FRANCES A. MOSHER
JESUS, THY BLOOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
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 that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
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.
—Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)
Translated by John Wesley (1703-1791)
The lyrics of “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness’ must surely comprise one of the clearest, simplest, and most straightforward poetic expressions of the total efficacy of the Lord Jesus for the salvation of fallen humanity. In each stanza the author proclaims his absolute assurance of being justified before God, not because of any work or merit of his own, but solely because of the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 64:6 states that “…all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” How gracious, then, of God the Father to provide us instead with Jesus’ righteousness as “our glorious dress.” Second Corinthians 5:21 assures us, “for He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
The hymn’s second stanza seems inspired by Rom 8:33-34: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”
The final stanza finds scriptural support in 1 Tim 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” is one of more than 2,000 hymns written by Nicolaus von Zinzendorf.1 Born at Dresden, Germany, to a noble, wealthy, and highly cultured family, Zinzendorf was educated at Halle and Wittenberg. Influenced both by his pietistic maternal grandmother, and by Francke, a teacher at Halle, “the fundamental ideals of Pietism and a deep interest in foreign missions were inculcated in him.”2
Upon completion of legal studies at Wittenberg, Zinzendorf took a post as Councilor to the Elector of Saxony. While serving in this position, he purchased a large estate and offered it for use as a home for religious refugees.3 The largest refugee group to settle on his estate was the Moravians, believers who traced their roots back to fifteenth-century followers of John Hus. The Moravians’ history was one of frequent persecution and ridicule because of their religious zeal and enthusiasm.4 Between 1722 and 1729, about 300 Moravians emigrated to Zinzendorf’s estate, establishing a religious community called Herrnhut.5 Zinzendorf himself became a Moravian minister and bishop.6
In 1735, the Herrnhut congregation published its own hymnal, Das Gesang-Buch der Gemeine in Herrnhut.7 Of the 999 hymns in the collection, 208 were by Zinzendorf. His hymns “reveal not only pietistic influence but also strong evangelical and missionary zeal. Many of them deal with the suffering and death of Christ and are lyric expressions of personal devotion.”8
The real birth-moment of Zinzendorf’s religious life is said to have been simultaneous with his study of “Ecce Homo” in the Dusseldorf Gallery, a wonderful painting of Jesus crowned with thorns. Visiting the gallery one day when a young man, he gazed on the sacred face and read the legend superscribed, “All this I have done for Thee; What doest thou for me?” Ever afterwards his motto was “I have but one passion, and that is He, and only He.”9
It is to the praise of God that throughout his life Count Zinzendorf continued to focus not on what he was doing for Christ, but on the sole and complete sufficiency of what Christ had done for him. “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” is an outstanding expression of that focus.
No tunes were included in the Herrnhut hymnal, so the original setting or settings for this hymn are uncertain. More recent hymnals have set the lyrics to various tunes, including “Malvern” and “Uxbridge,” both by Lowell Mason,10 “Germany” by William Gardiner, and “Herr Jesu Christ, Mein’s Lebens Licht,” from a 1625 hymn collection.
1 Ian Bradley, The Book of Hymns (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1989), 92.
2 Elgin S. Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), 451.
4 William Jensen Reynolds, A Survey of Christian Hymnody (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963), 27.
5 Moyer, Who Was Who, 451.
6 Bradley, Hymns, 92.
7 Reynolds, Survey, 27.
9 Bradley, Hymns, 92.
10 Ibid., 93.