The young German nobleman lived at a time when tolerance of differing views was practically non-existent and beliefs at odds with the established church often resulted in imprisonment or death. So Puritans, Separatists, Quakers, Lutherans and many others became religious refugees in search of safe harbor. When 27-year-old Nicolas Zinzendorf became aware of the plight of these Believers, he felt a burden for the oneness of Christians.He purchased a large estate that included the village of Berthelsdorf, Germany, and turned it into a refuge for oppressed Christians of every doctrine and creed.Though the first and most substantial wave of emigrants came from Moravia and were known as the Moravian Brethren, many other denominations followed and soon over 300 people of every persuasion made their home at “Herrnhut.”Zinzendorf’s dream to “plant a pleasant garden of the Lord” quickly turned into a briar patch of doctrinal rancor and divisions. More than once, discord threatened shipwreck at this “safe harbor.”
“It seemed that every wind of doctrine and division blew through Herrnhut…any unity in the Settlement was a thing of rags and tatters…”
On May 12, 1727, after five frustrating years, Zinzendorf addressed his prickly people for three hours on the blessedness of Christian unity.The community was deeply moved and in sorrow confessed their past quarreling.Before God they committed to live in love and simplicity and to belong entirely to the Savior.They desired to become poor in spirit and “each one wished to be taught of the Holy Spirit in all things.”The result was a “golden summer” in which Herrnhut became a living community of Christ working together in peace and love. A Prayer Watch On August 13, as they prepared spiritually for the Lord’s Supper, they became aware of their own sinfulness and need.During the service as they prayed for their continued unity and for fellow Christians still under persecution, the Holy Spirit came upon them as at Pentacost.Two weeks later, 24 men and 24 women committed to pray hourly for God’s blessings upon them and their witness.In teams of two, unceasing prayer was offered 24 hours a day 7 days a week.This commitment to prayer at Herrnhut lasted 100 years!Within days of its beginning a group formed, burdened with taking the Gospel to the forgotten people of the world.Herrnhut’s first missionaries were two young men who were willing to become slaves if necessary to reach the slaves in the West Indies.Eventually, hundreds of Moravians went out into the forgotten places of the world.
A Spiritual Slumber
The century of their unceasing prayer saw America and Europe both awaken from a deep spiritual slumber.John Wesley bemoaned the state of religion in England.“What is the present characteristic of the English nation?It is ungodliness….Ungodliness is our universal, our constant, our peculiar character.”In America Jonathon Edwards found the people “very insensible to the things of religion.”The emergence of the Half Way Covenant reflects the depth of this spiritual decline.Previously, only those who could testify to a saving experience of Christ were admitted to church membership in America.With the Half Way Covenant “persons not scandalous in life” could be included.Moral respectabilityrather than spiritual rebirth had become the criterion.“We are fallen into as deep a sleep as ever,” lamented a Boston preacher in 1730. Not only their prayers but their “witness” which they had asked the Lord to bless, was a critical instrument in the changing of the world.It was a change needed before God could make America into the nation He had destined it to be.
Moravian Impact on Leaders of the Awakening
On the voyage to America to evangelize the Indians, John Wesley had noticed the group of men, women and children, also intent on ministering to the Indians, whom fellow voyagers treated harshly.Their apparent cowardice in not defending themselves when personally assailed brought scorn and ridicule.In the midst of a great storm when all the brave souls trembled for their lives, the Moravians sang hymns.They were neither afraid for themselves nor for their children. In Georgia, Wesley was challenged repeatedly about his personal relationship with Christ by a Moravian, named Spragenberg.Upon his early return to England, Wesley reflected upon these encounters:“I can talk well…when no danger is near.But let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled…I went to America to convert Indians, but oh, who shall convert me?”That person was another Moravian,Peter Boehler.Shortly after the Wesleys’ return to England they met with Boehler.First Charles and then, three days later, John received Christ as their personal Savior.By all accounts, that moment was the “turning point,” … the “most vital stimulus” of the Great Revival in England.Wesley was soon to visit Zinzendorf at Herrnhut and would later write:“…they are all partakers of one Spirit, the spirit of meekness and love which uniformly and continually animates all their conversation… I would gladly have spent my life here….Oh when shall THIS Christianity cover the earth…?”