A TREASURE FOUND—DAWNING OF THE NEW LIFE—THE PEACE OF GOD—“I AM COME TO SET A MAN AT VARIANCE AGAINST HIS FATHER”—“LET HIM THAT HEARETH SAY, COME”—THE FIRST SERMON—DELIGHT IN THE LORD—A COMMON ERROR—THE FOUNTAIN NEGLECTED.
The time was now come when God would have mercy upon me. At a time when I was as careless about him as ever, he sent his Spirit into my heart. I had no Bible, and had not read in it for years. I went to church but seldom; but, from custom, I took the Lord’s Supper twice a year. I had never heard the gospel preached. I had never met with a person who told me that he meant, by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures. In short, I had not the least idea that there were any persons really different from myself, except in degree.
On Saturday afternoon, about the middle of November, 1825, I had taken a walk with my friend Beta. On our return he said to me that he was in the habit of going on Saturday evenings to the house of a Christian, where there was a meeting. On further inquiry, he told me that they read the Bible, sang, prayed, and read a printed sermon. No sooner had I heard this than it was to me as if I had found something after which I had been seeking all my life long. We went together in the evening. As I did not know the manners of believers, and the joy they have in seeing poor sinners, even in any measure, caring about the things of God, I made an apology for coming. The kind answer of the dear brother I shall never forget. He said: “Come as often as you please; house and heart are open to you.” We sat down and sang a hymn. Then brother Kayser, now a missionary in Africa, fell on his knees and asked a blessing on our meeting. This kneeling down made a deep impression upon me; for I had never either seen any one on his knees, nor had I ever myself prayed on my knees. He then read a chapter and a printed sermon; for no regular meetings for expounding the Scriptures were allowed in Prussia, except an ordained clergyman was present. At the close we sang another hymn, and then the master of the house prayed. Whilst he prayed, my feeling was something like this: “I could not pray as well, though I am much more learned than this illiterate man.” The whole made a deep impression on me. I was happy; though, if I had been asked why I was happy, I could not have clearly explained it.
When we walked home, I said to Beta: “All we have seen on our journey to Switzerland, and all our former pleasures, are as nothing in comparison with this evening.” Whether I fell on my knees when I returned home, I do not remember; but this I know, that I lay peaceful and happy in my bed. This shows that the Lord may begin his work in different ways. For I have not the least doubt that on that evening he began a work of grace in me, though I obtained joy without any deep sorrow of heart, and with scarcely any knowledge. But that evening was the turning-point in my life. The next day, and Monday, and once or twice besides, I went again to the house of this brother, where I read the Scriptures with him and another brother; for it was too long for me to wait till Saturday came again.
Now my life became very different, though not so that all sins were given up at once. My wicked companions were given up; the going to taverns was entirely discontinued; the habitual practice of telling falsehoods was no longer indulged in; but still a few times after this I spoke an untruth. I read the Scriptures, prayed often, loved the brethren, went to church from right motives, and stood on the side of Christ, though laughed at by my fellow-students.
In January, 1826, I began to read missionary papers, and was greatly stirred up to become a missionary myself. I prayed frequently concerning this matter, and thus made more decided progress for a few weeks. About Easter, 1826, I saw a devoted young brother, named Hermann Ball, a learned man, and of wealthy parents, who, constrained by the love of Christ, preferred labouring in Poland among the Jews as a missionary to having a comfortable living near his relations. His example made a deep impression on me. The Lord smiled on me, and I was, for the first time in my life, able fully and unreservedly to give up myself to him.
At this time I began truly to enjoy the peace of God which passeth all understanding. In my joy I wrote to my father and brother, entreating them to seek the Lord, and telling them how happy I was; thinking that, if the way to happiness were but set before them, they would gladly embrace it. To my great surprise an angry answer was returned. About this period the Lord sent a believer, Dr. Tholuck, as professor of divinity to Halle, in consequence of which a few believing students came from other universities. Thus also, through becoming acquainted with other brethren, the Lord led me on.
My former desire to give myself to missionary service returned, and I went at last to my father to obtain his permission, without which I could not be received into any of the German missionary institutions. My father was greatly displeased, and particularly reproached me, saying that he had expended so much money on my education, in hope that he might comfortably spend his last days with me in a parsonage, and that he now saw all these prospects come to nothing. He was angry, and told me he would no longer consider me as his son. But the Lord gave me grace to remain steadfast. He then entreated me, and wept before me; yet even this by far harder trial the Lord enabled me to bear. After I had left my father, though I wanted more money than at any previous period of my life, as I had to remain two years longer in the university, I determined never to take any more from him; for it seemed to me wrong, so far as I remember, to suffer myself to be supported by him, when he had no prospect that I should become what he would wish me to be, namely, a clergyman with a good living. This resolution I was enabled to keep.
Shortly after this had occurred, several American gentlemen, three of whom were professors in American colleges, came to Halle for literary purposes, and, as they did not understand German, I was recommended by Dr. Tholuck to teach them. These gentlemen, some of whom were believers, paid so handsomely for the instruction which I gave them, and for the lectures of certain professors which I wrote out for them, that I had enough and to spare. Thus did the Lord richly make up to me the little which I had relinquished for his sake. “O fear the Lord, ye his saints; for there is no want to them that fear him.“
Whitsuntide, and the two days following, I spent in the house of a pious clergyman in the country; for all the ministers at Halle, a town of more than twenty thousand inhabitants, were unenlightened men. God greatly refreshed me through this visit. Dear Beta was with me. On our return we related to two of our former friends, whose society we had not quite given up, though we did not any longer live with them in sin, how happy we had been on our visit. I then told them how I wished they were as happy as ourselves. They answered, We do not feel that we are sinners. After this I fell on my knees, and asked God to show them that they were sinners. Having done so, I went into my bedroom, where I continued to pray for them. After a little while, I returned to my sitting-room and found them both in tears, and both told me that they now felt themselves to be sinners. From that time a work of grace commenced in their hearts.
Though very weak and ignorant, yet I had now, by the grace of God, some desire to benefit others, and he who so faithfully had once served Satan, sought now to win souls for Christ. I circulated every month about three hundred missionary papers. I also distributed a considerable number of tracts, and often took my pockets full in my walks, and distributed them, and spoke to poor people whom I met. I also wrote letters to some of my former companions in sin. I visited, for thirteen weeks, a sick man, who, when I first began to speak to him about the things of God, was completely ignorant of his state as a sinner, trusting for salvation in his upright and moral life. After some weeks, however, the Lord allowed me to see a decided change in him, and he afterwards repeatedly expressed his gratitude that I had been sent to him by God to be the means of opening his blind eyes.
Having heard that there was a schoolmaster living in a village about six miles from Halle, who was in the habit of holding a prayer meeting at four o’clock every morning, with the miners, before they went into the pit, giving them also an address, I thought he was a believer; and as I knew so very few brethren, I went to see him, in order, if it might be, to strengthen his hands. About two years afterwards, he told me that when I came to him first he knew not the Lord, but that he had held these prayer meetings merely out of kindness to a relative, whose office it was, but who had gone on a journey; and that those addresses which he had read were not his own, but copied out of a book. He also told me that he was much impressed with my kindness, and what he considered condescension on my part in coming to see him, and this, together with my conversation, had been instrumental in leading him to care about the things of God, and I knew him ever afterwards as a true brother.
This schoolmaster asked me whether I would not preach in his parish, as the aged clergyman would be very glad of my assistance. Up to this time I had never preached; yet I thought that by taking a sermon, or the greater part of one, written by a spiritual man, and committing it to memory, I might benefit the people. I set about putting a printed sermon into a suitable form, and committing it to memory. There is no joy in man’s own doings and choosings. I got through it, but had no enjoyment in the work. It was on August 27, 1826, at eight in the morning, in a chapel of ease. There was one service more, in the afternoon, at which I needed not to have done anything; but having a desire to serve the Lord, though I often knew not how to do it scripturally, and knowing that this aged and unenlightened clergyman had had this living for forty-eight years, and having therefore reason to believe that the gospel scarcely ever had been preached in that place, I had it in my heart to preach again in the afternoon. It came to my mind to read the fifth chapter of Matthew, and to make such remarks as I was able. I did so. Immediately upon beginning to expound “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc., I felt myself greatly assisted; and whereas in the morning my sermon had not been simple enough for the people to understand it, I now was listened to with the greatest attention, and I think was also understood. My own peace and joy were great. I felt this a blessed work.
On my way to Halle I thought, this is the way I should like always to preach. But then it came immediately to my mind that such sort of preaching might do for illiterate country people, but that it never would do before a well-educated assembly in town. I thought the truth ought to be preached at all hazards, but it ought to be given in a different form, suited to the hearers. Thus I remained unsettled in my mind as it regards the mode of preaching; and it is not surprising that I did not then see the truth concerning this matter, for I did not understand the work of the Spirit, and therefore saw not the powerlessness of human eloquence. Further, I did not keep in mind that if the most illiterate persons in the congregation can comprehend the discourse, the most educated will understand it too; but that the reverse does not hold true.
It was not till three years afterwards that I was led, through grace, to see what I now consider the right mode of preparation for the public preaching of the word. But about this, if God permit, I will say more when I come to that period of my life.
It was about this time that I formed the plan of exchanging the University of Halle for that of Berlin, on account of there being a greater number of believing professors and students in the latter place. But the whole plan was formed without prayer, or at least without earnest prayer. When, however, the morning came on which I had to apply for the university testimonials, the Lord graciously stirred me up prayerfully to consider the matter; and finding that I had no sufficient reason for leaving Halle, I gave up the plan, and have never had reason to regret having done so.
The public means of grace by which I could be benefited were very few. Though I went regularly to church when I did not preach myself, yet I scarcely ever heard the truth; for there was no enlightened clergyman in the town. And when it so happened that I could hear Dr. Tholuck, or any other godly minister, the prospect of it beforehand, and the looking back upon it afterwards, served to fill me with joy. Now and then I walked ten or fifteen miles to enjoy this privilege.
Another means of grace which I attended, besides the Saturday-evening meetings in brother Wagner’s house, was a meeting every Lord’s-day evening with the believing students, six or more in number, increased, before I left Halle, to about twenty. In these meetings, one or two, or more, of the brethren prayed, and we read the Scriptures, sang hymns, and sometimes also one or another of the brethren spoke a little in the way of exhortation, and we read also such writings of godly men as were calculated for edification. I was often greatly stirred up and refreshed in these meetings; and twice, being in a backsliding state, and therefore cold and miserable, I opened my heart to the brethren, and was brought out of that state through the means of their exhortations and prayers.
As to the other means of grace, I would say, I fell into the snare into which so many young believers fall, the reading of religious books in preference to the Scriptures. I read tracts, missionary papers, sermons, and biographies of godly persons. I never had been at any time of my life in the habit of reading the Holy Scriptures. When under fifteen years of age, I occasionally read a little of them at school; afterwards God’s precious book was entirely laid aside, so that I never read one single chapter of it till it pleased God to begin a work of grace in my heart. Now the scriptural way of reasoning would have been: God himself has consented to be an author, and I am ignorant about that precious book, which his Holy Spirit has caused to be written through the instrumentality of his servants, and it contains that which I ought to know, the knowledge of which will lead me to true happiness; therefore I ought to read again and again this most precious book of books, most earnestly, most prayerfully, and with much meditation; and in this practice I ought to continue all the days of my life. But instead of acting thus, my difficulty in understanding it, and the little enjoyment I had in it, made me careless of reading it; and thus, like many believers, I practically preferred, for the first four years of my divine life, the works of uninspired men to the oracles of the living God. The consequence was, that I remained a babe, both in knowledge and grace.
The last and most important means of grace, prayer, was comparatively but little used by me. I prayed, and prayed often, and in general, by the grace of God, with sincerity; but had I prayed as earnestly as I have of late years, I should have made much more rapid progress.