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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 2 — The Revival under Zinzendorf. 1700-1760

Chapter 1 — The Youth of Count Zinzendorf, 1700-1722

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IF the kindly reader will take the trouble to consult a map of Europe he will see that that part of the Kingdom of Saxony known as Upper Lusatia runs down to the Bohemian frontier. About ten miles from the frontier line there stand to-day the mouldering remains of the old castle of Gross-Hennersdorf. The grey old walls are streaked with slime. The wooden floors are rotten, shaky and unsafe. The rafters are worm-eaten. The windows are broken. The damp wall-papers are running to a sickly green. Of roof there is almost none. For the lover of beauty or the landscape painter these ruins have little charm. But to us these tottering walls are of matchless interest, for within these walls Count Zinzendorf, the Renewer of the Brethren's Church, spent the years of his childhood.

He was born at six o'clock in the evening, Wednesday, May 26th, 1700, in the picturesque city of Dresden {1700.}; the house is pointed out to the visitor; and "Zinzendorf Street" reminds us still of the noble family that has now died out. He was only six weeks old when his father burst a blood-vessel and died; he was only four years when his mother married again; and the young Count — Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf — was handed over to the tender care of his grandmother, Catherine von Gersdorf, who lived at Gross-Hennersdorf Castle. And now, even in childhood's days, little Lutz, as his grandmother loved to call him, began to show signs of his coming greatness. As his father lay on his dying bed, he had taken the child in his feeble arm, and consecrated him to the service of Christ; and now in his grandmother's noble home he sat at the feet of the learned, the pious, and the refined. Never was a child less petted and pampered; never was a child more strictly trained; never was a child made more familiar with the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. Dr. Spener,58 the famous Pietist leader, watched his growth with fatherly interest. The old lady was a leader in Pietist circles, was a writer of beautiful religious poetry, and guarded him as the apple of her eye. He read the Bible every day. He doted on Luther's Catechism. He had the Gospel story at his finger-ends. His aunt Henrietta, who was rather an oddity, prayed with him morning and night. His tutor, Edeling, was an earnest young Pietist from Franke's school at Halle; and the story of Zinzendorf's early days reads like a mediaeval tale. "Already in my childhood," he says, {1704.} "I loved the Saviour, and had abundant communion with Him. In my fourth year I began to seek God earnestly, and determined to become a true servant of Jesus Christ." At the age of six he regarded Christ as his Brother, would talk with Him for hours together as with a familiar friend and was often found rapt in thought {1706.}, like Socrates in the market-place at Athens. As other children love and trust their parents, so this bright lad with the golden hair loved and trusted Christ. "A thousand times," he said, "I heard Him speak in my heart, and saw Him with the eye of faith." Already the keynote of his life was struck; already the fire of zeal burned in his bosom. "Of all the qualities of Christ," said He, "the greatest is His nobility; and of all the noble ideas in the world, the noblest is the idea that the Creator should die for His children. If the Lord were forsaken by all the world, I still would cling to Him and love Him." He held prayer-meetings in his private room. He was sure that Christ Himself was present there. He preached sermons to companies of friends. If hearers failed, he arranged the chairs as an audience; and still is shown the little window from which he threw letters addressed to Christ, not doubting that Christ would receive them. As the child was engaged one day in prayer, the rude soldiers of Charles XII. burst into his room. Forthwith the lad began to speak of Christ; and away the soldiers fled in awe and terror. At the age of eight he lay awake at night tormented with atheistic doubts {1708.}. But the doubts did not last long. However much he doubted with the head he never doubted with the heart; and the charm that drove the doubts away was the figure of the living Christ.

And here we touch the springs of the boy's religion. It is easy to call all this a hot-house process; it is easy to dub the child a precocious prig. But at bottom his religion was healthy and sound. It was not morbid; it was joyful. It was not based on dreamy imagination; it was based on the historic person of Christ. It was not the result of mystic exaltation; it was the result of a study of the Gospels. It was not, above all, self-centred; it led him to seek for fellowship with others. As the boy devoured the Gospel story, he was impressed first by the drama of the Crucifixion; and often pondered on the words of Gerhardt's hymn: —

O Head so full of bruises,

So full of pain and scorn,

‘Midst other sore abuses,

Mocked with a crown of thorn.

For this his tutor, Edeling, was partly responsible. "He spoke to me," says Zinzendorf, "of Jesus and His wounds."

But the boy did not linger in Holy Week for ever. He began by laying stress on the suffering Christ; he went on to lay stress on the whole life of Christ; and on that life, from the cradle to the grave, his own strong faith was based. "I was," he said, "as certain that the Son of God was my Lord as of the existence of my five fingers." To him the existence of

Jesus was a proof of the existence of God; and he felt all his limbs ablaze, to use his own expression, with the desire to preach the eternal Godhead of Christ. "If it were possible," he said, "that there should be another God than Christ I would rather be damned with Christ than happy with another. I have," he exclaimed, "but one passion — ‘tis He, ‘tis only He."

But the next stage in his journey was not so pleasing {1710.}. At the age of ten he was taken by his mother to Professor Franke's school at Halle; and by mistake he overheard a conversation between her and the pious professor. She described him as a lad of parts, but full of pride, and in need of the curbing rein. He was soon to find how much these words implied. If a boy has been trained by gentle ladies he is hardly well equipped, as a rule, to stand the rough horseplay of a boarding-school; and if, in addition, he boasts blue blood, he is sure to come in for blows. And the Count was a delicate aristocrat, with weak legs and a cough. He was proud of his noble birth; he was rather officious in his manner; he had his meals at Franke's private table; he had private lodgings a few minutes' walk from the school; he had plenty of money in his purse; and, therefore, on the whole, he was as well detested as the son of a lord can be. "With a few exceptions," he sadly says, "my schoolfellows hated me throughout."

But this was not the bitterest part of the pill. If there was any wholesome feeling missing in his heart hitherto, it was what theologians call the sense of sin. He had no sense of sin whatever, and no sense of any need of pardon. His masters soon proceeded to humble his pride. He was introduced as a smug little Pharisee, and they treated him as a viper. Of all systems of school discipline, the most revolting is the system of employing spies; and that was the system used by the staff at Halle. They placed the young Count under boyish police supervision, encouraged the lads to tell tales about him, rebuked him for his misconduct in the measles, lectured him before the whole school on his rank disgusting offences, and treated him as half a rogue and half an idiot. If he pleaded not guilty, they called him a liar, and gave him an extra thrashing. The thrashing was a public school entertainment, and was advertised on the school notice-board. "Next week," ran the notice on one occasion, "the Count is to have the stick." For two years he lived in a moral purgatory. The masters gave him the fire of their wrath, and the boys the cold shoulder of contempt. The masters called him a malicious rebel, and the boys called him a snob. As the little fellow set off for morning school, with his pile of books upon his arm, the others waylaid him, jostled him to and fro, knocked him into the gutter, scattered his books on the street, and then officiously reported him late for school. He was clever, and, therefore, the masters called him idle; and when he did not know his lesson they made him stand in the street, with a pair of ass's ears on his head, and a placard on his back proclaiming to the public that the culprit was a "lazy donkey."

His private tutor, Daniel Crisenius, was a bully, who had made his way into Franke's school by varnishing himself with a shiny coating of piety. If the Count's relations came to see him, Crisenius made him beg for money, and then took the money himself. If his grandmother sent him a ducat Crisenius pocketed a florin. If he wrote a letter home, Crisenius read it. If he drank a cup of coffee, Crisenius would say, "You have me to thank for that, let me hear you sing a song of thanksgiving." If he tried to pour out his soul in prayer, Crisenius mocked him, interrupted him, and introduced disgusting topics of conversation. He even made the lad appear a sneak. "My tutor," says Zinzendorf, "often persuaded me to write letters to my guardian complaining of my hard treatment, and then showed the letters to the inspector."

In vain little Lutz laid his case before his mother. Crisenius thrashed him to such good purpose that he never dared to complain again; and his mother still held that he needed drastic medicine. "I beseech you," she wrote to Franke, "be severe with the lad; if talking will not cure him of lying, then let him feel it."

At last the muddy lane broadened into a highway. One day Crisenius pestered Franke with one of his whining complaints. The headmaster snapped him short.

"I am sick," he said, "of your growlings; you must manage the matter yourself."

As the months rolled on, the Count breathed purer air. He became more manly and bold. He astonished the masters by his progress. He was learning Greek, could speak in French and dash off letters in Latin. He was confirmed, attended the Communion, and wrote a beautiful hymn59 recording his feelings; and already in his modest way he launched out on that ocean of evangelical toil on which he was to sail all the days of his life.

As the child grew up in Hennersdorf Castle he saw and heard a good deal of those drawing-room meetings60 which Philip Spener, the Pietist leader, had established in the houses of several noble Lutheran families, and which came in time to be known in Germany as "Churches within the Church."61 He knew that Spener had been his father's friend. He had met the great leader at the Castle. He sympathised with the purpose of his meetings. He had often longed for fellowship himself,

and had chatted freely on religious topics with his Aunt Henrietta. He had always maintained his private habit of personal communion with Christ; and now he wished to share his religion with others. The time was ripe. The moral state of Franke's school was low; the boys were given to vicious habits, and tried to corrupt his soul; and the Count, who was a healthy minded boy, and shrank with disgust from fleshly sins, retorted by forming a number of religious clubs for mutual encouragement and help. "I established little societies," he says, "in which we spoke of the grace of Christ, and encouraged each other in diligence and good works." He became a healthy moral force in the school. He rescued his friend, Count Frederick de Watteville, from the hands of fifty seducers; he persuaded three others to join in the work of rescue; and the five lads established a club which became a "Church within the Church" for boys. They called themselves first "The Slaves of Virtue," next the "Confessors of Christ," and finally the "Honourable Order of the Mustard Seed"; and they took a pledge to be true to Christ, to be upright and moral, and to do good to their fellow-men. Of all the school clubs established by Zinzendorf this "Order of the Mustard Seed" was the most famous and the most enduring. As the boys grew up to man's estate they invited others to join their ranks; the doctrinal basis was broad; and among the members in later years were John Potter, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, Cardinal Noailles, the broad-minded Catholic, and General Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia. For an emblem they had a small shield, with an "Ecce Homo," and the motto, "His wounds our healing"; and each member of the Order wore a gold ring, inscribed with the words, "No man liveth unto himself." The Grand Master of the Order was Zinzendorf himself. He wore a golden cross; the cross had an oval green front; and on that front was painted a mustard tree, with the words beneath, "Quod fuit ante nihil," i.e., what was formerly nothing.62

But already the boy had wider conceptions still. As he sat at Franke's dinner table, he listened one day to the conversation of the Danish missionary, Ziegenbalg, who was now home on furlough, and he even saw some dusky converts whom the missionary had brought from Malabar {1715.}. His missionary zeal was aroused. As his guardian had already settled that Zinzendorf should enter the service of the State, he had, of course, no idea of becoming a missionary himself;63 but, as that was out of the question, he formed a solemn league and covenant with his young friend Watteville that when God would show them suitable men they would send them out to heathen tribes for whom no one else seemed to care. Nor was this mere playing at religion. As the Count looked back on his Halle days he saw in these early clubs and covenants the germs of his later work; and when he left for the University the delighted Professor Franke said, "This youth will some day become a great light in the world."

As the Count, however, in his uncle's opinion was growing rather too Pietistic, he was now sent to the University at Wittenberg, to study the science of jurisprudence, and prepare for high service in the State {April, 1716.}. His father had been a Secretary of State, and the son was to follow in his footsteps. His uncle had a contempt for Pietist religion; and sent the lad to Wittenberg "to drive the nonsense out of him." He had certainly chosen the right place. For two hundred years the great University had been regarded as the stronghold of the orthodox Lutheran faith; the bi-centenary Luther Jubilee was fast approaching; the theological professors were models of orthodox belief; and the Count was enjoined to be regular at church, and to listen with due attention and reverence to the sermons of those infallible divines. It was like sending a boy to Oxford to cure him of a taste for dissent. His tutor, Crisenius, went with him, to guard his morals, read his letters, and rob him of money at cards. He had also to master the useful arts of riding, fencing, and dancing. The cards gave him twinges of conscience. If he took a hand, he laid down the condition that any money he might win should be given to the poor. He prayed for skill in his dancing lessons, because he wanted to have more time for more serious studies. He was more devout in his daily life than ever, prayed to Christ with the foil in his hand, studied the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, spent whole nights in prayer, fasted the livelong day on Sundays, and was, in a word, so Methodistic in his habits that he could truly describe himself as a "rigid Pietist." He interfered in many a duel, and rebuked his fellow students for drinking hard; and for this he was not beloved. As he had come to Wittenberg to study law, he was not, of course, allowed to attend the regular theological lectures; but, all the same, he spent his leisure in studying the works of Luther and Spener, and cultivated the personal friendship of many of the theological professors. And here he made a most delightful discovery. As he came to know these professors better, he found that a man could be orthodox without being narrow-minded; and they, for their part, also found that a man could be a rigid Pietist without being a sectarian prig. It was time, he thought, to put an end to the quarrel. He would make peace between Wittenberg and Halle. He would reconcile the Lutherans and Pietists. He consulted with leading professors on both sides; he convinced them of the need for peace; and the rival teachers actually agreed to accept

this student of nineteen summers as the agent of the longed-for truce. But here Count Zinzendorf's mother intervened. "You must not meddle," she wrote, "in such weighty matters; they are above your understanding and your powers." And Zinzendorf, being a dutiful son, obeyed. "I think," he said, "a visit to Halle might have been of use, but, of course, I must obey the fourth commandment."64

And now, as befitted a nobleman born, he was sent on the grand tour, to give the final polish to his education {1719.}. He regarded the prospect with horror. He had heard of more than one fine lord whose virtues had been polished away. For him the dazzling sights of Utrecht and Paris had no bewitching charm. He feared the glitter, the glamour, and the glare. The one passion, love to Christ, still ruled his heart. "Ah!" he wrote to a friend, "What a poor, miserable thing is the grandeur of the great ones of the earth! What splendid misery!" As John Milton, on his continental tour, had sought the company of musicians and men of letters, so this young budding Christian poet, with the figure of the Divine Redeemer ever present to his mind, sought out the company of men and women who, whatever their sect or creed, maintained communion with the living Son of God. He went first to Frankfurt-on-the-Main, where Spener had toiled so long, came down the Rhine to Düsseldorf, spent half a year at Utrecht, was introduced to William, Prince of Orange, paid flying calls at Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and ended the tour by a six months'stay amid the gaieties of Paris. At Düsseldorf a famous incident occurred. There, in the picture gallery, he saw and admired the beautiful Ecce Homo of Domenico Feti; there, beneath the picture he read the thrilling appeal: "All this I did for thee; what doest thou for Me?"; and there, in response to that appeal, he resolved anew to live for Him who had worn the cruel crown of thorns for all.65

At Paris he attended the Court levée, and was presented to the Duke of Orleans, the Regent, and his mother, the Dowager Duchess.

"Sir Count," said the Duchess, "have you been to the opera to-day?"

"Your Highness," he replied, "I have no time for the opera." He would not spend a golden moment except for the golden crown.

"I hear," said the Duchess, "that you know the Bible by heart."

"Ah," said he, "I only wish I did."

At Paris, too, he made the acquaintance of the Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Noailles. It is marvellous how broad in his views the young man was. As he discussed the nature of true religion with the Cardinal, who tried in vain to win him for the Church of Rome, he came to the conclusion that the true Church of Jesus Christ consisted of many sects and many forms of belief. He held that the Church was still an invisible body; he held that it transcended the bounds of all denominations; he had found good Christians among Protestants and Catholics alike; and he believed, with all his heart and soul, that God had called him to the holy task of enlisting the faithful in all the sects in one grand Christian army, and thus realizing, in visible form, the promise of Christ that all His disciples should be one. He was no bigoted Lutheran. For him the cloak of creed or sect was only of minor moment. He desired to break down all sectarian barriers. He desired to draw men from all the churches into one grand fellowship with Christ. He saw, and lamented, the bigotry of all the sects. "We Protestants," he said, "are very fond of the word liberty; but in practice we often try to throttle the conscience." He was asked if he thought a Catholic could be saved. "Yes," he replied, "and the man who doubts that, cannot have looked far beyond his own small cottage."

"What, then," asked the Duchess of Luynes, "is the real difference between a Lutheran and a Catholic?"

"It is," he replied, "the false idea that the Bible is so hard to understand that only the Church can explain it." He had, in a word, discovered his vocation.

His religion purified his love. As he made his way home, at the close of the tour, he called to see his aunt, the Countess of Castell, and her daughter Theodora {1720.}; and during his stay he fell ill of a fever, and so remained much longer than he had at first intended. He helped the Countess to put in order the affairs of her estate, took a leading part in the religious services of the castle, and was soon regarded as almost one of the family. At first, according to his usual custom, he would talk about nothing but religion. But gradually his manner changed. He opened out, grew less reserved, and would gossip and chat like a woman. He asked himself the reason of this alteration. He discovered it. He was in love with his young cousin, Theodora. For a while the gentle stream of love ran smooth. His mother and the Countess Castell smiled approval; Theodora, though rather icy in manner, presented him with her portrait; and the Count, who accepted the dainty gift as a pledge of blossoming love, was rejoicing at finding so sweet a wife and so charming a helper in his work, when an unforeseen event turned the current of the stream. Being belated one evening on a journey, he paid a visit to his friend Count Reuss, and during conversation made the disquieting discovery that his friend wished to marry Theodora. A beautiful contest followed. Each of the claimants to the hand of Theodora expressed his desire to retire in favour of the other; and, not being able to settle the dispute, the two young men set out for

Castell to see what Theodora herself would say. Young Zinzendorf's mode of reasoning was certainly original. If his own love for Theodora was pure — i.e., if it was a pure desire to do her good, and not a vulgar sensual passion like that with which many love-sick swains were afflicted — he could, he said, fulfil his purpose just as well by handing her over to the care of his Christian friend. "Even if it cost me my life to surrender her," he said, "if it is more acceptable to my Saviour, I ought to sacrifice the dearest object in the world." The two friends arrived at Castell and soon saw which way the wind was blowing; and Zinzendorf found, to his great relief, that what had been a painful struggle to him was as easy as changing a dress to Theodora. The young lady gave Count Reuss her heart and hand. The rejected suitor bore the blow like a stoic. He would conquer, he said, such disturbing earthly emotions; why should they be a thicket in the way of his work for Christ? The betrothal was sealed in a religious ceremony. Young Zinzendorf composed a cantata for the occasion {March 9th, 1721.}; the cantata was sung, with orchestral accompaniment, in the presence of the whole house of Castell; and at the conclusion of the festive scene the young composer offered up on behalf of the happy couple a prayer so tender that all were moved to tears. His self-denial was well rewarded. If the Count had married Theodora, he would only have had a graceful drawing-room queen. About eighteen months later he married Count Reuss's sister, Erdmuth Dorothea {Sept. 7th, 1722.}; and in her he found a friend so true that the good folk at Herrnhut called her a princess of God, and the "foster-mother of the Brethren's Church in the eighteenth century."66

If the Count could now have had his way he would have entered the service of the State Church; but in those days the clerical calling was considered to be beneath the dignity of a noble, and his grandmother, pious though she was, insisted that he should stick to jurisprudence. He yielded, and took a post as King's Councillor at Dresden, at the Court of Augustus the Strong, King of Saxony. But no man can fly from his shadow, and Zinzendorf could not fly from his hopes of becoming a preacher of the Gospel. If he could not preach in the orthodox pulpit, he would teach in some other way; and, therefore, he invited the public to a weekly meeting in his own rooms on Sunday afternoons from three to seven. He had no desire to found a sect, and no desire to interfere with the regular work of the Church. He was acting, he said, in strict accordance with ecclesiastical law; and he justified his bold conduct by appealing to a clause in Luther's Smalkald Articles.Matthew xviii., ‘Where two or three are gathered together.'" The Count, of course, appealed to the last of these methods.; For some reason, however, unknown to me, this particular clause in the Articles was always printed in Latin, and was, therefore, unknown to the general public.">67 He contended that there provision was made for the kind of meeting that he was conducting; and, therefore, he invited men of all classes to meet him on Sunday afternoons, read a passage of Scripture together, and talk in a free-and-easy fashion on spiritual topics. He became known as rather a curiosity; and Valentine Löscher, the popular Lutheran preacher, mentioned him by name in his sermons, and held him up before the people as an example they would all do well to follow.

But Zinzendorf had not yet reached his goal. He was not content with the work accomplished by Spener, Franke, and other leading Pietists. He was not content with drawing-room meetings for people of rank and money. If fellowship, said he, was good for lords, it must also be good for peasants. He wished to apply the ideas of Spener to folk in humbler life. For this purpose he now bought from his grandmother the little estate of Berthelsdorf, which lay about three miles from Hennersdorf {April, 1722.}; installed his friend, John Andrew Rothe, as pastor of the village church; and resolved that he and the pastor together would endeavour to convert the village into a pleasant garden of God. "I bought this estate," he said, "because I wanted to spend my life among peasants, and win their souls for Christ."

"Go, Rothe," he said, "to the vineyard of the Lord. You will find in me a brother and helper rather than a patron."

And here let us note precisely the aim this pious Count had in view. He was a loyal and devoted member of the national Lutheran Church; he was well versed in Luther's theology and in Luther's practical schemes; and now at Berthelsdorf he was making an effort to carry into practical effect the fondest dreams of Luther himself. For this, the fellowship of true believers, the great Reformer had sighed in vain;68 and to this great purpose the Count would now devote his money and his life.

He introduced the new pastor to the people; the induction sermon was preached by Schäfer, the Pietist pastor at Görlitz; and the preacher used the prophetic words, "God will light a candle on these hills which will illuminate the whole land."

We have now to see how far these words came true. We have now to see how the Lutheran Count applied his ideas to the needs of exiles from a foreign land, and learned to take a vital interest in a Church of which as yet he had never heard.


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Monday, October 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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