The Interceders Encourager No. 61 - The Moravian Revival of 1727 (2)
In the first part of this story, we traced the coming of the Moravians and others to the grounds of Count Zinzendorf's estate in Saxony; we saw something of the way that God had prepared him; and how God answered the prayers of the community, and sent the uniting and transforming Spirit upon them.
1. The Community
We have realized something of the amazing influence of Count Zinzendorf on the Moravian community. How through his generosity, the persecuted believers had been given safety and security, and been allowed to build their homes on his estate. He did not just leave them there, however, he built a school for the children and a dispensary for their ailments. He also installed a printing press for the printing of cheap Bibles and Christian books; and drew up a constitution for all the residents of the village. Through his heartfelt prayers on their behalf, they were preserved from division and destruction. In May, he had gathered all the people together and appealed for unity in love and made everyone who wanted to stay in the village sign a 42-article contract about their life together and the spiritual life of the place. He then appointed twelve elders, organized daily gatherings with song and prayer, and established Bible study small groups, separately for men and women, boys and girls. By the following summer, a large church building had been constructed, and Zinzendorf had given up his work in Dresden to give his undivided attention to the community at Herrnhut.
He also set up small groups for prayer and regular spiritual examination and growth, called bands. They met once or twice every week, and in these gatherings, the men (or the women) were completely honest with each other, with one of the brothers or sisters appointed to take charge of the rest. When they met, they read something of an edifying nature, sang, and prayed. Zinzendorf also looked upon these bands as a way of helping the brothers and sisters in the exercise of the gifts or abilities that the Lord had given them.
He also appointed teachers and monitors to oversee discipline, and health visitors for the sick and poor. Overseers of the various trades were also appointed. Zinzendorf met regularly with the elders and ensured that everybody was actively engaged in the life and work of the community, and was used in the church according to their gifts.
As well as the non-ceasing prayer, other spiritual practices were established in Herrnhut, such as the lovefeast, the washing of feet, nightly song services, fixed hour prayers in the morning, as well as the reading of the daily scripture and a Daily Text Book. In addition, many hymns were written, inspired by Zinzendorf's spirituality and stress on singing.
All these different aspects of the community, bound together by covenant and community laws, with strong leadership and accountability to each other, proved to be a model on which God could pour out His Spirit and accomplish His purposes in a unique manner. And all this can be traced back to their wise and humble leader. Through his presentation of Jesus as their focal point, and his gentle, earnest persuasion, he had got them to sign the brotherhood agreement; and through his hours of supplication on their behalf, along with that of the elders, the Spirit had been poured out in full measure.
The reason for giving this information is because it emphasises two things. Firstly, that God wants to use every aspect of our lives. All the dedication, devotion and the different qualities of Nicolaus and others that were surrendered to the Lord, were taken by Him to form and mould a community that God could then use to an amazing extent, as we shall see. Secondly, there is an important place for organization in God's economy. Organization is often criticised and rejected by believers as being dry and unspiritual, and there is no denying that it can be that, but when it is inspired by Him and directed by Him, it becomes a strong tool in His hand, as was proved by the Moravians and their spiritual children, especially the Methodists and the Salvation Army.
2. The Prayer and Praise
The whole congregation met at least three times daily, at 4 a.m. (five o'clock in the winter), 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to pray and praise the Lamb and to read the Scriptures. Special meetings were held for children and for the aged and sick. The days ended as they began, with singing. On the Lord's Day, praises could be heard from five in the morning until nine at night, when the young men would end the day with singing as they marched around the settlement. They became known as God's Happy People.
As people outside the community began to hear of the songs, prayers, testimonies, and ministry there, they were attracted to visit. Zinzendorf set apart the Lord's Day afternoon for visitors to come, when the community could explain what the Lord had been doing for them.
The most important part of the church life was the singing. Hymns and music were composed and sung on every possible occasion. No opportunity for singing was lost. Even the harvesters had their own hymns and the night watchmen sang on their rounds.
In particular, Zinzendorf loved the famous Singstunde or song-service which he himself had started there. Many complete hymns were sung at such a service, and single stanzas were then chosen to continue a theme as the evening advanced. Hymn-singing from memory was also encouraged as a way of expressing individual experience.
The love feast, a practice of the early churches, was revived in Herrnhut. One Lord's Day, while returning from Berthelsdorf after the Lord's Supper, the congregation spontaneously formed seven different groups. Upon reaching Herrnhut, Zinzendorf sent something from his kitchen to each group, so that they might continue in fellowship without disturbance. The love feasts were then repeated frequently. Their purpose was not merely eating and drinking, but to gratefully recall what they had received from the Lord, and to renew their consecration to Him. When someone died, the meeting that followed was never sad and mournful, but full of hymns of triumph.
We have already noted the beginning of the twenty four hour prayer vigil. According to Benjamin Schafer, "several groups had already started doing 'nightwatch' prayer meetings by themselves, in which they would walk singing through the village. At the end of every night shift, Count Zinzendorf instructed the night guards to sing certain hymns. In one of the Herrnhut corporate prayer meetings, Count Zinzendorf felt that the Holy Spirit was highlighting Leviticus 6:13 to him: "Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out." Urged by the strong impression that the intercession of his saints should incessantly rise up to God like holy incense, Zinzendorf proposed the setting up of a never ending prayer-chain. This concept was not a new invention. The idea of praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) had inspired the monastic movement from its beginnings, and further Biblical justification can be found in Neh. 1:6, Is. 62: 6-7 and Lk. 18: 7-8.
The Hutberg ('watch mountain'), was the place in which the prayer watchmen spent their time in hourly intercession; and also where all the people had their community prayer meetings. Consequently, a small building on the top of the "Watch Mountain" was constructed, so that the intercessors would have a shelter during times of bad weather.
Basically, the prayer chain had two purposes: 1. "to offer before the throne both day and night, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for all God's kindness shown to them;" and 2. "to lay before the Saviour, the distress and care of all who were known to them in or out of the community." Praise and thanksgiving were included, especially whenever the praying person was not able to pray for a full hour. The second function involved interceding for the sick and oppressed, for their fellow believers who were still persecuted and imprisoned, for those preaching and spreading the gospel, as well as for their own community, which also suffered from criticism. They realized how important it was that that the whole community, in its present state of infancy, having Satan as its adversary, who never slumbers day or night,
should be preserved from his wiles, and be under constant and holy guardian care." To fulfil this task, a weekly meeting was set up in which requests were shared and updated.
The number of intercessors grew quickly, as did the community, so that even by 1728 the Hourly Intercession was covered by 90 groups of up to seven people, so that the same people did not have to meet so often. As the work expanded, the intercession included all the churches of the Brethren, the missionaries and the countries in which they lived.
As the prayer movement became known, visitors from many places came to watch and experience the prayer-chain. Throughout the decades, hundreds attended these prayer meetings and worship services. We are told that many of the people were so overwhelmed by the strong presence of God that they would lay prostrate on the floor for six to eight hours.
For more than 100 years, this prayer-chain went on without a break, keeping not only the fire of revival alive, but also fuelling one of the biggest missionary movements of the second millennium. With fervent love and the readiness to sacrifice their lives, the Moravians prayed for all and witnessed to all, wherever they believed the Lord was sending them. Furthermore, those who became missionaries would take the Hourly Intercession wherever they went.
3. The Diaspora
Zinzendorf's great concern was that the zeal, earnestness and unity that the Holy Spirit had given them on August 27th should be preserved and retained. His desire was that they should all appear before God in oneness of heart and spirit with praise, thanksgiving, and prayer. He knew that when they met together in one mind, the Lord could give His blessing, and those who came and witnessed this would realize the secret.
Some members of the community were sent out two by two from Herrnhut to travel throughout Europe seeking like-minded Christians, believers with a hunger for the Lord and a desire for the oneness of the Lord's people. This was called The Diaspora', the dispersion of Moravian believers. Zinzendorf felt that wherever the Moravians went, they should call others together for meetings that were open to all believers. They lived in days of great rivalry and opposition between different Christian groups. What Zinzendorf called the odium theologicum, a theology that produced animosity and hatred, was not to be allowed, as it became a prime cause of division. "The people," said Zinzendorf, "should only sing, pray and talk with one another. What goes beyond the discussion of Christian experience is offensive." He therefore encouraged informal gatherings of believers where there was simplicity, warmth, the open sharing of joy and fellowship in the Lamb, and prayer for the extension of His kingdom.
4. The Missionary Work
Now the yearning for missionary work that Nicolaus had had since he was 16 years old, came into its own. In 1727, he wrote to the Danish Court, and offered to send Moravian missionaries to Greenland, knowing that the Pietists had sent missionaries to Greenland through the links that Professor Francke had with the Danish Court.
He started to plan how they would do this, and early in 1728, he established a monthly missionary prayer meeting. At its first meeting on February 10th, he put forward his plans for preaching the gospel not only in Greenland, but also in the West Indies, in Turkey and in Lapland. So just six months after the beginning of the prayer watch, Zinzendorf had challenged them with a programme of bold evangelism. Twenty-six people immediately volunteered, and the Moravian missionary movement was launched. In the past, they had longed for peace and quiet, but now they were eager to face pain, hardships, famine and cold. During the weeks, months and years that followed, these twenty six sought to prepare themselves for the work. Each evening, after a hard day's work, they met together and studied medicine, geography and languages. Sometimes, Zinzendorf gave them lectures on Church History, but he did not have any direct leading or assurance about sending them out.
Then in 1731, Nicolaus was invited to the coronation of Christian, the new king of Denmark in Copenhagen, with whom he had been friendly for years. There he met a Negro slave from the island of St Thomas, who spoke of the need for missionaries in his home island. He arranged for the slave, Anthony, to visit the community, and on his return to Herrnhut, the nobleman told them of his experience.
The result was that straightaway two of the brothers, Leonard Dober and Tobias Leupold, quite independently, heard the Lord calling them to the work, and told Zinzendorf about it. On July 29th, Anthony arrived at Herrnhut, and told the community of the need, but also telling them that no one could possibly preach to the slaves unless he first became a slave himself. The slaves had to work all day, and were not allowed to go out after sunset; and therefore, no one could reach them unless he worked with them.
What Anthony said did not deter Leonard and Tobias, but made them even keener to go. They were willing to sell themselves as slaves, if it meant one soul could be saved. But others were not so sure it was right. They had heard of a Pietist missionary to Greenland, called Egede, who, in spite of several years of hard work, had not converted any of the natives. Zinzendorf, however, had studied Egede's methods, and he could see why he had failed. Zinzendorf believed that missionaries a) should look for seekers after the truth, and not go for large numbers of people; b) should go straight to the point and preach about the life and death of Christ; and c) should humble themselves, mix with the people and serve them humbly. He also told them to establish schools wherever they went because people should be taught to read, so that they could read the Bible; to make the Bible available in the language of the people; to seek to understand the language and the culture of the people with whom they work; to preach for personal conversion, and bring people to a personal decision for Christ; to get the people to understand the importance of prayer and meeting in prayer groups regularly; to quickly establish local congregations led by native pastors.
The community, guided by the Spirit, then decided that Dober could go, but Leupold should stay, and be replaced by David Nitschmann. Leonard Dober was a Lutheran, while David Nitschman was a Moravian, so the two main elements of which the Renewed Moravian Church was composed, were brought together to begin the Moravian missions.
So on August 18th, 1732, the community assembled to pray for the two men, and three days later, at three o'clock in the morning, the Count took them in his carriage to the town of Bautzen, where they knelt down on the quiet roadside, joined him in prayer, then left for Copenhagen and the ship journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
After the first missionaries were sent to the West Indies, others were sent to Greenland, Labrador, Turkey, South America, West Africa, South Africa, North America and many islands of the sea, planting Christian churches on every continent. In the two decades that followed, the Moravians sent out more missionaries than all other Protestants had sent out in the previous two centuries. In the first 25 years they sent out 100 missionaries from that small community, a figure that rose to 300 in 65 years. They endured unspeakable hardships. Many died in difficult circumstances. But as fast as they died, others came forth to take their places. There were 226 Moravian mission stations before William Carey, (whom some people mistakenly call 'the father of modern missions') was born! Carey was not born until 1761 and did not set sail as a missionary to India until 1793, over sixty years after the first Moravian missionaries were sent out. The fathers of modern missions were the Pietists, then the Moravians, then the Methodists, then the Baptists.
But Zinzendorf did not want the traditional denominations to be transplanted into other areas of the world, nor did he want Moravian missionaries to set up Moravian churches, but to set up simple Christian churches, centred on Christ, as in the days of the Early Church.
Like the Early Church missionaries, the Moravian missionaries were to establish tentmaking as a missionary strategy, supporting themselves. As most of the Moravians were of the working class, it seemed natural that the missionaries should take their trade with them to foreign lands. Zinzendorf felt that not only would their practice and teaching of trades lift the economic level of the people to whom they were sent, but this would also provide a bond with the people. Their leader held strong opinions on the necessity of work, and was an indefatigable worker. Even though he did not have to work, he did so, being willing to do anything. He believed with St. Paul that Christians must work so that they do not become a burden to others but have something to give to the needy.
At Herrnhut, they all worked for a living, so there was no differentiation between those who ministered on the home field and those who went abroad. The first two missionaries, as we have seen, were Leonard Dober, a potter, and David Nitschmann, a carpenter, and the next two missionaries, who went to Greenland, were gravediggers. Like the apostles in the early church, they were unlearned and ignorant men; and like them, they were despised by the cultured people of their day. But they were men of passion and piety. What they lacked in theological knowledge they made up in zeal for Christ and love for lost souls, which was in line with the thinking of Zinzendorf. He paid no attention to the educational qualifications of the missionaries, but emphasized passion and love for Jesus.
The Moravians were the first Protestants to put into practice the idea that evangelizing the lost is the duty of the whole church, not just of a missionary society or a few individuals. The Moravian Church has left a record of world evangelization that is without parallel in the post-New Testament era. Their success in missions was the fruit of committed missionaries and their God-centred heart for lost souls. They were not only God-centred people but mission-driven people. Paul Pierson wrote, "The Moravians became committed to world missions as a church; that is, the whole church became a missionary society."
When the Holy Spirit is poured out on believers in revival power, after convicting them of sin, He gives them wonderful joy and release, a huge concern to see people won for Christ, and motivates them to pray fervently for others. At Herrnhut, all this occurred at a very deep level, so that when He came, there was deep, heartfelt contrition with tears, followed by inexpressible joy, followed by a very strong motivation to pray constantly for others.
John Greenfield, a Moravian missionary of the 20th century, confirmed the truth of this. "When the Holy Spirit came upon the members gathered at the table of the Lord in 1727, and fused them all into one body, He filled them with a strong, unquenchable passion to let all mankind know of the Saviour's Cross and His salvation." They also knew, from their experience, that the Holy Spirit was the key to everything. He had changed their hearts and minds, and made them open to His truth. In this sense, "the Holy Spirit is the only missionary, and human beings are His agents".
Not only that, according to Greenfield, when the spiritual revival occurred on August 13, 1727, a spirit of grace and supplication was poured out upon the congregation at Herrnhut, so from that moment on, they knew that they were all called to give themselves in prayer and mission to the world." This was the impetus behind their constant praying. They realized that missionary activity is at the heart of God's plan to use all His Spirit filled committed people. This is still God's plan and purpose; for the whole church to be a missionary society.
In the next part, we will look at the wonderful results of the missionary work.
You may be wondering how long the revival lasted. According to one commentator, the revival continued for four years. Another testimony infers that God's presence and power were still very strong over eleven years later, while others say, because the flame was kept burning for over 100 years, the revival lasted for the same period. Certainly, the incredible flow of volunteers to the mission field for so many years testifies to the Holy Spirit working powerfully in the community for many decades.
At the end
In an article Why a Prayer Watch? Frederic and Susan Rowe wrote:
In the early 18th century, in a quiet little village set in the foothills of eastern Germany, a remarkable move of God was born. The place was Herrnhut, Germany where the spirit of the Lord fell and launched a prayer movement that literally changed the course of Christian history. The community consisted of many different protestant sects of that day and was deeply divided. There were many problems because of all the different backgrounds that fuelled subsequent conflicts amongst its leadership. Through the ministry of Count Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the Lord began to work in their lives until in 1727, God's Presence descended. His Spirit and their hunger inspired them to start praying unceasingly 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As they cooperated with His Spirit, covenanted to persevere together, God moved and the world would never be the same again.
This move of God in 1727 lasted over 100 years. Over 200 missionaries were sent from this one small little village that prayed 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Nations were transformed from the missionary zeal of these people. The prayer watch continued in spite of Count von Zinzendorf's absences even for extended periods of time. God literally called his people to pray and they obeyed.
No-one can deny deny the extraordinary times we are living in. They are supernatural times, requiring supernatural intervention. God is moving to wake up His Church. The trumpet has sounded across the land for prayer watches to be established, for raising up an alertness and accuracy in our spiritual walk, corporate prayer and worship lives. The question is will we, the Church, respond?
We might be surprised at the power and progress we would make spiritually if churches and prayer groups and individuals joined together to cover our cities and nations in such dedicated prayer. Such cooperative prayer could have the power to change the course of a nation. It was true in Nehemiah's time (Neh 4:9; 7:30; 12:25) in Joshua's time (Jos 3:5-7) time, and it was true at Herrnhut. It could be true today if we would agree to co-operate and join together in this effort.
Alongside the article, George Otis, Jr. wrote "If the Church is the nations' best hope, it must be awakened from its slumber and quickly. Revival must become an urgent priority, not just a theological or historical curiosity. Its promotion must become the task of every pulpit, its implementation the responsibility of every believer. For this to happen, desperate intercessors must prevail upon God to provoke within His people a deep and widespread dissatisfaction with the religious status quo.
The Church needs godly shepherds who will resolutely refuse to downplay the urgency of the hour and the seriousness of the present condition. She requires committed prophets who will seize every opportunity to acknowledge with Ezekiel: 'Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them' (Ezekiel 33:10). We have come to the point, both as individuals and as a Church, where we can no longer coast on the momentum of past deeds and choices. Our relationship with God has become fallow, and it can only become fruitful again through true repentance and unreserved obedience.
In this unsettled hour, the eyes of the Lord are upon His people. Will He find faith in the earth? Will He find a hunger for His presence? Will He find a ready remnant through whom He can speak to the nations and their leaders? Let us press in to hear what the Spirit has to say to the Church. If this requires us to suspend, at least temporarily, some of our most cherished routines; let us seize the moment!"