Grundtvig’s sermons: 4th Sunday after Trinity, 1838

[The Danish pastor N. F. S. Grundtvig was hugely important to the formation of a national consciousness in his country, but he is little known outside Denmark.  This is unfortunate because, despite his flaws and mistakes, which can be overlooked and avoided, the rest of the world could learn a lot from him.  Grundtvig’s talents were so prodigious and diverse that perhaps no one has ever taken the full measure of the man.  Far be it from me to presume to do such a thing.  My task, still immodestly large, is simply to sketch Grundtvig’s seminal position and influence within the movement known as Scandinavian creation theology.  In support of this, I think it will be useful to present one of his sermons here.  I owe a great debt to A. M. Allchin, and his wonderful book N. F. S. Grundtvig : An Introduction to his Life and Work, for highlighting and demonstrating the importance of Grundtvig’s sermons.  Allchin discusses, and translates portions of (on pp. 147-9), the following sermon in the chapter of his book titled “The Earth made in God’s Image.”  I have made use of his translated passages, which are in blue type, in order to fill out a complete translation of the sermon.]

Holy Father! – thy Word is truth!  Thy Word is life and spirit! – the Word of faith, which can be heard!  Yes, Heavenly Father! – blow thou, life breath into thy Word of truth leading to salvation, so its sound goes forth to the ends of the earth, and its blessed power to create living hope and blessed comfort in the human bosom, ever more clearly appears, until thy only begotten Son, who is our hope, our consolation and our deliverance from death, is revealed in thy glory, and renews the earth’s form in us after his likeness!  Let us all pray in our Lord Jesus Christ’s name:  Our Father!  Who art in heaven!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

“The creature’s patient forelonging waits for the revelation of God’s children!” – This biblical passage [Rom. 8:19] has long been considered one of the most obscure in the New Testament, and surely those scribes, really too proud to admit they did not understand it, have, under the name of exposition, had to tolerate the most absurd interpretations.  We find it so obscure, in fact, that what we were able to say about it remained only guesswork.  If so, we ought naturally to say nothing about it but what we with certainty can and should say about all obscure passages in Scripture, thank God! – that nobody’s, neither the scholars’ nor the doctors’, faith and hope, consolation and salvation depends on scribal shrewdness, but that we all have faith’s Word from the Lord’s mouth, on which we can build our salvation-hope so firmly that death and hell only vainly attempt to destroy it, yes that we have a firmer prophetic Word, that shines as the night lamp until the day is dawning and the morning star rises in our heart, a firm prophetic Word about the Lord’s revelation including the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life for all its believers!

But, Christian friends! – as soon as we believe and talk like this, then we need only to read today’s Epistle like everything else in order to understand it rightly, in its coherence, for even in the poor translation, we have to see for ourselves what the essential meaning may be, when, by the way, he who wrote it was himself a Christian and wrote for Christians, to say nothing of when it is the great gentile-apostle, who writes for the entire Christian Church.

The coherence is, namely, that since the apostle says we have a Spirit in us that bears witness with our spirit, that we are God’s children, and as children we are accordingly also heirs, namely, God’s heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, so when we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him, and must at that time surely find that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  Hence the meaning is crystal clear for all Christians, as the apostle comforts, that just as Christ after his Passion arose from the dead with a transfigured body and entered into his glory, so shall we.

Now that we read, further, that the creature’s or the creation’s forelonging waits on the revelation of God’s children, then indeed we are probably bound to find the language quite difficult because it is not in the least Danish, but we can fully embrace it, since the creature or the creation must there be considered part of God’s creation, like our body belongs to, for just as it was the bodily sufferings and the bodily glorification the apostle was writing about, in this way we find also in the sequel that it is our body’s delivery from the bondage of perishability that shall reveal we are God’s children, and directly we therefore learn that the difficult language in Danish should go like this, “Nature waits with longing for the revelation of God’s children,” then we find that there is nothing obscure in it, apart from what is inherent in the nature of things, in our body’s obscure but certain connectedness with the whole of nature; for so long as this connectedness or solidarity has not become clear to us we can have no clear idea of what it is to say that the whole of nature shares our distress and sighs with us over the law of death and decay, to which all bodily things are subject, from the flower which is born today and dies tomorrow, to the shining heavenly bodies which seem incorruptible and were therefore worshipped as gods by the heathen in their blindness, but which according to our prophets and apostles are to grow old as a garment and fall to pieces, just as our bodies decay and just as metal is dissolved and smelted in the fire.

Therefore, Christian friends! – the obscurity in today’s Epistle is nothing but that which is necessary for the mortal eyes to meditate over the resurrection of the flesh, that all the same is an indispensable link in the faith-chain which unites us and a jewel in the crown of life, which is the glorious hope and secure inheritance of all God’s children.  Yes, and so on; it is after all assuredly, as the same apostle writes in another letter, a great mystery how this our mortal body shall be arrayed in immortality and the corruptible shall be arrayed in incorruption, but it is nonetheless our firm belief that it took place all too long ago, through God’s Son’s resurrection for us, and it is still our living hope and unfailing consolation that it shall be seen and revealed in us all, because we are all God’s children in Christ Jesus, shall all inherit with the son of Jesse.  And this mystery becomes not a bit more obscure in that the apostle in today’s Epistle informs us that a similar renewal and transfiguration lies ahead for the whole of nature, which it continually sighs after, like we sigh, notwithstanding that we who have received the Spirit’s firstfruits sigh, after all, over our body’s corruption, and yearn for that day when the Lord comes again and transforms our lowly body to likeness with his glory-body.  No, obscurity increases not at all by the revelation that the whole of nature of sighs and hopes with us, waiting with longing on the Lord’s day which, in that it crowns the hope of God’s children, liberates the whole of nature from the bondage of perishability.  Far more is it like lightning, which streaks across the night, a new herald, which announces the coming of the Son of man, for when see that the law of nature, under which we sigh, is not, as the wise of this world think, eternal and unchangeable, but only a temporary slavery which will be taken away, and which will set the whole of nature free together with ourselves, when we see that, then in a wonderful way light comes over the grave and over all death and decay; although a complete clarity about these things is impossible in our dust.  What undoubtedly on some occasions and perhaps many times either tempted us to unbelief or really weakened our hope and troubled our heart, was when we heard or read it clearly set forth by the wise of this world that both the Lord’s and our actual bodily resurrection from the dead conflicts with all known natural laws.  The fact is that it will never again tempt, discourage or worry us, when we become confident in the apostle’s way of thought, in which there is certainly a law of nature, which stands in the way of the redemption, liberation and immortality of our body, but that law of nature, to the eternal joy of the whole of nature, will certainly be taken away by his power, who proved both that he could and that he would, when he raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave us his Spirit, as witness with our spirit, that we are his children and heirs, fellow heirs with Jesus Christ to the divine fullness, which according to the Father’s good will dwells bodily in him.

Yes, and so on, seeing that we feel ourselves by the living Christianity, which is the Spirit’s firstfruits, lifted up above nature and its laws to nature’s lord and lawgiver, lifted up over it, certainly; to be sure not physically yet, since we on behalf of our body must sigh with the whole of nature, share the deep dying groan which sounds through it, weakens, undermines and supersedes every song of joy; but still spiritually raised over it, as a merely temporal suffering and recoverable pain, that does not deserve to be considered alongside the glory and joy we have in store, and have received secure, unswerving pledge of by the childlike choice’s Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children, and proves his life-giving power in our soul in all our thoughts and feelings that long for immortality and are consistent with our Lord Jesus Christ’s faith.

Yes, dear friends! – this too is among the brighter days I always prophesy the Lord’s Church, preach with calm assurance, because their dawn has already reached us; it delights not only my eyes but gladdens my heart.  It also belongs for this purpose that we should not, like our fathers, consider nature in us and around us, as the property of the Enemy, but as the work of God, which never fell from his hand or slipped from his care . . . [at this point a phrase in the original manuscript is unclear] however much it was spoilt by sin and put to shame by death as the wages of sin.  Yes, we shall consider nature as God’s work, in us and around us, which shall in no way be hated, mistreated and destroyed, but loved, cleansed, healed and sanctified, yes, which should share in the same glory, which in the Spirit we already rejoice in, in that liberty and blessed incorruptibility, for which, as the apostle says, the whole of nature, as well as our hearts, sigh, for which the whole of nature longs with a wonderful hope.  In no way then should we set nature and revelation [italics original] in opposition to one another, as things incompatible with each other; rather, we should call revelation nature’s light and salvation, as our Lord Jesus Christ calls himself the light and saviour of the world, without troubling ourselves that unbelievers misuse our expressions just as they misuse our Lord’s and twist them according to their own false conceptions, as if we either said or meant that nature could enlighten, heal and save itself, although it is our unshakable testimony that God’s Word is the light from the beginning with life in itself, and that we all sit by nature in darkness and death-shade till we see the great light of the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us with the only begotten’s glory, and our unshakable testimony is that there is no cure in anyone else and no other name under heaven than Jesus Christ in which man can be saved.

Yes, Christian friends! – this is the Glory at the time of enlightenment, which now by the grace of God rises above us, not that it gives us anything different than the Gospel, the voice of which is issued to the ends of the earth, or any other spirit than the same Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ baptized with from the beginning, by no means that, but that we learn better to know God’s ways and his salvation-word among all people, and that we therefore let ourselves be as little frightened of God’s Deed as of God’s Word, as little of his old creation for good deeds as of his new creation in Christ Jesus for the same, and that we finally, while we in the Lord’s name call to all of them who will listen, call with the prophet’s voice at the gates of Zion:  O come hither! – Why do you place money where there is no bread and waste effort where you can not be satisfied, come here and take for no money and be satisfied undeservedly with milk and wine, as we do; let them scurry, who will not hear, let them boast of wisdom and shine with self-made ​​virtues, deal and ramble, as they desire, let them stand and fall by their own master, we have no quarrel with them and will not torment ourselves and the congregation to wash blackamoors*, or prevent the misuse of life and light that those of us in the Spirit’s as well as in the body’s world are of necessity exposed to, and lose nothing by.

Yes, this openness, serenity and confidence, with which it is joyful to walk in the way of life the Lord has opened and cleared for us, are the enlightenment’s blessed consequences from the very start, and the fruits of life and light, by way of strong uniting effect, are the fruits of the Spirit, growth in all true virtues that love gives birth to, the new man’s growth who is created by God to walk with him in truth’s righteousness and holiness, yes, the fruit is an eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen!

The morning stars will sing in chorus and all God’s children raise a shout of joy in Jesus’ name, Amen!

[Endnote:
* A variation of a very old, racially insensitive figure of speech that was not uncommon at the time, “to wash an Ethiopian white,” and that meant to attempt the impossible.]

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One Response to Grundtvig’s sermons: 4th Sunday after Trinity, 1838

  1. Pingback: Grundtvigs Prædikener: 4de Trinitatis-Søndag 1838 | Extravagant Creation

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