Zinzendorf’s lecture #1–“That the Prayer to the Father of Jesus Christ can be Prayed by No One but Children of God”


Here is a summary and commentary on the first lecture of Nicolaus Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf, Bishop of the Church of the Moravian Brethren, from Nine Public Lectures on Important Subjects in Religion, preached in Fetter Lane Chapel in London in the Year 1746.  Translated and Edited by George W. Forell, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1973.

Again, this was from early in my graduate experience, from 94-95, in Dr. Richard Lovelace’s class on the Pietist Renewal at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The second lecture may be found here.

Lecture I–That the Prayer to the Father of Jesus Christ can be Prayed by No One but Children of God

Summary from preface:  ‘In the first lecture I have told them that…much nonsense troubles religion.  The seemingly trifling matter of battology (Excessive and wearisome repetition of words in speaking or writing) in the holy prayer-form, which is on everybody’s lips (The Lord’s Prayer), is a clear proof that the advantage of the pardoned children of God over the wholly natural and dead people must still not be understood at all (even though all the creeds of the so-called Christians are full  of it).  I have pointed out who those people are who can say, ‘Abba, Father,’ those namely, whom the Holy Spirit Himself led in praying the seven petitions.’ (xxxi)

God is tolerant to the behavior of unbelievers, but much more serious with believers.  ‘Not to know Him is a misfortune; but to make use of His name and yet not know Him is forbidden as it is said in the Second Commandment.’ (2)

Zinzendorf is speaking of ‘illegal worship, which is nothing but impudence and insolence.’ (2)

Already I disagree, as he says that forcing another into your manner of worship is ‘putting one out of the state of innocence, where he is tolerated, and bringing him into the danger of a divine judgment.’  Innocence is hardly a well-chosen word for one in a state of sin apart from God!  And any proximity to a church and to any form of worship could be taken as a providential step towards real godliness.  Zinzendorf obviously has SOMETHING stuck in his craw, but I’m not sure he makes entire sense in describing that something.

Zinzendorf allows these people forced into unfelt worship the benefit of the doubt, believing their ‘situation extenuates their guilt’ considerably in God’s eyes, considering that they themselves had no choice, but had to join a church to keep their citizenship, etc.

Zinzendorf objects to the practice described for several apparent reasons.  First, the behaviour of many so-called Christians (in the Constantinian sense) is ‘intolerable even to the savages.’ (3)  Second, this is the worst kind of peer-pressure, and Exteriorization of religion (‘Religion is made a point of honor; for people must always first look around to see what their neighbors have to say concerning that which their heart and mind and their own corruption put in the way of salvation.  Though no one gladly puts his worldly affairs into strange hands, people seem  under a compulsion to give their spiritual affairs into the hands of their neighbors…’ (3))

His response, and that of the Society of Brethren, to be ‘sparing’ in ‘certain religious usages,’ because ‘their use would not be fitting for everybody.’  This is why he seldom prays the Lord’s Prayer in public gatherings.  Because doing so is, for the unbeliever, taking the Lord’s name in vain. (3-4)

He objects to the ‘prating about the mystery of the Trinity’ in the schools, because it is by men who ‘do not love their Saviour’ and have not experienced salvation. (5)

In his pursuit of this fundamental experience of salvation, Zinzendorf asserts that we should ‘push the whole body of theology into a drawer to be taken out again at the proper time,’ that is, the time after we have learned the fundamental truths of salvation in our hearts. (6)

Much of the remainder of the sermon is graphic detail on the agonies of Christ at the crucifixion, and assertion that He invented this means of atonement himself, to save us–not that he was somehow forced to earth by the Father.  He himself wept over us and sought to save us, and gained the victory for us.  ‘For the first thing is that the Lord Jesus becomes for us God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and every good thing that can be expected in time and eternity.’  (8)  Then later he reveals to us our new relationship to the father, expressed in the Spirit in us compelling/allowing us to cry ‘Abba, Father.’  But all of this comes through the salvation experience, in which we appropriate all of this truly.

Then, perhaps feeling he has been harsh with the leaders of the land, he prays for George the Second, echoing Romans 13:  ‘Among us keep all hearts in respect, veneration, moderation, and childlike love to this present government, that it may be felt on which side your divine will is.’ (9)

He prays regarding the English:  ‘May there still be thousands of them who, in the plan and way assigned them and in the orders into which you have called them, without leaving their way of worship and forming a new church for themselves, prove their identity as inward men of god, as members of your invisible and true body…’ (9)

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