Daily Devotional reflections

As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will seek to post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.

Thursday 18th June 2020

‘Zeal without knowledge’


Samuel Johnson

Two of the most famous literary characters connected with Slains Castle and Cruden Bay ares Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784), and James Boswell (1740-1795). Johnson is probably best known for his A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755 and was once described as the most significant man of letters in English history. Boswell was a noted biographer, diarist, and lawyer. Born in Edinburgh in 1740, he is best known for his biography of his close friend Samuel Johnson., which is commonly said to be the greatest biography written in the English language. Both Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell were guests at Slains Castle in 1773.


New Slains Castle

Despite their close friendship, both men had different views on slavery. Dr Samuel Johnson was a fierce opponent of the slave trade. Both men were present at a meeting of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in May, 1787 which successfully persuaded William Wilberforce to lead the abolition movement in Parliament. However, a year later, having been an initial support, James Boswell displayed support for the slave trade. In 1791 he wrote a poem ‘No abolition of Slavery,’ also known as ‘the Universal Empire of Love’. The poem, which is printed below, reflected one of the key arguments of the pro-slavery movement, that slaves actually enjoyed their lot.

"Lo then, in yonder fragrant isle
Where Nature ever seems to smile,
The cheerful gang!--the negroes see
Perform the task of industry:
Ev'n at their labour hear them sing,
While time flies quick on downy wing;
Finish'd the bus'ness of the day,
No human beings are more gay:
Of food, clothes, cleanly lodging sure,
Each has his property secure;
Their wives and children are protected,
In sickness they are not neglected;
And when old age brings a release,
Their grateful days they end in peace."


James Boswell

It is hard is read these words without feeling complete disbelief at Boswell’s naivety. It shows total ignorance of the terrible suffering, cruelty and blatant injustice of the slave trade. Despite his close relationship with Samuel Johnson, Boswell describes his friend’s opposition as ‘zeal without knowledge.’


Proverbs 19

Better the poor whose walk is blameless
than a fool whose lips are perverse.
Desire without knowledge is not good—
how much more will hasty feet miss the way!
A person’s own folly leads to their ruin,
yet their heart rages against the LORD.
Listen to advice and accept discipline,
and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
The fear of the LORD leads to life;
then one rests content, untouched by trouble.
Stop listening to instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.

Job 38:1-7

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

Romans 10: 1-3

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.


Zeal without knowledge has been a scourge throughout history, especially when trying to right social wrongs like slavery and injustice. On a more mundane level, how much damage has been done to families, businesses and organisations by people ‘who thought they knew it all.’ This is why the ability to listen and be open to learning new things are such essential qualities.

Zeal without knowledge is a particular problem within religion. On one level it can apply to people in senior leadership, but who do not possess the required insight and knowledge. And if you combine a lack of understanding with spiritual zeal, you end up with everything from legalism to religious terrorism. The most common expression is fundamentalism, frequently characterised by reading the Bible whilst ignoring its historical context. (Typical examples are women being required to wear hats etc.)

But there is a lesson here we all need to learn. None of us has a complete understanding of God’s will. This is why diversity and inclusion are such key strengths. By listening to the people around us, we stand a much greater change of growing in knowledge, developing spiritual maturity and increasing our understanding of God’s will.

Rev Sean Swindells
Cruden Parish Church


God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

“I pray for you constantly, asking God,
the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.”

Ephesians 1:16-17

O God,
We ask for your wisdom to discern your ways and path for our own lives.
We ask for your wisdom to discern how to deal with others we meet, live with, work with, shop with, drive our roads, with, wait in line with, eat with and be with daily.
We ask for your wisdom in the difficult situations we may have to deal with as we go through life.
We ask for your wisdom when voting in electing our leaders and politicians.
We ask for your wisdom in dealing with injustices in our world.
We ask for wisdom for our leaders in our world, our countries, our states, and our communities.
We ask for wisdom for our church leaders, worldwide and local.
We ask for wisdom for our Pastors as they preach your word, inspire, lead and grow us as disciples.
We ask for your wisdom as we reach out to those in need in our communities and in our world.
We ask for wisdom as we minister to those who are homebound and in nursing homes.
We ask for your wisdom as we minister to those in hospitals, in recovery and rehab.
We ask for your wisdom that not only enlightens us but transforms us and guides us in our daily walk with you.

The Lord’s prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
you will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever.


Go now, and trust in God’s mercy for your strength.
Proclaim the good news wherever God calls you,
and do not set yourselves apart from others,
but be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.
And may God give you the strength and freedom of an eagle.
May Christ be the bread that nourishes and renews you.
And may the Holy Spirit be the rising wind beneath your wings.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ.