Zinzendorf’s lecture #5–That Aspect of Faith Which Actually Makes One So Blessedly Happy


Here is a brief summary and commentary on the fifth 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 V–That Aspect of Faith Which Actually Makes One So Blessedly Happy

‘In the fifth, I have spoken of the main point which makes a believer blessedly happy [selig].’ (xxxii)

Text:  I Cor 13:2 alt [Last phrase is end of 3rd verse.] ‘And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I gain nothing.’

Opens with a harangue against the scholars of ‘terminology’ [I take it he means exegetes . . .] who use their science simply to adapt Scripture to human reason, and in so doing make that which they find obscure, not clear, but black as pitch. (43)

He charges them with confusing faith in miracles with saving faith.

Nothing, says the Count, is proved either by proving or disproving miracles in the interest of a religious viewpoint, because ‘Doing miracles does not belong at all to the essence of a Christian; it does not belong at all to the Gospel.’

[I disagree only in this respect, that I believe miracles to be useful in mission (as in Signs and Wonders movement today–though I would not perhaps go as far with this emphasis as some in this modern movement have gone).  This actually the Count goes on to assert in the following illustration:]

‘If a servant of God intended to perform a miracle, in condescension to a heathen, barbarian people [shades of Boniface, etc.?], the Saviour would certainly help him so that he could perform one.’  [The reason understood–to demonstrate God’s power to that people.] (44)  ‘Thus, when the disciples returned home and told the Saviour that even the devils were subject to them, the Saviour gave them to understand that it was natural, that it indeed had to be thus for that time, that it was a part of their message.  Yet He hoped that this would not be the reason for their satisfaction and happiness.  They had something completely different about which they should rejoice: they were children of God and belonged to heaven; their names were already entered in the Book of Life.’ (44)

Then addressing the clause ‘If I were a prophet and that way had all knowledge, it would profit me nothing’, he says, saving knowledge certainly saves.  BUT the kind of knowledge given the prophet, for the purpose of mission, does not necessarily save.

[This is beginning to fall merely under the argument of the ‘insufficiency of the charismata,’ old ground for commentators on this passage.

[He footnotes this bit about knowledge with the observation that it is a mistake to assume someone is damned, however, simply because they lack this or that bit of knowledge or theology.  That, in other words, the kernel is simple and pure, which saves a man.  This is consistent of course with his position throughout, that much passes for saving knowledge which is in no way related, and much wind is blown (one might say ‘broken,’ for all its value!) in the theological schools, without any knowledge of salvation…consistent with Spener, Francke, et al.]

The main point, the sum of saving knowledge, however, Zinzendorf takes as being love. Not ‘goodness to your neighbour,’ as the non-Christian defines love.  But saving faith itself. (!)  The only reason, says the Count, that Paul goes on to distinguish faith from love, is that he speaks of faith in terms of the substance of things unseen–that is, speaking of events that have not yet been realized–trusting in the promises of God.  This aspect, and the similar future-oriented aspect of hope, will cease when we enter heaven, and nothing will remain but love. ‘But in the time in which we live, in the time of faith and hope, all the rest is still included under the word love.  In the word love faith is understood; in the word love hope is understood.’ (48)

‘O dear friends, do not imagine that we know the Saviour; we begin to know Him only when we have loved Him very tenderly, when we have loved Him first above all things, when for us nothing more in the world is in competition with Him, when we have forgotten ourselves on account of Him. . . .’ (48)  ‘When we have forgotten ourselves with body and life out of love toward Him and can at certain times out of love toward Him be angry with ourselves, then, I say, a small beginning of the knowledge of Him is responsible.’ (48-9) ‘And our whole life consists in the increasing and growing in this knowledge. . .’ (49)

It is impossible to look on the Saviour and have this love without being born of God, says the Count.  And further ‘This, no one can do who is not filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (49)

The preparatory work of the Spirit awakens before the sermon converts:  ‘the Holy Spirit acted at least a minute, an instant, before a word touched me, before words fall into my heart, before a sentence, a paragraph, a conclusion, a proposition becomes my text, my principle, upon which I can rely. . . . The word falls into prepared soil, into a cultivated field, and is nothing other than the explanation of the truth which already lies in the heart. It is not the conception; it is not the birth; rather, it is the first food of the living heart.’ (51)

[Does this assertion, as an orthodox listener might suspect, belittle the preaching of the word?  Or is it merely a commonplace expression of what everyone knows–that the word preached without the inward witness of the Spirit in the hearer is never effective?

[Here is some of that strong affective, almost sensual imagery that degenerated in others into the erotic:]

‘To hear of Him, to hear His covenant-blood, His eternal atonement, the invention of our redemption discussed–this is afterwards to an awakened soul nothing other than as if balsam were poured all over it, as if scented oil were poured forth and perfumed a whole church, a hall, a house, filling everything with its pleasantness.  It is as if one went into a garden in the evening, where all the flowers are in bloom, to refresh and revive.’ (52)

[Focus on feeling:]

‘I would like this love to be the only pleasant and blessed reality, the pearl toward which all souls extend their desires . . . so that each soul would ask itself . . . ‘Do you have this love?’  Can you feel it?  Can you say, as you are going to a church, a meeting, are you going here and there, can you believe that you love something?  Is your heart so disposed? . . . Do you feel a condition which you have not had before?  Has something happened to you which you need explained, if you cannot explain it yourself?’ (53)

And here is a parallel with Wesley, who merely wanted to know if you were of the same heart as he, and thenceforth considered you his brother: ‘. . . with this Shekinah, with this light a privilege, with this divine diadem on the forehead, the poorest peasant and beggar, the most common man is on a par with the most wise and learned.  Here is the greatest equality, the purest parity: what I am, my brother, that you also have become.’ (54)

[This would also help account for the fellowship between those of many denominations at Herrnhut–this kind of divine leveling of all human position, human doctrine, and human approaches to religion–this coming together under the rubric of ‘heart’ or ‘love’–a feeling or a condition, not a proposition–the stress on relational adoption, not forensic justification. . . .

[Zinzendorf goes on to make the point that this love is the leveler of all spiritual gifts as well (harkening back to the man booted out of the wedding feast for his pride in not accepting Christ’s garment)–that is, that no matter what the giftings we have, they are never to be cause for exalting one above the other–we have all come to parity in His love.]

He then makes the point that we blame the devil for too much.  We are quite capable of bringing most of the ills we experience on our own heads.  In fact, when in Christ, the devil can’t touch us ‘…we are in a fortress, and if we do not let ourselves be decoyed out of our fortress . . . then [Satan] really cannot lay hands on us.’ (56)

For those who are not in Christ, who the Holy Spirit has not worked in to prepare them for conversion through the kind of tilling of the soil described above, yet they may find in their hearts a ‘consternation, perplexity and restlessness,’ which ‘must remain.’  ‘Whoever gets rid of them on his own, be it through a spiritual or a temporal or any other circumstance, through a spiritual hymn or book, and although it were the Bible itself, for this man at this time it is poison.’ (57)

[Here we begin to stray into that involvement with precise descriptions of Busskampf which was imputed (incorrectly) to Spener et al]

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