Louis Harms: Anointed Life-Changing Pastor

Harms gave himself absolutely, wholly, to his work, devoting the day to his ministry, and a great part of the night to the labours of the study; consumed with zeal, he denied himself family enjoyments, probably that nothing in his life might distract or divert him from his daily task. When his friends spoke to him of marriage, he replied, with a smile, "I have not the time to take a wife." In reality, his betrothed, his true love, was Hermannsburg. He exerted, over the whole of his parish, over each family, whom he often visited, and more or less over each individual, an all-pervading and absolute influence-one is tempted to say too absolute: the force of his character, seconded, moreover, by his Lutheran views on the authority of the ministry, had made him the living rule of all; but it must be added that if greater room for the spontaneity of others might have been desirable, the immense ascendancy of the pastor was sanctified by the Christian life which was so abundant in him.

It was, in like manner, that ever-springing source of religious life, which explains the potent and extensive influence of Harms as a preacher. That life, both for himself and others, he drew from these two sources: the Bible and prayer. He was a man of the Bible and a man of prayer. "He had made the Scriptures," said one of his friends, "his own property. He believed, preached, loved, and received them. His earnest conscientiousness, the clearness of his understanding, the power of his memory, the energy of his will, the constant and indomitable firmness of his character were all permeated and sanctified by the spirit of the Holy Scriptures." This was the secret of his power in the pulpit. He moreover possessed nothing of that which makes the orator, which constitutes eloquence, in the ordinary sense of those terms. But he possessed what was much better. I will quote the language in which a Christian, very impartial in his judgments, conveys the impression made on his own mind by the religious services of the Sunday. "Long before the hour of worship, the crowd of parishioners and visitors pressed silently into the church, which was always too small to receive them. The most profound attention prevailed amongst these masses from the moment in which the preacher made his appearance. It was by no means his words only that exerted so great a power; but his whole person, his deportment, his look, his manner of reading the liturgy-in a word, his whole being-seemed the visible personification of Christian piety, of Evangelical faith, of deep repentance, of intimate confidence in God, of a holy adoration in the presence of the Lord and Saviour of souls. In his prayers there was a mysterious power which elevated with him the whole assembly to the very throne of God. He commenced speaking in a low voice; his discourse, simple, without pretension, without ornament, soon flowed like a river. There was no pathos, no rhetoric, no false enthusiasm. But the whole man became one with the word of the Scripture, with the divine truth with which he sought to penetrate men's souls. A fire from above [burned] in his heart and kindled in his eyes. The man disappeared completely. He was the first to forget himself. It was in preaching repentance that Harms showed himself a master. We have already said that his whole being seemed to personify the deep seriousness of the Christian penitent. His pale, thin countenance, his searching look, his experience of human misery, his burning zeal, his life of self renunciation, his indefatigable labours-all combined to produce, in his presence, and beneath his words, a thorough sense of shame, of repentance, and of grief for the consciousness of sin. But then the grand consolations of the Gospel were not wanting. The more thoroughly had the field been ploughed, the more deeply did the gentle rain from heaven, and the vivifying rays of the love of Jesus penetrate the soil. When this earnest preacher of rejientance proclaimed the mercy of God, and depicted Jesus, with open arms, waiting to receive the sinner, his testimony clothed itself with invincible power." 

What was a Sunday at Hermannsburg, occupied by such a preacher? This was the order of proceeding: The morning service began by the reading and the exposition of Scripture from the altar, which was followed by baptisms, always accompanied by an address. The sermon occupied the chief place; and the service concluded by the celebration of the Lord's Supper, always preceded by serious exhortation. This service lasted three or four hours, that is to say, until nearly midday, or one o'clock. At three o'clock the church was again open, and filled; and in the hours devoted to the religious instruction of the young, the pastor, like a father in the midst of his family, moving to and fro throughout the church, interrogating young and old, and often engaging in lengthened conversations, abundantly watered the divine seed which he had sown in the morning. The second service had hardly terminated, when a crowd of villagers, parishioners, and people of the neighbourhood, assembled on the green-sward or in an outbuilding, and Harms, a child of the country, delivered a simple and impressive meditation in patois, or Low German, which these good country people especially affect. In the evening, the parsonage was full of visitors anxious to see the Pastor of Hermannsburg nearer, and to hear the language he would address to this more private gathering. Finally, towards the close of the evening, Harms conducted domestic worship, to which he admitted all who desired it. Let us add that the short intervals between these five services were not devoted by Harms to repose, but to private conversations with strangers who came to solicit his advice.

Evangelical Christendom, February 1, 1866