A history of the moravian church

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And there the humble Brother spoke the truth. As the Brethren returned that evening to Herrnhut, they felt within them a strength and joy they had never known before. They had realised their calling in Christ. They had won the Divine gift of Christian union. They had won that spirit of brotherly love which only the great Good Spirit could give. They had won that sense of fellowship with Christ, and fellowship with one another, which had been the costliest gem in the days of their fathers; and therefore, in future, they honoured the day as the true spiritual birthday of the Renewed Church of the Brethren. It is useless trying to express their feelings in prose. Let us listen to the moving words of the Moravian poet, James Montgomery:--
They walked with God in peace and love,

But failed with one another;

While sternly for the faith they strove,

Brother fell out with brother;

But He in Whom they put their trust,

Who knew their frames, that they were dust,

Pitied and healed their weakness.
He found them in His house of prayer,

With one accord assembled,

And so revealed His presence there,

They wept for joy and trembled;

One cup they drank, one bread they brake,

One baptism shared, one language spake,

Forgiving and forgiven.
Then forth they went, with tongues of flame,

In one blest theme delighting,

The love of Jesus and His Name,

God’s children all uniting!

That love, our theme and watchword still;

That law of love may we fulfil,

And love as we are loved.
The next step was to see that the blessing was not lost {Aug. 27th.}. For this purpose the Brethren, a few days later, arranged a system of Hourly Intercession. As the fire on the altar in the Jewish Temple was never allowed to go out, so the Brethren resolved that in this new temple of the Lord the incense of intercessory prayer should rise continually day and night. Henceforth, Herrnhut in very truth should be the “Watch of the Lord.” The whole day was carefully mapped out, and each Brother or Sister took his or her turn. Of all the prayer unions ever organized surely this was one of the most remarkable. It is said to have lasted without interruption for over a hundred years.


AS we study the social and religious system which now developed at Herrnhut, it is well to bear in mind the fact that when the Count, as lord of the manor, first issued his “Injunctions and Prohibitions,” he was not aware that, in so doing, he was calling back to life once more the discipline of the old Bohemian Brethren. He had not yet read the history of the Brethren, and he had not yet studied Comenius’s “Account of Discipline.” He knew but little of the Brethren’s past, and the little that he knew was wrong; and, having no other plan to guide him, he took as his model the constitution lying ready to hand in the average German village of the day, and adapted that simple constitution to the special needs of the exiles.77 He had no desire to make Herrnhut independent. It was still to be a part of his estate, and conform to the laws of the land; and still to be the home of a “Church within the Church,” as planned by Luther long ago in his famous German Mass.
First, then the Count laid down the rule that all male adults in Herrnhut, no matter to what sect they might belong, should have a voice in the election of twelve Elders; and henceforward these twelve Elders, like those in the neighbouring estates of Silesia, had control over every department of life, and enforced the Injunctions and Prohibitions with an iron hand. They levied the usual rates and taxes to keep the streets and wells in order. They undertook the care of widows and orphans. They watched the relations of single young men and women. They kept a sharp eye on the doings at the inn. They called to order the tellers of evil tales; and they banished from Herrnhut all who disobeyed the laws, or conducted themselves in an unbecoming, frivolous or offensive manner.
The power of the Elders was enormous. If a new refugee desired to settle in Herrnhut, he must first obtain permission from the Elders. If a settler desired to go on a journey, he must first obtain permission from the Elders. If a man desired to build a house; if a trader desired to change his calling; if an apprentice desired to leave his master; if a visitor desired to stay the night, he must first obtain permission from the Elders. If a man fell in love and desired to marry, he must first obtain the approval of the Elders; and until that approval had been obtained, he was not allowed to propose to the choice of his heart. Let us see the reason for this remarkable strictness.
As the Brethren settled down in Herrnhut, they endeavoured, under the Count’s direction, to realize the dignity of labour. For rich and poor, for Catholic and Protestant, for all able-bodied men and women, the same stern rule held good. If a man desired to settle at Herrnhut, the one supreme condition was that he earned his bread by honest toil, and lived a godly, righteous and sober life. For industrious Catholics there was a hearty welcome; for vagabonds, tramps and whining beggars there was not a bed to spare. If a man would work he might stay, and worship God according to his conscience; but if he was lazy, he was ordered off the premises. As the Brethren met on Sunday morning for early worship in the public hall, they joined with one accord in the prayer, “Bless the sweat of the brow and faithfulness in business”; and the only business they allowed was business which they could ask the Lord to bless. To them work was a sacred duty, a delight and a means for the common good. If a man is blessed who has found his work, then blessed were the folk at Herrnhut. “We do not work to live,” said the Count; “we live to work.” The whole aim was the good of each and the good of all. As the grocer stood behind his counter, or the weaver plied his flying shuttle, he was toiling, not for himself alone, but for all his Brethren and Sisters. If a man desired to set up in business, he had first to obtain the permission of the Elders; and the Elders refused to grant the permission unless they thought that the business in question was needed by the rest of the people. “No brother,” ran the law at Herrnhut, “shall compete with his brother in trade.” No man was allowed to lend money on interest without the consent of the Elders. If two men had any dispute in business, they must come to terms within a week; and if they did not, or went to law, they were expelled. If a man could buy an article in Herrnhut, he was not allowed to buy it anywhere else.
It is easy to see the purpose of these regulations. They were an attempt to solve the social problem, to banish competition, and to put co-operation in its place. For some years the scheme was crowned with glorious success. The settlement grew; the trade flourished; the great firm of Dürninger obtained a world-wide reputation; the women were skilled in weaving and spinning; and the whole system worked so well that in 1747 the Saxon Government besought the Count to establish a similar settlement at Barby. At Herrnhut, in a word, if nowhere else, the social problem was solved. There, at least, the aged and ill could live in peace and comfort; there grim poverty was unknown; there the widow and orphan were free from carking care; and there men and women of humble rank had learned the truth that when men toil for the common good there is a perennial nobleness in work.78
For pleasure the Brethren had neither time nor taste. They worked, on the average, sixteen hours a day, allowed only five hours for sleep, and spent the remaining three at meals and meetings. The Count was as Puritanic as Oliver Cromwell himself. For some reason he had come to the conclusion that the less the settlers knew of pleasure the better, and therefore he laid down the law that all strolling popular entertainers should be forbidden to enter the holy city. No public buffoon ever cracked his jokes at Herrnhut. No tight-rope dancer poised on giddy height. No barrel-dancer rolled his empty barrel. No tout for lotteries swindled the simple. No juggler mystified the children. No cheap-jack cheated the innocent maidens. No quack-doctor sold his nasty pills. No melancholy bear made his feeble attempt to dance. For the social joys of private life the laws were stricter still. At Herrnhut, ran one comprehensive clause, there were to be no dances whatever, no wedding breakfasts, no christening bumpers, no drinking parties, no funeral feasts, and no games like those played in the surrounding villages. No bride at Herrnhut ever carried a bouquet. No sponsor ever gave the new arrival a mug or a silver spoon.
For sins of the coarse and vulgar kind there was no mercy. If a man got drunk, or cursed, or stole, or used his fists, or committed adultery or fornication, he was expelled, and not permitted to return till he had given infallible proofs of true repentance. No guilty couple were allowed to “cheat the parson.” No man was allowed to strike his wife, and no wife was allowed to henpeck her husband; and any woman found guilty of the latter crime was summoned before the board of Elders and reprimanded in public.
Again, the Count insisted on civil order. He appointed a number of other officials. Some, called servants, had to clean the wells, to sweep the streets, to repair the houses, and to trim the gardens. For the sick there was a board of sick waiters; for the poor a board of almoners; for the wicked a board of monitors; for the ignorant a board of schoolmasters; and each board held a conference every week. Once a week, on Saturday nights, the Elders met in Council; once a week, on Monday mornings, they announced any new decrees; and all inhabitants vowed obedience to them as Elders, to the Count as Warden, and finally to the law of the land. Thus had the Count, as lord of the manor, drawn up a code of civil laws to be binding on all. We have finished the Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions. We come to the free religious life of the community.
Let us first clear a difficulty out of the way. As the Count was a loyal son of the Lutheran Church, and regarded the Augsburg Confession as inspired,79 it seems, at first sight, a marvellous fact that here at Herrnhut he allowed the Brethren to take steps which led ere long to the renewal of their Church. He allowed them to sing Brethren’s Hymns; he allowed them to revive old Brethren’s customs; he allowed them to hold independent meetings; and he even resolved to do his best to revive the old Church himself. His conduct certainly looked very inconsistent. If a man in England were to call himself a loyal member of the Anglican Church, and yet at the same time do his very best to found an independent denomination, he would soon be denounced as a traitor to the Church and a breeder of schism and dissent. But the Count’s conduct can be easily explained. It was all due to his ignorance of history. He had no idea that the Bohemian Brethren had ever been an independent Church. He regarded them as a branch of the Reformed persuasion. He regarded them as a “Church within the Church,” of the kind for which Luther had longed, and which Spener had already established. He held his delusion down to the end of his days; and, therefore, as Lutheran and Pietist alike, he felt at liberty to help the Brethren in all their religious endeavours.
For this purpose, therefore, he asked the settlers at Herrnhut to sign their names to a voluntary “Brotherly Union”; and the chief condition of the “Union” was that all the members agreed to live in friendship with Christians of other denominations, and also to regard themselves as members of the Lutheran Church. They attended the regular service at the Parish Church. There they took the Holy Communion; there they had their children baptized; and there the young people were confirmed.
Meanwhile the movement at Herrnhut was growing fast. The great point was to guard against religious poison. As the Count had a healthy horror of works of darkness, he insisted that no meetings should be held without a light; and the Brethren set their faces against superstition. They forbade ghost-stories; they condemned the popular old-wives’ tales about tokens, omens and death-birds; they insisted that, in case of illness, no meddling busybody should interfere with the doctor; and thus, as homely, practical folk, they aimed at health of body and of mind.
But the chief object of their ambition was health of soul. As the revival deepened, the number of meetings increased. Not a day passed without three meetings for the whole congregation. At five in the morning they met in the hall, and joined in a chorus of praise. At the dinner hour they met again, and then, about nine o’clock, after supper, they sang themselves to rest. At an early period the whole congregation was divided into ninety unions for prayer, and each band met two or three times a week. The night was as sacred as the day. As the night-watchman went his rounds, he sang a verse at the hour, as follows:--
The clock is eight! to Herrnhut all is told,

How Noah and his seven were saved of old,

Hear, Brethren, hear! the hour of nine is come!

Keep pure each heart, and chasten every home!

Hear, Brethren, hear! now ten the hour-hand shows;

They only rest who long for night’s repose.

The clock’s eleven, and ye have heard it all,

How in that hour the mighty God did call.

It’s midnight now, and at that hour you know,

With lamp to meet the bridegroom we must go.

The hour is one; through darkness steals the day;

Shines in your hearts the morning star’s first ray?

The clock is two! who comes to meet the day,

And to the Lord of days his homage pay?

The clock is three! the Three in One above

Let body, soul and spirit truly love.

The clock is four! where’er on earth are three,

The Lord has promised He the fourth will be.

The clock is five! while five away were sent,

Five other virgins to the marriage went!

The clock is six, and from the watch I’m free,

And every one may his own watchman be!
At this task all male inhabitants, over sixteen and under sixty, took their turn. The watchman, in the intervals between the hours, sang other snatches of sacred song; and thus anyone who happened to be lying awake was continually reminded of the presence of God.
On Sunday nearly every hour of the day was occupied by services. At five there was a short meeting, known as the “morning blessing.” From six to nine there were meetings for the several “choirs.” At ten there was a special service for children. At eleven there was morning worship in the Parish Church. At one the Chief Elder gave a general exhortation. At three, or thereabouts, there was a meeting, called the “strangers’ service,” for those who had not been able to go to Church; and then the Count or some other layman repeated the morning sermon. At four there was another service at Berthelsdorf; at eight another service at Herrnhut; at nine the young men marched round the settlement singing hymns; and on Monday morning these wonderful folk returned to their labour like giants refreshed with new wine. Their powers of endurance were miraculous. The more meetings they had the more they seemed able to stand. Sometimes the good Pastor Schwedler, of Görlitz, would give them a sermon three hours long; and sometimes, commencing at six in the morning, he held his congregation enthralled till three in the afternoon.
Again, the Brethren listened day by day to a special message from God. We come now to the origin of the Moravian Text-book. As the Count was a great believer in variety, he very soon started the practice, at the regular evening singing meeting, of giving the people a short address on some Scriptural text or some verse from a hymn. As soon as the singing meeting was over he read out to the company the chosen passage, recommended it as a suitable subject for meditation the following day, and next morning had the text passed round by the Elders to every house in Herrnhut. Next year (1728) the practice was better organized. Instead of waiting for the Count to choose, the Elders selected in advance a number of texts and verses, and put them all together into a box; and then, each evening, one of the Elders put his hand into the box and drew the text for the following day. The idea was that of a special Providence. If Christ, said the Count, took a special interest in every one of His children, He would also take the same kindly interest in every company of believers; and, therefore, He might be safely trusted to guide the hand of the Elder aright and provide the “watchword” needed for the day. Again and again he exhorted the Brethren to regard the text for the day as God’s special message to them; and finally, in 1731, he had the texts for the whole year printed, and thus began that Brethren’s Text-book which now appears regularly every year, is issued in several tongues, and circulates, in every quarter of the globe, among Christians of all denominations.80
In order, next, to keep in touch with their fellow-Christians the Brethren instituted a monthly Saturday meeting, and that Saturday came to be known as “Congregation Day.” {Feb. 10th, 1728.} At this meeting the Brethren listened to reports of evangelical work in other districts. Sometimes there would be a letter from a travelling Brother; sometimes a visitor from some far-distant strand. The meeting was a genuine sign of moral health. It fostered broadness of mind, and put an end to spiritual pride. Instead of regarding themselves as Pietists, superior to the average professing Christians, the Brethren now rejoiced to hear of the good done by others. They prayed not for their own narrow circle alone, but for all rulers, all churches, and all people that on earth do dwell; and delighted to sing old Brethren’s hymns, treating of the Church Universal, such as John Augusta’s “Praise God for ever” and “How amiable Thy tabernacles are.” At this monthly meeting the Count was in his element. He would keep his audience enthralled for hours together. He would read them first a piece of news in vivid, dramatic style; then he would suddenly strike up a missionary hymn; then he would give them a little more information; and thus he taught them to take an interest in lands beyond the sea.
Another sign of moral health was the “Love-feast.” As the Brethren met in each other’s houses, they attempted, in quite an unofficial way, to revive the Agape of Apostolic times; and to this end they provided a simple meal of rye-bread and water, wished each other the wish, “Long live the Lord Jesus in our hearts,” and talked in a free-and-easy fashion about the Kingdom of God. And here the Brethren were on their guard. In the days of the Apostles there had been scandals. The rich had brought their costly food, and the poor had been left to pine. At Herrnhut this scandal was avoided. For rich and poor the diet was the same, and came from a common fund; in later years it was white bread and tea; and in due time the Love-feast took the form of a meeting for the whole congregation.
Again, the Brethren were wonderfully simple-minded. As we read about their various meetings, it is clear that in their childlike way they were trying to revive the institutions of Apostolic times. For this purpose they even practised the ceremony of foot-washing, as described in the Gospel of St. John. To the Count the clear command of Christ was decisive. “If I then, your Lord and Master,” said Jesus, “have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” What words, said the Count, could be more binding than these? “No man,” he declared, “can read John xiii. without being convinced that this should be done.” He revived the custom, and made it both popular and useful. The ceremony was generally performed by the young, before some special festival. It spread in time to England and Ireland, and was not abandoned till the early years of the nineteenth century81 (1818).
We come now to the origin of the “choirs.” As Zinzendorf studied the Gospel story, he came to the conclusion that in the life of Jesus Christ there was something specially suitable to each estate in life. For the married people there was Christ, the Bridegroom of His Bride, the Church; for the single Brethren, the “man about thirty years of age”; for the single Sisters, the Virgin Mary; for the children, the boy in the temple asking questions. The idea took root. The more rapidly the settlement grew, the more need there was for division and organization. For each class the Master had a special message, and, therefore, each class must have its special meetings and study its special duties. For this purpose a band of single men--led by the ascetic Martin Linner, who slept on bare boards--agreed to live in one house, spent the evenings in united study, and thus laid the basis of the Single Brethren’s Choir {Aug. 29th, 1728.}. For the same purpose the single young women, led by Anna Nitschmann, agreed to live in a “Single Sisters’ House,” and made a covenant with one another that henceforward they would not make matrimony the highest aim in life, but would rather, like Mary of Bethany, sit at the feet of Christ and learn of Him {May 4th, 1730.}. For the same purpose the married people met at a love-feast, formed the “married choir,” and promised to lead a pure and holy life {Sept. 7th, 1733.}, “so that their children might be plants of righteousness.” For the same purpose the children, in due time, were formed into a “children’s choir.” The whole aim was efficiency and order. At first the unions were voluntary; in time they became official.
As the years rolled on the whole congregation was systematically divided into ten “choirs,” as follows:--The married choir, the widowers, the widows, the Single Brethren, the Single Sisters, the youths, the great girls, the little boys, the little girls, the infants in arms. Each choir had its own president, its own special services, its own festival day, its own love-feasts. Of these choirs the most important were those of the Single Brethren and Single Sisters. As the Brethren at Herrnhut were soon to be busy in evangelistic labours, they found it convenient to have in their ranks a number of men and women who were not bound down by family ties; and though the young people took no celibate vows, they often kept single through life for the sake of the growing cause.
The system invaded the sanctity of family life. As the Count was a family man himself, he very properly took the deepest interest in the training of little children; and, in season and out of season, he insisted that the children of Christian parents should be screened from the seductions of the world, the flesh and the devil. “It is nothing less than a scandal,” he said, “that people think so little of the fact that their children are dedicated to the Lord. Children are little kings; their baptism is their anointing; and as kings they ought to be treated from the first.” For this purpose he laid down the rule that all infants should be baptized in the hall, in the presence of the whole congregation; and as soon as the children were old enough to learn, he had them taken from their homes, and put the little boys in one school and the little girls in another. And thus the burden of their education fell not on the parents, but on the congregation.
Again, the Count carried out his ideas in the “vasty halls of death.” Of all the sacred spots in Herrnhut there were none more sacred and more awe-inspiring than the “God’s Acre” which the Brethren laid out on the Hutberg. There, in the bosom of Mother Earth, the same division into choirs was preserved. To the Count the tomb was a holy place. If a visitor ever came to Herrnhut, he was sure to take him to the God’s Acre, and tell him the story of those whose bones awaited the resurrection of the just. The God’s Acre became the scene of an impressive service {1733.}. At an early hour on Easter Sunday the Brethren assembled in the sacred presence of the dead, and waited for the sun to rise. As the golden rim appeared on the horizon, the minister spoke the first words of the service. “The Lord is risen,” said the minister. “He is risen indeed!” responded the waiting throng. And then, in the beautiful language of Scripture, the Brethren joined in a solemn confession of faith. The trombones that woke the morning echoes led the anthem of praise, and one and all, in simple faith, looked onward to the glorious time when those who lay in the silent tomb should hear the voice of the Son of God, and be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. To the Brethren the tomb was no abode of dread. In a tomb the Lord Himself had lain; in a tomb His humble disciples lay “asleep”; and therefore, when a brother departed this life, the mourners never spoke of him as dead. “He is gone home,” they said; and so death lost his sting.

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