The Moravians & Count Zinzendorf
William Carey, considered the "father of modern missions" actually followed the Moravian missionaries. In fact, after reading a Moravian missionary journal (first published in 1790), Carey exclaimed, 'See what these Moravians have done! Can't we Baptists at least attempt something in fealty to the same Lord?'”
From The Hand of God in History by Rev. Hollis Read (Philadelphia: John E. Potter and Company, 1870)
The roots of the Moravian Church go back to the reform movement of John Hus (sometimes spelled Huss), who in turn was inspired by John Wycliffe who first made the English version of the Bible available to ordinary people. An offensive to the Catholic hierarchy, Hus was "burned on the stake" in 1450 (See The Old Rugged Cross):
In the eyes of the church establishment, Hus had committed heresy. He believed that everyone should be allowed to read the Bible in their own language -- an unthinkable notion in a culture that reserved God's Word for elite students of Latin. He also opposed the Pope's money-raising efforts to sell indulgences (the false assurance that people couldbuy or earn pardon for sin instead of trusting in Christ's redemption through the cross).
Hus was "tried" and found guilty. When asked to recant, he refused. Instead he knelt and prayed that God would forgive his accusers. Mocked and humiliated, he was led naked to the stake, where executioners covered him with wood and straw for thetorturous fire.
Given a last chance to recant, he answered,"In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached I will die today with gladness." Then the fire was lit using pages from the forbidden Bible printed by John Wycliffe as kindling. Enveloped in flames, Hus kept singing an old hymn, "Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." He died praising the Lord He loved!
Like their teacher, the followers of Hus in Bohemia based their fellowship on the Bible. Even Martin Luther expressed his appreciation for their understanding of salvation by faith, "church discipline," and loving expressions of "the priesthood of all believers."
Their fellowship grew rapidly and spread into Moravia. But with their growth came persecution. Fueled by the Hapsburg emperors, the Catholic Counter Reformation became more militant, and many Hussite churches were destroyed. As persecution intensified, they were forced to hide. In 1722, some of the Moravian Hussites sought freedom in Saxony, Germany. They were welcomed by Count Zinzendorf, who offered them land and shelter -- and helped them establish a Christian village dedicated to God and His work around the world. Here, in a foreign land and among unfamiliar people, they became known as "the Moravians."
Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
Nikolaus Ludwig lost his father early. When his mother remarried, the little Count was left with his beloved Lutheran grandmother who spent much time in study and prayer with her precious grandson. The little boy was heartbroken when he finally had to leave her mansion in Saxony (part of Germany) for elite boarding schools where genuine Christian faith was ridiculed.
His training for courtly life was made even more miserable by various mentors assigned to make sure that their young trainee stayed on course, learned proper court manners -- including ballroom dancing and superficial discourse. Serious Christianity clashed with their plan.
Yet, the young Count kept longing for freedom to follow God and serve Him with his life. That opportunity soon came knocking. So when two refugees from persecution in Moravia arrived at his estate, he gladly welcomed them and offered them refuge in a small village on his property. They sent the good news back to their "brethren" in Moravia, and soon the village -- renamed Hernhut (the Lord's Watch) -- became a shelter for oppressed Hussites, Anabaptists, Lutherans and many others who embraced salvation by faith alone.
When Satan sowed jealousy and conflict in their midst, Zinzendorf and his small family (his wife would eventually bear 12 children, out of which only 3 survived) left their mansion to teach and live in the village with the people they loved.
Using the Bible as his only instruction book, Zinzendorf began to established a community devoted to prayer, praise, Bible study, and mutual edification. Continual prayer would rise to God as the people took turns praying each hour, day and night -- a discipline that would continue for 200 years. The fruit of the new obedience to God's Word were hearts filled with praise -- and a readiness to serve God and share the gospel wherever God might send them.
In 1731, Zinzendorf was invited to Denmark for the coronation of a new king. In the midst of the pomp and ceremony, God opened a door that would change hearts and nations around the world. During a dinner at the Danish palace, Zinzendorf was served by a Christian slave -- now named Anthony -- from the Danish West Indies. In their book, Count Zinzendorf, Janet and Geoff Benge describe their conversation:
"Tell me, how did you come to hear of Christ?” Ludwig asked.
Surprised that one of the dinner guests would ask him questions of a personal nature, Anthony answered, “I first heard of Christ when I was on the ship coming to Europe.”
“What do you mean ‘first heard of’?' Ludwig asked. “St. Thomas has been ruled by European countries for many years. Surely you must have heard of Jesus Christ before then.... Tell me, how is it that you could live on a Christian island and not know about Christ Jesus?”
“Perhaps a story will help you understand, sir,” Anthony replied. “When I was a child, a slave who was a coach driver drove his master to church. While the service was going on inside, the slave was expected to wait with the carriage. But this slave became curious. The church doors were closed, so he crept up to them and put his ear to the door to hear what was being said inside. Someone saw him and reported him to his master.... The slave owner took out a knife and cut off his ears right there on the church steps.”
Ludwig felt his stomach turn as he pictured such a gruesome act, on the steps of a church no less.
“You need to understand that the white people on Saint Thomas do not want their slaves to hear about Jesus Christ. They fear that the message will fill their heads with new ideas and cause them to rebel.'"
Filled with compassion, Zinzendorf invited Anthony to come and share his testimony at Hernhut. The former slave accepted, and his message stirred in the Moravians a deep commitment to go wherever God would send them. A year later, after much prayer and preparation, two Moravians were chosen and sent as the first missionaries to the West Indies.
Into All the World
In August 1732, the two "brethren" left for St. Thomas. Zinzendorf drove them fifteen miles in his horse carriage, but from then on, they had none other than God to trust for daily provision. He proved His faithfulness, and they soon found a ship headed for the West Indies. There God gave the strength to endure some painful "opportunities" to share in the torments of slaves -- and thus gain their trust and attention.
The next set of Moravian missionaries were called to Greenland. They learned the language of the Eskimos and lived among them. The following report shows how one Moravian shared the gospel:
"As John Beck sat in his tent translating the Gospels into the native tongue, a group of Eskimos gathered round him. They asked him about his work, and he began, as he had often tried before, to open up the questions of dogmatic theology with them. But they turned away. And then in an inspired moment, John Beck slowly read the verses he had just translated from St. Matthew’s account of the Agony in Gethsemane: 'He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. And He fell on His face and prayed, saying, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.' Where argument had failed, the story of the Suffering Saviour prevailed – a lesson the Moravian missionaries never forgot."
Other Moravian missionaries were sent to Africa, South America, American Indians, Asia.... They faced murderous hostility and deadly diseases, but God's love spread wherever they went. And when a message came back to Hernhut that two or five or twelve of their brethren had died, the same number would volunteer to replace those selfless martyrs in their battlefield.
God reigned -- and these faithful servants could say with the apostle Paul, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!" Philippians 1:29.
Eventually John Wesley would be "born again" through the ministry of a Moranian church on Aldersgate Street in London. To gain more encouragement, Wesley traveled to Hernhut and spent months with the Moravians, sharing their lives of worship, teaching and service.
In 1739, Zinzendorf wrote the words of the hymn below. The following year it was translated from German into English by John Wesley.
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.
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.
Jesus, the endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me—
For me a full atonement made,
An everlasting ransom paid.
See also Zinzendorf's poem, A Prayer for Purity
Like King David, God's beloved shepherd/king -- "a man after My own heart" (Acts 13:20) -- Count Zinzendorf was severely tempted. But unlike David, he didn't commit adultery or murder. Satan didn’t lure him into the usual worldly sins. Instead, he appealed to Zinzendorf’s zeal for God, and prompted him to go beyond Biblical boundaries in his teaching. So, for a season of time, God’s servant embraced a feeling-based form of mysticism. When confronted, he repented under the burden of God-given conviction.
The prayer of David's heart may well be an expression of Zinzendorf's heart as well:
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,'
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin....
"You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance." (Ps 32:5, 7)
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