The power of a painting

Domenico Feti Ecce Homo Behold the Man paintingAmerican Minute with Bill Federer

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, Nikolaus viewed in the Dusseldorf museum a painting by Domenico Feti depicting Christ’s suffering.

Titled “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”), the painting had a caption underneath, “This have I done for you-Now what will you do for me?”

Young Count Zinzendorf was moved in a profound way.

Convicted, he came to an intensely personal faith in Christ, an experience which was part of a revival movement labeled “pietism.”

In 1722, 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.

When they started disagreeing amongst themselves, 27-year-old Count Zinzendorf began a prayer meeting, August 13, 1727, which went on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, with believers taking turns, the prayer meeting went on uninterrupted for over 100 years.

Count Zinzendorf stated:

“I have one passion: it is Jesus, Jesus only.”

The Moravians sent out more missionaries 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, and
to the west coast of South Africa.

Moravian missionaries went to the colony of Georgia in America where their sincere faith greatly affected Anglican John and Charles Wesley, who later went on to found the Methodist revival movement.

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 fifty German families at the Old Trappe Church in Pennsylvania, December 12, 1742.

In 1751, he founded Trinity Lutheran Church in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Henry Muhlenberg was influenced by the Pietist movement within Lutheranism which stressed that ‘personal’ belief in Christ was more than just adhering to an orthodox doctrine but also involved an individual change of heart.

Pietism had an unintended political consequence.

Whereas Calvinist Puritans believed God had a will for everything including government and that Christians had a duty to participate, in contrast Pietists believed that government was worldly and should be avoided the same as bars, theater and brothels.

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.

Another of Henry Muhlenberg’s sons, Frederick, 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 the First Amendment.

As Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg was the first signer of the Bill of Rights which limited the power of the Federal Government.

Pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who died OCTOBER 7, 1787, wrote of General George Washington’s personal faith 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. 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.”


Bill FedererSelf-Educated American contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


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