Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

Just as the conference was finishing, terrible news arrived from America. A war was brewing there between England and France over the future of the colonies, and frequent skirmishes had taken place on the western frontier of Pennsylvania. The Moravians were loyal to the British because they were in a British colony, but most of the Indians in the region were fighting for the French. Occasionally Moravian settlements were targeted by the Indians. Several had been damaged, but nothing prepared the Moravians for what happened on the night of November 2.

Fifteen adults and one baby were stationed at the Gnadenhütten mission twenty miles northwest of Bethlehem. Hostile Indians surrounded the mission house that night and began shooting at the missionaries inside. Everyone inside the mission house fled upstairs. The Indians then set fire to the building, and the flames quickly spread to the second story. The Moravians on the second floor jumped for their lives, but bullets and tomahawks felled most of them as they hit the ground. Five people managed to escape the massacre, and they watched from the woods as the whole settlement, including the school, supply store, and church, went up in flames. Indian converts nearby came to their aid, but it was too late to save anything. The converts offered to take revenge on the Indians who had done the killing, but the Moravians reminded them that they were there to save lives, not take them.

Ludwig insisted on breaking the bleak news to the community at Herrnhut himself. Afterward he led the community in a prayer that none of the murderers would die before hearing and accepting the gospel. Fifteen men and women then stepped forward to take the place of the slain missionaries, and they were soon sent off to Pennsylvania.

The Moravians in Saxony were also directly touched by this conflict. What was the French and Indian War in North America spilled over into Europe and became known as the Seven Years War. In the course of the war, King Frederick II of Prussia invaded Saxony, and many Moravian settlements found themselves in the thick of the battle. A division of Prussian soldiers even made Berthelsdorf their headquarters.

Through it all, Ludwig went about his work. He continued to write hymns, especially hymns for children, which he compiled into a Hymnbook for the Children. He also busied himself writing books and papers for adults.

In 1756 Ludwig moved back into Bethel, the manor house he had built on his Berthelsdorf estate thirty-three years before. He set about transforming the place into what he called the Disciple House. Here, the various choirs took turns coming to spend time with Ludwig.

While this was going on, Ludwig began to notice that Erdmuth was not well. She had never really recovered from the death of Christian Renatus, and she slept a great deal of the time. She did not complain of any particular pain, but it was obvious that she had lost the will to live. Finally in June 1756 she was not able to get up at all. Five days later, in the early hours of June 18, she died.

Ludwig was devastated. He and Erdmuth had been married for thirty-four years and had shared the births of twelve babies and the deaths of nine of their offspring. They had been separated by church business for more months than they had been together, and now Ludwig began to question whether he had been the best possible husband to Erdmuth. Had he encouraged her enough? Had he thanked her for the tireless work she had done with the finances and the children? Or had he taken her for granted, expecting that she could shoulder the burden of the Moravian Church as well as he could? Was her early death the result of too much work? Such questions tormented Ludwig to the point that he was unable to attend Erdmuth’s funeral. Instead, he stood watching from the second story of the manor house as she was laid to rest in God’s Acre.

Nor did the questions go away once Erdmuth was buried. Ludwig continued to feel guilty and remorseful about the way he had expected so much of his wife. He became restless and traveled around a lot, but he no longer enjoyed talking to others. Instead he shut the door to the outside world whenever he could and sought solace in prayer.

A year went by, and finally Ludwig’s son-in-law John approached him. John said that many of the elders had talked together and decided that Ludwig should get married again. Ludwig saw the wisdom in this. Since Erdmuth’s death, he had been so alone. He considered marrying Anna Nitschmann, who had been a key leader among the Moravians for nearly as long as he had. Anna was forty-two years old, and he was fifty-six, but that was not the biggest problem. A much greater gulf than age separated them. No matter what else he had done, Ludwig was still a count, while Anna, no matter how wonderful her leadership skills, was in the eyes of German nobility nothing more than a peasant. Even in the most liberal of church circles it was unthinkable that a count would marry a peasant!

The more Ludwig thought about it, the more complicated the whole idea became. What would his aged mother say? Probably even harsher words than she had uttered to him when she learned of his ordination as a Lutheran pastor. And what about his titled cousins and siblings? Would marrying a peasant be the final insult to his family? Ludwig didn’t know. All he knew was that he had to make a decision, and soon, as he was not getting any younger.

Chapter 14
Destined to Bring Forth Fruit

On Monday, June 27, 1757, Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf married Anna Nitschmann in a private ceremony at the Disciple House at Berthelsdorf. Eleven people witnessed the marriage, and each of them agreed to keep it a secret until Ludwig felt the time was right to tell everyone.

At the same time, Ludwig abdicated his position as a count in the Holy Roman Empire and gave all of his titles and privileges to his nephew Ludwig. He hoped that this would stop some of the anger that his family might feel when they found out he had married a peasant. Besides, now that Christian Renatus was dead, Ludwig had no direct male heir to pass his titles and privileges on to when he died.

The newly married couple soon set off with a group of “pilgrims,” including John and Benigna von Watteville and their daughter Elizabeth. They were headed for western Germany and Switzerland to visit Moravian congregations. Everywhere Ludwig went, he was asked to preach, sometimes in French, other times in German.

By the time fall rolled around, the weather had turned particularly cold, and Ludwig was not well. He stayed in Erdmuth’s family home for a month until he felt well enough to continue traveling. The castle brought back many memories for Ludwig—the disabled carriage in the nearby river, coming to the castle for the first time, learning that his friend Henry was in love with his cousin Theodora, and asking Erdmuth’s mother for Erdmuth’s hand in marriage. Ludwig had plenty of time to think back on all these events as he recuperated. And as he reminisced, he was grateful for the faithful partner Erdmuth had been to him.

Ludwig and Anna returned to Herrnhut in January 1758 to a community where still only a few people knew they were married. Anna went back to her work in the single women’s choir, and Ludwig to his meetings at the Disciple House. That summer the couple were off again, this time to Holland to encourage the Moravian work there. Ludwig visited Herrendyk and Zeist and encouraged both centers to concentrate on sending out missionaries.

Finally, in November, Ludwig sent a letter to all the Moravian congregations announcing his marriage to Anna Nitschmann and explaining why they had kept it a private matter for a year and a half. He waited to hear from his mother, but she was silent on the subject.

Ludwig and Anna arrived home from their trip on Christmas Eve, just in time for the wonderful song service.

Now that everyone knew that Ludwig and Anna were married, Anna moved into the Disciple House with her husband, and the two took up the role of pastoring the community at Herrnhut. They took particular delight in meeting with the children and teaching them new songs.

The year 1759 looked very promising. During the previous year Ludwig had approached the king of Denmark about establishing a Moravian colony in Iceland. He had received a letter back saying that the king would prefer that the Moravians start a work in the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, islands which the Danish East India Company had taken control of two years before. To do this, Ludwig negotiated permission for the Moravians to set up a base of operations in Tranquebar on the southeast coast of India. Now in 1759 fourteen men from the single men’s choir were preparing to set out for India. Two of the men would undertake full-time mission work in the Nicobar Islands while the other twelve worked at their trades to raise the necessary money to support the endeavor.

The imminent departure of the missionaries for Tranquebar brought back memories of August Franke’s school in Halle in 1712, where Ludwig had met Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. Bartholomaus had been a missionary in Tranquebar and was home on furlough, and the lunchtime that Ludwig spent talking to him had challenged him and ultimately changed the course of his life. Now forty-seven years later, the Moravians were going to establish their own mission colony in Tranquebar.

In November 1759 Ludwig became concerned for Anna, who was losing weight fast. Although Anna seldom complained, Ludwig could see that she was often in great pain. He sent for a doctor, but no one could say what was exactly wrong with her. Anna kept on working as much as she could while Ludwig continued to meet with the various choirs, lead services, and write the Daily Watchwords and Doctrinal Texts for the year 1761.

By April 1760, Ludwig had to face the fact that his new wife was dying of cancer. Anna could no longer get out of bed, and Ludwig visited her every day. On Sunday, May 4, Anna made a gallant effort and accompanied Ludwig to a service to hear the single sisters sing. During the service, however, Ludwig began to notice pains in his chest, and he found it difficult to breathe.

Suddenly, unbelievably, Ludwig also was seriously ill! He felt so sick that he wondered whether he might die before Anna. All of Herrnhut heard the news and were allowed to visit Ludwig with their choirs. Although Ludwig was surrounded with continuous rounds of hymn singing, prayers, and Bible readings, he continued to grow weaker.

On May 8 Ludwig looked around at the many members of the community who had gathered round him. His chest was tight, and his lungs gurgled when he breathed, but he made the effort to talk. He turned to Bishop David Nitschmann. Tears ran down his cheeks as he spoke.

“Did you suppose, in the beginning, that the Savior would do as much as we now really see among the various Moravian settlements, amongst the children of God of other denominations, and amongst the heathen? I only entreated Him for a few firstfruits of the latter, but there are now thousands of them. Nitschmann, what a formidable caravan from our church already stands around the Lamb!”

Later that night Ludwig called his daughters and his son-in-law to his side. He gave his daughters advice about the estates and various business dealings, and then he turned to his son-in-law, John.

“Now, my dear friend, I am going to the Savior. I am ready. I bow to His will. He is satisfied with me. If He does not want me here anymore, I am ready to go to Him. There is nothing to hinder me now.”

John reached for Ludwig’s hand and began to pray. “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace. 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.”

Ludwig lifted his head off his pillow and then lay back down again. His chest stopped heaving, and his eyes were fixed upward. Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was dead. It was 10:00 PM on Friday, May 9, 1760, seventeen days short of his sixtieth birthday.