The Zeal of Thine House

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on December 10, 2000

by Glenn Conjurske

“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting. And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables, and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:13-17).

The first thing we see here is the action of Christ. He went into the temple and saw it filled with money-changers, and men selling oxen and sheep and doves. He looked the situation over, and left the temple. Went out and found a stick and some small cords. Tied the cords to the stick to make a whip, and returned to the temple with the whip in his hands, and quiet determination in his heart. He then took that whip and drove them all out of the temple, men and animals together. He walked up to the tables covered with money, and turned them over, so that the money was running all over the floor, and every man’s money mixed up with every other man’s. He dealt more mildly with the sellers of doves, merely telling them, “Take these things hence,” but they, seeing the scourge in his hands, and having seen what he did to the rest of the folks, no doubt meekly obeyed him.

Now the immediate effect of all this was undoubtedly that he was condemned by most of those that observed him. He was harsh in spirit. He was unloving. He was unreasonable. He was proud. He was a trouble-maker. All these things had gone on in the temple for many years, under the eyes and in the presence of many good men, and they hadn’t made any fuss about it, much less had they come in as rabble-rousers to scramble the money and scatter the animals. There was a good purpose for these practices, and they had the sanction of Holy Scripture besides, for God had told his people to turn their offerings into money, and carry it in their hand to the house of God, and there buy what they needed for their worship.

All these reproaches the Lord no doubt had to bear for his actions that day. But I tell you, the house of God today stands in need of the same sort of purging, and those who undertake to purge it will have to bear all the same sort of reproach. The house of God today is the church of God, and it is full of abominations worse than sheep and oxen and money-changers’ tables. The house of God today is full of the world’s music, and the world’s dress, and the world’s literature, and the world’s politics, and worldly principles of every description, and carnal pleasures, and a great host of carnal men making money from it all, and the prophet of God who sets himself to drive these things out of the house of God will be called harsh and unloving and legalistic and proud, the same as his Lord no doubt was.

But that isn’t what I intend to preach on tonight. The disciples had a different reaction. They observed the Lord whipping and driving men and beasts, and upsetting tables filled with money, and the scenes which were enacted before their eyes brought a word of the Bible to their minds. They “remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” The actions of the Lord were a vivid picture of the principle set forth in that scripture.

And it is of that principle that I intend to speak tonight. The zeal of the house of God ate up the Lord, and the same zeal will eat us up also, if we have any zeal. But I desire to make this practical. It is easy enough to take a text of Scripture like this one, and apply it to ourselves in our thoughts, when the application is only imagination, and we are not eaten up by any zeal at all. What does it mean to be eaten up? Sometimes at our love feasts we have a nice cake or pudding, and it gets eaten up, and what is left of the cake when that happens? Nothing. Nothing is left. It is consumed. And I tell you, if the zeal of the house of God consumes us, it will do this in some very practical and tangible ways.

In the first place, it will eat up our money. All of us, I know, have certain obligations and necessities, for which we must use our money, but what do we do with the rest of it? Does the house of God consume it? Does the testimony of Christ eat it up? Have you no books to buy to feed your soul with, no poor preacher of the truth of God to support, no books or tracts to print, no testimony of Christ for which to live? If the zeal of the house of God does not consume your money, it is hardly honest to say it consumes you.

But I would wrong your souls if I left you with the impression that a zeal for God will eat up only your extra money, which you don’t need for your necessities. It must be a rather mild experience to be eaten up after such a fashion. The zeal of the house of God consumed all the money of the poor widow, when she cast in her two mites, and this was not money which she could spare. No, she cast in “all her living.” If she had waited till she had something she could spare, she would never have given a mite at all. A burning zeal makes no cautious calculations concerning how much it can spare. It consumes all. It consumes what we cannot spare.

We have never been quite so poor as the poor widow. The lowest I have ever been reduced was three mites—-three cents that is—-though at the time I was out of most everything else also. We were travelling at that time, trying to preach the gospel, and not only was I reduced to three cents—-all the money I had in the world—-but I didn’t know if or when another three cents would come to me. God took care of my immediate need at the time, and a young man to whom I endeavored to preach the gospel—-and who knew nothing of my need—-gave me a five-dollar bill. But there have been times when we were poor for years together, and when we needed anything we added it to the wish list—-not luxuries, either, but things which the rest of the world would regard as necessities. Yet in all those years I did not cease to buy the books which would feed our souls, and the souls of those to whom I minister, with the good things of God. So the zeal of the house of God ate up my money. I grudged to spend what little I had for the things of this life, and delighted to lay it out for the things of God.

But let me tell you, if you allow the zeal of the house of God to consume your money, it will consume your reputation also. There are certain Christians, who apparently have nothing better to do, who make it their business to blacken my reputation. I have heard numerous rumors about myself, most of them reproachful, and none of them true. I have heard that I go to bed with the chickens, to save electricity. Not true. I usually get up before the chickens, but I don’t go to bed with them. I have heard that I live in a house without electricity and running water—-as though it were a sin to do so. But it isn’t true. We have electricity enough, and sometimes have more running water than we want. When we moved into our former residence, the first time we had a rain storm we had to stand and hold dish pans over the bed to catch the “running water.” When one dish pan was full, we exchanged it for another—-and we aren’t done yet with drips and buckets and dish pans. I have heard another rumor about myself, that I have a large library of expensive books, and my children wear rags. And what if it were true? What godly man would rather provide nice clothes for his chilren than good books? But it isn’t true. I wear some rags sometimes, but my children don’t. Here is this rag in which I preach every week, but why should I be ashamed of it? It’s a good coat—-100 percent cotton—-warm and comfortable. Only the elbows have holes in them, and only the cuffs are tattered. But I don’t wear this to be singular, much less to try to appear spiritual. My reasons are entirely practical. It is next to impossible to find another like it—-made of cotton, with a good metal zipper, and a good fit—-and if I do find one, I can’t afford the price. While this one has yet a little wear in it, therefore, I intend to use it, while I pray God to give me another one. Peter Cartwright wore worse rags than this, and so did the apostle Paul. I would like to face off with some of these spreaders of rumors some time. I wouldn’t castigate them for telling lies about me. I would only tell them, I am not worthy of such rumors as these. You attribute more zeal to me than I have. I am not so great a fool for Christ’s sake as you make me out to be. Most of these tellers of tales have never met me face to face, and those who have certainly wouldn’t tell their tales to my face. One of them was called to account for it once, by the other men in his church, and as soon as they heard I was in town they arranged a face-to-face meeting between us. Then he was mum, and had nothing to say against me, but only high praise for my ministry, and I had to remind him of the things he had said about me in my absence. But I think one of the main things he had against me was that my kind of Christianity was a reproof to his kind. Only manifest a little zeal for the real Christianity of the Bible, and your reputation will suffer for it.

But I pass on. If the zeal of the house of God eats us up, it will eat up our time. Again, a certain amount of your time is necessarily given to mundane matters—-to obligations and necessities. But how do you spend the rest of it? Laboring to lay up treasures on the earth? Pursuing recreations and pleasures? Lying in a warm bed till a late hour of the morning? I used to do so, when I was ungodly. Now I often have eight hours of work behind me before the time when I used to get up. But how do you spend your “spare time” when you are up? Having a good time with your friends? If so, how are you different from the ungodly world? The Lord’s time was literally eaten up by his zeal for the cause of God. He was thronged with people. He scarcely had time to eat or sleep. He often rose up a great while before day, and often spent the whole night in prayer.

When the disciples saw the life and acts of the Lord, it brought this scripture naturally to their minds. “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” Many of his servants have followed in his steps. Is there any danger, any chance, that your life will bring this scripture to anybody’s mind?

But there is another thing which may come closer to home. If the zeal of the house of God consumes us, it will likely consume our health. It consumed the health of Epaphroditus, when “for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.” Zeal does not sit down and make cautious calculations. It does not ask, Can I perform this service without harm to my health, without harm to my savings, without harm to my prospects? It gives itself, health and all, to the work of Christ. Epaphroditus did so, and Paul commends him for it. The zeal of George Whitefield consumed his health. He would often preach for an hour or two to a vast multitude of souls, and then go out and vomit blood. Charles Wesley wrote of him, “George preaches himself to death.” His friends continually admonished him to spare himself, but in vain. The fact is, zeal cannot resist. It knows not how to spare itself. On the last day of his life he rode fifteen miles from Portsmouth to Exeter, where he found a great multitude gathered in the fields to hear him. One of his companions told him he was more fit to go to bed than to preach. Whitefield answered, “True, sir,” and then turned aside and prayed that he might have strength to preach once more, and then go home and die. He preached for two hours, on “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,” and then rode to Newburyport. He was fatigued, ate an early supper, excused himself early. He took a candle in his hand, and started up the stairs to go to bed. But pausing on the stairway, he saw the hall filled with people who wished to hear him, and he stood on the stair case and preached to them till the candle burned out in the socket. He then went up to bed, and died before morning. While he was dying, one who attended him told him he should not preach so often. He replied that he would rather burn out than rust out. Thus did the zeal of the house of God consume his health, and his life, taking him to an early grave at the age of 55.

Francis Asbury’s health was also consumed by his zeal for the house of God. He was sick a good part of his life, but it never stopped him. Sometimes he was too sick to mount his horse, but he would have somebody carry him from the pulpit to his horse, and set him on it, and he would ride to his next appointment, where they would carry him from his horse to the pulpit, and he would preach again. When he was too lame to stand he would preach kneeling or sitting. Sometimes he would arrive at his preaching place nearly frozen, and loving hands would not only carry him to the meeting house, but thaw him out also.

The zeal of Henry Moorhouse consumed his health also, what little he had of it. He died at the age of forty. His heart was very poor, and the doctors told him he must quit preaching. He asked them how long he would live if he took their advice. “Perhaps a year,” they said. “And how long will I live if I go on preaching.” “Perhaps six months.” “Then I’ll take the six months, and preach Christ as long as I can.” And a great host of missionaries have burned out their health in Africa, “the white man’s grave,” and other uncongenial climates, many of them dying when their work had scarce begun.

Prudent men will of course tell us that these were all fools, to throw away their health and their lives. Whitefield was a fool to preach himself to death. Yes, yes, and the poor widow was a fool also to cast in all her living, and Epaphroditus was a fool to go forth for the work of Christ, not regarding his life. The great host in the book of Revelation who “loved not their lives unto the death” were all fools. It is foolish to be eaten up, when a little prudence might prevent it. I have always stood solidly against any wanton, senseless throwing away of life or health. To volunteer for martyrdom is hyperspiritual suicide. But for all that, zeal does make us fools, fools for Christ’s sake, fools for a cause, which is dearer to us than time or money or reputation or health or life. And all of us, fools and prudent alike, will soon enough stand before the judgement seat of Christ, to give account of ourselves. Then the zealous and the zeal-less will stand together, and put in their pleas. One will say, “See, God, how prudent I was. I held on to my money, and died worth a million. And you know, if the cause of Christ had ever stood in need of a hundred dollars of my money, there it would have been, safe in my bank account. I didn’t foolishly throw it away.” And the next will say, “I was prudent also. I conserved my health, and lived till the age of eighty, to be a steady influence for good and for God in this dark world.” And the next, “I cautiously avoided all those foolish extremes which would have squandered my reputation. I carefully guarded it, so that I might maintain my influence for Christ.” And last of all the poor fool must speak, and say, “I was a fool for Christ’s sake. I saw a cause, felt a need, and my heart burned within me, and I couldn’t resist. I didn’t know how to cautiously conserve my resources in the day of battle. I just spent myself, spent my time, spent my money, spent my health, spent my life, in the cause for which I lived. I was a fool. Can you forgive me for this?”

You judge now who you would rather be, and what you would rather be saying then.

Glenn Conjurske