A history of the moravian church

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Such, then, were the methods and doctrines laid down by the three constitutional Synods. In methods the Brethren were distinctive; in doctrine they were “orthodox evangelical.” We may now sum up the results of this chapter. We have a semi-democratic Church constitution. We have a governing board, consisting mostly of Germans, and resident in Germany. We have the systematic use of the Lot. We have a broad evangelical doctrinal standpoint. We are now to see how these principles and methods worked out in Germany, Great Britain and America.


IF a man stands up for the old theology when new theology is in the air, he is sure to be praised by some for his loyalty, and condemned by others for his stupidity; and that was the fate of the Brethren in Germany during the closing years of the eighteenth century. The situation in Germany was swiftly changing. The whole country was in a theological upheaval. As soon as the Brethren had framed their constitution, they were summoned to the open field of battle. For fifty years they had held their ground against a cold and lifeless orthodoxy, and had, therefore, been regarded as heretics; and now, as though by a sudden miracle, they became the boldest champions in Germany of the orthodox Lutheran faith. Already a powerful enemy had entered the field. The name of the enemy was Rationalism. As we enter the last quarter of the eighteenth century, we hear the sound of tramping armies and the first mutterings of a mighty storm. The spirit of free inquiry spread like wildfire. In America it led to the War of Independence; in England it led to Deism; in France it led to open atheism and all the horrors of the French Revolution. In Germany, however, its effect was rather different. If the reader knows anything of Germany history, he will probably be aware of the fact that Germany is a land of many famous universities, and that these universities have always played a leading part in the national life. It is so to-day; it was so in the eighteenth century. In England a Professor may easily become a fossil; in Germany he often guides the thought of the age. For some years that scoffing writer, Voltaire, had been openly petted at the court of Frederick the Great; his sceptical spirit was rapidly becoming fashionable; and now the professors at the Lutheran Universities, and many of the leading Lutheran preachers, were expounding certain radical views, not only on such vexed questions as Biblical inspiration and the credibility of the Gospel narratives, but even on some of the orthodox doctrines set forth in the Augsburg Confession. At Halle University, John Semler propounded new views about the origin of the Bible; at Jena, Griesbach expounded textual criticism; at Göttingen, Eichhorn was lecturing on Higher Criticism; and the more the views of these scholars spread, the more the average Church members feared that the old foundations were giving way.
Amid the alarm, the Brethren came to the rescue. It is needful to state their position with some exactness. We must not regard them as blind supporters of tradition, or as bigoted enemies of science and research. In spite of their love of the Holy Scriptures, they never entered into any controversy on mere questions of Biblical criticism. They had no special theory of Biblical inspiration. At this time the official Church theologian was Spangenberg. He was appointed to the position by the U.E.C.; he was commissioned to prepare an Exposition of Doctrine; and, therefore, the attitude adopted by Spangenberg may be taken as the attitude of the Brethren. But Spangenberg himself did not believe that the whole Bible was inspired by God. “I cannot assert,” he wrote in one passage, “that every word in the Holy Scriptures has been inspired by the Holy Ghost and given thus to the writers. For example, the speeches at the end of the book of Job, ascribed there to God, are of such a nature that they cannot possibly have proceeded from the Holy Ghost.” He believed, of course, in the public reading of Scripture; but when the Brethren were planning a lectionary, he urged them to make a distinction between the Old and New Testaments. “Otherwise,” he declared, “the reading of the Old Testament may do more harm than good.” He objected to the public reading of Job and the Song of Songs.
But advanced views about the Bible were not the main feature of the rationalistic movement. A large number of the German theologians were teaching what we should call “New Theology.” Instead of adhering to the Augsburg Confession, a great many of the Lutheran professors and preachers were attacking some of its leading doctrines. First, they denied the doctrine of the Fall, whittled away the total depravity of man, and asserted that God had created men, not with a natural bias to sin, but perfectly free to choose between good and evil. Secondly, they rejected the doctrine of reconciliation through the meritorious sufferings of Christ. Thirdly, they suggested that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was an offence to reason. Around these three doctrines the great battle was fought. To the Brethren those doctrines were all fundamental, all essential to salvation, and all precious parts of Christian experience; and, therefore, they defended them against the Rationalists, not on intellectual, but on moral and spiritual grounds. The whole question at issue, in their judgment, was a question of Christian experience. The case of Spangenberg will make this clear. To understand Spangenberg is to understand his Brethren. He defended the doctrine of total depravity, not merely because he found it in the Scriptures, but because he was as certain as a man can be that he had once been totally depraved himself; and he defended the doctrine of reconciliation because, as he wrote to that drinking old sinner, Professor Basedow, he had found all grace and freedom from sin in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. He often spoke of himself in contemptuous language; he called himself a mass of sins, a disgusting creature, an offence to his own nostrils; and he recorded his own experience when he said: “It has pleased Him to make out of me--a revolting creature--a child of God, a temple of the Holy Ghost, a member of the body of Christ, all heir of eternal life.” There we have Spangenberg’s theology in a sentence; there shines the Brethren’s experimental religion. The doctrine of the Trinity stood upon the same basis. In God the Father they had a protector; in God the Son an ever present friend; in God the Holy Ghost a spiritual guide; and, therefore, they defended the doctrine of the Trinity, not because it was in the Augsburg Confession, but because, in their judgment, it fitted their personal experience.
And yet the Brethren were not controversialists. Instead of arguing with the rationalist preachers, they employed more pleasing methods of their own.
The first method was the publication of useful literature. The most striking book, and the most influential, was Spangenberg’s Idea Fidei Fratrum; i.e., Exposition of the Brethren’s Doctrine {1778.}. For many years this treatise was prized by the Brethren as a body of sound divinity; and although it can no longer be regarded as a text-book for theological students, it is still used and highly valued at some of the Moravian Mission stations.140 From the first the book sold well, and its influence in Germany was great. It was translated into English, Danish, French, Swedish, Dutch, Bohemian and Polish. Its strength was its loyalty to Holy Scripture; its weakness its lack of original thought. If every difficult theological question is to be solved by simply appealing to passages of Scripture, it is obvious that little room is left for profound and original reflection; and that, speaking broadly, was the method adopted by Spangenberg in this volume. His object was twofold. On the one hand, he wished to be true to the Augsburg Confession; on the other hand, he would admit no doctrine that was not clearly supported by Scripture. The book was almost entirely in Scriptural language. The conventional phrases of theology were purposely omitted. In spite of his adherence to the orthodox faith, the writer never used such phrases as Trinity, Original Sin, Person, or Sacrament. He deliberately abandoned the language of the creeds for the freer language of Scripture. It was this that helped to make the book so popular. The more fiercely the theological controversy raged, the more ready was the average working pastor to flee from the dust and din of battle by appealing to the testimony of the Bible.
“How evangelical! How purely Biblical!” wrote Spangenberg’s friend, Court Councillor Frederick Falke (June 10th, 1787). Christian David Lenz, the Lutheran Superintendent at Riga, was charmed. “Nothing,” he wrote, “has so convinced me of the purity of the Brethren’s evangelical teaching as your Idea Fidei Fratrum. It appeared just when it was needed. In the midst of the universal corruption, the Brethren are a pillar of the truth.” The Danish Minister of Religion, Adam Struensee, who had been a fellow-student with Spangenberg at Jena, was eloquent in his praises. “A great philosopher at our University,” he wrote to Spangenberg, “complained to me about our modern theologians; and then added: ‘I am just reading Spangenberg’s Idea. It is certain that our successors will have to recover their Christian theology from the Moravian Brethren.’” But the keenest criticism was passed by Caspar Lavater. His mixture of praise and blame was highly instructive. He contrasted Spangenberg with Zinzendorf. In reading Zinzendorf, we constantly need the lead pencil. One sentence we wish to cross out; the next we wish to underline. In reading Spangenberg we do neither. “In these recent works of the Brethren,” said Lavater, “I find much less to strike out as unscriptural, but also much less to underline as deep, than in the soaring writings of Zinzendorf.”
And thus the Brethren, under Spangenberg’s guidance, entered on a new phase. In originality they had lost; in sobriety they had gained; and now they were honoured by the orthodox party in Germany as trusted champions of the faith delivered once for all unto the saints.
The same lesson was taught by the new edition of the Hymn-book {1778.}. It was prepared by Christian Gregor. The first Hymn-book, issued by the Renewed Church of the Brethren, appeared in 1735. It consisted chiefly of Brethren’s hymns, written mostly by Zinzendorf; and during the next fifteen years it was steadily enlarged by the addition of twelve appendices. But in two ways these appendices were faulty. They were far too bulky, and they contained some objectionable hymns. As soon, however, as the Brethren had recovered from the errors of the Sifting-Time, Count Zinzendorf published a revised Hymn-book in London (1753-4); and then, a little later, an extract, entitled “Hymns of Sharon.” But even these editions were unsatisfactory. They contained too many hymns by Brethren, too many relics of the Sifting-Time, and too few hymns by writers of other Churches. But the edition published by Gregor was a masterpiece. It contained the finest hymns of Christendom from nearly every source. It was absolutely free from extravagant language; and, therefore, it has not only been used by the Brethren from that day to this, but is highly valued by Christians of other Churches. In 1784 Christian Gregor brought out a volume of “Chorales,” where noble thoughts and stately music were wedded.
The next class of literature issued was historical. The more fiercely the orthodox Gospel was attacked, the more zealously the Brethren brought out books to show the effect of that Gospel on the lives of men. In 1765, David Cranz, the historian, published his “History of Greenland.” He had been for fourteen months in Greenland himself. He had studied his subject at first hand; he was a careful, accurate, conscientious writer; his book soon appeared in a second edition (1770), and was translated into English, Dutch, Swedish and Danish; and whatever objections philosophers might raise against the Gospel of reconciliation, David Cranz was able to show that by the preaching of that Gospel the Brethren in Greenland had taught the natives to be sober, industrious and pure. In 1777 the Brethren published G. A. Oldendorp’s elaborate “History of the Mission in the Danish West Indies,” and, in 1789, G. H. Loskiel’s “History of the Mission Among the North American Indians.” In each case the author had been on the spot himself; and in each case the book was welcomed as a proof of the power of the Gospel.
The second method was correspondence and visitation. In spite of their opposition to rationalistic doctrine the Brethren kept in friendly touch with the leading rationalist preachers. Above all, they kept in touch with the Universities. The leader of this good work was Spangenberg. Where Zinzendorf had failed, Spangenberg succeeded. It is a curious feature of Zinzendorf’s life that while he won the favour of kings and governments, he could rarely win the favour of learned Churchmen. As long as Zinzendorf reigned supreme, the Brethren were rather despised at the Universities; but now they were treated with marked respect. At one time the U.E.C. suggested that regular annual visits should be paid to the Universities of Halle, Wittenberg and Leipzig; and in one year Bishop Layritz, a member of the U.E.C., visited the Lutheran Universities of Halle, Erlangen, Tübingen, Strasburg, Erfurt and Leipzig, and the Calvinist Universities of Bern, Geneva and Basle. In response to a request from Walch of Göttingen, Spangenberg wrote his “Brief Historical Account of the Brethren” and his “Account of the Brethren’s Work Among the Heathen”; and, in response to a request from Köster of Gieszen, he wrote a series of theological articles for that scholar’s “Encyclopædia.” Meanwhile, he was in constant correspondence with Schneider at Eisenach, Lenz at Riga, Reinhard at Dresden, Roos at Anhausen, Tittman at Dresden, and other well-known Lutheran preachers. For thirteen years (1771-1784) the seat of the U.E.C. was Barby; and there they often received visits from leading German scholars. At one time the notorious Professor Basedow begged, almost with tears in his eyes, to be admitted to the Moravian Church; but the Brethren could not admit a man, however learned he might be, who sought consolation in drink and gambling. On other occasions the Brethren were visited by Campe, the Minister of Education; by Salzmann, the founder of Schnepfenthal; and by Becker, the future editor of the German Times. But the most distinguished visitor at Barby was Semler, the famous rationalist Professor at Halle. “He spent many hours with us,” said Spangenberg {1773.}. “He expounded his views, and we heard him to the end. In reply we told him our convictions, and then we parted in peace from each other.” When Semler published his “Abstract of Church History,” he sent a copy to Spangenberg; and Spangenberg returned the compliment by sending him the latest volume of his “Life of Zinzendorf.” At these friendly meetings with learned men the Brethren never argued. Their method was different. It was the method of personal testimony. “It is, I imagine, no small thing,” said Spangenberg, in a letter to Dr. J. G. Rosenmüller, “that a people exists among us who can testify both by word and life that in the sacrifice of Jesus they have found all grace and deliverance from sin.” And thus the Brethren replied to the Rationalists by appealing to personal experience.
The third method was the education of the young. For its origin we turn to the case of Susannah Kühnel. At the time of the great revival in Herrnhut {1727.}, the children had not been neglected; Susannah Kühnel, a girl of eleven, became the leader of a revival. “We had then for our master,” said Jacob Liebich, “an upright and serious man, who had the good of his pupils much at heart.” The name of the master was Krumpe. “He never failed,” continued Liebich, “at the close of the school to pray with us, and to commend us to the Lord Jesus and His Spirit during the time of our amusements. At that time Susannah Kühnel was awakened, and frequently withdrew into her father’s garden, especially in the evenings, to ask the grace of the Lord and to seek the salvation of her soul with strong crying and tears. As this was next door to the house where we lived (there was only a boarded partition between us), we could hear her prayers as we were going to rest and as we lay upon our beds. We were so much impressed that we could not fall asleep as carelessly as formerly, and asked our teachers to go with us to pray. Instead of going to sleep as usual, we went to the boundaries which separated the fields, or among the bushes, to throw ourselves before the Lord and beg Him to turn us to Himself. Our teachers often went with us, and when we had done praying, and had to return, we went again, one to this place and another to that, or in pairs, to cast ourselves upon our knees and pray in secret.” Amid the fervour occurred the events of August 13th. The children at Herrnhut were stirred. For three days Susannah Kühnel was so absorbed in thought and prayer that she forgot to take her food; and then, on August 17th, having passed through a severe spiritual struggle, she was able to say to her father: “Now I am become a child of God; now I know how my mother felt and feels.” We are not to pass this story over as a mere pious anecdote. It illustrates an important Moravian principle. For the next forty-two years the Brethren practised the system of training the children of Church members in separate institutions; the children, therefore, were boarded and educated by the Church and at the Church’s expense;141 and the principle underlying the system was that children from their earliest years should receive systematic religious training. If the child, they held, was properly trained and taught to love and obey Jesus Christ, he would not need afterwards to be converted. He would be brought up as a member of the Kingdom of God. As long as the Brethren could find the money, they maintained this “Children’s Economy.” The date of Susannah’s conversion was remembered, and became the date of the annual Children’s Festival; and in every settlement and congregation special meetings for children were regularly held. But the system was found too expensive. At the Synod of 1769 it was abandoned. No longer could the Brethren maintain and educate the children of all their members; thencefoward they could maintain and educate only the children of those in church service.
For the sons of ministers they established a Pædagogium; for the daughters of ministers a Girls’ School at Kleinwelke, in Saxony; and for candidates for ministerial service a Theological Seminary, situated first at Barby, then at Niesky, and finally at Gnadenfeld, in Silesia. At the same time, the Brethren laid down the rule that each congregation should have its own elementary day school. At first these schools were meant for Moravians only; but before long they were thrown open to the public. The principle of serving the public steadily grew. It began in the elementary schools; it led to the establishment of boarding-schools. The first step was taken in Denmark. At Christiansfeld, in Schleswig-Holstein, the Brethren had established a congregation by the special request of the Danish Government; and there, in 1774, they opened two boarding-schools for boys and girls. From that time the Brethren became more practical in their methods. Instead of attempting the hopeless task of providing free education, they now built a number of boarding-schools; and at the Synod of 1782 they officially recognized education as a definite part of their Church work. The chief schools were those at Neuwied-on-the-Rhine; Gnadenfrei, in Silesia; Ebersdorf, in Vogt-land; and Montmirail, in Switzerland. The style of architecture adopted was the Mansard. As the standard of education was high, the schools soon became famous; and as the religion taught was broad, the pupils came from all Protestant denominations. On this subject the well-known historian, Kurtz, has almost told the truth. He informs us that during the dreary period of Rationalism, the schools established by the Brethren were a “sanctuary for the old Gospel, with its blessed promises and glorious hopes.” It would be better, however, to speak of these schools as barracks. If we think of the Brethren as retiring hermits, we shall entirely misunderstand their character. They fought the Rationalists with their own weapons; they gave a splendid classical, literary and scientific education; they enforced their discipline on the sons of barons and nobles; they staffed their schools with men of learning and piety; and these men, by taking a personal interest in the religious life of their pupils, trained up a band of fearless warriors for the holy cause of the Gospel. It was this force of personal influence and example that made the schools so famous; this that won the confidence of the public; and this that caused the Brethren to be so widely trusted as defenders of the faith and life of the Lutheran Church.
The fourth method employed by the Brethren was the Diaspora. Here again, as in the public schools, the Brethren never attempted to make proselytes. At the Synod of 1782, and again at a Conference of Diaspora-workers, held at Herrnhut (1785), the Brethren emphatically laid down the rule that no worker in the Diaspora should ever attempt to win converts for the Moravian Church. The Diaspora work was now at the height of its glory. In Lusatia the Brethren had centres of work at Herrnhut, Niesky and Kleinwelke; in Silesia, at Gnadenfrei, Gnadenberg, Gnadenfeld and Neusalz; in Pomerania, at Rügen and Mecklenburg; in East Prussia, at Danzig, Königsberg and Elbing; in Thuringia, at Neudietendorf; in the Palatinate and the Wetterau; at Neuwied; in Brandenburg, at Berlin and Potsdam; in Denmark, at Christiansfeld, Schleswig, Fühnen, and Copenhagen; in Norway, at Christiana, Drammen and Bergen; in Sweden, at Stockholm and Gothenburg; in Switzerland, at Basel, Bern, Zürich and Montmirail; and finally, in Livonia and Esthonia, they employed about a hundred preachers and ministered to about six thousand souls. At this rate it would appear that the Moravians in Germany were increasing by leaps and bounds; but in reality they were doing nothing of the kind. At this time the Moravian influence was felt in every part of Germany; and yet during this very period they founded only the three congregations of Gnadenfeld, Gnadau, and Königsfeld.
But the greatest proof of the Brethren’s power was their influence over Schleiermacher. Of all the religious leaders in Germany Schleiermacher was the greatest since Luther; and Schleiermacher learned his religion, both directly and indirectly, from the Brethren. It is sometimes stated in lives of Schleiermacher that he received his earliest religious impressions from his parents; but, on the other hand, it should be remembered that both his parents, in their turn, had come under Moravian influence. His father was a Calvinistic army chaplain, who had made the acquaintance of Brethren at Gnadenfrei (1778). He there adopted the Brethren’s conception of religion; he became a Moravian in everything but the name; his wife passed through the same spiritual experience; he then settled down as Calvinist pastor in the colony of Anhalt; and finally, for the sake of his children, he visited the Brethren again at Gnadenfrei (1783). His famous son was now a lad of fifteen; and here, among the Brethren at Gnadenfrei, the young seeker first saw the heavenly vision. “It was here,” he said, “that I first became aware of man’s connection with a higher world. It was here that I developed that mystic faculty which I regard as essential, and which has often upheld and saved me amid the storms of doubt.”
But Schleiermacher’s father was not content. He had visited the Brethren both at Herrnhut and Niesky; he admired the Moravian type of teaching; and now he requested the U.E.C. to admit both his sons as pupils to the Pædagogium at Niesky. But the U.E.C. objected. The Pædagogium, they said, was meant for Moravian students only. As the old man, however, would take no refusal, the question was put to the Lot; the Lot gave consent; and to Niesky Schleiermacher and his brother came. For two years, therefore, Schleiermacher studied at the Brethren’s Pædagogium at Niesky; and here he learned some valuable lessons {1783-5.}. He learned the value of hard work; he formed a friendship with Albertini, and plunged with him into a passionate study of Greek and Latin literature; and he learned by personal contact with bright young souls that religion, when based on personal experience, is a thing of beauty and joy. Above all, he learned from the Brethren the value of the historical Christ. The great object of Schleiermacher’s life was to reconcile science and religion. He attempted for the Germans of the eighteenth century what many theologians are attempting for us to-day. He endeavoured to make a “lasting treaty between living Christian faith and the spirit of free inquiry.” He found that treaty existing already at Niesky. As the solemn time of confirmation drew near, the young lad was carried away by his feelings, and expected his spiritual instructor to fan the flame. “But no!” says Schleiermacher, “he led me back to the field of history. He urged me to inquire into the facts and quietly think out conclusions for myself.” Thus Schleiermacher acquired at Niesky that scientific frame of mind, and also that passionate devotion to Christ, which are seen in every line he wrote.

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