A history of the moravian church

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From Niesksy he passed to the Theological Seminary at Barby {1785-87.}. But here the influence was of a different kind. Of the three theological professors at Barby--Baumeister, Bossart, and Thomas Moore--not one was intellectually fitted to deal with the religious difficulties of young men. Instead of talking frankly with the students about the burning problems of the day, they simply lectured on the old orthodox lines, asserted that certain doctrines were true, informed the young seekers that doubting was sinful, and closed every door and window of the college against the entrance of modern ideas. But modern ideas streamed in through the chinks. Young Schleiermacher was now like a golden eagle in a cage. At Niesky he had learned to think for himself; at Barby he was told that thinking for himself was wrong. He called the doctrines taught by the professors “stupid orthodoxy.” He rejected, on intellectual grounds, their doctrine of the eternal Godhead of Christ; and he rejected on moral and spiritual grounds their doctrines of the total depravity of man, of eternal punishment, and of the substitutionary sufferings of Christ. He wrote a pathetic letter to his father. “I cannot accept these doctrines,” he said. He begged his father to allow him to leave the college; the old man reluctantly granted the request; and Schleiermacher, therefore, left the Brethren and pursued his independent career.
And yet, though he differed from the Brethren in theology, he felt himself at one with them in religion. In one sense, he remained a Moravian to the end. He called himself a “Moravian of the higher order”; and by that phrase he probably meant that he had the Brethren’s faith in Christ, but rejected their orthodox theology. He read their monthly magazine, “Nachrichten.” He maintained his friendship with Bishop Albertini, and studied his sermons and poems. He kept in touch with the Brethren at Berlin, where his sister, Charlotte, lived in one of their establishments. He frequently stayed at Gnadenfrei, Barby, and Ebersdorf. He chatted with Albertini at Berthelsdorf. He described the Brethren’s singing meetings as models. “They make a deep religious impression,” he said, “which is often of greater value than many sermons.” He loved their celebration of Passion Week, their triumphant Easter Morning service, and their beautiful Holy Communion. “There is no Communion to compare with theirs,” he said; and many a non-Moravian has said the same. He admired the Moravian Church because she was free; and in one of his later writings he declared that if that Church could only be reformed according to the spirit of the age, she would be one of the grandest Churches in the world. “In fundamentals,” he said, “the Brethren are right; it is only their Christology and theology that are bad, and these are only externals. What a pity they cannot separate the surface from the solid rock beneath.” To him the fundamental truth of theology was the revelation of God in Jesus Christ; and that also was the fundamental element in the teaching of Zinzendorf.142
Meanwhile the great leader of the Brethren had passed away from earth. At the advanced age of eighty-eight, Bishop Spangenberg died at Berthelsdorf {1792.}. In history Spangenberg has not received his deserts. We have allowed him to be overshadowed by Zinzendorf. In genius, he was Zinzendorf’s inferior; in energy, his equal; in practical wisdom, his superior. He had organized the first Moravian congregation in England, i.e., the one at Fetter Lane; he superintended the first campaign in Yorkshire; he led the vanguard in North America; he defended the Brethren in many a pamphlet just after the Sifting-Time; he gave their broad theology literary form; and for thirty years, by his wisdom, his skill, and his patience, he guided them through many a dangerous financial crisis. Amid all his labours he was modest, urbane and cheerful. In appearance his admirers called him apostolic. “He looked,” said one, “as Peter must have looked when he stood before Ananias, or John, when he said, Little children, love each other.”
“See there, Lavater,” said another enthusiast, “that is what a Christian looks like.”
But the noblest testimony was given by Becker, the editor of the German Times. In an article in that paper, Becker related how once he had an interview with Spangenberg, and how Spangenberg recounted some of his experiences during the War in North America. The face of the Bishop was aglow. The great editor was struck with amazement. At length he stepped nearer to the white-haired veteran, and said:--
“Happy man! reveal to me your secret! What is it that makes you so strong and calm? What light is this that illumines your soul? What power is this that makes you so content? Tell me, and make me happy for ever.”
“For this,” replied the simple Spangenberg, his eyes shining with joy, “for this I must thank my Saviour.”
There lay the secret of Spangenberg’s power; and there the secret of the services rendered by the Brethren when pious evangelicals in Germany trembled at the onslaught of the new theologians. For these services the Brethren have been both blamed and praised. According to that eminent historian, Ritschl, such men as Spangenberg were the bane of the Lutheran Church. According to Dorner, the evangelical theologian, the Brethren helped to save the Protestant faith from ruin. “When other Churches,” says Dorner, “were sunk in sleep, when darkness was almost everywhere, it was she, the humble priestess of the sanctuary, who fed the sacred flame.” Between two such doctors of divinity who shall judge? But perhaps the philosopher, Kant, will be able to help us. He was in the thick of the rationalist movement; and he lived in the town of Königsberg, where the Brethren had a Society. One day a student complained to Kant that his philosophy did not bring peace to the heart.
“Peace!” replied the great philosopher, “peace of heart you will never find in my lecture room. If you want peace, you must go to that little Moravian Church over the way. That is the place to find peace.”143


AS the Rationalist movement spread in Germany, it had two distinct effects upon the Brethren. The first was wholesome; the second was morbid. At first it aroused them to a sense of their duty, and made them gallant soldiers of the Cross; and then, towards the close of the eighteenth century, it filled them with a horror of all changes and reforms and of all independence in thought and action. The chief cause of this sad change was the French Revolution. At first sight it may seem that the French Revolution has little to do with our story; and Carlyle does not discuss this part of his subject. But no nation lives to itself; and Robespierre, Mirabeau and Marat shook the civilized world. In England the French Revolution caused a general panic. At first, of course, it produced a few revolutionaries, of the stamp of Tom Paine; but, on the whole, its general effect was to make our politicians afraid of changes, to strengthen the forces of conservatism, and thus to block the path of the social and political reformer. Its effect on the Brethren was similar. As the news of its horrors spread through Europe, good Christian people could not help feeling that all free thought led straight to atheism, and all change to revolution and murder; and, therefore, the leading Brethren in Germany opposed liberty because they were afraid of license, and reform because they were afraid of revolution.
For the long period, therefore of eighteen years, the Moravian Church in Germany remained at a standstill {1800-18.}. At Herrnhut the Brethren met in a General Synod, and there the Conservatives won a signal victory. Already the first shots in the battle had been fired, and already the U.E.C. had taken stern measures. Instead of facing the situation frankly, they first shut their own eyes and then tried to make others as blind as themselves. At this Synod the deputy for Herrnhut was a lawyer named Riegelmann; and, being desirous to do his duty efficiently, he had asked for a copy of the “Synodal Results” of 1764 and 1769. His request was moderate and sensible. No deputy could possibly do his duty unless he knew the existing laws of the Church. But his request was sternly refused. He was informed that no private individual was entitled to a copy of the “Results.” Thus, at the opening of the nineteenth century, a false note was struck; and the Synod deliberately prevented honest inquiry. Of the members, all but two were church officials. For all practical purposes the laymen were unrepresented. At the head of the conservative party was Godfrey Cunow. In vain some English ministers requested that the use of the Lot should no longer be enforced in marriages. The arguments of Cunow prevailed. “Our entire constitution demands,” he said, “that in our settlements no marriage shall be contracted without the Lot.” But the Brethren laid down a still more depressing principle. For some years the older leaders had noticed, with feelings of mingled pain and horror, that revolutionary ideas had found a home even in quiet Moravian settlements; and in order to keep such ideas in check, the Synod now adopted the principle that the true kernel of the Moravian Church consisted, not of all the communicant members, but only of a “Faithful Few.” We can hardly call this encouraging. It tempted the “Faithful Few” to be Pharisees, and banned the rest as black sheep. And the Pastoral Letter, drawn up by the Synod, and addressed to all the congregations, was still more disheartening. “It will be better,” ran one fatal sentence, “for us to decrease in numbers and increase in piety than to be a large multitude, like a body without a spirit.” We call easily see what such a sentence means. It means that the Brethren were afraid of new ideas, and resolved to stifle them in their birth.
The new policy produced strange results. At the Theological Seminary in Niesky the professors found themselves in a strange position. If they taught the old theology of Spangenberg, they would be untrue to their convictions; if they taught their convictions, they would be untrue to the Church; and, therefore, they solved the problem by teaching no theology at all. Instead of lecturing on the Bible, they lectured now on philosophy; instead of expounding the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, they expounded the teaching of Kant, Fichte and Jacobi; and when the students became ministers, they had little but philosophy to offer the people. For ordinary people philosophy is as tasteless as the white of an egg. As the preachers spoke far above the heads of the people, they soon lost touch with their flocks; the hungry sheep looked up, and were not fed; the sermons were tinkling brass and clanging cymbal; and the ministers, instead of attending to their pastoral duties, were hidden away in their studies in clouds of philosophical and theological smoke, and employed their time composing discourses, which neither they nor the people could understand. Thus the shepherds lived in one world, and the wandering sheep in another; and thus the bond of sympathy between pastor and people was broken. For this reason the Moravian Church in Germany began now to show signs of decay in moral and spiritual power; and the only encouraging signs of progress were the establishment of the new settlement of Königsfeld in the Black Forest, the Diaspora work in the Baltic Provinces, officially recognized by the Czar, the growth of the boarding-schools, and the extension of foreign missions. In the boarding-schools the Brethren were at their best. At most of them the pupils were prepared for confirmation, and the children of Catholics were admitted. But the life in the congregations was at a low ebb. No longer were the Brethren’s Houses homes of Christian fellowship; they were now little better than lodging-houses, and the young men had become sleepy, frivolous, and even in some cases licentious. For a short time the U.E.C. tried to remedy this evil by enforcing stricter rules; and when this vain proceeding failed, they thought of abolishing Brethren’s Houses altogether. At the services in Church the Bible was little read, and the people were content to feed their souls on the Hymn-book and the Catechism. The Diacony managers were slothful in business, and the Diaconies ceased to pay. The subscriptions to central funds dwindled. The fine property at Barby was abandoned. The Diaspora work was curtailed.
Another cause of decay was the growing use of the Lot. For that growth the obvious reason was that, when the Brethren saw men adrift on every side, they felt that they themselves must have an anchor that would hold. It was even used in the boarding-schools. No pupil could be admitted to a school unless his application had been confirmed by the Lot.144 No man could be a member of a Conference, no election was valid, no law was carried, no important business step was taken, without the consent of the Lot. For example, it was by the decision of the Lot that the Brethren abandoned their cause at Barby; and thus, afraid of intellectual progress, they submitted affairs of importance to an external artificial authority. Again and again the U.E.C. desired to summon a Synod; and again and again the Lot rejected the proposal.
Meanwhile another destructive force was working. Napoleon Buonaparte was scouring Europe, and the German settlements were constantly invaded by soldiers. At Barby, Generals Murat and Bernadotte were lodged in the castle, and entertained by the Warden. At Gnadau the French made the chapel their headquarters, killed and ate the live stock, ransacked the kitchens and cellars, cleared out the stores, and made barricades of the casks, wheelbarrows and carts. At Neudietendorf the Prussians lay like locusts. At Ebersdorf, Napoleon lodged in the Brethren’s House, and quartered twenty or thirty of his men in every private dwelling. At Kleinwelke, where Napoleon settled with the whole staff of the Grand Army, the Single Sisters had to nurse two thousand wounded warriors; and the pupils in the boarding-school had to be removed to Uhyst. At Gnadenberg the settlement was almost ruined. The furniture was smashed, the beds were cut up, the tools of the tradesmen were spoiled, and the soldiers took possession of the Sisters’ House. But Napoleon afterwards visited the settlement, declared that he knew the Brethren to be a quiet and peaceable people, and promised to protect them in future. He did not, however, offer them any compensation; his promise of protection was not fulfilled; and a few months later his own soldiers gutted the place again. At Herrnhut, on one occasion, when the French were there, the chapel was illuminated, and a service was held to celebrate Napoleon’s birthday; and then a little later Blücher arrived on the scene, and summoned the people to give thanks to God for a victory over the French. At Niesky the whole settlement became a general infirmary. Amid scenes such as this Church progress was impossible. The cost in money was enormous. At Herrnhut alone the levies amounted to £3,000; to this must be added the destruction of property and the feeding of thousands of troops of both sides; and thus the Brethren’s expenses were increased by many thousands of pounds.
At length, however, at Waterloo Napoleon met his conqueror; the great criminal was captured and sent to St. Helena; and then, while he was playing chess and grumbling at the weather, the Brethren met again at Herrnhut in another General Synod {1818.}. At this Synod some curious regulations were made. For the purpose of cultivating personal holiness, Bishop Cunow proposed that henceforward the members of the Moravian Church should be divided into two classes. In the first class he placed the ordinary members--i.e., those who had been confirmed or who had been received from other Churches; and all belonging to this class were allowed to attend Communion once a quarter. His second class was a sacred “Inner Circle.” It consisted of those, and only those, who made a special religious profession. No one could be admitted to this “Inner Circle” without the sanction of the Lot; and none but those belonging to the “Circle” could be members of the Congregation Council or Committee. All members belonging to this class attended the Communion once a month. For a wonder this strange resolution was carried, and remained in force for seven years; and at bottom its ruling principle was that only those elected by the Lot had any real share in Church government. But the question of the Lot was still causing trouble. Again there came a request from abroad--this time from America--that it should no longer be enforced in marriages. For seven years the question was keenly debated, and the radicals had to fight very hard for victory. First the Synod passed a resolution that the Lot need not be used for marriages except in the regular settlements; then the members in the settlements grumbled, and were granted the same privilege (1819), and only ministers and missionaries were compelled to marry by Lot; then the ministers begged for liberty, and received the same privilege as the laymen (1825); and, finally, the missionaries found release (1836), and thus the enforced use of the Lot in marriages passed out of Moravian history.
But the Brethren had better work on hand than to tinker with their constitution. At the root of their troubles had been the neglect of the Bible. In order, therefore, to restore the Bible to its proper position in Church esteem, the Brethren now established the Theological College at Gnadenfeld (1818). There John Plitt took the training of the students in hand; there systematic lectures were given on Exegesis, Dogmatics, Old Testament Introduction, Church History, and Brethren’s History; there, in a word, John Plitt succeeded in training a band of ministers who combined a love for the Bible with love for the Brethren’s Church. At the same time, the Synod appointed an “Educational Department” in the U.E.C.; the boarding-schools were now more efficiently managed; and the number of pupils ran up to thirteen hundred.
Amid this new life the sun rose on the morning of the 17th of June, 1722, a hundred years after Christian David had felled the first tree at Herrnhut. The Brethren glanced at the past. The blood of the martyrs seemed dancing in their veins. At Herrnhut the archives of the Church had been stored; Frederick Kölbing had ransacked the records; and only a few months before he had produced his book, “Memorial Days of the Renewed Brethren’s Church.” From hand to hand the volume passed, and was read with eager delight. The spirit of patriotic zeal was revived. Never surely was there such a gathering in Herrnhut as on that Centenary Day. From all the congregations in Germany, from Denmark, from Sweden, from Holland, from Switzerland, from England, the Brethren streamed to thank the Great Shepherd for His never-failing kindnesses. There were Brethren and friends of the Brethren, clergymen and laymen, poor peasants in simple garb from the old homeland in Moravia, and high officials from the Court of Saxony in purple and scarlet and gold. As the vast assembly pressed into the Church, the trombones sounded forth, and the choir sang the words of the Psalmist, so rich in historic associations: “Here the sparrow hath found a home, and the swallow a nest for her young, even thine altars, oh, Lord of Hosts!” It was a day of high jubilation and a day of penitent mourning; a day of festive robes and a day of sack-cloth and ashes. As the great throng, some thousands in number, and arranged in choirs, four and four, stood round the spot on the roadside where Christian David had raised his axe, and where a new memorial-stone now stood, they rejoiced because during those hundred years the seed had become a great tree, and they mourned because the branches had begun to wither and the leaves begun to fall. The chief speaker was John Baptist Albertini, the old friend of Schleiermacher. Stern and clear was the message he gave; deep and full was the note it sounded. “We have lost the old love,” he said; “let us repent. Let us take a warning from the past; let us return unto the Lord.” With faces abashed, with heads bowed, with hearts renewed, with tears of sorrow and of joy in their eyes, the Brethren went thoughtfully homewards.
At the next General Synod (1825), however, they made an alarming discovery. In spite of the revival of Church enthusiasm, they found that during the last seven years they had lost no fewer than one thousand two hundred members; and, searching about to find the cause, they found it in Bishop Cunow’s “Inner Circle.” It was time to abolish that “Circle”; and abolished it therefore was.
At the next General Synod (1836), the Brethren took another step forward. In order to encourage the general study of the Bible, they arranged that in every congregation regular Bible readings should be held; and, in order to deepen the interest in evangelistic work, they decreed that a prayer meeting should be held the first Monday of every month. At this meeting the topic of intercession was to be, not the mere prosperity of the Brethren, but the cultivation of good relations with other Churches and the extension of the Kingdom of God throughout the world.
The next sign of progress was the wonderful revival in the Pædagogium at Niesky {1841.}. For nine years that important institution, where ministerial candidates were trained before they entered the Theological Seminary, had been under the management of Frederick Immanuel Kleinschmidt; and yet, despite his sternness and piety, the boys had shown but a meagre spirit of religion. If Kleinschmidt rebuked them, they hated him; if he tried to admonish them privately, they told him fibs. There, at the very heart of the young Church life, religion was openly despised; and the Pædagogium had now become little better than an ordinary private school. If a boy, for example, wished to read his Bible, he had to do so in French, pretend that his purpose was simply to learn a new language, and thus escape the mockery of his schoolmates. The case was alarming. If piety was despised in the school of the prophets, what pastors was Israel likely to have in the future?
The revival began very quietly. One boy, Prince Reuss, was summoned home to be present at his father’s death-bed; and when he returned to the school a few days later found himself met by an amount of sympathy which boys are not accustomed to show. A change of some kind had taken place during his absence. The nightwatchman, Hager, had been heard praying in his attic for the boys. A boy, in great trouble with a trigonometrical problem which would not come right, had solved the difficulty by linking work with prayer. The boys in the “First Room”--i.e., the elder boys--made an agreement to speak with one another openly before the Holy Communion.
At length, on November 13th, when the Brethren in the other congregations were celebrating the centenary of the Headship of Christ, there occurred, at the evening Communion at Niesky, “something new, something unusual, something mightily surprising.” With shake of hand and without a word those elder boys made a solemn covenant to serve Christ. Among them were two who, fifty years later, were still famous Moravian preachers; and when they recalled the events of that evening they could give no explanation to each other. “It was,” they said, in fond recollection, “something unusual, but something great and holy, that overcame us and moved us. It must have been the Spirit of Christ.” For those boys that wonderful Communion service had ever sacred associations; and Bishop Wunderling, in telling the story, declared his own convictions. “The Lord took possession of the house,” he said, “bound all to one another and to Himself, and over all was poured the spirit of love and forgiveness, and a power from above was distributed from the enjoyment of the Communion.”
“What wonder was it,” wrote one boy home, “that when we brothers united to praise the Lord, He did not put to shame our longings and our faith, but kindled others from our fire.”
In this work the chief leaders were Kleinschmidt the headmaster, Gustave Tietzen, Ferdinand Geller, and Ernest Reichel. At first, of course, there was some danger that the boys would lose their balance; but the masters, in true Moravian style, checked all signs of fanaticism. It is hardly correct to call the movement a revival. It is better to call it an awakening. It was fanned by historic memories, was very similar to the first awakening at Herrnhut, and soon led to very similar results. No groans, or tears, or morbid fancies marred the scene. In the playground the games continued as usual. On every hand were radiant faces, and groups in earnest chat. No one ever asked, “Is so-and-so converted?” For those lads the burning question was, “In what way can I be like Christ?” As the boys retired to rest at night, they would ask the masters to remember them in prayer, and the masters asked the same in return of the boys. The rule of force was over. Before, old Kleinschmidt, like our English Dr. Temple, had been feared as a “just beast.” Now he was the lovable father. At revivals in schools it has sometimes happened that while the boys have looked more pious, they have not always been more diligent and truthful; but at Niesky the boys now became fine models of industry, honesty and good manners. They confessed their faults to one another, gave each other friendly warnings, formed unions for prayer, applied the Bible to daily life, were conscientious in the class-room and in the playground; and then, when these golden days were over, went out with tongues of flame to spread the news through the Church. The real test of a revival is its lasting effect on character. If it leads to selfish dreaming, it is clay; if it leads to life-long sacrifice, it is gold; and well the awakening at Niesky stood the test.

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