Nikolaus von Zinzendorf was born in 1700 to Austrian nobility. After Zinzendorf had finished the university, he took a trip throughout Europe looking at some of the cultural high-spots. And something very unexpected happened. In the art museum at Dusseldorf he saw a painting by Domenico Feti entitled “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”). It was a portrait of Christ with the crown of thorns pressed down on his head and blood running down his face.
Beneath the portrait were the words, “I have done this for you; what have you done for me?” All of his life Zinzendorf looked back to that encounter as utterly life-changing. As he stood there, as it were, watching his Savior suffer and bleed, he said to himself, “I have loved him for a long time, but I have never actually done anything for him. From now on I will do whatever he leads me to do.”
He was raised in a strong Pietist tradition, Zizendorf felt a strong inclination toward religious work. But as a count, he was expected to follow his late father’s footsteps into government. He did as he was told and in October 1721 became the king’s judicial counselor at Dresden.
After less than a year at court, he bought the estate of Berthelsdorf from his grandmother, hoping to form a Christian community for oppressed religious minorities. They named it Herrnhut—”the Lord’s watch.”
In 1727 the community started a round the clock “prayer watch” that lasted unbroken for 100 years. There were about 300 persons in the community at the beginning, and various ones covenanted to pray for one of the 24 hours in the day.
Visiting Copenhagen in 1731 to attend the coronation of King Christian VI, Zinzendorf met a converted slave from the West Indies, Anthony Ulrich. The man was looking for someone to go back to his homeland to preach the gospel to black slaves, including his sister and brother. Zinzendorf raced back to Herrnhut to find men to go; two immediately volunteered, becoming the first Moravian missionaries—and the first Protestant missionaries of the modern era, antedating William Carey (often called “the father of modern missions”) by 60-some years.
In 1792, 65 years later, with the lamp of prayer still burning, the little community had sent out 300 missionaries to the unreached peoples of the West Indies, Greenland, Lapland, Turkey, and North America. They were utterly, and radically dedicated to making Jesus known.**
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*Christian History – Nikolas von Zizendorf
* John Piper – “At the Price of God’s own Blood“