"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another" (1 Pet. 4:8)

A Testimony from Christian History

As Peter is considering the return of the Lord Jesus, he gives his fellow believers a word concerning readiness for the Lord's return. It is most provocative that here he counts our love towards one another as something to be practiced "above all."

"The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Pet. 4:78-8, NASB)

The following story from Christian history demonstrates the dynamic power and testimony of Christian love.

Here are some details of a story from the history of the Moravian Brethren. This story tells of a particular divine incident, detailed below. This incident shows a wonderful move of the Holy Spirit, and His move was very much involved with the love of one another.

Firstly, here is a brief background sketch to the story quoted below. In the early 1720s a number of Protestants were being persecuted in Europe for their evangelical faith. A wealthy Christian, Count Zizendorf of Moravia, decided to open his estate up as a place of refuge to any persecuted ones. For a period of five years prior to the detailed account below, bands of persecuted believers came to the Count's estate and formed a community called Herrnhutt (meaning "The Lord's Watch"). Only some among the refugees had a background of the old Church of the Brethren (with connections going back to Huss). Most of them came from varying backgrounds.

Zizendorf himself was busy during these five years with government affairs, as well as helping establish a church in the nearby village of Berthelsdorf. So, the count was not very active in dealings with the believers in Herrnhut, even though they lived on his vast estate.

During this first five years of Herrnhut there were a number of problems. Saints of differing church backgrounds started to feud with one another over doctrine. Also, a religious fanatic named Kruger arose among them and he made wild accusations against the Count and the pastors at Berthelsdorf. Kruger eventually went insane, but his crazy accusations stuck with the community, including a chief leader named Christian David.

Now, the rest of the story, as quoted from a book on the history of the Moravian church:

Excerpt from History of the Moravian Church, by J. E. Hutton]

At this critical point the Count intervened, and changed the duel into a duet {1727.}. He would have no makers of sects on his estate. With all their faults, he believed that the settlers were at bottom broad-minded people. Only clear away the rubbish and the gold would be found underneath.

“Although our dear Christian David,” he said, “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,” he added, “when honest men are going wrong to put them into office, and they will learn from experience what they will never learn from speculation.”

He acted on that maxim now. He would teach the exiles to obey the law of the land, to bow to his authority as lord of the manor, and to live in Christian fellowship with each other. For this purpose, he summoned them all to a mass meeting in the Great House on the Hutberg {May 12th.}, lectured them for over three hours on the sin of schism, read out the “Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions,”7676These “Injunctions and Prohibitions” are now printed for the first time by J. Müller, in his Zizendorf als Erneuerer der alten Bruder-Kirche (1900). They must not be confounded with the “Statutes” printed in the Memorial Days of the Brethren’s Church. which all inhabitants of Herrnhut must promise to obey, and then submitted a number of “Statutes” as the basis of a voluntary religious society. The effect was sudden and swift. At one bound the settlers changed from a group of quarrelling schismatics to an organized body of orderly Christian tenants; and forthwith the assembled settlers shook hands, and promised to obey the Injunctions and Prohibitions.

As soon as the Count had secured good law and order he obtained leave of absence from Dresden, took up his residence at Herrnhut, and proceeded to organize all who wished into a systematic Church within the Church. For this purpose he prepared another agreement {July 4th.}, entitled the “Brotherly Union and Compact,” signed the agreement first himself, persuaded Christian David, Pastor Schäfer and another neighbouring clergyman to do the same, and then invited all the rest to follow suit. Again, the goodwill was practically universal. As the settlers had promised on May 12th to obey the Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions, so now, of their own free will, they signed a promise to end their sectarian quarrels, to obey the “Statutes,” and to live in fellowship with Christians of all beliefs and denominations. Thus had the Count accomplished a double purpose. As lord of the manor he had crushed the design to form a separate sect; and as Spener’s disciple he had persuaded the descendants of the Bohemian Brethren to form another “Church within the Church.”

Nor was this all. As the Brethren looked back in later years to those memorable days in Herrnhut, they came to regard the summer months of 1727 as a holy, calm, sabbatic season, when one and all were quickened and stirred by the power of the Spirit Divine. “The whole place,” said Zinzendorf himself, “represented a visible tabernacle of God among men.” For the next four months the city on the hill was the home of ineffable joy; and the very men who had lately quarrelled with each other now formed little groups for prayer and praise. As the evening shadows lengthened across the square the whole settlement met to pray and praise, and talk with each other, like brothers and sisters of one home. The fancies and vagaries fled. The Count held meetings every day. The Church at Berthelsdorf was crowded out. The good David, now appointed Chief Elder, persuaded all to study the art of love Divine by going through the First Epistle of St. John. The very children were stirred and awakened. The whole movement was calm, strong, deep and abiding. Of vulgar excitement there was none; no noisy meetings, no extravagant babble, no religious tricks to work on the emotions. For mawkish, sentimental religion the Count had an honest contempt. “It is,” he said, “as easy to create religious excitement as it is to stir up the sensual passions; and the former often leads to the latter.” As the Brethren met in each other’s homes, or on the Hutberg when the stars were shining, they listened, with reverence and holy awe, to the still voice of that Good Shepherd who was leading them gently, step by step, to the green pastures of peace.

Amid the fervour the Count made an announcement which caused every cheek to flush with new delight. He had made a strange discovery. At Zittau, not far away, was a reference library; and there, one day, he found a copy of Comenius’s Latin version of the old Brethren’s “Account of Discipline.” {July.} His eyes were opened at last. For the first time in his busy life he read authentic information about the old Church of the Brethren; and discovered, to his amazement and joy, that so far from being disturbers of the peace, with a Unitarian taint in their blood, they were pure upholders of the very faith so dear to his own heart.

His soul was stirred to its depths. “I could not,” he said, “read the lamentations of old Comenius, addressed to the Church of England, lamentations called forth by the idea that the Church of the Brethren had come to an end, and that he was locking its door—I could not read his mournful prayer, ‘Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old,’ without resolving there and then: I, as far as I can, will help to bring about this renewal. And though I have to sacrifice my earthly possessions, my honours and my life, as long as I live I will do my utmost to see to it that this little flock of the Lord shall be preserved for Him until He come.”

And even this was not the strangest part of the story. As the Count devoured the ancient treatise, he noticed that the rules laid down therein were almost the same as the rules which he had just drawn up for the refugees at Herrnhut. He returned to Herrnhut, reported his find, and read the good people extracts from the book {Aug. 4th.}. The sensation was profound. If this was like new milk to the Count it was like old wine to the Brethren; and again the fire of their fathers burned in their veins.

And now the coping stone was set on the temple {Aug. 13th.}. As the Brethren were learning, step by step, to love each other in true sincerity, Pastor Rothe now invited them all to set the seal to the work by coming in a body to Berthelsdorf Church, and there joining, with one accord, in the celebration of the Holy Communion. The Brethren accepted the invitation with joy. The date fixed was Monday, August 13th. The sense of awe was overpowering. As the Brethren walked down the slope to the church all felt that the supreme occasion had arrived; and all who had quarrelled in the days gone by made a covenant of loyalty and love. At the door of the church the strange sense of awe was thrilling. They entered the building; the service began; the “Confession” was offered by the Count; and then, at one and the same moment, all present, rapt in deep devotion, were stirred by the mystic wondrous touch of a power which none could define or understand. There, in Berthelsdorf Parish Church, they attained at last the firm conviction that they were one in Christ; and there, above all, they believed and felt that on them, as on the twelve disciples on the Day of Pentecost, had rested the purifying fire of the Holy Ghost.

“We learned,” said the Brethren, “to love.” “From that time onward,” said David Nitschmann, “Herrnhut was a living Church of Jesus Christ. We thank the Lord that we ever came to Herrnhut, instead of pressing on, as we intended, to Poland.”

And there the humble Brother spoke the truth. As the Brethren returned that evening to Herrnhut, they felt within them a strength and joy they had never known before. They had realised their calling in Christ. They had won the Divine gift of Christian union. They had won that spirit of brotherly love which only the great Good Spirit could give. They had won that sense of fellowship with Christ, and fellowship with one another, which had been the costliest gem in the days of their fathers; and therefore, in future, they honoured the day as the true spiritual birthday of the Renewed Church of the Brethren. It is useless trying to express their feelings in prose. Let us listen to the moving words of the Moravian poet, James Montgomery:—

They walked with God in peace and love,
But failed with one another;
While sternly for the faith they strove,
Brother fell out with brother;
But He in Whom they put their trust,
Who knew their frames, that they were dust,
Pitied and healed their weakness.
He found them in His house of prayer,
With one accord assembled,
And so revealed His presence there,
They wept for joy and trembled;
One cup they drank, one bread they brake,
One baptism shared, one language spake,
Forgiving and forgiven.
Then forth they went, with tongues of flame,
In one blest theme delighting,
The love of Jesus and His Name,
God’s children all uniting!
That love, our theme and watchword still;
That law of love may we fulfil,
And love

The next step was to see that the blessing was not lost {Aug. 27th.}. For this purpose the Brethren, a few days later, arranged a system of Hourly Intercession. As the fire on the altar in the Jewish Temple was never allowed to go out, so the Brethren resolved that in this new temple of the Lord the incense of intercessory prayer should rise continually day and night. Henceforth, Herrnhut in very truth should be the “Watch of the Lord.” The whole day was carefully mapped out, and each Brother or Sister took his or her turn. Of all the prayer unions ever organized surely this was one of the most remarkable. It is said to have lasted without interruption for over a hundred years.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)