Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

Although it seemed that Herrnhut might be saved after all, opposition from the outside was steadily growing against it. In July 1726, Ludwig, Erdmuth, and their new baby daughter, Benigna, were staying in Berthelsdorf following the death of Ludwig’s grandmother, Countess von Gersdorf. While they were there, word came that David Nitschmann had been taken prisoner. David had secretly traveled to Kremsir, Moravia, to bring his father back to Herrnhut. While there he had been captured and was being held without trial under suspicion of inciting refugees to emigrate.

Ludwig knew that he had to do something about the situation. The entire question of emigration was becoming tenser by the day. In August 1726 Ludwig traveled to Kremsir to meet with the Catholic cardinal there and the cardinal’s brother, an officer in the Austrian Imperial Service. Ludwig hoped that they would accept his argument that a 1648 pact called the Treaty of Westphalia established equality of rights for both Protestants and Catholics, and therefore Christians who so desired had the right to emigrate.

The meeting did not go smoothly for Ludwig. Although the cardinal and his brother were polite, they were also firm. They had no intention of releasing David from prison, nor would they allow Ludwig to visit him. Ludwig tried everything he knew to make the two men change their minds, but it was no use. Eventually he returned to Herrnhut discouraged and worried about David’s fate. Little did he imagine the problems he would encounter after he arrived home.

A man named Johann Krüger, who had been a court preacher, came to live in the village. He announced that everyone should separate himself from Pastor Rothe and the Lutheran Church. This caused a split in the community, and soon those who followed Krüger shunned those who did not accept what he said. As more people began listening to what Krüger had to say, he became more outrageous. He accused Ludwig of being the “Beast” and John Rothe of being a “False Prophet.” And as unbelievable as it seemed to Ludwig, Krüger even managed to persuade Christian David over to his way of thinking.

This new state of affairs appalled Ludwig, but he still refused to evict the refugees from his land. Instead he wrote hymns and prayed that God would intervene and do something to reunite the divided community.

Something did happen. By January 1727 Johann Krüger had gone insane. He began ranting and raving, pulling his hair out, and cutting himself. Suddenly his followers could see for themselves that he was mentally unbalanced, and Krüger soon left Herrnhut for good.

Johann Krüger’s leaving did not automatically heal the deep rifts that had developed. In fact, the whole community was in the worst shape it had ever been in. Hatred and gossip abounded, and Ludwig felt that he had to do something drastic if he was to pull it back on track. He quit his job in the royal court in Dresden and moved his family into the mansion at Berthelsdorf to live permanently. He announced that John Rothe would continue in his role as pastor of the Berthelsdorf parish while Ludwig would take over the role of assistant pastor to those at the Herrnhut community. He knew that many people would raise their eyebrows at this, but Ludwig did not care. All that mattered to him was not letting the opportunity to create a godly community slip away.

Once Ludwig moved to Berthelsdorf, his days were full. He went to Herrnhut each day to pray with people, listen to their grievances, and hold Bible studies. As he did this, he felt the tide slowly begin to turn.

On May 11, 1727, the community held a Singstunde, or singing meeting. The following afternoon Ludwig again gathered the community together. He spoke to the gathered crowd for three hours about how wrong it was to allow small things to divide them and how, if they all served Christ Jesus, they should be able to get along.

Ludwig introduced two documents he had been writing. The first was the Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions, in which he, as owner of the estate, laid out the laws that everyone living at Herrnhut was obliged to abide by. The second document was called The Brotherly Agreement of the Brethren from Bohemia and Moravia and Others, Binding Them to Walk According to the Apostolic Rule. This document had been written in collaboration with a number of the members of the Herrnhut community. It was a voluntary agreement that bound the members together in Christian fellowship. It contained forty-two principles, which Ludwig read aloud one by one.

When he had finished reading, Ludwig invited those gathered to come up one at a time and shake his hand if they agreed to abide by the principles. Slowly, members of the community stood and walked to the front. Many of them broke down and wept as they shook Ludwig’s hand. They apologized to him and to one another for their behavior. Christian David, who had been swept away by Johann Krüger’s teaching, wept openly on Ludwig’s shoulder as he asked him for forgiveness.

When the meeting finally returned to some sort of order, the people wanted to elect elders to help them stick to their new commitment. Twelve elders were chosen, among them the two Neisser brothers, a seventy-year-old joiner, a twenty-five-year-old cobbler, and a carpenter. Ludwig read the passage from the book of Acts about how Jesus’ eleven disciples drew lots to choose another man to join their number and replace Judas. He put the names of the twelve elders they had just chosen into a basket, which he prayed over. He then pulled out four names: Christian David, George Nitschmann, Christopher Hoffman, and Melchior Zeisberger. These men were to be the chief elders.

Ludwig was delighted that Christian David had been chosen, even though Christian had been disloyal and persuaded by Johann Krüger to accuse Ludwig of the worst possible things. He explained to Erdmuth why he felt that way.

“Although our dear Christian David was calling me the Beast and Mr. Rothe the False Prophet, we could see his honest heart nevertheless and knew we could lead him right. It is not a bad maxim when honest men are going wrong to put them into office, and they will learn from experience what they will never learn from speculation.”

Ludwig was chosen by the group to be warden. He decided that it was time to sacrifice the comfort of his mansion and suggested that his family move directly into the Herrnhut community. The members of the community gladly accepted his suggestion, and Ludwig began preparations to have a modest home built right away.

Things in the community changed that day. People became more accepting of one another. They listened to one another, and instead of getting into arguments, they agreed to respect each other’s opinions.

Finally, on Saturday, July 1, Ludwig, Erdmuth, and one-year-old Benigna moved into the new house at Herrnhut. It was a particularly trying move for Erdmuth. The weather was very hot, and she was expecting another baby in two months. And the house was not even fully built. The plaster on the walls was still wet. But Ludwig wanted to be moved into the house before Sunday, since Sundays had become a day of celebration at Herrnhut and Berthelsdorf. People from all over the province flocked to hear Pastor Rothe’s teaching and to see for themselves the wonderful things that were happening at the community.

Chapter 7
Hidden Seed

Much to Ludwig’s delight, the situation at Herrnhut continued to improve. Small groups called bands were established. These groups consisted of two to eight people who met together regularly for Bible study, prayer, and singing. The bands had a marked effect on the community. Everywhere Ludwig went he saw community members huddled together encouraging one another and praying about problems as they arose. How different this atmosphere was from a year ago, when everyone was consumed with the doctrines that divided them.

On July 22, 1727, Ludwig had decided that the community was doing so well that he could take time off to visit his great uncle, Baron Gersdorf, in Hartmannsdorf, Silesia. On the way he stopped in the town of Zittau and paid a visit to the local reference library. Despite having read most theology books of the day, Ludwig discovered in the library an old, dusty book with the title Ratio Disciplinae (Account of Discipline) engraved on its leather spine. He pulled the book from the shelf, cracked it open, and began to read. He could scarcely put it down. The book was a Latin version of the constitution of the Unitas Fratrum, and to Ludwig’s surprise, the principles laid out within its pages bore a remarkable likeness to the principles the Herrnhut community had recently embraced.

At the front of the book was a history of the Unity of the Brethren written by Bishop John Amos Comenius. What Ludwig read here stunned him. Ludwig had thought of the refugees from Moravia as people seeking a place where they could practice their Christian beliefs free from persecution. The people had talked of being the hidden seed of an ancient group, but he had shepherded them into the Lutheran Church and encouraged them to think of themselves as a church within a church. But now he was reading that they actually belonged to a fully formed Protestant church that was older than the Lutheran Church! The Unitas Fratrum had been founded in 1457—sixty years before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg. In fact, by the time of Luther, the Unitas Fratrum had some four hundred congregations and nearly two hundred thousand followers.

Ludwig translated an excerpt from Ratio Disciplinae from Latin to German to take back to Herrnhut to show to the refugees from Moravia.

While he visited his uncle, Ludwig thought long and hard on all he had read about the Unitas Fratrum. Did God have a bigger plan for this group? Were these people living on his estate for more than just protection from persecution? Ludwig could not get these questions out of his mind. It was true that they called themselves the Hidden Seed, but what was that seed supposed to grow into? Perhaps they had been guided to Berthelsdorf for a greater purpose. Perhaps God wanted to revive and breathe new life into this oldest of Protestant denominations. And perhaps Herrnhut was the beginning of that revival.

Before Ludwig left his uncle’s estate, he offered a prayer of dedication. “I, as far as I can, will help to bring about this renewal. And though I have to sacrifice my earthly possessions, my honors, my life, as long as I live I will do my utmost to see to it that the little company of the Lord’s disciples shall be preserved for Him until He comes,” he prayed.

Ludwig arrived back at Herrnhut on August 4. When he showed the Moravians the excerpt he had taken from the Ratio Disciplinae, they became very excited. They, too, recognized the similarities between the precepts of the Ratio Disciplinae and the guiding principles they had recently subscribed to in The Brotherly Agreement of the Brethren from Bohemia and Moravia and Others, Binding Them to Walk According to the Apostolic Rule.

This was the first time that most of the refugees from Moravia had heard any of the details of the church their forefathers had founded. Through years of persecution they had been cut off from other members of the Unitas Fratrum and from books that explained the group’s history and beliefs. Now they understood their past, and they were ready to look to their future. They were the Hidden Seed. To guide their community, they had put in place principles that were almost identical to the principles that guided their forefathers. Surely, they marveled, only God could have guided them to do this. They thanked Him and rejoiced and eagerly anticipated the revival of the Unitas Fratrum.

On Sunday August 10, Pastor Rothe came to Herrnhut to conduct the afternoon service. Partway through the sermon, Ludwig watched as the pastor sank to his knees and began to pray fervently. Those gathered for the service followed his lead and knelt and began to pray. They stayed on their knees, praying until after midnight.