we ought not to stop short there. We ought to remember that He not only died and went to the grave, but that He rose again, and ascended up on high, leading captivity captive.
We ought to remember that He is now sitting on the right hand of God, to do a work as real, as true, as important to our souls, as the work which He did when He shed His blood.
Christ lives, and is not dead. He lives as truly as any one of ourselves.
Christ sees us, hears us, knows us, and is acting as a Priest in heaven on behalf of His believing people.
The thought of His life ought to have as great and important a place in our souls, as the thought of His death upon the cross.”
–J.C. Ryle, “Christ’s Power to Save,” Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2013), 414-415.
“The gospel influences virtually all our relationships and responsibilities in life and ministry. Let’s slow down a bit and unpack these in more detail.
Our approach to suffering—that is, how to suffer unjustly without growing bitter and resentful—is tied directly to the way Christ suffered for us and did so without reviling those who reviled Him: “when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23; cf. 2:18–25; 3:17–18).
Or take humility as another example. The basis for Paul’s appeal that we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than” ourselves is the self-sacrifice of God the Son in becoming a human and submitting to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:1–5 in relation to Phil. 2:6–11). And as husbands, we are to love our wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25, 26–33).
Why should we be generous and sacrificial with our money? Because, says Paul, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; cf. 9:13).
Likewise, we are to forgive one another “as God in Christ forgave” us (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13). We are to “walk in love” toward each other, says Paul, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1–2). We are to serve one another in humility as Christ served his disciples by washing their feet and eventually suffering in their stead (John 13:1–20).
The freedom we have in Christ, says Paul in Romans 14, is to be controlled in its exercise by the recognition that the weaker brother who might be damaged by our behavior is one for whom Christ died. Paul encourages us to pray for all based on the fact that Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:1–7).
If that were not enough, countless passages in the New Testament direct us back to the reality of the gospel and what Christ has done for us through it as the primary way to combat those false beliefs and feelings that hinder our spiritual growth.
So, for example,
When you don’t feel loved by others, meditate on Romans 5:5–11 and 8:35–39.
When you don’t have a sense of any personal value, read Matthew 10:29–31 and 1 John 3:1–3.
When you struggle to find meaning in life, study Ephesians 1:4–14 and Romans 11:33–36.
When you don’t feel useful, consider 1 Corinthians 12:7–27 and 15:58.
When you feel unjustly criticized, rest in the truth of Romans 8:33–34.
When you feel excluded by others, rejoice in Hebrews 13:5–6.
When you feel you have no good works, let Ephesians 2:8–10 have its effect.
When you are constantly asking, “Who am I?” take courage in 1 Peter 2:9–10.
When you live in fear that other people have the power to destroy or undermine who you are, be strengthened by Romans 8:31–34 and Hebrews 13:5–6.
When you don’t feel like you belong anywhere, take comfort from 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Ephesians 4:1–16.
When Satan accuses you of being a constant failure, remind him and yourself of 1 Corinthians 1:30–31.
When Satan tells you that you are an embarrassment to the church, quote Ephesians 3:10.
When you find yourself bitter towards the church and indifferent regarding its ministries, reflect on Acts 20:28.
When you find yourself shamed into silence when confronted by non-Christians, be encouraged with 2 Timothy 1:8–12.
When you find yourself experiencing prejudice against those of another race or culture, memorize and act upon the truth of Romans 1:16; 2 Corinthians 5:14–16; Ephesians 2:11–22; and Revelation 5.
When you struggle with pride and boasting in your own achievements, be humbled by Romans 3:27–28 and 1 Corinthians 1:18–31.
When you feel despair and hopelessness, let Romans 5:1–10 restore your confidence.
When you feel defeated by sin and hopeless ever to change, delight yourself in Romans 7:24–25.
When you feel condemned by God for your multiple, repeated failures, speak aloud the words of Romans 8:1.
When you lack power to resist conforming to the world, consider Romans 12:1–2 and Galatians 6:14.
When you feel weak and powerless, be energized by Romans 16:25.
When you are tempted sexually, never forget 1 Corinthians 6:18–20.
And again, when you find yourself saying,
“I’m not having any impact in life or on others,” be uplifted by 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.
“I feel guilty and filled with shame all the time for my sins,” be reminded of Ephesians 1:7.
“I live in constant fear,” be encouraged by Luke 12:32 and Revelation 2:9–11.
“I struggle with anxiety and worry about everything,” don’t neglect the truth of Matthew 6:25–34; Philippians 4:6–7; and 1 Peter 5:6–7.
“I am defined and controlled by my past,” look to 2 Corinthians 5:17.
“I live in fear that God will abandon me,” consider his promise in Romans 8:35–38.
“I can’t break free of my sins and bad habits,” linger long with Romans 6:6, 14.
“I’m afraid to pray and fear that God will mock my petitions,” take heart from Hebrews 4:14–16.
“I carry grudges against those who’ve wronged me and live in bitterness towards them,” reflect and meditate on Colossians 3:12–13.
“I can’t find strength to serve others, fearing that I’ll be taken advantage of by them,” let Mark 10:45 and Philippians 2:5–11 have their way in your life.
“I’m a spiritual orphan and belong to no one,” rejoice in Galatians 4:4–7.
Each of these texts refers to the gospel of what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and each text applies that gospel truth to the particular problem noted.
These, then, are just a handful of the ways that the gospel affects all of life, all of ministry, and everything we seek to be and do and accomplish as Christians and as local churches.”
–Sam Storms, A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin (And Three Things He’ll Never Do) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 184-188.
“I’m not a scientist. Oh, how I wish I were! I simply don’t have the brain for it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try to understand science. The one area of science that has long fascinated me is astronomy.
The sheer magnitude of the universe has always captivated my attention and fueled my imagination. This fixation on the heavens and all they contain was stimulated greatly by the creation of the Hubble Telescope.
What you are about to read is no abstraction that bears no influence on your life. It is far more than mere statistics that account for the size of the universe. I can say that with confidence because of what the psalmist wrote:
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10–12)
As you’ve seen from the subtitle of this book, our focus is on not only the dozen things God has done with our sin, but also three things He never will do. Two of them are mentioned here.
God does not and never will deal with us according to our sins. God does not and never will repay us according to our iniquities. We’ll address both of these wonderful truths later on. But here, I want us to focus on the removal of our transgressions from us as far as the east is the from west.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t say something about the intervening sentence. David rejoices in the fact that God’s steadfast love toward those who fear Him can be measured only by the height of the heavens above the earth. David was not an astronomer. He had no grasp of the unimaginable magnitude of the height to which he refers. But we do today.
A good illustration to help us fathom the unfathomable is the light-year. A light-year is how far light travels in 1 calendar year. If you have a big calculator, you can figure it out for yourself. Multiply 186,000 times 60, and you have a light-minute. Multiply that figure by 60, and you have a light-hour.
Multiply that figure by 24, and you have a light-day, and that by 365, and you have a light-year. So, if light moves at 186,000 miles per second, it can travel 6 trillion miles (6,000,000,000,000) in a 365-day period. That’s the equivalent of about 12,000,000 round trips to the moon.
Let’s assume we are speeding in our jet airplane at 500 miles per hour on a trip to the moon. If we traveled nonstop, 24 hours a day, it would take us just shy of 3 weeks to arrive at our destination. If we wanted to visit our sun, a mere 93 million miles from Earth, it would take us a bit more than 21 years to get there.
And if we wanted to reach Pluto, the (dwarf) planet farthest away in our solar system, our nonstop trip would last slightly longer than 900 years! Of course, we’d all be dead by then, but I trust you get the point.
Now, try to get your mind around this: The Hubble Telescope has given us breathtaking pictures of a galaxy some 13 billion light-years from Earth. Yes, 13 billion light-years! Remember, a light-year is 6,000,000,000,000 (6 trillion) miles. That would put this galaxy at 78,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles from Earth!
In case you were wondering, we count from million, to billion, to trillion, to quadrillion, to quintillion, to sextillion. So, this galaxy is 78 sextillion miles from earth.
I can barely handle driving for more than 3 or 4 hours at 65 miles per hour before I need to stop and do something, either eat at McDonald’s or, well, you know. The thought of traveling at 500 miles per hour nonstop, literally 60 minutes of every hour, 24 hours in every day, 7 days in every week, 52 weeks in every year, with not a moment’s pause or delay, for—are you prepared for this?—20,000,000,000,000,000 years.
That’s 20 quadrillion years! And that would get us just to the farthest point that our best telescopes have yet been able to detect. This would be the mere fringe of what lies beyond.
Pause for a moment and let this sink in.
Are you beginning to get a feel for what it means to know that God’s love for you, that love that took unimaginable steps to remove the guilt of your sin, is greater than the distance between the heavens and the earth? Take as much time as you need.
If there is a clear sky tonight, go outside and gaze into the expanse above. Pick a star, any star. It seems fairly close. Want to visit? Surely it couldn’t take that long to get there. It almost seems you can extend your hand and touch it.
Well, not quite.
The nearest star to us is a system of three called Alpha Centauri. The closest of those is Proxima Centauri, a mere 4.3 light-years from Earth.
If we were bored with Pluto and wanted to extend our journey, speeding along nonstop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, we would land on the closest star to Earth in a mere 6 million years! That’s 500 miles per hour for 6,000,000 years.
Beginning to get the picture? It’s a very small illustration of how high the heavens are above the earth.
Let’s speed up our travel a bit. Suppose our airplane was fast enough to go from Earth to the sun in only 1 hour. That’s traveling at 93 million miles per hour. Imagine what that would do to the radar gun of your local police department!
Traveling nonstop at 93 million miles per hour, it would still take us over 78 years to reach 61 Cygni, a star in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), roughly 10.9 light-years from Earth.
If you aren’t satisfied with visiting a single star, perhaps you’d like to take a look at the next galaxy in our cosmic neighborhood. The Andromeda Galaxy is a giant spiral, almost a twin of our own Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers have determined that there’s probably a black hole at its center 1 million times the mass of our sun.
Although Andromeda is closest to us it’s still a staggering 2.5 million light-years away (a mere 15 quintillion miles, or 15 followed by 18 zeros). On dark nights in the fall, it’s barely visible to the naked eye as a small misty patch of light. Some are frightened to hear that it’s moving toward us at 75 miles per second.
No need to panic or rush to build a bomb shelter. At that pace, given its distance from earth, it might reach our Milky Way in about 6 billion years! Some say it will take only 3 billion years, so perhaps you should begin working on that bomb shelter after all!
In case you’re wondering—on the assumption that your brain is still able to calculate the seemingly incalculable—our trip to Andromeda would last a paltry 4.2 trillion years (that’s 4, 200,000,000,000 years).
Here’s one more for you to ponder: Shrink the earth to the size of a grapefruit. Pause for a moment and let the scale sink in. On this basis, the moon would be a ping-pong ball about 12 feet away. The sun would be a sphere as big as a 4-story building a mile away. Pluto would be an invisible marble 37 miles away.
Now, put our entire solar system into that grapefruit. The nearest star would be over half a mile away. The Milky Way would span 12,000 miles! Now reduce the entire Milky Way to a grapefruit! The nearest galaxy to us, Andromeda, would be at a distance of 10 feet. The Virgo cluster would be a football field away.
Those calculations are the best I can do to explain how high the heavens are from the earth, all in order to illustrate how “great” God’s steadfast love is for you. Incalculable love. Immeasurable love. Indecipherable love.
King David’s point is that the distance between Earth and this distant galaxy, a mere 78 sextillion miles, is a pathetically small comparison to the likelihood that you will ever be dealt with according to your sins or repaid for your iniquities!
If you were ever inclined to pursue your transgressions so that you might place yourself beneath their condemning power, 78,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles is an infinitesimally small fraction of the distance you must travel to find them!
One of the reasons we struggle to enjoy all that God is for us in Jesus is that we live under the influence of a lie. The lie is that our lifetime of sins, which often feels incalculable, is very close at hand, nearer to us than we feared.
But David’s assurance is that God has removed our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” By “remove,” he means that God has taken steps to eliminate any possibility that our sins and acts of idolatry and immorality could ever be used against us to justify our condemnation.
And just how far is the east from the west?
Once again, we should remember that David is not speaking as a scientist. He’s not giving us precise mathematical or astronomical calculations.
He’s trying to describe, as best he can, the utter impossibility that the penal consequences of our sins will ever return upon us. I’m quite sure that the way I will now explain David’s language would be challenged by modern astronomers. But bear with me.
If I were to venture due east from my home in Edmond, Oklahoma, unhindered, undeterred, and in an immovable and unbending straight line, I would soon pass through the states of Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean into parts unknown.
If my wife were to do the same going west, we would never again lay eyes on each other. She would travel through northern New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California before passing above the Pacific Ocean. Neither of us would ever reach the end of our journey.
Don’t think of this as two individuals traversing our globe, as if one launched out going east and the other going west, only to encircle the globe and finally bump into each other halfway around the world. David wasn’t thinking in those terms.
His point is that God takes the guilt of our sins and propels them eastward, and takes you and me personally and sends us westward, each on a perfectly straight line.
When and where will the two ever meet up? Never, of course.
And those are the chances, if you will, the odds, that you and I will ever encounter our sins or their power to condemn.
I’ve often wondered why the Spirit of God stirred the hearts of the biblical authors to make use of such extravagant and mind-bending images and illustrations. But I now think I know why.
We—or perhaps I should speak only for myself. I am a hardheaded, slow-witted doofus who lacks the capacity to believe anything so wonderful as this.
Were God to have written in the psalm that He loves us and has taken our sin away, that would, of course, have been enough for some people to fathom. When certain folk hear of the love of God, their response is something along the lines of: “Well, of course He loves me! I’m a lovable person! There’s nothing so surprising about all that.”
But for most of us, knowing ourselves as we do, it takes more than a simple affirmation of divine love for sinners to awaken us to the sheer magnitude of what God has done for us. It takes a comparison of the height of God’s love with the height of the heavens above to drive home the point.
It takes asking me to conceive of the inconceivable distance between east and west to open my eyes to this truth.
I do not easily acknowledge God’s love for me. If I were put in his place, I would never love me!
God knows this, and has thus taken these elaborate verbal steps and the use of seemingly outlandish illustrations to overcome my resistance to the reality of his love.
I hope and pray that it is beginning to sink into your soul as well.”
–Sam Storms, A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin (And Three Things He’ll Never Do) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 97-103.
“I thank you for your condolences and prayers, especially the latter. I am a debtor to the prayers of my friends. The Lord has heard them on my behalf.
I have been, and am, wonderfully supported. My attachment to my dear wife was very strong, indeed idolatrous; yet I have been far from sinking under the stroke.
There is no school like the school of the cross. There men are made wise unto salvation; wise to win souls.
In a crucified Saviour are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
And the tongue of the truly learned, that can speak a word in season to them that are weary, is not acquired, like Greek and Latin, by reading great books; but by self-knowledge and soul exercises.
To learn navigation by the fire-side, will never make a man an expert mariner. He must do his business in great waters. And practice will bring him into many situations, of which his general theory could give him no conception.
I hope my late trial has not be wholly lost upon me. I am willing to live while the Lord pleases, for I am His, and not my own.
Independent of His will, I see little worth living for. I hope, from henceforth, I shall be a pilgrim and a stranger upon earth.
This world is too poor to repair my loss. It is a wound which can only be effectually healed, by Him that made it.
And faithful, indeed, are the wounds of such a friend. (Proverbs 27:6)
May we die daily.
May we live forever.
–John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 243.
This quote is from a letter written on March 26, 1791, following the death of Mary, Newton’s beloved wife of forty years. Newton preached her funeral sermon from Habakkuk 3:17-18, a passage which he had reserved from his first entrance in the ministry for this particular service, if he should survive her. He later wrote: “The Bank of England is too poor to compensate for such a loss as mine.”
“I often think of you, and I think of you as burdened, but I know there is a might arm near to support you, and to sanctify all your trials.
The Lord will do you good by them, both as a Christian, and as a minister. When the shepherd is much exercised it is usually well for the flock (2 Cor. 1:3-6).
And some of our afflictions perhaps befall us for the sake of our people, that we may be reminded and enabled to speak their feelings, by what we feel ourselves.
In this way the tongue of the learned is acquired and skill to speak a word in season to the weary (Isa. 50:4).
Settle it in your heart, my friend, that the Lord does all things well, all for the best.
Believe it now, and in due time you shall plainly see it, and praise Him equally for giving and taking away (Job 1:21).
Time is short and the nature of our employment while it lasts, is well suited to raise our thoughts above the little concerns of such a life as this, to fill us with great ideas, to inspire with great aims, to animate us with great prospects:
The love of Christ; the worth of souls, the honour of being instrumental in their recovery; a glorious endless state of happiness and holiness.
How light must our present sufferings appear, when weighed in the scales of the Sanctuary against these things.
‘Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.’ (Galatians 6:9)”
–John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 192.
“Precious Bible, what a treasure!
Blessed be the Lord, I can see that my acceptance, and perseverance, do not depend upon my frames or feelings, but upon the power, compassion, care and faithfulness of Him, who in the midst of all the changes to which we are exposed in this wilderness state, is unchangeably the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
O what a horrid wretch was I when on board the Harwich, on the coast of Africa, and too long afterwards. Surely no one who did not finally perish was ever more apparently given up to a reprobate mind!
I am a singular and striking proof, that the atoning blood of Jesus can cleanse from the most enormous sins, that His grace can soften the hardest heart, subdue the most obstinate habits of evil, and that He is indeed able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
Lord I believe, O help me against my unbelief (Mark 9:24).
I have been, yea to this day, I am a chief sinner, and yet I am permitted to preach the truth I once laboured to destroy.”
–John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 396-397.
of might inconceivable,
of glory incomprehensible,
of mercy immeasurable,
of goodness ineffable;
O Master, look down upon us
in Your tender love,
and show forth towards us
Your rich mercies and compassions.
In Christ’s name, Amen.”
—John Chrysostom, as quoted in Jonathan Gibson, Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 112.
“Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the extraordinary conduct of two of the apostles, James and John.
We are told that a certain Samaritan village refused to show hospitality to our Lord. ‘They did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:53)
And then we read of a strange proposal which James and John made. ‘They said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?’ (Luke 9:54)
Here was zeal indeed, and zeal of a most plausible kind,—zeal for the honor of Christ! Here was zeal, justified and supported by a scriptural example, and that the example of no less a prophet than Elijah!
But it was not a zeal according to knowledge. The two disciples, in their heat, forgot that circumstances alter cases, and that the same action which may be right and justifiable at one time, may be wrong and unjustifiable at another.
They forgot that punishments should always be proportioned to offences, and that to destroy a whole village of ignorant people for a single act of discourtesy, would have been both unjust and cruel.
In short, the proposal of James and John was a wrong and inconsiderate one. They meant well, but they greatly erred.
Facts like this in the Gospels are carefully recorded for our learning. Let us see to it that we mark them well, and treasure them up in our minds.
It is possible to have much zeal for Christ, and yet to exhibit it in most unholy and unchristian ways.
It is possible to mean well and have good intentions, and yet to make most grievous mistakes in our actions.
It is possible to fancy that we have Scripture on our side, and to support our conduct by scriptural quotations, and yet to commit serious errors.
It is as clear as daylight, from this and other cases related in the Bible, that it is not enough to be zealous and well-meaning.
Very grave faults are frequently committed with good intentions. From no quarter perhaps has the Church received so much injury as from ignorant but well-meaning men.
We must seek to have knowledge as well as zeal. Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general, and a ship without a rudder.
We must pray that we may understand how to make a right application of Scripture. The Word is no doubt ‘a light to our feet, and a lantern to our path.’
But it must be the Word rightly handled, and properly applied.”
–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 254-255. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:51-56.