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The Interceders Encourager No. 62 - The Moravian Revival of 1727 (3)

In the first two parts of this story, we noted the amazing effects of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Moravian community at Herrnhut, healing their divisions, creating a people of prayer and praise, longing to tell others of what God had done for them, and sending them out as missionaries to other lands.

In spite of the fact that most of the Moravians were uneducated as far as this world's education is concerned, and had no theological training, it is doubtful if any missionaries have ever been so well prepared for their future step into the unknown.

a) They had been strengthened and equipped physically by their daily work at Herrnhut and their previous experiences as labourers and craftsmen, so they were ready for the hard work on the mission field, even becoming slaves on the plantations.

b) They had learnt how to work with others in a team, so they were ready for working in pairs, and then with native workers.

c) They had learnt discipline through the community being organized so well by Count Zinzendorf, with everyone knowing their tasks, their goals and their daily routine; so that on the field they were disciplined workers, keeping to a daily routine and to an organized lifestyle, being able to stand and continue under pressure.

d) They had learnt to cope with criticism and persecution through their times of being persecuted before going to Herrnhut. Most of them had learned to suffer for their faith in the most extreme conditions. For the sake of Christ, they had endured the loss of all things. Now they were ready again to accept and bear whatever the world threw at them.

e) Above all, they had been prepared spiritually through all their experiences at Herrnhut, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the continued ministry of the Spirit among them, the Hourly Prayer Watch, the band meetings, the fellowship and the singing. Through all these, their spiritual lives had been recreated and made stronger, more trusting, more joyful, more gracious, more appreciative and more open to the Holy Spirit.

We have already noted that in 1732 the first Moravian missionaries left to go to the island of St Thomas in the West Indies; setting off on foot with nothing but a few coins in their pockets. The simple instructions given to them were- to see and be led of the Holy Spirit in all things. The next year two more left for Greenland. In 1734, eighteen left for Santa Cruz, and in the following year, twelve more, to attempt, by establishing settlements and industries, to help the slaves. Surinam was opened in 1735, along with the North American Indians; then the Gold Coast and South Africa in 1737, Jamaica in 1754, and Antigua in 1756. In that year, Zinzendorf visited St Thomas and sent back a report of the work of Frederick Martin: "St. Thomas is a much more wonderful miracle than our own Herrnhut." After 14 years of most sacrificial service Frederick Martin had reached the end of his earthly pilgrimage. More than 50 of his fellow workers had already laid down their lives. "In almost every place their endeavours bore fruit, so that before long they had 3 members on the mission field to every one at home.

And all this was accomplished, as we have noted, by men with little formal, and no theological education. Like the disciples of Jesus they were "unlearned and ignorant men," and like them they were despised by the educated Christians of their day. When they went out they were provided with just a one way fare. When they reached their destination they had to fend for themselves like the people they had gone to serve. Over the next 25 years, 100 missionaries went out to foreign lands, more than the whole Protestant Church had done in 200 years. By 1930, over 3,000 missionaries had been sent out, a ratio of one missionary to every twelve members. Like the first Pentecost, men and women went forth with the gospel from Herrnhut to the uttermost parts of the earth. All Moravian adventures were begun, surrounded, and consummated in prayer. Their watchword was, "Let the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering".

Now we will begin to look at the greatest result of the Moravian Revival. John Greenfield wrote; "The Moravian Pentecost produced the same joyful and victorious assurance of salvation as in apostolic times. They could testify with St. Paul: "Our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance." (I. Thess. 1:5.) No better illustration of this can be found than in their life and testimony which led to the conversion of the two famous brothers, John and Charles Wesley. Their spiritual experience deserves to rank in depth of knowledge and extent of influence with the historic conversions of St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther and John Bunyan. It ought to be deeply pondered by every Christian worker who would be a soul-winner. Its thoroughness, regenerating and transforming power deserve our particular consideration."

In 1728, three Moravians arrived in England to find those who would be glad to hear what was happening at Herrnhut. Some contacts were established, but little progress was made. Then in 1735, ten missionaries came to England en route to Georgia in North America. They were sent out to establish a Moravian settlement at Savannah, modelled on the settlement at Herrnhut. The work began, and it was decided that more missionaries should be sent. So twenty six more missionaries left Herrnhut in August 1735, to go to Savannah via England. With them on board the ship called "The Simmonds," sailing from Gravesend, were four men, who were also going to evangelize the Indians in Georgia; Benjamin Ingham, Charles Delamotte, John and Charles Wesley.

During a terrible storm on the transatlantic crossing, they all faced the danger of shipwreck. John Wesley wrote in his journal: "At seven, I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility, they had given a continual proof by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired and would receive no pay, saying, 'It was good for their proud hearts,' and 'their loving Saviour had done more for them.' And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness, which no injury could change. If they were pushed, struck or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. Here was now an opportunity of testing whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger and revenge. In the midst of the psalm with which their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards: 'Were you not afraid?' He answered, 'I thank God, no.' I asked: 'But were not your women and children afraid?' He replied mildly: 'No, our women and children are not afraid to die'.

Soon after his arrival in Georgia, John Wesley sought spiritual counsel from the Moravian Bishop, A. G. Spangenberg, who was a close friend of Nicolaus Zinzendorf.. "Does the Spirit of God bear witness to your spirit that you are a child of God,?" asked Spangenberg. Wesley did not know what to answer, and Spangenberg pressed him further: "Do you know Jesus Christ?" Wesley replied: "I know He is the Saviour of the world." "True. But do you know He has saved you?" Wesley answered: "I hope He has died to save me." Spangenberg was not even yet satisfied: "Do you know yourself?" he asked. Wesley replied: "I do." But he adds in his journal: "I fear they were vain words."

The next day, Wesley sought out Spangenberg again, and learned of his conversion and faith, and how the community at Herrnhut was set up on New Testament principles. He was very impressed by everything he heard about the Moravians and what he saw. "They were always busy, always cheerful, and always in good relations with each other. They adorned the gospel of our Lord in all things," he wrote. His diary reveals that he spent time with them almost every day in conversation, prayer and hymn singing; learning many of their hymns.

John Wesley's experience with the Christ-like Moravians on board the ship as well as the subsequent probing of his heart by Bishop Spangenberg with reference to the new birth and the assurance of salvation made an abiding impression on his whole life, and permanently influenced not only his teaching, but also his behaviour in times of trial and persecution.

Returning to England two years later, Wesley wrote in his journal: "I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can 1 say 'To die is gain!' I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore."

Soon after his return to England in February 1738, he met another Moravian, Peter Bohler in London. Here again, Wesley was faced with the Moravian insistence that true saving faith must always be accompanied by assurance of acceptance with God and of His forgiveness.

On 4 March, 1738, Wesley wrote in his diary: 'I found my brother at Oxford recovering from his pleurisy; and with him Peter Bohler: by whom (in the hand of the great God) I was, on Sunday, the 5th, clearly convicted of unbelief; of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved. Immediately it struck into my mind, "Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others who have not faith yourself?"

So I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off, or not. He answered, "By no means." I asked; "But what can I preach?" He said: "Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith." Accordingly, on Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul shrank back from the work.

This saying of Peter Bohler has been interpreted by some as meaning that Wesley would somehow come to faith simply by speaking about it, but this was not what Bohler meant. He realized that John Wesley believed that faith was necessary for salvation, but Bohler was insisting that this faith was more than just assenting to scripture truths. True saving faith, according to the Moravians, meant a personal experience of sins forgiven, with a direct witness of the Holy Spirit to the believer's heart that he or she is accepted by God; and the observable fruit of that faith are victory over sin and an abiding fullness of joy and peace. And Wesley was convinced of the truth of this because he had seen the evidence in the lives of all the Moravians he had met.

So John Wesley was now convinced that the Moravians were correct in their understanding of saving faith, (which must have come from their experience of the Holy Spirit at Herrnhut.) Now his problem was with their emphasis on instantaneous faith. Even though he saw it in the New Testament, he doubted that such conversions could be expected now. Bohler's answer was to bring some of his Moravian friends who testified to having sins forgiven and peace with God in a moment of time. So Wesley had to confess. "Here ended my disputing. I could only cry out, "Lord, help my unbelief." There is no doubt that this Moravian influence was the all important factor in determining Wesley's understanding of faith, conversion and assurance.

Then on Wednesday, May 3, 1738. John reported that his brother, Charles, had a long and detailed conversation with Peter Bohler, after which "it now pleased God to open his eyes; so that he also saw clearly, what was the nature of that one true living faith, whereby alone "through grace" we are saved."

On Wednesday, May 24, John Wesley wrote the famous entry in his journal, "In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, (a Moravian meeting), where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." In true Moravian style, he straightaway testified openly to all who were there what he felt in his heart.

According to Dr. S. Parkes Cadman, "It is not too much to say that what happened in that little meeting-house in Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738, changed the political and religious destinies of English-speaking Protestantism. By God's help, he relit the expiring fires of religion. It was his conversion which crowned his preparation. Twice born, and both times most nobly born, he cannot be understood apart from the training of Epworth Rectory and his transformation in Aldersgate Street, London."

On Tuesday June 13th 1738, accompanied by Benjamin Ingham, John Wesley sailed for Rotterdam, to go to Herrnhut. When he got there, he met a number of the Moravian leaders, including Zinzendorf himself, and recorded conversations he had with them and ten of the elders. "God has given me at length the desire of my heart," he wrote to his brother, Samuel. "I am with a Church whose conversation is in heaven, in whom is the mind that was in Christ, and who so walk as He walked."

This shows that the revival at Herrnhut was not a short lived experience, but a strong enduring condition that had stood the test of time. An eminent traveller of that period bore the following striking testimony: "In all my journeys I have found only three objects that exceeded my expectations, namely: the ocean, Count Zinzendorf, and the Herrnhut congregation." We see here that the great revival which began in 1727 had continued for eleven years, and, according to John Greenfield, continued for many years in ever increasing force and constantly widening influence." Herrnhut had become a spiritual city set on a hill that could not be hidden. From all parts of Europe people had come to it either to be saved or to be filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John Wesley's visit to Herrnhut may truly be called typical of thousands of others.

In his journal he wrote: "I would gladly have spent my life here; but my Master called me to labour in another part of His vineyard." "O when shall this Christianity cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea?" "Four times I enjoyed the blessing of hearing Christian David (a carpenter) preach. Three times he described the state of those who are weak in faith; who are justified, but have not yet a new, clean heart; who have received forgiveness through the blood of Christ, but have not received the constant indwelling of the Holy Ghost." "This he explained from the Scriptures which describe the state the Apostles were in from our Lord's death (and indeed for some time before) till the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. They then had faith, otherwise He could not have prayed for them that 'their faith might not fail.' Yet they had not in the full sense 'new hearts'; neither had they received the gift of the Holy Ghost." Who can fail to find in these lines of John Wesley the seed truths, if not the sum and substance, of those doctrines and experiences which became the mighty slogans of Methodism? Thus great revival waves continued to go out from Herrnhut, reaching ultimately to the uttermost parts of the earth.

1739 began for Wesley with a Moravian love feast in Fetter Lane, (an interdenominational meeting house, as Zinzendorf wanted); a meeting which proved to be a memorable one. Besides about sixty Moravians, there were present no fewer than seven of the Oxford Methodists, namely John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Wesley Hall, Benjamin Ingham, Charles Kinchin and Richard Hitchins, all ordained clergymen of the Church of England. Wesley wrote: "About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice "We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!" Thus the coming of the Spirit upon the community at Herrnhut could be said to have been repeated, though on a smaller scale, at the Moravian meeting in Fetter Lane in London.

"No wonder John Wesley preached in demonstration of the Spirit and of power and caused thousands of people to rally around him during his life-time," wrote John Greenfield. "Eighty years after Wesley's death Methodism could boast of twelve million adherents; today, (1927), of nearly thirty millions. Dean Farrar has well said: 'The Evangelical movement, the Oxford movement, the enthusiasm of the Salvation Army are all traceable to Wesley's example, and to the convictions which he inspired.' Bishop Lightfoot also testified that 'The Salvationists, taught by John Wesley, have learned and have taught the Church again, the lost secret of how to bring human souls to the Saviour.'"

"We stand in spirit around the death-bed of John Wesley," imagined John Greenfield. "For nearly sixty years he has preached Christ and practised holiness. He has travelled on his ceaseless round of duty some 4,500 miles annually, and preached two or more sermons every day, often to immense audiences. At the age of 87, he records an address delivered to a congregation of 25,000. Now the old hero and valiant soldier of the Cross is facing 'the last enemy.' We hear him whisper again and again: 'I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me.' We recognize this confession of faith, both in its substance and phraseology. The songs and sermons of the Moravian Brethren have it as their constant theme. Amongst them, Wesley had learned and received this saving truth."

Another valuable lesson that was passed on through Wesley to the Methodists was a definite knowledge of salvation by faith in Christ alone. They made the discovery that the Church could not save them; that there was no salvation in its creeds, doctrines or dogmas; that good works, moral living, commandment keeping, praying and Bible reading, could not avail; much less culture, character or conduct. They found that Christ alone could save; that He was willing and able to receive sinners; that justification, the forgiveness of sins, the new birth, were instantaneous experiences received the very moment a sinner truly repented and believed on Christ; that salvation was through grace and by faith, apart from the deeds of the law; that when a man is saved he has peace with God, and that he receives the assurance of salvation by the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart.

The next important thing that Wesley learnt from the Moravians was the need of a personal anointing of the Holy Spirit for life and service. In the power of that anointing, he and others went forth and accomplished impossible tasks.

From Herrnhut, Wesley also learnt the value of small groups for prayer, Bible study, confession and testimony. At these regular meetings held two or three times a week, absolute honesty prevailed, with the members confessing their sins to one another and praying for one another that they might.be healed. Wesley took this concept and created class meetings, the means by which Methodism survived and grew in a hostile environment.

Wesley's estimate of the Moravian revival which resulted in his own conversion was prophetic. When Peter Boehler, nine years his junior, left England for America after several months, Wesley recorded in his journal: "Peter Boehler left London to embark for Carolina. Oh what a work hath God begun since his coming into England! Such a one as shall never come to an end, till heaven and earth pass away!"

In 1827 the German historian, Dr Warneck stated, "It is now a hundred years since that marvellous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at Herrnhut; years of almost continuous revival and blessed missionary service. So numerous are their missionary stations that it may truly be said the sun never sets on them."

Dr. Thomas Chalmers, Scotland's greatest preacher and leader, gave this eloquent testimony to Moravian Missionaries: "It is now a century since they began ministry with men in the infancy of civilization. During that time they have been labouring in all the different quarters of the world, and have succeeded in reclaiming many a wild region to Christianity, making glad some solitary place, and raising a sweet vineyard in some remote and unfrequented wilderness. When one looks at the number and greatness of their achievements, when one thinks of the change they have made on materials so coarse and unpromising; when one sees the villages they have formed and witnesses the love and listens to the piety of reclaimed savages, who would not long to be in possession of the secret by which they have wrought this wondrous transformation?"

Sixty years after their first missionaries were sent out, the Moravian English Missionary Magazine, "Periodical Accounts," inspired William Carey, who in a meeting of his Baptist brethren threw a copy of the magazine on a table with these memorable and historic words: "See what the Moravians have done! Cannot we follow their example and in obedience to our Heavenly Master go out into the world, and preach the Gospel to the heathen?" Out of this came the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society, Carey going out to India, many others following his example, and countless thousands being brought into the kingdom. .

Bishop Evelyn Hasse said of the Moravian Church, "It was the Forerunner Church of the greatest European Revival ever known, having been a reformed Church sixty years before the Reformation." It was the source of the Evangelical Revival here in England, and no small factor in its spread. "It led the way in the missionary enterprise, having as a Church, been engaged in evangelizing the heathen more than half a century before the rest of Protestantism. "In the educational sphere it did pioneer work, both from the religious side and also as a part of the revival of learning "The other great and most abiding contribution of the Moravian Church is its Hymnology. In proportion to its size it has given far more hymns to Christendom than any other protestant denomination. This precious offering of sacred song may be traced directly to the Great Revival. It published the first Protestant hymn book in Europe, both in Bohemian and German; it was issued here in England in 1754."

The great Moravian poet-preacher and evangelist, John Cennick, conducted many open air meetings. Multitudes flocked to hear him and were born again through faith in the precious blood. One day a young Scottish day-labourer, John Montgomery was awakened and converted through the preaching of Cennick. He joined the Moravian Church, and thus John and Mary Montgomery become Moravian missionaries. Their little son James was then educated in the Moravian school at Fulneck, and became, ultimately, one of the greatest writer of hymns that the Church has ever produced, alongside Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Here is the great missionary prayer of James Montgomery:

"O Spirit of the living God, in all Thy plenitude of grace,
Where'er the foot of man hath trod, descend on our apostate race.

"Give tongues of fire and hearts of love to preach the reconciling word;
Give power and unction from above, where'er the joyful sound is heard.

"O Spirit of the Lord, prepare all the round earth her God to meet'
Breathe Thou abroad like morning air, till hearts of stone begin to beat.

"Baptize the nations; far and nigh, the triumphs of the Cross record;
The name of Jesus glorify, till every kindred call Him Lord!"

"Turn Thou us unto Thee, 0 Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old." (Lam. 5:21) This was the closing prayer of Israel's great prophet Jeremiah. This also was the dying petition of the great Bishop of the ancient Moravian Church, John Amos Comenius. And as young Count Zinzendorf read these words he exclaimed: "I could not peruse the lamentations of old Comenius, called forth by the idea that the Church of the Brethren was coming to an end, and that he was locking its door, I could not read his mournful prayer, 'Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old,' without resolving there and then: 'I will, as far as I can, help to bring about this renewal. And though I have to sacrifice my earthly possessions, my honours and my life, as long as I live, and as far as I shall be able to provide even after my death, I will do my utmost that this little company of the Lord's disciples shall be preserved for Him, until He comes.'"

Dr. J. Kenneth Pfohl, a Moravian pastor, wrote in The Moravian in 1927: The great Moravian Pentecost was not a shower of blessing out of a cloudless sky. It did come suddenly, as suddenly as the blessing of its great predecessor in Jerusalem, when the Christian Church was born. Yet, for a long time there had been signs of abundance of rain, though many did not recognize them. The blessing of the 13th of August 1727, was diligently and earnestly prepared for. We know of no annals of Church history which evidence greater desire for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and more patient and persistent effort in that direction than those of our own Church between the years 1725 and 1727. Two distinct lines of preparation and spiritual effort for the blessing are evident. One was prayer; the other was individual work with individuals. We are told that "men and women met for prayer and praise at one another's homes and the Church at Berthelsdorf was crowded out." Then the Spirit came in great power and the entire company experienced the blessing at the same time.

In another article in The Moravian, Dr. E. S. Hagen declared: "The great revival in 1727 in Herrnhut was the logical result of prayer and the preaching of the Word of the Cross."Christ and Him Crucified" was our brethren's confession of faith, and "the inward witness of remission of sins through faith in His blood" their blessed and quickening experience.

Lecky in his History of Morals says of John Wesley's conversion, May 24, 1738, in the prayer meeting of Moravian Brethren in Aldersgate Street: "What happened in that little room was of more importance to England than all the victories of Pitt by land or sea." A renewal of our days of old involves a return to fervent prayer and to the earnest and effectual preaching of the remission of sins through the vicarious sacrifice and the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God. And that is always possible."

John Greenfield wrote, "Verily the day of revivals is not past. The Holy Spirit is still waiting to fill believers with power from on high. The Lord is waiting to be gracious, and "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (Is. 40:31.) We need to utter the fervent prayer that the glorious event which so mightily moved through the religious life of the eighteenth century may have its duplication in the twenty first. God knows it is as sorely needed now as it was then. The two times are very much alike. Dead orthodoxy had degenerated into rationalism, worldliness, vice, crime and atheism. Then the great revival came and, as the historian Green tells us, saved England from plunging over the precipice into the unspeakable horrors of the French revolution. If civilization today is to be saved, another revival is absolutely necessary."