The Interceders Encourager No. 60 - The Moravian Revival of 1727 (1)
One of the greatest outpourings of the Spirit since the days of the Apostles, which was to have the greatest long term effects of any revival in the history of the world, occurred on Wednesday morning, August 13, 1727, among the Moravian Brethren at Herrnhut, Germany, on the estate of Count Zinzendorf, in Saxony.
For centuries the followers of John Huss (1373-1415), the martyred Bohemian reformer, had endured persecution and death. Fleeing from imprisonment and torture, they at last found a refuge in Germany where Count Zinzendorf, a young Christian nobleman, offered them asylum on his estate.
We need to take a closer look at Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, for everything that happened took place because of him.
Nicolaus was influenced by his godfather, P.J. Spener, who was a Pietist, a leader of the pietistic renewal movement in the Lutheran church. Spener believed that faith should be personal and that every believer can relate directly to God; that Christianity should be from the heart, not the head.
At the age of four, Nicolaus had given himself to the Lord, and when he was ten, he was sent to a Pietist school at Halle, run by August Francke, who had taken over the leadership of Pietism from Spener. Francke, like Spener, was grieved over controversy in the churches, the unholy lives of many "Christians" and the formality of church services. They stressed genuine conversion, the cultivation of a holy life, separation from the world and moderation in all things. They organized believers into small groups for Bible study and encouragement in Christian living. Under Francke, Halle became the chief centre of Pietism, training young men for the ministry and sending out missionaries to India and North America.
All this would have influenced the young Count. "In Francke's house," he wrote, "I had chances every day to hear edifying reports about the spread of the kingdom of God, to speak with witnesses from many lands, to meet missionaries, and all this strengthened my zeal for the cause of Christ."
As a result of this, he and another pupil at the school, both 16 years old, resolved to do all in their power for the conversion of the heathen, especially those for whom no one cared, by means of those whom God, they believed, would provide. The Lord took him at his word and fulfilled that vow in a way that the young Nicolaus never imagined.
Of his days and years at school, Nicolaus gave the following testimony: "I was not only preserved from committing gross sins, but in some instances succeeded in inducing those very persons, who had tried to mislead me, to join me in prayer; and thus I won some of them to Christ.
This was not only the case at school but also in the universities which I attended, and on my travels ever since. Whilst at the universities I exercised myself in physical accomplishments, because I deemed them useful; but 1 never indulged in dancing in promiscuous assemblies of both sexes, because I considered it wrong and sinful. I was as fond of amusements as any one; but as soon as an inordinate affection for them arose in my soul, I felt condemned. My whole soul continually tended to the Cross. I spoke with everyone I met on this subject."
Having finished the university courses, his education was to be furthered by travel and a visit to foreign countries. But everywhere his master-passion of love for and fellowship with the Crucified Redeemer controlled him.
To a friend the young Count wrote: "If the object of my being sent to France is to make me a man of the world, I declare that this is money thrown away; for God will in His goodness preserve in me the desire to live only for Jesus Christ." He turned from the glittering allurements of Paris, and gave himself utterly to Christ, adopting as his motto: "I have one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only."
Count Zinzendorf early learned the secret of prevailing prayer. So active had he been in establishing circles for prayer, that on leaving the college at Halle, at sixteen years of age, he handed Professor Francke a list of seven praying societies.
When Zinzendorf had completed the education designed by his guardian, he married his cousin, Erdmuth Dorothea, and bought from his grandmother the estate of Berthelsdorf in Saxony, ten miles from the Bohemian border. He installed his friend, John Andrew Rothe as pastor, and sought to establish "a church within a church."
Such was the young nobleman whom the Lord sent to be the spiritual and temporal leader of about three hundred earnest but quarrelling Christian refugees. The work started when Zinzendorf was informed that some fleeing Protestants from Moravia, led by Christian David, a carpenter, desired to settle on his estate. Without a thought for the future, Zinzendorf welcomed them, even though he had never heard of the Moravians before.
The Moravians, (the Ancient Moravian Church of the Brethren), officially established their entity in 1457. Yet for 250 years, they had suffered intense persecution for their beliefs until 1722 when Count Zinzendorf offered them refuge on his estate. These asylum seekers came from Moravia and Bohemia, and made a settlement on his estate which they called Herrnhut, (the Lord's Watch). Other asylum seekers joined them, French Calvinists, Anabaptists from Germany, some Lutherans and some Zwinglians. By 1727, the blending of nationalities and ideas brought about differences of opinion and conflict. Zinzendorf, who, as the host, was the leader of this group, was disturbed by the tension and realized that unless a solution was found, the whole community would be destroyed.
After spending much time in earnest and persevering prayer, the Lord guided the young Count in the use of certain means which proved of incalculable value. He called the three elders of the community together, and they drew up a Covenant of Commitment to the Lord and to each other, centering everything on love to the Lord Jesus. They were endeavouring "to seek out and emphasize the points in which they agreed" rather than to stress their differences.
They then visited every adult resident in the community, explained the covenant and asked each one to commit to it, so that they would relate to everyone in love. After this, on May 12th, the whole community entered into a solemn covenant together, to actually dedicate their lives, as the Count had dedicated his, to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, each one in his particular calling and position. A spirit of grace, unity and supplication grew amongst them, and they experienced a level of joy and unity that they had not enjoyed before. Their leader then chose twelve elders to complete the organization of the spiritual life of Herrnhut, and appointed persons to the various offices laid down in the statutes. These statutes set out times for Bible study and frequent gathering of groups for prayer, which helped to prepare the way for the coming of the Spirit.
Earlier in the year, the Count had begun to give spiritual instructions to a class of nine girls between the ages of ten and thirteen years. The Count was concerned that though the children behaved with great outward propriety, he could not perceive any traces of spiritual life among them; and however much might be said to them of the Lord Jesus Christ, it did not seem to reach their hearts. In his distress, he took the matter to the Lord in prayer, fervently entreating Him to open the eyes of these children. What a spectacle! A gifted, wealthy, young German nobleman on his knees, agonizing in prayer for the conversion of some little school girls!
God answered his prayers by sending upon him, then upon others, an outpouring of "the spirit of grace and supplication." (Zech. 12:10.) For we read that on July 16, the Count poured forth his soul in a heart-affecting prayer, accompanied with a flood of tears. This prayer produced an extraordinary effect, and was the beginning of the subsequent operation of the life-giving and energetic Spirit of God. Not only the Count but many other brethren also began to pray as never before, not just for the girls but for the whole community.
During those days they were deeply affected by the Word of God and the power of the blood of Christ. Their hearts were set on fire with new faith and love towards the Saviour and a similar pure and burning love towards one another. Some of them banded themselves together into small groups of two or three to discuss their spiritual state, to exhort, reprove and pray for each other.
On July 22, a number of the brethren, covenanted together of their own accord, to meet often on the Hutberg, (a hill on the estate), to pour out their hearts in prayer.
On the fifth of August, the Count spent the whole night in watching and praying, with about twelve to fourteen brethren, following a large meeting for prayer, which was held at midnight, on the Hutberg, where people prayed with great intensity. Such earnestness and dedication puts our feeble efforts at prayer to shame.
"On Sunday, August 10, about noon, Pastor Rothe invited them all to join together in a celebration of the Lord's Supper. As they hadn't celebrated the Lord's Supper before, he asked them to spend the next three days in spiritual preparation for it.
As he finished speaking to them, he felt himself overwhelmed by a wonderful and irresistible power of the Lord, and sunk down into the dust before God, weeping and praying for the people. With him, the whole assembled congregation also sank down in contrition, and in this frame of mind they continued till midnight engaged in prayer and singing, weeping and supplication.
On Wednesday, August 13th, as they were praying during the service, the Holy Spirit came down upon them all. They hardly knew if they were on earth or in heaven. Zinzendorf called it "the day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation." A sense of the nearness of Christ was given to everyone present, and also to others of the community, who were working at the time. We are told that two members, at work twenty miles away, unaware that the meeting was being held, became at the same time deeply conscious of the same blessing. In other words, the spiritual atmosphere of the whole community was changed.
As the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts, they were convicted of their sins against the Lord and against each other, and loud weeping drowned out the singing. They begged forgiveness of one another, and wept and sought reconciliation. Zinzendorf described it by saying, "The Saviour permitted to come upon us a Spirit of whom we had hitherto not had any experience or knowledge. Up to this point, we had been the leaders and helpers. Now the Holy Spirit Himself took full control of everything and everybody." As they confessed to the Lord and to each other, the Holy Spirit gave them a joyful assurance of their pardon and salvation, and this became one of their main assertions, that every believer should have that same strong assurance in their hearts. They were transformed from a disparate group of refugees into a unified, loving and happy band of disciples, ready for the Holy Spirit to use.
Count Nicolaus, gave this account many years later: "On this day twenty-seven years ago, the congregation of Herrnhut assembled for the Lord's Supper (at the Berthelsdorf church) were all dissatisfied with themselves. They had stopped judging each other because they had all become convinced of his or her lack of worth in the sight of God and each felt himself at this service to be in full view of the Saviour with His noble countenance, His body so full of bruises, pain and scorn. Seeing the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, their hearts told them that He would be their patron and their priest who was changing their tears into the oil of gladness and their misery into happiness. This firm confidence changed them in a single moment into happy people which they are to this day, and into their happiness they have since led many thousands of others."
Another witness to the event testified, "A great hunger for the Word of God took possession of us so that we had to have three services every day, at 5 a.m., 7.30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Every one desired above everything else that the Holy Spirit might have full control. Self-love and self-will, as well as all disobedience disappeared, and an overwhelming flood of grace swept us all out into the great ocean of Divine Love." What an incredible testimony of heaven on earth.
A few days later, a remarkable revival took place among the children at Herrnhut and Berthelsdorf. On the 18th of August, all the children at the boarding school were seized with an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit, and spent the whole night in prayer. From this time, a constant, powerful work of God continued to transform the minds and hearts of the children, in both places.
"After that wonderful day of blessing, on which the Spirit of grace and supplication had been poured out upon the whole congregation, some of the brothers and sisters, thought that it would be good to set up a programme at which all of them could pour out their hearts in continuous, fervent prayer before the Lord. "It was considered important that, as in the days of the Old Covenant, when the sacred fire was never permitted to go out on the altar (Lev. 6:13 and 14), so in a congregation which is a temple of the living God, in which He has His altar and His fire, the intercession of His saints should constantly rise up to Him like holy incense."
Consequently, "on August 26, twenty-four brothers and the same number of sisters met and covenanted together to continue from one midnight to the next in prayer, dividing the twenty-four hours of night and day, by lot, among themselves. On the following day, August 27, this new regulation was put into practice. More were soon added to the number of intercessors, making the total seventy-seven, and even the awakened children began a plan similar to this among themselves. The intercessors also had a weekly meeting, at which they were informed of any
special subjects they were to remember and intercede for before the Lord.
"The children of both sexes also felt a most powerful impulse to prayer, and it was impossible to listen to their supplications without being deeply moved and affected. A meeting of the children took place in the evening of the 26th of August, and on the 29th, from the hours of ten o'clock at night until one o'clock the following morning, the girls from Herrnhut and Berthelsdorf spent these hours in praying, singing and weeping on the Hutberg. The boys were at the same time engaged in earnest prayer in another place. The spirit of prayer and supplication at that time poured out upon the children was powerful and effective. These were truly days of heavenly enjoyment, as all the people forgot themselves, and everything worldly and temporary, and longed to be above with Christ their Saviour.
Another eye-witness says: "I cannot ascribe the cause of the great awakening of the children at Herrnhut to anything but the wonderful outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the whole congregation. The breezes of the Spirit affected and spread through young and old equally at that time."
And so began the prayer meeting that continued uninterrupted day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for over a hundred years. It continued right through until 1847. "Was there ever in the whole of church history such an astonishing prayer-meeting as that which, beginning in 1727, went on for one hundred years? It is something absolutely unique. It was known as the 'Hourly Intercession,' and it meant that by relays of brothers and sisters, prayer without ceasing was made to God for all the work and wants of His church. Prayer of that kind always leads to action. In this case it kindled a burning desire to make Christ's salvation known to the heathen. From that one small village community more than one hundred missionaries went out in twenty-five years. You will look in vain elsewhere for anything to match it in anything like the same extent."
We will look further at the amazing results of that prayer meeting next time.