Zinzendorf’s lecture #3–“Concerning the Proper Purpose of the Preaching of the Gospel”


Here is a summary and commentary on the third 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 III–Concerning the Proper Purpose of the Preaching of the Gospel

‘In the third lecture, I have said that the preaching of the Gospel is not necessary, properly speaking, for the sake of the elect bride of Jesus Christ and of those who belong to her.  Rather, the preaching is necessary for those whom we are to regard as guests and who, without such a call, either would not think of any marriage of the Lamb or would certainly not guess by themselves that they were also invited to it as guests.  And this is an idea which brings to its full light the difference (looked upon as essential by Dr. Luther) between the homilies addressed to a church of Jesus and the sermons to the multitude in general.’ (xxxii)

The subject is introduced as ‘how the bride is gathered together.’

Here we find the seeds of the great missionary outburst associated with Herrnhut:

‘…the blessed, fruitful and almost irresistible ‘calling in’ of many thousands of souls presupposes a little flock in the house [cf. the ‘servants’ of the text] which cleaves to the Saviour with body and soul, souls which are already there, united with the Saviour, so that one may point to these very people with the finger when one wants to invite others.  It is an advantage, a blessing, a sound preaching of the Gospel, when one can say, ‘Come, everything is ready.  I can show you the people who are already there; just come and see.” (25)

[Wait a minute!  He’s not referring to the servants!  He is referring to the bride, who is already there with the groom…and the groom sends the servants out to bring guests in to SEE the bride:] ‘This is the suppertime, when bride and bridegroom are already prepared, have already spoken with each other, have already completed their blessed engagement, and now, in order to solemnize it still more, make their appearance at a place.’ (25)  This bride is a little flock, already in place, ‘…a preaching of the Gospel must come out of this little flock: ‘Come, for everything is ready.” (26)  [Well, perhaps not.  Let’s see how he works with the metaphor.  It is SO frustrating to read someone who is not methodical!  And translated (I suspect not very well) out of German, to boot!]

The Count mentions that those who don’t attend the feast, do not because ‘they would not.’  Then, ‘…sometimes this is the fault of the messengers,’ for choosing the rich and the important, and investing more time in them than in the poor and common. (26)  ‘The rich and the eminent are not excluded; [They’d better not be, or the Count is in trouble] but they do not have the least prerogative.’ (26)  The Lord says ‘go out to the highways and hedges…’

He further speculates that the fellow without the proper garment, who was thrown out, was a rich person.  This, because the tradition was to give garments to the guests.  Well, a poor half-naked man would have no problem with this.  But a person who was already well-dressed might wish to put on the dog, and arrive in his own duds.  The spiritual application (and he also speculates this person was also spiritually gifted, full of aptitudes and merits) is that those who feel their own righteousness is greater than that of Christ will be expelled in disgrace. (27)

Preaching, says Zinzendorf, is primarily identifying the Bridegroom as the Bridegroom, not by expounding his glory and power and majesty, because ‘they know all this already from the fact that He is the king’s son,’ but ‘what really matters is that His beautiful form and inner qualities be described to them.’ (27)

‘If we, therefore, want to invite people to the marriage, if we want to describe the Bridegroom, it must be said like this: ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus, as He hung upon the cross (I Cor 2.2, alt.), as He was wounded.  I point you to His nail prints, to the side, to the hole which the spear pierced open in His side….As soon as this…strikes your heart, you run to the marriage feast and then no house nor property, no husband, no wife, no child, nor anything else can keep you back anymore.  You will not rest until you get to see this man.  ‘Such a one,’ you say to all your neighbors, ‘such a one is my friend…” And this happens whenever there is preaching.’ (28)

Sometimes, says the Count, no preaching is needed, because ‘the Holy Spirit Himself is working’ as that wind described in John 3:7.  Paul bore witness that ‘It pleased God to reveal His Son in Me,’ [Zinzendorf assumes, without prior preaching…]

Key point:  Because the actual workings of the Spirit in causing one to be born again are unknown and indescribable, Methodism is in danger of becoming absurd.  [That is, because it purports to describe and circumscribe the ways and means of salvation.] (29)

‘The Saviour is tied to absolutely nothing.  He will not be dictated to.  Each instance takes its course.  The Holy Spirit portrays Jesus to souls; He preaches His wounds….’ (29)

[NOT sure then, what Zinzendorf would do with the verses already cited ‘how will they be saved unless they hear, and hear without a preacher, and preach unless sent…’ etc.]

‘And just for this reason we are not to be very concerned about the bride which the Holy Spirit courts in this world for J; the proxy-marriage in the name of J takes its course, and no devil can obstruct it, let him do what he will.  No worldly circumstance, no absolute prohibition of the Gospel in any country, no drought and famine of the divine Word can thwart it.  He is sure of His souls…’

[This is clearly recognized today among those missionary workers who refuse to speak of ‘closed countries,’ because no country is closed to the Holy Spirit!  And certainly borne out in the words ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it.’]

An important distinction here, which takes us out of the problem of believing we have been converted every time we experience a ‘jump’ in grace:

‘…so many movements of grace take place which resemble each other that one would have t become converted ten times, if at every great and exceptaional grace one would think, this was my conversion.’ (30)  So ‘all the less can the days and hours be given.’ (30)

Again, Zinzendorf throwing over theology and a deep concern with truth for an emotional involvement with the ‘wounds’: ‘A soul most tenderly in love with the Saviour may be ignorant of a hundred truths and only concentrate most simply on Jesus’ wounds and death.  Oh how ardently this soul meditates on this part of the body…the hole in His side, His heart, out of which flowed blood and water.’ (31)

[Though the efficacy of this kind of meditation may be great, and it may carry through many who are not intellectually equipped for exegesis and subtle understanding of theology, I would also say, there is much that is valuable which is being lost if the Christian does not go beyond such meditation to understand other aspects of God’s character, and understand other truths about his redemptive purposes and acts and words!]

NOW this difference between the first-born and other converts comes up again.  And I’m really not sure what he means here by this division in the church, though he claims it is not really a division:

‘…there is no known difference, according to Scripture, between the bride and those who are invited, neither in object nor feeling nor in the kind of conversation.  The only difference is that the call to be the bride of Jesus Christ, to be the first-born, one engaged to the lamb, one who knows nothing but him and has not climbed higher than into the wounds and must first be led by the hand to everything else that he should or should not think…the only difference is that this call happens immediately and with less observance than does the ordinary conversion. The structuring, creation, and preservation of such simple hearts of the Saviour is the immediate work of the Holy Spirit and indeed His alone.’ (31-2)

‘But there are still millions of souls who come to participation in this salvation who are at the marriage and are also oyful, who draw a conclusion about the future from th epresent blessedness, and who join the supper as invited guests; and they are always called through the preaching of the gospel.‘ (32)

[So he seems to be making a division between those called directly by the Spirit (first-born, bride), and those called by preaching (guests)–though all are equally Christians.  This is preposterous.  I can’t agree with him at all.  I see how it might be used to inspire those already in Christ to missionary endeavor, but I’m afraid it may have some more bizarre side-effects in the process!]

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