Louis Harms
Pastor and Founder of the
Hermannsburg Mission


Louis Harms (1808-1865) was a pastor in Hermannsburg, Germany. When he arrived the parish seemed spiritually dead. Praying and fasting he was able to bring about a marvelous spiritual awakening. Desiring to do more, he encouraged his church to become mission-minded and prepare and send out missionaries. Within seven years the Hermannsburg church had a ship to transport the missionaries, multiple mission stations, schools, and a missionary publication that had 13,000 subscribers. All of this was accomplished in spite of his parishioners being poor farmers and artisans. He was almost always in constant pain as well.

A biography written by his brother Theodore: The Life Work of Louis Harms

A biography published in a missionary magazine: A Record of Fifty Years


Quotations and Characteristics

Thoughts on Affliction...
On his personal suffering
: “It is true that I suffer much everyday,” he said, “and more every night. I do not wish it otherwise. My Savior is my physician. I love to lie awake the entire night, because I can then commune with Him.”

Regarding affliction: "God has greatly blessed us this year," Harms wrote. "Above all, He has blessed us with affliction. Christoffersen's death, bitter as it was for us, has been a rich, and perhaps the richest, blessing for all." So far as his own health was concerned, he was afflicted with rheumatism most of his life, and suffered most from it at night, which meant he endured many a long and sleepless night.

Harms' Conversion...
Key verse for conversion: "This is life eternal that they might  know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." John 17:3

Two great virtues: "In the home in which Louis Harms grew up two virtues were especially cultivated: obedience and truthfulness; to his father nothing was more detestable than a lie."

Thoughts on Standing Up for Truth...
Standing up for truth: The local clergy opposed his work in the prisons because they felt he was infringing on their territory; he was forbidden to preach because he refused to pray the prescribed prayer for the deceased Queen Frederike. Sixty times he was sued at law for interfering with the accustomed order of things, but every time he came out victorious. But he kept speaking the truth regardless of the opposition.

Thoughts on Louis Harms' Ministry and Preaching...
His preaching
: He was not a polished orator, preferring to preach using simple language and familiar concepts. He focused on the essentials, including sin and repentance, grace and redemption, the Word, the Sacraments, faith, good works, and the reward of the righteous and the reward of the wicked. Justification by faith was at the heart of all of his sermons, but this faith not only justified, it also sanctified. He was deeply concerned about keeping the Lord's Day, and insisted on spending the whole day for the purpose for which it was set apart: rest from bodily labor, the hearing of God's Word, prayer and deeds of mercy. He always wrote out his sermons, strongly believing he was called to be God's mouthpiece. His sermons were easily understood by the farmers, the housemaid and the children, who made up his congregation.

Offerings: He encouraged freewill offerings and never tried to shame his members into giving what they would not give willingly. As a result a wonderful spirit of liberality took over his church.

On visiting the sick: "He was especially faithful in visiting he sick and bringing them the comforts of the Gospel. He was honest with the sick, admonishing them to repentance and faith. Where there was imminent danger of death he was not slow to speak of it; he endeavored to prepare the patient for his end, which could be one of peace and hope only through a firm reliance in the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God. He never tried to comfort the sick with a false hope and never tried to fill their souls with undue alarm."

Proposing a mutual commitment with his members as a new pastor: "What I then promised, my beloved, before God the searcher of hearts, 1 now also promise to you, the same vow the husband makes the wife, and the wife makes the husband. The vow which a pastor makes to his congregation must the congregation make to the pastor. You must promise that you will live with me after God's will and command in all Christian love and charity, that you will not abandon me in adversity or affliction, that you will not separate from me until God separates us. If it be your earnest wish and will, as it is mine, then arise; and let us together promise, in the presence of the living Triune God, that we will live with one another after God's will and command; that we will have Christian love and charity for each other; that we will not abandon each other in trial or adversity; that, lastly, we will not separate from each other until the Almighty Father separates us."

On having a clean heart: "For His indwelling, beloved, you must know that the temple of each heart must be pure, as He desired the Temple at Jerusalem to be ere He could remain therein. When He saw the ungodly buyers and sellers trafficking in the sacred place He cast them out, saying: "My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." And this is an example for us; Jesus the King will come into the temple of your hearts; are they holy temples, houses of prayer, or are they through manifold sins and pleasures of the world converted into dens in which perhaps Satan has built his throne? Oh, beloved, the blessed Son of God, whom you have loved, recognizes the pure in heart, for He is pure; therefore let each confess his sins to God, and examine himself by the test of the holy commandments, comparing his course of life with them, that he may, by the help of the Holy Spirit, perceive his sins."

On the True Way of Life: With strength given by the Holy Spirit, strict attention to the Word, driven by love of Christ, seeing in every soul one whom Christ bought with His blood, who belongs to Him, and whom we must win for Him; this I believe is the true way of life.

On the Holy Spirit: "The only theory I value is the Holy Spirit."

On trusting God: God's command and his great desire to obey gave him no rest; but his faith in Jesus kept him serene, collected, and calm; no failure caused him to doubt of success, nor adverse circumstances disheartened him. When there was not a penny in the treasury he remained cheerful and patient; he knew that God would help, and that help never failed him.

On true living: To him the word of the Lord: “Whatsoever ye ask in my name that will I do," was the inviolate truth; he prayed in confidence in God's Word, and was not put to shame. He began and ended all with prayer; never left his house and returned to it without the words, "In God's name," and in his many outgoings never met with injury.

On making mistakes: His maxim was that what was right was also wise and prudent; and if mistakes were made through his or other people's short-sightedness, it gave him no anxiety, for he had faith that the Saviour would correct all that had been done in true belief.

On compromise: He attended no wedding where there was card playing or dancing; otherwise, he willingly took part, and, when there, old and young clustered about him.

Regarding the efficacy of prayer: He held fast to the belief that to those who could pray nothing was impossible.

Speaking of a new associate: "A true, simple, able man, just such as we need; not of lofty words nor lofty nature, although, by the body, he belongs to the high people of this world; one who knows how to deal with plain peasant folk, and, as you may believe, heartily devoted to our dear church."

Describing a day of Festive Worship: “Then from every house, there burst forth a peal of morning psalms, and up on the hill before their doors the mission students blew chorales in their long trumpets. And when the householder had assembled his friends for morning worship, and they had breakfasted, the street is crowded and living with greetings of neighbours and friends unexpectedly met, until the bell rings out again for service at ten. The church is soon filled, the men on one side, the women on the other, as the old fashioned way is; the passages admit no more; and the rest gather outside about the open windows, for there are more than 6000 people. There is not a flower in the building, nor a wreath of green boughs, though that is the German custum on festive days, and Harms is a true churchman. But his churchism never comes in the way of his piety or good sense, and to every petition for the flowers he has replied quietly, No theatre wares. The singing is in somewhat quicker time than usual, firm and strong and full, so exquisite for harmony and expression that, as a visitor once said, he must be a daring preacher who will venture into the pulpit after that. Harms stands before the communion-table, and salutes the congregation with the blessing: The Lord be with you; they answer by one voice, within and without, “And with thy spirit.” After a brief liturgical service, in which the pastor's free prayer seizes on the whole soul, the Gospel is read with brief comment. Harms walking backwards and forwards in his energy, to the scandal of every dry-as-dust ecclesiastic; and with the interval of a hymn, the sermon follows. It would be impossible, without transcribing the whole, to give a right conception of what is preached and how; it would be impossible thus to convey a sense of the fervour, and (there is no better word for it) holiness of the speaker, his utter simpleness, the directness of his country phrases, his fire, and that love and perfect faith which colour all his words. Of his other qualities as a preacher, the year's course of sermons now in course of publication enable any one to judge. He has a mastery of exposition, of unfolding the meaning in the fewest and plainest words; in lucid order, and with a natural reference to the people. He never pretends to flights of eloquence; it would be unsuited to his position, and probably to the character of his mind. He is content with the Word itself, as it appeals to the heart, with broad and positive statements of doctrine. He has much of that plainness of doctrine and homeliness of illustration which the ultraLutheran party affect but never reach; He has also a sharpness and roughness of idiom which would offend fastidious hearers. But he has eminently that merit which Luther pronounces the highest, of making you forget the preacher and hear the Word. After the benediction, a great number of the young people come forward and sing over many of the best known hymns. Liturgical responses follow, as brief as at the opening, and the service is concluded with free prayer "to the living, present Lord Jesus, not as sitting up in heaven, or hovering in the blue depths of the ether, but in our midst, and with whom we speak as a man with his friend."

Thoughts on Finances...
He refused to go into debt.

When praying for funds: “I prayed to the Lord Jesus that He would provide a particular needed sum. Last year, 1857, I needed 1,500 crowns, and the Lord gave me sixty over. This year I needed double, and He has given me double, and one hundred and forty over.”

On praying for funds: “It is wonderful when one has nothing, and 10,000 crowns are laid in his hand by the dear Lord. I know from whom it all comes. When I remarked to my brother that he was such a master in the art of taking, I thought within myself, let him take, thou wilt receive. And I went to my God, and prayed diligently to Him, and received what I needed. When the printing-shop was debated, there was no money to bear the expense, "I can assure you," says Harms, "that to the question, Shall we print? we did not answer, ‘Certainly we can,’ but we cried to the Lord, ‘Grant it to us.’ And He granted it, for we immediately received 2000 crowns, although the thought had not been made known to any one. We had only to take and be thankful. A short time ago I had to pay a merchant, in behalf of the missions, 550 crowns, and when the day was near I had only 400. Then I prayed to the Lord Jesus that He would provide me with the deficiency. On the day before, three letters were brought: one from Schwerin with 20, one from Bucksburg with 25, and one from Berlin with 100 crowns. The donors were anonymous. On the evening of the same day, a labourer brought me ten crowns, so that I had not only enough, but five over.”

Thoughts on Mission Work...
Regarding missionary work
: To be a real Christian and take an interest in missions was one and the same thing. His ideal of Christianity was that it not only takes the rich blessings which God gives through the Gospel, but passes them on to others. We are saved to serve and the best service we can render a perishing world is to bring it the saving Gospel of Christ.

Regarding the opening of the mission school: "In God's name I will erect a mission institution in Hermannsburg although I have not a penny with which to do it. With how may scholars shall I begin, with three or four? No, with twelve, for all silver and gold are the Lord's." He always asked, "Is this necessary, is it the will of the Lord?" That being settled there was no doubt that God would open the way.

The Missionary Course: It included a thorough understanding of Scripture; it embraced Bible, Church and universal history, geography, natural science, German, English, writing, arithmetic, and singing. Study was interspersed with physical labor so that the students would keep in good health and be able to take care of themselves when they reached their destination in foreign lands. Instruction was given from 9 AM - 12 PM. From 1-3 PM the students worked at physical labor. From 3-4 PM there were classes again. Teachers were with the students at all times, including the time of physical labor. Diligent work and earnest prayer were the hallmarks of all that went on. Applicants were considered who were between the ages of 22 and 25, and who revealed strong evidence of a Christian character. They were to live at Hermannsburg for a year or two before being admitted to the mission house so that they could be observed for some time prior to formal admission. In all of this, Harms sought to follow the example of the school of the prophets in the Old Testament. Of the first twelve students admitted, 8 were eventually sent to Africa to open the mission work. Two died during the course of study; two were dismissed because they did not accept the order of work and study laid down for the students at the mission house.

The Mission Plan: They were to not only preach the gospel, but also live the gospel. For that reason, the missionaries developed practical skills and knew how to sustain themselves. Among the special trades represented were a tailor, two blacksmiths, one mason, a butcher and a dyer.

Expanding the missionaries' influence: "The first missionaries are to remain together in the same place and settle there, in order to be strong enough by united effort to work upon the heathen and earn their livelihood; since they understand farming and other useful trades, and are strong men... not only in spiritual but also in material things. When a Gentile congregation has been formed around them, two or three are to remain with this flock and the rest to go on, not hundreds, but one or two miles and repeat the same experiment. Then those who follow will find employment when they come and can earn their living, until they have learned the language and in turn occupy nearby stations. This way, in the course of a short time, a whole country may be covered with a net of mission stations, and the people converted and armed with Christian manners and culture. Thus they may be able to cope with the evil European influence, and not become victims of the Europeans, as has hitherto almost universally been."

On financial support of the missionaries: "The Lutheran congregation which we send to East Africa is a member of the Lutheran Church of Hanover. The general management of its ecclesiastical and civil affairs is vested in the mission house of Hermannsburg. The congregation is expected by their own labor to secure a livelihood. But, so far as it is not able to do this, the mission house obligates itself to supply their wants."

On the funding of the missionary endeavors: “Where did he get these 118,000 crowns? Did he send begging letters? Did he go to Holland, or cross to England, or ask a subsidy from the State? He is a foe to beggars. He will not tolerate them in his parish; his doctrine is that no Christian dare be a beggar, nor ask from any but God. No one acts so rigorously on these principles as himself. His scruples are almost prohibitory. Beyond tho barest outline of accounts, he excludes money matters and money difficulties from his paper; he will neither mention the sums that have been given (unless incidentally, as an illustration of some truth), nor the names of any who give; though the people are prepared with alms at the annual festival, he never speaks of his wants, nor asks a donation; when he is in urgent difficulty about money, he persists in silence. This may look singular and absurd. But is it not more singular that he has never found this course of conduct to mislead or disappoint him; that he has found his straightforward asking of God abundantly sufficient? When a man makes that discovery, who can blame him for using it?”

When praying for wisdom on how to transport the missionaries, and contemplating building his own ship: “I prayed fervently to the Lord,” he says, “and laid the whole matter in His hands. As I arose from my knees at midnight, I said, with a voice that almost startled me in the quiet room: ‘Forward now, in God’s name!’” The crisis had past. Never again did a thought of doubt enter his mind.”

When instructing the missionaries leaving on the Candace for the first mission crossing: “I beg you with my whole heart that every morning you will pray, you have such high reason to thank the Lord who kept you through the night, who can keep and strengthen and bless you through the day. And every evening pray. You would be the most unthankful of men if you did not thank the Lord for all the benefits which He has showed you. And you must pray every evening for the forgiveness of sins, for there is not a day without sin, and where there is no forgiveness there is no blessing. Begin all your work with prayer; and when the storm-wind rises, pray; and when the billows rave round the ship, pray; and when sin comes, pray; and when the devil tempts you, pray. So long as you pray, it will go well with you, body and soul.”

When the members were worrying that their first mission ship had been lost at sea, and asking, “What shall we do if she never returns?” He replied: “Humble ourselves, confess our sins, pray to God, and build a new ship!”

Regarding his missionary magazine: “When it is said that we shall publish a Missionary Magazine, it is not meant to be a kind of royal speech, we by the grace of God, and yet there is only one; nor, as our writers say, as if they had learned it from the kings, we have been informed in our opinion, and the man is speaking all the while of himself. Our ‘we’ means literally ‘we,’ my brother and I, for he will help me. And now I think I hear many a sigh, and words like these: So many missionary magazines already, and here is another? what folly! Dear friend, believe me, if you sigh once over this new magazine, I sigh ten times. For you need only read it, or if you will not do that, lay it aside; or if you have ordered it, countermand it, and all your trouble and sighing are at an end. But I must write it, every month a new one, although I am burdened with work enough already. Believe me, I would much rather let the whole matter drop if I dare. You will say, ‘Why dare yon not?’ My answer is: The love of Christ constraineth me. Ever since our mission was established I have been besought to publish a missionary paper, and I shook off these petitions as one might shake the rain drops off a wet cloak. But when you shake and shake, and it only rains the harder, you are presently wet through. And so, that the rain may cease, I publish the magazine. And in truth I would have no love for the Lord Christ, and for the people who ask it of me, if I hesitated longer.

Other Resources

A Letter to a Pastor
"How shall I give you advice? I cannot in a letter, nor can it be done after a theory. I am so thoroughly an enemy to theory, that I believe wrong is vanquished when separated from theory. The only theory I value is the Holy Spirit." (Read the rest of Louis Harms instructive letter)

The "Candace"

A major challenge of Harms' missionary endeavor was transporting the missionaries. Checking ticket prices, he discovered that the costs of sending missionaries was exhorbitantly expensive. At the suggestion of a sailor, Harms eventually commissioned the building and outfitting of the "Candace," a brig of 212 tons. The ship made the voyage fifteen times before it was finally sold off. This reading is a chapter from an excellent book by H. J. Schuh, entitled, The Life Louise Harms. (Read the chapter)

An Instructive Letter to Friends in Lauenberg:

"For His indwelling, beloved, you must know that the temple of each heart must be pure, as He desired the Temple at Jerusalem to be ere He could remain therein. When He saw the ungodly buyers and sellers trafficking in the sacred place He cast them out, saying: "My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." And this is an example for us; Jesus the King will come into the temple of your hearts; are they holy temples, houses of prayer, or are they through manifold sins and pleasures of the world converted into dens in which perhaps Satan has built his throne?" (Read all of Louis Harms' letter)
An Assessment of His Work by A.T. Pierson

"Their one essential principle is that they treat the work as God’s, and Him as the responsible founder and administrator; and they lay great stress on two subordinate laws of conduct: First that, as the Scriptures are the express revelation of His will, no methods or measures should be admitted or permitted in His work that are not according to His word; and secondly, that, as the throne of grace is the eternal storehouse of supplies, all appeal for help is to be primarily to God; and that all dependence on man for aid, and especially on direct appeal to man, is practically a departure from the simple, divinely ordained channel of supplies." (Read what A.T. Pierson said on this subject)
Books and Sermons of Louis Harms

Nobleman Sermon

"He had all he sought in Jesus. Perhaps you will say to yourselves yes, it was so then, but can one who believes now find all in Jesus? Will He yet answer prayer? Beloved, I ask you: Has Jesus ceased to be what He was then? Is He not now the powerful, loving, the same truthful, trustworthy God He has always been? So certain as Jesus is the same almighty, loving, truthful God, so certain am I that He hears and answers prayer, for I have experienced it a hundred times. Therefore, should the whole world stand against me and say, “I believe it not,” so would I not strive against the world, for the unbelieving cannot comprehend it any more than the blind can comprehend light, who have never seen it." (Read all of Louis Harm's sermon on the Nobleman who had the sick child)

Read a short history of his life by his brother Theodore: Life of Louis Harms


Additional links on this topic: