Christians are to be passionate about the truth, especially the Gospel. However, sometimes, our feelings can race ahead of our reason and obscure the portion of truth we’re trying to communicate.
When I was in college, I was profoundly affected by being baptized in water. I was so affected that I tried to persuade everyone I talked to that they needed to be baptized as well. I’d disrupt campus Christian meetings with obnoxious questions about why baptism wasn’t being emphasized. I tried to convince my Christian friends that they were living a sub-Christian life if they hadn’t been baptized, and ended up baptizing about 6 people over months that followed. I was on a mission from God. Or so I thought.
I still think water baptism is important. There’s no question that our Savior instituted baptism as an important act to be obeyed by his followers. However, I allowed my initial personal experience of it to determine the height of my passion when I spoke to others about it.
The same thing might happen when we’re speaking of some experience we’ve had in a time of corporate worship. We’re moved by a certain form, or practice, or setting, and equate being moved with doctrinal weight. It might be singing with a full band or singing with no instruments at all. It might be using a certain song, following a particular leader, or engaging in a specific physical movement. Three hundred years ago, Isaac Watts, the English hymn writer, addressed this tendency in his book Discourses on the Love of God (unfortunately no longer in print).
Some persons, as soon as they begin to find farther light dawning upon their minds, and are let into the knowledge of some doctrine or sentiment which they knew not before, immediately set their zeal to work: their zeal is all in a flame to propagate and promote this new lesson of truth, before their own hearts are well established in it upon solid reasoning, and before they have considered whether it be a doctrine of great importance, and whether it merit such a degree of zeal. How common a case is it among ministers of the gospel, to give a loose to their affections at the first glimpse of some pleasing opinion, or some fresh discovery of what they call truth? They help out the weakness of the proof by strength of their passions, and by the pleasure they take in the opinion they have embraced. This confirms their assent too soon, and they grow deaf to the arguments that are brought to oppose it. They construe every text in the scripture to support this doctrine, they bring in the prophets and apostles to maintain it. They fancy they see it in a thousand verses of their Bibles, and they pronounce all men heretics that dare maintain the contrary opinions. Their conduct in this matter is so vehement, as though every gleam of light were sufficient to determine their faith, because it happens to fire their affections; they grow so warm about it, as though every opinion in religion were fundamental; and so fiery is their zeal, as though every mistake deserved the severest censures.
While God intends us to be passionate about our faith, our emotions need to be regulated and energized by a steady feeding on God’s Word. While all of God’s truth is important, not every doctrine is equally important. I’ve found again and again that I tend to “help out the weakness of my proof with the strength of my passions” and "pronounce all men heretics that dare maintain the contrary opinions."
May God keep us from growing deaf to others, and speaking the loudest and longest when we have the least biblical support for our position.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Prov. 18:2)
I have often been guilty of this very thing. Isaac had such a beautiful and brilliant command of language, I love the way he articulates this fallacy of pride. Actually, I think more often than not it isn’t pride, but an eagerness to know and understand truth that sometimes clouds reason, patience, and good judgment. Thanks for the great reminder.
Thanks for the quote. I so identified with your overwhelming zeal. I call it Young Calvinist’s Disease.
I enjoy your seasoned exuberance over grace. Thanks for your encouragement in my pastoring and my faith.
Grace and peace.
Man, I know this well! I find it most often in myself when I think I’ve “found the answer” or the “meaning of life” in a scripture or a piece of wisdom that I have revealed to me in any number of ways. I ride the storm of passion and excitement for a week or two, and then realize that I find the newfound “salvation” lacking. When I come to my senses again, I realize that I have made an idol out of whatever it is. I have grown from the insight, yes, but soon remember that our all-powerful God and His gospel is what I long for, not only a piece of his revealed Word that I see for a season as an end in itself. And then I imagine God laughing knowingly at me, his foolish, but growing child.