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CHAPTER VIII.

THE SIFTING TIME, 1743–1750.

AS the Count advanced towards middle age, he grew more domineering in tone, more noble in his dreams, and more foolish in much of his conduct. He was soon to shine in each of these three lights. He returned from America in a fury. For two years he had been busy in Pennsylvania in a brave, but not very successful, attempt to establish a grand “Congregation of God in the Spirit”; and now he heard, to his deep disgust, that his Brethren in Europe had lowered the ideal of the Church, and made vulgar business bargains with worldly powers. What right, he asked, had the Brethren to make terms with an Atheist King? What right had they to obtain these degrading “concessions?” The whole business, he argued, smacked of simony. If the Brethren made terms with kings at all, they should take their stand, not, forsooth, as good workmen who would help to fatten the soil, but rather as loyal adherents of the Augsburg Confession. At Herrnhaag they had turned the Church into a business concern! Instead of paying rent to the Counts of Isenburg, they now had the Counts in their power. They had lent them large sums of money; they held their estates as security; and now, in return for these financial favours, the Counts had kindly recognized the Brethren as “the orthodox Episcopal Moravian Church.” The more Zinzendorf heard of these business transactions, the more disgusted he was. He stormed and rated like an absolute monarch, and an absolute monarch he soon became. He forgot that before he went away he had entrusted the management of home affairs to a Board of Twelve. He now promptly dissolved the Board, summoned the Brethren to a Synod at Hirschberg, lectured them angrily for their sins, reduced them to a state of meek submission, and was ere long officially appointed to the office of “Advocate and Steward of all the Brethren’s Churches.” He had now the reins of government in his hands {1743.}. “Without your foreknowledge,” ran this document, “nothing new respecting the foundation shall come up in our congregations, nor any conclusion of importance to the whole shall be valid; and no further story shall be built upon your fundamental plan of the Protestant doctrine of the Augsburg Confession, and that truthing it in love with all Christians, without consulting you.”

He proceeded now to use these kingly powers. He accused the Brethren of two fundamental errors. Instead of trying to gather Christians into one ideal “Community of Jesus,” they had aimed at the recognition of the independent Moravian Church; and instead of following the guidance of God, they had followed the dictates of vulgar worldly wisdom. He would cure them of each of these complaints. He would cure them of their narrow sectarian views, and cure them of their reliance on worldly wisdom.

For the first complaint he offered the remedy known as his “Tropus Idea.” The whole policy of Zinzendorf lies in those two words. He expounded it fully at a Synod in Marienborn. The more he studied Church history in general, the more convinced he became that over and above all the Christian Churches there was one ideal universal Christian Church; that that ideal Church represented the original religion of Christ; and that now the true mission of the Brethren was to make that ideal Church a reality on God’s fair earth. He did not regard any of the Churches of Christ as Churches in this higher sense of the term. He regarded them rather as religious training grounds. He called them, not Churches, but tropuses. He called the Lutheran Church a tropus; he called the Calvinistic Church a tropus; he called the Moravian Church a tropus; he called the Pilgrim Band a tropus; he called the Memnonites a tropus; and by this word “tropus” he meant a religious school in which Christians were trained for membership in the one true Church of Christ. He would not have one of these tropuses destroyed. He regarded them all as essential. He honoured them all as means to a higher end. He would never try to draw a man from his tropus. And now he set a grand task before the Brethren. As the Brethren had no distinctive creed, and taught the original religion of Christ, they must now, he said, regard it as their Divine mission to find room within their broad bosom for men from all the tropuses. They were not merely to restore the Moravian Church; they were to establish a broader, comprehensive Church, to be known as the “Church of the Brethren”; and that Church would be composed of men from every tropus under heaven. Some would be Lutherans, some Reformed, some Anglicans, some Moravians, some Memnonites, some Pilgrims in the foreign field. For this purpose, and for this purpose only, he now revived the old Brethren’s ministerial orders of Presbyter, Deacon and Acoluth; and when these men entered on their duties he informed them that they were the servants, not merely of the Moravian Church, but of the wider “Church of the Brethren.” If the Count could now have carried out his scheme, he would have had men from various Churches at the head of each tropus in the Church of the Brethren. For the present he did the best he could, and divided the Brethren into three leading tropuses. At the head of the Moravian tropus was Bishop Polycarp Müller; at the head of the Lutheran, first he himself, and then, later, Dr. Hermann, Court Preacher at Dresden; and finally, at the head of the Reformed, first his old friend Bishop Friedrich de Watteville, and then, later, Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man.9898See Benham’s Memoirs of James Hutton, p. 245, where the papers referring to Bishop Wilson’s appointment are printed in full. His scheme was now fairly clear. “In future,” he said, “we are all to be Brethren, and our Bishops must be Brethren’s Bishops; and, therefore, in this Church of the Brethren there will henceforth be, not only Moravians, but also Lutherans and Calvinists, who cannot find peace in their own Churches on account of brutal theologians.”

His second remedy was worse than the disease. The great fault in Zinzendorf’s character was lack of ballast. For the last few years he had given way to the habit of despising his own common sense; and instead of using his own judgment he now used the Lot. He had probably learned this habit from the Halle Pietists. He carried his Lot apparatus in his pocket;9999It was a little green book, with detachable leaves; each leaf contained some motto or text; and when the Count was in a difficulty, he pulled out one of these leaves at random. he consulted it on all sorts of topics; he regarded it as the infallible voice of God. “To me,” said he, in a letter to Spangenberg, “the Lot and the Will of God are simply one and the same thing. I am not wise enough to seek God’s will by my own mental efforts. I would rather trust an innocent piece of paper than my own feelings.” He now endeavoured to teach this faith to his Brethren. He founded a society called “The Order of the Little Fools,” {June 2nd, 1743.} and before very long they were nearly all “little fools.” His argument here was astounding. He appealed to the well-known words of Christ Himself.100100Matthew xi. 25. “Little Fools” (Närrchen) was Zinzendorf’s rendering of naypeeoee {spelled in greek: nu, eta, pi, iota (stressed), omicron, iota}. As God, he contended, had revealed His will, not to wise men, but to babes, it followed that the more like babes the Brethren became, the more clearly they would understand the mysteries of grace. They were not to use their own brains; they were to wish that they had no brains; they were to be like children in arms; and thus they would overcome all their doubts and banish all their cares. The result was disastrous. It led to the period known as the “Sifting Time.” It is the saddest period in the history of the Brethren’s Church. For seven years these Brethren took leave of their senses, and allowed their feelings to lead them on in the paths of insensate folly. They began by taking Zinzendorf at his word. They used diminutives for nearly everything. They addressed the Count as “Papa” and “Little Papa”; they spoke of Christ as “Brother Lambkin”;101101For want of a better, I use this word to translate the German “Lämmlein”; but, in common justice, it must be explained that “Lämmlein” in German does not sound so foolish as “Lambkin” in English. In German, diminutives are freely used to express endearment. (See James Hutton’s sensible remarks in Benham’s Memoirs, p. 563.) and they described themselves as little wound-parsons, cross-wood little splinters, a blessed troop of cross-air102102Cross-air—soaring in the atmosphere of the Cross. birds, cross-air little atoms, cross-air little sponges, and cross-air little pigeons.

The chief sinner was the Count himself. Having thrown his common sense overboard, he gave free rein to his fancy, and came out with an exposition of the Holy Trinity which offended the rules of good taste. He compared the Holy Trinity to a family. The father, said he, was God; the mother was the Holy Ghost; their son was Jesus; and the Church of Christ, the Son’s fair bride, was born in the Saviour’s Side-wound, was betrothed to Christ on the Cross, was married to Christ in the Holy Communion, and was thus the daughter-in-law of the Father and the Holy Ghost. We can all see the dangers of this. As soon as human images of spiritual truths are pressed beyond decent limits, they lead to frivolity and folly; and that was just the effect at Herrnhaag. The more freely the Brethren used these phrases, the more childish they became. They called the Communion the “Embracing of the Man”; and thus they lost their reverence for things Divine.

But the next move of the Count was even worse. For its origin we must go back a few years in his story. As the Count one day was burning a pile of papers he saw one slip flutter down to the ground untouched by the fire {1734.}. He picked it up, looked at it, and found that it contained the words:—

“Oh, let us in Thy nail-prints see

Our pardon and election free.”

At first the effect on Zinzendorf was healthy enough. He regarded the words as a direct message from God. He began to think more of the value of the death of Christ. He altered the style of his preaching; he became more definitely evangelical; and henceforth he taught the doctrine that all happiness and all virtue must centre in the atoning death of Christ. “Since the year 1734,” he said, “the atoning sacrifice of Jesus became our only testimony and our one means of salvation.” But now he carried this doctrine to excess. Again the cause was his use of the Lot. As long as Zinzendorf used his own mental powers, he was able to make his “Blood and Wounds Theology” a power for good; but as soon as he bade good-bye to his intellect he made his doctrine a laughing-stock and a scandal. Instead of concentrating his attention on the moral and spiritual value of the cross, he now began to lay all the stress on the mere physical details. He composed a “Litany of the Wounds”; and the Brethren could now talk and sing of nothing else {1743.}. “We stick,” they said, “to the Blood and Wounds Theology. We will preach nothing but Jesus the Crucified. We will look for nothing else in the Bible but the Lamb and His Wounds, and again Wounds, and Blood and Blood.” Above all they began to worship the Side-wound. “We stick,” they declared, “to the Lambkin and His little Side-wound. It is useless to call this folly. We dote upon it. We are in love with it. We shall stay for ever in the little side-hole, where we are so unspeakably blessed.”

Still worse, these men now forgot the main moral principle of the Christian religion. Instead of living for others they lived for themselves. Instead of working hard for their living they were now enjoying themselves at the Count’s expense; instead of plain living and high thinking they had high living and low thinking; and instead of spending their money on the poor they spent it now on grand illuminations, transparent pictures, and gorgeous musical festivals. No longer was their religion a discipline. It was a luxury, an orgy, a pastime. At Herrnhut the ruling principle was law; at Herrnhaag the ruling principle was liberty. At Herrnhut their religion was legal; at Herrnhaag it was supposed to be evangelical. The walls of their meeting-house were daubed with flaming pictures. In the centre of the ceiling was a picture of the Ascension; in one corner, Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus on the Resurrection morning; in another, our Lord making himself known to the two disciples at Emmaus; in a third Thomas thrusting his hand in the Saviour’s side; in a fourth, Peter leaping from a boat to greet the Risen Master on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias. The four walls were equally gorgeous. At one end of the hall was a picture of the Jew’s Passover, some Hebrews sprinkling blood on the door-posts, and the destroying angel passing. At the opposite end was a picture of the Last Supper; on another wall Moses lifting up the brazen serpent; on the fourth the Crucifixion. We can easily see the purpose of these pictures. They were all meant to teach the same great lesson. They were appeals through the eye to the heart. They were sermons in paint. If the Brethren had halted here they had done well. But again they rode their horse to death. For them pictures and hymns were not enough. At Marienborn Castle they now held a series of birthday festivals in honour of Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann and other Moravian worthies; and these festivals must have cost thousands of pounds. At such times the old castle gleamed with a thousand lights. At night, says a visitor, the building seemed on fire. The walls were hung with festoons. The hall was ornamented with boughs. The pillars were decked with lights, spirally disposed, and the seats were covered with fine linen, set off with sightly ribbons.

But the worst feature of this riotous life is still to be mentioned. If there is any topic requiring delicate treatment, it is surely the question of sexual morality; and now the Count made the great mistake of throwing aside the cloak of modesty and speaking out on sins of the flesh in the plainest possible language. He delivered a series of discourses on moral purity; and in those discourses he used expressions which would hardly be permitted now except in a medical treatise. His purpose was certainly good. He contended that he had the Bible on his side; that the morals of the age were bad; and that the time for plain speaking had come. “At that time,” he said, “when the Brethren’s congregations appeared afresh on the horizon of the Church, he found, on the one hand, the lust of concupiscence carried to the utmost pitch possible, and the youth almost totally ruined; and on the other hand some few thoughtful persons who proposed a spirituality like the angels.” But again the Brethren rode their horse to death. They were not immoral, they were only silly. They talked too freely about these delicate topics; they sang about them in their hymns; they had these hymns published in a volume known as the “Twelfth Appendix” to their Hymn-book; and thus they innocently gave the public the impression that they revelled, for its own sake, in coarse and filthy language.

What judgment are we to pass on all these follies? For the Brethren we may fairly enter the plea that most of them were humble and simple-minded men; that, on the whole, they meant well; and that, in their zeal for the Gospel of Christ, they allowed their feelings to carry them away. And further, let us bear in mind that, despite their foolish style of speech, they were still heroes of the Cross. They had still a burning love for Christ; they were still willing to serve abroad; and they still went out to foreign lands, and laid down their lives for the sake of Him who had laid down His for them. As John Cennick was on his visit to Herrnhaag (1746), he was amazed by the splendid spirit of devotion shown. He found himself at the hub of the missionary world. He saw portraits of missionaries on every hand. He heard a hymn sung in twenty-two different languages. He heard sermons in German, Esthonian, French, Spanish, Swedish, Lettish, Bohemian, Dutch, Hebrew, Danish, and Eskimo. He heard letters read from missionaries in every quarter of the globe.

“Are you ready,” said Zinzendorf to John Soerensen, “to serve the Saviour in Greenland?”

“Here am I, send me,” said Soerensen. He had never thought of such a thing before.

“But the matter is pressing; we want someone to go at once.”

“Well!” replied Soerensen, “that’s no difficulty. If you will only get me a new pair of boots I will set off this very day. My old ones are quite worn out, and I have not another pair to call my own.”

And the next day the man was off, and served in Greenland forty-six years.

But the grandest case is that of Bishop Cammerhof. He was a fanatic of the fanatics. He revelled in sickly sentimental language. He called himself a “Little Fool” and a “Little Cross-air Bird.” He addressed the Count as his “heart’s Papa,” and Anna Nitschmann as his “Motherkin.” He said he would kiss them a thousand times, and vowed he could never fondle them enough! And yet this man had the soul of a hero, and killed himself by overwork among the North American Indians!103103See Chapter XIV., p. 384. It is easy to sneer at saints like this as fools; but if fools they were, they were fools for their Master’s sake.

But for Zinzendorf it is hard to find any excuse. He had received a splendid education, had moved in refined and cultured circles, and had enjoyed the friendship of learned bishops, of eloquent preachers, of university professors, of philosophers, of men of letters. He had read the history of the Christian Church, knew the dangers of excess, and had spoken against excess in his earlier years.104104See Chapter III., p. 208. He knew that the Wetterau swarmed with mad fanatics; had read the works of Dippel, of Rock, and of other unhealthy writers; and had, therefore, every reason to be on his guard. He knew the weak points in his own character. “I have,” he said, “a genius for extravagance.” He had deliberately, of his own free will, accepted the office of “Advocate and Steward” of the Brethren’s Church. He was the head of an ancient episcopal Church, with a high reputation to sustain. He had set the Brethren a high and holy task. He was a public and well-known character. As he travelled about from country to country he spread the fame of the Brethren’s labours in every great city in Germany, in England, in Switzerland, in North America, and in the West Indies; and by this time he was known personally to the King of Denmark, to Potter, Archbishop of Canterbury, to John and Charles Wesley, to Bengel, the famous commentator, and to many other leaders in the Lutheran Church. And, therefore, by all the laws of honour, he was bound to lead the Brethren upward and keep their record clean. But his conduct now was unworthy of a trusted leader. It is the darkest blot on his saintly character, and the chief reason why his brilliant schemes met with so little favour. At the very time when he placed before the Brethren the noblest and loftiest ideals, he himself had done the most to cause the enemy to blaspheme. No wonder his Tropus idea was laughed to scorn. What sort of home was this, said his critics, that he had prepared for all the Tropuses? What grand ideal “Church of the Brethren” was this, with its childish nonsense, its blasphemous language, its objectionable hymns? As the rumours of the Brethren’s excesses spread, all sorts of wild tales were told about them. Some said they were worshippers of the devil; some said they were conspirators against the State; some accused them falsely of immorality, of gluttony, of robbing the poor; and the chief cause of all the trouble was this beautiful poet, this original thinker, this eloquent preacher, this noble descendant of a noble line, this learned Bishop of the Brethren’s Church. There is only one explanation of his conduct. He had committed mental suicide, and he paid the penalty.105105It has often been urged, in Zinzendorf’s defence, that he did not know what was happening at Herrnhaag. But this defence will not hold good. He was present, in 1747, when some of the excesses were at their height; and during the summer of that year he delivered there a series of thirty-four homilies on his “Litany of the Wounds.”

He had now to retrieve his fallen honour, and to make amends for his guilt. At last he awoke to the stern facts of the case. His position now was terrible. What right had he to lecture the Brethren for sins which he himself had taught them to commit? He shrank from the dreadful task. But the voice of duty was not to be silenced. He had not altogether neglected the Brethren’s cause. At the very time when the excesses were at their height he had been endeavouring to obtain for the Brethren full legal recognition in Germany, England, and North America. He won his first victory in Germany. He was allowed (Oct., 1747) to return to Saxony, summoned the Brethren to a Synod at Gross-Krausche in Silesia (1748), and persuaded them to promise fidelity to the Augsburg Confession. He had the Brethren’s doctrine and practice examined by a Saxon Royal Commission, and the King of Saxony issued a decree (1749) by which the Brethren were granted religious liberty in his kingdom. Thus the Brethren were now fully recognized by law in Prussia, Silesia, and Saxony. He had obtained these legal privileges just in time, and could now deal with the poor fanatics at Herrnhaag. The situation there had come to a crisis. The old Count of Isenberg died. His successor, Gustavus Friedrich, was a weak-minded man; the agent, Brauer, detested the Brethren; and now Brauer laid down the condition that the settlers at Herrnhaag must either break off their connection with Zinzendorf or else abandon the premises. They chose the latter course. At one blow the gorgeous settlement was shivered to atoms. It had cost many thousands of pounds to build, and now the money was gone for ever. As the Brethren scattered in all directions, the Count saw at last the damage he had done {Feb., 1750.}. He had led them on in reckless expense, and now he must rush to their rescue. He addressed them all in a solemn circular letter. He visited the various congregations, and urged them to true repentance. He suppressed the disgraceful “Twelfth Appendix,” and cut out the offensive passages in his own discourses. He issued treatise after treatise defending the Brethren against the coarse libels of their enemies. And, best of all, and noblest of all, he not only took upon his own shoulders the burden of their financial troubles, but confessed like a man that he himself had steered them on to the rocks. He summoned his Brethren to a Synod. He rose to address the assembly. His eyes were red, his cheeks stained with tears.

“Ah! my beloved Brethren,” he said, “I am guilty! I am the cause of all these troubles!”

And thus at length this “Sifting-Time” came to a happy end. The whole episode was like an attack of pneumonia. The attack was sudden; the crisis dangerous; the recovery swift; and the lesson wholesome. For some years after this the Brethren continued to show some signs of weakness; and even in the next edition of their Hymn-book they still made use of some rather crude expressions. But on the whole they had learned some useful lessons. On this subject the historians have mostly been in the wrong. Some have suppressed the facts. This is dishonest. Others have exaggerated, and spoken as if the excesses lasted for two or three generations. This is wicked.106106See, e.g., Kurtz’s Church History. Dr. Kurtz entirely ignores the fact that the worst features of the “Sifting Time” were only of short duration, and that no one condemned its excesses more severely than the Brethren themselves. The sober truth is exactly as described in these pages. The best judgment was passed by the godly Bishop Spangenherg. “At that time,” he said, “the spirit of Christ did not rule in our hearts; and that was the real cause of all our foolery.” Full well the Brethren realized their mistake, and honestly they took its lessons to heart. They learned to place more trust in the Bible, and less in their own unbridled feelings. They learned afresh the value of discipline, and of an organised system of government. They became more guarded in their language, more Scriptural in their doctrine, and more practical in their preaching. Nor was this all. Meanwhile the same battle had been fought and won in England and North America.


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