Life work of Louis Harms
The student life of Louis Harms was over; he had learned much in Gottingen; not so much from the professors as from books; but more than all he had found his Saviour. With growing faith in his heart, he went to Lauenburg, as tutor in the family of Chamberlain von Linstow, after having passed an examination in Hanover, to which he went with calm assurance of success, for he possessed treasures of knowledge and was master of himself.
His examiner was the venerable and revered Abt Sextro; learned but very eccentric. From the beginning Herr Sextro had an admiration for the young student, who was such a master of Latin, and was so impressed by the self-reliant way in which the answers in all branches were given that he arose to his feet. Louis did the same, and thus the examination went on in eager dialogue until the trial ended, and he left the room. But scarcely was he upon the street, when, hearing some one running after him, he turned and found a messenger sent by Herr Sextro "to thank him for the great pleasure he had given." He had passed a number one examination, and, I believe, he had the same in the three consistorial examinations that followed.
As his salary at Herr von Linstow's was to be given in quarterly payments, he would receive nothing for three months; and as father could give him only enough for his traveling expenses, he had to be very economical. But he was accustomed to self-denial and found himself in a congenial home. The whole family were inclined to Christianity, the children were intelligent and studious, and he had much pleasure in teaching them.
In the first year of his sojourn there an incident occurred which brought a trial to his whole life. No Christian is fully prepared to serve God without a cross, and in that time he received his, for until then, with his iron constitution and strong will, he had evaded sickness; but now God took him into the school of affliction and kept him there. In the three classes of “I may, can, and must" suffer, he learned his lessons well.
His affliction dated from a sledding party upon the frozen Elbe. My brother, having on skates, had the honor of drawing the sled of the Lady von Linstow. So went they to and fro upon the smooth surface, until they reached the place where the Steckenitz River flows into the Elbe, and was not so solidly frozen. Louis did not remember the exact bounds, and when ho reached the Steckenitz the ice broke with the weight and they went under. But by God's mercy Louis succeeded in placing one foot upon a pile, and although he could not regain his footing upon the ice, as every effort he made caused it to break in his grasp, yet with half his body out of the water succeeded in keeping both from drowning. The lady fainted, and her helplessness added to his burden. At length assistance came, and, after much exertion, they were rescued. The lady was taken to the nearest dwelling, and Louis ran in his wet clothing, which froze upon him, to the castle to get dry garments for her, thinking not of his own condition until she was again in her own home.
From that time he was afflicted with rheumatism, which accompanied him to the latest day of his life; he was a cross-bearer, but also a Christ-bearer.
There was at that time in Lauenburg a believing and an unbelieving pastor; the former, Pastor Catenhausen, always a firm friend to Louis; the latter a bitter enemy. In the not far-distant Luneburg, Louis had also another warm friend in Senior Deichmann, and to hear him preach Louis considered it no hardship to walk the distance between the two places.
Always clearer and deeper grew his belief, and he wished to foster it in more ways than in hearing sermons, and he asked advice of Missionary Superintendent Richter. He counseled him to read missionary literature, and to interest himself in mission work. Louis recognized at once the helpful influence such work must have on Christian advancement, and followed his advice. From that time his heart was filled with the work, and his report of the missionary meeting in Lauenburg in 1835 gave evidence of the power he was in the cause of missions, and also the deep hold the subject had taken upon the people, as evinced by their gifts to the cause.
Henceforth the winning of souls to the knowledge of Christ was the object of my brother's life; and Lauenburg was the place of his work, for there God had placed him, though not as a minister. But he must work in the vineyard of the Lord, and he visited the sick and those who were in prison, and held meetings of prayer and praise. This visiting of the sick was very obnoxious to the unbelieving pastor; he considered that to be his work. But Louis reminded him that it was a duty enjoined upon each and every Christian to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those who are in prison. Close by the court-house was a round tower in which prisoners were confined, and Louis asked permission of Chamberlain von Linstow and the keeper—Brenzel—whose breast was decked with Danish orders, to be allowed to visit them, and to his joy his request was granted. There he found much misery, but also some frank, sincere natures, although the faithful Brenzel stood outside to protect him in case of treachery.
The unbelieving pastor was so angry at Louis for what he considered his interference, that he charged him with holding conventicles, and informed upon him to the Government Councilor G, in Ratzeburg, and asking that Louis be forbidden to enter the prison. The Councilor was a just, resolute man, and a promoter of good works. On court days it was his custom to pass through the crowd outside, listen to complaints, gather information in every way he could, and thus form an opinion to be decided upon when court opened. The Councilor did not wish to consult with Chamberlain von Linstow, knowing that Louis was a member of his family, but laid the case before the judge of the court, who questioned into the case. Louis acknowledged that he held these meetings, to which anyone could come; that they were held for the purpose of prayer and the reading of God's Word; and he considered that the children of God had as much right to assemble together in their way as the children of the world had to assemble in public houses.
The judge said that these meetings would not be tolerated, and he feared if Louis persisted he would find himself in prison; to which my brother replied that if they chose to imprison him, he could not prevent it; but, if they did, the first place he would go to, upon being released, would be into one of these meetings. This protest was sent to Ratzeburg, and as my brother was still at liberty, and there seemed to be nothing being done to prevent him, his persecutor asked how it was that Louis was still allowed to hold these meetings. “I cannot bring action against such a man," replied Councilor G. "I cannot but honor one who is so faithful to his convictions." Thus it was that Louis continued in his work, held his meetings, visited the sick, and labored faithfully for missions.
In the meantime Pastor Catenhausen had left Lauenburg, and another faithful pastor had taken his place. He was very deaf, and Louis assisted him all he could, preaching for him all one summer while he was at a water-cure. The sermons of Louis were persuasive, eloquent, and full of power. Many were brought to the Saviour, while others were offended, and threats were even made against his life by the rough element of the neighborhood. Once they waylaid him while on his way to visit a sick man, and, as he came at his usual quick pace, they barred his way with clenched fists. "Would you hinder me from being of use to a sick man?” questioned he, and pushing them aside kept on his way. They did not make another attempt to molest him.
That season the cholera visiting Lauenburg, the people were in terrible fear. Danes and Hanoverians guarded their shores, and a Danish man-of-war was stationed in the Elbe. People were almost helpless from fright, for, in spite of soldiers and warship, the cholera came and death had a great harvest in Lauenburg.
During that terrible time Louis, fearing nothing for the danger, visited the cholera patients, comforted them with God's Word, and gave them all the help in his power. He held that no disease was contagious, and certain it was that he did not contract the cholera. Faithfully did the band of Christians in Lauenburg assist, and brighter shone their faith; for it is under the cross of affliction that the true child of God feels more sensibly the support of the Father. The most of them are gone, but to me they will always be held in affectionate remembrance, because of the attachment of my brother for them.
I have often thanked God that He allowed me to live at that time, for I was to be confirmed, and that Louis asked our parents to send me to him at Lauenburg. The family of von Linstow had given cordial permission; but I went with great reluctance to the stately residence, not knowing them, and scarcely feeling at home with Louis, who was eleven years older than I. But I was received with such hearty kindness by the family and such affectionate thoughtfulness by Louis, that I soon felt at home. My brother knew that from early youth I had an inclination for piety, and he fostered it with faithful, tender love. We sat in his room of evenings by the windows, which gave us a view of our dear Hanoverian country, the steeple at Luneburg in the distance, and the Elbe close at hand. There we conversed upon the one thing needful, he not treating me as a child, but as a loved friend and brother. After my return to our father's house, how precious were his letters!
Our dear parents did not fully understand them, and feared he was on the way to be an enthusiast, and often spoke of these fears to me; and once when Louis came home, bringing two of his pupils with him, mother took him aside, and, with tears in her eyes, besought him not to be unfaithful to the belief of the fathers. “Mother,” said Louis, embracing her, “do you believe on God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, etc.?” “That do I believe with my whole heart,” replied mother. “And that is my belief, dear mother; by it I will live, and by it die.”
The heart of our faithful mother was thrilled with joy, and after that she rested in peace. Father, however, admonished him to moderation, and not without need, for so profound were my brother's convictions, so ardent his love for the Saviour, and so little had come his way to bend his strong will. There was no one who had more earnest love for a personal Saviour, nor firmer desire for holiness, and for this end was the man's life a daily amendment, a continual learning, an increasing battle. Louis had passed from darkness into light, out of the work of his own choosing into submissive bowing to God's will; God had chosen him for an instrument for His work, and he went God's way. His zeal, his good deeds, his self-denying gifts, could not fail to awaken the admiration of even an enemy.
Time passed on, his pupils grew old enough to leave the father's house, and in 1839 Louis returned to Hermannsburg. Here he remained until Easter of 1840, when he accepted the position of tutor in the house of Landmeister Pampel, in Luneburg. During his sojourn in Hermannsburg he had influenced many by his preaching, and won all hearts by his kind, friendly manner. The people were unwilling to have him go; they appreciated his great gifts, and were prepared for his later work.
The community at Luneburg, which included Senior Deichmann and other loved Christians, felt themselves richly blessed by his coming. His great love for his Saviour did not permit him to be satisfied with only his duties as instructor; he must preach and hold meetings, and help wherever he could. He traversed the streets and by-ways, and wherever sin, sorrow, and want were found he gave assistance. When he preached the place was crowded, the people from the surrounding country flocking to hear him, his active, efficient work showing results even to this day. How much influence he had over the people, and how much Satan sought to weaken the influence, may be shown by the ignorant among them having a superstition that his great success was the work of the evil one, and that before attending his meetings it was needful to protect themselves by a counter-charm. But instead of this lessening the assemblages it increased them, and Satan had to take another plan.
In the year 1841 my brother was to preach at a time when prayers were to be offered for the deceased Empress Friederica throughout the kingdom. Louis could not reconcile it to his conscience to hold prayers in the prescribed form, so he held them in his own way. He was informed against, and at the end of August was, through the Consistory, forbidden the pulpit. The outlook was that his day as minister of the gospel was past. This was a terrible blow to him and to his faithful Christian friends. He was thirty-three years of age, and in spite of his love for the work, his great gifts, his success, he was stranded, and saw no prospect of ever moving on. But God's ways are wonderful with His own; Louis had a "clear conscience and firm faith, and has since told me that he never slept better, nor had such sweet peace as during that time.
One year after, through the intercession of Superintendent Holty, in Luneburg came a rescript of the Consistory, and following it was a call as assistant instructor in the mission-house in Hamburg. There was also another call as a minister to New York, to which he had a strong inclination, but our dear sister Emilie had just died, and father did not wish him to leave the Fatherland for a foreign country, so he remained in Luneburg until Michaelmas, 1843, and then returned to our father's house in Hermannsburg.
I had been tutor in a house in Lauenburg, and as I lost my position just at that time, we traveled home together—the remembrance of the journey and our days together in our parents' home being inexpressibly dear to me. Louis assisted father in his school and in his duties as pastor, but for a place for him in a pulpit there was no word. He was now thirty-six years of age, and the people were awakened through his earnest preaching and besought him to remain with them. After the sermons each Sunday it was his custom to invite those who desired to ask questions of him to come to the parsonage; and the number steadily increased until his room was full. He talked to them in low German, for with his own people he always spoke in his mother-tongue.
At first people were shy of coming, fearing that father would feel hurt that they came to Louis in preference to him. But the dear true father would walk to and fro in the porch on Sunday evenings, and to the people would say, "Is it my son you came to see? Pass in, I bid you gladly." The crowd increased, and Louis was not idle; but, as no situation offered, father applied to. the Consistory to have him appointed as assistant, his increasing age and duties requiring a helper. This request was granted. Louis was appointed in October, 1844, and on November 20th was ordained in Hanover, and, on the second Sunday in Advent, commenced his services as assistant pastor in Hermannsburg.