Life work of Louis Harms
His Work as Assistant Pastor
My brother Louis did not forget the loved friends in Lauenburg, as his letters to them after his coming to Hermannsburg will bear testimony:
Hermannsburg, December 4, 1844.
Dearly Beloved Brethren And Sisters In The Lord: You have heard, and I am convinced with heartfelt sympathy and thanks to God, that I am in the ministerial service, and for your love and sympathy I thank you with my whole heart., and ask you to remember me as you always have done—in your prayers.
You also are assured that I bear you upon my heart, and always remember you in my prayers that God will, through the Lord Jesus, strengthen you with His Holy Spirit. In His strength, which makes the weak strong, you will be enabled to fight the battle of Faith against Satan and his fiery darts of temptation, against the world and its allurements, against all defilements of the flesh and spirit. And this I do the more in this Advent and Christmas time, in which the Saviour is welcomed anew in your hearts and homes.
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.
Let us not rest satisfied, but pray earnestly to God that he will scourge our hearts; and though the flesh be wounded, let there be driven from us the ungodly, worldly thoughts and aims, the open and concealed sins, crucifying the old nature which wars against the soul.
Let us pray humbly to Him that under this discipline He will not turn His face from us, nor withdraw His Holy Spirit, His love, His mercy; for He has said for our encouragement and comfort, Turn ye to me so will I to you, and those who will come to me I will in no wise cast out. "For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee."
Lay hold then upon His strength and call upon His holy name, and renew your earnest resolve. Lord, my Saviour, teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God, Thy good Spirit accompanies me upon my way. I will remain with Thee, Lord Jesus; will no more live to myself, but to Thee, and by Thee will I die; so that, living or dying, I shall be Thine. Take from my heart all sin, that I may not offend Thee by word or deed, and burden the world with my guilt.
Oh, beloved, so pray I for you, and so plead with you with all the solicitude of my heart, that you grieve not your Saviour. Do not forfeit your eternal happiness by estimating lightly the power of the blood which was shed for you. Let not your Christianity be merely in words, but give evidence of it in deeds; in all your walk in life. Let Jesus dwell in your hearts; Jesus, who can have no companionship with Belial, but is zealous, and will not suffer sin in His people, therefore often uses severe punishments that none may be lost.
Follow the example of the disciples at Jerusalem; they spread their garments in His path and bestrewed the way with branches of palms. So lay down your sins, the robes of your self-righteousness, the loved sins of your heart; extol not your virtues and piety, lay down your palms in the dust, throw all at the feet of Jesus, humble yourselves with true repentance. Look to Him who became a child for you, and bled upon the cross; take this Jesus as the propitiation for all your sins, take from Him anew heart, that you may say with joy: “Praises to God that the old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. I thank Thee that Thou hast had mercy upon me."
These, beloved brothers and sisters, are the Advent and Christmas blessings which I, in this new year of the church, wish you in heartfelt love, that I implore for you in earliest prayer. Oh, then, beloved, as chosen of God, have compassion, love, friendship, courage, mercy, patience; sanctify your hearts and minds in the peace of God, which is higher than all rationalism, and when I come again to you I will have no cause to weep, but my heart will rejoice. Strive after the kingdom of heaven, and you will then have chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from you. Yes, Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
And, oh, for this Saviour's sake, take not anger, nor hatred into the new-year; as you hope to be forgiven for your sins, so forgive one another that your prayers may not be unavailing. May the Triune God grant it. Amen.
Lately I went to Hanover for my ordination, and God watched over my outgoing and incoming. While there I thought much of you, and prayed for you.
On the second Sunday in Advent I will here—God willing—preach my entrance sermon, as I will on the first Advent Sunday become assistant pastor of this congregation. I tell you this knowing you wish to hear it from me.
And now I commend you to the true God, and to His grace, by which you will be strengthened and established through His Holy Spirit. In hearty love I greet you.
Now began the great work of Pastor Harms, for which his whole previous life had been the preparation. The love which the community had for father, as well as himself, was of help to him, but the most of it was due to his course of life, his prayers, his mighty faith, his sincerity, his genial, heart-winning friendliness, his warm affection for the people, and theirs for him, his love and care of the poor and sick. No wonder that all hearts turned to him.
Through God's Word there came a great awakening, but there was no excitement, no art adopted to bring it about; the means used was to convince the people that they were sinners, and that there was a Mediator, and what was required of them was to believe in Him. The spirit of Luther was in the heart of my brother; the community was thoroughly awakened, and evinced the sincerity of their repentance by wishing to engage in good works; they were not only hearers of the Word, but doers, which is the truest evidence of repentance. Wonderful was the revival of religion in Hermannsburg. In one of my brother's letters to Lauenburg he said: “All have come forward except two households; they so far have resisted.” His hope was to bring the whole congregation as an offering to the Lord.
The people could not hear enough of God's Word. When the Sunday services were at an end, as they usually were at six or seven o'clock in the evening, the awakened ones met again to pray and sing and read a sermon. Louis held strictly to the rule that all must be at home by ten o'clock at night, where each read a chapter in the Bible, knelt in prayer, and went to bed.
Besides justification he emphasized sanctification—that one must evince his faith by his holy lifte—and sought from the beginning to encourage Christian aims, pursuits, and customs. So he exhorted them with great earnestness to begin each day with devotional exercises, praying, singing, and reading God's Word; closing it with prayer, either standing or kneeling, after Luther's advising, but never sitting, considering it wanting in reverence. God's blessing should be asked upon each meal before partaken of, and thanks given for it when finished. For his part, he never took a glass of water nor ate an apple without giving thanks.
People often questioned as to the efficacy of works, but never did he teach by a word that through the law of works one could be blessed. He insisted upon discipline and order and Christian living in every way. He considered that one should place himself as a wall against the allurements of the world, condemning dancing, theatre-going, and card-playing, believing it to be the just criterion that what could not be done in the name of Jesus was sinful. By these restrictions he brought upon himself the enmity of worldly people, the innkeepers finding fault that he robbed them of customers; but he kept on his way.
His room was never empty of visitors, to whom he listened patiently, and for all of whom he had words of sympathy, admonition, and comfort. Their confidence in him was unbounded. He always spoke to them in low German, that wonderfully expressive language of which our old friend and comrade, Nagel, said: “In no tongue can one speak so tenderly and so rudely as in the low German." When people came to Louis and commenced speaking in high German he would say: “My child, let us speak in low German; that is best." In this tongue he always held the afternoon meetings. Strangers considered these meetings the fountain from which flowed the spiritual life of the community, but to the congregation these were only the desert to the main meal, but precious also.
People came many miles to hear him—Prussians, Saxons, Hessians—and from all parts of Hanover. What was it that attracted people so wonderfully to him? He stood in the pulpit or before the altar, a tall, slender form, commencing in a low tone, with little modulation; but soon warming to the subject, he spoke from the heart; more and more forcible became his words, more ringing his voice, more persuasive his eloquence, though not flowery; Louis was not an orator, but a preacher from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. But he was so earnest, the Word of God being his all in all; his explanations were so clear, so forcible, that he stood there as a mouthpiece of God, until people realized and said, “That man believes and feels what he says, and would lay down his life for the truth."
The opinions of the plain, honest people about us frequently came to my knowledge. “It is," said one, "as if the Holy Spirit spoke through him;" and another said, “As he believes so he preaches—and as he preaches so he believes;" and another said, "What he says goes to the heart—one can understand and remember it." And this was exactly true; I have never heard anyone whose sermons went so directly to the heart and were so distinctly remembered. It was his great gift. Memorable also were his prayers at the beginning and ending of the Sunday services, when he knelt with his congregation and his great, true, loving heart was uplifted in petition, and he bore them in his arms, as it were, to God's throne, so that the heart was hard indeed that remained untouched.
It was no wonder that a great awakening was the result, a great revival of the German Lutheran kind. Though he strongly insisted on repentance, and that one must strive for sanctification, he placed justification by faith always in the foreground, and was so strictly true to the context that he considered baptism as the new birth, and the holy sacrament as the real body and blood of Christ, to be the true teaching. For this reason also he had erroneous views of the millennium and of the descent into hell; which later he changed, as not in accordance with his manner of teaching, in no way awakening prejudice, which would have been aroused if the crown point of justification through faith had been unsettled.
He was very strict in regard to keeping the Lord's Day holy. He enjoined the refraining from all work, including knitting and sewing, also blacking of shoes and shaving, that the minds of the people should be entirely free from worldly cares, and they could thus listen undisturbed to God's Word. He required a conscientious attendance upon divine service and employment in spiritual things all the day. This was a difficult task for the old Adam; but the glorious services that filled the day charmed them, diverting their thoughts from every-day work and worldly pursuits.
He laid particular stress upon the assembling of the people together. He clearly recognized the importance of unity. He was therefore solicitous that the faithful unite in battling against the world by holding those meetings which had been called, erroneously, conventicles, reasoning that if unity be necessary in temporal affairs, it were more so in spiritual, and that therefore people of the same belief should meet together in order to prepare for battle against the world. Thus by frequent meetings church and mission interests were kept up.
Very great were the offerings of the people; for it was considered an honor and privilege to give and to work for the cause, and our people yearly gave thousands to the Lord.
As Louis insisted with great earnestness upon family devotions, asking a blessing and giving thanks at meal time, the whole congregation complied with few exceptions, who remained firm against it. It was his way that they must be with him, or be cast out of the circle in which he moved, which created some ill-feeling. Many of them recognized later the great love of my brother for them, and more particularly the power of the gospel; but where light is there are also shadows, and where God's Word is preached in all its purity there are some—the most evil among the ungodly—who will not change. The Hermannsburg community was composed of many believers, and many hypocrites, and those who were godless; but it was a community in which it compensated one to be even a hypocrite, and of how many communities can that be said? But God's Word had the mastery.
With the awakening, the mission work began to flourish and develop, and soared with such flight that people looked on in wonder. Louis had experienced in Lauenburg that the main helper in reviving dormant Christianity was work for missions, and therefore brought this knowledge into use in his beloved Hermannsburg. As the community became awakened and interested, not only gifts came in abundance, but young men turned their attention to work in the cause. Louis wrote to the examining mission-house, but they had no room for more, and could not assist, whereupon he resolved in his own mind to establish a mission-house in Hermannsburg, for which, as was his direct course, he implored the help of the Divine Master.
I was at that time tutor in a house in Lauenburg, and a member of the missionary society there. The North German Union Missionary Society, which had its headquarters at Hamburg, had disbanded, part establishing themselves at Bremen as Calvinists; therefore arose the question how shall the former Lutheran members of the society continue their mission work? We Lauenburg members unitedly concluded to consult with my brother Louis in regard to establishing a mission house in Hermannsburg, and it devolved upon me to write to him. He answered that he had thought of the same, and had resolved upon it, should he ever become a pastor in charge; but so long as he was collaborator, he thought it better not to take steps in the matter; so we left the affair in the hands of the Lord.
Time passed on, and our dear father was called to his heavenly home by the most peaceful of deaths. He was not of timid nature, but his one dread was dropsy of the chest, of which disease he died. The physician for many years, the friend of our family, knew of this fear, and therefore kept him in ignorance that it was dropsy of the chest which afflicted him. One afternoon father lay upon the sofa in a sweet slumber, and our mother sat by him, knitting in hand. She noticed once that his breathing was peculiar, but his rest seemed as peaceful as that of one in perfect health. At length it grew time for afternoon coffee, and rising to speak to him found him gone. Thus God giveth His beloved sleep.
The congregation applied to the Consistorium to have my brother Louis appointed his successor. God heard their prayers, and Louis was appointed pastor in charge, and installed, to the great joy of the people.