Louis Harms was born May 5th, 1808, at Walsrode, and died November 14th, 1865, at Hermannsburg. Beyond the brief and partial biographical notice of him in Dr. Stevenson’s work, “Praying and Working,” but little is known of him by the English-speaking population of our globe. It is time that such a beautiful, distinctive, and gracious character should be placed more in the open, and should be better known by the followers of the Lord. His biography, written in German by his brother and fellow helper, Theodore Harms, and published in Hermannsburg, sketches the man with a true and tender hand, and helps us to appreciate the manysidedness of a personality, the truth of which was not unfrequently the truth of paradox.
One marked trait in his character was the ardor of his local attachments. It was not that he did not know the bigger world, but he preferred the smaller one. He turned away from the wider scope and ampler ﬁeld which appeal to the man of broad view and high ambition. “I am a Lüneburger body and soul,” he said, “and there is not a country in the world that I would put before the Lüneburger heath; and next to being a Lüneburger I am a Hermannsburger, and I hold that Hermannsburg is the best and prettiest village in the heath.”
Gauged by ordinary rules, one might suppose that in a heart so apparently restricted in the scope of its interest no cosmopolitan pulse could ever have beat; but it was not narrowness that was the cause of this conservatism, but a kind of rustic simplicity which learning and association with the larger world without served only to intensify. After all, it is not so wonderful, as on the surface it has appeared to some, that Louis Harms should take rank as a father in foreign missions, an inventor as regards foreign mission methods, and a modern apostle both in point of faith and chivalry; for ignorance was not the spring of his narrow patriotism, nor was the strength of his local attachments due either to limitation of view or defective sympathies.
The like applies to what some might construe as the prosaic type of the man. In the eyes of the undiscerning he might easily pass for one of the million; and such a view might have much surface support. Howbeit the very soul of romance is in that nature. His native heath, yes, every common bush of it, is to him “aﬁre with God.” He has rustic simplicity, but let it not be thought for a moment he has aught of rustic stupidity, He is a gentleman and scholar, widely read and profoundly learned. If he has cast off the pride of learning, and renounced the boasts of culture, it is not because he has failed to penetrate their secrets or win for himself by their means a name.
Louis Harms for many years before he became a village pastor was a distinguished academician. Even as a child, we find from his brother’s narrative, he developed scholastic powers. In 1817, when but nine years old, he went with his parents to live at Hermannsburg. After a private course of study he proceeded, at the age of sixteen, to the high school at Celle, and after two years’ study there passed the entrance examination for Göttingen University. At Göttingen he studied from 1827 to 1830. The most unblushing unbelief then reigned at this seat of learning. The effect of all this on young Harms was to determine him to get at the heart of reality, although in reaching this goal he might only find the emptiness of his own heart. To this end he set himself the ample task of traversing the whole circle of the sciences. He will know all there is to be known, if only as the outcome his feet rest at last on the foundation rock of truth. Philosophy, mathematics, physics, astronomy, Sanscrit, Syriac, Chaldaic, Italian, and Spanish are among the branches of knowledge which he explored with the greatest zeal and success. He became erudite, but he did not ﬁnd peace. At last he reaches the Sahara of absolute denial. He says not in his heart only, but with his lips, “There is no God.” But when he had fallen in unbelief so low that lower he could not fall, “the Lord had mercy on the struggling youth whom He wanted to make one of His chosen vessels:” and on an occasion when Harms was sitting up the whole night for study, revealed Himself to him as he was perusing the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel according to John. “The prayer of the High Priest and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, softened and illuminated his heart;” at the reading of the third verse, “And this is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent,” the light of life broke in upon his soul; and henceforward Louis Harms was under the safe conduct of His grace.
From 1830 to 1839 Harms acted as tutor in the house of Von Linstow of Lauenburg, after which he went to be tutor at Luneburg to Architect Pampel, where he remained till 1843. As tutor he was a witness for Christ. Thus while at Luneburg, it is said, his sermons and Bible classes were much blessed. Two calls reached him during the tutorial period, one from the Mission House at Hamburg, where his services were desired as tutor, the other from New York, whither he was invited to serve as preacher; but both calls he declined in deference, as he believed, to the Divine Will. He was designed for Hermannsburg, and kept waiting for it till the hour came. In 1843 he proceeds to Hermannsburg to assist his father in his cure, and in the following year is nominated, at his father’s wish, as assistant minister, entering on his ministry on the second Sunday in Advent, 1844. In 1849, upon the death of his father, he became sole minister at Hermannsburg.
The change wrought in Harms by grace may be summed up in one word—self-effacement. Before conversion honor was his loadstone, we may say, his idol. “Take courage,” he says, “in misfortunes, and should the last prop give way and everything be lost, let not honor be too.” Such was the cable that moored the vessel in the days of his ignorance. His own honor was to him for God. It is but true to fact to record that the honor of Christ took the place of that self-honor which had occupied the throne. Even in his unconverted state this chosen vessel was kept, by God’s preventing goodness, from the grosser sins. He was, too, a great walker and swimmer, and endowed with such vigor of intellect that it sufficed him, in his young days, to read over a poem of twenty pages a few times to know it word by word. Amazing fortitude was also a conspicuous feature in his constitution. Fear was an unknown sensation. “I never feared,” he says, “in my life; but when I came to the knowledge of my sins I trembled before God, from top to bottom, and all my members shook.”
When it is added that the great grace bestowed upon him had as its continuous check and counteractive great physical suffering, the sketch of the man himself is tolerably complete. Why the scale should have turned so, and robust health and express speed should have been followed, on his conversion, by a weakened frame and a thorn in the flesh that seldom left him, can only be explained on his own hypothesis that “it was the Lord’s way of humbling.”
Still his native ﬁre, or rather the ﬁre of his renewed spirit, burned through all. However the body might clog, it could not numb or repress his zest. He loved the very dust of Zion. Whatever had to do with his parish, his church, or the antiquities of the neighborhood, was a matter not only of concern, but of fascination. He was indefatigable “in his exhumations” and all alert in the hunting up and verifcation of legends.
What is more, he was in touch with the life around him at every point. He had an eye for the present and a hand that takes fast hold on the things that are. Let no one think because Louis Harms was an out-and-out antiquarian that he was in anywise connected with the fossil species himself. No view could be more incorrect. He was all there in respect of the ministry given him of God. All through his ministry his attitude to his parishioners is in effect this: “I am one of you, a Lüneburger like yourselves, I have no false quantities to utter, your dialect is my dialect, I am here to preach to you in terms you can understand, Divine truth, and to live among you as a brother and a father.”
“In an incredibly short space of time, not many months after his father’s decease, the fields of Hermannsburg were white unto harvest. It was as if a gale of Holy Ghost power had swept over the valley of dry bones, and where death had reigned there now appeared a living army. The Kingdom of Hanover was, it is true, comparatively orthodox, but the orthodoxy was of the letter mainly. The pulse of spiritual life beat very low. Now, however, in Hermannsburg and neighborhood a great change had come. Multitudes, through the Spirit-inbreathed ministrations of Harms, begin to know and keep going on to know, that “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power;” instead of a desert of formality there is a garden of spiritual blossom and fruit; on every hand signs of life appear, “The laborers,” says Dr. Stevenson, “have prayer in the fields; instead of country ballads, the ploughboy or the weeding-girl is singing one of the grand old hymns; the people are like one Christian family, and their influence and conversation have already acted on the surrounding districts.” In short, the Gospel that Harms preached and which he was at pains to adorn had come to his parishioners “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance.” The revival spread throughout the heath; and despite a sparse and scattered population the roll of communicants reaches eleven thousand in the year.
If it was happiness to be a Lüneburger before, what must it be now when the heath had become as the garden of the Lord. Speaking after the manner of men, it might be supposed that the conservatism of the place would have been intensified by this visitation. Not so. Between the Church revived and the Church missionary there is but a step. When the Holy Spirit is poured out there is not only fulness, but overﬂow. So was it here. It needed but the spark of suggestion, “Let us do something for the heathen,” to ﬁre the missionary train of event.
Mr. Harms takes hold of the work with both hands. For the twelve persons who offer themselves for foreign service residence is provided and training, the course of instruction, which is both scholastic and industrial, extending over four years. At the head of this seminary is a brother of Harms, himself a clergyman. The curriculum embraces Bible study, exegesis, dogmatics, church history, history of missions, etc.; and further, a variety of industries, for considerations of health demand the latter as well as the conditions of mission work abroad. In addition a great point is made of prayer. This, in Harms’s view, is the key of success. “Remember Luther’s saying,” he cries, “‘Well prayed is more than half learned.’ Therefore pray diligently in your own room, daily, daily for the Holy Spirit.”
The advantages of prayer—that is, when it rises, as in the case of Harms, into the region of power, are twofold. First of all, there is the direct advantage of obtaining the things that are desired of Him; and there is, further, the indirect advantage—the greater advantage, indeed, of the two-of obtaining His secret direction and unforeseen providential leading. In launching his missionary scheme Harms was blessed in both these respects. He was literally heard and he was unexpectedly led. The shaping of the mission may be said to have been taken out of Harms’s hands. He had not himself thought of a mission of colonization, but it was thus the Hermannsburg Mission took form under God. The circumstances are as follows: After a year or two had passed in preparation, an application came to hand from some young sailors of the German fleet, recent converts, soliciting entrance to the Hermannsburg training school. Their suggestion was to found a colony near Boney, in Western Africa, and seek, under the superintendence of Christian missionaries, to suppress the slave trade. This suggestion of the sailors was as a spark which soon set the Lüneburger heath in a blaze. “Peasants who had no missionary gifts pleaded to be taken out as settlers. Out of sixty who offered eight were chosen.” The enthusiasm of the sailors themselves was, for the most part, short-lived. Only two of their number endured the tedium and strain of study; but the die was cast. “Without these sailors,” wrote Harms, “we would never have been colonists; for we honest, but somewhat stupid heath people would never have dreamed of sending any but real missionaries.” Howbeit the whole matter was of the Lord. “It is not in man that walketh”—not even the man of prayer—”to direct his steps.” That there was a Divine superintendence, in respect of the specific character this mission assumed, no one conversant with the outworking of the scheme will question. “He led them by the right way,” though, as Harms confesses, a way all unthought of and unforeseen.
The time was now near for the launching of the Hermannsburg missionary bark. To Harms himself this event was the crisis of missions. He could not proceed without money, and of silver and gold he had none. Where was the wherewithal to be found “I knocked diligently,” says he, “on the dear God in prayer; and since the praying man dare not sit with his hands in his lap, I sought among the shipping agents, but came no speed; and I turned to Bishop Gobat in Jerusalem, but had no answer; and then I wrote to the missionary Krapf in Mombaz, but the letter was lost. Then one of the sailors who remained said, ‘Why not build a ship, and you can send out as many and as often as you will.’ The proposal was good; but the money! That was a time of great conflict, and I wrestled with God; for no one encouraged me, but the reverse; and even the truest friends and brethren hinted that I was not quite in my senses.”
As the conflict deepened Harms remembers the words spoken to Duke George of Saxony on his death-bed: “Your Grace, straightforward makes the best runner.” He acts upon them: shuts man out; prays fervently to the Lord, lays the matter in His hands, and at midnight as he rises from his knees, says in a voice that startles himself: “Forward now in God’s name.” Henceforward, as he himself tells us, his mind is a stranger to doubt. The money is not in hand, but to the faith of Harms it is as if there. The prayer of faith has been prayed, and in the ears of the petitioner there is the sound of the abundance of means. The supreme crisis of the Hermannsburg Mission is over, and ever after Harms can draw on account at the Bank of Promises,
In due course the ship Candace is built and paid for—though the cost, through a slip on the part of Harms himself, is more than 2000 crowns above the estimate—and dedicated to the bearing of the Gospel to the South Africans. On board, at Hamburg, a service is held. The date is October 28th, 1853. To each class—sailors, colonists, officers, missionaries—Harms has something separate to say, but when he comes to the Word of God and prayer, he knows no man after the flesh. “I beg you with my whole heart that every morning you will pray, . . . and every evening pray. . . . 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 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.”
Thus the first brood from the Hermannsburg cote was sent on their way. The nests, which they vacated, did not remain long deserted. “The people willingly offered themselves,” for it was still the day of the Lord’s power in the land of the heath. Among others who came forward was a farmer named Behrens, in whose heart the desire for missionary service was a flame which no considerations could quench. He came, his wife one with him in the sacrifice, with his property in his hand, whereby (Harms’s scruples having to give way) the mission became possessed of a valuable estate, which bore the name of the Mission Farm, a property sufficiently large, when fully reclaimed by cultivation, to suffice for the support of all the missionaries in training.
The work continued to grow. In 1854 Harms acknowledges himself compelled to issue a missionary magazine—Hermannsburger Missionsblatt. Why the notion of a missionary leaﬂet or herald should have scared him so we cannot divine, but it is evident he did not yield on this point without a sore struggle. His words are: “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.”
Into this magazine Harms’s love for the Lord Christ and peculiarly homely idiosyncrasy are poured. His magazine begins, even as each day of his life begins, with prayer. After the prayer the postman’s bag is opened and the tidings from the far-off children of the mission ﬁeld read out. If there is still room enough and to spare, progress at home is reported, or the work of God in the congregation commented on, or mayhap a sermon is given, or some bit of antiquarian lore that has been exhumed with much toil, and which serves to feather an arrow or point a moral. The magazine, in short, is a repertory of home chat for the interest and proﬁt of the family circle, no less one now, though they be scattered to the ends of the earth; nay, all the more one though parted, since they mind the same thing, and in the mutual love of the Spirit know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The Hermannsburg African Mission, although severely tested for months and driven to extremities in finding a landing anywhere near the point contemplated, soon achieved a rapid and solid progress. Within seven years of the first setting out one hundred settlers are spread over the eastern provinces of Africa at eight stations, forty thousand acres of land have been acquired, dwelling houses and workshops built, fifty heathens have been baptized, and an influence slowly gained reaching “from the Zulus on the coast to the Bechuanas in the centre, and from the Orange River to Lake Ngami.” These Christian workers, whether missionaries or colonists, seem animated by one spirit, and that is to go on in faith wherever they can find a door open or ajar. They believe in God and in the Saviour, whom it is their heavenly calling to make known; but there is another point in their creed which, though it be subordinate, is in their case vital to the core; we refer to their conviction that toil is the appointed lot of man. These men are in Africa to grapple with difficulty, physical as well as moral; and the fact of their manual handiness and industrial faculty is no small explanation of the rapid and solid extension of the work consigned to their care.
The financial record of the mission is a spiritual study in statistics. Both income and expenditure are irregular, yet matters are so adjusted that the income never dips below the level of the expenditure. In 1854 the expenditure was 14,950 crowns, and in the same year the income was 15,000 crowns. In 1855 over against an outlay of 9642 crowns is an income of 9722 crowns. The year 1856 records an outgoing of 14,878 crowns and an incoming of 14,978 crowns. There is a like balance in 1857 of moneys paid and sums received. The following year the expenditure more than doubles itself, being 30,993 crowns, but the income is even more elastic still, amounting to 31,133 crowns. In 1859 the high expenditure is nearly maintained, but faith has its full reward, for the enlarged income has exceeded its former measure, and leaves, after meeting the year’s demands, some 2700 crowns ($3300) in the treasury.
How are such results as these secured? The only reasonable answer is through the prayer of faith and by the power of God. Louis Harms did not believe in whipping up the public to keep his project going. That “straightforward makes the best runner” was a fixed article of his creed. He made no appeals, sought no man’s aid, did not advertise his needs. The reference to money matters in his magazine went no farther than the barest outline of accounts. He cast his financial burden on the Lord, and acted simply in the capacity of His steward. He was not even one of the ﬁrm, but merely an employ; and God honored his faith, and gladdened him by implanting in his own spiritual children a spirit of noble generosity. It became an early custom for each of the eleven thousand communicants to lay on the communion-table a gift for the Hermannsburg Mission. In addition a share in the annual missionary collection is granted by the Consistory. These are the only two regular or assured sources of income, so far as sight can trace them, and together they do not represent a tithe of the need; but faith stands in lieu of eyes. This certainly was so with Harms. So strong is his faith, he has but to “stand still and see the salvation of God.” It is God’s to touch the springs, to open wells in the desert and bring honey out of the rock, while Harms receives into his lap what the Divine bounty puts there. The whole world is tapped that the faith of Harms sustains no shock. “It is wonderful,” he cries, “when one has nothing and 10,000 crowns are laid in his hand by the dear Lord.” When the history of the faith of the New Testament saints has to be written, the name of Harms no less than Müller shall surely appear. The Hermannsburg Mission is a transcription of the Saviour’s charge: “Have faith in God.” It is studded all over with answers to prayer and glorious exploits of faith, Time would fail us to enumerate the cases of moment. When the question of the printing shop was debated, the exchequer was empty. “We cried to the Lord,” says Harms, “’ 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.” The above case samples the pattern of the life. With the warp of faith was interwoven the woof of Divine answer and supply; and it needed but the wedding of the miraculous with the providential to have furnished a new edition of the Acts of the Apostles.
The Lord has taken away the chief worker, but He still carries on and extends the work. From the Report for 1891, published in German, we learn that there are now 59 stations in all and 59 missionaries. The baptisms for the year amounted to 2380, while the total number of members is 18,284. The entire amount subscribed for the mission in that year exceeded 13,000, or over 270,000 marks ($62,500). The mission has also widened in range. In addition to nearly ﬁfty stations and missionaries in South Africa, there are ten Indian stations, the number of missionaries being about correspondent, and also a start has been made in Australia and New Zealand. At the head of the work is Pastor Harms, a nephew, we believe, of the founder, the address being Hermannsburg, Hanover.
The last struggle of Louis Harms was terribly severe, but no murmur escaped him. Asthma, rheumatism, dropsy, and rupture were the forces that slew the poor body, but he himself overcame in the strength of the Lord, and tranquilly fell asleep in Jesus on November 14th, 1865, aged 57 years, 6 months, and 8 days. He never married. He was too busy for such pastime. His apology was, “I have no time to take a wife.” In truth, his love and his affianced bride was his dear Hermannsburg. He had his heart’s desire, which was that he might never reach a hale old age, but might use up his vitality in the Master’s service long ere that. The love of Christ not only constrained but consumed him. He was a living sacrifice, a libation poured out for his Lord, his mission, his congregation, and all whom he could possibly help. We may epitomize his career in the words of one like-minded: “To me to live is Christ, and to die gain.”—Missionary Review of the World Vol. 16