Disbelief Followed By Conversion

At the age of sixteen he was placed in the Gymnasium of Celle, where, on examination, he was immediately admitted to the first class. Two years later, he obtained his certificate of competency for academical studies. It was at Gottingen, the University of his native land, that he studied theology, from 1827 to 1830. That old Rationalism, which elsewhere was expiring under the reviving breath of a new learning, was then in the ascendant at this University. Our young student—still himself without faith, but possessed of manly, straightforward sense—was repelled by the false wisdom of his tutors, opened a path for himself, and resolved to conquer the whole domain of science, hoping to satisfy his thirst for knowledge, and to fill the void in his own heart. Philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, natural history, besides theology, became in turn, or altogether, the objects of his labours. Endowed with an extraordinary memory, he easily made himself master of all the languages which could aid him in the acquisition of these sciences. In addition to the three ancient tongues which divinity students learn so thoroughly in the German gymnasia, he studied Sanscrit, Syriac, and Chaldee, and, amongst modern languages, Italian and Spanish. But in all these pursuits, to which he devoted himself with the ardour and perseverance of an iron will, the supreme truth yet more and more escaped him. His doubts were transformed into absolute disbelief. At the same time, the great defects attendant on his great qualities became more and more conspicuous. Violent, passionate, and inflexible, he was, on the showing of his own brother, the terror of the younger members of the family. But his outward morality was maintained, through his horror of the base lusts which are the snare of so many young men. This elevated sentiment, aided by the absolute ascendancy which he possessed over his fellow-students, enabled him one day, whilst yet at the Gymnasium of Celle, to dissuade the whole class from attending the performances of a company of comedians who had just arrived in that city. But it will be obvious that in proportion as the religious sentiment decayed within him, this rigidity of manners became a stoical pride, rather than the obedience of conscience to a sense of duty

Meanwhile the solemn moment was approaching which was to decide the character of his life by giving to it an entirely new impulse and direction. He was still at the University. Inwardly unhappy in the midst of all his scientific pursuits, he incessantly asked himself, with anguish, the question, What is the truth? What is the end of life? One night, the whole of which he had passed in work, wearied and sad, he opened the Gospel of St. John, and read the 17th chapter, the last and solemn prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the reply to his questions; or rather, to use the language of his brother, " light arose in his soul: the prayer of our great High Priest and Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, touched and melted his heart." In such a character, this crisis was decisive and absolute. From that moment his life was devoted to Him who had made himself its Lord.

Evangelical Christendom, February 1, 1866