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CHAPTER IX.

MORAVIANS AND METHODISTS, 1735–1742.

FOR the origin of the Moravian Church in England we turn our eyes to a bookseller’s shop in London. It was known as “The Bible and Sun”; it stood a few yards west of Temple Bar; and James Hutton, the man behind the counter, became in time the first English member of the Brethren’s Church. But James Hutton was a man of high importance for the whole course of English history. He was the connecting link between Moravians and Methodists; and thus he played a vital part, entirely ignored by our great historians, in the whole Evangelical Revival.

He was born on September 14th, 1715. He was the son of a High-Church clergyman. His father was a non-juror. He had refused, that is, to take the oath of loyalty to the Hanoverian succession, had been compelled to resign his living, and now kept a boarding-house in College Street, Westminster, for boys attending the famous Westminster School. At that school little James himself was educated; and one of his teachers was Samuel Wesley, the elder brother of John and Charles. He had no idea to what this would lead. As the lad grew up in his father’s home he had, of course, not the least suspicion that such a body as the Moravian Church existed. He had never heard of Zinzendorf or of Herrnhut. He was brought up a son of the Church of England; he loved her services and doctrine; and all that he desired to see was a revival within her borders of true spiritual life.

The revival was close at hand. For some years a number of pious people—some clergy, and others laymen—had been endeavouring to rouse the Church to new and vigorous life; and to this end they established a number of “Religious Societies.” There were thirty or forty of these Societies in London. They consisted of members of the Church of England. They met, once a week, in private houses to pray, to read the Scriptures, and to edify each other. They drew up rules for their spiritual guidance, had special days for fasting and prayer, and attended early Communion once a month. At church they kept a sharp look-out for others “religiously disposed,” and invited such to join their Societies. In the morning they would go to their own parish church; in the afternoon they would go where they could hear a “spiritual sermon.” Of these Societies one met at the house of Hutton’s father. If James, however, is to be believed, the Societies had now lost a good deal of their moral power. He was not content with the one in his own home. He was not pleased with the members of it. They were, he tells us, slumbering or dead souls; they cared for nothing but their own comfort in this world; and all they did when they met on Sunday evenings was to enjoy themselves at small expense, and fancy themselves more holy than other people. He was soon to meet with men of greater zeal.

As James was now apprenticed to a bookseller he thought he could do a good stroke of business by visiting some of his old school-mates at the University of Oxford. He went to Oxford to see them; they introduced him to John and Charles Wesley; and thus he formed an acquaintance that was soon to change the current of his life. What had happened at Oxford is famous in English history. For the last six years both John and Charles had been conducting a noble work. They met, with others, on Sunday evenings, to read the classics and the Greek Testament; they attended Communion at St. Mary’s every Sunday. They visited the poor and the prisoners in the gaol. They fasted at regular intervals. For all this they were openly laughed to scorn, and were considered mad fanatics. They were called the Reforming Club, the Holy Club, the Godly Club, the Sacramentarians, the Bible Moths, the Supererogation Men, the Enthusiasts, and, finally, the Methodists.

But Hutton was stirred to the very depths of his soul. He was still living in College Street with his father; next door lived Samuel Wesley, his old schoolmaster; and Hutton, therefore, asked John and Charles to call and see him when next they came up to town. The invitation led to great results. At this time John Wesley received a request from General Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia, to go out to that colony as a missionary. He accepted the offer with joy; his brother Charles was appointed the Governor’s Secretary; and the two young men came up to London and spent a couple of days at Hutton’s house. The plot was thickening. Young James was more in love with the Wesleys than ever. If he had not been a bound apprentice he would have sailed with them to Georgia himself {1735.}. He went down with them to Gravesend; he spent some time with them on board the ship; and there, on that sailing vessel, the Simmonds, he saw, for the first time in his life, a number of Moravian Brethren. They, too, were on their way to Georgia. For the future history of religion in England that meeting on the Simmonds was momentous. Among the passengers were General Oglethorpe, Bishop David Nitschmann, and twenty-three other Brethren, and thus Moravians and Methodists were brought together by their common interest in missionary work.

James Hutton was thrilled. As soon as his apprenticeship was over he set up in business for himself at the “Bible and Sun,” founded a new Society in his own back parlour, and made that parlour the centre of the Evangelical Revival {1736.}. There he conducted weekly meetings; there he established a Poor-box Society, the members paying in a penny a week; there met the men who before long were to turn England upside down; and there he and others were to hear still more of the life and work of the Brethren.

For this he had to thank his friend John Wesley. As John Wesley set out on his voyage to Georgia he began to keep that delightful Journal which has now become an English classic; and before having his Journal printed he sent private copies to Hutton, and Hutton read them out at his weekly meetings. John Wesley had a stirring tale to tell. He admired the Brethren from the first. They were, he wrote, the gentlest, bravest folk he had ever met. They helped without pay in the working of the ship; they could take a blow without losing their tempers; and when the ship was tossed in the storm they were braver than the sailors themselves. One Sunday the gale was terrific. The sea poured in between the decks. The main sail was torn to tatters. The English passengers screamed with terror. The Brethren calmly sang a hymn.

“Was not you afraid?” said Wesley.

“I thank God, no,” replied the Brother.

“But were not your women and children afraid?”

“No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”

John Wesley was deeply stirred. For all his piety he still lacked something which these Brethren possessed. He lacked their triumphant confidence in God. He was still afraid to die. “How is it thou hast no faith?” he said to himself.

For the present his question remained unanswered; but before he had been very long in Georgia he laid his spiritual troubles before the learned Moravian teacher, Spangenberg. He could hardly have gone to a better spiritual guide. Of all the Brethren this modest Spangenberg was in many ways the best. He was the son of a Lutheran minister. He was Wesley’s equal in learning and practical piety. He had been assistant lecturer in theology at Halle University. He was a man of deep spiritual experience; he was only one year younger than Wesley himself; and, therefore, he was thoroughly qualified to help the young English pilgrim over the stile.107107Canon Overton’s sarcastic observations here are quite beside the point. He says (Life of John Wesley, p. 55) that Spangenberg subjected Wesley to “a cross-examination which, considering the position and attainments of the respective parties, seems to an outsider, in plain words, rather impertinent.” I should like to know where this impertinence comes in. What were “the position and attainments of the respective parties?” Was Spangenberg Wesley’s intellectual inferior? No. Did Spangenberg seek the conversation? No. “I asked his advice,” says Wesley, “with regard to my own conduct.”

“My brother,” he said, “I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”

John Wesley was so staggered that he could not answer.

“Do you know Jesus Christ?” continued Spangenberg.

“I know he is the Saviour of the world.”

“True; but do you know he has saved you?”

“I hope,” replied Wesley, “he has died to save me.”

“Do you know yourself?”

“I do,” said Wesley; but he only half meant what he said.

Again, three weeks later, Wesley was present at a Moravian ordination service. For the moment he forgot the seventeen centuries that had rolled by since the great days of the apostles; and almost thought that Paul the tentmaker or Peter the fisherman was presiding at the ceremony. “God,” he said, “has opened me a door into a whole Church.”

As James Hutton read these glowing reports to his little Society at the “Bible and Sun” he began to take a still deeper interest in the Brethren. He had made the acquaintance, not only of the Wesleys, but of Benjamin Ingham, of William Delamotte, and of George Whitefield. He was the first to welcome Whitefield to London. He found him openings in the churches. He supplied him with money for the poor. He published his sermons. He founded another Society in Aldersgate Street. He was now to meet with Zinzendorf himself. Once more the connecting link was foreign missionary work. For some years the Count had been making attempts to obtain the goodwill of English Churchmen for the Brethren’s labours in North America. He had first sent three Brethren—Wenzel Neisser, John Toeltschig, and David Nitschmann, the Syndic—to open up negotiations with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; and very disappointed he was when these negotiations came to nothing. He had then sent Spangenberg to London to make arrangements for the first batch of colonists for Georgia. He had then sent the second batch under Bishop David Nitschmann. And now he came to London himself, took rooms at Lindsey House {1737.}, Chelsea, and stayed about six weeks. He had two purposes to serve. He wished first to talk with Archbishop Potter about Moravian Episcopal Orders. He was just thinking of becoming a Bishop himself. He wanted Potter’s opinion on the subject. What position, he asked, would a Moravian Bishop occupy in an English colony? Would it be right for a Moravian Bishop to exercise his functions in Georgia? At the same time, however, he wished to consult with the Board of Trustees for Georgia. He had several talks with the Secretary. The Secretary was Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley was lodging now at old John Hutton’s in College Street. He attended a service in Zinzendorf’s rooms; he thought himself in a choir of angels; he introduced James Hutton to the Count; and thus another link in the chain was forged.

And now there arrived in England a man who was destined to give a new tone to the rising revival {Jan. 27th, 1738.}. His name was Peter Boehler; he had just been ordained by Zinzendorf; he was on his way to South Carolina; and he happened to arrive in London five days before John Wesley landed from his visit to America. We have come to a critical point in English history. At the house of Weinantz, a Dutch merchant, John Wesley and Peter Boehler met (Feb. 7th); John Wesley then found Boehler lodgings, and introduced him to Hutton; and ten days later Wesley and Boehler set out together for Oxford {Feb. 17th.}. The immortal discourse began.

As John Wesley returned to England from his three years’ stay in America, he found himself in a sorrowful state of mind. He had gone with all the ardour of youth; he returned a spiritual bankrupt. On this subject the historians have differed. According to High-Church Anglican writers, John Wesley was a Christian saint before he ever set eyes on Boehler’s face;108108Thus Overton, e.g., writes: “If John Wesley was not a true Christian in Georgia, God help millions of those who profess and call themselves Christians.” Life of John Wesley, p. 58. according to Methodists he had only a legal religion and was lacking in genuine, saving faith in Christ. His own evidence on the questions seems conflicting. At the time he was sure he was not yet converted; in later years he inclined to think he was. At the time he sadly wrote in his Journal, “I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God”; and then, years later, he added the footnote, “I am not sure of this.” It is easy, however, to explain this contradiction. The question turns on the meaning of the word “converted.” If a man is truly converted to God when his heart throbs with love for his fellows, with a zeal for souls, and with a desire to do God’s holy will, then John Wesley, when he returned from America, was just as truly a “converted” man as ever he was in later life. He was devout in prayer; he loved the Scriptures; he longed to be holy; he was pure in thought, in deed, and in speech; he was self-denying; he had fed his soul on the noble teaching of Law’s “Serious Call”; and thus, in many ways, he was a beautiful model of what a Christian should be. And yet, after all, he lacked one thing which Peter Boehler possessed. If John Wesley was converted then he did not know it himself. He had no firm, unflinching trust in God. He was not sure that his sins were forgiven. He lacked what Methodists call “assurance,” and what St. Paul called “peace with God.” He had the faith, to use his own distinction, not of a son, but only of a servant. He was good but he was not happy; he feared God, but he did not dare to love Him; he had not yet attained the conviction that he himself had been redeemed by Christ; and if this conviction is essential to conversion, then John Wesley, before he met Boehler, was not yet a converted man. For practical purposes the matter was of first importance. As long as Wesley was racked by doubts he could never be a persuasive preacher of the Gospel. He was so distracted about himself that he could not yet, with an easy mind, rush out to the rescue of others. He had not “a heart at leisure from itself to soothe and sympathize.” The influence of Boehler was enormous. He saw where Wesley’s trouble lay, and led him into the calm waters of rest.

“My brother, my brother,” he said, “that philosophy of yours must be purged away.”109109“And forthwith commenced the process of purging,” adds Overton. Witty, but untrue. Boehler did nothing of the kind.

John Wesley did not understand. For three weeks the two men discussed the fateful question; and the more Wesley examined himself the more sure he was he did not possess “the faith whereby we are saved.” One day he felt certain of his salvation; the next the doubts besieged his door again.

“If what stands in the Bible is true,” he said, “then I am saved”; but that was as far as he could go.

“He knew,” said Boehler in a letter to Zinzendorf, “that he did not properly believe in the Saviour.”

At last Boehler made a fine practical suggestion {March 5th.}. He urged Wesley to preach the Gospel to others. John Wesley was thunderstruck. He thought it rather his duty to leave off preaching. What right had he to preach to others a faith he did not yet possess himself? Should he leave off preaching or not?

“By no means,” replied Boehler.

“But what can I preach?” asked Wesley.

“Preach faith till you have it,” was the classic answer, “and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

Again he consulted Boehler on the point; and again Boehler, broad-minded man, gave the same wholesome advice.

“No,” he insisted, “do not hide in the earth the talent God has given you.”

The advice was sound. If John Wesley had left off preaching now, he might never have preached again; and if Boehler had been a narrow-minded bigot, he would certainly have informed his pupil that unless he possessed full assurance of faith he was unfit to remain in holy orders. But Boehler was a scholar and a gentleman, and acted throughout with tact. For some weeks John Wesley continued to be puzzled by Boehler’s doctrine of the holiness and happiness which spring from living faith; but at last he came to the firm conclusion that what Boehler said on the subject was precisely what was taught in the Church of England. He had read already in his own Church homilies that faith “is a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God that through the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God”; and yet, clergyman though he was, he had not yet that trust and confidence himself. Instead, therefore, of teaching Wesley new doctrine, Peter Boehler simply informed him that some men, though of course not all, were suddenly converted, that faith might be given in a moment, and that thus a man might pass at once from darkness to light and from sin and misery to righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost. He had had that very experience himself at Jena; he had known it as a solid fact in the case of others; and, therefore, speaking from his own personal knowledge, he informed Wesley that when a man obtained true faith he acquired forthwith “dominion over sin and constant peace from a sense of forgiveness.”

At this Wesley was staggered. He called it a new Gospel. He would not believe that the sense of forgiveness could be given in a moment.

For answer Boehler appealed to the New Testament; and Wesley, looking to see for himself, found that nearly all the cases of conversion mentioned there were instantaneous. He contended, however, that such miracles did not happen in the eighteenth century. Boehler brought four friends to prove that they did. Four examples, said Wesley, were not enough to prove a principle. Boehler promised to bring eight more. For some days Wesley continued to wander in the valley of indecision, and consulted Boehler at every turn of the road. He persuaded Boehler to pray with him; he joined him in singing Richter’s hymn, “My soul before Thee prostrate lies”; and finally, he preached a sermon to four thousand hearers in London, enforcing that very faith in Christ which he himself did not yet possess. But Boehler had now to leave for South Carolina. From Southampton he wrote a farewell letter to Wesley. “Beware of the sin of unbelief,” he wrote, “and if you have not conquered it yet, see that you conquer it this very day, through the blood of Jesus Christ.”

The letter produced its effect. The turning-point in John Wesley’s career arrived. He was able to give, not only the day, but the hour, and almost the minute. As he was still under the influence of Boehler’s teaching, many writers have here assumed that his conversion took place in a Moravian society.110110See, e.g., Overton, Evangelical Revival p. 15; Fisher, History of the Church, p. 516; Wakeman, History of the Church of England, p. 438. The assumption is false. “In the evening,” says Wesley, “I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street {May 24th.}, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.” At that time the society in Aldersgate Street had no more connection with the Moravian Church than any other religious society in England. It was founded by James Hutton; it was an ordinary religious society; it consisted entirely of members of the Anglican Church; and there, in an Anglican religious society, Wesley’s conversion took place. “About a quarter to nine,” he says, “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

From that moment, despite some recurring doubts, John Wesley was a changed man. If he had not exactly learned any new doctrine, he had certainly passed through a new experience. He had peace in his heart; he was sure of his salvation; and henceforth, as all readers know, he was able to forget himself, to leave his soul in the hands of God, and to spend his life in the salvation of his fellow-men.

Meanwhile Peter Boehler had done another good work. If his influence over John Wesley was great, his influence over Charles Wesley was almost greater. For some weeks the two men appear to have been in daily communication; Charles Wesley taught Boehler English; and when Wesley was taken ill Boehler on several occasions, both at Oxford and at James Hutton’s house in London, sat up with him during the night, prayed for his recovery, and impressed upon him the value of faith and prayer. The faith of Boehler was amazing. As soon as he had prayed for Wesley’s recovery, he turned to the sufferer and calmly said, “You will not die now.” The patient felt he could not endure the pain much longer.

“Do you hope to be saved?” said Boehler.

“Yes.”

“For what reason do you hope it?”

“Because I have used my best endeavours to serve God.”

Boehler shook his head, and said no more. As soon as Charles was restored to health, he passed through the same experience as his brother John; and gladly ascribed both recovery and conversion to the faith and prayer of Boehler.

But this was not the end of Boehler’s influence. As soon as he was able to speak English intelligibly, he began to give addresses on saving faith to the good folk who met at James Hutton’s house; and before long he changed the whole character of the Society. It had been a society of seekers; it became a society of believers. It had been a group of High Churchmen; it became a group of Evangelicals. It had been a free-and-easy gathering; it became a society with definite regulations. For two years the Society was nothing less than the headquarters of the growing evangelical revival; and the rules drawn up by Peter Boehler (May 1st, 1738), just before he left for America, were the means of making it a vital power. In these rules the members were introducing, though they knew it not, a new principle into English Church life. It was the principle of democratic government. The Society was now a self-governing body; and all the members, lay and clerical, stood upon the same footing. They met once a week to confess their faults to each other and to pray for each other; they divided the Society into “bands,” with a leader at the head of each; and they laid down the definite rule that “every one, without distinction, submit to the determination of his Brethren.”111111This clause is omitted by John Wesley in his Journal! He gives the fundamental rules of the Society, but omits the clause that interfered most with his own liberty. See Journal, May 1st, 1738. The Society increased; the room at Hutton’s house became too small; and Hutton therefore hired first a large room, and then a Baptist Hall, known as the Great Meeting House, in Fetter Lane.112112Precise date uncertain.

From this time the Society was known as the Fetter Lane Society, and the leading spirits were James Hutton and Charles Wesley. For a while the hall was the home of happiness and peace. As the months rolled on, various Moravians paid passing calls on their way to America; and Hutton, the Wesleys, Delamotte and others became still more impressed with the Brethren’s teaching. Charles Wesley was delighted. As he walked across the fields from his house at Islington to the Sunday evening love-feast in Fetter Lane, he would sing for very joy. John Wesley was equally charmed. He had visited the Brethren at Marienborn and Herrnhut (August, 1738). He had listened with delight to the preaching of Christian David. He had had long chats about spiritual matters with Martin Linner, the Chief Elder, with David Nitschmann, with Albin Feder, with Augustin Neisser, with Wenzel Neisser, with Hans Neisser, with David Schneider, and with Arvid Gradin, the historian; he felt he would like to spend his life at Herrnhut; and in his Journal he wrote the words, “Oh, when shall this Christianity cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” At a Watch-Night service in Fetter Lane (Dec. 31st, 1738) the fervour reached its height. At that service both the Wesleys, George Whitefield, Benjamin Ingham, Kinchin and other Oxford Methodists were present, and the meeting lasted till the small hours of the morning. “About three in the morning,” says John Wesley, “as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.”

And yet all the while there was a worm within the bud. John Wesley soon found serious faults in the Brethren. As he journeyed to Herrnhut, he had called at Marienborn, and there they had given him what seemed to him an unnecessary snub. For some reason which has never been fully explained, they refused to admit him to the Holy Communion; and the only reason they gave him was that he was a “homo perturbatus,” i.e., a restless man.113113What did the Brethren mean by this? We are left largely to conjecture. My own personal impression is, however, that the Brethren feared that if Wesley took Communion with them he might be tempted to leave the Church of England and join the Moravian Church. For the life of him Wesley could not understand why a “restless man” of good Christian character should not kneel at the Lord’s Table with the Brethren; and to make the insult more stinging still, they actually admitted his companion, Benjamin Ingham. But the real trouble lay at Fetter Lane. It is easy to put our finger on the cause. As long as people hold true to the faith and practice of their fathers they find it easy to live at peace with each other; but as soon as they begin to think for themselves they are sure to differ sooner or later. And that was exactly what happened at Fetter Lane. The members came from various stations in life. Some, like the Wesleys, were university men; some, like Hutton, were middle-class tradesmen, of moderate education; some, like Bray, the brazier, were artizans; and all stood on the same footing, and discussed theology with the zeal of novices and the confidence of experts. John Wesley found himself in a strange country. He had been brought up in the realm of authority; he found himself in the realm of free discussion. Some said that saying faith was one thing, and some said that it was another. Some said that a man could receive the forgiveness of his sins without knowing it, and some argued that if a man had any doubts he was not a true Christian at all. As Wesley listened to these discussions he grew impatient and disgusted. The whole tone of the Society was distasteful to his mind. If ever a man was born to rule it was Wesley; and here, at Fetter Lane, instead of being captain, he was merely one of the crew, and could not even undertake a journey without the consent of the Society. The fetters were beginning to gall.

At this point there arrived from Germany a strange young man on his way to America, who soon added fuel to the fire {Oct. 18th, 1739.}. His name was Philip Henry Molther. He was only twenty-five years old; he had belonged to the Brethren’s Church about a year; he had spent some months as tutor in Zinzendorf’s family; he had picked up only the weak side of the Brethren’s teaching; and now, with all the zeal of youth, he set forth his views in extravagant language, which soon filled Wesley with horror. His power in the Society was immense, and four times a week, in broken English, he preached to growing crowds. At first he was utterly shocked by what he saw. “The first time I entered the meeting,” he says, “I was alarmed and almost terror-stricken at hearing their sighing and groaning, their whining and howling, which strange proceeding they call the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” For these follies Molther had a cure of his own. He called it “stillness.” As long as men were sinners, he said, they were not to try to obtain saving faith by any efforts of their own. They were not to go to church. They were not to communicate. They were not to fast. They were not to use so much private prayer. They were not to read the Scriptures. They were not to do either temporal or spiritual good. Instead of seeking Christ in these ways, said Molther, the sinner should rather sit still and wait for Christ to give him the Divine revelation. If this doctrine had no other merit it had at least the charm of novelty. The dispute at Fetter Lane grew keener than ever. On the one hand Hutton, James Bell, John Bray, and other simple-minded men regarded Molther as a preacher of the pure Gospel. He had, said Hutton, drawn men away from many a false foundation, and had led them to the only true foundation, Christ. “No soul,” said another, “can be washed in the blood of Christ unless it first be brought to one in whom Christ is fully formed. But there are only two such men in London, Bell and Molther.” John Bray, the brazier, went further.

“It is impossible,” he said, “for anyone to be a true Christian outside the Moravian Church.”

As the man was outside that Church himself, and remained outside it all his life, his statement is rather bewildering.114114Mr. Lecky’s narrative here (History of England, Vol. II., p. 67, Cabinet Edition) is incorrect. He attributes the above two speeches to Moravian “teachers.” No Moravian “teacher,” so far as I know, ever talked such nonsense. John Bray was not a Moravian at all. I have carefully examined the list of members of the first Moravian congregation in London; and Bray’s name does not occur in the list. He was an Anglican and an intimate friend of Charles Wesley, and is frequently mentioned in the latter’s Journal. It is easy to see how Lecky went wrong. Instead of consulting the evidence for himself, he followed the guidance of Tyerman’s Life of John Wesley, Vol. I., p. 302–5.

John Wesley was disgusted. He regarded Molther as a teacher of dangerous errors. The two men were poles asunder. The one was a quietist evangelical; the other a staunch High Churchman. According to Molther the correct order was, through Christ to the ordinances of the Church; according to Wesley, through the ordinances to Christ. According to Molther, a man ought to be a believer in Christ before he reads the Bible, or attends Communion, or even does good works; according to Wesley, a man should read his Bible, go to Communion, and do good works in order to become a believer. According to Molther the Sacrament was a privilege, meant for believers only; according to Wesley it was a duty, and a means of grace for all men. According to Molther, the only means of grace was Christ; according to Wesley, there were many means of grace, all leading the soul to Christ. According to Molther there were no degrees in faith; according to Wesley there were. No longer was the Fetter Lane Society a calm abode of peace. Instead of trying to help each other the members would sometimes sit for an hour without speaking a word; and sometimes they only reported themselves without having a proper meeting at all. John Wesley spoke his mind. He declared that Satan was beginning to rule in the Society. He heard that Molther was taken ill, and regarded the illness as a judgment from heaven. At last the wranglings came to an open rupture. At an evening meeting in Fetter Lane {July 16th, 1740.}, John Wesley, resolved to clear the air, read out from a book supposed to be prized by the Brethren the following astounding doctrine: “The Scriptures are good; prayer is good; communicating is good; relieving our neighbour is good; but to one who is not born of God, none of these is good, but all very evil. For him to read the Scriptures, or to pray, or to communicate, or to do any outward work is deadly poison. First, let him be born of God. Till then, let him not do any of these things. For if he does, he destroys himself.”

He read the passage aloud two or three times. “My brethren,” he asked, “is this right, or is this wrong?”

“It is right,” said Richard Bell, the watchcase maker, “it is all right. It is the truth. To this we must all come, or we never can come to Christ.”

“I believe,” broke in Bray, the brazier, “our brother Bell did not hear what you read, or did not rightly understand.”

“Yes! I heard every word,” said Bell, “and I understand it well. I say it is the truth; it is the very truth; it is the inward truth.”

“I used the ordinances twenty years,” said George Bowers, the Dissenter, of George Yard, Little Britain, “yet I found not Christ. But I left them off for only a few weeks and I found Him then. And I am now as close united to Him as my arm is to my body.”

The dispute was coming to a crisis. The discussion lasted till eleven o’clock. Some said that Wesley might preach in Fetter Lane.

“No,” said others, “this place is taken for the Germans.”

Some argued that Wesley had often put an end to confusions in the Society.

“Confusion!” snapped others, “What do you mean? We never were in any confusion at all.”

Next Sunday evening Wesley appeared again {July 20th, 1740.}. He was resolved what to do.

“I find you,” he said, “more and more confirmed in the error of your ways. Nothing now remains but that I should give you up to God. You that are of the same opinion follow me.”

As some wicked joker had hidden his hat, he was not able to leave the room with the dignity befitting the occasion; but eighteen supporters answered to his call; and the face of John Wesley was seen in the Fetter Lane Society no more. The breach was final; the wound remained open; and Moravians and Methodists went their several ways. For some years the dispute continued to rage with unabated fury. The causes were various. The damage done by Molther was immense. The more Wesley studied the writings of the Brethren the more convinced he became that in many ways they were dangerous teachers. They thought, he said, too highly of their own Church. They would never acknowledge themselves to be in the wrong. They submitted too much to the authority of Zinzendorf, and actually addressed him as Rabbi. They were dark and secret in their behaviour, and practised guile and dissimulation. They taught the doctrine of universal salvation. Above all, however, John Wesley held that the Brethren, like Molther, laid a one-sided stress on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They were, he contended, Antinomians; they followed too closely the teaching of Luther; they despised the law, the commandments, good works, and all forms of self-denial.

“You have lost your first joy,” said one, “therefore you pray: that is the devil. You read the Bible: that is the devil. You communicate: that is the devil.”

In vain Count Zinzendorf, longing for peace, endeavoured to pour oil on the raging waters. The two leaders met in Gray’s Inn Gardens and made an attempt to come to a common understanding {Sept. 3rd, 1741.}. The attempt was useless. The more keenly they argued the question out the further they drifted from each other. For Zinzendorf Wesley had never much respect, and he certainly never managed to understand him. If a poet and a botanist talk about roses they are hardly likely to understand each other; and that was just how the matter stood between Zinzendorf and Wesley. The Count was a poet, and used poetic, language. John Wesley was a level-headed Briton, with a mind as exact as a calculating machine.

“Why have you left the Church of England?”115115Cur religionem tuam mutasti? Generally, but wrongly, translated Why have you changed your religion? But religio does not mean religion; it means Church or denomination. began the Count.

“I was not aware that I had left the Church of England,” replied Wesley.

And then the two men began to discuss theology.

“I acknowledge no inherent perfection in this life,” said the Count. “This is the error of errors. I pursue it through the world with fire and sword. I trample it under foot. I exterminate it. Christ is our only perfection. Whoever follows after inherent perfection denies Christ.”

“But I believe,” replied Wesley, “that the Spirit of Christ works perfection in true Christians.”

“Not at all,” replied Zinzendorf, “All our perfection is in Christ. The whole of Christian perfection is imputed, not inherent. We are perfect in Christ—in ourselves, never.”

“What,” asked Wesley, in blank amazement, after Zinzendorf had hammered out his point. “Does not a believer, while he increases in love, increase equally in holiness?”

“By no means,” said the Count; “the moment he is justified he is sanctified wholly. From that time, even unto death, he is neither more nor less holy. A babe in Christ is as pure in heart as a father in Christ. There is no difference.”

At the close of the discussion the Count spoke a sentence which seemed to Wesley as bad as the teaching of Molther.

“We spurn all self-denial,” he said, “we trample it under foot. Being believers, we do whatever we will and nothing more. We ridicule all mortification. No purification precedes perfect love.”

And thus the Count, by extravagant language, drove Wesley further away from the Brethren than ever.

Meanwhile, at Fetter Lane events were moving fast. As soon as Wesley was out of the way, James Hutton came to the front; a good many Moravians—Bishop Nitschmann, Anna Nitschmann, John Toeltschig, Gussenbauer, and others—began to arrive on the scene; and step by step the Society became more Moravian in character. For this Hutton himself was chiefly responsible. He maintained a correspondence with Zinzendorf, and was the first to introduce Moravian literature to English readers. He published a collection of Moravian hymns, a Moravian Manual of Doctrine, and a volume in English of Zinzendorf’s Berlin discourses. He was fond of the Moravian type of teaching, and asked for Moravian teachers. His wish was speedily gratified. The foolish Molther departed. The sober Spangenberg arrived. The whole movement now was raised to a higher level. As soon as Spangenberg had hold of the reins the members, instead of quarrelling with each other, began to apply themselves to the spread of the Gospel; and to this end they now established the “Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel.” Its object was the support of foreign missions {1741.}. At its head was a committee of four, of whom James Hutton was one. For many years the “Society” supported the foreign work of the Brethren in English colonies; and in later years it supplied the funds for the work in Labrador. The next step was to license the Chapel in Fetter Lane. The need was pressing. As long as the members met without a licence they might be accused, at any time, of breaking the Conventicle Act. They wished now to have the law on their side. Already the windows had been broken by a mob. The services now were open to the public. The chapel was becoming an evangelistic hall. The licence was taken (Sept.). The members took upon themselves the name “Moravian Brethren, formerly of the Anglican Communion.” But the members at Fetter Lane were not yet satisfied. For all their loyalty to the Church of England, they longed for closer communion with the Church of the Brethren; and William Holland openly asked the question, “Can a man join the Moravian Church and yet remain a member of the Anglican Church?”

“Yes,” was the answer, “for they are sister Churches.”

For this reason, therefore, and without any desire to become Dissenters, a number of the members of the Fetter Lane Society applied to Spangenberg to establish a congregation of the Moravian Church in England. The cautious Spangenberg paused. For the fourth time a momentous question was put to the decision of the Lot. The Lot sanctioned the move. The London congregation was established (November 10th, 1742). It consisted of seventy-two members of the Fetter Lane Society. Of those members the greater number were Anglicans, and considered themselves Anglicans still. And yet they were Brethren in the fullest sense and at least half of them took office. The congregation was organized on the Herrnhut model. It was divided into “Choirs.” At the head of each choir was an Elder; and further there were two Congregation Elders, two Wardens, two Admonitors, two Censors, five Servants, and eight Sick-Waiters. Thus was the first Moravian congregation established in England. For many years this Church in Fetter Lane was the headquarters of Moravian work in Great Britain. Already a new campaign had been started in Yorkshire; and a few years later Boehler declared that this one congregation alone had sent out two hundred preachers of the Gospel.116116I believe I am correct in stating that the Watch-Night Service described in this chapter was the first held in England. As such services were held already at Herrnhut, where the first took place in 1733, it was probably a Moravian who suggested the service at Fetter Lane; and thus Moravians have the honour of introducing Watch-Night Services in this country. From them the custom passed to the Methodist; and from the Methodist to other Churches.


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