Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was from a noble German family. While on his “Grand Tour,” in which young aristocrats were introduced to royal courts around Europe, Count Zinzendorf viewed in the Dusseldorf museum a painting by Domenico Feti depicting Christ’s suffering. The painting, titled “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”), had a Latin caption underneath:
Ego pro te haec passus sum
Tu vero quid fecisti pro me
which translated is:
This have I suffered for you;
now what will you do for me?
Young Count Zinzendorf was moved in a profound way. Convicted, Count Zinzendorf came to an intensely personal faith in Christ, an experience which was part of a revival movement labeled “Pietism.”
In 1722, Count Zinzendorf opened up his estate at Berthelsdorf, Saxony, for persecuted Christians of Europe to come and live together. People arrived from Moravia, Bohemia (Czech Republic) and other areas, and built a village on his estate called “Herrnhut,” which means “The Lord’s Watchful Care.”
When they started disagreeing amongst themselves, 27-year-old Count Zinzendorf began a prayer meeting, Aug. 13, 1727. This prayer meeting went on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, with believers taking turns, went on uninterrupted for over 100 years.
Count Zinzendorf stated: “I have one passion: it is Jesus, Jesus only.”
More Moravian missionaries were sent out from Herrnhut in the next 20 years than all Christendom had in the previous 200 years. Moravian missionaries went all over the world:
- to Greenland
- to the West Indies
- to American Indians
- to the northern shores of the Baltic
- to the slaves of South Carolina
- to Suriname
- to slaves in South America
- to Tranquebar and Nicobar Islands in the East Indies
- to the Copts in Egypt
- to the Inuit of Labrador
- to the west coast of South Africa
Moravian missionaries sailed to the colony of Georgia in America. Caught in a terrible storm, the Moravian missionaries confidently sang praise to the Lord. Their faith made a tremendous impact on two other frightened passengers on that ship, namely, John and Charles Wesley.
John Wesley was being sent to be the Anglican minister in the Colony of Georgia, at the settlement on St. Simon Island; and Charles Wesley was sent to be the secretary of Georgia’s founder James Oglethorpe. The Wesley brothers returned to England where they later founded the Methodist revival movement.
In 1738, John Wesley visited Herrnhut to study with the Moravians. Through the Wesleys, the Moravian influence was felt by George Whitefield, who helped lead the Great Awakening Revival in the American colonies.
In 1741, Count Zinzendorf visited America, hoping to unify the various German Protestants churches in Pennsylvania. On Christmas Eve, 1741, Count Zinzendorf founded Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. There his daughter, Benigna, organized a school which became Moravian College.
Count Zinzendorf traveled with the German Indian agent and interpreter Conrad Weiser into the wilderness to share his faith with Iroquois Indian chieftains, making Zinzendorf one of the few European noblemen to meet with Indians in their villages.
Conrad Weiser’s daughter married a young German minister, Henry Muhlenberg, one of the founders of the Lutheran Church in America. Henry Muhlenberg became pastor of 50 German families at the Old Trappe Church in Pennsylvania, Dec. 12, 1742. In 1751, Henry Muhlenberg founded Trinity Lutheran Church in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Henry Muhlenberg was influenced by the Pietist movement within Lutheranism which stressed a personal relationship with Christ in addition to adhering to orthodox doctrine. Pietism had a political consequence similar to “separation of church and state.”
Whereas Calvinist Puritans believed God had a will for everything including government and it was a Christian’s duty to put God’s Will in place. Pietists, on the other hand, believed that when someone believed in Christ their life should change and they should not participate in worldly distractions such as bars, theaters, and … government.
It was therefore a major step for Henry Muhlenberg’s son, John Peter Muhlenberg, pastor of Emanuel Church in Woodstock, Virginia, to join General George Washington’s army as a colonel, with 300 members of his church forming the 8th Virginia Regiment. John Peter Muhlenberg was promoted to Major-General in the Continental Army, then elected to the U.S. Congress and Senate.
Henry Muhlenberg’s other son, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, was pastor of a Lutheran congregation in New York. Frederick Muhlenberg became active during the Revolution and afterwards was elected to the U.S. Congress, being the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both John Peter and Frederick were members of the First Session of U.S. Congress which passed Twelve Amendments limiting the power of the federal government. Ten of these Amendments were ratified by the states, being called the Bill of Rights.
There are two signatures on the Bill of Rights: Vice President John Adams – who was president of the Senate; and Speaker of the House Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg.
Pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who died Oct. 7, 1787, wrote of General George Washington at Valley Forge in “The Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman”: “I heard a fine example today, namely that His Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each to fear God, to put away wickedness … and to practice Christian virtues. …”
Rev. Henry Muhlenberg continued: “From all appearances General Washington does not belong to the so-called world of society, for he respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness. Therefore, the Lord God has also singularly, yea, marvelously preserved him from harm in the midst of countless perils, ambuscades, fatigues, etc., and has hitherto graciously held him in his hand as a chosen vessel.”
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