Harms, Louis

Harms, Louis usually known as Pastor Harms, one of the most eminent among the Lutheran pastors in Germany. He was born in Herrmansburg, in the kingdom of Hanover, about the year 1809. His father was pastor of the church in Herrmansburg before him, and was remarkable for the strict discipline of his family. As a boy, Louis 'excelled all his comrades in wrestling, boxing, and other athletic sports. He prepared for the university at the gymnasium of Celle, completing the course in two years. From 1827 till 1830 he studied at the University of Göttingen with signal ardor and success. He was repelled from theology at this time partly on account of the state of the science, partly owing to difficulties in his own mind, devoting himself to mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and the languages, including the Spanish, Sanskrit, and Chaldee. — To the last he was an enthusiastic student of Tacitus. His conversion, which probably occurred soon after leaving the university, was of a very thorough character. "I have never in my life," said he, "known what fear was; but when I came to the knowledge of my sins, then I quaked before the wrath of God, so that my limbs trembled." A Christian hope soon took complete and ever-increasing possession of his mind, and in 1844 we find him engaged in preaching at Herrmansburg, beginning his labors as an assistant to his father.

With the settlement of this young minister, a mighty influence began to go forth from the little German village, which soon changed the aspect of the country around him, and before his own death it was felt all over the world. The minds of the people had been benumbed by Rationalism or by a dead orthodoxy, which vanished like a cloud before the apostolic ardor of Harms. All in the neighborhood became at once regular attendants at church, devout observers of the Sabbath and strict in maintaining family prayer. Young Harms soon found himself to be virtually the pastor of a region ten miles square, containing seven villages, which in an incredibly short time he brought into a state of working religious activity.

And now, having regulated affairs immediately around him, this extraordinary man- began to feel the care of the whole world upon his mind. He felt responsible even for Africa and the East Indies. But how to bring the moral force of his little German village to bear upon the continent of Africa was the problem. The result formed one of the most remarkable feats of spiritual enterprise ever recorded. Harms first worked through the North German Missionary Society. But he soon became dissatisfied, and resolved to have a mission which should carry out his own ideas and be under his own control. He proposed to select pious and intelligent young men from the peasantry around him, who were already masters of some trade, give them a theological training of four. years in length, and then send them forth, ordained as missionaries, to the heathen. Twelve young men presented themselves at once, but Harms had not the means of educating them. His best friends hinted to him that he was a little out of his senses. He then, to use his own expression "knocked on the dear Lord in prayer." His mind had been powerfully impressed by the words of a courier, spoken to duke George of Saxony, who had lain on his death-bed hesitating whether to flee for salvation to the Savior or to the pope. "Your grace," said the courtier, "Straightforward is the best runner." In a few moments the purpose of Harms was formed so completely that no doubt ever again occurred to him. His plan of action was struck out at once. Without ever asking a single man, he prayed to God for money. Funds poured in upon him. He built a large edifice for his missionary college. More students came than he could accommodate. He prayed for more money. It came to him from Germany, Russia, England, America, and Australia. He erected another building. The fact of his not asking any money at all became the most efficient advertisement of his cause which could be made. He called his mission school "Swimming Iron." Soon the first class of missionary candidates graduated and were ready for Africa, but the pastor had no means of sending them there. "Straightforward is the best runner," said Harms; again he prayed to God for counsel, and decided to build a ship. The project was rather original, as Herrmansburg was sixty miles from the sea, and most of the people had never seen a ship. Again Harms prayed for the necessary money. Funds came as usual, and the ship was built and launched. As the day of sailing approached, the simple Herrmansburgers brought to the vessel fruits and flowers, grain and meats, ploughs, harrows, hoes, and a Christmas-tree, that the missionaries might have the means of celebrating that festival upon the seas. The day of sailing, Oct. 1,8,1853, was held as a gala by the simple people; but soon news came that the ship was lost. "What shall we do?" said the people. "Humble ourselves, and build a new ship," said the minister. The report proved untrue, and that vessel is still plying her missionary voyages between Hamburg and Africa. Harms's preachers have also penetrated to Australia, the East Indies, and our Western States.

In 1854 Harms felt the need of diffusing missionary intelligence among his own countrymen, and arousing a more universal interest in the cause. He desired to establish a journal devoted to missions, but his friends did not see how it could be published. "Let us have a printing-press upon the heath," said Harms. At once he asked God for the money, and it reached him as usual. The missionary journal was soon established, and in a few years it attained a circulation of fourteen thousand copies, only two periodicals in all Germany having a larger edition. It still abounds with racy letters from the missionaries, and the stirring essays of Harms formed its chief attraction until his death. He also established a missionary festival, held annually in June in the open air on Luneberger Heath. On some years this festival was attended by six thousand people, including strangers from all parts of Europe. "How enchanting," said he, "are such Christian popular festivals, under the open sky, with God's dear Word, and accounts of his kingdom and prayer, and loud-sounding hymns and tones of the trumpet." The peculiar character and enormous amount of Pastor Harms's work can be better understood from the account of a traveler from our own country who spent a Sabbath with him in the autumn of 1863. The description which follows may be considered a specimen of his usual Sabbath-day's work. After speaking of his church edifice, which was nine hundred and seventy-five years old, and which Harms refused to have pulled down, considering its antiquity a means of influence, the writer proceeds: "Strangers were obliged to take seats at half past nine on Sabbath morning, in order to secure them; service commenced at half past ten. When the pastor entered, the vast audience rose with as much awe as if he were an apostle. His form was bent, his face pale and indescribably solemn. He appeared utterly exhausted, and leaned against the altar for support. In a low, tremulous tone, he chanted a prayer. Without looking at the Bible, he then recited a psalm, commenting upon every verse. He then read the same psalm from the Bible, by the inflections of his voice gathering up and impressing his previous comments. He next administered the ordinance of baptism to those infants who had been born since the previous Sabbath, and addressed the sponsors. After announcing his text, he gave a rich exposition of it; a prayer followed, and he preached his sermon, which was very impressive and direct, though the voice of the preacher was often shrill. After another prayer, he administered the Lord's Supper to about two hundred persons, one tenth of his church partaking of the ordinance every Sabbath day. The female communicants were dressed appropriately for the occasion. The people were dismissed after a service of three hours and forty minutes in length. After an hour's intermission the audience assembled again. The pastor recited a chapter from the New Testament, commenting upon each verse, and then read from the book as before. After singing by the congregation, he catechized the audience, walking up and down the aisle, questioning children and adults. The audience seemed transformed into a vast Bible-class. This service of three hours' length closed with singing and prayer. At seven in the evening two hundred villagers assembled in the hall of the parsonage, and he preached to them in Low German, after which he held a missionary concert, reading letters from his missionaries, dated from Africa, Australia, and the United States.

He seemed to have his hand upon all parts of the earth. Evidently the congregation felt responsible for the whole world. At the close of the service he shook hands with each one of the people in turn, saying, "May the Redeemer bless you." At ten in the evening the neighbors assembled at the parsonage to join with the pastor in family prayer. He recited from the Bible, commenting as before, and offered a prayer which was rich in devotion, but distressing to listen to, so great was his fatigue." Besides these enormous labors on each Sabbath, Pastor Harms wrote incessantly for his missionary magazine, published a large number of books, and sent about three thousand letters a year, mostly to his missionaries. His method of keeping his missionary accounts was to take what money he got and pay what he owed; nor was he ever troubled, though the expense of his missions was about forty thousand dollars a year. He records a hundred instances of the exact amount of money reaching him at just the time he wanted it. For four hours every day he held a levee for his parishioners, who consulted him freely, not only about religious subjects, but upon everything which interested them-the state of their health, or the tillage of their land. So crowded were these levees, that often a stranger waited four days for his turn to see the pastor. The independence of Pastor Harms was singularly manifested. The king of Hanover, at one time, knowing that his eminent subject was in the city, sent a high officer of government, with one of the state carriages, to invite him to the palace. "Give my regards to the king," said Harms; "I would obey his order, if duty allowed; but I must go home and attend to my parish." The officer was indignant as he delivered the message; but the king said, "Harms is the man for me." Though a rigid monarchist, the pastor often preached against the government, and prepared his people to resist it. He often entered into sharp conflict with the government officers, especially in regard to the observance of the Sabbath, and was reported by them sixty-five times, but escaped unhurt. With characteristic boldness, he warned the churches not to endure unbelieving ministers in the pulpit, although the ministers held their places from the king. He defied the democracy as well as the court, and publicly advised them, if they were discontented, to go to Africa in a body. He was vehemently opposed to the popular amusements, declaring that men "acted themselves into hell from the theatre, and danced themselves into hell from the ballroom." The Calvinistic doctrines and the Congregational polity were objects of his marked aversion. He declared that the Baptists who postponed the baptism of their children were robbers and murderers of those children's souls. Nor would he ever insure his seminary buildings, thinking that God would protect them, and he had an idea that insurance against accident involved a certain defiance of Jehovah. When he catechized the congregation, and children failed in the exercise, he would sometimes punish them in public. He required his missionary students to perform a daily task of manual labor, not only for economical reasons, but also" that they might be kept humble, and not be ashamed of their work, any more than Paul was of his tent-making." As he never asked from any one but God, he had a violent antipathy to beggars, and none were ever found in his parish. Almost adored by his people as a species of rural pope, he maintained the utmost care and watchfulness to preserve his own humility while breathing the atmosphere of their homage. He yielded not a particle of his activity to the very last. When he could no longer ascend his pulpit, he preached standing at the altar; when he could not preach standing, he preached sitting; when he could no longer sit, he prayed that God would take him away as a burden. He died on the 14th of November, 1866, at the age of fifty-seven, and was buried amid the tears of his people on his beloved Lineberger Heath.

It is difficult to form a just estimate of this remarkable man. The keynote of Harms's character was his union with God. Yet so rare is any high degree of this quality, that its possession makes the man's character stand original and alone, and it seems as though "one of the prophets had risen again." Another world had laid hold with a strong grasp upon his mind, so real was it to him that he appeared to walk not by faith, but by sight. He lived among us like a being of another race detained here in the body, and acted with a moral insight and directness which no human standard can comprehend. Yet this wonderful spirituality was often marred by bigotry; sometimes it bordered upon the superstitious; at times his apostolic fervor was tinged with self-will, and we are astonished at the alternate breadth and narrowness of his mind. He made his most opposite powers assist each other; to carry out the moral intention of an angel, he brought a worldly wisdom which no one could surpass; in comprehension of detail and fertility of expedients he could have taught the ablest men of business. His spirituality acted upon the world through an all-consuming, almost morbid activity. He saw nothing before him but a succession of duties, yet his mind found an unconscious delight in the extent and variety of its own efforts, and his zeal was doubtless enhanced by the continual joy of attempt and success. It is hard to acquit him of a species of suicide; in spite of every warning of nature, he overworked himself incessantly, and pressed-on to the heavens whither he was tending long before he could be spared by the world below. His amazing spirituality, the closeness to another sphere with which he lived, would have elevated him beyond our sight; but the eccentricities which slightly marred so grand a character showed that he was human, and lowered him to a point nearer the sympathy of mankind. To the last, the world must stand astonished at the moral power of a man who could make a little country church in a remote part of Germany girdle the earth with its influence, and Harms alone is an answer to the Savior's question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" At intervals God gives such a one to the Church, to show to the world the spiritual power of one soul which is really in earnest. Harms has lived, and Germany, Africa, and the East Indies have felt the consequence. He was one of those blocks from whom, in earlier ages, the Catholic Church would have hewn her saints and her martyrs; he was a Protestant Loyola; had he left the world a few centuries before, he would assuredly have been canonized as a Domnic or St. Francis; his remains would have performed miracles without end; romantic tradition would have sprung from and twined around his memory; orders of priests and stately cathedrals would have borne his name; and thousands of devotees might today be worshipping at his shrine. (W. E. P.)

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.