Life Work of Louis Harms

Theodore Harms 

Chapter 9

Pastoral Work (Continued)

My brother Louis had a particular fondness for children, and they loved him, although when instructing them he was very strict, and often wondered why they did not learn faster. He took great pleasure in conversing with little ones, and hailed every confidence in their word.

I call to mind his coming once to see me at the mission-house, and telling me something which amused him very much.

"Who told you?" inquired I.

"Otto," replied he. Otto was my little son, then aged three years.

At another time Otto said to him: “Uncle Louis, tell me which has the most money—you or my father?”

Louis shook with laughter, for we had just the same—neither of us had any.

When our little Friedrich died, which was six months before the death of Louis, I asked him to preach the funeral sermon. When he came he could not speak to us for a time, but stood by the window, his eyes full of tears. This sermon I can never forget, so full of comfort was it to us.

The confidence he cherished in the word of his fellow-men was well known in the community, and was valued and appreciated by the good, while the godless took advantage of it. When he could help, he did so with a free hand, but not with more than he had; holding to the adage that "It is only a knave who gives more than he has."

He dressed plainly—a black-cloth coat in summer and pilot cloth in winter, never wearing an overcoat; a black worsted scarf about his neck, and a cap—his scarfs and caps being presents from members of the congregation, and made according to the taste of the giver. He wore calfskin boots in spite of all remonstrance from me that he should wear thick leather, for he walked through mud and water when he could save time by going the shorter way. Once he came to a meadow and found it overflowed. He could have gone another way, but with a loss of fifteen minutes, so he waded through it, visited the sick one, and returned home, not changing his wet boots for dry ones until after ten o'clock at night, as many people were waiting to see him.

He had a good constitution, and when people would warn him that he required too much of it, and must take better care of himself or he would not be spared to do good, he would only smile, for he had faith that the Lord would care for that as for all else. In the service of the Lord he considered that all should be staked without regard to consequences to one's self, for as well might a soldier upon the battlefield hide behind a tree, consoling himself with the reflection that if he so saved his life he would be spared longer in the service of his Fatherland. We who look differently upon the matter of caring for one's self cannot enter into the feeling of one whose holy calling was ever before his eyes, absorbing all thoughts of self.

Only where there were sickness and affliction did he consider it incumbent to visit frequently; but he always kept himself apprised of the welfare of every family in his congregation. In his pastoral visits his conversation, while always spiritual, was not oppressively proselyting; he looked upon his people as his children, and talked to them as a father.

The young people did not always treat him as a father. He had often to sorrow that they would commit misdemeanors on the streets. Some had apparently closed their hearts to God's Word. He once said to me, with pained sadness, “I would sometimes believe my work in vain, had I not so many beautiful experiences at death-beds."

With so many cares, for he took every member of his congregation to the Lord in prayer; with so much to advise, admonish, rebuke; with so many in whom he was interested outside of his own charge—the heathen, the Jews, the thousands of Christians outside of his own congregation; with his earnest striving to win souls, it may be wondered what time he had to prepare his sermons!

Knowing that his days of each week were so filled, it would be natural to suppose that he had to return to the many sermons that he had already preached, but this was not the case. So long as he had time he wrote out his sermons, but when God placed so much work upon him that he could not, then he did as he advised the dear Mechlenburg brother, prayed them out upon his knees. God stood his friend, and his sermons were attended with no less blessing.

There was no pulpit oratory nor embellishment; but all was simple, clear, plain; so very plain that pampered hearers would sometimes curl their noses. All was from the heart and went to the heart. Sometimes, having had but little sleep, he would enter the pulpit weary and worn. But preaching was his element, and strength came to him. Mild and tranquil as he was in his study, he was in the pulpit challenging and overpowering—and there remained but two ways: either to go with him or be cast aside. He reminded one of a swift woodland stream, which carried everything with it, or hurled it upon the shore. Therefore, while he had the warmest of friends and supporters, he had also bitter antagonists, many having the impression that his nature was one of strife. No one, indeed, loved peace more than he; but he considered it his duty to preach the truth fearlessly and without reserve.

He was very moderate in eating, and our good Luneburg people, who take it ill if visitors do not break bread with them, excused him, knowing his abstemiousness.

Louis was six feet tall, slender, and stooped slightly, as did our dear mother. He had a noble, intellectual countenance, dark blonde hair, straight nose, dark blue eyes, clear and piercing as an eagle's, and very small hands and feet.

Sometimes toward the end of his earthly life, when his thin, weak form entered the pulpit, one could not but fear that he could not finish his sermon. His beautifully clear tenor voice would sometimes in his weakness take a falsetto tone. He made gestures without regard to art, walking— as was said before—to and fro in the altar, so that a hearer once said half aloud—" puppet-show "— but before the end of the service was so deeply impressed that she regretted the opinion.

It is a saying among us Germans, “In my house I am king;” and I have said to Louis, “Do you never intend to marry?” to which he would laughingly reply: "I have no time to marry; besides, a wife could not keep pace with me." He was very amiable in his home. Our good stepmother, who so faithfully attended our aged father until his death, my dear sister, who had the honor of caring for our mother and Louis, and two maids, composed his household—a truly Christian, orderly household: morning and evening devotions, with prayer, singing, and God's Word, blessing before and thanks after each meal.

Once I had promised my dear brother-in-law, Superintendent Dankwerts, in Wietzendorf, to preach four Sundays for him, he being sick. The Friday evening before I went to the parsonage to take leave of them, but did not see Louis. I asked mother for him, and she said he had been out for some time, but she looked for his return very soon. I waited until half-past nine, and then needing to return to the mission-house for evening devotions was about leaving, when I heard a stir in my brother's sleeping room, and I went to see what it was.

There I found Louis in bed very ill, and, filled with anxiety for him, asked him why he did not let us know he was suffering.

"It is not much;" said he, “only bring me a cup of chamomile tea.”

It was brought and he drank it, shaking so much with a chill that he could scarcely hold the cup.

"I will not go to Wietzendorf," said I; "let me stay and preach for you."

"The brother-in-law is sick, and needs you more than I; go in God's name," said he.

I went, and upon my return found that Louis was well, and had preached the whole day.

At another time he was so miserably weak that it was with difficulty that he could finish the first reading. I was not prepared to preach that day, but begged him to let me take his place, that the Lord would give me what to say to the people. But he gently declined my offer with kind words, saying the Lord would stand by him; and he not only finished that service, but also the one in the afternoon, and the evening meeting in low German.

Louis had never known an entirely well day since his breaking through the ice while tutor at Lauenburg, but he refused to take medicine. More than once he looked into the face of death, and once, while I was tutor in Lauenburg, I received a note from him, scarcely readable, in which he said that if I would see father and himself in life to come quickly.

I set out immediately, and reached home in the evening. I found father suffering with dropsy of the chest, but Louis out of danger. He frequently said, several years before his death, that he would not live long; and the words, “Woe to me if I come to my old age in strength," was literally fulfilled in his life.

During his last year upon earth it was with great difficulty that he could walk to church, having to stop frequently on his way to lean upon the hedge to recover his breath. At length he could not walk, and his loved people gave him a rolling-chair in which he was drawn to and from church by the dear mission-pupils. When he wished to go longer distances, he went in a droschy, which was a present from a friend far distant from Hermannsburg.

Wearily he went into the altar, but as soon as he commenced his sermon he stood there a man apparently in the full strength of youth. The only help he solicited was that of the loved Inspector Baustadt, who shared the duties of the holy sacrament with him.

He still held the Sunday evening meetings in the low-German tongue, and passed the rest of the evening with his family; and, although he grew daily weaker, had no medical aid. His physician was Jesus, and his medicine was God's Word.

(Click for chapter 10 His Last Days)


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