A history of the moravian church

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But the worst feature of this riotous life is still to be mentioned. If there is any topic requiring delicate treatment, it is surely the question of sexual morality; and now the Count made the great mistake of throwing aside the cloak of modesty and speaking out on sins of the flesh in the plainest possible language. He delivered a series of discourses on moral purity; and in those discourses he used expressions which would hardly be permitted now except in a medical treatise. His purpose was certainly good. He contended that he had the Bible on his side; that the morals of the age were bad; and that the time for plain speaking had come. “At that time,” he said, “when the Brethren’s congregations appeared afresh on the horizon of the Church, he found, on the one hand, the lust of concupiscence carried to the utmost pitch possible, and the youth almost totally ruined; and on the other hand some few thoughtful persons who proposed a spirituality like the angels.” But again the Brethren rode their horse to death. They were not immoral, they were only silly. They talked too freely about these delicate topics; they sang about them in their hymns; they had these hymns published in a volume known as the “Twelfth Appendix” to their Hymn-book; and thus they innocently gave the public the impression that they revelled, for its own sake, in coarse and filthy language.
What judgment are we to pass on all these follies? For the Brethren we may fairly enter the plea that most of them were humble and simple-minded men; that, on the whole, they meant well; and that, in their zeal for the Gospel of Christ, they allowed their feelings to carry them away. And further, let us bear in mind that, despite their foolish style of speech, they were still heroes of the Cross. They had still a burning love for Christ; they were still willing to serve abroad; and they still went out to foreign lands, and laid down their lives for the sake of Him who had laid down His for them. As John Cennick was on his visit to Herrnhaag (1746), he was amazed by the splendid spirit of devotion shown. He found himself at the hub of the missionary world. He saw portraits of missionaries on every hand. He heard a hymn sung in twenty-two different languages. He heard sermons in German, Esthonian, French, Spanish, Swedish, Lettish, Bohemian, Dutch, Hebrew, Danish, and Eskimo. He heard letters read from missionaries in every quarter of the globe.
“Are you ready,” said Zinzendorf to John Soerensen, “to serve the Saviour in Greenland?”
“Here am I, send me,” said Soerensen. He had never thought of such a thing before.
“But the matter is pressing; we want someone to go at once.”
“Well!” replied Soerensen, “that’s no difficulty. If you will only get me a new pair of boots I will set off this very day. My old ones are quite worn out, and I have not another pair to call my own.”
And the next day the man was off, and served in Greenland forty-six years.
But the grandest case is that of Bishop Cammerhof. He was a fanatic of the fanatics. He revelled in sickly sentimental language. He called himself a “Little Fool” and a “Little Cross-air Bird.” He addressed the Count as his “heart’s Papa,” and Anna Nitschmann as his “Motherkin.” He said he would kiss them a thousand times, and vowed he could never fondle them enough! And yet this man had the soul of a hero, and killed himself by overwork among the North American Indians!103 It is easy to sneer at saints like this as fools; but if fools they were, they were fools for their Master’s sake.
But for Zinzendorf it is hard to find any excuse. He had received a splendid education, had moved in refined and cultured circles, and had enjoyed the friendship of learned bishops, of eloquent preachers, of university professors, of philosophers, of men of letters. He had read the history of the Christian Church, knew the dangers of excess, and had spoken against excess in his earlier years.104 He knew that the Wetterau swarmed with mad fanatics; had read the works of Dippel, of Rock, and of other unhealthy writers; and had, therefore, every reason to be on his guard. He knew the weak points in his own character. “I have,” he said, “a genius for extravagance.” He had deliberately, of his own free will, accepted the office of “Advocate and Steward” of the Brethren’s Church. He was the head of an ancient episcopal Church, with a high reputation to sustain. He had set the Brethren a high and holy task. He was a public and well-known character. As he travelled about from country to country he spread the fame of the Brethren’s labours in every great city in Germany, in England, in Switzerland, in North America, and in the West Indies; and by this time he was known personally to the King of Denmark, to Potter, Archbishop of Canterbury, to John and Charles Wesley, to Bengel, the famous commentator, and to many other leaders in the Lutheran Church. And, therefore, by all the laws of honour, he was bound to lead the Brethren upward and keep their record clean. But his conduct now was unworthy of a trusted leader. It is the darkest blot on his saintly character, and the chief reason why his brilliant schemes met with so little favour. At the very time when he placed before the Brethren the noblest and loftiest ideals, he himself had done the most to cause the enemy to blaspheme. No wonder his Tropus idea was laughed to scorn. What sort of home was this, said his critics, that he had prepared for all the Tropuses? What grand ideal “Church of the Brethren” was this, with its childish nonsense, its blasphemous language, its objectionable hymns? As the rumours of the Brethren’s excesses spread, all sorts of wild tales were told about them. Some said they were worshippers of the devil; some said they were conspirators against the State; some accused them falsely of immorality, of gluttony, of robbing the poor; and the chief cause of all the trouble was this beautiful poet, this original thinker, this eloquent preacher, this noble descendant of a noble line, this learned Bishop of the Brethren’s Church. There is only one explanation of his conduct. He had committed mental suicide, and he paid the penalty.105
He had now to retrieve his fallen honour, and to make amends for his guilt. At last he awoke to the stern facts of the case. His position now was terrible. What right had he to lecture the Brethren for sins which he himself had taught them to commit? He shrank from the dreadful task. But the voice of duty was not to be silenced. He had not altogether neglected the Brethren’s cause. At the very time when the excesses were at their height he had been endeavouring to obtain for the Brethren full legal recognition in Germany, England, and North America. He won his first victory in Germany. He was allowed (Oct., 1747) to return to Saxony, summoned the Brethren to a Synod at Gross-Krausche in Silesia (1748), and persuaded them to promise fidelity to the Augsburg Confession. He had the Brethren’s doctrine and practice examined by a Saxon Royal Commission, and the King of Saxony issued a decree (1749) by which the Brethren were granted religious liberty in his kingdom. Thus the Brethren were now fully recognized by law in Prussia, Silesia, and Saxony. He had obtained these legal privileges just in time, and could now deal with the poor fanatics at Herrnhaag. The situation there had come to a crisis. The old Count of Isenberg died. His successor, Gustavus Friedrich, was a weak-minded man; the agent, Brauer, detested the Brethren; and now Brauer laid down the condition that the settlers at Herrnhaag must either break off their connection with Zinzendorf or else abandon the premises. They chose the latter course. At one blow the gorgeous settlement was shivered to atoms. It had cost many thousands of pounds to build, and now the money was gone for ever. As the Brethren scattered in all directions, the Count saw at last the damage he had done {Feb., 1750.}. He had led them on in reckless expense, and now he must rush to their rescue. He addressed them all in a solemn circular letter. He visited the various congregations, and urged them to true repentance. He suppressed the disgraceful “Twelfth Appendix,” and cut out the offensive passages in his own discourses. He issued treatise after treatise defending the Brethren against the coarse libels of their enemies. And, best of all, and noblest of all, he not only took upon his own shoulders the burden of their financial troubles, but confessed like a man that he himself had steered them on to the rocks. He summoned his Brethren to a Synod. He rose to address the assembly. His eyes were red, his cheeks stained with tears.
“Ah! my beloved Brethren,” he said, “I am guilty! I am the cause of all these troubles!”
And thus at length this “Sifting-Time” came to a happy end. The whole episode was like an attack of pneumonia. The attack was sudden; the crisis dangerous; the recovery swift; and the lesson wholesome. For some years after this the Brethren continued to show some signs of weakness; and even in the next edition of their Hymn-book they still made use of some rather crude expressions. But on the whole they had learned some useful lessons. On this subject the historians have mostly been in the wrong. Some have suppressed the facts. This is dishonest. Others have exaggerated, and spoken as if the excesses lasted for two or three generations. This is wicked.106 The sober truth is exactly as described in these pages. The best judgment was passed by the godly Bishop Spangenherg. “At that time,” he said, “the spirit of Christ did not rule in our hearts; and that was the real cause of all our foolery.” Full well the Brethren realized their mistake, and honestly they took its lessons to heart. They learned to place more trust in the Bible, and less in their own unbridled feelings. They learned afresh the value of discipline, and of an organised system of government. They became more guarded in their language, more Scriptural in their doctrine, and more practical in their preaching. Nor was this all. Meanwhile the same battle had been fought and won in England and North America.


FOR the origin of the Moravian Church in England we turn our eyes to a bookseller’s shop in London. It was known as “The Bible and Sun”; it stood a few yards west of Temple Bar; and James Hutton, the man behind the counter, became in time the first English member of the Brethren’s Church. But James Hutton was a man of high importance for the whole course of English history. He was the connecting link between Moravians and Methodists; and thus he played a vital part, entirely ignored by our great historians, in the whole Evangelical Revival.
He was born on September 14th, 1715. He was the son of a High-Church clergyman. His father was a non-juror. He had refused, that is, to take the oath of loyalty to the Hanoverian succession, had been compelled to resign his living, and now kept a boarding-house in College Street, Westminster, for boys attending the famous Westminster School. At that school little James himself was educated; and one of his teachers was Samuel Wesley, the elder brother of John and Charles. He had no idea to what this would lead. As the lad grew up in his father’s home he had, of course, not the least suspicion that such a body as the Moravian Church existed. He had never heard of Zinzendorf or of Herrnhut. He was brought up a son of the Church of England; he loved her services and doctrine; and all that he desired to see was a revival within her borders of true spiritual life.
The revival was close at hand. For some years a number of pious people--some clergy, and others laymen--had been endeavouring to rouse the Church to new and vigorous life; and to this end they established a number of “Religious Societies.” There were thirty or forty of these Societies in London. They consisted of members of the Church of England. They met, once a week, in private houses to pray, to read the Scriptures, and to edify each other. They drew up rules for their spiritual guidance, had special days for fasting and prayer, and attended early Communion once a month. At church they kept a sharp look-out for others “religiously disposed,” and invited such to join their Societies. In the morning they would go to their own parish church; in the afternoon they would go where they could hear a “spiritual sermon.” Of these Societies one met at the house of Hutton’s father. If James, however, is to be believed, the Societies had now lost a good deal of their moral power. He was not content with the one in his own home. He was not pleased with the members of it. They were, he tells us, slumbering or dead souls; they cared for nothing but their own comfort in this world; and all they did when they met on Sunday evenings was to enjoy themselves at small expense, and fancy themselves more holy than other people. He was soon to meet with men of greater zeal.
As James was now apprenticed to a bookseller he thought he could do a good stroke of business by visiting some of his old school-mates at the University of Oxford. He went to Oxford to see them; they introduced him to John and Charles Wesley; and thus he formed an acquaintance that was soon to change the current of his life. What had happened at Oxford is famous in English history. For the last six years both John and Charles had been conducting a noble work. They met, with others, on Sunday evenings, to read the classics and the Greek Testament; they attended Communion at St. Mary’s every Sunday. They visited the poor and the prisoners in the gaol. They fasted at regular intervals. For all this they were openly laughed to scorn, and were considered mad fanatics. They were called the Reforming Club, the Holy Club, the Godly Club, the Sacramentarians, the Bible Moths, the Supererogation Men, the Enthusiasts, and, finally, the Methodists.
But Hutton was stirred to the very depths of his soul. He was still living in College Street with his father; next door lived Samuel Wesley, his old schoolmaster; and Hutton, therefore, asked John and Charles to call and see him when next they came up to town. The invitation led to great results. At this time John Wesley received a request from General Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia, to go out to that colony as a missionary. He accepted the offer with joy; his brother Charles was appointed the Governor’s Secretary; and the two young men came up to London and spent a couple of days at Hutton’s house. The plot was thickening. Young James was more in love with the Wesleys than ever. If he had not been a bound apprentice he would have sailed with them to Georgia himself {1735.}. He went down with them to Gravesend; he spent some time with them on board the ship; and there, on that sailing vessel, the Simmonds, he saw, for the first time in his life, a number of Moravian Brethren. They, too, were on their way to Georgia. For the future history of religion in England that meeting on the Simmonds was momentous. Among the passengers were General Oglethorpe, Bishop David Nitschmann, and twenty-three other Brethren, and thus Moravians and Methodists were brought together by their common interest in missionary work.
James Hutton was thrilled. As soon as his apprenticeship was over he set up in business for himself at the “Bible and Sun,” founded a new Society in his own back parlour, and made that parlour the centre of the Evangelical Revival {1736.}. There he conducted weekly meetings; there he established a Poor-box Society, the members paying in a penny a week; there met the men who before long were to turn England upside down; and there he and others were to hear still more of the life and work of the Brethren.
For this he had to thank his friend John Wesley. As John Wesley set out on his voyage to Georgia he began to keep that delightful Journal which has now become an English classic; and before having his Journal printed he sent private copies to Hutton, and Hutton read them out at his weekly meetings. John Wesley had a stirring tale to tell. He admired the Brethren from the first. They were, he wrote, the gentlest, bravest folk he had ever met. They helped without pay in the working of the ship; they could take a blow without losing their tempers; and when the ship was tossed in the storm they were braver than the sailors themselves. One Sunday the gale was terrific. The sea poured in between the decks. The main sail was torn to tatters. The English passengers screamed with terror. The Brethren calmly sang a hymn.
“Was not you afraid?” said Wesley.
“I thank God, no,” replied the Brother.
“But were not your women and children afraid?”
“No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”
John Wesley was deeply stirred. For all his piety he still lacked something which these Brethren possessed. He lacked their triumphant confidence in God. He was still afraid to die. “How is it thou hast no faith?” he said to himself.
For the present his question remained unanswered; but before he had been very long in Georgia he laid his spiritual troubles before the learned Moravian teacher, Spangenberg. He could hardly have gone to a better spiritual guide. Of all the Brethren this modest Spangenberg was in many ways the best. He was the son of a Lutheran minister. He was Wesley’s equal in learning and practical piety. He had been assistant lecturer in theology at Halle University. He was a man of deep spiritual experience; he was only one year younger than Wesley himself; and, therefore, he was thoroughly qualified to help the young English pilgrim over the stile.107
“My brother,” he said, “I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”
John Wesley was so staggered that he could not answer.
“Do you know Jesus Christ?” continued Spangenberg.
“I know he is the Saviour of the world.”
“True; but do you know he has saved you?”
“I hope,” replied Wesley, “he has died to save me.”
“Do you know yourself?”
“I do,” said Wesley; but he only half meant what he said.
Again, three weeks later, Wesley was present at a Moravian ordination service. For the moment he forgot the seventeen centuries that had rolled by since the great days of the apostles; and almost thought that Paul the tentmaker or Peter the fisherman was presiding at the ceremony. “God,” he said, “has opened me a door into a whole Church.”
As James Hutton read these glowing reports to his little Society at the “Bible and Sun” he began to take a still deeper interest in the Brethren. He had made the acquaintance, not only of the Wesleys, but of Benjamin Ingham, of William Delamotte, and of George Whitefield. He was the first to welcome Whitefield to London. He found him openings in the churches. He supplied him with money for the poor. He published his sermons. He founded another Society in Aldersgate Street. He was now to meet with Zinzendorf himself. Once more the connecting link was foreign missionary work. For some years the Count had been making attempts to obtain the goodwill of English Churchmen for the Brethren’s labours in North America. He had first sent three Brethren--Wenzel Neisser, John Toeltschig, and David Nitschmann, the Syndic--to open up negotiations with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; and very disappointed he was when these negotiations came to nothing. He had then sent Spangenberg to London to make arrangements for the first batch of colonists for Georgia. He had then sent the second batch under Bishop David Nitschmann. And now he came to London himself, took rooms at Lindsey House {1737.}, Chelsea, and stayed about six weeks. He had two purposes to serve. He wished first to talk with Archbishop Potter about Moravian Episcopal Orders. He was just thinking of becoming a Bishop himself. He wanted Potter’s opinion on the subject. What position, he asked, would a Moravian Bishop occupy in an English colony? Would it be right for a Moravian Bishop to exercise his functions in Georgia? At the same time, however, he wished to consult with the Board of Trustees for Georgia. He had several talks with the Secretary. The Secretary was Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley was lodging now at old John Hutton’s in College Street. He attended a service in Zinzendorf’s rooms; he thought himself in a choir of angels; he introduced James Hutton to the Count; and thus another link in the chain was forged.
And now there arrived in England a man who was destined to give a new tone to the rising revival {Jan. 27th, 1738.}. His name was Peter Boehler; he had just been ordained by Zinzendorf; he was on his way to South Carolina; and he happened to arrive in London five days before John Wesley landed from his visit to America. We have come to a critical point in English history. At the house of Weinantz, a Dutch merchant, John Wesley and Peter Boehler met (Feb. 7th); John Wesley then found Boehler lodgings, and introduced him to Hutton; and ten days later Wesley and Boehler set out together for Oxford {Feb. 17th.}. The immortal discourse began.
As John Wesley returned to England from his three years’ stay in America, he found himself in a sorrowful state of mind. He had gone with all the ardour of youth; he returned a spiritual bankrupt. On this subject the historians have differed. According to High-Church Anglican writers, John Wesley was a Christian saint before he ever set eyes on Boehler’s face;108 according to Methodists he had only a legal religion and was lacking in genuine, saving faith in Christ. His own evidence on the questions seems conflicting. At the time he was sure he was not yet converted; in later years he inclined to think he was. At the time he sadly wrote in his Journal, “I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God”; and then, years later, he added the footnote, “I am not sure of this.” It is easy, however, to explain this contradiction. The question turns on the meaning of the word “converted.” If a man is truly converted to God when his heart throbs with love for his fellows, with a zeal for souls, and with a desire to do God’s holy will, then John Wesley, when he returned from America, was just as truly a “converted” man as ever he was in later life. He was devout in prayer; he loved the Scriptures; he longed to be holy; he was pure in thought, in deed, and in speech; he was self-denying; he had fed his soul on the noble teaching of Law’s “Serious Call”; and thus, in many ways, he was a beautiful model of what a Christian should be. And yet, after all, he lacked one thing which Peter Boehler possessed. If John Wesley was converted then he did not know it himself. He had no firm, unflinching trust in God. He was not sure that his sins were forgiven. He lacked what Methodists call “assurance,” and what St. Paul called “peace with God.” He had the faith, to use his own distinction, not of a son, but only of a servant. He was good but he was not happy; he feared God, but he did not dare to love Him; he had not yet attained the conviction that he himself had been redeemed by Christ; and if this conviction is essential to conversion, then John Wesley, before he met Boehler, was not yet a converted man. For practical purposes the matter was of first importance. As long as Wesley was racked by doubts he could never be a persuasive preacher of the Gospel. He was so distracted about himself that he could not yet, with an easy mind, rush out to the rescue of others. He had not “a heart at leisure from itself to soothe and sympathize.” The influence of Boehler was enormous. He saw where Wesley’s trouble lay, and led him into the calm waters of rest.
“My brother, my brother,” he said, “that philosophy of yours must be purged away.”109
John Wesley did not understand. For three weeks the two men discussed the fateful question; and the more Wesley examined himself the more sure he was he did not possess “the faith whereby we are saved.” One day he felt certain of his salvation; the next the doubts besieged his door again.
“If what stands in the Bible is true,” he said, “then I am saved”; but that was as far as he could go.
“He knew,” said Boehler in a letter to Zinzendorf, “that he did not properly believe in the Saviour.”

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