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The Moravians

By far the most important new sect that was founded at this time was that of the Moravians. Properly speaking, indeed, the Moravian Church is the living representative of that ancient Bohemian Church whose hymns were the delight of Luther; but practically, its transplantation to German soil about the year 1722, and its rapid growth under the care of Count Zinzendorf, constitute a new foundation of the society.

Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

Zinzendorf grew up in the very bosom of Pietism. Born at Dresden in 1700 of a noble, wealthy, and religious family, he had Spener for his godfather, and Franke for his tutor; while his maternal, grandmother, the Baroness von Gersdorff, whose house was his home in childhood, was herself a woman of strict piety and a writer of hymns. From his carliest years he had strong religious impressions; as a child his favourite amusement was playing at preaching; as a boy at school under Franke, he founded among his schoolfellows the "Order of the Mustard-seed," the members of which bound themselves in an especial manner to the 306 service of Christ, and above all to promote the conversion of the heathen. Some of his non-pietistic relatives insisted on his acquiring the accomplishments proper to his station in life, such as dancing, fencing, shooting, &c., and on his being sent to the orthodox university of Wittenberg to study law. He complied with their wishes, though he himself would have much preferred studying theology; and after his university course travelled for some years. Once, in passing through Dusseldorf, he saw in a gallery a picture of the Saviour crowned with thorns, over which was written, "All this have I done for thee; what dost thou for Me?" These words struck so deep into his heart that he never lost the impression; "from this time I had but one passion, and that was He, only He." At the age of twenty-one he returned to Saxony, accepted office under the government, married and settled down to the usual life of men of his order. He was a remarkably handsome man, tall, and exactly of what is termed aristocratic bearing and, manners; he was also a ready speaker, with a clear ringing voice and graceful and imposing action. In private he was energetic and impetuous, but obliging in trifles, and full of vivacity and humour. Fortunately for him he had found a wife who entered heart and soul into all his plans, who travelled with him wherever he went, and managed his pecuniary affairs and the details of daily arrangements with a skill and prudence which he did not himself possess in such matters. It was just after his marriage that he first met with Christian David, a carpenter, thirty years of age, who had been born a Roman Catholic in Moravia; but reading by chance an evangelical book, had been converted and joined the Moravian Brethren. Since that time he 307 had travelled in Hungary and Silesia, working at his trade; and observing how much peace and profitable instruction other evangelical Christians enjoyed, he had determined to urge his fellow-believers to emigrate into Protestant Germany. Just at this time he fell in with Count Zinzendorf and told him his wishes, and the Count immediately offered an asylum on one of his own estates near Dresden. Here in 1722 David felled the first tree and began to build the first house of what was afterwards the great Moravian settlement of Herrnhut. It increased rapidly; for not only did a number of emigrants come thither from Moravia, but many other persons were attracted to it, and in 1727 Zinzendorf resigned his office and went to live there himself, in order to superintend the growing community. After a time he saw that it would be necessary for him to take orders--an unheard-of thing then in a man of his rank--and he was entreated to do so by his friend Spangenberg, one of the leaders of the new body. He accordingly travelled incognito to Stralsund, passed the necessary examinations, and received ordination there. It was on his journey home that he learnt that his opponents, who viewed with extreme disgust the progress of the Brethren, had procured from the king an edict banishing him from Saxony on a charge of spreading false doctrine. It was ten years before he could return home, an interval employed by him in incessant journeyings and preachings, from St. Petersburg to the West Indies. He was twice in America, and founded various missions there, especially among the then wholly neglected negro slaves; and he planted settlements of the Brethren in other parts of Germany, in Holland, and in England. From 1747, when the edict was recalled, he made 308 Herrnhut his head-quarters, but he once spent nearly four years in England organizing his communities here, and he obtained for them the recognition of Parliament. His private life was not without its trials; he devoted the whole of his large fortune to the service of the cause, and himself died poor; he lost all his sons, and finally his excellent wife; but his courage never abated. He died in 1760, and by that time the United Brethren had not only spread within Europe, but had developed that remarkable missionary activity by which they have always been honourably distinguished, and the little Church had already its stations in Greenland, Lapland, Guinea, the Cape of Good Hope, Persia, and various parts of America.

In presence of a life of such self-devotion, achieving such results, we must acknowledge Zinzendorf to have been a noble apostle of the Lord; but it is also true that he had, as he himself says, "a genius inclined to extravagances," and that these sometimes hindered his usefulness. His watchword was, "Christ and Him Crucified," but he carried this so far that he saw literally nothing else in Christianity but the one fact of the atoning sufferings of the Saviour. The life of Christ, the fatherhood of God, the morality of the Gospel, were all obscured to him behind this one central doctrine; nay, he allowed himself to speak of them in a way that is most jarring, and that drew down on him severe censure from so warmly religious a man as Bengel. But it is to his credit that he profited by Bengel's attack, and modified his most extreme views, and the formal dogmatic expression of the Brethren's faith was left by him to his calmer and more sagacious friend Spangenberg. On hymnology the Moravians have had a powerful influence; Zinzendorf himself, 309 all the members of his family, and most of the early leaders of the Brethren wrote hymns; singing was a prominent part of their worship, and they early began publishing hymn-books. These contained some of the old classical hymns, much abridged and altered to meet the taste of the new Church, and a large proportion of what are called "Brethren-hymns." The characteristics of the latter are a fervid affection and gratitude to the Saviour, a spirit of happy, childlike confidence, and a strong sentiment of Christian fellowship; but in many cases their poetical merit is not great, and they sometimes degenerate into a mere dwelling on physical sufferings, and a childish and extravagant style of expression. This was especially the case with many of the older hymns, which were afterwards rejected from their later collections; some by Zinzendorf himself were among the worst offenders.3636Many of these hymns speak of the blood and wounds of Jesus, or making a bed in His wounded side, &c. in a way of which it is really impossible to give instances. His hymns, of which he wrote more than two thousand, are of exceedingly different value; some are fantastic and irreverent, some mere rhymed prose, others again have a real sweetness, fervour, and song in them. Among the best are the following; the first is taught in almost every religious German household to its children:--


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