A Pietist

By George Scott, Carl Olof Rosenius, and Mark Safstrom

In its initial year of publication in 1842, Pietisten presented a two-part article series as an explanation for the founding of the journal, titled “Pietism” and “A Pietist.” Part two is translated here from the Swedish by Mark Safstrom. (Part one appeared in the Spring-Summer 2010 issue.)

The limited space of this journal, as well as our desire to not cut short its essays, denies us the ability to develop our perspective to the extent that the matter deserves, on who is entitled to the name above in its proper sense, and who has been given this name undeservedly according to the world’s incorrect understanding of it. As a result, our readers should not expect an exhaustive portrait of a pietist, but instead several scattered impressions and characteristic features, that taken together will illustrate the subjects that we hope to present here in more detail in the coming years.

Now if you first ask what kind of citizen a pietist is, the answer will be: he does not belong to any country on earth. This is in two respects. In one respect, namely, that he exists in all countries where the Gospel is known and preached; and also in the respect that he is actually a guest and a stranger on earth and is seeking a fatherland, the heavenly one. Neither does he belong to any specific church denomination, but instead constitutes one of those limbs that can be found in all Christian churches which belong to the one, holy, universal church – of those who “have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, and to innumerable angels and to the assembly of the firstborn, whose names are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to the mediator of the Covenant, Jesus, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24) Of this we find, that all pietists in the world are each other’s countrymen, the subjects of the same King, children of the same Father, though they wander in vastly separate parts of the globe, are raised under different circumstances and speak different languages. They are citizens with the holy ones and the servants of God. And if they too, like the refugees from Madagascar and their Khoisian-speaking brothers, must make use of their Bibles in order to speak to one another; or in lacking this means, like the Scottish soldier and the Danish farmer, who by simply pointing to the word Jesus in the Postilla and then pointing to their hearts and toward heaven can communicate themselves to one another, they can so easily understand that they are fellow subjects in the same kingdom of grace, and that the unity of the Spirit forges together their diversity of external circumstances and ignites a mutual love between them.

But if now you ask the second question, who or what is a pietist, then consider this: every place where those who confess Christ have united themselves on this one foundation and formed a visible congregation, there you will find (apart from the completely ungodly crowd, who do not even have any semblance of godliness) both formalists – those who enjoy only the name, the semblance, the shell – and pietists, or those who seek and own the thing itself, the reality, the kernel. These are the very living creation of God’s word, as the apostle says, “born anew, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Pet. 1:23) A pietist is the one, who not only has the name, the semblance and the shell of godliness, but the very thing itself, the reality, the kernel, and is a living product of God’s word. He desires to say that this word has become an exercise for him, and has remodeled his heart and life, so that in his heart he experiences what the word contains and then practices this in work and deed. Thus he is the one who not only reads, hears and understands what healing means, but also in his heart experiences what this means. Through the word he has received the kind of heart that reverences the commandments of God, he knows his sins with remorse and fear, and he has genuinely undergone the process of laying aside these sins. In this work of healing he has learned, though ashamed, helpless and inconsolable as he is, to seek the grace and help of the Savior. He is thus also the one who not only hears, reads and understands reconciliation in the blood of Jesus, about faith and grace, but is also truly seeking this or even already owns it in part. He has truly begun to flee to the Savior and dedicate his life to serving him. And it is actually here that true pietas (godliness) appears, when a human being walks away from the brink of eternal ruin, from the distress of sin and the pangs of conscience, and arrives at the peace of faith and the certainty that he can claim Christ and all of his benefits. At this point the heart melts, it is transformed so that it now truly begins to love that which previously was more of an embarrassment to it, God and his message, and truly hates and flees that which previously was its life and desire. Finally, the pietist is the one who not only reads, hears and understands holiness, but also owns this in daily experience and evidence. A pietist does not only complain about sin, but also truly hates it, and does not only feel the suffering caused by it, but even has sincerely attempted to part from it. A pietist not only gives assent to and speaks about Christian deeds and duties, but also begins to truly practice them. And look, although this work of grace is truly being practiced, he still has flaws left, which call for forgiveness. He is yet a sinner, even though he is pardoned and repentant. Daily he washes his clothes and makes them white in the blood of the Lamb, daily he prays “Our Father, forgive us our debts,” while he does not as before live free and satisfied in sin. This John calls “doing what is sinful;” “the one who commits sin is of the devil;” “those who have been born of God, do not sin.” (1 Jn. 3:8, 9)

All of what we have said so far is the internal, godly strength, the truth and reality, which makes a genuine pietist. Although it is precisely this inner transformation of the heart that cannot be understood by any person who has not themselves been born anew, nor can they believe to be true. If then you ask a third question, what are his distinguishing characteristics, then it is not this or that church structure or doctrine, but “mutual love,” (Jn. 13:35); and the fruit of this bears witness to the fact that he has gone over from death to life (I Jn. 3:14). Certainly pietists in all church contexts must adopt, hold fast to, and manifest the foundational truths of the Gospel in both heart and life. For without Jesus for us and Jesus in us it is impossible to be godly in the meaning of the Gospel. But just as, for example, the various books of the Bible are rather different in their use of language, presentation and so on, the spirit and the purpose are still similar in them all, so too the physical, outward clothing among pietists can be quite different, yet “the Spirit is one” and indivisible. Of this it follows that true pietists will not gladly enter into controversies with one another. They will remind themselves of the charge: “Welcome the one who is weak in faith, without passing judgment;” “for God has welcomed him.” (Rom. 14:1, 3)If God has taken such people, who are weak, sick and defective into the one, true sheepfold, then the sheep of the flock should not be allowed to bite and gnash at one another. A pietist will strive and fight bravely – and ought to fight – against all true spiritual enemies, both to himself and to the church. He ought to strike down all the fortifications and bulwarks of thought, which set themselves up as a hindrance to the knowledge of God. But even though there is much at stake in the fight, he will not waste time or wear out his weapons by fighting with brothers in faith. He might observe the great armies of war, like the one that Gustaf II Adolf so triumphantly commanded against the popish retinue in Germany. He observes how this army was composed of a host of distinct, yet united regiments, with various weapons, various methods of war. Each regiment had its commander, its own uniform, own internal training; but all were united under their common royal banner, obeying the highest orders and rushing out with collective strength to meet the common enemy. A commander knows how to employ the regiment’s various weapons and methods of war to counter the diverse assaults of the enemy. But what should the observer think, if he were to see internal division among the regiments, because one soldier had a red belt, the other a yellow one, and the third one white – internal division at a moment when the united strength was so desperately needed to respond to the zealous strategies of the enemy? What else can he conclude than that these soldiers cared more and had more zeal for their own particularities than for the honor of the king and the success of his cause? What else than that the enemy would, without great difficulty, soon be able to conquer this army? The implications are clear. This is also demonstrated in the words of one teacher to a colleague in another confession: “You, like we ourselves, love the faith of our childhood too much to abandon it; but for that very reason we love one another, while we love Jesus foremost.”

God’s word demonstrates everywhere, especially in Romans 3-8, that the basis and source for the life of grace is the same for all, and that their experiences are as similar as they are because they proceed from the same source. But since humanity is also a part of this equation, how much diversity there can be, even within this unity! As there has to be a real body and soul in order for a human being to exist, and all humans are alike in this regard, it is also true that in order to be a “new human,” one needs the same Christ, same Spirit of God and God’s book, living and at work in the heart and in life. Though all people have physical features and faces that are similar enough to let us know that we all are human, nevertheless in all the population of the world there are no two faces that are so similar that no difference can be detected (this is not to mention all the endless diversity in lesser visible characteristics of the soul within the family of humanity.) So it is also with the children of God’s Spirit, whose dispositions, abilities, and ways of being are all more or less different. We still find among those who are born again the same peculiarities that characterized him before, although they have found a new direction, been accentuated or diminished. So it is with the unconverted person who formerly was a diligent sinner, but now has become a diligent servant of the Lord; the weak and easily swayed person retains these characteristics; the gloomy person, the worrier, the bold person and the person always ready for a fight – they will not lose all of these characteristics. Yet the all-transforming grace of God is at work in these people, cultivating the life of the spirit.

There are also certain things that are required for the maintenance and cultivation of the spiritual life: nourishment and activity, pleasure and discipline. Pietists have certain wells of salvation from which they joyfully draw the water of life (Isa. 12:3). And around these wells a pietist can be seen not only making use of the well and thanking God for it, but also it will be evident that he has a spiritual thirst that is satisfied here, without which the wells and the journey to these wells would serve no good. Such is the Bible, for example, which previously was to him unfathomable, dry, tasteless, but now has become a meaningful, precious, holy book of God that is becoming worn with use. He can now approach the throne of grace with courage, strengthened by the blood of reconciliation that is sprinkled on this throne, and which hides from the sight of God the books of the law, as God does not look past this blood. With gratitude he repeats the words of Jesus in Matt. 6:6. The collective worship service will always present him with rich opportunities for constructive reflection, for celebration and communal joy, and often to edification, warning and assurance. At the communion table – the table that is set for all the children of the house – he will be fed with good things; for those who wait upon the Lord will receive new strength. One can expect that pietists will begin and end the day with an acknowledgement of the Lord, calling upon his grace, peace and blessing in their devotionals at home, which are sincere and rich in blessing.

A pietist will prefer to choose for his companions those who are of like mind, the born-again and the spiritual, and though truly confiding only in these people, he will be friendly and sincere toward all. He, like everyone else, feels the need for companionship, and will choose, as far as it is possible, relationships that will not be disturbed by the changes of time. He will seek to have friends and confidants for eternity. His social pursuits will be such that they befit him; and if they diverge from the social pursuits of the world, there will be no indication that these new pursuits are lacking in bringing him joy. For example, when the caterpillar transforms into the butterfly, one does not marvel or become annoyed over the fact that it no longer crawls in the dust or feeds on the crude cabbage leaf, but instead takes to flight up into space and enjoys the nobler nectar of the flowers. And when the pietist finds greater joy in the pages of the Bible than he ever found in a card game, more joy in the singing of spiritual songs than in carousing and drink, more joy in common prayer before the Lord than in the dizziness of the dance, do not think that he has been deceived or that what has taken place is something to be ashamed of; instead, see this as a transformation, not altogether unlike that of the caterpillar to the butterfly.

A pietist will feel the challenge, as long as there is time, to do good to all (Gal. 6:10). As a human being, he will take part in the distresses of his neighbor. But he will not be content to merely help this person in terms of bodily and temporal needs, he also, as a Christian, will be thinking about the soul and eternity. When he considers himself as a person who has been awoken and saved from a deep sleep in a house that has caught on fire, and seeing fellow human beings still in the same slumber, which he had so recently escaped, without a care for their eternal well-being, he cannot help but make an attempt to wake them, by actions and words bringing them something from Gods word. It is for this reason that he will, with passion and joy, contribute to the circulation of Bibles and Christian newspapers to spread awakening among the poor and neglected. His duty to the Savior and to the “least of these brothers” in the heathen world, he will want to investigate and bring to completion. The commandment to “go out” (Mk. 16: 15) will resound for him as though it were a command given directly to him; for he knows that this cause must be the cause of each Christian in order for it to become that of Christendom as a whole. For if he were to remain home, peacefully enjoying the rich bounty of God’s house, then he would neglect his duty and passion, to use those means that are at his disposal to “seek the kingdom of God and increase it as much as he can.” When he becomes aware of the harm that the use of liquor has brought upon his neighbors, he will be eager to join those who investigate the situation and attempt to save these people, leading them away from its use. He regards the customs surrounding drink as the stone which lay across the portal to the grave of the dead Lazarus, a hindrance which can be rolled away by human hands, and whose rolling away has been commanded them by Christ, so that he might be able to call those who are dead back to life.

We have already said that a pietist possesses a heart that has been changed by grace, in such a way that he truly delights and takes joy in the things that God loves. From this follows that he can earnestly say with John: “God’s commandments are not heavy,” that he considers them not only as duties that must be completed, but instead even primarily as privileges that he loves. Here lies the foundation for the remarkable difference between his general outlook on life, and that of a Christian in name only. The latter considers the Lord’s commandments to be quite simply a heavy slavery, and tries to avoid and rationalize away the binding nature of the commandments. Whereas the former finds that when these commandments are put in practice, they are both to his advantage and bring a heartfelt passion, exemplified in the sanctifying name of the Lord, the Sabbath, moments of devotion, the reading of God’s word, Christian fellowship and activity, along with many more praiseworthy pursuits. But this spiritual disposition does not forbid him at all from attending to his earthly duties, for it is exactly in these duties that he has the opportunity to praise the Lord before the world. A true pietist shall always seek to attend to his worldly duties even better than ungodly people; though he, as a stranger here, cannot bind his heart to the world, but rather longs to part from it. As the Jews during the Babylonian captivity, though they longed to return home to the holy land, received the command to pray for this foreign city and engage in their activities for the betterment of this city (Jer. 29:7), so these strangers should also advance the Lord’s glory and their neighbor’s good, each and every one as they are called here on earth. As a citizen also, the pietist will gain his sense of direction chiefly from the word of the Bible, where he will learn to “accept the authority of governors for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet. 2:13); “for the authority, which is in place is instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1); and he will obey the council of the wise man: “My son, fear the Lord and the king! Do not make common cause with rabble-rousers!” (Prov. 24:21)

Now for a few words about the spiritual nourishment, activity and pursuits of the pious. Whatever is not accomplished to the cultivation of the life of grace by the means above, the Lord will accomplish through fatherly discipline, which should also be both considered as a means of grace, as well as proof of being his child. As the word of scripture states: “If you have not experienced that discipline, which all (of God’s) children receive, then you are illegitimate children and not sons, because the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,” and so on. (Heb. 12:6, 8) The switch will be used as it is needed, as in the case of Tobiah, Job, David and Paul, as a thorn in the flesh, an angel of the devil, a slap in the face, illness, poverty, slander, despair, an Absalom, a Judas, a Pilate. It is in this furnace that faith is refined, prayer is ignited, and humility, hope and patience are learned, whenever this cannot happen by the other proper means of grace. But O, how much happier you will be to have this bread, this discipline and this inheritance in the Father’s house, than to remain outside and have no share in it!

Our readers are probably concluding that: “this portrait of a pietist is nothing other than that of a true Christian.” Well, yes, by ‘pietist’ and ‘true Christian’ we mean one and the same thing. As we have shown, the contents of the names are the same; but the world in general understands them as being completely distinct. If you investigate how things really are regarding what the world calls pietism, then you will discover that what has taken place is that the ancient tenets of Christianity have been applied to the circumstances of daily life in a genuine fear of the Lord. Open your eyes and see the bizarre hypocrisy [of the critics]: “Of course the truths of Christianity are to be preserved in the Bible, organized in the symbolical books, collected in Christian journals, employed in sermons, and celebrated as treasures of the nation and the church above all others; but – woe to the one who insists that these truths should actually come alive in the individual’s heart, and be put to work in the individual’s life!” His striving will be labeled “fanatical,” and the one who seeks to live in accordance to the Bible, must be content to no longer be called a “Christian,” but instead – “pietist.”

But we, claiming the beautiful words found in one of our church’s books, continually wish to pray: “Merciful and mighty God, remove all of the snares of unbelief and misconceptions, and grant that a true Christianity might become more and more present and active among us.” Amen.

These articles on Pietism were translated from a collection of Rosenius's writings in 1897, published by the Evangelical Homeland Foundation (Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen - EFS). However, the Methodist missionary, George Scott (1804-74) was probably the principal author, as he was the founding editor of Pietisten. Scott became instrumental in the revival movement in Sweden, and had recruited C.O. Rosenius (1816-1868) as his assistant in publishing Pietisten, as well as serving his congregation, Bethlehem Church, in Stockholm. Rosenius would later succeed Scott as editor of Pietisten, and become a founder and central leader within the EFS, the revival wing of the Church of Sweden.

See all articles by George Scott

C.O. Rosenius (1816-1868) was a founding editor of Pietisten, and a central leader in the Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen (Evangelical Homeland Foundation), the revival wing of the Church of Sweden.

See all articles by Carl Olof Rosenius

Mark Safstrom is Chief Editor of Pietisten, and an assistant professor of Scandinavian Studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

See all articles by Mark Safstrom