Charlie’s Zeal

Charlie was a devout man.

He professed his love of God and Jesus Christ everywhere he went.

Nobody was more zealous. He was a servant in the church.

No man appeared more sincere. He wished to be a blessing and a help.  His passion for God was genuine.

No person could be more courageous. He defended the truth of God to all comers.

It’s safe to say that Charlie was a very religious man.

And he was also very theological. He studied the scriptures. He wrote many articles and sermons. He published a book called The Truth. It contained chapters on Paul the Apostle, Christ’s Second Coming, Christianity Reviewed since AD 70, Hades and the Final Judgment and A Reply to Attacks on the Bible.

 It was all pretty impressive.

Charlie could have submitted this as a thesis toward his Master of Divinity degree. He would have probably been accepted as a student at most seminaries, been an active church member and perhaps taught Sunday school or led a men’s group.

Some churches might even have invited Charlie to be their minister. After all he presented himself as a preacher. He even went on tour.

One might have described Charlie as sound as a dollar – serious, zealous, committed, with a love for God’s Word – a true champion of the Christian faith.

While living in Chicago, Charlie attended meetings conducted by renowned evangelist D.L. Moody. He often volunteered as an usher.

Charlie didn’t smoke or drink and he took pride in his neat appearance.

More than anything else, Charlie wanted to be used of God for a great purpose. His single-minded zeal fired a passion within him for destiny. After going to bed one night “greatly depressed in mind and spirit”, he suddenly discovered that God had given him his answer – his purpose and the destiny that had seemed to elude him time and again. Now, “like a flash” Charlie later recounted, he knew he would set about the achievement of God’s will.

Zeal is good in a worthy cause and the Bible commends it.

It also warns us against a misplaced enthusiasm.

Paul told Timothy to stay away from those who had a “form of godliness” while denying its power and reality (II Timothy 5:5, emphasis added). Jesus conducted a running debate with the most religious people of his day, constantly challenging the Pharisees and Sadducees over their injustice, hypocrisy and self-righteous pride and intolerance.  James described “pure and undefiled religion” as caring for widows and orphans and living “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27, KJV).

Yes, Charlie was sincere and he was zealous. Zeal in defense of truth is noble. Zeal in pursuit of falsehood is a tragedy. Religious zeal has left millions of victims in the path of its passionate intensity throughout history – so much death and destruction; so much heartache and brokenness inflicted in the name of a misplaced faith; committed in the name of truth; perpetrated in the name of Christianity and of Christ himself.

And other religions are hardly exempt or excused. Indeed, it is the very nature of religion – and its constant danger – to run aground on its own earnest convictions.

“The weakness of human nature,” observed the 18th century New England preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards, “has always appeared in times of great revivals of religion, by a disposition to run into extremes, especially in these three things: enthusiasm, superstition, and intemperate zeal”.

This is no less a threat in the twenty-first century. Religious hatred is virulent in its attack on body and soul. It is the enemy of liberty and justice.

The former Jewish legalist Paul wrote to the Romans that he had a deep heart for Israel: “I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal” (Romans 10:2, NLT). “It is good to be zealously affected,” the apostle told the Galatians, but “always in a good thing” (Galatians 4:18, KJV).

In these contentious and divided times, marked so often by self-justified vitriol and self-righteous certitude, it would be wise for you and me to calm our spirits, tamp our emotions and search our hearts. Are we so certain of our position? Do we recognize the difference between truth and a lie? Do we have the courage and humility to see any question from the other person’s viewpoint?

Compassion and conviction need not be mutually exclusive.

Let us join the psalmist in his humble prayer:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, KJV).

From God’s viewpoint, introspection must precede condemnation.

Who knows whether Charlie ever prayed that prayer, or read that psalm or felt that need? He was on a mission from God.

And so it was that on the sunny warm Saturday morning of July 2, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau walked into the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station.

He got his shoes shined.

Then a few minutes later he quietly raised the British Bulldog revolver with the white ivory handle he had purchased with borrowed money and fired two shots into the back of the President of the United States.

“Search me, O God …”

May God bless you and your family.

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