A history of the moravian church

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Again, the Brethren had a strong belief in direct answers to prayer. It was this that led them to make such use of the “Lot.” As soon as the first twelve Elders were elected, the Brethren chose from among the twelve a committee of four by Lot; and in course of time the Lot was used for a great variety of purposes. By the Lot, as we shall see later on, the most serious ecclesiastical problems were settled. By the Lot a sister determined her answer to an offer of marriage. By the Lot a call to service was given, and by the Lot it was accepted or rejected. If once the Lot had been consulted, the decision was absolute and binding. The prayer had been answered, the Lord had spoken, and the servant must now obey.82
We have now to mention but one more custom, dating from those great days. It is one peculiar to the Brethren’s Church, and is known as the “Cup of Covenant.” It was established by the Single Brethren, {1729.} and was based on the act of Christ Himself, as recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke. As the Master sat with His twelve disciples in the Upper Room at Jerusalem, we are told that just before the institution of the Lord’s Supper,83 “He took the Cup and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves’”; and now, in obedience to this command, this ardent band of young disciples made a covenant to be true to Christ, and passed the Cup from hand to hand. Whenever a young brother was called out to the mission field, the whole choir would meet and entrust him to Christ in this simple and scriptural way. It was the pledge at once of united service and united trust. It spread, in course of time, to the other choirs; it is practised still at the annual choir festivals; and its meaning is best expressed in the words of the Brethren’s Covenant Hymn:--
Assembling here, a humble band,

Our covenantal pledge to take,

We pass the cup from hand to hand,

From heart to heart, for His dear sake.
It remains to answer two important questions. As we study the life of the Herrnhut Brethren, we cannot possibly fail to notice how closely their institutions resembled the old institutions of the Bohemian Brethren. We have the same care for the poor, the same ascetic ideal of life, the same adherence to the word of Scripture, the same endeavour to revive Apostolic practice, the same semi-socialistic tendency, the same aspiration after brotherly unity, the same title, “Elder,” for the leading officials, and the same, or almost the same, method of electing some of these officials by Lot. And, therefore, we naturally ask the question, how far were these Brethren guided by the example of their fathers? The reply is, not at all. At this early stage in their history the Moravian refugees at Herrnhut knew absolutely nothing of the institutions of the Bohemian Brethren.84 They had no historical records in their possession; they had not preserved any copies of the ancient laws; they brought no books but hymn-books across the border; and they framed their rules and organized their society before they had even heard of the existence of Comenius’s “Account of Discipline.” The whole movement at Herrnhut was free, spontaneous, original. It was not an imitation of the past. It was not an attempt to revive the Church of the Brethren. It was simply the result of Zinzendorf’s attempt to apply the ideals of the Pietist Spener to the needs of the settlers on his estate.
The second question is, what was the ecclesiastical standing of the Brethren at this time? They were not a new church or sect. They had no separate ministry of their own. They were members of the Lutheran Church, regarded Rothe still as their Pastor, attended the Parish Church on Sundays, and took the Communion there once a month; and what distinguished them from the average orthodox Lutheran of the day was, not any peculiarity of doctrine, but rather their vivid perception of a doctrine common to all the Churches. As the Methodists in England a few years later exalted the doctrine of “conversion,” so these Brethren at Herrnhut exalted the doctrine of the spiritual presence of Christ. To them the ascended Christ was all in all. He had preserved the “Hidden Seed.” He had led them out from Moravia. He had brought them to a watch-tower. He had delivered them from the secret foe. He had banished the devouring demon of discord, had poured out His Holy Spirit upon them at their memorable service in the Parish Church, and had taught them to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. He was the “Bridegroom of the Soul,” the “Blood Relation of His People,” the “King’s Son seeking for His Bride, the Church,” the “Chief Elder pleading for the Church before God.” And this thought of the living and reigning Christ was, therefore, the ruling thought among the Brethren. He had done three marvellous things for the sons of men. He had given His life as a “ransom” for sin, and had thereby reconciled them to God; He had set the perfect example for them to follow; He was present with them now as Head of the Church; and thus, when the Brethren went out to preach, they made His Sacrificial Death, His Holy Life, and His abiding presence the main substance of their Gospel message.


BUT Zinzendorf was not long allowed to tread the primrose path of peace. As the news of his proceedings spread in Germany, many orthodox Lutherans began to regard him as a nuisance, a heretic, and a disturber of the peace; and one critic made the elegant remark: “When Count Zinzendorf flies up into the air, anyone who pulls him down by the legs will do him a great service.” He was accused of many crimes, and had many charges to answer. He was accused of founding a new sect, a society for laziness; he was accused of holding strange opinions, opposed to the teaching of the Lutheran Church; he was accused of being a sham Christian, a sort of religious freak; and now he undertook the task of proving that these accusations were false, and of showing all fair-minded men in Germany that the Brethren at Herrnhut were as orthodox as Luther, as respected as the King, and as pious as good old Dr. Spener himself. His methods were bold and straightforward.
He began by issuing a manifesto {Aug. 12th, 1729.}, entitled the “Notariats-Instrument.” As this document was signed by all the Herrnhut Brethren, they must have agreed to its statements; but, on the other hand, it is fairly certain that it was drawn up by Zinzendorf himself. It throws a flood of light on his state of mind. He had begun to think more highly of the Moravian Church. He regarded the Moravians as the kernel of the Herrnhut colony, and now he deliberately informed the public that, so far from being a new sect, these Moravians were descendants of an ancient Church. They were, he declared, true heirs of the Church of the Brethren; and that Church, in days gone by, had been recognized by Luther, Calvin and others as a true Church of Christ. In doctrine that Church was as orthodox as the Lutheran; in discipline it was far superior. As long, therefore, as the Brethren were allowed to do so, they would maintain their old constitution and discipline; and yet, on the other hand, they would not be Dissenters. They were not Hussites; they were not Waldenses; they were not Fraticelli; they honoured the Augsburg Confession; they would still attend the Berthelsdorf Parish Church; and, desirous of cultivating fellowship with all true Christians, they announced their broad position in the sentence: “We acknowledge no public Church of God except where the pure Word of God is preached, and where the members live as holy children of God.” Thus Zinzendorf made his policy fairly clear. He wanted to preserve the Moravian Church inside the Lutheran Church!85
His next move was still more daring. He was a man of fine missionary zeal. As the woman who found the lost piece of silver invited her friends and neighbours to share in her joy, so Zinzendorf wished all Christians to share in the treasure which he had discovered at Herrnhut. He believed that the Brethren there were called to a world-wide mission. He wanted Herrnhut to be a city set on a hill. “I have no sympathy,” he said, “with those comfortable people who sit warming themselves before the fire of the future life.” He did not sit long before the fire himself. He visited the University of Jena, founded a society among the students, and so impressed the learned Spangenberg that that great theological scholar soon became a Brother at Herrnhut himself. He visited the University of Halle, and founded another society of students there. He visited Elmsdorf in Vogtland, and founded a society consisting of members of the family of Count Reuss. He visited Berleburg in Westphalia, made the acquaintance of John Conrad Dippel, and tried to lead that straying sheep back to the Lutheran fold. He visited Budingen in Hesse, discoursed on Christian fellowship to the “French Prophets,” or “Inspired Ones,” and tried to teach their hysterical leader, Rock, a little wisdom, sobriety and charity. He attended the coronation of Christian VI., King of Denmark, at Copenhagen, was warmly welcomed by His Majesty, received the Order of the Danebrog, saw Eskimos from Greenland and a negro from St. Thomas, and thus opened the door, as we shall see later on, for the great work of foreign missions. Meanwhile, he was sending messengers in all directions. He sent two Brethren to Copenhagen, with a short historical account of Herrnhut. He sent two others to London to see the Queen, and to open up negotiations with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He sent another to Sweden; others to Hungary and Austria; others to Switzerland; others to Moravia; others to the Baltic Provinces, Livonia and Esthonia. And everywhere his object was the same--the formation of societies for Christian fellowship within the National Church.
At this point, however, he acted like a fanatic, and manifested the first symptoms of that weak trait in his character which nearly wrecked his career. As he pondered one day on the state of affairs at Herrnhut, it suddenly flashed upon his mind that the Brethren would do far better without their ancient constitution. He first consulted the Elders and Helpers {Jan. 7th, 1731.}; he then summoned the whole congregation; and there and then he deliberately proposed that the Brethren should abolish their regulations, abandon their constitution, cease to be Moravians and become pure Lutherans. At that moment Zinzendorf was calmly attempting to destroy the Moravian Church. He did not want to see that Church revive. For some reason of his own, which he never explained in print, he had come to the conclusion that the Brethren would serve Christ far better without any special regulations of their own. But the Brethren were not disposed to meek surrender. The question was keenly debated. At length, however, both sides agreed to appeal to a strange tribunal. For the first time in the history of Herrnhut a critical question of Church policy was submitted to the Lot.86 The Brethren took two slips of paper and put them into a box. On the first were the words, “To them that are without law, as without law, that I might gain them that are without law,” 1 Cor. ix. 21; on the second the words, “Therefore, Brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught,” 2 Thess. ii. 15. At that moment the fate of the Church hung in the balance; the question at issue was one of life and death; and the Brethren spent a long time in anxious prayer. If the first slip of paper was drawn, the Church would cease to exist; if the second, she might still live by the blessing of God. Young Christel, Zinzendorf’s son, now entered the room. He drew the second slip of paper, and the Moravian Church was saved. To Zinzendorf this was an event of momentous importance. As soon as that second slip of paper was drawn, he felt convinced that God had sanctioned the renewal of the Moravian Church.
Next year an event occurred to strengthen his convictions. A body of commissioners from Dresden appeared at Herrnhut {Jan. 19-22, 1732.}. They attended all the Sunday services, had private interviews with the Brethren, and sent in their report to the Saxon Government. The Count’s conduct had excited public alarm. He had welcomed not only Moravians at Herrnhut, but Schwenkfelders at Berthelsdorf; and, therefore, he was now suspected of harbouring dangerous fanatics. For a long time the issue hung doubtful; but finally the Government issued a decree that while the Schwenkfelders must quit the land, the Moravians should be allowed to stay as long as they behaved themselves quietly {April 4th, 1733.}.
But Zinzendorf was not yet satisfied. He regarded the edict as an insult. The words about “behaving quietly” looked like a threat. As long as the Brethren were merely “tolerated,” their peace was in constant danger; and a King who had driven out the Schwenkfelders might soon drive out the Herrnhuters. He was disgusted. At the time when the edict was issued, he himself was returning from a visit to Tübingen. He had laid the whole case of the Brethren before the Tübingen Theological Faculty. He had asked these theological experts to say whether the Brethren could keep their discipline and yet be considered good Lutherans; and the experts, in reply, had declared their opinion that the Herrnhut Brethren were as loyal Lutherans as any in the land. Thus the Brethren were standing now on a shaky floor. According to the Tübingen Theological Faculty they were good members of the National Church; according to the Government they were a “sect” to be tolerated!
Next year he adopted three defensive measures {1734.}. First, he divided the congregation at Herrnhut into two parts, the Moravian and the purely Lutheran; next, he had himself ordained as a Lutheran clergyman; and third, he despatched a few Moravians to found a colony in Georgia. He was now, he imagined, prepared for the worst. If the King commanded the Moravians to go, the Count had his answer ready. As he himself was a Lutheran clergyman, he would stay at Herrnhut and minister to the Herrnhut Lutherans; and the Moravians could all sail away to Georgia, and live in perfect peace in the land of the free.
Next year he made his position stronger still {1735.}. As the Moravians in Georgia would require their own ministers, he now had David Nitschmann consecrated a Bishop by Bishop Daniel Ernest Jablonsky (March 13th). The new Bishop was not to exercise his functions in Germany. He was a Bishop for the foreign field only; he sailed with the second batch of colonists for Georgia; and thus Zinzendorf maintained the Moravian Episcopal Succession, not from any sectarian motives, but because he wished to help the Brethren when the storm burst over their heads.
For what really happened, however, Zinzendorf was unprepared {1736.}. As he made these various arrangements for the Brethren, he entirely overlooked the fact that he himself was in greater danger than they. He was far more widely hated than he imagined. He was condemned by the Pietists because he had never experienced their sudden and spasmodic method of conversion. He offended his own relatives when he became a clergyman; he was accused of having disgraced his rank as a Count; he disgusted a number of other noblemen at Dresden; and the result of this strong feeling was that Augustus III., King of Saxony, issued an edict banishing Zinzendorf from his kingdom. He was accused in this Royal edict of three great crimes. He had introduced religious novelties; he had founded conventicles; and he had taught false doctrine. Thus Zinzendorf was banished from Saxony as a heretic. As soon, however, as the Government had dealt with Zinzendorf, they sent a second Commission to Herrnhut; and the second Commission came to the conclusion that the Brethren were most desirable Lutherans, and might be allowed to stay. Dr. Löscher, one of the commissioners, burst into tears. “Your doctrine,” he said, “is as pure as ours, but we do not possess your discipline.” At first sight this certainly looks like a contradiction, but the explanation is not far to seek. We find it in the report issued by the Commission. It was a shameless confession of mercenary motives. In that report the commissioners deliberately stated that if good workmen like the Brethren were banished from Herrnhut the Government would lose so much in taxes; and, therefore, the Brethren were allowed to stay because they brought grist to the mill. At the same time, they were forbidden to make any proselytes; and thus it was hoped that the Herrnhut heresy would die a natural death.
When Zinzendorf heard of his banishment, he was not amazed. “What matter!” he said. “Even had I been allowed by law, I could not have remained in Herrnhut at all during the next ten years.” He had plans further afield. “We must now,” he added, “gather together the Pilgrim Congregation and proclaim the Saviour to the World.” It is true that the edict of banishment was repealed {1737.}; it is true that he was allowed to return to Herrnhut; but a year later a new edict was issued, and the Count was sternly expelled from his native land {1738.}.


AS young Leonard Dober lay tossing on his couch, his soul was disquieted within him {1731.}. He had heard strange news that afternoon, and sleep forsook his eyes. As Count Zinzendorf was on a visit to the court of Christian VI., King of Denmark, he met a West Indian negro slave, by name Antony Ulrich. And Antony was an interesting man. He had been baptized; he had been taught the rudiments of the Christian faith; he had met two other Brethren at the court; his tongue was glib and his imagination lively; and now he poured into Zinzendorf’s ears a heartrending tale of the benighted condition of the slaves on the Danish island of St. Thomas. He spoke pathetically of his sister Anna, of his brother Abraham, and of their fervent desire to hear the Gospel.
“If only some missionaries would come,” said he, “they would certainly be heartily welcomed. Many an evening have I sat on the shore and sighed my soul toward Christian Europe; and I have a brother and sister in bondage who long to know the living God.”
The effect on Zinzendorf was electric. His mind was full of missionary visions. The story of Antony fired his zeal. The door to the heathen world stood open. The golden day had dawned. He returned to the Brethren at Herrnhut, arrived at two o’clock in the morning, and found that the Single Brethren were still on their knees in prayer. Nothing could be more encouraging. At the first opportunity he told the Brethren Antony’s touching tale.
Again the effect was electric. As the Brethren met for their monthly service on “Congregation Day” they had often listened to reports of work in various parts of the Continent; already the Count had suggested foreign work; and already a band of Single Brethren (Feb. 11th, 1728) had made a covenant with each other to respond to the first clear sound of the trumpet call. As soon as their daily work was over, these men plunged deep into the study of medicine, geography, and languages. They wished to be ready “when the blessed time should come”; they were on the tiptoe of expectation; and now they were looking forward to the day when they should be summoned to cross the seas to heathen lands. The summons had sounded at last. To Leonard Dober the crisis of his life had come. As he tossed to and fro that summer night he could think about nothing but the poor neglected negroes, and seemed to hear a voice Divine urging him to arise and preach deliverance to the captives. Whence came, he asked, that still, small voice? Was it his own excited fancy, or was it the voice of God? As the morning broke, he was still unsettled in his mind. But already the Count had taught the Brethren to regard the daily Watch-Word as a special message from God. He consulted his text-book. The very answer he sought was there. “It is not a vain thing for you,” ran the message, “because it is your life; and through this thing ye shall prolong your days.”
And yet Dober was not quite convinced. If God desired him to go abroad He would give a still clearer call. He determined to consult his friend Tobias Leupold, and abide the issue of the colloquy; and in the evening the two young men took their usual stroll together among the brushwood clustering round the settlement. And then Leonard Dober laid bare his heart, and learned to his amazement that all the while Tobias had been in the same perplexing pass. What Dober had been longing to tell him, he had been longing to tell Dober. Each had heard the same still small voice; each had fought the same doubts; each had feared to speak his mind; and now, in the summer gloaming, they knelt down side by side and prayed to be guided aright. Forthwith the answer was ready. As they joined the other Single Brethren, and marched in solemn procession past Zinzendorf’s house, they heard the Count remark to a friend, “Sir, among these young men there are missionaries to St. Thomas, Greenland, Lapland, and many other countries.”
The words were inspiring. Forthwith the young fellows wrote to the Count and offered to serve in St. Thomas. The Count read the letter to the congregation, but kept their names a secret. The Brethren were critical and cold. As the settlers were mostly simple people, with little knowledge of the world beyond the seas, it was natural that they should shrink from a task which the powerful Protestant Churches of Europe had not yet dared to attempt. Some held the offer reckless; some dubbed it a youthful bid for fame and the pretty imagination of young officious minds. Antony Ulrich came to Herrnhut, addressed the congregation in Dutch, and told them that no one could be a missionary in St. Thomas without first becoming a slave. As the people knew no better they believed him. For a year the issue hung in the scales of doubt. The young men were resolute, confident and undismayed. If they had to be slaves to preach the Gospel, then slaves they would willingly be!87 At last Dober wrote in person to the congregation and repeated his resolve. The Brethren yielded. The Count still doubted. For the second time a momentous issue was submitted to the decision of the Lot.
“Are you willing,” he asked Dober, “to consult the Saviour by means of the Lot?”
“For myself,” replied Dober, “I am already sure enough; but I will do so for the sake of the Brethren.”
A meeting was held; a box of mottoes was brought in; and Dober drew a slip of paper bearing the words: “Let the lad go, for the Lord is with him.” The voice of the Lot was decisive. Of all the meetings held in Herrnhut, this meeting to hear the voice of the Lot was the most momentous in its world-wide importance. The young men were all on fire. If the Lot had only given the word they would now have gone to the foreign field in dozens. For the first time in the history of Protestant Europe a congregation of orthodox Christians had deliberately resolved to undertake the task of preaching the Gospel to the heathen. As the Lot which decided that Dober should go had also decided that his friend Leupold should stay, he now chose as his travelling companion the carpenter, David Nitschmann. The birthday of Moravian Missions now drew near. At three o’clock on the morning of August 21st, 1732, the two men stood waiting in front of Zinzendorf’s house. The Count had spent the whole night in prayer. He drove them in his carriage as far as Bautzen. They alighted outside the little town, knelt down on the quiet roadside, engaged in prayer, received the Count’s blessing by imposition of hands, bade him farewell, and set out Westward Ho!
As they trudged on foot on their way to Copenhagen, they had no idea that in so doing they were clearing the way for the great modern missionary movement; and, on the whole, they looked more like pedlars than pioneers of a new campaign. They wore brown coats and quaint three-cornered hats. They carried bundles on their backs. They had only about thirty shillings in their pockets. They had received no clear instructions from the Count, except “to do all in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” They knew but little of the social condition of St. Thomas. They had no example to follow; they had no “Society” to supply their needs; and now they were going to a part of the world where, as yet, a missionary’s foot had never trod.

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