Following that lengthy introductions, Hays brings us to the beginning of the Brethren in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany. The following excerpt provides a flavor of his address.
After John Wyclif had given the English Bible to his countrymen (1384); and John Huss of Bohemia did at the stake, because he had based his reform of the church upon conscience and Scripture (1415); after Martin Luther had kindled the fires of the Reformation (1517) and the reformers under him and after him had differed so much among themselves as to persecute each other and those whom they sought to reform - after these wonderful energies had arisen with increased light and wider experiences and had prepared the way for men to think calmly and to act deliberately, in the year 1708 at Schwarenau, Germany, a remnant of persecuted men and women of God organized a system of religious truth at once, simple, profound and comprehensive, and gave to the world the Revival of Primitive Christianity.
When Grecian Philosophy gave its ethical culture to the world, it taught in part man's duty to man, but it ignored his duty to himself and to his God. When Rome gave laws to the world, she held the nations under the iron heel of military power. When the schoolmen revived the peripatetic philosophy and attempted to reconcile revelation and reason, faith and philosophy, it was made the tool of ecclesiastical discipline. And when the Reformation had reached a period of combating the corruptions of Rome, and in turn became intolerant even unto moral hatred by stress of law and force of arms; the revival of Primitive Christianity gave to the world, in 1708, the New Testament as the standard, socially, morally and religiously - a pure life in a faithful, loving service to God.
Thus the Reform Movement reached a climax in the revival of Primitive Christianity in 1708. God in his own time and way was going to plant a great and free nation in America and he chose a people from among the Germans to carry the standard of light and truth to the New World. They were by nature and training fitted to stamp the conscience and morals of society, a mighty force in the development of American Civilization. It was not by accident that the Brethren at the invitation of Wm. Penn came to America, and settled at Germantown near Philadelphia in 1719-29. It was here that they gathered union, strength and character for the wider field which opened before them, and the wonderful activities which followed.
It was here in the year 1754 during the education struggle in which the English planned a system of schools to take from the German his language and his religion, and under the leadership of Christopher Sower, the Germans nobly won ....
It was here in 1777-8 that the struggle for religious liberty occurred between Elder Christopher Sower, as the leader of the Peace people, and the colonial authorities, which resulted in seeming disaster to Brother Sower and the cause of Peace. But God overruled it all, and, in the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, it ended in a triumphant victory for suffering humanity - "absolute religious liberty," and the entire separation of Church and State. This was the greatest triumph for the cause of civilization in history, and the Brethren under the providence of God took an active part through much suffering and persecution in securing full civil and religious liberty for the American people.
Near the end of his lengthy address to the Brethren on the evening of June 10, 1908, Hayes concludes: ...be it said in all meekness and humility, that the church in her separation from the world, and the high standard she has raised for pure morals and a pure life in the practice of primitve Christianity, has led up to all that is good and desirable in modern civiliation.
Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren: Bicentennial Addresses