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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 2 — The Revival under Zinzendorf. 1700-1760

Chapter 5 — The Edict of Banishment, 1729-1736

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BUT Zinzendorf was not long allowed to tread the primrose path of peace. As the news of his proceedings spread in Germany, many orthodox Lutherans began to regard him as a nuisance, a heretic, and a disturber of the peace; and one critic made the elegant remark: "When Count Zinzendorf flies up into the air, anyone who pulls him down by the legs will do him a great service." He was accused of many crimes, and had many charges to answer. He was accused of founding a new sect, a society for laziness; he was accused of holding strange opinions, opposed to the teaching of the Lutheran Church; he was accused of being a sham Christian, a sort of religious freak; and now he undertook the task of proving that these accusations were false, and of showing all fair-minded men in Germany that the Brethren at Herrnhut were as orthodox as Luther, as respected as the King, and as pious as good old Dr. Spener himself. His methods were bold and straightforward.

He began by issuing a manifesto {Aug. 12th, 1729.}, entitled the "Notariats-Instrument." As this document was signed by all the Herrnhut Brethren, they must have agreed to its statements; but, on the other hand, it is fairly certain that it was drawn up by Zinzendorf himself. It throws a flood of light on his state of mind. He had begun to think more highly of the Moravian Church. He regarded the Moravians as the kernel of the Herrnhut colony, and now he deliberately informed the public that, so far from being a new sect, these Moravians were descendants of an ancient Church. They were, he declared, true heirs of the Church of the Brethren; and that Church, in days gone by, had been recognized by Luther, Calvin and others as a true Church of Christ. In doctrine that Church was as orthodox as the Lutheran; in discipline it was far superior. As long, therefore, as the Brethren were allowed to do so, they would maintain their old constitution and discipline; and yet, on the other hand, they would not be Dissenters. They were not Hussites; they were not Waldenses; they were not Fraticelli; they honoured the Augsburg Confession; they would still attend the Berthelsdorf Parish Church; and, desirous of cultivating fellowship with all true Christians, they announced their broad position in the sentence: "We acknowledge no public Church of God except where the pure Word of God is preached, and where the members live as holy children of God." Thus Zinzendorf made his policy fairly clear. He wanted to preserve the Moravian Church inside the Lutheran Church!85

His next move was still more daring. He was a man of fine missionary zeal. As the woman who found the lost piece of silver invited her friends and neighbours to share in her joy, so Zinzendorf wished all Christians to share in the treasure which he had discovered at Herrnhut. He believed that the Brethren there were called to a world-wide mission. He wanted Herrnhut to be a city set on a hill. "I have no sympathy," he said, "with those comfortable people who sit warming themselves before the fire of the future life." He did not sit long before the fire himself. He visited the University of Jena, founded a society among the students, and so impressed the learned Spangenberg that that great theological scholar soon became a Brother at Herrnhut himself. He visited the University of Halle, and founded another society of students there. He visited Elmsdorf in Vogtland, and founded a society consisting of members of the family of Count Reuss. He visited Berleburg in Westphalia, made the acquaintance of John Conrad Dippel, and tried to lead that straying sheep back to the Lutheran fold. He visited Budingen in Hesse, discoursed on Christian fellowship to the "French Prophets," or "Inspired Ones," and tried to teach their hysterical leader, Rock, a little wisdom, sobriety and charity. He attended the coronation of Christian VI., King of Denmark, at Copenhagen, was warmly welcomed by His Majesty, received the Order of the Danebrog, saw Eskimos from Greenland and a negro from St. Thomas, and thus opened the door, as we shall see later on, for the great work of foreign missions. Meanwhile, he was sending messengers in all directions. He sent two Brethren to Copenhagen, with a short historical account of Herrnhut. He sent two others to London to see the Queen, and to open up negotiations with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He sent another to Sweden; others to Hungary and Austria; others to Switzerland; others to Moravia; others to the Baltic Provinces, Livonia and Esthonia. And everywhere his object was the same — the formation of societies for Christian fellowship within the National Church.

At this point, however, he acted like a fanatic, and manifested the first symptoms of that weak trait in his character which nearly wrecked his career. As he pondered one day on the state of affairs at Herrnhut, it suddenly flashed upon his mind that the Brethren would do far better without their ancient constitution. He first consulted the Elders and Helpers {Jan. 7th, 1731.}; he then summoned the whole congregation; and there and then he deliberately proposed that the Brethren should abolish their regulations, abandon their constitution, cease to be Moravians and become pure Lutherans. At that moment Zinzendorf was calmly attempting to destroy the Moravian Church. He did not want to see that Church revive. For some reason of his own, which he never explained in print, he had come to the conclusion that the Brethren would serve Christ far better without any special regulations of their own. But the Brethren were not disposed to meek surrender. The question was keenly debated. At length, however, both sides agreed to appeal to a strange tribunal. For the first time in the history of Herrnhut a critical question of Church policy was submitted to the Lot.86 The Brethren took two slips

of paper and put them into a box. On the first were the words, "To them that are without law, as without law, that I might gain them that are without law," 1 Cor. ix. 21; on the second the words, "Therefore, Brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught," 2 Thess. ii. 15. At that moment the fate of the Church hung in the balance; the question at issue was one of life and death; and the Brethren spent a long time in anxious prayer. If the first slip of paper was drawn, the Church would cease to exist; if the second, she might still live by the blessing of God. Young Christel, Zinzendorf's son, now entered the room. He drew the second slip of paper, and the Moravian Church was saved. To Zinzendorf this was an event of momentous importance. As soon as that second slip of paper was drawn, he felt convinced that God had sanctioned the renewal of the Moravian Church.

Next year an event occurred to strengthen his convictions. A body of commissioners from Dresden appeared at Herrnhut {Jan. 19—22, 1732.}. They attended all the Sunday services, had private interviews with the Brethren, and sent in their report to the Saxon Government. The Count's conduct had excited public alarm. He had welcomed not only Moravians at Herrnhut, but Schwenkfelders at Berthelsdorf; and, therefore, he was now suspected of harbouring dangerous fanatics. For a long time the issue hung doubtful; but finally the Government issued a decree that while the Schwenkfelders must quit the land, the Moravians should be allowed to stay as long as they behaved themselves quietly {April 4th, 1733.}.

But Zinzendorf was not yet satisfied. He regarded the edict as an insult. The words about "behaving quietly" looked like a threat. As long as the Brethren were merely "tolerated," their peace was in constant danger; and a King who had driven out the Schwenkfelders might soon drive out the Herrnhuters. He was disgusted. At the time when the edict was issued, he himself was returning from a visit to Tübingen. He had laid the whole case of the Brethren before the Tübingen Theological Faculty. He had asked these theological experts to say whether the Brethren could keep their discipline and yet be considered good Lutherans; and the experts, in reply, had declared their opinion that the Herrnhut Brethren were as loyal Lutherans as any in the land. Thus the Brethren were standing now on a shaky floor. According to the Tübingen Theological Faculty they were good members of the National Church; according to the Government they were a "sect" to be tolerated!

Next year he adopted three defensive measures {1734.}. First, he divided the congregation at Herrnhut into two parts, the Moravian and the purely Lutheran; next, he had himself ordained as a Lutheran clergyman; and third, he despatched a few Moravians to found a colony in Georgia. He was now, he imagined, prepared for the worst. If the King commanded the Moravians to go, the Count had his answer ready. As he himself was a Lutheran clergyman, he would stay at Herrnhut and minister to the Herrnhut Lutherans; and the Moravians could all sail away to Georgia, and live in perfect peace in the land of the free.

Next year he made his position stronger still {1735.}. As the Moravians in Georgia would require their own ministers, he now had David Nitschmann consecrated a Bishop by Bishop Daniel Ernest Jablonsky (March 13th). The new Bishop was not to exercise his functions in Germany. He was a Bishop for the foreign field only; he sailed with the second batch of colonists for Georgia; and thus Zinzendorf maintained the Moravian Episcopal Succession, not from any sectarian motives, but because he wished to help the Brethren when the storm burst over their heads.

For what really happened, however, Zinzendorf was unprepared {1736.}. As he made these various arrangements for the Brethren, he entirely overlooked the fact that he himself was in greater danger than they. He was far more widely hated than he imagined. He was condemned by the Pietists because he had never experienced their sudden and spasmodic method of conversion. He offended his own relatives when he became a clergyman; he was accused of having disgraced his rank as a Count; he disgusted a number of other noblemen at Dresden; and the result of this strong feeling was that Augustus III., King of Saxony, issued an edict banishing Zinzendorf from his kingdom. He was accused in this Royal edict of three great crimes. He had introduced religious novelties; he had founded conventicles; and he had taught false doctrine. Thus Zinzendorf was banished from Saxony as a heretic. As soon, however, as the Government had dealt with Zinzendorf, they sent a second Commission to Herrnhut; and the second Commission came to the conclusion that the Brethren were most desirable Lutherans, and might be allowed to stay. Dr. Löscher, one of the commissioners, burst into tears. "Your doctrine," he said, "is as pure as ours, but we do not possess your discipline." At first sight this certainly looks like a contradiction, but the explanation is not far to seek. We find it in the report issued by the Commission. It was a shameless confession of mercenary motives. In that report the commissioners deliberately stated that if good workmen like the Brethren were banished from Herrnhut the Government would lose so much in taxes; and, therefore, the Brethren were allowed to stay because they brought grist to the mill. At the same time, they were forbidden to make any proselytes; and thus it was hoped that the Herrnhut heresy would die a natural death.

When Zinzendorf heard of his banishment, he was not amazed. "What matter!" he said. "Even had I been allowed by law, I could not have remained in Herrnhut at all during the next ten years." He had plans further afield. "We must

now," he added, "gather together the Pilgrim Congregation and proclaim the Saviour to the World." It is true that the edict of banishment was repealed {1737.}; it is true that he was allowed to return to Herrnhut; but a year later a new edict was issued, and the Count was sternly expelled from his native land {1738.}.

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