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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 2 — The Revival under Zinzendorf. 1700-1760

Chapter 15 — The Last Days of Zinzendorf, 1755-1760

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AS Zinzendorf drew near to his end, he saw that his efforts in the cause of Christ had not ended as he had hoped. His design was the union of Christendom, his achievement the revival of the Church of the Brethren. He had given the "Hidden Seed" a home at Herrnhut. He had discovered the ancient laws of the Bohemian Brethren. He had maintained, first, for the sake of the Missions, and, secondly, for the sake of his Brethren, the Brethren's Episcopal Succession. He had founded the Pilgrim Band at Marienborn, had begun the Diaspora work in the Baltic Provinces, had gained for the Brethren legal recognition in Germany, England and North America, and had given the stimulus to the work of foreign missions. At the same time, he had continually impressed his own religious ideas upon his followers; and thus the Renewed Church of the Brethren was a Church of a twofold nature. The past and the present were dove-tailed. From the Bohemian Brethren came the strict discipline, the ministerial succession, and the martyr-spirit; from Zinzendorf the idea of "Church within the Church," the stress laid on the great doctrine of reconciliation through the blood of Christ, and the fiery missionary enthusiasm. Without Zinzendorf the Bohemian Brethren would probably have never returned to life; and without the fibre of the Bohemian Brethren, German Pietism would have died a natural death.

We must, however, keep clear of one misconception. Whatever else the Renewed Church of the Brethren was, it did not spring from a union of races. It was not a fusion of German and Czech elements. As the first settlers at Herrnhut came from Moravia, it is natural to regard them as Moravian Czechs; but the truth is that they were Germans in blood, and spoke the German language. It was, therefore, the German element of the old Brethren's Church that formed the backbone of the Renewed Church. It was Germans, not Czechs, who began the foreign missionary work; Germans who came to England, and Germans who renewed the Brethren's Church in America. In due time pure Czechs from Bohemia came and settled at Rixdorf and Niesky; but, speaking broadly, the Renewed Church of the Brethren was revived by German men with German ideas.

As the Church, therefore, was now established in the three provinces of Germany, Great Britain and North America, one problem only still awaited solution. The problem was the welding of the provinces. That welding was brought about in a simple way. If the reader is of a thoughtful turn of mind, he must have wondered more than once where the Brethren found the money to carry on their enterprises. They had relied chiefly on two sources of income: first, Zinzendorf's estates; second, a number of business concerns known as Diaconies. As long as these Diaconies prospered, the Brethren were able to keep their heads above water; but the truth is, they had been mismanaged. The Church was now on the verge of bankruptcy; and, therefore, the Brethren held at Taubenheim the so-called "Economical Conference." {1755.}

In the time of need came the deliverer, Frederick Köber. His five measures proved the salvation of the Church. First, he separated the property of Zinzendorf from the general property of the Church. Secondly, he put this general property under the care of a "College of Directors." Thirdly, he made an arrangement whereby this "College" should pay off all debts in fixed yearly sums. Fourthly, he proposed that all members of the Church should pay a fixed annual sum to general Church funds. And fifthly, on the sound principle that those who pay are entitled to a vote, he suggested that in future all members of the Church should have the right to send representatives to the General Directing Board or Conference. In this way he drew the outlines of the Moravian Church Constitution.

Meanwhile, Count Zinzendorf's end was drawing near. The evening of his life he spent at Herrnhut, for where more fitly could he die?

"It will be better," he said, "when I go home; the Conferences will last for ever."

He employed his last days in revising the Text-book, which was to be daily food for the Pilgrim Church {1760.}; and when he wrote down the final words, "And the King turned His face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel," his last message to the Brethren was delivered. As his illness — a violent catarrhal fever — gained the mastery over him, he was cheered by the sight of the numerous friends who gathered round him. His band of workers watched by his couch in turn. On the last night about a hundred Brethren and Sisters assembled in the death chamber. John de Watteville sat by the bedside.

"Now, my dear friend," said the dying Count, "I am going to the Saviour. I am ready. I bow to His will. He is satisfied with me. If He does not want me here any more, I am ready to go to Him. There is nothing to hinder me now."

He looked around upon his friends. "I cannot say," he said, "how much I love you all. Who would have believed that the prayer of Christ, ‘That they may be one,'could have been so strikingly fulfilled among us. I only asked for first-fruits among the heathen, and thousands have been given me...Are we not as in Heaven? Do we not live together like the angels? The Lord and His servants understand one another...I am ready."

As the night wore on towards morning, the scene, says one who was present, was noble, charming, liturgical. At ten o'clock, his breathing grew feebler {May 9th, 1760.}; and John de Watteville pronounced the Old Testament Benediction, "The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make His face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace." As de Watteville spoke

the last words of the blessing, the Count lay back on his pillow and closed his eyes; and a few seconds later he breathed no more.

At Herrnhut it is still the custom to announce the death of any member of the congregation by a chorale played on trombones; and when the trombones sounded that morning all knew that Zinzendorf's earthly career had closed. The air was thick with mist. "It seemed," said John Nitschmann, then minister at Herrnhut, "as though nature herself were weeping." As the Count's body lay next day in the coffin, arrayed in the robe he had worn so often when conducting the Holy Communion, the whole congregation, choir by choir, came to gaze for the last time upon his face. For a week after this the coffin remained closed; but on the funeral day it was opened again, and hundreds from the neighbouring towns and villages came crowding into the chamber. At the funeral all the Sisters were dressed in white; and the number of mourners was over four thousand. At this time there were present in Herrnhut Moravian ministers from Holland, England, Ireland, North America and Greenland; and these, along with the German ministers, took turns as pall-bearers. The trombones sounded. John Nitschmann, as precentor, started the hymn; the procession to the Hutberg began. As the coffin was lowered into the grave some verses were sung, and then John Nitschmann spoke the words: "With tears we sow this seed in the earth; but He, in his own good time, will bring it to life, and will gather in His harvest with thanks and praise! Let all who wish for this say, ‘Amen.'"

"Amen," responded the vast, weeping throng. The inscription on the grave-stone is as follows: "Here lie the remains of that immortal man of God, Nicholas Lewis, Count and Lord of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf; who, through the grace of God and his own unwearied service, became the honoured Ordinary of the Brethren's Church, renewed in this eighteenth century. He was born at Dresden on May 26th, 1700, and entered into the joy of his Lord at Herrnhut on May 9th, 1760. He was appointed to bring forth fruit, and that his fruit should remain."

Thus, in a halo of tearful glory, the Count-Bishop was laid to rest. For many years the Brethren cherished his memory, not only with affection, but with veneration; and even the sober Spangenberg described him as "the great treasure of our times, a lovely diamond in the ring on the hand of our Lord, a servant of the Lord without an equal, a pillar in the house of the Lord, God's message to His people." But history hardly justifies this generous eulogy; and Spangenberg afterwards admitted himself that Zinzendorf had two sides to his character. "It may seem a paradox," he wrote, "but it really does seem a fact that a man cannot have great virtues without also having great faults." The case of Zinzendorf is a case in point. At a Synod held a few years later (1764), the Brethren commissioned Spangenberg to write a "Life of Zinzendorf." As the Count, however, had been far from perfect, they had to face the serious question whether Spangenberg should be allowed to expose his faults to public gaze. They consulted the Lot: the Lot said "No"; and, therefore, they solemnly warned Spangenberg that, in order to avoid creating a false impression, he was "to leave out everything which would not edify the public." The loyal Spangenberg obeyed. His "Life of Zinzendorf" appeared in eight large volumes. He desired, of course, to be honest; he was convinced, to use his own words, that "an historian is responsible to God and men for the truth"; and yet, though he told the truth, he did not tell the whole truth. The result was lamentable. Instead of a life-like picture of Zinzendorf, the reader had only a shaded portrait, in which both the beauties and the defects were carefully toned down. The English abridged edition was still more colourless.136 For a hundred years the character of Zinzendorf lay hidden beneath a pile of pious phrases, and only the recent researches of scholars have enabled us to see him as he was. He was no mere commonplace Pietist. He was no mere pious German nobleman, converted by looking at a picture. His faults and his virtues stood out in glaring relief. His very appearance told the dual tale. As he strolled the streets of Berlin or London, the wayfarers instinctively moved to let him pass, and all men admired his noble bearing, his lofty brow, his fiery dark blue eye, and his firm set lips; and yet, on the other hand, they could not fail to notice that he was untidy in his dress, that he strode on, gazing at the stars, and that often, in his absent-mindedness, he stumbled and staggered in his gait. In his portraits we can read the same double story. In some the prevailing tone is dignity; in others there is the faint suggestion of a smirk. His faults were those often found in men of genius. He was nearly always in a hurry, and was never in time for dinner. He was unsystematic in his habits, and incompetent in money matters. He was rather imperious in disposition, and sometimes overbearing in his conduct. He was impatient at any opposition, and disposed to treat with contempt the advice of others. For example, when the financial crisis arose at Herrnhaag, Spangenberg advised him to raise funds by weekly collections; but Zinzendorf brushed the advice aside, and retorted, "It is my affair." He was rather short-tempered, and would stamp his foot like an angry child if a bench in the church was not placed exactly as he desired. He was superstitious in his use of the Lot, and damaged the cause of the Brethren immensely by teaching them to trust implicitly to its guidance. He was reckless in his

use of extravagant language; and he forgot that public men should consider, not only what they mean themselves, but also what impression their words are likely to make upon others. He was not always strictly truthful; and in one of his pamphlets he actually asserted that he himself was in no way responsible for the scandals at Herrnhaag. For these reasons the Count made many enemies. He was criticized severely, and sometimes justly, by men of such exalted character as Bengel, the famous German commentator, and honest John Wesley in England; he was reviled by vulgar scribblers like Rimius; and thus, like his great contemporary, Whitefield, he

Stood pilloried on Infamy's high stage,e,

And bore the pelting scorn of half an age;

The very butt of slander and the blot

For every dart that malice ever shot.

But serious though his failings were, they were far outshone by his virtues. Of all the religious leaders of the eighteenth century, he was the most original in genius and the most varied in talent; and, therefore, he was the most misunderstood, the most fiercely hated, the most foully libelled, the most shamefully attacked, and the most fondly adored. In his love for Christ he was like St. Bernard, in his mystic devotion like Madame Guyon; and Herder, the German poet, described him as "a conqueror in the spiritual world." It was those who knew him best who admired him most. By the world at large he was despised, by orthodox critics abused, by the Brethren honoured, by his intimate friends almost worshipped. According to many orthodox Lutherans he was an atheist; but the Brethren commonly called him "the Lord's disciple." He was abstemious in diet, cared little for wine, and drank chiefly tea and lemonade. He was broad and Catholic in his views, refused to speak of the Pope as Antichrist, and referred to members of the Church of Rome as "Brethren"; and, while he remained a Lutheran to the end, he had friends in every branch of the Church of Christ. He had not a drop of malice in his blood. He never learned the art of bearing a grudge, and when he was reviled, he never reviled again. He was free with his money, and could never refuse a beggar. He was a thoughtful and suggestive theological writer, and holds a high place in the history of dogma; and no thinker expounded more beautifully than he the grand doctrine that the innermost nature of God is revealed in all its glory to man in the Person of the suffering Man Christ Jesus. He was a beautiful Christian poet; his hymns are found to-day in every collection; his "Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness" was translated into English by John Wesley; and his noble "Jesus, still lead on!" is as popular in the cottage homes of Germany as Newman's "Lead, kindly light" in England. Of the three great qualities required in a poet, Zinzendorf, however, possessed only two. He had the sensibility; he had the imagination; but he rarely had the patience to take pains; and, therefore, nearly all his poetry is lacking in finish and artistic beauty. He was an earnest social reformer; he endeavoured, by means of his settlement system, to solve the social problem; and his efforts to uplift the working classes were praised by the famous German critic, Lessing. The historian and theologian, Albrecht Ritschl, has accused him of sectarian motives and of wilfully creating a split in the Lutheran Church. The accusation is absolutely false. There is nothing more attractive in the character of Zinzendorf than his unselfish devotion to one grand ideal. On one occasion, after preaching at Berlin, he met a young lieutenant. The lieutenant was in spiritual trouble.

"Let me ask you," said Zinzendorf, "one question: Are you alone in your religious troubles, or do you share them with others?"

The lieutenant replied that some friends and he were accustomed to pray together.

"That is right," said Zinzendorf. "I acknowledge no Christianity without fellowship."

In those words he pointed to the loadstar of his life. For that holy cause of Christian fellowship he spent every breath in his body and every ducat in his possession. For that cause he laboured among the peasants of Berthelsdorf, in the streets of Berlin, in the smiling Wetterau, in the Baltic Provinces, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in the wilds of Yorkshire, by the silver Thames, on West Indian plantations, and in the wigwams of the Iroquois and the Delaware. It is not always fair to judge of men by their conduct. We must try, when possible, to find the ruling motive; and in motive Zinzendorf was always unselfish. Sometimes he was guilty of reckless driving; but his wagon was hitched to a star. No man did more to revive the Moravian Church, and no man did more, by his very ideals, to retard her later expansion. It is here that we can see most clearly the contrast between Zinzendorf and John Wesley. In genius Zinzendorf easily bore the palm; in practical wisdom the Englishman far excelled him. The one was a poet, a dreamer, a thinker, a mystic; the other a practical statesman, who added nothing to religious thought, and yet uplifted millions of his fellow men. At a Synod of the Brethren held at Herrnhut (1818), John Albertini, the eloquent preacher, described the key-note of Zinzendorf's life. "It was love to Christ," said Albertini, "that glowed in the heart of the child; the same love that burned in the young man; the same love that thrilled his middle-age; the same love that inspired his every endeavour." In action faulty, in motive pure; in judgment erring, in ideals divine; in policy wayward, in purpose unselfish and true; such was Zinzendorf, the Renewer of the Church of the Brethren.Rev. vii. 9, 13; and, therefore, the surplice was worn for the first time at a Holy Communion,

at Herrnhaag, on May 2nd, 1748, by Zinzendorf himself, his son Renatus, two John Nitschmanns, and Rubusch, the Elder of the Single Brethren. This is the origin of the use of the surplice by the modern Moravians.">137

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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