A history of the moravian church

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His good opinion stood the test of time. He contradicted Wesley’s evidence flatly. “I cannot but observe,” he wrote to his friend Jacob Rogers, curate at St. Paul’s, Bedford, “what a slur you cast upon the Moravians about stillness. Do you think, my brother, that they don’t pray? I wish you prayed as much, and as well. They do not neglect prayers, either in public or in private; but they do not perform them merely as things that must be done; they are inwardly moved to pray by the Spirit. What they have said about stillness has either been strangely misunderstood or strangely misrepresented. They mean by it that we should endeavour to keep our minds calm, composed and collected, free from hurry and dissipation. And is not this right? They are neither despisers nor neglecters of ordinances.”
The position of Ingham was peculiar. He was a clergyman without a charge; he resided at Aberford, in Yorkshire; he appears to have been a man of considerable means; and now he devoted all his powers to the moral and spiritual upliftment of the working-classes in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His sphere was the district between Leeds and Halifax. For ignorance and brutality these Yorkshire people were then supposed to be unmatched in England. The parish churches were few and far between. The people were sunk in heathen darkness. Young Ingham began pure missionary work. He visited the people in their homes; he formed societies for Bible Reading and Prayer; he preached the doctrine of saving faith in Christ; and before long he was able to say that he had fifty societies under his care, two thousand hearers, three hundred inquirers, and a hundred genuine converts. For numbers, however, Ingham cared but little. His object was to bring men into personal touch with Christ. “I had rather,” he said, “see ten souls truly converted than ten thousand only stirred up to follow.” His work was opposed both by clergy and by laymen. At Colne, in Lancashire, he was attacked by a raging mob. At the head of the mob was the Vicar of Colne himself. The Vicar took Ingham into a house and asked him to sign a paper promising not to preach again. Ingham tore the paper in pieces.
“Bring him out and we’ll make him,” yelled the mob.
The Vicar went out; the mob pressed in; and clubs were flourished in the air “as thick as a man’s leg.”
Some wanted to kill him on the spot; others wished to throw him into the river.
“Nay, nay,” said others, “we will heave him into the bog, then he will be glad to go into the river and wash and sweeten himself.”
A stone “as big as a man’s fist,” hit him in the hollow of the neck. His coat-tails were bespattered with mud.
“See,” said a wit, “he has got wings.” At last the Vicar relented, took him into the Vicarage, and thus saved him from an early death.
But Ingham had soon more irons in the fire than he could conveniently manage. If these Yorkshire folk whom he had formed into societies were to make true progress in the spiritual life they must, he held, be placed under the care of evangelical teachers. He could not look after them himself; he was beginning new work further north, in the neighbourhood of Settle; and the best men he knew for his purpose were the Moravians whom he had learned to admire in Georgia, London and Herrnhut. For one Brother, John Toeltschig, Ingham had a special affection, and while he was on his visit to Herrnhut he begged that Toeltschig might be allowed to come with him to England. “B. Ingham,” he wrote, “sends greeting, and bids grace and peace to the most Reverend Bishops, Lord Count Zinzendorf and David Nitschmann, and to the other esteemed Brethren in Christ. I shall be greatly pleased if, with your consent, my beloved brother, John Toeltschig, be permitted to stay with me in England as long as our Lord and Saviour shall so approve. I am heartily united with you all in the bonds of love. Farewell. Herrnhut, Sept. 29, 1738.”117 For our purpose this letter is surely of the deepest interest. It proves beyond all reasonable doubt that the Moravians started their evangelistic campaign in England, not from sectarian motives, but because they were invited by English Churchmen who valued the Gospel message they had to deliver. As Hutton had begged for Boehler, so Ingham begged for Toeltschig; and Toeltschig paid a brief visit to Yorkshire (November, 1739), helped Ingham in his work, and so delighted the simple people that they begged that he might come to them again. For a while the request was refused. At last Ingham took resolute action himself, called a mass meeting of Society members, and put to them the critical question: “Will you have the Moravians to work among you?” Loud shouts of approval rang out from every part of the building. As Spangenberg was now in London the request was forwarded to him; he laid it before the Fetter Lane Society; the members organized the “Yorkshire Congregation”; and the “Yorkshire Congregation” set out to commence evangelistic work in earnest {May 26th, 1742.}. At the head of the band was Spangenberg himself. As soon as he arrived in Yorkshire he had a business interview with Ingham. For Spangenberg shouts of approval were not enough. He wanted everything down in black and white. A document was prepared; the Societies were summoned again; the document was laid before them; and twelve hundred Yorkshire Britons signed their names to a request that the Brethren should work among them. From that moment Moravian work in Yorkshire began. At one stroke--by a written agreement--the Societies founded by Benjamin Ingham were handed over to the care of the Moravian Church. The Brethren entered upon the task with zeal. For some months, with Spangenberg as general manager, they made their head-quarters at Smith House, a farm building near Halifax {July, 1742.}; and there, on Saturday afternoons, they met for united prayer, and had their meals together in one large room. At first they had a mixed reception. On the one hand a mob smashed the windows of Smith House; on the other, the serious Society members “flocked to Smith House like hungry bees.” The whole neighbourhood was soon mapped out, and the workers stationed at their posts. At Pudsey were Gussenbauer and his wife; at Great Horton, near Bradford, Toeltschig and Piesch; at Holbeck, near Leeds, the Browns; and other workers were busy soon at Lightcliffe, Wyke, Halifax, Mirfield, Hightown, Dewsbury, Wakefield, Leeds, Wortley, Farnley, Cleckheaton, Great Gomersal, and Baildon. The Moravian system of discipline was introduced. At the head of the men were John Toeltschig and Richard Viney; at the head of the women Mrs. Pietch and Mrs. Gussenbauer; and Monitors, Servants, and Sick Waiters were appointed just as in Herrnhut. Here was a glorious field of labour; here was a chance of Church extension; and the interesting question was, what use the Brethren would make of it.
At this point Count Zinzendorf arrived in Yorkshire {Feb., 1743.}, went to see Ingham at Aberford, and soon organized the work in a way of his own which effectually prevented it from spreading. His method was centralization. At that time he held firmly to his pet idea that the Brethren, instead of forming new congregations, should rather be content with “diaspora” work, and at the same time, whenever possible, build a settlement on the Herrnhut or Herrnhaag model, for the cultivation of social religious life. At this time it so happened that the Gussenbauers, stationed at Pudsey, were in trouble; their child was seriously ill; the Count rode over to see them; and while there he noticed the splendid site on which Fulneck stands to-day. If the visitor goes to Fulneck now he can hardly fail to be struck by its beauty. He is sure to admire its long gravel terrace, its neat parterres, its orchards and gardens, and, above all, its long line of plain stately buildings facing the southern sun. But then the slope was wild and unkempt, covered over with briars and brambles. Along the crown were a few small cottages. At one end, called Bankhouse, resided the Gussenbauers. From there the view across the valley was splendid. The estate was known as Falneck. The idea of a settlement rose before Zinzendorf’s mind. The spirit of prophecy came upon him, and he named the place “Lamb’s Hill.” For the next few days the Count and his friends enjoyed the hospitality of Ingham at Aberford; and a few months later Ingham heard that the land and houses at Falneck were on the market. He showed himself a true friend of the Brethren. He bought the estate, gave them part of it for building, let out the cottages to them as tenants, and thus paved the way for the introduction of the Moravian settlement system into England.
For good or for evil that settlement system was soon the leading feature of the English work. The building of Fulneck began. First the Brethren called the place Lamb’s Hill, then Gracehall, and then Fulneck, in memory of Fulneck in Moravia. From friends in Germany they received gifts in money, from friends in Norway a load of timber. The Single Brethren were all aglow with zeal; and on one occasion they spent the whole night in saying prayers and singing hymns upon the chosen sites. First rose the Chapel (1746), then the Minister’s House and the rooms beneath and just to the east of the Chapel (1748), then the Brethren’s and Sisters’ Houses (1752), then the Widows’ House (1763), then the Shop and Inn (1771), then the Cupola (1779), and then the Boys’ Boarding School (1784-5). Thus, step by step, the long line of buildings arose, a sight unlike any other in the United Kingdom.
As the Brethren settled down in that rough Yorkshire country, they had a noble purpose, which was a rebuke to the godless and cynical spirit of the age. “Is a Christian republic possible?” asked the French philosopher, Bayle. According to the world it was not; according to the Brethren it was; and here at Fulneck they bravely resolved to put the matter to the proof. As long as that settlement existed, said they, there would be a kingdom where the law of Christ would reign supreme, where Single Brethren, Single Sisters, and Widows, would be screened from the temptations of the wicked world, where candidates would be trained for the service of the Church and her Master, where missionaries, on their way to British Colonies, could rest awhile, and learn the English language, where children, in an age when schools were scarce, could be brought up in the fear of God, and where trade would be conducted, not for private profit, but for the benefit of all. At Fulneck, in a word, the principles of Christ would be applied to the whole round of Moravian life. There dishonesty would be unknown; cruel oppression would be impossible; doubtful amusements would be forbidden; and thus, like their German Brethren in Herrnhut, these keen and hardy Yorkshire folk were to learn by practical experience that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and more delightful to work for a common cause than for a private balance at the bank.
For this purpose the Brethren established what were then known as diaconies; and a diacony was simply an ordinary business conducted, not by a private individual for his own personal profit, but by some official of the congregation for the benefit of the congregation as a whole. For example, James Charlesworth, a Single Brother, was appointed manager of a cloth-weaving factory, which for some years did a splendid trade with Portugal and Russia, kept the Single Brethren in regular employment, and supplied funds for general Church objects. As the years rolled on, the Brethren established a whole series of congregation-diaconies: a congregation general dealer’s shop, a congregation farm, a congregation bakery, a congregation glove factory, and, finally, a congregation boarding-house or inn. At each diacony the manager and his assistants received a fixed salary, and the profits of the business helped to swell the congregation funds. The ideal was as noble as possible. At Fulneck daily labour was sanctified, and men toiled in the sweat of their brows, not because they wanted to line their pockets, but because they wanted to help the cause of Christ. For the sake of the Church the baker kneaded, the weaver plied his shuttle, the Single Sisters did needlework of marvellous beauty and manufactured their famous marble-paper. For many years, too, these Brethren at Fulneck employed a congregation doctor; and the object of this gentleman’s existence was not to build up a flourishing practice, but to preserve the good health of his beloved Brethren and Sisters.
We must not, however, regard the Brethren as communists. James Hutton was questioned on this by the Earl of Shelburne.
“Does everything which is earned among you,” said the Earl, “belong to the community?”
“No,” replied Hutton, “but people contribute occasionally out of what they earn.”
And yet this system, so beautiful to look at, was beset by serious dangers. It required more skill than the Brethren possessed, and more supervision than was humanly possible. As long as a business flourished and paid the congregation reaped the benefit; but if, on the other hand, the business failed, the congregation suffered, not only in money, but in reputation. At one time James Charlesworth, in an excess of zeal, mortgaged the manufacturing business, speculated with the money, and lost it; and thus caused others to accuse the Brethren of wholesale robbery and fraud. Again, the system was opposed in a measure to the English spirit of self-help and independence. As long as a man was engaged in a diacony, he was in the service of the Church; he did not receive a sufficient salary to enable him to provide for old age; he looked to the Church to provide his pension and to take care of him when he was ill; and thus he lost that self-reliance which is said to be the backbone of English character. But the most disastrous effect of these diaconies was on the settlement as a whole. They interfered with voluntary giving; they came to be regarded as Church endowments; and the people, instead of opening their purses, relied on the diaconies to supply a large proportion of the funds for the current expenses of congregation life. And here we cannot help but notice the difference between the Moravian diacony system and the well-known system of free-will offerings enforced by John Wesley in his Methodist societies. At first sight, the Moravian system might look more Christian; at bottom, Wesley’s system proved the sounder; and thus, while Methodism spread, the Moravian river was choked at the fountain head.
Another feature of settlement life was its tendency to encourage isolation. For many years the rule was enforced at Fulneck that none but Moravians should be allowed to live in that sacred spot; and the laws were so strict that the wonder is that Britons submitted at all. For example, there was actually a rule that no member should spend a night outside the settlement without the consent of the Elders’ Conference. If this rule had been confined to young men and maidens, there would not have been very much to say against it; but when it was enforced on business men, who might often want to travel at a moment’s notice, it became an absurdity, and occasioned some vehement kicking against the pricks. The Choir-houses, too, were homes of the strictest discipline. At the west end stood the Single Brethren’s House, where the young men lived together. They all slept in one large dormitory; they all rose at the same hour, and met for prayers before breakfast; they were all expected to attend certain services, designed for their special benefit; and they had all to turn in at a comparatively early hour. At the east end--two hundred yards away--stood the Single Sisters’ House; and there similar rules were in full force. For all Sisters there were dress regulations, which many must have felt as a grievous burden. At Fulneck there was nothing in the ladies’ dress to show who was rich and who was poor. They all wore the same kind of material; they had all to submit to black, grey, or brown; they all wore the same kind of three-cornered white shawl; and the only dress distinction was the ribbon in the cap, which showed to which estate in life the wearer belonged. For married women the colour was blue; for widows, white; for young women, pink; and for girls under eighteen, red. At the services in church the audience sat in Choirs, the women and girls on one side, the men and boys on the other. The relations between the sexes were strictly guarded. If a young man desired to marry, he was not even allowed to speak to his choice without the consent of the Elders’ Conference; the Conference generally submitted the question to the Lot; and if the Lot gave a stern refusal, he was told that his choice was disapproved by God, and enjoined to fix his affections on someone else. The system had a twofold effect. It led, on the one hand, to purity and peace; on the other, to spiritual pride.
Another feature of this settlement life was the presence of officials. At Fulneck the number of Church officials was enormous. The place of honour was held by the Elders’ Conference. It consisted of all the ministers of the Yorkshire District, the Fulneck Single Brethren’s Labourer, the Single Sisters’ Labouress, and the Widows’ Labouress. It met at Fulneck once a month, had the general oversight of the Yorkshire work, and was supposed to watch the personal conduct of every individual member. Next came the Choir Elders’ Conference. It consisted of a number of lay assistants, called Choir Helpers, had no independent powers of action, and acted as advisory board to the Elders’ Conference. Next came the Congregation Committee. It was elected by the voting members of the congregation, had charge of the premises and finances, and acted as a board of arbitration in cases of legal dispute. Next came the Large Helpers’ Conference. It consisted of the Committee, the Elders’ Conference, and certain others elected by the congregation. Next came the Congregation Council, a still larger body elected by the Congregation. At first sight these institutions look democratic enough. In reality, they were not democratic at all. The mode of election was peculiar. As soon as the votes had been collected the names of those at the top of the poll were submitted to the Lot; and only those confirmed by the Lot were held to be duly elected. The real power lay in the hands of the Elders’ Conference. They were the supreme court of appeal; they were members, by virtue of their office, of the Committee; and they alone had the final decision as to who should be received as members and who should not. The whole system was German rather than English in conception. It was the system, not of popular control, but of ecclesiastical official authority.
But the most striking feature of the settlement system is still to be mentioned. It was the road, not to Church extension, but to Church extinction. If the chief object which the Brethren set before them was to keep that Church as small as possible, they could hardly have adopted a more successful method. We may express that method in the one word “centralization.” For years the centre of the Yorkshire work was Fulneck. At Fulneck met the Elders’ Conference. At Fulneck all Choir Festivals were held; at these Festivals the members from the other congregations were expected to be present; and when John de Watteville arrived upon the scene (1754) he laid down the regulation that although in future there were to be “as many congregations as chapels in Yorkshire,” yet all were still to be one body, and all members must appear at Fulneck at least once a quarter! At Fulneck alone--in these earlier years--did the Brethren lay out a cemetery; and in that cemetery all funerals were to be conducted. The result was inevitable. As long as the other congregations were tied to the apron strings of Fulneck they could never attain to independent growth. I give one instance to show how the system worked. At Mirfield a young Moravian couple lost a child by death. As the season was winter, and the snow lay two feet deep, they could not possibly convey the coffin to Fulneck; and therefore they had the funeral conducted by the Vicar at Mirfield. For this sin they were both expelled from the Moravian Church. At heart, in fact, these early Brethren had no desire for Moravian Church extension whatever. They never asked anyone to attend their meetings, and never asked anyone to join their ranks. If any person expressed a desire to become a member of the Moravian Church, he was generally told in the first instance “to abide in the Church of England”; and only when he persisted and begged was his application even considered. And even then they threw obstacles in his way. They first submitted his application to the Lot. If the Lot said “No,” he was rejected, and informed that the Lord did not wish him to join the Brethren’s Church. If the Lot said “Yes,” he had still a deep river to cross. The “Yes” did not mean that he was admitted; it only meant that his case would be considered. He was now presented with a document called a “testimonial,” informing him that his application was receiving attention. He had then to wait two years; his name was submitted to the Elders’ Conference; the Conference inquired into all his motives, and put him through a searching examination; and at the end of the two years he was as likely to be rejected as accepted. For these rules the Brethren had one powerful reason of their own. They had no desire to steal sheep from the Church of England. At the very outset of their campaign they did their best to make their position clear. “We wish for nothing more,” they declared, in a public notice in the Daily Advertiser, August 2nd, 1745, “than that some time or other there might be some bishop or parish minister found of the English Church, to whom, with convenience and to the good liking of all sides, we could deliver the care of those persons of the English Church who have given themselves to our care.”
Thus did the Brethren, with Fulneck as a centre, commence their work in Yorkshire. At three other villages--Wyke, Gomersal, and Mirfield--they established so-called “country congregations” with chapel and minister’s house. The work caused a great sensation. At one time a mob came out from Leeds threatening to burn Fulneck to the ground. At another time a neighbouring landlord sent his men to destroy all the linen hung out to dry. At the first Easter Morning Service in Fulneck four thousand spectators assembled to witness the solemn service. And the result of the Brethren’s labours was that while their own numbers were always small they contributed richly to the revival of evangelical piety in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
In the Midlands the system had just the same results. At the village of Ockbrook, five miles from Derby, the Brethren built another beautiful settlement. For some years, with Ockbrook as a centre, they had a clear field for work in the surrounding district; they had preaching places at Eaton, Belper, Codnor, Matlock, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Dale, and other towns and villages; and yet not a single one of these places ever developed into a congregation.
In Bedfordshire the result was equally fatal. At first the Brethren had a golden chance in Bedford. There, in 1738, there was a terrible epidemic of small-pox; in one week sixty or seventy persons died; nearly all the clergy had fled from the town in terror; and then Jacob Rogers, the curate of St. Paul’s, sent for Ingham and Delamotte to come to the rescue. The two clergymen came; some Moravians followed; a Moravian congregation at Bedford was organized; and before long the Brethren had twenty societies round Bunyan’s charming home. And yet not one of these societies became a new congregation. As Fulneck was the centre for Yorkshire, so Bedford was the centre for Bedfordshire; and the system that checked expansion in the North strangled it at its birth in the South.


ONCE more an Anglican paved the way for the Brethren. At the terrible period of the Day of Blood one Brother, named Cennick, fled from Bohemia to England; and now, about a hundred years later, his descendant, John Cennick, was to play a great part in the revival of the Brethren’s Church. For all that, John Cennick, in the days of his youth, does not appear to have known very much about his ecclesiastical descent. He was born (1718) and brought up at Reading, and was nursed from first to last in the Anglican fold. He was baptized at St. Lawrence Church; attended service twice a day with his mother; was confirmed and took the Communion; and, finally, at a service in the Church, while the psalms were being read, he passed through that critical experience in life to which we commonly give the name “conversion.” For us, therefore, the point to notice is that John Cennick was truly converted to God, and was fully assured of his own salvation before he had met either Moravians or Methodists, and before he even knew, in all probability, that such people as the Moravians existed. We must not ascribe his conversion to Moravian influence. If we seek for human influence at all let us give the honour to his mother; but the real truth appears to be that what John Wesley learned from Boehler, John Cennick learned by direct communion with God. His spiritual experience was as deep and true as Wesley’s. He had been, like Wesley, in the castle of Giant Despair, and had sought, like Wesley, to attain salvation by attending the ordinances of the Church. He had knelt in prayer nine times a day; he had watched; he had fasted; he had given money to the poor; he had almost gone mad in his terror of death and of the judgment day; and, finally, without any human aid, in his pew at St. Lawrence Church, he heard, he tells us, the voice of Jesus saying, “I am thy salvation,” and there and then his heart danced for joy and his dying soul revived.

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