Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

On his way home, Ludwig spent several months in Silesia helping the new Moravian congregations there get established.

When he arrived back at Herrnhaag, which by now was a large and thriving community of one thousand people, Ludwig received a report from Pennsylvania about the missionary work going on there. He read with interest and dismay how two young missionaries, David Zeisberger and Frederick Post, had established a mission station among the Indians in the Hudson River Valley. But white settlers in and around the area were very unhappy with their ministry. In their view, Indians were savages, and missionaries should not be trying to convert them to Christianity. Finally, in response to the settlers’ complaints, the two missionaries were arrested, transported to New York City, and thrown into jail, where they stayed for seven weeks until the governor of Pennsylvania interceded on their behalf and secured their release.

News continued to flow in from other parts of the world, giving the twenty-four-hour prayer meeting plenty to focus on. The following year, 1745, good news came from Greenland. Johann Beck, a Moravian missionary there, told Ludwig how the work among the Eskimos was growing. In fact, it was growing so fast that the chapel the missionaries had built to hold services in was now too small. More than two hundred Eskimos were gathering regularly for services. Johann pleaded with Ludwig for a bigger chapel, and Ludwig arranged for a large frame church to be shipped north to Greenland in sections.

Ludwig and the Moravians were also delighted to hear that after many years of struggle, the mission in Surinam, South America, had finally taken root and was beginning to grow.

In Zeist, Holland, on May 20, 1746, Ludwig had the pleasure of officiating at his daughter Benigna’s wedding. It was a joyous occasion as Benigna married Baron John von Watteville, the adopted son of Ludwig’s old friend and fellow member of the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed, Frederick von Watteville. Ludwig was particularly happy about the marriage because he had been the one to suggest it. John had been his personal assistant for several years, and Ludwig had seen qualities in him that he thought would make him a fine husband for Benigna. As a wedding present for the couple, Ludwig purchased the Gross-Hennersdorf estate from his aunt for them.

It was during the summer of 1747 that Ludwig received a surprise letter from a minister in the royal court in Dresden. The king of Saxony had made a trip to Herrnhut earlier in the year and was greatly impressed by what he saw there. The minister told Ludwig that the king began to question why he had banished Ludwig in the first place. After all, Ludwig had been responsible for the establishment of Herrnhut, and the people he saw there were making a real contribution to Saxony. The king of Saxony also noted that the king of Prussia had embraced the Moravians. The letter went on to say that the king had changed his mind and was going to issue a royal decree rescinding Ludwig’s banishment. Ludwig was now welcome to return home!

Ludwig sat and read the letter several times, taking in its message. It was true. His banishment was over! He could scarcely believe it. Joy flooded through him. He could go home to his people at Herrnhut.

On October 11, 1747, the royal decree was issued, lifting Ludwig’s banishment, but it went even further than that. The decree also invited Ludwig to establish additional Moravian settlements in Saxony. Tears ran down Ludwig’s cheeks as he read a copy of the decree. What had been meant to harm him had turned out to be for the good of the Moravians.

Three days later Ludwig was back at Herrnhut. Excitement filled the air as people clamored to greet him. In truth he had made several secret trips to Herrnhut during his banishment from Saxony, but during those visits he could not openly flaunt his presence among the people for fear of being captured and imprisoned. This time, though, he went openly among the people. That afternoon two hundred people joined in a love feast to honor Ludwig. Afterward Ludwig preached to the group as he had done so many times in the past.

One of the highlights of Ludwig’s return to Herrnhut was the opportunity to meet two Eskimo Christians who had returned with Matthäus Stach, one of the three original Moravian missionaries to go to Greenland. Ludwig thought back to the day Matthäus was commissioned as a missionary. Now fourteen years later, here was Matthäus with Eskimo converts, telling wonderful stories of the continued growth of the Moravian mission in Greenland.

Not long after his return to Herrnhut, Ludwig had the pleasure of commissioning Friedrich Hocker and Johannes Rüffer as missionaries. These two doctors were on their way to eastern Persia to find the Guebre people and establish a mission station among them. Ludwig had learned of this group of people from an American trader in Amsterdam. The trader had told him that the Guebres were descendants of the ancient Magi who came bearing gifts at Jesus’ birth.

The year 1747 also brought good news from Pennsylvania. The communities in Nazareth and Bethlehem were flourishing. The Economy, which Ludwig had helped put in place while in Pennsylvania, had led to the development of at least thirty-two industries that were providing for the needs of the community and the support of missionaries. Ludwig also learned that a young woman named Susanne Kaske was preparing to go to Berbice (Guyana) to establish a mission among the Indians there. Susanne would be the first American-born missionary to leave the shores of North America.

The year 1747 brought some bad news as well. Count Henry Reuss died. Henry was Erdmuth’s brother and Ludwig’s brother-in-law. He had been a great help to Ludwig and the Moravians over the years.

Finally, in December 1748, while Ludwig was making a trip to England with a group of “pilgrims,” his attention was brought back to the community at Herrnhaag. One of the men traveling to England with Ludwig was Karl von Peistel, a retired soldier who had become a well-respected leader at Herrnhut. Over the past few years, many people, including Erdmuth, Christian David, and John von Watteville, had tried to warn Ludwig about the excesses that were occurring at Herrnhaag. But always Ludwig had been unwilling to listen, saying that if the church was going too far in any one direction, given enough time it would come back to center. Now, aboard ship, Ludwig and Karl spent many hours talking. Karl told Ludwig how he and many others had been attracted to the Moravians because of their quiet, orderly lives. But the community at Herrnhaag was now just the opposite, and it saddened him to see the Moravians being laughed at because of their new ways of worship.

By the time he arrived in Dover, England, Ludwig could see the error of his ways. He was the head of the Unity of the Brethren, and he had allowed them, even encouraged them, to become unbalanced in their beliefs. He was sorry for what he had done and set about correcting it immediately. He wrote a stern letter to all of the Moravian congregations, telling them to return to their central call to live orderly lives, live in unity, and send out missionaries. He also wrote to his son, Christian Renatus, ordering him to step down from his position as pastor at Herrnhaag and come to London immediately. Ludwig wrote to David Nitschmann and Leonard Dober, asking them both to return to Germany to help get the community back on the right path.

These measures worked, and within a year the communities were back working hard, praying hard, and supporting those who went out to declare the gospel. This difficult period they had been through became known as the Sifting Time, after Luke 22:31–32, where Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

Meanwhile, Ludwig had work to do in England. He decided to move his headquarters there while he fought for the rights of the Moravians in the American colonies. These were the rights to give an affirmation instead of taking an oath and to be exempt from joining the military. The Quakers, who also did not believe in oath taking or fighting, already had these rights, and Ludwig met with Thomas Penn and General James Oglethorpe, the former governor of Georgia, to work out a way to gain those same rights for his communities.

It was an uphill battle. Many members of Parliament did not take kindly to the idea of a German nobleman coming to their land and demanding rights for his people in their American colonies.

Thankfully, not every leader in England thought this way. During this time in London, Lord Granville approached Ludwig and offered to sell to the Moravians, at a bargain price, one hundred thousand acres of land in North Carolina. Of course Ludwig was delighted with the offer, and negotiations were begun in earnest to see whether a deal for the purchase of the land could be worked out.

With the help of Thomas Penn and James Oglethorpe, Ludwig was able to present a good case for why the Moravians should be granted the same rights as the Quakers. He argued that instead of being forced to do military service or threatened with jail for refusing to take oaths, the Moravians should be given encouragement because they made such good citizens. They worked hard, were honest and law abiding, and kept peace with the Indians. They also spent a lot of money building their communities and offered services that were not available anywhere else.

A bill was drawn up based on Ludwig’s arguments and introduced into the English parliament. Most of the opposition to the bill took the form of quoting rumors and stories about the sifting time, and Ludwig had to go to great lengths to show that this period of their community life was over and that they had returned to their stable roots. Eventually, on May 12, 1749, the British parliament passed the bill allowing the Moravians freedom from oath taking and from military service. The bill was titled The Recognition of the Unitas Fratrum as an Old Episcopal Church by the Parliament of Great Britain, 1749.

Ludwig was greatly pleased by this new recognition for the Moravians, and he looked forward to a time when they would spread across the New World. What he did not predict was that they would get a huge push in this from a very unexpected source.

Chapter 13
To the Four Corners of the World

In October 1749 Count Casimir of Büdingen died and was succeeded by his son Gustav Frederick. Unlike his father, Gustav Frederick was not friendly toward the Moravians at Herrnhaag, and his dislike of them had grown following the excesses of the sifting time. As a result, Gustav Frederick decided to assert his new position over the Moravians at Herrnhaag. He demanded that the residents of Herrnhaag renounce their allegiance to the Moravian Church and to Ludwig and instead swear an oath of allegiance to him. If they failed to do this, he warned them, he would terminate the contract that allowed the Moravians to live on his land, and the residents of Herrnhaag would be forced to abandon their community.

Ludwig was stunned when news of this turn of events reached him in London. He supposed that Gustav Frederick assumed that he could bully the community at Herrnhaag into swearing allegiance to him, but Ludwig knew that the Moravians would not bow to him, even if it meant leaving their buildings and crops behind. And that is exactly what happened. All the residents of Herrnhaag declared that they were ready to pack up and abandon the community they had built if Gustav Frederick would not retract his demands. The new count refused to back down, and so the Moravians looked around for new places to live.

Within a few days a group of Moravians from Herrnhaag set sail for Pennsylvania. Before the year was over, five hundred people had left Herrnhaag, moving to other Moravian communities throughout Europe and various mission locations around the globe.