Ohio History Journal






Memorial delivered Sunday, Nov. 15, 1908, in Nazareth, Pa.

"That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through

faith and patience inherit the promises."- Hebrews 6:12.

Our congregation celebrates today a threefold festival.

We commemorate, first of all, "the powerful experience" made

by our Fathers, November 13, 1741, "that Jesus Christ is the

Chief Shepherd and Head of the Church." We celebrate, in

the second place, our annual congregation festival, for it was

on November 13, 1756, that "the consecration of the Chapel in

Nazareth Hall" took place, it being apparently the first house of

worship which was built and set apart for this exclusive pur-

pose. We observe furthermore today the David Zeisberger Cen-

tennial, for it was on November 17, 1808, that this "Moravian

Apostle to the Indians" died at Goshen, Ohio, after a service of

sixty-three years.

The town in which we live was founded in the year 1740

by eleven Moravian immigrants, under the leadership of Bishop

Peter Boehler. One of the eleven, and perhaps the youngest

of the party, was the man whose triumphant death a century

ago we today commemorate. David Zeisberger, in 1740, then a

youth of nineteen, was one of the Moravian woodsmen and car-

penters sent to Nazareth by the great English evangelist, George

Whitefield, to build here a school for negro children. These

early Moravians, in more than one sense, builded better than

they knew. That structure which they began in 1740 still stands

and bears the name of its illustrious founder, being known as

the "Whitefield House."

David Zeisberger, whose happy departure we today "call

to mind with joy," and who was one of the first founders of this

town and congregation, is also the best practical illustration of

one to whom Christ has become Chief Shepherd, Head and

Elder. Let us briefly consider I. His Decisive Conversion; II.

His Evangelistic Zeal; III. His Triumphant Death.


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David Zeisberger's conversion stands out as clearly and

strongly as does that of John Wesley. in January, 1743, a lit-

tle company stood on the deck of the "James," ready to leave for

Europe. It was a group of Moravian Brethren, most of whom

had come to take leave of their beloved leader, Count Zinzen-

dorf. Belonging to this company was a young man, twenty-

two years of age, who had been appointed to return with the

Count to Germany. He stood alone and looked mournfully

upon the land of his choice. "Cast off the cable!" commanded

Captain Garrison. At that moment Bishop Nitschmann, who

had been the last to take leave of Count Zinzendorf, passed by,

and, observing the young man's dejected looks, stopped short.

"David," said he, "do you not return to Europe willingly?"

"No, indeed!" was Zeisberger's reply. "I would much

rather remain in America."

"For what reason?"

"I long to be truly converted to God and to serve Him in

this country."

This declaration deserves our careful consideration. David

Zeisberger was a "born Moravian" both nationally and denomi-

nationally. His birthplace was Zauchtenthal in Moravia, where

he first saw the light of day on Good Friday, April II, 1721.

His parents belonged to the Ancient Church of the Bohemian

and Moravian Brethren. They were evidently most godly peo-

ple, for in July, 1726, they left their large earthly possessions,

forsaking all for Christ's sake, and sought a refuge in the new

settlement in Saxony called Herrnhut. And yet, born Moravian

that Zeisberger was, and brought up in a pious home, he him-

self apparently remained unchanged by the Divine grace and

Spirit. Heredity was not sufficient. Not that he despised his

birthright; far from it! He prized his privileges and oppor-

tunities. With the great Scotch preacher and poet, Horatius

Bonar, he would have said:

"I thank Thee for a holy ancestry;

I bless Thee for a godly parentage;

For seeds of truth and light and purity,

Sown in this heart from childhood's earliest age."

David Zeisberger

David Zeisberger.                 191


Another circumstance to be noted is this: David Zeisberger

passed through the great revival of 1727 and the following years

in Herrnhut. Ten years he spent in that place of which John

Wesley wrote: "God has given me at length the desire of my

heart. I am with a church whose conversation is in heaven, in

whom is the mind that was in Christ, and who so walk as He

walked." In this congregation David Zeisberger lived during

the most impressionable years of a person's life, from five to

fifteen, and yet without being "converted to God."  He listened

to the strong Scriptural preaching of the Moravian carpenter,

Christian David; he heard the joyful testimonies of that "little

preacher of righteousness," Susannah Kuehnel; he witnessed

the remarkable prayer-meetings of the children when they spent

hours in supplication and praise; yet, though deeply impressed

by all he saw and heard, there was in his case no definite de-

cision, no absolute surrender. He still was not "converted to


Let us learn from this that neither heredity nor environment

can save a soul. Zeisberger's opportunities were certainly of

the best. Pious Moravian parentage, godly Moravian training

and education were all enjoyed by him, and not without much

profit. It is a matter of record that he was the "brightest Latin

scholar of his class, a diligent student who showed a natural

facility for acquiring languages." Moreover, he lived a morally

pure and clean life. He was a truthful, honest and industrious

lad. The first year spent in America, 1739, he acted as a trav-

eling companion and assistant of Peter Boehler, that masterful

preacher and soul-winner, just arrived from England, where he

had been the means in the hand of God for the conversion of

hundreds, among them being John and Charles Wesley. With

him David Zeisberger spent upwards of a year and yet was not

"converted to God." In later years when speaking of this period

of his life he said: "At that time my heart was not yet con-

verted to God, but I longed to enjoy His grace and that fully."

On board the vessel, therefore, Bishop Nitschmann advised the

young man to leave the ship and return to Bethlehem. Zeis-

berger did not wait to be told a second time. He returned to

Bethlehem in a state of deep spiritual concern and of longing

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for the assurance of the pardon of his sins. A Brother by the

name of Buettner, four years his senior, acted the part of An-

drew and Philip in bringing the young man to Jesus. "Some

days thereafter, during the singing, by a company of young men

in the Single Brethren's House at Bethlehem, of a familiar hymn

of praise to Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, a great light came

into his soul, and Zeisberger realized the joy of thorough con-

version in the assurance that the Saviour had taken all his sins


This great change was such a distinct and unique experi-

ence in his life that Zeisberger might truly with few variations

have adopted John Wesley's words, who described his own con-

version at a little Moravian meeting in London as follows:

"About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change

which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my

heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ

alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He

had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law

of sin and death."



David Zeisberger at once became an evangelist. The old

martyr-spirit of the Ancient Bohemian and Moravian Church

was both in name and in fact the "witness-spirit" of the Re-

newed Brethren's Church. Zeisberger put at once into practice

what another young Moravian in Europe was doing at the same

time, viz., John Cennick, who testified:


"Then will I tell to sinners round

What a dear Savior I have found,

I'll point to the atoning Blood

And say: Behold the way to God!"

Zeisberger, like his Master, practiced both personal and

public evangelism. In John's Gospel, chapter 4, we are told

how Jesus dealt with one poor sinner in such a way as to lead

her to repentance and faith. This might be called personal

evangelism. It led into a larger field. This woman became

such a witness, that Christ was invited to spend several days

David Zeisberger

David Zeisberger.                 193


in her town, and to conduct there a public evangelistic campaign

resulting in the conversion of hundreds. Some one has called

it "The Revival at Sychar."

Following in the footsteps of the Savior, young Zeisberger

felt his heart drawn out in pity towards the lowest and poorest

of mankind. He began to speak to some Indians near Bethlehem

and Nazareth of "Jesus and His love."   Proceeding further

through the wilds of Pennsylvania he preached to the Indians in

the Mohawk Valley of New York. When he and a brother-

missionary were arrested as spies and asked by Governor Clinton

at Albany, N. Y., as to their designs, they made this truly

Moravian and Scriptural reply: "We hope to get liberty to

preach among the Indians the Gospel of our Crucified Savior,

and to declare to them what we have personally experienced of

His grace in our own hearts." This became the supreme pas-

sion of his life-"to declare to the Indians what he had per-

sonally experienced of Christ's grace in his own heart."  In

order to do this, he mastered their languages and dialects, tran-

lated the Holy Scriptures. Litanies and Sacred Songs, prepared

school-books, grammars, dictionaries, etc., and spent sixty-three

years of his life amongst his brown brethren, often in pathless

forests, frequently exposed to privations, hardships and death,

all with one object in view, viz., "to declare to them what he had

personally experienced of Christ's grace in his own heart." He

became a plodding student, a thorough scholar, a famous lin-

guist, a noted writer, an accomplished administrator, in order

that he might be a successful evangelist. Frequent revivals ac-

companied his faithful testimony.

The famous picture of Zeisberger preaching to the Indians

well illustrates the supernatural power of the Gospel which he

preached "with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" At

one time when laboring in Central Pennsylvania Zeisberger


"For several months a great revival has been prevailing

among the Indians who visit us. All who attend our services

are deeply impressed and listen as though they never had enough

of the message of the Savior. Often while I am preaching the

power of the gospel message makes them tremble with emotion

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and shake with fear, until they almost lose consciousness and

seem about to faint. This shows with what violence the powers

of evil within them oppose the work of the Cross. As a rule

when such a paroxysm is over they weep in silence."

Special methods and meetings were found to be necessary

in dealing with those under conviction of sin. Zeisberger's

biographer tells us; "A revival broke out at the new mission,

named Friedenstadt, in Western Pennsylvania. In the house

of Abraham, the Helper, inquiry meetings were held every even-

ing, sometimes lasting until midnight. Even the children were

impressed and talked of Jesus." St. Paul's maxim or rule of

methods had evidently been adopted by David Zeisberger: "By

all means save some." Like Alleine he was "insatiably greedy

after souls." With David Brainerd he could say: "I had no

notion of joy from this world; I care, not where or how I live,

or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain

souls for Christ."

Brainerd finished his course with joy after five years' service;

Zeisberger toiled in the vineyard sixty-three years. A biographer

thus describes one of his many journeys: "For two days, amid

drenching rain, in the pathless forests and swamps of the Broad

Mountain, in what is now Monroe County, these two mes-

sengers of Jesus crept for miles on hands and feet, beneath and

between laurel bushes whose tangled mazes made walking im-

possible. Their only guide was a pocket compass. After two

days they struck the trail to Wyoming. Although thoroughly

exhausted by the toil of their journey, Zeisberger at once began

to preach the gospel. The Indians flocked from every side to

hear his blessed message. Next morning, after a short night's

rest, the work was resumed, and for three days he preached

Christ with great power. Tears rolled down the cheeks of his

hearers and their whole frames were convulsed with emotion."

"He is wise that winneth souls," said Israel's royal sage,

and David Zeisberger was indeed a wise soul-winner, for, like

John Wesley, he organized the newly converted into societies

and drew up rules and regulations for their guidance. One of

two articles of their "brotherly agreement" may well be heeded

in thesetimes:

David Zeisberger

David Zeisberger.                  195


"We will rest from work on the Lord's day and attend

public service."

"We will have nothing to do with thieves, murderers,

whoremongers, adulterers or drunkards. We will not take part

in dances, sacrifices, heathenish festivals or games."

"We will not admit rum or any other intoxicating liquor

into our towns. If strangers or traders shall bring intoxicating

liquors, our Helpers shall take it from them and not restore

it until the owners are ready to leave the place."

No wonder in view of all this that one of Zeisberger's ad-

mirers exclaims: "Rich fruitage of the veteran missionary's life

labor! Happy indeed amid all the countless trials and poignant

sorrows that clouded his career, in the triumph of the Savior's

grace over the powers of darkness, in the salvation of hundreds

and thousands of precious souls!"



A century ago this valiant soldier of the Cross stood face

to face with "the last enemy." In spirit let us gather around

that death-bed. The historian tells us: "Zeisberger lay calm,

without pain and perfectly conscious. The converts sang hymns,

treating of Jesus, the Prince of Life, of death swallowed up in

victory, and of Jerusalem, the Church above. He occasionally

responded by signs expressive of his joy and peace. Amid such

strains, at half past three o'clock in the afternoon, he breathed

his last, without a struggle, and went to God. All present im-

mediately fell on their knees."


"Oh may I triumph so,

When all my warfare's past;

And dying find my latest foe

Under my feet at last!"

What now was the secret of Zeisberger's peace in death, of

his victory over the mighty conqueror? What-was the ground

of his serene confidence? Did he rest on his own achievements?

He might with reason have been tempted to do so. What a

career could he look back upon! Measured by length of service,

by absolute consecration to Christ, by self-denial and self-sacrifice

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for the sake of the gospel, no name stands higher in the history

of Christian Missions than that of David Zeisberger. With the

Apostle Paul he might have said:    "Are they ministers of

Christ?  (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more

abundant, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. In journey-

ings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils

by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in

the wilderness.  In weariness and painfulness, in watchings

often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and naked-

ness." II Cor. II:23-27. Yet all these toils, trials and suffer-

ings, so cheerfully borne for Christ's sake during nearly seven

decades, did not form Zeisberger's ground of confidence in the

hour of death.

Was it then perhaps his seemingly perfect character? To

us at this distance as well as to his contemporaries David Zeis-

berger appears well-nigh faultless. His famous companion in

labors, John Heckewelder, said of him: "He was endowed with

a good understanding and a sound judgment; a friend and

benefactor of mankind, and justly beloved by all who knew

him, with perhaps the exception of those who were enemies of

the Gospel which he preached." "Experience invariably proved

the correctness of his judgment. Receiving, as it were, a glimpse

of the future, through the deep thoughts and silent prayers in

which he engaged, he stood up, on most occasions, full of con-

fidence and knew no fear." "He would never consent to have

his name put down on a salary-list or become a 'hireling,' as he

termed it; saying that although a salary might be both agree-

able and proper for some missionaries, yet in his case it would

be the contrary."

The language used by the noted Unitarian preacher, Theo-

dore Parker, in his eulogy of the famous missionary, Adoniram

Judson, might with equal truth be applied to David Zeisberger:

"If the Foreign Missionary enterprise had accomplished nothing

more than to produce such a character it had been well worth

all its costs and sacrifices."

But Zeisberger's hope for eternity was built on a better and

stronger foundation than that of his wonderful character. A

few days before his death he gave his last testimony, and the

David Zeisberger

David Zeisberger.                 197


words form the, sum and substance of his creed and experiences:

"As my weakness is continually increasing and my appetite gone,

I believe that the Saviour intends to take me to Himself. Ly-

ing here, often sleepless, on my bed, I have employed the time

in reviewing my whole past life, and I find so many faults,

and so much cause for forgiveness, that nothing remains to me

but His grace. Nevertheless I know that I am His. I trust

in the efficiency of His atoning blood, which makes one clean

from all sin. The Saviour is mine. The Saviour's merits are

mine. Some Christians die rejoicing, with joy unspeakable and

full of glory. This is not my case. I leave the world as a poor

sinner. My spirit God will receive. I am certain of that. This

mortal, with all its sinfulness, I leave behind."

And thus the greatest of Moravian missionaries passed into

the presence of the King and entered the joy of his Lord. The

Christian Church does well to observe the Centennial of his

death. We, of this place, would affectionately call to mind the

heroic youth who helped to found our town and congregation.

Often has he trod this ground on errands of mercy for his

Master. How times have changed! The very soil which his

weary feet frequently pressed has become a source of untold

material wealth. Where nestled some of his mission-stations

huge cement plants are now located. But his name and fame

are far more imperishable even than the products of those great

industries. The wild mountain regions of Pennsylvania which

he so willingly traversed on foot for many years, searching out

and shepherding his brown brethren, for whom Christ died, have

yielded up incalculable treasures of coal, iron and oil, and made

some of his fellow mortals multi-millionaires and "kings of

finance;" but none of them can for a moment compare with him

who coveted only "souls for his hire and as seals of his ministry."

The Territory of Ohio, in which he achieved some of his

mightiest missionary triumphs, has become a great State, and

the so-called "mother of presidents;" but the fame of none of

them will equal his who a century ago left her clime for the

Paradise of God, who having "turned many to righteousness

shall shine as the stars for ever and ever."

Let us not, however, spend our lives and waste our breath

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in mere idle admiration, but let us follow him even as he followed

Christ. Be it ours to seek and find that "full assurance" of our

pardon in the "precious blood;" be it ours to bear witness "to

sinners round" of what "we have personally experienced of

God's grace in our own hearts;" be it ours to turn our backs

upon the world with its treasures and pleasures, "to seek and

to save the lost;" in order that there may be said of us what

was so truthfully affirmed of David Zeisberger in the text of his

funeral sermon a century ago: "They overcame by the blood

of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved

not their lives even unto death." (Rev. 12:11.)


"Soldier of Christ, Well done!

Thy glorious warfare's past!

The battle's fought, the victory won,

And thou art crowned at last!"