Zinzendorf’s lecture #2–”Concerning the Simple Meaning and the Great Idea of the Lord’s Prayer”


Here is a summary and commentary on the second 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 first lecture may be found here.

Lecture II–Concerning the Simple meaning and the Great Idea of the Lord’s Prayer

‘In the second lecture, I have explained the basic meaning and purpose of this prayer and what a treasure of material these few lines contain.  The English have a special interest in the text of the Lord’s Prayer, for a Pope of their own nation once sent them the finest version of this prayer ever seen.’ (xxxi)

First, Zinzendorf rejects certain parts of the Sermon on the Mount as impractical, especially ‘You shall not resist one that is evil’–as an unsound principle for governments, which if followed would result in ‘a general overthrow of the entire human race….no man would be secure in the possession of his property.’ (11)  Those who counsel pacifism based on these scriptures are not sound.

Zinzendorf seems to hold that these passages were only intended for some–for the disciples–for the enlightened, or the Christian, or what have you.  And even for them, it was intentionally paradoxical–intended to awaken questioning, shame, and so forth–in some almost-Zen sense.

He explains the first clause of the prayer, as Luther explained it:  ‘God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we ask in this prayer that it also be hallowed through us.’ (12)  And hallowed as Father.  In the OT, he was hallowed as Jehovah Elohim.  But never, or only in veiled terms, as Father.  This is something new! (12)

‘The second petition is the means to attain to the first: ‘Your kingdom come!’ If only your order [oeconomie] would commence.’ (13)  This new order involves marrying his son to his own personal people. (14)

Then a confusing bit about people being saved despite the fact that they are not ‘of the election.’  ‘He is not tied to this election.’ (15)  ‘He lives forever and is able to save evermore, and the people whom He saves do not so much come to Him through the Father as through Him to God; He carries them home upon His shoulders.’ (15)  He describes a miserable sinner who ‘as soon as a yearning, a longing in wretchedness with themselves has begun in them, they will be grasped and carried home in the arms of [God]…’ (15) and having left all his other sheep as it were, momentarily, to carry this one sinner home, ‘He requires that all His dear hearts should rejoice over the soul who does not belong to the election of grace (?) but whom He has saved through His sovereign power, because it wanted to be saved, because it was in fear about itself, because its sin rose higher than its head and became for it like a burden weighing tons.’

I can only interpret this as Arminianism…that God is beholden to save those who are yearning or pitiable, whether he has elected them to salvation or not. (15)

Returning to the previous page, it seems Zinzendorf wants to have his cake and eat it–that is, to say that God does predestine some, but that he can then go beyond this, and save whoever he wants to, whether predestined or not. (14)

This, says Zinzendorf is why we ‘bless those who curse us and pray for those who wrong and persecute us; for it can help….as soon as a veritable enemy of God, a servant of Satan…wants to be saved, then he can be saved, then he can become a brother.’ (15-16)  Elsewhere Zinzendorf has said ‘there is no-one we cannot look upon with brotherly eyes.’

He uses the robber on the cross as an example of one who was not elect ‘for the Father does not so prostitute His gracious election that He should allow His Son’s peripoiesis (Eph 1:14, ‘purchased possession’) to spend its life in murder and robbery’ to be saved as soon as he repented.  (Again as if, with the Arminians, it is the repentance itself that ‘forces God’ to save.) (16)

Then the third petition, ‘Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  This means, not that God’s will had not been done before Christ, but that it had not been evident to darkened men.  (Debatable in light of the remnant and the chosen, the prophets, etc in the OT). So it is only now that the children can participate in the will of the father, who can like the Son ‘want to accomplish nothing else but this loving will of the Father.’ (17)

Zinzendorf interprets the bread of the fourth petition as ‘supernatural bread,’ for ‘he had expressly forbidden them to ask for bodily bread and told them that it is a totally useless thing, because their heavenly Father knows what they needed without that, and if they concerned themselves with heavenly things, He would supply their bodily needs as a matter of course.’ (17)  He notes however that the prayer, even if for daily, material bread, would be heard.  But the supernatural bread is that which ‘revives and supports our spiritual life,’ as symbolized in the Eucharist. (17)  In this he claims to be following Luther. (!!)

The fifth petition, ‘Remit our debts, as we remit those of our debtors’ –this deals with the sins of omission, the good left undone to our fellow man.  So forgive us when we miss the mark with each other.  If you would be strict with us, none of us would make it, is the idea here.  ‘…thus one has to ask daily, forgive me the sin that I have known just what to do and yet  have not done it at all.  And this makes us gladly forgive our neighbor where he remains indebted to us.’ (18)

‘And lead us not into temptation,’ refers to the admonishment of Jesus at Gethsemane to ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’  ‘This is the meaning of ‘Lead us not into temptation;’ do not let us get so far into it that we remain stuck fast.’ (19)

‘Deliver us from the wicked one, he takes as ‘Keep us from pride, from presumption, and from heroic deeds that are not required of us.  And if it does  happen that we come into such circumstances through our own fault, then deliver us from the wicked one, then snatch us out of his teeth and allow him in the end to maintain no power over your children.’ (19)

‘The business of our whole life is that…the will of the Father may be done, and that the Saviour may see His first-born already in such order here that the entire world has to say:  it really is true; God indeed has His work with these people; it is the finger of God.  Thus a veneration, a reverence may arise in the hearts of all men.’ (20)

An example of the Count’s bizarre language [I would say that in 2010, from a perspective of later years, this seems more orthodox to me now, though it does foreshadow the later Moravian obsession with ‘gory piety’]:

‘…we experience that through the tormented body of Christ we are united with the divine nature and come into a condition which foreshadows something of the resurrection, being even in this life as if we were already risen again; and thus the omnium terribilium terribilissimum, death, becomes a delicacy for our heart.’ (20)

His ethical description of a Christian:

‘…whoever is a true disciple, whoever is a child of God, he is kind and obliging; he is a comfort to all men and burdensome to none; he never asks much of anyone, but he rejoices when he can do much for another.  He easily finds an excuse for his neighbor, should he make a mistake; and if someone begins a dispute with him concerning temporal and spiritual matters, then he always supposes the other to be right.

[Clearly from the material in the introduction to this book, Zinzendorf didn’t take his own advice in dispute with Wesley, etc.  And in fact this is bad advice.  We must not always ‘give way to others’ in spiritual matters.  There is Truth.  And however disgusting the extremes of polemic may seem, it is important to stand by that Truth whatever the opposition.]

If he is wronged, then he always thinks, haven’t I also done something which makes it my fault?  And instead of thinking how he can get the better of him, his first and last thought is whether he should not rather attempt to bring about mutual understanding or, in any event, to be able to serve his enemy.’ (21)

In other words, become the perfect doormat.  Zinzendorf, by all accounts, could be quite autocratic.  He apparently needed to preach this sermon to himself.

And here too some of the extreme imagery that was later to become a problem:  ‘…the lovers of His merit, the adherents of His corpse, of His bleeding form in which He delivered their souls, the hearts who are in love with this, who concentrate all their thoughts on it…as men who crave the sign of the Son of Man in hands and feet and in the side…’ (22)

‘…they come into total and persistent perplexity concerning their misery, immediately the Prince with the bleeding side stands before them, and they sense how He twists to embrace their souls.’ (23)

This state of being Zinzendorf takes in itself to be assurance of election:  ‘Then there is no need for an examination, no question whether one is elected.  Rather, as soon as one feels this, as soon as one is so oppressed in his spirit, stands there as a confused sinner, and is grieved in his heart at the cause he has given to the suffering of Jesus, then the kingdom of Christ belongs to him with all its blessedness.  Then one may expect entrance into the Father’s order, into the religion in which the Father of Jesus Christ is honored as God.  One may also expect to become Christ’s flesh and bone; and the first spiritual joy is a look, a feeling, a thought which has no parallel; transcending everything which a person can encounter in the rest of life; it is a felt salvation.’

It sure is!  It relies an awful lot on feeling!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s