A history of the moravian church



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The Count was now in his element. For two years he did his best to teach the quarrelling sects in Pennsylvania to help and esteem each other; and the bond of union he set before them was a common experience of the redeeming grace of Christ. He had come to America, not as a Moravian Bishop, but as a Lutheran clergyman; and he was so afraid of being suspected of sectarian motives that, before he set out from London, he had purposely laid his episcopal office aside. For some months, therefore, he now acted as Lutheran clergyman to a Lutheran congregation in Philadelphia; and meanwhile he issued a circular, inviting German Christians of all denominations to meet in Conference. His purpose, to use his own phrase, was to establish a grand “Congregation of God in the Spirit.” At first the outlook was hopeful. From all sects deputies came, and a series of “Pennsylvanian Synods” was held. Again, however, the Count was misled by his own ignorance of history. At this time he held the erroneous view that the Union of Sendomir in Poland (1570) was a beautiful union of churches brought about by the efforts of the Brethren; he imagined also that the Bohemian Confession (1575) had been drawn up by the Brethren; and, therefore, he very naturally concluded that what the Brethren had accomplished in Poland and Bohemia they could accomplish again in Pennsylvania. But the stern facts of the case were all against him. At the very time when he was endeavouring to establish a “Congregation of God in the Spirit” in Pennsylvania, he heard that his own Brethren in Germany were departing from his ideals; and, therefore, he had to return to Germany, and hand on his American work to Spangenberg {1743.}.
For that task the broad-minded Spangenberg was admirably fitted, and now he held a number of titles supposed to define his mission. First, he was officially appointed “General Elder” in America; second, he was consecrated a Bishop, and was thus head of the American Moravian Church; and third, he was “Vicarius generalis episcoporum”; i.e., General Vicar of the Bishops. For the next four years the Pennsylvania Synods, with the broad-minded Spangenberg as President, continued to meet with more or less regularity. In 1744 they met twice; in 1745 three times; in 1746 four times; in 1747 three times; and in 1748 twice. But gradually the Synods altered in character. At first representatives attended from a dozen different bodies; then only Lutherans, Calvinists and Moravians; then only Moravians; and at length, when John de Watteville arrived upon the scene, he found that for all intents and purposes the Pennsylvanian Synod had become a Synod of the Moravian Church. He recognized the facts of the case, abolished the “Congregation of the Spirit,” and laid the constitutional foundations of the Brethren’s Church in North America (1748). Thus Zinzendorf’s scheme of union collapsed, and the first American experiment was a failure.
Meanwhile, Bishop Spangenberg had been busy with the second. If this man was inferior to Zinzendorf in genius he was far above him as a practical politician. He now accomplished his “Masterpiece.”135 The task before him was twofold. He had to find both men and money; and from the first he bravely resolved to do without one penny of assistance from Germany. He called his plan the “Economy,” and an economical plan it certainly was. His great principle was subdivision of labour. As the work in America was mostly among poor people--some immigrants, others Red Indians--he perceived that special measures must be taken to cover expenses; and, therefore, he divided his army into two main bodies. The one was the commissariat department; the other was the fighting line. The one was engaged in manual labour; the other was preaching the gospel. The one was stationed chiefly at Bethlehem; the other was scattered in different parts of North America. About ten miles north-west of Bethlehem the Brethren purchased a tract of land from George Whitefield, gave it the name of Nazareth, and proposed to build another settlement there. At first the two settlements were practically worked as one. For eighteen years they bore between them almost the whole financial burden of the Brethren’s work in North America. There, at the joint settlement of Bethlehem-Nazareth, the “Economy” was established. There lay the general “camp”; there stood the home of “the Pilgrim Band”; there was built the “School of the Prophets”; there, to use Spangenberg’s vivid phrase, was the “Saviour’s Armoury.” The great purpose which the Brethren set before them was to preach the Gospel in America without making the American people pay. Instead of having their preachers supported by contributions from their congregations, they would support these preachers themselves. For this task the only capital that Spangenberg possessed was two uncultivated tracts of land, three roomy dwelling-houses, two or three outhouses and barns, his own fertile genius, and a body of Brethren and Sisters willing to work. His method of work was remarkable. In order, first, to cut down the expenses of living, he asked his workers then and there to surrender the comforts of family life. At Bethlehem stood two large houses. In one lived all the Single Brethren; in the other the families, all the husbands in one part, all the wives in another, all the children (under guardians) in the third. At Nazareth there was only one house; and there lived all the Single Sisters. As the Sisters set off through the forest to their home in Nazareth, they carried their spinning-wheels on their shoulders; and two hours after their arrival in the house they were driving their wheels with zeal. At Bethlehem the energy of all was amazing. Bishop Spangenberg was commonly known as Brother Joseph; and Brother Joseph, in a letter to Zinzendorf, explained the purpose of his scheme. “As Paul,” he said, “worked with his own hands, so as to be able to preach the Gospel without pay, so we, according to our ability, will do the same; and thus even a child of four will be able, by plucking wool, to serve the Gospel.”
For patient devotion and heroic self-sacrifice these humble toilers at the Bethlehem-Nazareth “Economy” are unsurpassed in the history of the Brethren’s Church. They built their own houses; they made their own clothes and boots; they tilled the soil and provided their own meat, vegetables, bread, milk, and eggs; they sawed their own wood, spun their own yarn, and wove their own cloth; and then, selling at the regular market price what was not required for their personal use, they spent the profits in the support of preachers, teachers, and missionaries in various parts of North America. For a motto they took the words: “In commune oramus, in commune laboramus, in commune patimur, in commune gaudeamus”; i.e., together we pray, together we labour, together we suffer, together we rejoice. The motive, however, was not social, but religious. “It is nothing,” said Spangenberg himself, “but love to the Lamb and His Church.” For this cause the ploughman tilled the soil, the women sewed, the joiner sawed, the blacksmith plied his hammer; for this cause the fond mothers, with tears in their eyes, handed over their children to the care of guardians, so that they themselves might be free to toil for the Master. Thus every trade was sanctified; and thus did all, both old and young, spend all their powers for the Gospel’s sake. If there is any distinction between secular and sacred, that distinction was unknown at Bethlehem and Nazareth. At Bethlehem the Brethren accounted it an honour to chop wood for the Master’s sake; and the fireman, said Spangenberg, felt his post as important “as if he were guarding the Ark of the Covenant.” For the members of each trade or calling a special series of services was arranged; and thus every toiler was constantly reminded that he was working not for himself but for God. The number of lovefeasts was enormous. At the opening of the harvest season the farm labourers held an early morning lovefeast; the discourse was partly on spiritual topics and partly on rules of diet; then the sickles were handed out; and the whole band, with hymns of praise on their lips, set off for the harvest field. For days at a time the Single Brethren would be in the forest felling trees; but before they set off they had a lovefeast, and when they returned they had another. As soon as the joiners had the oil-mill ready they celebrated the event in a lovefeast. The spinners had a lovefeast once a week. The joiners, the weavers, the cartwrights, the smiths, the hewers of wood, the milkers of cows, the knitters, the sewers, the cooks, the washerwomen--all had their special lovefeasts. At one time the joyful discovery was made that a Brother had served a year in the kitchen, and was ready to serve another; and thereupon the whole settlement held a general lovefeast in his honour. For the mothers a special meeting was held, at which an expert gave instructions on the art of bringing up children; and at this meeting, while the lecturer discoursed or occasional hymns were sung, the women were busy with their hands. One made shoes, another tailored, another ground powder for the chemist’s shop, another copied invoices and letters, another sliced turnips, another knitted socks. For each calling special hymns were composed and sung. If these hymns had been published in a volume we should have had a Working-man’s Hymnbook. Thus every man and woman at Bethlehem-Nazareth had enlisted in the missionary army. Never, surely, in the history of Protestant Christianity were the secular and the sacred more happily wedded. “In our Economy,” said Spangenberg, “the spiritual and physical are as closely united as a man’s body and soul; and each has a marked effect upon the other.” If a man lost his touch with Christ it was noticed that he was careless in his work; but as long as his heart was right with God his eye was clear and his hand steady and firm. At the head of the whole concern stood Spangenberg, a business man to the finger tips. If genius is a capacity for taking pains, then Spangenberg was a genius of the finest order. He drew up regulations dealing with every detail of the business, and at his office he kept a strict account of every penny expended, every yard of linen woven, every pound of butter made, and every egg consumed. As long as Spangenberg was on the spot the business arrangements were perfect; he was assisted by a Board of Directors, known as the Aufseher Collegium; and so great was the enterprise shown that before the close of his first period of administration the Brethren had several farms and thirty-two industries in full working order. It was this which impressed our House of Commons, and enabled them, in the Act of 1749, to recognize the Brethren “as a sober and industrious people.” For that Act the credit must be given, not to the airy dreams of Zinzendorf, but to the solid labours of Spangenberg. At the time when the Bill was under discussion the chief stress was laid, in both Houses, on the results of Spangenberg’s labours; and so deeply was Earl Granville impressed that he offered the Brethren a hundred thousand acres in North Carolina. At length, accompanied by five other Brethren, Spangenberg himself set off to view the land, selected a site, organized another “Economy,” established two congregations, named Bethabara and Bethany, and thus became the founder of the Southern Province of the Brethren’s Church in America.
But his greatest success was in the Northern Province. For many years the Brethren at Bethlehem-Nazareth maintained nearly all the preachers in North America. In Pennsylvania they had preachers at Germantown, Philadelphia, Lancaster, York, Donegal, Heidelberg, Lebanon, Lititz, Oley, Allemaengel, Emmaus, Salisbury, Falkner’s Swamp, the Trappe, Mahanatawny, Neshaminy, and Dansbury. In Maryland they had a station at Graceham. In Jersey they had stations at Maurice River, Racoon, Penn’s Neck, Oldman’s Creek, Pawlin’s Hill, Walpack, and Brunswick; in Rhode Island, at Newport; in Maine, at Broadbay; in New York, at Canajoharie; and other stations at Staten Island and Long Island. They opened fifteen schools for poor children; they paid the travelling expenses of missionaries to Surinam and the West Indies; they maintained a number of missionaries to the Red Indians. Thus did Spangenberg, by means of his “Economy,” establish the Moravian Church in North America. We must not misunderstand his motives. He never made his system compulsory, and he never intended it to last. If any Brother objected to working for the “Economy,” and preferred to trade on his own account, he was free to do so; and as soon as the “Economy” had served its purpose it was abolished by Spangenberg himself (1762). It is easy to object that his system interfered with family life. It is easy to say that this Moravian Bishop had no right to split families into sections, to herd the husbands in one abode and the wives in another, to tear children from their mothers’ arms and place them under guardians. But Brother Joseph had his answer to this objection. At Bethlehem, he declared, the members of the “Economy” were as happy as birds in the sunshine; and, rejoicing in their voluntary sacrifice, they vowed that they would rather die than resign this chance of service. The whole arrangement was voluntary. Not a man or woman was pressed into the service. If a man joins the volunteers he is generally prepared, for the time being, to forego the comforts of family life, and these gallant toilers of the “Economy” were volunteers for God.
Another feature of Spangenberg’s work was his loyalty as a British citizen. As long as he was resident in a British Colony he considered it his duty, German though he was, to stand by the British flag; and while that famous war was raging which ended in the brilliant capture of Quebec, and the conquest of Canada, Brother Joseph and the Moravian Brethren upheld the British cause from first to last. The Red Indians were nearly all on the side of France. As the Brethren, therefore, preached to the Indians, they were at first suspected of treachery, and were even accused of inciting the Indians to rebellion; but Spangenberg proved their loyalty to the hilt. At Gnadenhütten, on the Mahony River, the Brethren had established a Mission Station {1755.}; and there, one night, as they sat at supper, they heard the farm dogs set up a warning barking.
“It occurs to me,” said Brother Senseman, “that the Congregation House is still open; I will go and lock it; there may be stragglers from the militia in the neighbourhood.” And out he went.
At that moment, while Senseman was about his duty, the sound of footsteps was heard; the Brethren opened the door; and there stood a band of painted Indians, with rifles in their hands. The war-whoop was raised. The first volley was fired. John Nitschmann fell dead on the spot. As the firing continued, the Brethren and Sisters endeavoured to take refuge in the attic; but before they could all clamber up the stairs five others had fallen dead. The Indians set fire to the building. The fate of the missionaries was sealed. As the flames arose, one Brother managed to escape by a back door, another let himself down from the window, another was captured, scalped alive, and left to die; and the rest, huddled in the blazing garret, were roasted to death.
“Dear Saviour, it is well,” said Mrs. Senseman, as the cruel flames lapped round her; “it is well! It is what I expected.”
No longer could the Brethren’s loyalty be doubted; and Spangenberg acted, on behalf of the British, with the skill of a military expert. As he went about in his regimentals his critics remarked that he looked far more like an army officer than an apostle of the Lord. For him the problem to solve was, how to keep the Indians at bay; and he actually advised the British authorities to construct a line of forts, pointed out the strategic importance of Gnadenhütten, and offered the land for military purposes. At Bethlehem and the other Brethren’s settlements he had sentinels appointed and barricades constructed; at all specially vulnerable points he had blockhouses erected; and the result was that the Brethren’s settlements were among the safest places in the country. At Bethlehem the Brethren sheltered six hundred fugitives. The plans of Spangenberg were successful. Not a single settlement was attacked. In spite of the war and the general unsettlement, the business of the “Economy” went on as usual; the Brethren labouring in the harvest field were protected by loyal Indians; and amid the panic the Brethren founded another settlement at Lititz. Thus did Spangenberg, in a difficult situation, act with consummate wisdom; and thus did he set an example of loyalty for Moravian missionaries to follow in days to come.
And yet, despite his wisdom and zeal, the Moravian Church at this period did not spread rapidly in America. For this, Zinzendorf was largely to blame. If the Count had been a good business man, and if he had realized the importance of the American work, he would have left the management of that work entirely in Spangenberg’s hands. But his treatment of Spangenberg was peculiar. At first he almost ignored his existence, and broke his heart by not answering his letters (1744-48); and then, when he found himself in trouble, and affairs at Herrnhaag were coming to a crisis, he sent John de Watteville in hot haste to Bethlehem, summoned Spangenberg home, and kept him busy writing ponderous apologies. As soon as Spangenberg had completed his task, and done his best to clear Zinzendorf’s character, he set off for Bethlehem again, and established the Brethren’s cause in North Carolina; but before he had been two years at work the Count was in financial difficulties, and summoned him home once more (1753). His last stay in America was his longest (1754-1762). He was still there when Zinzendorf died. As soon as Zinzendorf was laid in his grave the Brethren in Germany formed a Board of Management; but, before long, they discovered that they could not do without Spangenberg. He left America for ever. And thus Brother Joseph was lost to America because he was indispensable in Germany.
The second cause of failure was the system of management. For the most part the men who took Spangenberg’s place in America--such as John de Watteville and John Nitschmann--were obsessed with Zinzendorf’s ideas about settlements; and, instead of turning the numerous preaching places into independent congregations they centralized the work round the four chief settlements of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Lititz and Salem. We have seen how the settlement system worked in England. It had precisely the same result in America.
The third cause of failure was financial complications. As long as Spangenberg was on the spot he kept the American finances independent; but when he left for the last time the American Province was placed under the direct control of the General Directing Board in Germany, the American and German finances were mixed, the accounts became hopelessly confused, and American affairs were mismanaged. It is obvious, on the face of it, that a Directing Board with its seat in Germany was incapable of managing efficiently a difficult work four thousand miles away; and yet that was the system pursued for nearly a hundred years (1762-1857).
We come now to the brightest part of our American story--the work among the Red Indians. At this period almost the whole of North America was the home of numerous Indian tribes. Along the upper valley of the Tennessee River, and among the grand hills of Georgia, Alabama, and Western Alabama were the Cherokees. In Mississippi were the Natchez; near the town of Augusta the Uchies; between the Tennessee and the Ohio, the Mobilians; in Central Carolina, the Catawbas; to the west of the Mississippi the Dahcotas; in New England, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and the region stretching to the great lakes, the Delawares; and finally, in New York, Pennsylvania, and the region enclosed by Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario, the Iroquois. Thus, the Brethren in America were surrounded by Indian tribes; and to those Indian tribes they undertook to preach the Gospel.
The first step was taken by Christian Henry Rauch. As soon as he arrived in Pennsylvania he offered himself for the Indian Mission, went to the Indian town of Shekomeko {1740.}, and began to preach the Gospel in a manner which became famous in Moravian history. First, at a Conference in Bethlehem, the story was told by Tschoop, one of his earliest converts; and then it was officially quoted by Spangenberg, as a typical example of the Brethren’s method of preaching. “Brethren,” said Tschoop, “I have been a heathen, and grown old among the heathen; therefore I know how the heathen think. Once a preacher came and began to explain that there was a God. We answered, ‘Dost thou think us so ignorant as not to know that? Go to the place whence thou camest!’ Then, again, another preacher came, and began to teach us, and to say, ‘You must not steal, nor lie, nor get drunk, and so forth.’ We answered, ‘Thou fool, dost thou think that we do not know that? Learn first thyself, and then teach the people to whom thou belongest to leave off these things. For who steal, or lie, or who are more drunken than thine own people?’ And then we dismissed him.”
But Rauch came with a very different message.
He told us of a Mighty One, the Lord of earth and sky,

Who left His glory in the Heavens, for men to bleed and die;

Who loved poor Indian sinners still, and longed to gain their love,

And be their Saviour here and in His Father’s house above.
And when his tale was ended--“My friends,” he gently said,

I am weary with my journey, and would fain lay down my head;



So beside our spears and arrows he laid him down to rest,

And slept as sweetly as the babe upon its mother’s breast.
Then we looked upon each other, and I whispered, “This is new;

Yes, we have heard glad tidings, and that sleeper knows them true;

He knows he has a Friend above, or would he slumber here,

With men of war around him, and the war-whoop in his ear.?”
So we told him on the morrow that he need not journey on,

But stay and tell us further of that loving, dying One;

And thus we heard of Jesus first, and felt the wondrous power,

Which makes His people willing, in His own accepted hour.
“Thus,” added Tschoop, “through the grace of God an awakening took place among us. I say, therefore, Brethren, preach Christ our Saviour, and His sufferings and death, if you will have your words to gain entrance among the heathen.”
As soon, therefore, as Rauch had struck this note, the Brethren boldly undertook the task of preaching to all the Red Indians in North America. The Count himself set off to spy the land, and undertook three dangerous missionary journeys. First, accompanied by his daughter Benigna, and an escort of fourteen, he visited the Long Valley beyond the Blue Mountains, met a delegation of the League of the Iroquois, and received from them, in solemn style, a fathom made of one hundred and sixty-eight strings of wampum {1742.}. The fathom was a sign of goodwill. If a missionary could only show the fathom he was sure of a kindly welcome. In his second journey Zinzendorf went to Shekomeko, organised the first Indian Mission Church, and baptized three converts as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In his third journey he visited the Wyoming Valley, and interviewed the chiefs of the Shawanese and Mohicans. He was here in deadly peril. As he sat one afternoon in his tent two hissing adders darted across his body; and a few days later some suspicious Indians plotted to take his life. But a government agent arrived on the scene, and Zinzendorf’s scalp was saved.
And now the Brethren began the campaign in earnest. At Bethlehem Spangenberg had a Mission Conference and a Mission College. The great hero of the work was David Zeisberger. He was, like most of these early missionaries, a German. He was born at Zauchtenthal, in Moravia; had come with his parents to Herrnhut; had followed them later to Georgia; and was now a student at Spangenberg’s College at Bethlehem. For sixty-three years he lived among the Indians, and his life was one continual series of thrilling adventures and escapes. He became almost an Indian. He was admitted a member of the Six Nations, received an Indian name, and became a member of an Indian family. He was an Iroquois to the Iroquois, a Delaware to the Delawares. He understood the hidden science of belts and strings of wampum; he could unriddle their mysterious messages and make speeches in their bombastic style; and he spoke in their speech and thought in their thoughts, and lived their life in their wigwams. He loved their majestic prairies, stretching beyond the Blue Mountains. He loved their mighty rivers and their deep clear lakes. Above all, he loved the red-brown Indians themselves. Full well he knew what trials awaited him. If the reader has formed his conception of the Indians from Fenimore Cooper’s novels, he will probably think that Zeisberger spent his life among a race of gallant heroes. The reality was rather different. For the most part the Indians of North America were the reverse of heroic. They were bloodthirsty, drunken, lewd and treacherous. They spent their time in hunting buffaloes, smoking pipes, lolling in the sun, and scalping each other’s heads. They wasted their nights in tipsy revels and dances by the light of the moon. They cowered in terror of evil spirits and vicious and angry gods. But Zeisberger never feared and never despaired. As long as he had such a grand Gospel to preach, he felt sure that he could make these savages sober, pure, wise, kind and brave, and that God would ever shield him with His wing. He has been called “The Apostle to the Indians.” As the missionaries of the early Christian Church came to our rude fathers in England, and made us a Christian people, so Zeisberger desired to be an Augustine to the Indians, and found a Christian Indian kingdom stretching from Lake Michigan to the Ohio.


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