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   Chapter 3 — A FALL AND A RECOVERY, 1800-1857.

A History of the Moravian Church By J. E. Hutton Characters: 22625

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

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 K?nigsfeld 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 Bre

thren 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 K?lbing 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 P?dagogium 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 P?dagogium 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.

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 K?nigsfeld, 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.

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