The Importance of Book Serendipity (1727 Version)

Serendipity is being in the right place at the right time.

Book serendipity is stumbling upon the right book at the right time.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines serendipity as the “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.”

When those valuable or pleasant things are books, that’s book serendipity.

Book serendipity is always a pleasant surprise. It can be life-changing. It can sometimes change the course of history, as we will see.

Browsing for books, therefore, is also important — browsing and being open to new ideas.

Book serendipity happened in a library in Zittau, Germany in the summer of 1727. The lucky browser was Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf.

For five years Zinzendorf had been allowing some religious refugees to build a settlement on his property. He himself was Lutheran, and was pursuing the spiritual renewal of the Lutheran church in Berthelsdorf, a town on his property. The refugees had set up a town a mile away, also on Zinzendorf’s property, and called it Hernnhut.

The refugees had come from several different religious backgrounds. The Count welcomed them all. It was a kind of melting pot.

One of the churches in this pot was the Church of the Brethren. This church was close to becoming a historical footnote. Its identity was in danger of melting away.

What happened next, according to historian Joseph Hutton, was the right book at the right time.

The book Zinzendorf found in that library was written by John Amos Comenius.

Comenius had been a minister in his twenties when the Thirty Years War broke out in 1618. Soon after, Comenius was forced to flee his town and eventually his country. While all this was happening, his wife and one of his children died.

With most of his life ahead of him, Comenius lost his family, his church, and his homeland.

He moved to Poland and became a teacher. He also worked for the preservation of his church.

The Church of the Brethren was being decimated by the war. Comenius worked for their survival. He wrote and planned and talked about the “Hidden Seed.”

This is what he called the remnant of his beloved church. He was convinced that God would revive the Hidden Seed.

Comenius never saw this hope fulfilled. He died in 1672.

Fifty years later, some scattered members of the Church of the Brethren began to gather at Hernnhut.

Five years after that, book serendipity.

When Zinzendorf read Comenius’ book, he recognized a like-minded brother. The church Comenius described captured Zinzendorf’s heart. It was exactly the kind of church that he had devoted his life to realizing within Lutheranism.

Zinzendorf dedicated himself to the restoration of the Church of the Brethren. Joseph Hutton describes how he shared his discovery with the Brethren on his property:

He returned to Herrnhut, reported his find, and read the good people extracts from the book. 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.

This was in early August, 1727. Later that month, revival came to Herrnhut. The Holy Spirit moved among the people in a special communion service. God visited Herrnhut and transformed the community. Comenius’s Hidden Seed began to bloom.