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Life Work of Louis Harms

Theodore Harms 

Chapter 10

His Last Days

“For to me to live is Christ; and to die is gain."

A Faithful member of the congregation once asked Louis why he did not pray to God to make him well. “I cannot pray for that," replied he; “I can only pray that He will allow me to preach as long as I live, then I will go home." God heard his prayer, there being only the one Sunday before his death that he was unable to be in his pulpit.

Not only was he afflicted with rheumatism, but he had heart disease and dropsy of the chest, neither of which I was aware of; nor do I think he had knowledge of it, for once when I asked him in regard to the dropsy, he said that “God had afflicted his father and brothers with it, but had mercifully spared him." As he never said anything but the exact truth, he had therefore no knowledge of it; or, if so, it was after we had spoken of it.

On Michaelmas, 1865, our preachers' and teachers' conference was held, and in the evening when his mission-pupils were drawing him in his rolling chair to the parsonage, I pushing it, he said to me: “When you first suggested the conference I opposed it, but now I am heartily glad that you, with God's help, have made it a success. May the Lord uphold and bless you." He was that day so happy in God that I could not think it was his last conference.

Then came our missionary festival, which he attended; but he was weaker than on Michaelmas. He conducted the exercises on the first day, but asked me to take his place for the second. I promised, though hoping he would be able to conduct them. On the second day he was strong and cheerful, and again led the services. Those who heard him will never forget the beautiful manner in which he related the history of Fürlock, and gave samples of his narratives.

So the summer went by. When our dear brother Mylius went to the East Indies, I got his promise to undertake the management of the mission work there, should he be called upon to do so.

A few days before the death of Louis, I went to the parsonage. He had preached for the last time, the Sunday before, which was November 5th, 1865, had held the mid-week services, attended a funeral, and, although in great weakness, received many of his congregation. That evening he sat in his armchair in the family room, and, although he spoke with difficulty, we conversed upon several matters; then he took his tea, and as I was leaving he said: “Help me to pray to endure it." I did not know, until the physician told us after his death, that it was caused by heart failure.

On the morning of November 14th, 1865, my wife came to my room, in tears, and said “Louis is dead," which was a great shock to me. Aspirant Kleinhaus, the faithful nurse of Louis, had come with the sad news, and told us all the particulars of his death. "The first day I went to nurse the dear father," said he, "he was bright and cheerful, and held morning and evening devotions, although in such a weak tone that we could scarcely understand his words.

"At twelve o'clock that night I helped him disrobe, and he lay down; then he blessed me and said: ‘Now, my child, go to bed and sleep;' he was uncomfortable if anyone remained awake upon his account.

"At half-past four o'clock on Sunday morning he wished to rise. I helped him dress, and he sat in his armchair. 'Now, my child,' said he, 'go to bed again, and see if you can get some sleep.'

"In the forenoon I went to church, and when I returned he wished to know of the reading and the sermon, and when I related it he said: 'That is beautiful, that rejoiceth me.'

"In the afternoon he asked if I would go again to church, and when I said I would rather remain with him he said: 'Yes, if you will; but you are free to go.'

"That night he was very restless until two o'clock, when he slept until three. At five in the, morning he said: 'I cannot lie still, I must rise;' I helped him, and at six he held his last devotions upon earth, from Job xxxiii.

"At twelve o'clock your sister said: 'Kleinhaus, you must eat, or you will be too late for school. 'The dear father pressed my hand and said: 'Run now, my child.'

"When I returned your sister said he had been very restless, and could not remain but a few minutes in one position.

"At eight o'clock he asked if Ave had yet had devotions. Your sister said it was only eight; whereupon he said: 'I cannot keep the time in memory.'

"The pain grew greater, and at ten o'clock I went for the physician, who came immediately, and did all he could to relieve him, but without avail. About eleven o'clock he wished to return to bed; we helped him, and your sister, and niece, and I stood beside him. After a time he said: 'I thank you all for your love, and I pray you now leave mc to die; I pray you.'

“These words came upon us like a thunderclap. We went into the other room, leaving the door a little open. We heard him pray that the Lord would soon take him home, and then repeat the children's bed-time prayer.

"I went again to him, and he asked me to arrange his pillow; then he wished to rise, and we helped him to his arm-chair, when he said: 'I cannot bear it, I must have help.'

“The physician was very ill and unable to come. I asked if he were willing that I should bring the student Rochendorfer. Having given consent, the student came, bringing the instruments for tapping the chest, which was done, but without giving relief.

"He sat there wholly peaceful, and Rochendorfer wiped the cold sweat from his forehead.

“I said, 'Dear father, your eyes grow dim;' to which he replied: 'Thinkest thou?'

“His breath grew shorter and quivered once; then he was with his Saviour in heaven.

“For a time we wept over him; then I prepared him for the grave, and, with the help of your sister and niece, put upon him his robe."

In an hour we reached Hermannsburg; on the way we had wept more than conversed. My sister received me at the parsonage, sad, but bravely composed, and led me to Louis. There he lay. I had heard many an impressive sermon from him in life, but none so impressive as now. Every line of the noble face was at peace, the mouth firmly closed. His countenance in life had shown bravery and determination, and it showed it now, after the battle with the last enemy; and one could but think, “Here is a hero fallen, yet victorious."

What I relate now may seem to many not worthy of credence, but I will and must relate it, knowing it to be the exact truth. At the moment of death there was a light in the room like that of a bright day, so bright that my sister thought it was fire, and ran to ask the maids if anything was burning, but there was not. The same night Rector P., whom Louis had so faithfully attended in sickness, lay awake upon his bed, looking from the window at the blue sky, when before his eyes passed a peculiar light cloud. Like lightning it passed through his mind: “Harms has gone home." In the morning when his housekeeper told him, he said, “I know all.” There are no persons more opposed to superstition or are less visionary than my sister and Rector P., but I heard this from their own lips, and firmly believe them.

Only at the great day can it be known what his work has been to the world. Hundreds, yes thousands, of letters have I received from all parts of the globe expressing sorrow for his death, and speaking of the blessings which his sermons and writings had been to them.

It was decided that I should preach the funeral sermon, a sore trial to me, but God willed it, and would give me strength. Louis had often said to me, “Though the heart be faint, yet with faith one can overcome."

On November 17th the streets of Hermannsburg were filled with people. During the missionary festival hundreds from far and near thronged the streets, having come with cheerful hearts to celebrate the mission cause, which had become the cause of the people—the Lutheran light which had been placed upon the candlestick, that it might give light to all who were in the house.

But so many people as were gathered on November 17th, 1865, had never before been seen on its streets; but no face was cheerful, instead there were sadness of countenance, tearful eyes, and sorrow of heart.

The beloved of the Christian people, the father of his congregation, the great teacher in the church, was no more, and thousands had come to his burial. In the quiet parsonage he lay, the solemnity of death upon his face, but also the peace of God. No wife nor children stood by his casket, but his loved spiritual children, never weary of gazing, looked upon him and wept. Upon the bier it stood, covered with wreaths and crowns, the clear light upon it, emblem of the heavenly light which now beamed upon the sleeper, and of the crown of honor he now was wearing. Preachers and teachers stood about it, and in the passage and before it a great multitude.

Then arose the hymn, "All Men Must Die," and more wept than sung. It was a favorite of his, and many, many times he had sung it when attending the funerals in his charge.

Then we kneeled in prayer, asking God not to turn His gracious countenance from us, and thanking Him that He remained, though all else were taken from us.

Then after the words—"The Lord bless thy going out and thy coming in now and forever. In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen"—the bearers—his parishioners—took up the casket, and, accompanied by the hymn, “All Men Must Die," the sad procession went to the church.

My brother Louis once said to me, “We pastor children have an earthly home, the dear, dear church;” so his body was taken to that dear earthly home. About it stood thirty preachers, his mission-pupils, and in the church and before it were many thousands who loved him. The members of the Consistory and the General Superintendent from Celle had come to pay the last honors; also our dear Konighaus and Consistory Councilor Niemann. Upon the casket were five palms and five crowns, sent by our king and queen and the crown princes and the crown princesses.

The Consistory Councilor Meyer, of Celle, went before the altar and held the liturgy and read from Revelation vii. 9-17. Consistory Councilor Niemann, of Hanover, the warm friend of our mission and the dear friend and brother of him who had gone home, preached the sermon which follows, which came from the heart, and touched all hearts to their depths.

(Click for chapter 11 First Funeral Sermon)


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