A history of the moravian church

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At the next General Synod all present could see that the Moravian Church was now restored to full life, and the American deputies, who had come to see her decently interrred, were amazed at her hopefulness and vigour. At that Synod the signs of vigorous life were many {1848.}. For the first time the Brethren opened their meetings to the public, allowed reporters to be present, and had the results of their proceedings printed and sold. For the first time they now resolved that, instead of shutting themselves up in settlements, they would try, where possible, to establish town and country congregations. For the first time they now agreed that, in the English and American congregations, new members might be received without the sanction of the Lot. Meanwhile, the boys awakened at Niesky were already in harness. Some had continued their studies at Gnadenfeld, and were now powerful preachers. Some had become teachers at Königsfeld, Kleinwelke, and Neuwied. Some were preaching the Gospel in foreign lands. Along the Rhine, in South and West Germany, in Metz and the Wartebruch, and in Russian Poland, the Brethren opened new fields of Diaspora work; and away in the broadening mission field the energy was greater than ever. In Greenland a new station was founded at Friedrichstal; in Labrador, at Hebron; in Surinam, at Bambey; in South Africa, at Siloh and Goshen; on the Moskito Coast, at Bluefields; in Australia, at Ebenezer; and in British India, near Tibet, at Kyelang.
And thus our narrative brings us down to 1857. We may pause to sum up results. If a church is described as making progress, most readers generally wish to know how many new congregations she has founded, and how many members she has gained. But progress of that kind was not what the Brethren desired; and during the period covered by this chapter they founded only one new congregation. They had still only seventeen congregations in Germany, in the proper sense of that word; but, on the other hand, they had fifty-nine Diaspora centres, and about one hundred and fifty Diaspora workers. At the heart, therefore, of all their endeavours we see the design, not to extend the Moravian Church, but to hold true to the old ideals of Zinzendorf. In that sense, at least, they had made good progress. They showed to the world a spirit of brotherly union; they were on good terms with other Churches; they made their schools and their Diaspora centres homes of Christian influence; and, above all, like a diamond set in gold, there flashed still with its ancient lustre the missionary spirit of the fathers.


OF all the problems raised by the history of the Brethren, the most difficult to solve is the one we have now to face. In the days of John Wesley, the Moravians in England were famous; in the days of Robertson, of Brighton, they were almost unknown. For a hundred years the Moravians in England played so obscure and modest a part in our national life that our great historians, such as Green and Lecky, do not even notice their existence, and the problem now before us is, what caused this swift and mysterious decline?
As the companions of Zinzendorf--Boehler, Cennick, Rogers and Okeley--passed one by one from the scenes of their labours, there towered above the other English Brethren a figure of no small grandeur. It was Benjamin La Trobe, once a famous preacher in England. He sprang from a Huguenot family, and had first come forward in Dublin. He had been among the first there to give a welcome to John Cennick, had held to Cennick when others left him, had helped to form a number of his hearers into the Dublin congregation, and had been with Cennick on his romantic journey’s among the bogs and cockpits of Ulster. As the years rolled on, he came more and more to the front. At Dublin he had met a teacher of music named Worthington, and a few years later La Trobe and Worthington were famous men at Fulneck. When Fulneck chapel was being built, La Trobe stood upon the roof of a house to preach. When the chapel was finished, La Trobe became Brethren’s labourer, and his friend Worthington played the organ. In those days Fulneck Chapel was not large enough to hold the crowds that came, and La Trobe had actually to stand upon the roof to harangue the vast waiting throng. As Cennick had been before in Ireland, so La Trobe was now in England. He was far above most preachers of his day. “He enraptured his audience,” says an old account, “by his resistless eloquence. His language flowed like rippling streams, and his ideas sparkled like diamonds. His taste was perfect, and his illustrations were dazzling; and when he painted the blackness of the human heart, when he depicted the matchless grace of Christ, when he described the beauty of holiness, he spoke with an energy, with a passion, with a dignified sweep of majestic power which probed the heart, and pricked the conscience, and charmed the troubled breast.” It was he of whom it is so quaintly recorded in a congregation diary: “Br. La Trobe spoke much on many things.”
For twenty-one years this brilliant preacher was the chief manager of the Brethren’s work in England; and yet, though he was not a German himself, his influence was entirely German in character {1765-86.}. He was manager of the Brethren’s English finances; he was appointed to his office by the German U.E.C.; and thus, along with James Hutton as Secretary, he acted as official representative of the Directing Board in England.
In many ways his influence was all for good. He helped to restore to vigorous life the “Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel” (1768) remained its President till his death, and did much to further its work in Labrador. He was a diligent writer and translator. He wrote a “Succinct View of the Missions” of the Brethren (1771), and thus brought the subject of foreign missions before the Christian public; and in order to let inquirers know what sort of people the Moravians really were, he translated and published Spangenberg’s “Idea of Faith,” Spangenberg’s “Concise Account of the Present Constitution of the Unitas Fratrum,” and David Cranz’s “History of the Brethren.” The result was good. The more people read these works by La Trobe, the more they respected the Brethren. “In a variety of publications,” said the London Chronicle, “he removed every aspersion against the Brethren, and firmly established their reputation.” He was well known in higher circles, was the friend of Dr. Johnson, and worked in union with such well-known Evangelical leaders as Rowland Hill, William Romaine, John Newton, Charles Wesley, Hannah More, Howell Harris, and Bishop Porteous, the famous advocate of negro emancipation. Above all, he cleansed the Brethren’s reputation from the last stains of the mud thrown by such men as Rimius and Frey. He was a friend of the Bishop of Chester; he was a popular preacher in Dissenting and Wesleyan Chapels; he addressed Howell Harris’s students at Trevecca; he explained the Brethren’s doctrines and customs to Lord Hillsborough, the First Commissioner of the Board of Trade and Plantations; and thus by his pen, by his wisdom and by his eloquence, he caused the Brethren to be honoured both by Anglicans and by Dissenters. At this period James Hutton--now a deaf old man--was a favourite at the Court of George III. No longer were the Brethren denounced as immoral fanatics; no longer did John Wesley feel it his duty to expose their errors. As John Wesley grew older and wiser, he began to think more kindly of the Brethren. He renewed his friendship with James Hutton, whom he had not seen for twenty-five years (Dec. 21, 1771); he visited Bishop John Gambold in London, and recorded the event in his Journal with the characteristic remark, “Who but Count Zinzendorf could have separated such friends as we are?” He called, along with his brother Charles, on John de Watteville at Lindsey House; and, above all, when Lord Lyttleton, in his book “Dialogues of the Dead,” attacked the character of the Brethren, John Wesley himself spoke out nobly in their defence. “Could his lordship,” he wrote in his Journal (August 30th, 1770), “show me in England many more sensible men than Mr. Gambold and Mr. Okeley? And yet both of these were called Moravians...What sensible Moravian, Methodist or Hutchinsonian did he ever calmly converse with? What does he know of them but from the caricatures drawn by Bishop Lavington or Bishop Warburton? And did he ever give himself the trouble of reading the answers to these warm, lively men? Why should a good-natured and a thinking man thus condemn whole bodies by the lump?” But the pleasantest proof of Wesley’s good feeling was still to come. At the age of eighty he went over to Holland, visited the Brethren’s beautiful settlement at Zeist, met there his old friend, Bishop Anthony Seifferth, and asked to hear some Moravian music and singing. The day was Wesley’s birthday. As it happened, however, to be “Children’s Prayer-Day” as well, the minister, being busy with many meetings, was not able to ask Wesley to dinner; and, therefore, he invited him instead to come to the children’s love-feast. John Wesley went to the chapel, took part in the love-feast, and heard the little children sing a “Birth-Day Ode” in his honour {June 28th, 1783.}. The old feud between Moravians and Methodists was over. It ended in the children’s song.145
One instance will show La Trobe’s reputation in England {1777.}. At that time there lived in London a famous preacher, Dr. Dodd; and now, to the horror of all pious people, Dr. Dodd was accused and convicted of embezzlement, and condemned to death. Never was London more excited. A petition with twenty-three thousand signatures was sent up in Dodd’s behalf. Frantic plots were made to rescue the criminal from prison. But Dodd, in his trouble, was in need of spiritual aid; and the two men for whom he sent were John Wesley and La Trobe. By Wesley he was visited thrice; by La Trobe, at his own request, repeatedly; and La Trobe was the one who brought comfort to his soul, stayed with him till the end, and afterwards wrote an official account of his death.
And yet, on the other hand, the policy now pursued by La Trobe was the very worst policy possible for the Moravians in England. For that policy, however, we must lay the blame, not on the man, but on the system under which he worked. As long as the Brethren’s Church in England was under the control of the U.E.C., it followed, as a matter of course, that German ideas would be enforced on British soil; and already, at the second General Synod, the Brethren had resolved that the British work must be conducted on German lines. Never did the Brethren make a greater blunder in tactics. In Germany the system had a measure of success, and has flourished till the present day; in England it was doomed to failure at the outset. La Trobe gave the system a beautiful name. He called it the system of “United Flocks.” On paper it was lovely to behold; in practice it was the direct road to consumption. In name it was English enough; in nature it was Zinzendorf’s Diaspora. At no period had the Brethren a grander opportunity of extending their borders in England than during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. In Yorkshire, with Fulneck as a centre, they had four flourishing congregations, societies in Bradford and Leeds, and preaching places as far away as Doncaster and Kirby Lonsdale, in Westmoreland. In Lancashire, with Fairfield as a centre, they were opening work in Manchester and Chowbent. In Cheshire, with Dukinfield as a centre, they had a number of societies on the “Cheshire Plan,” including a rising cause at Bullock-Smithy, near Stockport. In the Midlands, with Ockbrook as a centre, they had preaching places in a dozen surrounding villages. In Bedfordshire, with Bedford as a centre, they had societies at Riseley, Northampton, Eydon, Culworth and other places. In Wales, with Haverfordwest as a centre, they had societies at Laughharne, Fishguard, Carmarthen and Carnarvon. In Scotland, with Ayre146 as a centre, they had societies at Irvine and Tarbolton, and preaching-places at Annan, Blackhall, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kilsyth, Kilmarnock, Ladyburn, Prestwick, Westtown, and twenty smaller places. In the West of England, with Bristol and Tytherton as centres, they had preaching-places at Apperley, in Gloucestershire; Fome and Bideford, in Somerset; Plymouth and Exeter, in Devon; and many villages in Wiitshire. In the North of Ireland, with Gracehill as a centre, they had preaching-places at Drumargan, Billies, Arva (Cavan), and many other places.
For the Brethren, therefore, the critical question was, what to do with the societies and preaching-places? There lay the secret of success or failure; and there they committed their great strategic blunder. They had two alternatives before them. The one was to treat each society or preaching-place as the nucleus of a future congregation; the other was to keep it as a mere society. And the Brethren, in obedience to orders from Germany, chose the latter course. At the Moravian congregations proper the strictest rules were enforced; in most congregations there were Brethren’s and Sisters’ Houses; and all full members of the Moravian Church had to sign a document known as the “Brotherly Agreement.” {1771.} In that document the Brethren gave some remarkable pledges. They swore fidelity to the Augsburg Confession. They promised to do all in their power to help the Anglican Church, and to encourage all her members to be loyal to her. They declared that they would never proselytize from any other denomination. They promised that no marriage should take place without the consent of the Elders; that all children must be educated in one of the Brethren’s schools; that they would help to support the widows, old people and orphans; that no member should set up in business without the consent of the Elders; that they would never read any books of a harmful nature. At each congregation these rules--and others too many to mention here--were read in public once a year; each member had a printed copy, and any member who broke the “Agreement” was liable to be expelled. Thus the English Brethren signed their names to an “Agreement” made in Germany, and expressing German ideals of religious life. If it never became very popular, we need not wonder. But this “Agreement” was not binding on the societies and preaching-places. As the Brethren in Germany founded societies without turning them into settlements, so the Brethren in England conducted preaching-places without turning them into congregations and without asking their hearers to become members of the Moravian Church; and a strict rule was laid down that only such hearers as had a “distinct call to the Brethren’s Church” should be allowed to join it. The distinct call came through the Lot. At nearly all the societies and preaching-places, therefore, the bulk of the members were flatly refused admission to the Moravian Church; they remained, for the most part, members of the Church of England; and once a quarter, with a Moravian minister at their head, they marched in procession to the Communion in the parish church. For unselfishness this policy was unmatched; but it nearly ruined the Moravian Church in England. At three places--Woodford,147 Baildon and Devonport--the Brethren turned societies into congregations; but most of the others were sooner or later abandoned. In Yorkshire the Brethren closed their chapel at Pudsey, and abandoned their societies at Holbeck, Halifax, Wibsey and Doncaster. At Manchester they gave up their chapel in Fetter Lane. In Cheshire they retreated from Bullock Smithy; in the Midlands from Northampton; in London from Chelsea; in Somerset from Bideford and Frome; in Devon from Exeter and Plymouth; in Gloucestershire from Apperley; in Scotland from Irvine, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dumfries and thirty or forty other places;148 in Wales from Fishguard, Laugharn, Carmarthen and Carnarvon; in Ireland from Arva, Billies, Drumargan, Ballymena, Gloonen, Antrim, Dromore, Crosshill, Artrea, Armagh, and so on. And the net result of this policy was that when Bishop Holmes, the Brethren’s Historian, published his “History of the Brethren” (1825), he had to record the distressing fact that in England the Moravians had only twenty congregations, in Ireland only six, and that the total number of members was only four thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven. The question is sometimes asked to-day: How is it that the Moravian Church is so small? For that smallness more reasons than one may be given; but one reason was certainly the singular policy expounded in the present chapter.149


BUT our problem is not yet solved. As soon as the nineteenth century opened, the Brethren began to look forward with hope to the future; and their leading preachers still believed in the divine and holy calling of the Moravian Church. Of those preachers the most famous was Christian Frederick Ramftler. He was a typical Moravian minister. He was a type in his character, in his doctrine, and in his fortunes. He came of an old Moravian family, and had martyr’s blood in his veins. He was born at the Moravian settlement at Barby (1780). At the age of six he attended a Good Friday service, and was deeply impressed by the words, “He bowed his head and gave up the ghost”; and although he could never name the date of his conversion, he was able to say that his religion was based on the love of Christ and on the obligation to love Christ in return. At the age of seven he was sent to the Moravian school at Kleinwelke; he then entered the Pædagogium at Barby, and completed his education by studying theology at Niesky. At that place he was so anxious to preach the Gospel that, as he had no opportunity of preaching in the congregation, he determined to preach to the neighbouring Wends; and, as he knew not a word of their language, he borrowed one of their minister’s sermons, learned it by heart, ascended the pulpit, and delivered the discourse with such telling energy that the delighted people exclaimed: “Oh, that this young man might always preach to us instead of our sleepy parson.” For that freak he was gravely rebuked by the U.E.C., and he behaved with more discretion in the future. For two years he served the Church as a schoolmaster, first at Neusalz-on-the-Oder, and then at Uhyst; and then, to his surprise, he received a call to England. For the moment he was staggered. He consulted the Lot; the Lot gave consent; and, therefore, to England he came. For six years he now served as master in the Brethren’s boarding-school at Fairfield; and then, in due course, he was called as minister to the Brethren’s congregation at Bedford. As soon, however, as he accepted the call, he was informed that he would have to marry; his wife was found for him by the Church; the marriage turned out a happy one; and thus, with her as an official helpmate, he commenced his ministerial career (1810). At Bedford he joined with other ministers--such as Legh Richmond and S. Hillyard--in founding Bible associations. At Fulneck--where he was stationed twelve years--he was so beloved by his congregation that one member actually said: “During seven years your name has not once been omitted in our family prayers.” At Bristol he was noted for his missionary zeal, took an interest in the conversion of the Jews, and often spoke at public meetings on behalf of the Church Missionary Society; and in one year he travelled a thousand miles on behalf of the “London Association in aid of Moravian Missions.” In manner he was rough and abrupt; at heart he was gentle as a woman. He was a strict disciplinarian, a keen questioner, and an unflinching demander of a Christian walk. Not one jot or tittle would he allow his people to yield to the loose ways of the world. In his sermons he dealt hard blows at cant; and in his private conversation he generally managed to put his finger upon the sore spot. One day a collier came to see him, and complained, in a rather whining tone, that the path of his life was dark.
“H’m,” growled Ramftler, who hated sniffling, “is it darker than it was in the coal-pit?”
The words proved the collier’s salvation.
In all his habits Ramftler was strictly methodical. He always rose before six; he always finished his writing by eleven; and he kept a list of the texts from which he preached. As that list has been preserved, we are able to form some notion of his style; and the chief point to notice is that his preaching was almost entirely from the New Testament. At times, of course, he gave his people systematic lectures on the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Psalms; but, speaking, broadly, his favourite topic was the Passion History. Above all, like most Moravian ministers, he was an adept in dealing with children. At the close of the Sunday morning service, he came down from the pulpit, took his seat at the Communion table, put the children through their catechism, and then asked all who wished to be Christians to come and take his hand.
At length, towards the close of his life, he was able to take some part in pioneer work. Among his numerous friends at Bristol was a certain Louis West.
“Have you never thought,” said Ramftler, “of becoming a preacher of the Gospel?”
“I believe,” replied West, “I shall die a Moravian minister yet.”
“Die as a minister!” snapped Ramftler. “You ought to live as one!”
The words soon came true. In response to an invitation from some pious people, Ramftler paid a visit to Brockweir, a little village on the Wye, a few miles above Tintern. The village was a hell on earth. It was without a church, and possessed seven public-houses. There was a field of labour for the Brethren. As soon as Ramftler could collect the money, he had a small church erected, laid the corner-stone himself, and had the pleasure of seeing West the first minister of the new congregation.
And like Ramftler was many another of kindred blood. At Wyke, John Steinhauer (1773-76), the children’s friend, had a printing press, wherewith he printed hymns and passages of Scripture in days when children’s books were almost unknown. At Fulneck the famous teacher, Job Bradley, served for forty-five years (1765-1810), devoted his life to the spiritual good of boys, and summed up the passion of his life in the words he was often heard to sing:--
Saviour, Saviour, love the children;

Children, children, love the Saviour.
At Kimbolton, Bishop John King Martyn founded a new congregation. At Kilwarlin, Basil Patras Zula revived a flagging cause. If the Moravian Church was small in England, it was not because her ministers were idle, or because they were lacking in moral and spiritual power.
And yet, fine characters though they were, these men could do little for Church extension. They were still tied down by the “Brotherly Agreement.” They aimed at quality rather than quantity. As long as the Brethren’s work in England remained under German management, that “Brotherly Agreement” remained their charter of faith and practice. For power and place they had not the slightest desire. At their public service on Sunday mornings they systematically joined in the prayer, “From the unhappy desire of becoming great, preserve us, gracious Lord and God.” As long as they were true to the Agreement and the Bible, they do not appear to have cared very much whether they increased in numbers or not. For them the only thing that mattered was the cultivation of personal holiness. As the preaching-places fell away they devoted their attention more and more to the care of the individual. They had a deep reverence for the authority of Scripture. No man could be a member of the Moravian Church unless he promised to read his Bible and hold regular family worship. “The Bible,” ran one clause of the Agreement, “shall be our constant study; we will read it daily in our families, with prayer for the influence of the Holy Spirit of God.” If that duty was broken, the member was liable to expulsion. And the same held good with the other clauses of the “Agreement.” We often read in the congregation diaries of members being struck off the rolls for various sins. For cursing, for lying, for slandering, for evil-speaking, for fraud, for deceit, for drunkenness, for sabbath breaking, for gambling or any other immorality--for all these offences the member, if he persisted in his sin, was summarily expelled. In some of their ideals the Brethren were like the Puritans; in others like the Quakers. They were modest in dress, never played cards, and condemned theatres and dancing as worldly follies. As they still entertained a horror of war, they preferred not to serve as soldiers; and any Moravian could obtain a certificate from the magistrates exempting him from personal military service.150 At the same time, they were loyal to Church and State, had a great love for the Church of England, regarded that Church as the bulwark of Protestantism, detested Popery, and sometimes spoke of the Pope as the Man of Sin. And yet, sturdy Protestants though they were, they had a horror of religious strife. “We will abstain from religious controversy,” was another clause in the Agreement; and, therefore, they never took any part in the religious squabbles of the age. For example, the Brethren took no part in the fight for Catholic emancipation. As they did not regard themselves as Dissenters, they declined to join the rising movement for the separation of Church and State; and yet, on the other hand, they lived on good terms with all Evangelical Christians, and willingly exchanged pulpits with Methodists and Dissenters. At this period their chief doctrine was redemption through the blood of Christ. I have noticed, in reading the memoirs of the time, that although the authors differed in character, they were all alike in their spiritual experiences. They all spoke of themselves as “poor sinners”; they all condemned their own self-righteousness; and they all traced what virtues they possessed to the meritorious sufferings of the Redeemer. Thus the Brethren stood for a Puritan standard, a Bible religion and a broad Evangelical Faith. “Yon man,” said Robert Burns’s father in Ayr, “prays to Christ as though he were God.” But the best illustration of the Brethren’s attitude is the story of the poet himself. As Robert and his brother Gilbert were on their way one Sunday morning to the parish church at Tarbolton, they fell in with an old Moravian named William Kirkland; and before long the poet and Kirkland began discussing theology. Burns defended the New Lights, the Moravian the Old Lights. At length Burns, finding his arguments of no avail, exclaimed: “Oh, I suppose I’ve met with the Apostle Paul this morning.”

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