Nicolaus von Zinzendorf was an enigmatic figure. Trained for the life of a lawyer and diplomat, he became convinced that God had called him to some special work. From the base of his German estate, he purposed with a small band of friends to work toward a revival of religion in Germany, where he saw the Lutheran Church as sterile and languishing. They worked through the means of correspondence, preaching, and the publication and distribution of books, tracts, catechisms, Bibles, and collections of hymns.
He began to think that Christianity could be best promoted by free churches, unfettered by a relationship with the state such as the Lutheran church had. A religious community, Herrnhut, developed on Zinzendorf’s estate as he offered asylum to persecuted Christians, most notably the Moravian Brethren, who traced their roots back to the martyr Jon Hus. Zinzendorf embraced the beliefs of the Moravian Brethren, becoming the minister of the community.
Zinzendorf had an overwhelming interest in missions and facilitated the sending of missionaries to slaves in the West Indies and North and South America, Inuit in Greenland, and Copts in Egypt, among many others. His life’s motto was “I have but one passion, and that is He and only He.”
Zinzendorf is said to have written more than 2,000 hymns. A student of his life noted, “For Zinzendorf . . . the truths of the Christian religion are best communicated in poetry and song, not in systematic theology and polemics.” A characteristic worship service of the Moravians, encouraged by Zinzendorf, is the “Singstunde,” consisting almost completely of hymns, in which stanzas from various hymns are woven together to develop a particular theme.
“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” is Zinzendorf’s best-known hymn, and the German original contained 33 stanzas. It speaks of what theologians call the “active righteousness” of Christ, by which is meant his life which kept perfectly the law of God, and the “passive righteousness” of Christ, by which is meant his death which substituted for the death sinners deserve. Christ’s passive righteousness involves our sins being credited to his account, and his active righteousness involves his righteousness being credited to our account. The two are referenced in the phrase “blood and righteousness” (vv. 1, 9) and “Jesus hath lived, hath died for me” (v. 6).
“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”
Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf (1700 – 1760)
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father’s bosom came,
Who died for me, e’en me to atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.
Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.
When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
Ev’n then this shall be all my plea,
Jesus hath lived, hath died, for me.
This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years;
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new.
Jesus, the endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me—
For me a full atonement made,
An everlasting ransom paid.
O let the dead now hear Thy voice;
Now bid Thy banished ones rejoice;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress,
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness.