Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf

In 2 Corinthians 5:15 the Apostle Paul states a principle that rightly applies to all Christians: “And Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Every Christian should ask himself or herself, “Is that true of me?” Here’s the true story of a committed Christian young man who, after being confronted with that question, went on to intentionally live a life fully dedicated to serving Jesus his Savior.

Domenico Feti’s Ecce Homo painting observed by Zinzendorf

Nicolaus Zinzendorf was born in 1700 into a German family of wealth and nobility. Influenced by the Lutheran Pietism of some of his relatives and of his boyhood education, Zinzendorf grew up with personal faith in Jesus and warm devotion to Him. After studying law it was expected that Zinzendorf would have a career in state service, which was considered the only acceptable vocation for a nobleman. He instead longed to enter vocational Christian ministry.

In 1719-1720 Zinzendorf had his Wanderjahr, a year of traveling abroad to complete his education. While at the magnificent art gallery in Dusseldorf he viewed many masterpieces. The painting that impacted him the most was of the thorn-crowned Christ after he had been flogged by Pontius Pilate. Beneath it was the Latin inscription: “This I have suffered for you, but what have you done for me?” Zinzendorf thought his honest answer to that question would have to be: “Very little.” He prayed to his Savior to draw him into the “fellowship of His suffering” (Philippians 3:10) whenever he was inclined to wander from it.

Zinzendorf preaching to people from many nations

When Zinzendorf arrived at Utrecht on his nineteenth birthday, he marked the occasion with a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for the gracious preservation of his life to that point. He also expressed his desire not to live longer than he would serve his Savior.

Zinzendorf’s opportunity to become involved in meaningful Christian service began three years later when a group of Protestant refugees from Moravia (in the eastern region of the Czech Republic) sought shelter on his estate at Berthelsdorf, Germany. As word of the young count’s generosity spread, religious refugees continued to arrive, and soon a thriving new community named Herrnhut (meaning “the Lord’s watch”) sprung up near Berthelsdorf.

Modern Day Herrnhut, Germany

Five years later, in 1727, a period of spiritual renewal ushered in a great revival at Herrnhut. A primary abiding manifestation of the revival was a passion for missions, which became the chief characteristic of the Christian Moravian movement. Within the next several years the Moravians planted mission stations in the Caribbean, Greenland, North America, Lapland (northern Finland), South America and South Africa.

Zinzendorf not only became the spiritual leader at Herrnhut but for thirty-three years oversaw the Moravians’ worldwide network of missionaries who looked to him for leadership. Missiologist Ruth Tucker describes Zinzendorf as “one of the greatest missionary statesmen of all times and the individual who did the most to advance the cause of Protestant missions during the course of the eighteenth century.” Tucker further relates of Zinzendorf: “He pioneered ecumenical evangelism, founded the Moravian church, and authored scores of hymns. But above all else he launched a worldwide missionary movement that set the stage for … the ‘Great Century’ of missions that would follow.”

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Much of the information for this Perspective was gleaned from Ruth Tucker’s outstanding volume From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (specifically chapter 3 on “The Moravian Advance: Dawn of Protestant Missions”). An excellent biography on Zinzendorf is John R. Weinlick’s Count Zinzendorf (Abingdon Press, 1956).

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie