A history of the moravian church

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The first reading was on March 28th, and the passage through the House of Commons was smooth. At the second reading, on April 1st, General Oglethorpe was asked to explain why the privilege of affirming should be extended to Moravians in Great Britain and Ireland. Why not confine it to the American colonies? His answer was convincing. If the privilege, he said, were confined to America, it would be no privilege at all. At that time all cases tried in America could be referred to an English Court of Appeal. If the privilege, therefore, were confined to America, the Brethren would be constantly hampered by vexatious appeals to England; and an English Court might at any moment upset the decision of an American Court. The explanation was accepted; the third reading came on; and the Bill passed the House of Commons unaltered.
In the House of Lords there was a little more opposition. As the Brethren were described as an “Episcopal Church,” it was feared that the Bishops might raise an objection; but the Bishops met at Lambeth Palace, and resolved not to oppose. At first Dr. Sherlock, Bishop of London, objected; but even he gave way in the end, and when the Bill came before the Lords not a single Bishop raised his voice against it. The only Bishop who spoke was Maddox, of Worcester, and he spoke in the name of the rest.
“Our Moravian Brethren,” he said, “are an ancient Episcopal Church. Of all Protestants, they come the nearest to the Established Church in this kingdom in their doctrine and constitution. And though the enemy has persecuted them from several quarters, the soundness of their faith and the purity of their morals have defended them from any imputation of Popery and immorality.”
The one dangerous opponent was Lord Chancellor Hardwicke. He objected to the clause about the certificate. If a man wished to prove himself a Moravian, let him do so by bringing witnesses. What use was a Bishop’s certificate? It would not be accepted by any judge in the country.
On the other hand, Lord Granville, in a genial speech, spoke highly of the Brethren. As some members were still afraid that the whole country might become Moravians, and refuse to defend our land against her foes, he dismissed their fears by an anecdote about a Quaker. At one time, he said, in the days of his youth, the late famous admiral, Sir Charles Wager, had been mate on a ship commanded by a Quaker; and on one occasion the ship was attacked by a French privateer. What, then, did the Quaker captain do? Instead of fighting the privateer himself, he gave over the command to Wager, captured the privateer, and made his fortune. But the Brethren, he held, were even broader minded than the Quakers.
“I may compare them,” he said, “to a casting-net over all Christendom, to enclose all denominations of Christians. If you like episcopacy, they have it; if you choose the Presbytery of Luther or Calvin, they have that also; and if you are pleased with Quakerism, they have something of that.”
With this speech Zinzendorf was delighted. As the little difficulty about the certificate had not yet been cleared away, he suggested that the person bringing the certificate should bring witnesses as well; and with this trifling amendment the Bill at last--on May 12th, the Moravian Memorial Day--was carried without a division.
In one sense this Act was a triumph for the Brethren, and yet it scarcely affected their fortunes in England. Its interest is national rather than Moravian. It was a step in the history of religious toleration, and the great principle it embodied was that a religious body is entitled to freedom on the ground of its usefulness to the State. The principle is one of the deepest importance. It is the fundamental principle to-day of religious liberty in England. But the Brethren themselves reaped very little benefit. With the exception of their freedom from the oath and from military service, they still occupied the same position as before the Act was passed. We come here to one of those contradictions which are the glory of all legal systems. On the one hand, by Act of Parliament, they were declared an Episcopal Church, and could hardly, therefore, be regarded as Dissenters; on the other, they were treated as Dissenters still, and still had their churches licensed as “places of worship for the use of Protestant Dissenters.”126


AS soon as the Act of Parliament was passed, and the settlement at Herrnhaag had been broken up, the Count resolved that the headquarters of the Brethren’s Church should henceforward be in London; and to this intent he now leased a block of buildings at Chelsea, known as Lindsey House. The great house, in altered form, is standing still. It is at the corner of Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street, and is close to the Thames Embankment. It had once belonged to Sir Thomas More, and also to the ducal family of Ancaster. The designs of Zinzendorf were ambitious. He leased the adjoining Beaufort grounds and gardens, spent £12,000 on the property, had the house remodelled in grandiose style, erected, close by, the “Clock” chapel and a minister’s house, laid out a cemetery, known to this day as “Sharon,” and thus made preliminary arrangements for the establishment in Chelsea of a Moravian settlement in full working order. In those days Chelsea was a charming London suburb. From the house to the river side lay a terrace, used as a grand parade; from the bank to the water there ran a short flight of steps; and from there the pleasure-boats, with banners flying, took trippers up and down the shining river. For five years this Paradise was the headquarters of the Brethren’s Church. There, in grand style, lived the Count himself, with the members of his Pilgrim Band; there the Brethren met in conference; there the archives of the Church were preserved; and there letters and reports were received from all parts of the rapidly extending mission field.
And now the Count led a new campaign in England. As debates in Parliament were not then published in full, it was always open for an enemy to say that the Brethren had obtained their privileges by means of some underhand trick; and in order to give this charge the lie, the Count now published a folio volume, entitled, “Acta Fratrum Unitatis in Anglia.” In this volume he took the bull by the horns. He issued it by the advice of Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man. It was a thorough and comprehensive treatise, and contained all about the Moravians that an honest and inquiring Briton would need to know. The first part consisted of the principal vouchers that had been examined by the Parliamentary Committee. The next was an article, “The Whole System of the Twenty-one Doctrinal Articles of the Confession of Augsburg”; and here the Brethren set forth their doctrinal beliefs in detail. The next article was “The Brethren’s Method of Preaching the Gospel, according to the Synod of Bern, 1532”; and here they explained why they preached so much about the Person and sufferings of Christ. The next article was a series of extracts from the minutes of German Synods; and here the Brethren showed what they meant by such phrases as “Sinnership” and “Blood and Wounds Theology.” But the cream of the volume was Zinzendorf’s treatise, “The Rationale of the Brethren’s Liturgies.” He explained why the Brethren spoke so freely on certain moral matters, and contended that while they had sometimes used language which prudish people might condemn as indecent, they had done so from the loftiest motives, and had always maintained among themselves a high standard of purity. At the close of the volume was the Brethren’s “Church Litany,” revised by Sherlock, Bishop of London, a glossary of their religious terms, and a pathetic request that if the reader was not satisfied yet he should ask for further information. The volume was a challenge to the public. It was an honest manifesto of the Brethren’s principles, a declaration that they had nothing to conceal, and a challenge to their enemies to do their worst.
The next task of Zinzendorf was to comfort the Brethren’s friends. At this period, while Zinzendorf was resident in London, the whole cause of the Brethren in England was growing at an amazing pace; and in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Dublin, and the North of Ireland, the members of the numerous societies and preaching places were clamouring for full admission to the Moravian Church. They assumed a very natural attitude. On the one hand, they wanted to become Moravians; on the other, they objected to the system of discipline enforced so strictly in the settlements, and contended that though it might suit in Germany, it was not fit for independent Britons. But Zinzendorf gave a clear and crushing answer. For the benefit of all good Britons who wished to join the Moravian Church without accepting the Moravian discipline, he issued what he called a “Consolatory Letter”;127 and the consolation that he gave them was that he could not consider their arguments for a moment. He informed them that the Brethren’s rules were so strict that candidates could only be received with caution; that the Brethren had no desire to disturb those whose outward mode of religion was already fixed; that they lived in a mystical communion with Christ which others might not understand; and, finally, that they refused point-blank to rob the other Churches of their members, and preferred to act “as a seasonable assistant in an irreligious age, and as a most faithful servant to the other Protestant Churches.” Thus were the society members blackballed; and thus did Zinzendorf prove in England that, with all his faults, he was never a schismatic or a poacher on others’ preserves.
Meanwhile, the battle of the books had begun. The first blow was struck by John Wesley. For the last seven years--as his Journal shows--he had seen but little of the Brethren, and was, therefore, not in a position to pass a fair judgment on their conduct; but, on the other hand, he had seen no reason to alter his old opinion, and still regarded them as wicked Antinomians. The Act of Parliament aroused his anger. He obtained a copy of Zinzendorf’s Acta Fratrum, and published a pamphlet128 summarizing its contents, with characteristic comments of his own {1750.}. He signed himself “A Lover of the Light.” His pamphlet was a fierce attack upon the Brethren. The very evidence that had convinced the Parliamentary Committee was a proof to Wesley that the Brethren were heretics and deceivers. He accused them of having deceived the Government and of having obtained their privileges by false pretences. He asserted that they had brought forward documents which gave an erroneous view of their principles and conduct. He hinted that Zinzendorf, in one document, claimed for himself the power, which belonged by right to the King and Parliament only, to transport his Brethren beyond the seas, and that he had deceived the Committee by using the milder word “transfer.” He accused the Brethren of hypocritical pretence, threw doubts upon their assumed reluctance to steal sheep from other churches, and hinted that while they rejected the poor they welcomed the rich with open arms. At the close of his pamphlet he declared his conviction that the chief effect of the Brethren’s religion was to fill the mind with absurd ideas about the Side-Wound of Christ, and rivers and seas of blood; and, therefore, he earnestly besought all Methodists who had joined the Church of the Brethren to quit their diabolical delusions, to flee from the borders of Sodom, and to leave these Brethren, loved the darkness and rejected the Holy Scriptures.
The next attack was of a milder nature. At Melbourne, in Derbyshire, the Brethren had a small society; and George Baddeley, the local curate, being naturally shocked that so many of his parishioners had ceased to attend the Parish Church, appealed to them in a pamphlet entitled, “A Kind and Friendly Letter to the People called Moravians at Melbourne, in Derbyshire.” And kind and friendly the pamphlet certainly was. For the Brethren, as he knew them by personal contact, George Baddeley professed the highest respect; and all that he had to say against them was that they had helped to empty the Parish Church, and had ignorantly taught the people doctrines contrary to Holy Scripture. They made a sing-song, he complained, of the doctrine of the cleansing blood of Christ; they had driven the doctrine of imputation too far, and had spoken of Christ as a personal sinner; they had taught that Christians were as holy as God, and co-equal with Christ, that believers were not to pray, that there were no degrees in faith, and that all who had not full assurance of faith were children of the devil. The pamphlet is instructive. It was not an accurate account of the Brethren’s teaching; but it shows what impression their teaching made on the mind of an evangelical country curate.
Another writer, whose name is unknown, denounced the Brethren in his pamphlet “Some Observations.” He had read Zinzendorf’s Acta Fratrum, was convinced that the Brethren were Papists, and feared that now the Act was passed they would spread their Popish doctrines in the colonies. For this judgment the chief evidence he summoned was a passage in the volume expounding the Brethren’s doctrine of the Sacrament; and in his opinion their doctrine was so close to Transubstantiation that ordinary Protestants could not tell the difference between the two.
At Spondon, near Derby, lived Gregory Oldknow; and Gregory published a pamphlet entitled, “Serious Objections to the Pernicious Doctrines of the Moravians and Methodists.” {1751.} As he did not explain his point very clearly, it is hard to see what objection he had to the Brethren; but as he called them cannibals and German pickpockets, he cannot have had much respect for their personal character. At their love-feasts, he said, their chief object was to squeeze money from the poor. At some of their services they played the bass viol, and at others they did not, which plainly showed that they were unsteady in their minds. And, therefore, they were a danger to Church and State.
At Dublin, John Roche, a Churchman, published his treatise {1751.}, the “Moravian Heresy.” His book was published by private subscription, and among the subscribers were the Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishops of Meath, Raphoe, Waterford, Clogher, Kilmore, Kildare, Derry, and Down and Connor, and several deans, archdeacons and other Irish clergymen. He denounced the Brethren as Antinomians. It is worth while noting what he meant by this term. “The moral acts of a believer,” said the Brethren, “are not acts of duty that are necessary to give him a share in the merits of Christ, but acts of love which he is excited to pay the Lamb for the salvation already secured to him, if he will but unfeignedly believe it to be so. Thus every good act of a Moravian is not from a sense of duty, but from a sense of gratitude.” Thus Roche denounced as Antinomian the very doctrine now commonly regarded as evangelical. He said, further, that the Moravians suffered from hideous diseases inflicted on them by the devil; but the chief interest of his book is the proof it offers of the strength of the Brethren at that time. He wrote when both Cennick and Wesley had been in Dublin; but Cennick to him seemed the really dangerous man. At first he intended to expose both Moravians and Methodists. “But,” he added, “the Moravians being the more dangerous, subtle and powerful sect, and I fear will be the more obstinate, I shall treat of them first.”
For the next attack the Brethren were themselves to blame. As the Brethren had sunk some thousands of pounds at Herrnhaag, they should now have endeavoured to husband their resources; and yet, at a Synod held in London, 1749, they resolved to erect choir-houses in England. At Lindsey House they sunk £12,000; at Fulneck, in Yorkshire they sunk thousands more; at Bedford they sunk thousands more; and meanwhile they were spending thousands more in the purchase and lease of building land, and in the support of many preachers in the rapidly increasing country congregations. And here they made an amazing business blunder. Instead of cutting their coat according to their cloth, they relied on a fictitious capital supposed to exist on the Continent. At one time John Wesley paid a visit to Fulneck, saw the buildings in course of erection, asked how the cost would be met, and received, he says, the astounding answer that the money “would come from beyond the sea.”
At this point, to make matters worse, Mrs. Stonehouse, a wealthy Moravian, died; and one clause in her will was that, when her husband followed her to the grave, her property should then be devoted to the support of the Church Diaconies. Again the English Brethren made a business blunder. Instead of waiting till Mr. Stonehouse died, and the money was actually theirs, they relied upon it as prospective capital, and indulged in speculations beyond their means; and, to cut a long story short, the sad fact has to be recorded that, by the close of 1752, the Moravian Church in England was about £30,000 in debt. As soon as Zinzendorf heard the news, he rushed heroically to the rescue, gave security for £10,000, dismissed the managers of the Diaconies, and formed a new board of administration.
But the financial disease was too deep-seated to be so easily cured. The managers of the English Diaconies had been extremely foolish. They had invested £67,000 with one Gomez Serra, a Portuguese Jew. Gomez Serra suddenly stopped payment, the £67,000 was lost, and thus the Brethren’s liabilities were now nearly £100,000 {1752.}. Again Zinzendorf, in generous fashion, came to the rescue of his Brethren. He acted in England exactly as he had acted at Herrnhaag. He discovered before long, to his dismay, that many of the English Brethren had invested money in the Diaconies, and that now they ran the serious danger of being imprisoned for debt. He called a meeting of the creditors, pledged himself for the whole sum, and suggested a plan whereby the debt could be paid off in four years. We must not, of course, suppose that Zinzendorf himself proposed to pay the whole £100,000 out of his own estates. For the present he made himself responsible, but he confidently relied on the Brethren to repay their debt to him as soon as possible. At all events, the creditors accepted his offer; and all that the Brethren needed now was time to weather the storm.
At this point George Whitefield interfered, and nearly sent the Moravian ship to the bottom {1753.}. He appealed to the example of Moses and Paul. As Moses, he said, had rebuked the Israelites when they made the golden calf, and as Paul had resisted Peter and Barnabas when carried away with the dissimulation of the Jews, so he, as a champion of the Church of Christ, could hold his peace no longer. He attacked the Count in a fiery pamphlet, entitled, “An Expostulatory Letter to Count Zinzendorf.” The pamphlet ran to a second edition, and was circulated in Germany. He began by condemning Moravian customs as unscriptural. “Pray, my lord,” he said, “what instances have we of the first Christians walking round the graves of their deceased friends on Easter-Day, attended with haut-boys, trumpets, French horns, violins and other kinds of musical instruments? Or where have we the least mention made of pictures of particular persons being brought into the first Christian assemblies, and of candles being placed behind them, in order to give a transparent view of the figures? Where was it ever known that the picture of the apostle Paul, representing him handing a gentleman and lady up to the side of Jesus Christ, was ever introduced into the primitive love-feasts? Again, my lord, I beg leave to inquire whether we hear anything of eldresses or deaconesses of the apostolical churches seating themselves before a table covered with artificial flowers, against that a little altar surrounded with wax tapers, on which stood a cross, composed either of mock or real diamonds, or other glittering stones?” As the Brethren, therefore, practised customs which had no sanction in the New Testament, George Whitefield concluded that they were encouraging Popery. At this period the Brethren were certainly fond of symbols; and on one occasion, as the London Diary records, Peter Boehler entered Fetter Lane Chapel, arrayed in a white robe to symbolize purity, and a red sash tied at the waist to symbolize the cleansing blood of Christ. But the next point in Whitefield’s “letter” was cruel. At the very time when Zinzendorf was giving his money to save his English Brethren from a debtor’s prison, Whitefield accused him and his Brethren alike of robbery and fraud. He declared that Zinzendorf was £40,000 in debt; that there was little hope that he would ever pay; that his allies were not much better; and that the Brethren had deceived the Parliamentary Committee by representing themselves as men of means. At the very time, said Whitefield, when the Moravian leaders were boasting in Parliament of their great possessions, they were really binding down their English members for thousands more than they could pay. They drew bills on tradesmen without their consent; they compelled simple folk to sell their estates, seized the money, and then sent the penniless owners abroad; and they claimed authority to say to the rich, “Either give us all thou hast, or get thee gone.” For these falsehoods Whitefield claimed, no doubt quite honestly, to have good evidence; and to prove his point he quoted the case of a certain Thomas Rhodes. Poor Rhodes, said Whitefield, was one of the Brethren’s victims. They had first persuaded him to sell a valuable estate; they had then seized part of his money to pay their debts; and at last they drained his stores so dry that he had to sell them his watch, bureau, horse and saddle, to fly to France, and to leave his old mother to die of starvation in England. For a while this ridiculous story was believed; and the Brethren’s creditors, in a state of panic, pressed hard for their money. The little Church of the Brethren was now on the brink of ruin. At one moment Zinzendorf himself expected to be thrown into prison, and was only saved in the nick of time by the arrival of money from Germany. But the English Brethren now showed their manhood. The very men whom Zinzendorf was supposed to have robbed now rose in his defence. Instead of thanking Whitefield for defending them in their supposed distresses, they formed a committee, drew up a statement,129 dedicated that statement to the Archbishop of York, and declared that there was not a word of truth in Whitefield’s charges. They had not, they declared, been robbed by Zinzendorf and the Moravian leaders; on the contrary, they had received substantial benefits from them. Thomas Rhodes himself proved Whitefield in the wrong. He wrote a letter to his own lawyer; James Hutton published extracts from the letter, and in that letter Rhodes declared that he had sold his estate of his own free will, that the Brethren had paid a good price, and that he and his mother were living in perfect comfort. Thus was Whitefield’s fiction exploded, and the Brethren’s credit restored.
But the next attack was still more deadly. At the time when Whitefield wrote his pamphlet there had already appeared a book entitled “A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuters”; and Whitefield himself had read the book and had allowed it to poison his mind {1753.}. The author was Henry Rimius.130 He had been Aulic Councillor to the King of Prussia, had met Moravians in Germany, and now lived in Oxenden Street, London. For two years this scribbler devoted his energies to an attempt to paint the Brethren in such revolting colours that the Government would expel them from the country. His method was unscrupulous and immoral. He admitted, as he had to admit, that such English Brethren as he knew were excellent people; and yet he gave the impression in his books that the whole Moravian Church was a sink of iniquity. He directed his main attack against Zinzendorf and the old fanatics at Herrnhaag; and thus he made the English Brethren suffer for the past sins of their German cousins. He accused the Brethren of deceiving the House of Commons. He would now show them up in their true colours. “No Government,” he said, “that harbours them can be secure whilst their leaders go on at the rate they have done hitherto.” He accused them of holding immoral principles dangerous to Church and State. They held, he said, that Christ could make the most villainous act to be virtue, and the most exalted virtue to be vice. They spoke with contempt of the Bible, and condemned Bible reading as dangerous. They denounced the orthodox theology as fit only for dogs and swine, and described the priests of other Churches as professors of the devil. They called themselves the only true Church, the Church of the Lamb, the Church of Blood and Wounds; and claimed that, on the Judgment Day, they would shine forth in all their splendour and be the angels coming in glory. At heart, however, they were not Protestants at all, but Atheists in disguise; and the real object of all their plotting was to set up a godless empire of their own. They claimed to be independent of government. They employed a secret gang of informers. They had their own magistrates, their own courts of justice, and their own secret laws. At their head was Zinzendorf, their Lord Advocate, with the authority of a Pope. As no one could join the Moravian Church without first promising to abandon the use of his reason, and submit in all things to his leaders, those leaders could guide them like little children into the most horrid enterprizes. At Herrnhaag the Brethren had established an independent state, and had robbed the Counts of Büdingen of vast sums of money; and, if they were allowed to do so, they would commit similar crimes in England. They had a fund called the Lamb’s Chest, to which all their members were bound to contribute. The power of their Elders was enormous. At any moment they could marry a couple against their will, divorce them when they thought fit, tear children from their parents, and dispatch them to distant corners of the earth. But the great object of the Moravians, said Rimius, was to secure liberty for themselves to practise their sensual abominations. He supported his case by quoting freely, not only from Zinzendorf’s sermons, but also from certain German hymn-books which had been published at Herrnhaag during the “Sifting Time”; and as he gave chapter and verse for his statements, he succeeded in covering the Brethren with ridicule. He accused them of blasphemy and indecency. They spoke of Christ as a Tyburn bird, as digging for roots, as vexed by an aunt, and as sitting in the beer-house among the scum of society. They sang hymns to the devil. They revelled in the most hideous and filthy expressions, chanted the praises of lust and sensuality, and practised a number of sensual abominations too loathsome to be described. At one service held in Fetter Lane, Count Zinzendorf, said Rimius, had declared that the seventh commandment was not binding on Christians, and had recommended immorality to his congregation.131 It is impossible to give the modern reader a true idea of the shocking picture of the Brethren painted by Rimius. For malice, spite, indecency and unfairness, his works would be hard to match even in the vilest literature of the eighteenth century. As his books came out in rapid succession, the picture he drew grew more and more disgusting. He wrote in a racy, sometimes jocular style; and, knowing the dirty taste of the age, he pleased his public by retailing anecdotes as coarse as any in the “Decameron.” His chief object was probably to line his own pockets. His first book, “The Candid Narrative,” sold well. But his attack was mean and unjust. It is true that he quoted quite correctly from the silly literature of the Sifting-Time; but he carefully omitted to state the fact that that literature had now been condemned by the Brethren themselves, and that only a few absurd stanzas had appeared in English. At the same time, in the approved fashion of all scandal-mongers, he constantly gave a false impression by tearing passages from their original connection. As an attack on the English Brethren, his work was dishonest. He had no solid evidence to bring against them. From first to last he wrote almost entirely of the fanatics at Herrnhaag, and fathered their sins upon the innocent Brethren in England.

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