14. Wycliffe, Huss, and Zinzendorf
THE Inquisition and the devastating wars
which the popes and the Councils directed against the Albigenses and Waldenses
during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, had scattered some of them over
Europe, where they settled mostly in Germany, Poland, and Bohemia. “Others
turning to the west obtained refuge in
“John Wycliffe was the herald of
reform, not for
“The struggle against the Waldenses . .
. was as nothing compared to the trouble that broke out in the Bohemian church
when Wycliffism had taken root in that country . . . . . about the year 1400
Jerome, M.A., of Prague had been at Oxford, and from thence had brought with
him to Prague Wycliffe’s ‘Dialogus’ and ‘Trialogus,’ and in 1403 John Huss
stepped out openly as one of Wycliffe’s disciples.” - “Haandbog i Kirkens
Historie” (Handbook of Church History), Vol. II, p. 874, ed. of 1893.
After Huss was burned,
“All Hussites were agreed upon yielding
obedience to the ‘law of God.’ . . . Those of
“If any one after the middle of the
fifteenth century wanted to find genuine disciples of Wycliffe and Huss in
Bohemia he had to go to the eastern border where the remnant of the Taborites,
as ‘the quiet in the land’ in strict discipline endeavoured to follow the law
of God. At the close of the fifteenth century there were in Bohemia and Moravia
about two hundred churches of the ‘Brethren,’ who rejected all connection with
the Roman church and had their own ministers and bishops, who through a
Waldensian Bishop from Austria believed they had preserved the apostolic succession.
. . . Time and again they were subject to bloody persecutions.” -
We shall now show that these Waldensian and Hussite brethren were Sabbath-keepers. Dr. R. Cox says: “I find from a passage in Erasmus that at the early period of the Reformation when he wrote, there were Sabbatarians in Bohemia, who not only kept the seventh day, but were said to be . . . scrupulous in resting on it.” Erasmus’ statement follows: “Now we hear that among the Bohemians a new kind of Jews has arisen called Sabbatarians, who observe the Sabbath.” - “Literature of the Sabbath Question,” Cox, Vol. II, pp. 201, 202.
Bishop A. Grimelund of
About the year 1520 many of these
Sabbath-keepers found shelter on the estate of Lord Leonhard, of Lichtenstein,
“as the princes of Lichtenstein held to the observance of the true Sabbath.” - “History
of the Sabbath,” J. N. Andrews, p. 649, ed. 1912. Lord Leonhard asked the
Sabbatarians to submit to him a statement of their belief, which was sent to
Wolfgang Capito, a leading Strassburg Reformer, and to Caspar Schwenkfeld. This
document is lost, but Schwenkfeld’s answer to it (printed in 1599) contains
several quotations from it, showing that their arguments for the seventh day
were much the same as those used by Seventh-day Adventists today. In 1535 they
were driven from their homes by persecution, but “once more they were granted
respite.” Finally in 1547 the king of
Scattered and torn by persecution, the old sect of Moravian Brethren wandered about till about the year 1720 Count Zinzendorf invited them to his estate, later called Herrnhut. He began to keep the Sabbath, and became the leader of these Brethren and the head of a great missionary movement. Bishop A. G. Spangenberg says of him:
“He loved to stick to the plain text of the Scriptures, believing that rather simplicity than art is required to understand it. When he found anything in the Bible stated in such plain language that a child could understand, he could not well bear to have one depart from it.” – “Leben des Grafen. Zinzendorf” (Life of Count Zinzendorf), pp. 3, 546, 547, 1774.
In 1738 Zinzendorf wrote of his keeping the Sabbath thus:
“That I have employed the Sabbath for rest many years already, and our Sunday for the proclamation of the gospel that I have done without design, and in simplicity of heart.” - “Budingsche Sammlung” Sec. 8, p. 224. Leipzig: 1742.
Spangenberg gives some of Zinzendorfs reasons for keeping the seventh day holy:
“On the one hand, he believed that the seventh day was sanctified and set apart as a rest day immediately after creation; but on the other hand, and principally, because his eyes were directed to the rest of our Saviour Jesus Christ in the grave on the seventh day.” - “Leben des Grafen Zinzendorf’ pp. 5, 1422, note.
In 1741 he journeyed to Bethlehem, Pa., where some Moravian Brethren had settled. Of his work there Spangenberg relates:
“As a special instance it deserves to be noticed that he is resolved with the church at Bethlehem to observe the seventh day m rest day. The matter had been previously considered by the church council in all its details, and all the reasons pro and con were carefully weighed, whereby they arrived at the unanimous agreement to keep the said day as Sabbath.” - Id., pp. 5, 1421, 1422. (See also “ Varnhagen von Ense Biographische Denkmale,” pp. 5, 301. Berlin: 1846.)
The church records of the Bethlehem Moravian Church (now in the Moravian Seminary archives, and dated June 13 0. S., or June 24 N. S., 1742) has this paragraph:
“The Sabbath is to be observed in quietness and in fervent communion with the Saviour. It is a day that was given to all nations according to the law for rest, for the Jews observed it not so much as Jews as human being.”
Persecution in the United States
But even in the United States, Sabbath-keepers had endured more or less persecution, and when, on the second of October, 1798, a member of their Ephrata society was haled into court for working on Sunday, the judge read a letter, which George Washington wrote to the Baptists of Virginia, dated August 4, 1798, in which he assured them of full religious liberty. It was not easy, however, for the people to grasp the truth that religious liberty is an inherent right, and that governments are instituted to protect the individual in his God-given rights, and that church and state are to be kept separate. (Luke 20: 25) The champions of liberty had a long, hard fight to secure the adoption and ratification of the Federal Constitution and its First Amendment, and it will take the utmost watchfulness by the friends of freedom to retain the liberty there guaranteed.
When the Constitution was drafted and made its appearance, the friends of religious liberty, especially those who had been oppressed under the religious establishments of the colonies, felt that liberty of conscience was not sufficiently secured by the proposed Constitution. While Article 6 forbade religious tests as a qualification for office under the government, there was no guaranty against religious tests and religious intolerance to those not in office. So on May 8, 1789, the United Baptist churches of Virginia addressed a communication to George Washington, in which they gave expression to the prevailing fears in this matter. Washington replied as follows: “If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed by the convention where I had the honour to preside might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the errors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution. For, you doubtless remember, I have often expressed in sentiments that any man, conducting himself as a good citizen and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” – “History of the Baptists,” Thomas Armitage”, D. D., pages 806, 807.
About a month later, James Madison, with the approval of George Washington, introduced in the first Congress that met under the new Constitution, the first ten amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, the first of which enjoins Congress from all religious legislation. It is as follows:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Thus the champions of liberty secured for the citizens of the new republic full liberty of conscience to worship, freedom of speech and of the press, and it will take eternal vigilance to retain these rights unimpaired. See “American State Papers,” William Addison Blakely, pp. 152, 153, revised edition. Washington, D. C.: 1911.