Zinzendorf’s lecture #6–That It Is Blessedness and Happiness to Be a Human Soul

Here is a brief summary and commentary on the sixth 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, 1994-1995, in Dr. Richard Lovelace’s class on the Pietist Renewal at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Lecture VI–That It Is Blessedness and Happiness to Be a Human Soul

‘In the sixth it is clearly proved that being a human soul is in and of itself a blessing for which one can never thank his Creator enough.’ (xxxii)

Text:  John 1:11-12 ‘He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.’

[NOTE:  are we here to find that stress on adoption that Packer finds so woefully missing from much of historical theology?  In a non-theologian?  Perhaps this is not so surprising, if it is true.  Certainly, Zinzendorf appears to dwell on the fringes of, if not within, a lively sense of the overmastering wonder of adoption!]

Speaking of two Protestant positions that are at odds over this text, Zinzendorf feels that the dispute is over a trivial distinction, and that if we look to our experience, we will find we are of one heart.  ‘ . . . the heart unites in the moment of grace, and experience unites their ideas; they feel, as a necessary result, an inclination to join together, and feel also that if each would persist in his extreme, neither of them would have the whole truth.’  (61). Certainly, the Count’s ecumenism shines through here.

The dispute is over free will.  Briefly, Zinzendorf feels that ‘ . . . to all who received him . . . ‘ supports free will, and ‘he gave power to become children of God’ supports the responsibility and ability to obey Christ after salvation.

The extremes he point to are the Lutheran, where man often waits until the last minute to ‘get saved,’ feeling he is almost doing Christ a favor when he finally does . . . and then gets to go directly to heaven; and the Calvinist (also, he points out, Zwinglian, and even at one point the position of Luther himself), that man has no free will in the matter of salvation.  (This is as the Count states it).  This latter arose from a desire to remove the abuse of treating salvation almost as a game (says he), by ‘a sovereign resignation to grace–so sovereign that it rendered men very little different from statues and stupid brute beings.’ (62)

In ‘he came to his own and they received him not,’ Zinzendorf finds the same principle as in ‘I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life’ (Deut 30:19)–that it is up to a man to choose for or against salvation.

In the OT, God forced his people, ‘ . . . the covenant which I made with their fathers, when I was obliged to take them by the arms and force [Luther’s translation] them.’ (64)  But in the new covenant, ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it in their hearts (Jer 31:31-33, alt)’ (64)

Thereby, the alternative of accepting that ‘law in the heart’ is implied:  that some will choose not to accept.  So the Count imagines God saying ‘I do not want a seraglio [harem] of souls; I want free souls.  I want to have bride-hearts; I will voluntarily be their bridegroom, and they will voluntarily be my bride.’ (64)

It is essential for Zinzendorf however (and he goes on at length about it) that the meditation of our heart upon God–that is, the saving revelation of Him to us–be of the suffering Christ.  Not the Godhead, the omnipotent Being, or even the ‘virtuous and wonderful life of the Saviour’ will do it. (67)  ‘all this is . . . nothing more than a refined, reasonable Methodism, just a little bit better than pure morality.  For there is no other indisputable criterion by which a man can be assured that he is now standing at the point of being saved . . . than the Saviour’s appearing in His suffering form before his heart:  when the words which he has heard innumerable times concerning the passion of the Saviour, the torments of God, effectively constrain him either to sorrow over his sins, or to misgivings, or even to a half-desperation at his faithlessness, at his ungodliness, at his wicked actions . . . ‘ (67)

Zinzendorf’s definition of salvation, however, is a simple one–accepting and believing God.  That he exists, that he is to us ‘the Reconciler of our souls,’ that we ‘[honor] His suffering and death as a divine truth.’ (70)  And in welcoming Him as such into his hearts, we are truly saved.  He fights the notion that we must do certain things in certain order to really be saved.  He stresses the role of the Holy Spirit, and the simplicity of the experience.

Why do people then not accept a salvation so easily gained?  Precisely because it is so easily gained– ‘Belial’s pride which lies in the heart . . . makes one think this:  If He would command me to go some place . . . I would do it; but that I should be saved without having to contribute anything myself . . . without having even the slightest right to it, just out of sheer grace, as a beggar–this is no natural thing for the human spirit, whose freedom has degenerated into impudence.’ (71)

Actually, I find this to be quite an insightful piece of psychology.  It is true that people are so used to gaining all that is good by their own effort, that they simply can’t bring themselves to believe that they are not even ALLOWED self-effort in gaining this Ultimate Good!  Thus ‘Our self-sufficiency is the only dividing wall between God and us.’ (71)

A simple man can receive Christ then, says the Count.  But he ‘who has allowed Satan to flatter him into a kind of deification, an idolatry of himself, and to make him a self-idolator, a person who is in love with himself, who admires himself, who wants to balance accounts with God Almighty, who wants to measure himself by Him, who would gladly conclude an agreement with Him for salvation . . . [he] is not a simple man . . . rather he is pregnant with demonic ideas; he participates in the spirit of Satan . . . .’ (71)

‘It is in this connection which makes it necessary to say that the soul has a free will and that, if it keeps to itself, then it will be saved; only it may not allow itself to be possessed, and if it is possessed, it must acknowledge the possession and be willing to allow itself to be exorcised . . . .’Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death!” (72)

‘Thus will the Christian denominations, thus will the human souls in them be united.  That is, ‘Preach the gospel to the whole creation’ (Mark 16:15b); do not exclude a single human soul, for they all have their right to it.  Among them there are possessed ones, people who are wedded to Satan; they are there by the thousands.  But he must let them go also; if one refers him, with all of his claims, to the little Lmg, then the most wicked spirit flees.’ (73)

[A stirring missionary plea indeed!  Which raises the interesting question:  Does Calvinism naturally stunt evangelism, and Arminianism cause it to burst forth?  And is this hodgepodge of theology Zinzendorf is presenting here actually full-blown Arminianism?  I really don’t know, never having been exposed much to these opposing concepts.  I do get the sense, though, that he has utterly failed in his stated aim for this sermon, which is to reconcile the opposing viewpoints over this text by offering its fundamental interpretation.  He rather seems to have rambled off into his own deeply-felt agenda.  Not a systematic thinker, indeed!  My head gets quite fuzzy even trying to follow him!]

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