Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature – which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted – but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men…
A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives or whether he dies – whether he has health, or whether he has sickness – whether he is rich, or whether he is poor – whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence – whether he is thought wise or whether he is thought foolish – whether he gets blame or whether he gets praise – whether he gets honor or whether he gets same – for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it – he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed hum. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work and give money, he will cry and sigh and pray…If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron and Hur, on the hill (Exodus 17:9-13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of ‘zeal’ in religion.
by, J.C. Ryle
as quoted by J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 1993, page 173