1727 Herrnhut, Germany
August 13 – Nicholas von Zinzendorf
No one present could tell exactly what happened on that Wednesday morning at the specially called communion service. The fire of God fell, and the glory of the Lord came upon several hundred refugees so powerfully that they hardly knew if they were on earth or in Heaven. One of them described the experience by writing:
Church history abounds in records of special outpourings of the Holy Ghost, and verily the thirteenth of August, 1727, was a day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We saw the hand of God and His wonders, and we were all under the cloud of our fathers baptized with their Spirit. The Holy Ghost came upon us and in those days great signs and wonders took place in our midst. From that time scarcely a day passed but what we beheld His almighty workings amongst us. A great hunger after the Word of God took possession of us so that we had to have three services every day, viz. 5.0 and 7:30 am and 9.0 pm. 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 (Greenfield 1927, 14).
The young leader of that community, Count Nicholas Ludwig of Zinzendorf, gave this account many years later:
We needed to come to the Communion with a sense of the loving nearness of the Saviour. This was the great comfort which has made this day a generation ago to be a festival, because on this day twenty-seven years ago the Congregation of Herrnhut, assembled for communion (at the Berthelsdorf church) were all dissatisfied with themselves. They had quit judging each other because they had become convinced, each one, of his lack of worth in the sight of God and each felt himself at this Communion to be in view of the noble countenance of the Saviour….
In this view of the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, their hearts told them that He would be their patron and their priest who was at once changing their tears into oil of gladness and their misery into happiness. This firm confidence changed them in a single moment into a happy people which they are to this day, and into their happiness they have since led many thousands of others through the memory and help which the heavenly grace once given to themselves, so many thousand times confirmed to them since then (Greenfield 1927, 15).
Zinzendorf described the experience as “a sense of the nearness of Christ” given to everyone present, and also to others of their community who were working elsewhere at the time.
So who was this group of believers who had assembled in Herrnhut? And how did this powerful move of God’s Spirit come about?
The group at Herrnhut was mostly made up of Moravian refugees. The Moravian brethren had grown from the work and martyrdom of the Bohemian reformer, John Huss. They suffered centuries of persecution, and many had been killed, imprisoned, tortured, or banished from their homeland. Seeking refuge, this group had fled to Germany where the young Christian nobleman, Count Zinzendorf, offered them asylum on his estates in Saxony in 1722. They named their new home, Herrnhut, which means “the Lord’s Watch.”
The Moravians were the first group to make their homes there, but soon other persecuted Christians were attracted to Herrnhut as well—including Lutherans, Reformed, and Anabaptists. By early 1727, heated controversies threatened to disrupt the community. The various sects had become deeply divided and critical of one another, arguing over issues such as predestination, holiness, and baptism.
The young German nobleman, Count Zinzendorf, pleaded for unity, love, and repentance. Converted in early childhood at four years of age, Zinzendorf composed and signed a covenant: “Dear Saviour, be mine, and I will be Thine.” His life motto was, “Jesus only,” and he had learned the secret of prevailing prayer. As a teenager he actively established prayer groups, and on finishing college at Halle at 16, he gave the famous Professor Francke a list of seven praying societies he had established.
At Herrnhut, Zinzendorf visited all the adult members of the deeply divided community. He drew up a covenant calling upon them to seek out and emphasize the points in which they agreed rather than stressing their differences.
On May 12, 1727, they all signed an agreement to dedicate their lives, as he dedicated his, to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. A spirit of grace, unity, and supplications grew among them. The Moravian revival of 1727 was thus preceded and then sustained by extraordinary praying.
On July 16, Zinzendorf poured out his soul in prayer accompanied with a flood of tears. This prayer produced an extraordinary effect. The whole community began praying as never before.
On July 22, many members of the community covenanted together of their own accord to meet often to pour out their hearts in prayer and hymns.
On August 5, after a large prayer meeting at midnight where great emotion prevailed, Zinzendorf spent the whole night in prayer with approximately 12 or 14 others.
On Sunday, August 10, Pastor Rothe, while leading the service at Herrnhut, was overwhelmed by the power of the Lord about noon. He sank down into the dust before God. So did the whole congregation. They continued until midnight in prayer and singing, weeping and praying.
On Wednesday, August 13, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them all Their prayers were answered in ways far beyond anyone’s expectations. Many of them decided to set aside certain times for continued earnest prayer. Zinzendorf observed: “The Saviour permitted to come upon us a Spirit of whom we had hitherto not had any experience or knowledge. … Hitherto we had been the leaders and helpers. Now the Holy Spirit Himself took full control of everything and everybody” (Greenfield 1927,21).
On Tuesday, August 26, 24 men and 24 women covenanted together to continue praying in intervals of one hour each, day and night, each hour allocated by lots to different people.
On Wednesday, August 27, this new commitment to intercession began. Others joined these intercessors, and the number involved increased to 77. They all carefully observed the hour that had been appointed to them and met weekly to discuss prayer needs.
The children began a similar plan among themselves, and adults who heard their infant supplications were deeply moved. The children’s prayers and supplications had a powerful effect on the whole community.
The astonishing prayer meeting that began in 1727 lasted 100 years. It was unique. Known as the Hourly Intercession, it involved relays of men and women in prayer to God without ceasing. That prayer also led to action, especially evangelism. After their baptism of fire, this group became pioneering evangelists and missionaries, using the missionary zeal that began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many missionaries left that village community in the next 25 years, all constantly supported in prayer.
Fifty years later, before the beginning of modern missions with William Carey, the Moravian Church had already sent out more than 100 missionaries. Their English missionary magazine, Periodical Accounts, inspired William Carey. He threw a copy of the paper on a table at a Baptist meeting, saying, “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?” (Greenfield 1927, 19).
Prayer precedes Pentecost. The believers at Herrnhut learned this lesson well and demonstrated the importance of prayer to future generations. Another one of the major results of their baptism in the Holy Spirit was a joyful assurance of their pardon and salvation. This made a h5 impact on people in many countries, including the Wesleys, and profoundly affected the eighteenth-century evangelical awakening.
© Geoff Waugh. Used by permission.