BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Characters of Theophrastus

Theophrastus


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Doctor Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther

by Diedrich Henry Steffens

Excerpt:

Can there be a finer testimony to the value of Christian biography? God teaches men through the Christian experiences of other men. God led Walther into the service of His Church through the reading of a little book on the life and work of a devoted Christian minister, who faithfully labored among the peasants of Steinthal in the Vosges Mountains. And so, after a brief vacation of several weeks, Carl Ferdinand Walther went to Leipzig in October, 1829, with his "dear, good brother," Otto Hermann, to matriculate as a theological student. When Walther entered the university, the so-called "common rationalism," introduced into Germany by the speculative philosophy of Wolf, the importation of the works of the English Deists and the colony of French infidels established in Prussia by Frederick the Great, was at its height. Strauss published his celebrated work on the Life of Christ in 1835. Denying the revealed character of Scripture and treating it as an ordinary history, rationalism explained away the supernatural element, such as miracles, by insisting that they were merely the results of oriental modes of speech. Eichborn, at Goettingen (1752-1827), applied this principle of interpretation to the Old Testament and insisted that the cloud of smoke at Mt. Sinai was a thunder-storm, and the shining of Moses' face a perfectly natural phenomenon. Paulus of Jena extended this principle to the New Testament. According to him the transfiguration was but the confused recollection of sleeping men who had seen Jesus with two unknown friends in the beautiful light of early morning, the resurrection was the awakening of our Lord from a trance or the semblance of death. The teaching of these men made Jesus to be merely a wise and learned man, His miracles merely acts of skill or chance. As its name implies, rationalism put reason not merely above, but in the place of revelation; insisting that Christianity was not designed to teach divine mysteries but only to confirm the religious teaching of reason. No one, it insisted, ought ever to accept anything as true which was not capable of rational demonstration. Rationalism was thus destructive of all faith. It denied the doctrine of the Trinity. It regarded the death of Christ as an historic event, the death of a moral martyr, who died for his convictions or as a symbol that sacrifices were abolished. Veneration for the word of God was called "Bibliolatry." With this result: Christianity was reduced to a system of natural morality, or, at best, a kind of Socinianism.

Preaching under rationalism became frankly practical and utilitarian. The great inexhaustible themes of the inspired word, repentance, sin, faith, justification, sanctification, salvation by grace were cast aside by the men who preached to their congregations on themes which might have been suggested by the pithy sayings of Poor Richard's Almanac. Nicolai, in his Sebaldus Nothanker, drew a faithful picture of the average rationalistic preacher, who knew how to make use of a Bible text "as a harmless means for impressing useful truths." Only by so doing was the "utility of the ministerial office" preserved. Thus Sebaldus Nothanker boasts that "he was very studious to preach to his peasant congregations to rise early in the morning, attend carefully to their cows, work in their fields and gardens as well as they could, and to do all this with the view of becoming comfortable and acquiring property." A shallow, selfish morality, in which prudence constituted the principal means, and temporal prosperity the great end of all life, was the unfailing theme of these preachers. There was quite a passion for elaborate sermons and sermon series for special classes of men. There were discourses against law suits and superstition, on the duties of servants, on health, etc. Thus Steinbrenner, in 1804, published a volume of sermons on "The Art of Prolonging Human Life, According to Hufeland's Principles."

The destructive effect of rationalism upon worship has often been described, for instance, by Alt, in his "Christlicher Cultus" (Vol. I, 319, etc.). That the liturgical forms of our Common Service, in which the heroic faith of the sixteenth century had given expression to its trust and emotions were bound to be exceedingly distasteful to these disciples of prosaic enlightenment hardly needs to be said. Where there was no faith in grace and a denial of the possibility of its reception, there were, as a matter of course, no means of grace. The sacraments were held to be nothing but empty ceremonies, to be performed by the enlightened minister only in deference to popular prejudice and emptied of their content and import. Since baptism was a superannuated institution, the enlightened minister felt himself free to sprinkle or pour water upon the head of an infant in the name of "liberty, equality and fraternity," instead of baptizing it in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. At the administration of the Lord's Supper, it was proposed that he use these words: "Enjoy this bread; may the spirit of worship rest upon you with full blessing. Enjoy a little wine; no virtuous power lies in this wine; it lies in you, in God's doctrine, and in God," etc. (Hufnagel, Liturgische Blaetter.)

Ruthless hands were laid upon our grand old hymns. Their simplicity and poetic feeling were ridiculed. Why have hymns and hymn books at all? Why sing what is not literally true? Why, for instance, in Paul Gerhard's beautiful evening hymn, "Now rest beneath night's shadows," sing the line, "The world in slumber lies"? when every child knows, or should know, that when it is night in our hemisphere it is day in the other. If sung at all, we should say: "Now slumbers half the world." Moreover, besides being literally truthful, hymns like sermons, ought inculcate useful practical lessons on the husbanding of time, on friendship, frugality, temperance, etc.

As for liturgical usages which were merely symbolical or emblematic, without special import for everyday life, they were to be abolished at any cost. Thus Nicolai, who, at Nuremberg, had seen lighted candles on the altar at communion, urged that such a thing could be of no use to anyone but a lamplighter or a sexton. That light might be a symbol of joy, or of the gospel, or of the Light of the world, never entered his enlightened head.

The church year, with its festivals, also went by the board. These rest upon the facts of divine revelation. Since rationalism rendered the facts themselves doubtful, why have a festival to commemorate what, perhaps, had never occurred or was of no practical value if it had occurred? Why celebrate the birth, the sufferings, the death, the resurrection or the ascension of Jesus? The essential thing was to look upon Jesus as the first great Rationalist, who opposed the superstitions and ordinances of the Pharisees, and aided the sound reason of the people to assert itself against them.

Even the Bible itself was amended, revised and re-edited. Luther's pithy, pregnant version no longer suited the taste of the day. "Men like Charles Frederick Bahrdt labored," Hagenbach says, "to make Moses, David, Isaiah, and even Christ Himself, speak as if they had been compelled to preach a trial sermon before the new counselors in the consistories." It would never do to say, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." We must say with Simon Grynaeus of Basel, "God, besides whom there was nothing, made the beginning of all things by the creation of its material."


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