A history of the moravian church

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And this in turn had another grand result. It prepared the way for Negro Emancipation. We must not, however, give the missionaries too much credit. As Zinzendorf himself was a firm believer in slavery, we need not be surprised to find that the Brethren never came forward as champions of liberty. They never pleaded for emancipation. They never encouraged their converts to expect it. They never talked about the horrors of slavery. They never appealed, like Wilberforce, to Parliament. And yet it was just these modest Brethren who did the most to make emancipation possible. Instead of delivering inflamatory speeches, and stirring up the hot-blooded negroes to rebellion, they taught them rather to be industrious, orderly, and loyal, and thus show that they were fit for liberty. If a slave disobeyed his master they punished him. They acted wisely. If the Brethren had preached emancipation they would simply have made their converts restive; and these converts, by rebelling, would only have cut their own throats. Again and again, in Jamaica and Antigua, the negroes rose in revolt; and again and again the Governors noticed that the Moravian converts took no part in the rebellion.
At last the news of these triumphs arrived in England; and the Privy Council appointed a Committee to inquire into the state of the slave trade in our West Indian possessions {1787.}. The Committee appealed to the Brethren for information. The reply was drafted by Christian Ignatius La Trobe. As La Trobe was then the English Secretary for the Brethren’s missions, he was well qualified to give the required information. He described the Brethren’s methods of work, pointed out its results in the conduct of the negroes, and declared that all the Brethren desired was liberty to preach the Gospel. “The Brethren,” he said, “never wish to interfere between masters and slaves.” The ball was now set fairly rolling. Dr. Porteous, Bishop of London, replied on behalf of the Committee. He was an ardent champion of emancipation. He thanked the Brethren for their information. He informed them how pleased the Committee were with the Brethren’s methods of work. At this very time Wilberforce formed his resolution to devote his life to the emancipation of the slaves. He opened his campaign in Parliament two years later. He was a personal friend of La Trobe; he read his report; and he backed up his arguments in Parliament by describing the good results of Moravian work among the slaves. And thus the part played by the Brethren was alike modest and effective. They taught the slaves to be good; they taught them to be genuine lovers of law and order; they made them fit for the great gift of liberty; and thus, by destroying the stale old argument that emancipation was dangerous they removed the greatest obstacle in Wilberforce’s way.90
Again, this work of the Brethren was important in its influence on several great English missionary pioneers. At missionary gatherings held in England the statement is often made to-day that the first Englishman to go out as a foreign missionary was William Carey, the leader of the immortal “Serampore Three.” It is time to explode that fiction. For some years before William Carey was heard of a number of English Moravian Brethren had gone out from these shores as foreign missionaries. In Antigua laboured Samuel Isles, Joseph Newby, and Samuel Watson; in Jamaica, George Caries and John Bowen; in St. Kitts and St. Croix, James Birkby; in Barbados, Benjamin Brookshaw; in Labrador, William Turner, James Rhodes, and Lister; and in Tobago, John Montgomery, the father of James Montgomery, the well-known Moravian hymn-writer and poet. With the single exception of George Caries, who seems to have had some Irish blood in his veins, these early missionaries were as English as Carey himself; and the greater number, as we can see from the names, were natives of Yorkshire. Moreover, William Carey knew of their work. He owed his inspiration partly to them; he referred to their work in his famous pamphlet, “Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens”; and finally, at the house of Mrs. Beely Wallis, in Kettering, he threw down upon the table some numbers of the first English missionary magazine,91 “Periodical Accounts relating to the Missions of the Church of the United Brethren,” and, addressing his fellow Baptist ministers, exclaimed: “See what the Moravians have done! Can we not follow their example, and in obedience to our heavenly Master go out into the world and preach the Gospel to the heathen.” The result was the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society.
His companion, Marshman, also confessed his obligations to the Brethren {1792.}.
“Thank you! Moravians,” he said, “you have done me good. If I am ever a missionary worth a straw I shall, under our Saviour, owe it to you.”
We have next the case of the London Missionary Society. Of that Society one of the founders was Rowland Hill. He was well informed about the labours of the Moravians; he corresponded with Peter Braun, the Moravian missionary in Antigua; and to that correspondence he owed in part his interest in missionary work. But that was not the end of the Brethren’s influence. At all meetings addressed by the founders of the proposed Society, the speaker repeatedly enforced his arguments by quotations from the Periodical Accounts; and finally, when the Society was established, the founders submitted to La Trobe, the editor, the following series of questions:--“1. How do you obtain your missionaries? 2. What is the true calling of a missionary? 3. What qualifications do you demand in a missionary? 4. Do you demand scientific and theological learning? 5. Do you consider previous instruction in Divine things an essential? 6. How do you employ your missionaries from the time when they are first called to the time when they set out? 7. Have you found by experience that the cleverest and best educated men make the best missionaries? 8. What do you do when you establish a missionary station? Do you send men with their wives, or single people, or both? 9. What have you found the most effective way of accomplishing the conversion of the heathen? 10. Can you tell us the easiest way of learning a language? 11. How much does your missionary ship92 cost you?” In reply, La Trobe answered in detail, and gave a full description of the Brethren’s methods; and the first heralds of the London Missionary Society went out with Moravian instructions in their pockets and Moravian experience to guide them on their way.
We have next the case of Robert Moffatt, the missionary to Bechuanaland. What was it that first aroused his missionary zeal? It was, he tells us, the stories told him by his mother about the exploits of the Moravians!
In Germany the influence of the Brethren was equally great. At the present time the greatest missionary forces in Germany are the Basel and Leipzig Societies; and the interesting point to notice is that if we only go far enough back in the story we find that each of these societies owed its origin to Moravian influence.93 From what did the Basel Missionary Society spring? (1819). It sprang from an earlier “Society for Christian Fellowship (1780),” and one object of that earlier society was the support of Moravian Missions. But the influence did not end here. At the meeting when the Basel Missionary Society was formed, three Moravians--Burghardt, Götze, and Lörschke--were present, the influence of the Brethren was specially mentioned, the work of the Brethren was described, and the text for the day from the Moravian textbook was read. In a similar way the Leipzig Missionary Society sprang from a series of meetings held in Dresden, and in those meetings several Moravians took a prominent part. By whom was the first missionary college in history established? It was established at Berlin by Jänicke {1800.}, and Jänicke had first been a teacher in the Moravian Pædagogium at Niesky. By whom was the first Norwegian Missionary Magazine--the Norsk Missionsblad--edited? By the Moravian minister, Holm. From such facts as these we may draw one broad conclusion; and that broad conclusion is that the Brethren’s labours paved the way for some of the greatest missionary institutions of modern times.


THE PILGRIM BAND, 1736-1743.
AS soon as Zinzendorf was banished from Saxony, he sought another sphere of work. About thirty miles northeast of Frankfurt-on-the-Main there lay a quaint and charming district known as the Wetterau, wherein stood two old ruined castles, called Ronneburg and Marienborn. The owners of the estate, the Counts of Isenberg, had fallen on hard times. They were deep in debt; their estates were running to decay; the Ronneburg walls were crumbling to pieces, and the out-houses, farms and stables were let out to fifty-six dirty families of Jews, tramps, vagabonds and a mongrel throng of scoundrels of the lowest class. As soon as the Counts heard that Zinzendorf had been banished from Saxony, they kindly offered him their estates on lease. They had two objects in view. As the Brethren were pious, they would improve the people’s morals; and as they were good workers, they would raise the value of the land. The Count sent Christian David to reconnoitre. Christian David brought back an evil report. It was a filthy place, he said, unfit for respectable people. But Zinzendorf felt that, filthy or not, it was the very spot which God had chosen for his new work. It suited his high ideas. The more squalid the people, the more reason there was for going.
“I will make this nest of vagabonds,” he said, “the centre for the universal religion of the Saviour. Christian,” he asked, “haven’t you been in Greenland?”
“Ah, yes,” replied Christian, who had been with the two Stachs, “if it were only as good as it was in Greenland! But at Ronneburg Castle we shall only die.”
But the Count would not hear another word, went to see the place for himself, closed with the terms of the Counts of Isenberg, and thus commenced that romantic chapter in the Brethren’s History called by some German historians the Wetterau Time.
It was a time of many adventures. As the Count took up his quarters in Ronneburg Castle, he brought with him a body of Brethren and Sisters whom he called the “Pilgrim Band”; and there, on June 17th, 1736, he preached his first sermon in the castle. It was now exactly fourteen years since Christian David had felled the first tree at Herrnhut; and now for another fourteen years these crumbling walls were to be the home of Moravian life. What the members of the Pilgrim Band were we may know from the very name. They were a travelling Church. They were a body of Christians called to the task, in Zinzendorf’s own words, “to proclaim the Saviour to the world”; and the Count’s noble motto was: “The earth is the Lord’s; all souls are His; I am debtor to all.” There was a dash of romance in that Pilgrim Band, and more than a dash of heroism. They lived in a wild and eerie district. They slept on straw. They heard the rats and mice hold revels on the worm-eaten staircases, and heard the night wind howl and sough between the broken windows; and from those ruined walls they went out to preach the tidings of the love of Christ in the wigwams of the Indians and the snow-made huts of the Eskimos.
As charity, however, begins at home, the Count and his Brethren began their new labours among the degraded rabble that lived in filth and poverty round the castle. They conducted free schools for the children. They held meetings for men and women in the vaults of the castle. They visited the miserable gipsies in their dirty homes. They invited the dirty little ragamuffins to tea, and the gipsies’ children sat down at table with the sons and daughters of the Count. They issued an order forbidding begging, and twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, they distributed food and clothing to the poor. One picture will illustrate this strange campaign. Among the motley medley that lived about the castle was an old grey-haired Jew, named Rabbi Abraham. One bright June evening, Zinzendorf met him, stretched out his hand, and said: “Grey hairs are a crown of glory. I can see from your head and the expression of your eyes that you have had much experience both of heart and life. In the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, let us be friends.”
The old man was struck dumb with wonder. Such a greeting from a Christian he had never heard before. He had usually been saluted with the words, “Begone, Jew!” “His lips trembled; his voice failed; and big tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks upon his flowing beard.
“Enough, father,” said the Count; “we understand each other.” And from that moment the two were friends. The Count went to see him in his dirty home, and ate black bread at his table. One morning, before dawn, as the two walked out, the old patriarch opened his heart.
“My heart,” said he, “is longing for the dawn. I am sick, yet know not what is the matter with me. I am looking for something, yet know not what I seek. I am like one who is chased, yet I see no enemy, except the one within me, my old evil heart.”
The Count opened his lips, and preached the Gospel of Christ. He painted Love on the Cross. He described that Love coming down from holiness and heaven. He told the old Jew, in burning words, how Christ had met corrupted mankind, that man might become like God. As the old man wept and wrung his hands, the two ascended a hill, whereon stood a lonely church. And the sun rose, and its rays fell on the golden cross on the church spire, and the cross glittered brightly in the light of heaven.
“See there, Abraham,” said Zinzendorf, “a sign from heaven for you. The God of your fathers has placed the cross in your sight, and now the rising sun from on high has tinged it with heavenly splendour. Believe on Him whose blood was shed by your fathers, that God’s purpose of mercy might be fulfilled, that you might be free from all sin, and find in Him all your salvation.”
“So be it,” said the Jew, as a new light flashed on his soul. “Blessed be the Lord who has had mercy upon me.”
We have now to notice, step by step, how Zinzendorf, despite his theories, restored the Moravian Church to vigorous life. His first move was dramatic. As he strolled one day on the shore of the Baltic Sea, he bethought him that the time had come to revive the Brethren’s Episcopal Orders in Germany. He wished to give his Brethren a legal standing. In Saxony he had been condemned as a heretic; in Prussia he would be recognized as orthodox; and to this intent he wrote to the King of Prussia, Frederick William I., and asked to be examined in doctrine by qualified Divines of the State Church. The King responded gladly. He had been informed that the Count was a fool, and was, therefore, anxious to see him; and now he sent him a messenger to say that he would be highly pleased if Zinzendorf would come and dine with him at Wusterhausen.
“What did he say?” asked His Majesty of the messenger when that functionary returned.
“Nothing,” replied the messenger.
“Then,” said the King, “he is no fool.”
The Count arrived, and stayed three days. The first day the King was cold; the second he was friendly; the third he was enthusiastic.
“The devil himself,” he said to his courtiers, “could not have told me more lies than I have been told about this Count. He is neither a heretic nor a disturber of the peace. His only sin is that he, a well-to-do Count, has devoted himself to the spread of the Gospel. I will not believe another word against him. I will do all I can to help him.”
From that time Frederick William I. was Zinzendorf’s fast friend. He encouraged him to become a Bishop of the Brethren. The Count was still in doubt. For some months he was terribly puzzled by the question whether he could become a Moravian Bishop, and yet at the same time be loyal to the Lutheran Church; and, in order to come to a right conclusion, he actually came over to England and discussed the whole thorny subject of Moravian Episcopal Orders with John Potter, Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop soon relieved his mind. He informed the Count, first, that in his judgment the Moravian Episcopal Orders were apostolic; and he informed him, secondly, that as the Brethren were true to the teaching of the Augsburg Confession in Germany and the Thirty-nine Articles in England, the Count could honestly become a Bishop without being guilty of founding a new sect. The Count returned to Germany. He was examined in the faith, by the King’s command, by two Berlin Divines. He came through the ordeal with flying colours, and finally, on May 20th, he was ordained a Bishop of the Brethren’s Church by Bishop Daniel Ernest Jablonsky, Court Preacher at Berlin, and Bishop David Nitschmann {1737.}.
The situation was now remarkable. As soon as Zinzendorf became a Bishop, he occupied, in theory, a double position. He was a “Lutheran Bishop of the Brethren’s Church.” On the one hand, like Jablonsky himself, he was still a clergyman of the Lutheran Church; on the other, he was qualified to ordain ministers in the Church of the Brethren. And the Brethren, of course, laid stress on the latter point. They had now episcopal orders of their own; they realized their standing as an independent church; they objected to mere toleration as a sect; they demanded recognition as an orthodox church. “We design,” they wrote to the Counts of Isenberg, “to establish a home for thirty or forty families from Herrnhut. We demand full liberty in all our meetings; we demand full liberty to practise our discipline and to have the sacraments, baptism and communion administered by our own ministers, ordained by our own Bohemo-Moravian Bishops.” As the Counts agreed to these conditions the Brethren now laid out near the castle a settlement after the Herrnhut model, named it Herrnhaag, and made it a regular training-ground for the future ministers of the Church. At Herrnhut the Brethren were under a Lutheran Pastor; at Herrnhaag they were independent, and ordained their own men for the work. They erected a theological training college, with Spangenberg as head. They had a pædagogium for boys, with Polycarp Müller as Rector. They had also a flourishing school for girls. For ten years this new settlement at Herrnhaag was the busiest centre of evangelistic zeal in the world. At the theological college there were students from every university in Germany. At the schools there were over 600 children, and the Brethren had to issue a notice that they had no room for more. The whole place was a smithy. There the spiritual weapons were forged for service in the foreign field. “Up, up,” Spangenberg would say to the young men at sunrise, “we have no time for dawdling. Why sleep ye still? Arise, young lions!”
And now the Count had a strange adventure, which spurred him to another step forward. As there were certain sarcastic people in Germany who said that Zinzendorf, though willing enough to send out others to die of fever in foreign climes, was content to bask in comfort at home, he determined now to give the charge the lie. He had travelled already on many a Gospel journey. He had preached to crowds in Berlin; he had preached in the Cathedral at Reval, in Livonia, and had made arrangements for the publication of an Esthonian Bible; and now he thought he must go to St. Thomas, where Friedrich Martin, the apostle to the negroes, had built up the strongest congregation in the Mission Field. He consulted the Lot; the Lot said “Yes,” and off he set on his journey. The ship flew as though on eagle’s wings. As they neared the island, the Count turned to his companion, and said: “What if we find no one there? What if the missionaries are all dead?”
“Then we are there,” replied Weber.
Gens aeterna, these Moravians,” exclaimed the Count.
He landed on the island {Jan. 29th, 1739.}.
“Where are the Brethren?” said he to a negro.
“They are all in prison,” was the startling answer.
“How long?” asked the Count.
“Over three months.”
“What are the negroes doing in the meantime?”
“They are making good progress, and a great revival is going on. The very imprisonment of the teachers is a sermon.”
For three months the Count was busy in St. Thomas. He burst into the Governor’s castle “like thunder,” and nearly frightened him out of his wits. He had brought with him a document signed by the King of Denmark, in which the Brethren were authorized to preach in the Danish West Indies. He had the prisoners released. He had the whole work in the Danish West Indies placed on a legal basis. He made the acquaintance of six hundred and seventy negroes. He was amazed and charmed by all he saw. “St. Thomas,” he wrote, “is a greater marvel than Herrnhut.” For the last three years that master missionary, Friedrich Martin, the “Apostle to the Negroes,” had been continuing the noble work begun by Leonard Dober; and, in spite of the fierce opposition of the planters and also of the Dutch Reformed Church, had established a number of native congregations. He had opened a school for negro boys, and had thus taken the first step in the education of West Indian slaves. He had taught his people to form societies for Bible study and prayer; and now the Count put the finishing touch to the work. He introduced the Herrnhut system of discipline. He appointed one “Peter” chief Elder of the Brethren, and “Magdalene” chief Elder of the Sisters. He gave some to be helpers, some to be advisers, and some to be distributors of alms; and he even introduced the system of incessant hourly prayer. And then, before he took his leave, he made a notable speech. He had no such conception as “Negro emancipation.” He regarded slavery as a Divinely appointed system. “Do your work for your masters,” he said, “as though you were working for yourselves. Remember that Christ has given every man his work. The Lord has made kings, masters, servants and slaves. It is the duty of each of us to be content with the station in which God has placed him. God punished the first negroes by making them slaves.”
For the work in St. Thomas this visit was important; for the work at home it was still more so. As the Count returned from his visit in St. Thomas, he saw more clearly than ever that if the Brethren were to do their work aright, they must justify their conduct and position in the eyes of the law. His views had broadened; he had grander conceptions of their mission; he began the practice of summoning them to Synods, and thus laid the foundations of modern Moravian Church life.
At the first Synod, held at Ebersdorf (June, 1739), the Count expounded his views at length {1739.}. He informed the Brethren, in a series of brilliant and rather mystifying speeches, that there were now three “religions” in Germany--the Lutheran, the Reformed and the Moravian; but that their duty and mission in the world was, not to restore the old Church of the Brethren, but rather to gather the children of God into a mystical, visionary, ideal fellowship which he called the “Community of Jesus.” For the present, he said, the home of this ideal “Gemeine” would be the Moravian Church. At Herrnhut and other places in Saxony it would be a home for Lutherans; at Herrnhaag it would be a home for Calvinists; and then, when it had done its work and united all the children of God, it could be conveniently exploded. He gave the Moravian Church a rather short life. “For the present,” he said, “the Saviour is manifesting His Gemeine to the world in the outward form of the Moravian Church; but in fifty years that Church will be forgotten.” It is doubtful how far his Brethren understood him. They listened, admired, wondered, gasped and quietly went their own way.
At the second Synod, held at the Moor Hotel in Gotha, the Count explained his projects still more clearly {1740.}, and made the most astounding speech that had yet fallen from his lips. “It is,” he declared, “the duty of our Bishops to defend the rights of the Protestant Moravian Church, and the duty of all the congregation to be loyal to that Church. It is absolutely necessary, for the sake of Christ’s work, that our Church be recognized as a true Church. She is a true Church of God; she is in the world to further the Saviour’s cause; and people can belong to her just as much as to any other.” If these words meant anything at all, they meant, of course, that Zinzendorf, like the Moravians themselves, insisted on the independent existence of the Moravian Church; and, to prove that he really did mean this, he had Polycarp Müller consecrated a Bishop. And yet, at the same time, the Count insisted that the Brethren were not to value their Church for her own sake. They were not to try to extend the Church as such; they were not to proselytize from other Churches; they were to regard her rather as a house of call for the “scattered” in all the churches;94 and, above all, they must ever remember that as soon as they had done their work their Church would cease to exist. If this puzzles the reader he must not be distressed. It was equally puzzling to some of Zinzendorf’s followers. Bishop Polycarp Müller confessed that he could never understand it. At bottom, however, the Count’s idea was clear. He still had a healthy horror of sects and splits; he still regarded the Brethren’s Church as a “Church within the Church”; he still insisted, with perfect truth, that as they had no distinctive doctrine they could not be condemned as a nonconforming sect; and the goal for which he was straining was that wheresoever the Brethren went they should endeavour not to extend their own borders, but rather to serve as a bond of union evangelical Christians of all denominations.

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