A history of the moravian church

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Now, Lord, at peace with Thee and all below,

Let me depart, and to Thy Kingdom go.
For this blemish, however, he was more to be pitied than blamed. It was partly the result of ill-health and overwork; and, on the whole, it was merely a trifle when set beside that winsome grace, that unselfish zeal, that modest devotion, and that sunny piety, which charmed alike the Wiltshire peasants, the Papist boys of Dublin, and the humble weavers and spinners of the North of Ireland.122


MEANWHILE, however, the Brethren in England had been bitterly opposed. For this there were several reasons. First, the leading Brethren in England were Germans; and that fact alone was quite enough to prejudice the multitude against them {1742-3.}. For Germans our fathers had then but little liking; they had a German King on the throne, and they did not love him; and the general feeling in the country was that if a man was a foreigner he was almost sure to be a conspirator or a traitor. Who were these mysterious foreigners? asked the patriotic Briton. Who were these “Moravians,” these “Herrnhuters,” these “Germans,” these “Quiet in the Land,” these “Antinomians”? The very names of the Brethren aroused the popular suspicion. If a man could prove that his name was John Smith, the presumption was that John Smith was a loyal citizen; but if he was known as Gussenbauer or Ockershausen, he was probably another Guy Fawkes, and was forming a plot to blow up the House of Commons. At the outset therefore the Brethren were accused of treachery. At Pudsey Gussenbauer was arrested, tried at Wakefield, and imprisoned in York Castle. At Broadoaks, in Essex, the Brethren had opened a school, and were soon accused of being agents of the Young Pretender. They had, it was said, stored up barrels of gunpowder; they had undermined the whole neighbourhood, and intended to set the town of Thaxted on fire. At three o’clock one afternoon a mob surrounded the building, and tried in vain to force their way in. Among them were a sergeant and a corporal. The warden, Metcalfe, admitted the officers, showed them round the house, and finally led them to a room where a Bible and Prayer-book were lying on the table. At this sight the officers collapsed in amazement.
“Aye,” said the corporal, “this is proof enough that you are no Papists; if you were, this book would not have lain here.”
Another cause of opposition was the Brethren’s quiet mode of work. In North America lived a certain Gilbert Tennent; he had met Zinzendorf at New Brunswick; he had read his Berlin discourses; and now, in order to show the public what a dangerous teacher Zinzendorf was, he published a book, entitled, “Some Account of the Principles of the Moravians.” {1743.} As this book was published at Boston, it did not at first do much harm to the English Brethren; but, after a time, a copy found its way to England; an English edition was published; and the English editor, in a preface, accused the Brethren of many marvellous crimes. They persistently refused, he declared, to reveal their real opinions. They crept into houses and led captive silly women. They claimed that all Moravians were perfect, and taught that the Moravian Church was infallible. They practised an adventurous use of the Lot, had a curious method of discovering and purging out the accursed thing, pledged each other in liquor at their love-feasts, and had an “artful regulation of their convents.” Above all, said this writer, the Moravians were tyrannical. As soon as any person joined the Moravian Church, he was compelled to place himself, his family, and his estates entirely at the Church’s disposal; he was bound to believe what the Church believed, and to do what the Church commanded; he handed his children over to the Church’s care; he could not enter into any civil contract without the Church’s consent; and his sons and daughters were given in marriage just as the Church decreed.123 Gilbert Tennent himself was equally severe. He began by criticizing Zinzendorf’s theology; and after remarking that Zinzendorf was a liar, he said that the Brethren kept their disgusting principles secret, that they despised good books, that they slighted learning and reason, that they spoke lightly of Confessions of Faith, that they insinuated themselves into people’s affections by smiles and soft discourses about the love of Christ, that they took special care to apply to young persons, females and ignorant people. From all this the conclusion was obvious. At heart the Brethren were Roman Catholics. “The Moravians,” said Gilbert, “by this method of proceeding, are propagating another damnable doctrine of the Church of Rome, namely, that Ignorance is the Mother of Devotion.” We can imagine the effect of this in Protestant England. At one time Zinzendorf was openly accused in the columns of the Universal Spectator of kidnapping young women for Moravian convents; and the alarming rumour spread on all sides that the Brethren were Papists in disguise.
Another cause of trouble was the Moravian religious language. If the Brethren did not preach novel doctrines they certainly preached old doctrines in a novel way. They called Jesus the Man of Smart; talked a great deal about Blood and Wounds; spoke of themselves as Poor Sinners; and described their own condition as Sinnership and Sinnerlikeness. To the orthodox Churchman this language seemed absurd. He did not know what it meant; he did not find it in the Bible; and, therefore, he concluded that the Brethren’s doctrine was unscriptural and unsound.
Another cause of trouble was the Brethren’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. Of all the charges brought against them the most serious and the most persistent was the charge that they despised good works. They were denounced as Antinomians. Again and again, by the best of men, this insulting term was thrown at their heads. They taught, it was said, the immoral doctrine that Christ had done everything for the salvation of mankind; that the believer had only to believe; that he need not obey the commandments; and that such things as duties did not exist. At Windsor lived a gentleman named Sir John Thorold. He was one of the earliest friends of the Moravians; he had often attended meetings at Hutton’s house; he was an upright, conscientious, intelligent Christian; and yet he accused the Brethren of teaching “that there were no duties in the New Testament.” Gilbert Tennent brought the very same accusation. “The Moravian notion about the law,” he said, “is a mystery of detestable iniquity; and, indeed, this seems to be the mainspring of their unreasonable, anti-evangelical, and licentious religion.” But the severest critic of the Brethren was John Wesley. He attacked them in a “Letter to the Moravian Church,” and had that letter printed in his Journal. He attacked them again in his “Short View of the Difference between the Moravian Brethren, lately in England, and the Rev. Mr. John and Charles Wesley.” He attacked them again in his “A Dialogue between an Antinomian and his Friend”; and in each of these clever and biting productions his chief charge against them was that they taught Antinomian principles, despised good works, and taught that Christians had nothing to do but believe.
“Do you coolly affirm,” he asked, “that this is only imputed to a Believer, and that he has none at all of this holiness in him? Is temperance imputed only to him that is a drunkard still? or chastity to her that goes on in whoredom?”
He accused the Brethren of carrying out their principles; he attacked their personal character; and, boiling with righteous indignation, he denounced them as “licentious spirits and men of careless lives.”
As the Brethren, therefore, were now being fiercely attacked, the question arose, what measures, if any, they should take in self-defence. At first they contented themselves with gentle protests. As they had been accused of disloyalty to the throne, James Hutton, Benjamin Ingham, and William Bell, in the name of all the English societies connected with the Brethren’s Church, drew up an address to the King, went to see him in person, and assured him that they were loyal subjects and hated Popery and popish pretenders {April 27th, 1744.}. As they had been accused of attacking the Anglican Church, two Brethren called on Gibson, Bishop of London, and assured him that they had committed no such crime. For the rest, however, the Brethren held their tongues. At a Conference in London they consulted the Lot; and the Lot decided that they should not reply to Gilbert Tennent. For the same reason, probably, they also decided to give no reply to John Wesley.
Meanwhile, however, an event occurred which roused the Brethren to action. At Shekomeko, in Dutchess County, New York, they had established a flourishing Indian congregation; and now, the Assembly of New York, stirred up by some liquor sellers who were losing their business, passed an insulting Act, declaring that “all vagrant preachers, Moravians, and disguised Papists,” should not be allowed to preach to the Indians unless they first took the oaths of allegiance and abjuration {1744.}. James Hutton was boiling with fury. If this Act had applied to all preachers of the Gospel he would not have minded so much; but the other denominations--Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists and Quakers--were all specially exempted; and the loyal Moravians were bracketed together with vagrant preachers and Papists in disguise. He regarded the Act as an insult. He wrote to Zinzendorf on the subject. “This,” he said, “is the work of Presbyterian firebrands.” If an Act like this could be passed in America, who knew what might not happen soon in England? “We ought,” he continued, “to utilize this or some other favourable opportunity for bringing our cause publicly before Parliament.”
Now was the time, thought the fiery Hutton, to define the position of the Brethren’s Church in England. He went to Marienborn to see the Count; a Synod met {1745.}; his proposal was discussed; and the Synod appointed Abraham von Gersdorf, the official “Delegate to Kings,” to appeal to Lord Granville, and the Board of Trade and Plantations, for protection in the Colonies. Lord Granville was gracious. He informed the deputation that though the Act could not be repealed at once the Board of Trade would recommend the repeal as soon as legally possible; and the upshot of the matter was that the Act became a dead letter.
Next year Zinzendorf came to England, and began to do the best he could to destroy the separate Moravian Church in this country {1746.}. If the Count could only have had his way, he would now have made every Moravian in England return to the Anglican Church. He was full of his “Tropus” idea. He wished to work his idea out in England; he called the English Brethren to a Synod (Sept. 13-16), and persuaded them to pass a scheme whereby the English branch of the Brethren’s Church would be taken over entirely by the Church of England. It was one of the most curious schemes he ever devised. At their Sunday services the Brethren henceforward were to use the Book of Common Prayer; their ministers were to be ordained by Anglican and Moravian Bishops conjointly; he himself was to be the head of this Anglican-Moravian Church; and thus the English Moravians would be grafted on to the Church of England. For the second time, therefore, the Count was trying to destroy the Moravian Church. But here, to his surprise, he met an unexpected obstacle. He had forgotten that it takes two to make a marriage. He proposed the union in form to Archbishop Potter; he pleaded the case with all the skill at his command; and the Archbishop promptly rejected the proposal, and the marriage never came off.
As Zinzendorf, therefore, was baffled in this endeavour, he had now to come down from his pedestal and try a more practical plan {1747.}; and, acting on the sage advice of Thomas Penn, proprietor of Pennsylvania, and General Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia, he resolved to appeal direct to Parliament for protection in the Colonies. As Oglethorpe himself was a member of the House of Commons, he was able to render the Brethren signal service. He had no objection to fighting himself, and even defended duelling,124 but he championed the cause of the Brethren. Already, by an Act in 1740, the Quakers had been freed from taking the oath in all our American Colonies; already, further, by another Act (1743), the privilege of affirming had been granted in Pennsylvania, not only to Quakers, but to all foreign Protestants; and now Oglethorpe moved in the House of Commons that the rule existing in Pennsylvania should henceforth apply to all American Colonies. If the Moravians, he argued, were only given a little more encouragement, instead of being worried about oaths and military service, they would settle in larger numbers in America and increase the prosperity of the colonies. He wrote to the Board of Trade and Plantations; his friend, Thomas Penn, endorsed his statements; and the result was that the new clause was passed, and all foreign Protestants in American Colonies--the Moravians being specially mentioned--were free to affirm instead of taking the oath.
But this Act was of no use to the English Brethren. The great question at issue was, what standing were the Brethren to hold in England? On the one hand, as members of a foreign Protestant Church they were entitled to religious liberty; and yet, on the other hand, they were practically treated as Dissenters, and had been compelled to have all their buildings licensed. As they were still accused of holding secret dangerous principles, they now drew up another “Declaration,” had it printed, sent it to the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, and the Master of the Rolls, and inserted it in the leading newspapers. At all costs, pleaded the Brethren, let us have a public inquiry. “If any man of undoubted sense and candour,” they said, “will take the pains upon himself to fix the accusations against us in their real point of view, hitherto unattainable by the Brethren and perhaps the public too, then we will answer to the expectations of the public, as free and directly as may be expected from honest subjects of the constitution of these realms.” The appeal led to nothing; the man of sense and candour never appeared; and still the suffering Brethren groaned under all sorts of vague accusation.
At last, however, Zinzendorf himself came to the rescue of his Brethren, rented Northampton House in Bloomsbury Square,125 and brought the whole matter to a head. For the second time he took the advice of Oglethorpe and Thomas Penn; and a deputation was now appointed to frame a petition to Parliament that the Brethren in America be exempted, not merely from the oath, but also from military service.
As General Oglethorpe was now in England, he gladly championed the Brethren’s cause, presented the petition in the House of Commons, and opened the campaign by giving an account of the past history of the Brethren {Feb. 20th, 1749.}. For practical purposes this information was important. If the House knew nothing else about the Brethren it knew that they were no sect of mushroom growth. And then Oglethorpe informed the House how the Brethren, already, in bygone days had been kindly treated by England; how Amos Comenius had appealed to the Anglican Church; how Archbishop Sancroft and Bishop Compton had published a pathetic account of their sufferings; and how George I., by the advice of Archbishop Wake, had issued letters patent for their relief. But the most effective part of his speech was the part in which he spoke from personal knowledge. “In the year 1735,” he said “they were disquieted in Germany, and about twenty families went over with me to Georgia. They were industrious, patient under the difficulties of a new settlement, laborious beyond what could have been expected. They gave much of their time to prayer, but that hindered not their industry. Prayer was to them a diversion after labour. I mention this because a vulgar notion has prevailed that they neglected labour for prayer.” They had spent, he said, £100,000 in various industries; they had withdrawn already in large numbers from Georgia because they were compelled to bear arms; and if that colony was to prosper again the Brethren should be granted the privilege they requested, and thus be encouraged to return. For what privilege, after all, did the Brethren ask? For the noble privilege of paying money instead of fighting in battle. The more these Brethren were encouraged, said he, the more the Colonies would prosper; he proposed that the petition be referred to a Committee, and Velters Cornwall, member for Herefordshire, seconded the motion.
As Zinzendorf listened to this speech, some curious feelings must have surged in his bosom. At the Synod of Hirschberg, only six years before, he had lectured the Brethren for making business bargains with Governments; and now he was consenting to such a bargain himself. The debate in the Commons was conducted on business lines; the whole question at issue was, not whether the Moravians were orthodox, but whether it would pay the Government to encourage them; and the British Government took exactly the same attitude towards the Brethren that Frederick the Great had done seven years before. The next speaker made this point clearer than ever. We are not quite sure who it was. It was probably Henry Pelham, the Prime Minister. At any rate, whoever it was, he objected to the petition on practical grounds. He declared that the Moravians were a very dangerous body; that they were really a new sect; that, like the Papists, they had a Pope, and submitted to their Pope in all things; that they made their Church supreme in temporal matters; and that thus they destroyed the power of the civil magistrate. He suspected that the Brethren were Papists in disguise.
“I am at a loss,” he said, “whether I shall style the petitioners Jesuits, Papists, or Moravians.”
He intended, he declared, to move an amendment that the Moravians be restrained from making converts, and that all who joined their ranks be punished. The fate of England was at stake. If the Moravians converted the whole nation to their superstition, and everyone objected to bearing arms, what then would become of our Army and Navy, and how could we resist invasion? The next speakers, however, soon toned down the alarm. If Pelham’s objections applied to the Moravians, they would apply, it was argued, equally to the Quakers; and yet it was a notorious fact that the Colonies where the Quakers settled were the most prosperous places in the Empire. “What place,” asked one, “is more flourishing than Pennsylvania?” And if the Moravians objected to bearing arms, what did that matter, so long as they were willing to pay?
For these practical reasons, therefore, the motion was easily carried; a Parliamentary Committee was formed; General Oglethorpe was elected chairman; and the whole history, doctrine and practice of the Brethren were submitted to a thorough investigation. For this purpose Zinzendorf had prepared a number of documents; the documents were laid before the Committee; and, on the evidence of those documents, the Committee based its report. From that evidence three conclusions followed.
In the first place, the Brethren were able to show, by documents of incontestable authenticity, that they really were the true descendants of the old Church of the Brethren. They could prove that Daniel Ernest Jablonsky had been consecrated a Bishop at the Synod of Lissa (March 10th, 1699), that Jablonsky in turn had consecrated Zinzendorf a Bishop, and that thus the Brethren had preserved the old Moravian episcopal succession. They could prove, further, and prove they did, that Archbishops Wake and Potter had both declared that the Moravian episcopacy was genuine; that Potter had described the Moravian Brethren as apostolical and episcopal; and that when Zinzendorf was made a Bishop, Potter himself had written him a letter of congratulation. With such evidence, therefore, as this before them, the Committee were convinced of the genuineness of the Moravian episcopal succession; and when they issued their report they gave due weight to the point.
In the second place, the Brethren were able to show that they had no sectarian motives, and that though they believed in their own episcopacy, they had no desire to compete with the Church of England. “There are,” they said, “no more than two episcopal Churches among Protestants: the one known through all the world under the name of Ecclesia Anglicana; the other characterised for at least three ages as the Unitas Fratrum, comprehending generally all other Protestants who choose episcopal constitution. The first is the only one which may justly claim the title of a national church, because she has at her head a Christian King of the same rite, which circumstance is absolutely required to constitute a national church. The other episcopal one, known by the name of Unitas Fratrum, is far from pretending to that title.” In that manifesto the Brethren assumed that their episcopal orders were on a par with those of the Church of England; and that assumption was accepted, without the slightest demur, not only by the Parliamentary Committee, but by the bench of Bishops.
In the third place--and this was the crucial point--the Brethren were able to show, by the written evidence of local residents, that wherever they went they made honest, industrious citizens. They had settled down in Pennsylvania; they had done good work at Bethlehem, Nazareth, Gnadenhütten, Frederick’s Town, German Town and Oley; they had won the warm approval of Thomas Penn; and, so far from being traitors, they had done their best to teach the Indians to be loyal to the British throne. They had doubled the value of an estate in Lusatia, and had built two flourishing settlements in Silesia; they had taught the negroes in the West Indies to be sober, industrious and law-abiding; they had tried to uplift the poor Hottentots in South Africa; they had begun a mission in Ceylon, had toiled in plague-stricken Algiers, and had built settlements for the Eskimos in Greenland. If these statements had been made by Moravians, the Committee might have doubted their truth, but in every instance the evidence came, not from Brethren themselves, but from governors, kings and trading officials. The proof was overwhelming. Wherever the Brethren went, they did good work. They promoted trade; they enriched the soul; they taught the people to be both good and loyal; and, therefore, the sooner they were encouraged in America, the better for the British Empire.
As the Committee, therefore, were compelled by the evidence to bring in a good report, the desired leave was granted to bring in a bill “for encouraging the people known by the name of the Unitas Fratrum, or United Brethren, to settle in His Majesty’s Colonies in America.” Its real purpose, however, was to recognize the Brethren’s Church as an ancient Protestant Episcopal Church, not only in the American Colonies, but also in the United Kingdom; and its provisions were to be in force wherever the British flag might fly. The provisions were generous. First, in the preamble, the Brethren were described as “an ancient Protestant Episcopal Church and a sober and quiet industrious people,” and, being such, were hereby encouraged to settle in the American Colonies. Next, in response to their own request, they were allowed to affirm instead of taking the oath. The form of affirmation was as follows: “I, A. B., do declare in the presence of Almighty God the witness of the truth of what I say.” Next, they were allowed to pay a fixed sum instead of rendering military service, and were also exempted from serving on juries in criminal cases. Next, all members of the Brethren’s Church were to prove their claims by producing a certificate, signed by a Moravian Bishop or pastor. Next, the advocate of the Brethren was to supply the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations with a complete list of Moravian bishops and pastors, together with their handwriting and seal; and, finally, anyone who falsely claimed to belong to the Brethren’s Church was to be punished as a wilful perjurer.

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