[Sermon Preached by Consistory Councilor Niemann at the Funeral of Pastor Louis Harms]
In the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
A Faithful heart has ceased to beat, a precious earthly life is finished, and we are filled with sorrow. The community of Hermannsburg mourns for its beloved pastor, the Church for its brave upholder, the Mission for its leader. A great company feel themselves orphaned; their spiritual father must go to the grave.
We can scarcely realize that the eyes which have kept watch over so many are closed; that the hand so often stretched out in blessing is cold in death; the lips from which we have heard precious testimonies silent; the place he once filled void.
Wherever the tidings of his death reach there will be tears and mourning. How many in this church, in sister churches, in still chambers, at lonely stations in heathen lands have prayed for him! Now we have nothing more to ask of God for him; he has finished his course upon earth. But for ourselves, we must bow in submission under the burden of sorrow which his death puts upon us.
But, beloved, in our great grief we have also great comfort; through our tears our triumphant peace. We know Who has taken the sting from death, robbed the grave of its victory, is the resurrection and the life. Over the dark abyss Christ has spread the light of heaven.
Have we for the sleeper no need more to pray? With him in Christ we can pray and praise if we with him lived in Christ. Our loved Pastor Harms has gone ...; dying he has overcome. Think of the words of St. Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain;” and can we not apply these words to this sleeping disciple of the Lord? Oh, are they not the greatest that one can testify of himself, the highest and most glorious that he can attain, the most acceptable offering one can bring the Lord? Souls which His love has redeemed, renewed hearts, which shall live because of their love for Jesus is his glory in eternity.
Did not our sleeping brother belong to these? What was it that made his teaching so earnest, his words so convincing, that breathed through his zeal, animated his prayers, made his exhortations so effectual—what was it other than that Christ was his life?
Why was it that his heart was the heart of the congregation, as to the faithful mother the home is her heart; that he had sympathy for every member of the community, turned not away from the erring, but held out a helping hand to the weak and fallen, sought the sinner, gave the repentant advice and comfort, turned sinners from their way and delivered souls from death; why was it, except that Christ was his life?
Why was it that his life was so self-denying, that he found his highest joy in the service of God's kingdom, day after day, year after year, without recreation or rest, working for those in the distance, forgetting not those who were near and working for those who were near, forgetting not those in the distance, to Christian and heathen stretching out his helping hand, by his persevering spirit, his free-will offering to the holy mission work, founding the mission-house, yea, making of the Hermannsburg community a missionary society. Why was it save that Christ was his life?
Why was it that he never quailed before difficulties, feared no failure, counted not derision, opposition, nor condemnation, no anger of the poor world disturbing his serenity; but battling with the powers of darkness he kept onward; what was it save that Christ was his life?
And what, with many discouragements, arduous labors, difficulties, innumerable pains of the body, mighty in weakness, kept him faithful in the manifold branches of work until the breath left his body? Oh, to the praise of Him whose grace is sufficient, in whom the weak is made strong, it was that Christ lived in him.
Early was the heart of our brother given to Him, and early has the Lord taken him. When scarcely more than a youth he followed the Saviour with an earnest determination seldom seen, and even while candidate in Luneburg many were won to the Saviour through witnessing his belief. With his serene and mild glance he saw the innermost of one's heart. If they were candid with him, then could he give right counsel and help.
In his face was evidence of inward battles and pain through which he had passed, but over all was the light of peace, speaking in every tone and action. This it was which made him calm over trials which agitated others. Christ became more and more his life; in self-denial and renunciation, he crucified self, disclaiming all merit and self-praise, placing himself among the most unworthy of sinners.
His life was stronger than death. Therefore, beloved, our dear brother was through death brought to a higher life. To die was for him gain....
Through the terrible pain of his last hours he said, “Come, dear Jesus, I cannot endure more; help me, Lord; prepare me for eternal peace and blessedness.”
The Lord granted his prayer, and came; through Jesus he fought the last battle, and entered into eternal rest and peace. ...
Oh, unspeakable gain! Unspeakable joy! In the life in Christ there is no death; it cannot wound us; cannot disturb us, but only set us free—finished, transfigured, triumphant!
Beloved congregation, I can only say a few words to you, but I pray you, as from the dear one who has conquered, keep in your souls: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Christ has he preached to you, proved Him to you, borne you to Him upon his prayers. Hear you not yet his words from this altar to you: “The Lord be with you!” to which you responded: "And with thy spirit?" Your prayer through God's grace has been fulfilled. Have his prayers and greetings for you been fulfilled? To Christ he has led you, to Christ given you. Take fast hold of His love, then for you to die will be gain.
And you, mission-pupils, will you not also prove and testify that to live is Christ, and to die is gain? See from this casket the hand of Christ outstretched to you. Lay your band in His. You feel poor now that the beloved father has gone; but seek riches in Christ—abundant riches—which cannot be taken from you.
And, my beloved fellow-workers, as we look upon this brother and call to mind what he has done, how feeble appear our efforts! We must emulate his self-denial, his zeal, his faith; renew our vows to God in prayer and supplication.
What avail is it, if we preach Christ, if Christ preaches not through us? What avail if we call upon His name and in His name speak? Men feel not, believe us not, if His love does not constrain us, His spirit does not speak through us. We must live in Christ if we would gain in death, and only in living thus can we serve faithfully in working for His kingdom.
Let us pray:
Lord our God, we thank Thee and praise Thee for all the mercy Thou hast shown our dear brother, and for all the mercy Thou hast shown us. Blessed to us be the tears we weep in sorrow for his loss to us. Oh forgive us where we have failed and sinned against him. How often have we carelessly listened to his words of love and faith—how lightly valued his words of counsel and comfort! That which we can no more ask pardon of him, we ask pardon of Thee, gracious God. Dear Saviour, show us how Thou hast battled, suffered, and died for us, that we may fly to Thee in our need and guilt. In Thy care and protection we place our poor souls. Come Thou to our side, and, when our faith is weak, our love cold, our hope faint, take not Thy hand from us, but clasp us closer, closer; make us wholly Thine, Thy peace our life. Remain in this community, Thou faithful Saviour; uphold these people, and let the influence of the dear father Thou hast taken increase, that children's children may reap what he has sown. Give this forsaken flock a faithful shepherd after Thine own heart. Make us all instruments of Thy grace, and to Thy name be the glory. Amen.
After the sermon and prayer we sung “My Jesus leave I not." This was one of my brother's loved hymns. I know of none he sang oftener.
Then I preached the following funeral sermon, which I did not commit to writing, but gave briefly.