Zinzendorf’s lecture #4–Saving faith is faith-in-distress and faith-in-love, NOT cognitive assent to propositional truths


Here is a brief summary and commentary on the fourth 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.

Lecture IV–Concerning Saving Faith

‘In the fourth, I have described the saving faith of the human soul and that this may certainly be understood under the general heading of love, may even be perceived as a property of a heart in love with the object of faith. (xxxii)

Briefly, Z here identifies faith entirely with love:  “…there is no saving faith which is not simultaneously love for him who laid down his life for us, for him who has created us, without whom we cannot live and exist for one moment.” (Erb, 304)

There is an internal and an external faith, says Z.  Only the former is necessary, and it may be quite invisible to those around the quieter sort of Christian.  Fiducia implicita itself is divided further into faith-in-distress and faith-in-love.  The first is the beginning of faith, when “we see our corruption on all sides and are really anxious because of it.” (305)

[This is worth quoting at length; it gets to the crux of his attack on Protestant Orthodox folks who identify faith with cognitive assent to propositional truth:]

“…I can never wonder enough at the blindness and ignorance of those people who are supposed to handle the divine Word and convert men…who think that if they have them memorize the catechism or get a book of sermons into their heads or, at the most, present all sorts of well-reasoned demonstrations concerning the divine being and attributes, thus funneling the truths and knowledge into their heads, that this is the sovereign means to their conversion.  But this is such a preposterous method that if one wanted to convert people that way, reciting demonstrations to them, then it is just as if one wanted to go against wind and current with full sails…” (Erb, 305)

He continues:  “For that same knowledge…puffs up and nothing comes of it.  And if one has all of that together, says Paul, and does not also have love, and even if one can preach about it to others, still it is nothing more than if a bell in the church rings.…But what results from this faith-in-distress, from this blind faith which one has out of love for one’s own salvation?  What comes of a bold trust in the physician that he can and shall help, without knowing what his name is and who he is, without having known and seen him before, without having clearly sensed what sort and nature of man he is?  Thankful love results from it…” (306)

What is the efficacy of this “faith-in-distress”?  “…the man having faith-in-distress shall obtain grace.  No one shall come in vain, no one ask in vain.  This was the faith-in-distress of the thief on the cross…” (306)  “…at the very moment when one knows and feels himself to be so wretched, grace and forgiveness of sins is preached into his heart.…Man emerges at once out of the deepest sorrow and dismay over himself into blessed rest and contentment and, at the same time, into love and thankfulness and attachment to him who died for his soul…”

[This is a wonderful, dynamic description of what, for example, I actually experienced in my own conversion.  But I know many for whom the description would be quite foreign.  Yet they too, by all appearances, are Christian.  So I wonder, is Z being too prescriptive here in his precision when he paints such a picture of the turmoil of conversion?]

Another example:  “…whoever does not learn to believe this way, that is, whoever does not have so much misery, so much distress that he must believe, how can that person be helped?  He is already judged for this very reason, because he does not feel misery enough to cause him gladly to believe” (310).  The passage speaks for itself and supports the view I tentatively express above.

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