Life work of Louis Harms
His Pastoral Work.
What God had commanded in His Word in regard to heathen missions was to my brother Louis entirely clear; what He had commanded the Church was equally clear; and what He had commanded him individually, as well as others, was something which he felt it impossible to disobey. That God had endowed him with special gifts for the cause was not so clear, and could not be; for a Christian cannot look upon himself in any light save that of a sinner redeemed only through God's grace. 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.
Once when there was much to pay out and no money in the treasury, I advised him to borrow; but he objected, saying the Lord would give it; and at the right time and hour it came, for He has said: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”
Louis stood in such intimate relationship with the Saviour, and had such a firm consciousness of His favor, that his actions were sometimes judged by those who could not understand such intimacy as audacious and presumptuous.
In Hermannsburg it is customary to baptize children on Sunday after the second reading. Once a very weak child was brought for baptism, and the woman who had charge of it requested that it might be done after the first reading, as she was sure it would not live for the second. But Louis answered that if it lived through the first it would live through the second; and, as he did all things in order, this was no exception; it was baptized after the second reading, and died on the way to its home in the village.
The whole work of the Hermannsburg Mission was a work of faith, and Louis was strong in faith and fervent in prayer. 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. Once when he was in a carriage the horses became unmanageable, and the driver was thrown out. Louis sat and prayed. The horses stopped before doing further damage, and the driver, with the exception of a few bruises, was unhurt.
Great results frequently followed his prayers. Once a loved friend was dangerously ill, and the physician gave up all hope; but not the wife —one of the most spiritual-minded Christians I have ever known, now gone home to heaven, after the most peaceful of deaths. She said to her husband, “I will go to see Pastor Harms and pray with him for your recovery." She came, and they prayed; the next morning, when the physician went to visit his patient, expecting to hear he was gone, he was met with the words: “Herr doctor, I feel myself well." The physician gave God the praise, saying: “That is indeed one of the Lord's miracles.”
It was not upon light occasions that Louis would thus pray. Once while I had charge of the mission-house I had neuralgia in the head, was in great pain, and longed for Louis to come; but he delayed, it seemed to me, a long time. At length he came, spoke tenderly to me, and, taking me by the arm, said: “Let us see what kind of muscle the boy has." I was vexed at first, but also relieved, seeing he did not consider my ailment dangerous; and we had been trained from childhood to make light of any indisposition not fatal, and of any accident where no bones were broken.
Through prayer he received comfort, peace, and strength; and held fast to the belief that to those who could pray nothing was impossible.
As our dear parents never allowed us to be idle, Louis was accustomed to work from his youth up. It was wonderful how much he accomplished, the dear God giving him plenty of employment. He had a large, active congregation, and one and all wished to see and talk with him. With our dear Luneburg people it is a custom to deliberate: not to come straight to a point, but in a roundabout way, which takes much time. Nothing was more limited to Louis than time; and he sat sometimes like a consuming coal, the dear people remaining so long in his study, and so many waiting in the porch or entry to see him. But it has never come to my hearing that he ever grew weary of listening, or the people outside weary of waiting; for he possessed wonderful composure and tranquility, and dear to him was a soul for which Christ had died.
Once we both were to preach of a Sunday afternoon; the hour drew on and there were yet many people to speak to him in his study. I was ready and waiting, and impatient to go, fearing we would be late. He heard the last one, and we set off for church, I not concealing my anxiety at the lateness. When we reached the sacristy they were singing the last verse of the hymn. We were soon ready to enter, and as Louis passed me he said in my ear: “G B always plays a long prelude;” and went serenely into the pulpit. He was right; the young man was an excellent organist, but he always made his voluntaries too long. However, on this occasion he saved us from being late.
The patience and serenity with which he heard the people accompanied him in all his work, thereby keeping his nerves in good condition, nervousness being unknown to him. In his traveling by railway or in his study at home he was serene and tranquil; only in his preaching was he ardent and full of fire.
As long as he was able, he visited the sick, his black walking stick in hand, which served not only as a support, but a protection against dogs. To visit the afflicted was his most loved ministry, and often he returned late in the night, his shoes wet, which he did not change until after his devotions; then, when all were asleep, he wrote until two or three o'clock in the morning; his letters, his work upon the Missionary Magazine, and many other things keeping his pen employed.
I never knew anyone whose disposition was so changed by grace as that of my brother Louis. By nature passionate and impatient, he had become lamb-like in gentleness, and listened during the most tedious interview without a symptom of weariness, if thereby he could help a seeking soul; for no one appreciated more fully its value, nor the power of the gospel to save it.
God had given him his native Heath as his place of work; he was a man of the people, was through and through a German, a Hanoverian, a Luneburger, considering the Heath the most beautiful place in the world and Hermannsburg the most beautiful village upon it, and remained in this opinion until the end, in all of which I heartily agree.
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, listening to the early times of Germany's history, which from his lips was ever new. The day was closed with prayer, and he went home. At sick beds he was greeted as an angel of God, and his counsel went before that of the physician. If he saw that there was immediate danger of dissolution, he talked to the sick one plainly, urging earnest preparation for eternity. If he saw there was no immediate danger, he did not press the subject of repentance so forcibly, but talked naturally and gently in low German, warning, admonishing, comforting, dwelling upon the glories of heaven, until in time the sick one was willing, even rejoicing, to leave earth, and be forever with the Lord. At times of burial his words were so earnest and solemn, yet so tender and comforting, that people frequently said it was a blessed privilege to die and be buried in Hermannsburg.
Louis knew each member of his congregation, and bore them upon his heart. He was strictly punctual in announcing the holy communion, and anyone who wished to partake of it had first to see him personally, which was to some a great trial; for the pastor's piercing dark blue eye seemed to penetrate to the inmost recesses of the heart. He was severe toward deception, rebuking the sin, yet tenderly admonishing the sinner, making allowances for ignorance, at all times a kind but strict father to his people, never under any circumstances repeating what was told him in confidence.
His time, his gifts, his experience, in short, all that he was, belonged to the souls he sought to win to Jesus, making no distinction of persons. If distinguished people were waiting to speak to the pastor, and he in his study was counseling one of the humblest of the flock, the information that "the baron or the count is wishing to see you," was met with the response, “He must wait," and after the day laborer had been heard patiently the baron or count took his turn in the row.
How he accomplished so much good I cannot better explain than by giving his own words in a letter to a friend in Mechlenburg:
Hermannsburg, August 3, 1851.
Dear Brother: You will excuse my delay in answering your letter, when I tell you that for the past six weeks I have scarcely had time to eat or sleep.
I received it with hearty satisfaction, and have never ceased to pray for you and your congregation. Well do I know of the trials and difficulties you mention, for I, too, have battled, but I also know that you will overcome. As a ride it is not the outward circumstances, but the heart which makes these difficulties; when the heart is changed, so also the circumstances. But 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.
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.
Preach regardless of anything but God's Word. Rebuke the sins and godlessness of the land-owner and farmer, which he may have or not; the sins and godlessness of the day laborer, which he may have or not; let them take offense or not, or receive it or not; the Word will never return void.
Hold Christ before them in His crucifixion and His glory, and pray fervently for the Holy Spirit.
Make not your sermons, but pray them upon your knees, and, if the people are dormant, wrestle with God for the souls of men. Offer your time, strength, comfort, convenience, all, all for the soul's welfare of your fellow creatures.
Make the Word of God clear, whether upon belief, keeping the Sabbath holy, the gospel, law or precepts, without regard to results. All must bow to God's Word, and no circumstances can prevent it. Therefore, I pray you, preach no word that you do not yourself live up to; avoid all that savors of the world; call all by its right name, that people can grasp the meaning; simple as possible, that it may not go over their heads.
In pastoral visits and by sick beds have no theory; neither consider you your prayers, God will give you the power, and what He gives is good.
Hold a Bible hour, with prayer and song. In Mechlenburg there is on Sundays much time, and the people upon the streets and from public houses may come through that means; but have all as simple as possible.
If you can, come and stay with me two days. You will be heartily welcome, and I could say more in that time than in twenty letters. If you cannot, then write to me and I will gladly answer, only you must wait, as the date shows.
I have no time to write more. God command thee, dear fellow-laborer. In cordial love, Yours,
L. Harms, Pastor.
This is the most beautiful pastoral theology in a few words that I have ever known; the learned and the unlearned could feel that it was truth. His only theory was indeed the Holy Spirit.