Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Divine Service in 17th c. Poland (from Ledderhose)

Kripplein Christi church, Fraustadt (Wschowa).
IN THAT HOUSE of God called Kripplein Christi [Christ’s Manger], altogether beautiful divine services were celebrated. Only to a superficial eye could it seem as if the divine service of the Fraustadters tended toward the Roman Catholic one. It was all genuinely evangelical [Lutheran], but let it not be forgotten that it was never in Luther’s mind or in the foundational Lutheran Church to do away with sensible, meaningful customs. Let us hear from old Valerius himself how the children were baptized in Fraustadt, and what splendid remarks he makes in connection with it. He says,
What kind of thoughts ought we to have when we consider our Baptism, when we watch children being baptized, or when someone among us is asked to be a sponsor? This is very necessary to know, for many people do not consider, As it was done with their baptism, how then can they find comfort in it? Many people never once express interest in watching or listening, which is a great pity. Therefore evangelicals do not like to put their fonts in concealed corners, but in open, visible places and positions. Many people do not know what sponsorship entails. They stand there as a mockery and shame upon Holy Baptism, and, since they cannot pray, harm to the child. Therefore let me go through all the customs that have been observed by us since the beginning of the Gospel:
(1) The sponsors stand quietly with the child by the door. Here we consider how the child, because of its sinful conception and birth, would have to be eternally separated from God, and with the foolish virgins find the door to heaven closed (Matt. 25), and with all the damned remain outside the heavenly Jerusalem, as may be read in Apocalypse of John 22.
(2) We therefore begin by praying and recalling the words of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 7; Luke 11): “Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Our posture is in every respect as if we stood at the door of heaven and sought entrance. This is exceeding beautiful. A prayer also is employed in which there are two likenesses: (a) the flood, after 1 Peter 3; and (b) the Red Sea, after 1 Corinthians 10. This teaches us to understand also (I know that many of them do not consider it), we beseech God to let the child’s sin be drowned by this spiritual flood of grace, as long ago all sinners died in the flood, and to sustain the child in the spiritual Church of Christendom unto life everlasting, as Noah did with his children. Likewise, we beseech God to make all the might of the infernal Pharaoh over our baptized child to be destroyed in this water of Baptism, which is in His eyes “a crimson flood, / By Christ’s own blood empurpled.” [LSB 406:7]
(3) In these two prayers also, the infernal Pharaoh, the wicked, unclean spirit, is read his judgment, that he shall and must depart from this new courtier of Jesus Christ; he shall never for eternity gain power over him. At this we consider two things: first, our great, pitiable misery wherein we lie on account of sin, whereof we also sing, “To th’ devil I a captive lay, / In death I then had perished” [LSB 556:2]; secondly, we also recall the great consolation in Holy Baptism to which we were brought by the grace of Jesus Christ. “The snare’s in two and we are free / God’s Son from bondage loosed us” [TLH 267:3]. Thus we are truly free people (John 8). There shall be nothing condemnable in us (Rom. 8).
(4) The child is given a new name, for it has become a new citizen of heaven; its name must be written in the civic roll of heaven (Luke 10), yea, in God’s hand (Is. 49) and recorded in the register of the elect children of God, in Christ’s genealogy, that it may never be forgotten (Ps. 12). The child has become a young student of the Church, so his name must be included in the heavenly matricule. The child is not given an evil name; it must not be called Cain or Judas, but bear a holy name. Here the sponsors express the wish, “God help thee, little godchild, to carry thy name in deed, and to prove as godly as those blessed persons which bore that Christian baptismal name before thee.”
(5) The sign of the holy cross is made over the child’s breast and forehead. Here we remember that every Christian’s heart must be a little posthole for the cross of Jesus Christ; their motto is, “Thy cross, Lord Jesus Christ, alone, / My highest comfort is, I own.” Besides this we remind ourselves that baptized Christians cannot be free of cross and misery; they must bear their cross into the pit. They are true brothers of the Order of the Cross, of which the Lord Jesus is Himself the Grand Master.
(6) Hereupon the Gospel Mark 10 is read, concerning how many pious mothers brought their children to the Lord Jesus. In this we are reminded firstly that we may bring our children to Baptism without reservation. For the Lord Jesus fills those sophists full to the ears with rebuke who would prevent children being brought to Him. He says, “Let the children come unto Me, and prevent them not, for of such is the kingdom of God” (if the gold is theirs, who would withhold the purse from them?), and He embraced them, and laid His hands upon them, and blessed them. The examples of Scripture also agree with this, for in Acts 16 the warden’s whole house is baptized, and in 1 Corinthians 1[:16], whole families. Origen says it had always remained customary since the time of the Apostles, and Cyprian, who lived 150 years after Christ’s birth, writes that people were punished in the council who delayed Baptism until the eigth day, after the example of circumcision. Emergency also demands it, for our children are conceived and born in sin, as David testifies in Psalm 51, which we justly believe. They are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2), and so they must be born anew by water and the Spirit (John 3). Isaiah even saw it in the time of the Old Testament, when he says (ch. 49), “They shall bring Thy sons in their arms, and bear Thy daughters on their shoulders.” The witless Anabaptists say, “Our children do not yet believe, so Baptism is of no use to them.” But we stick with Christ’s words in Matthew 18, “Whosoever offendeth one of the least of these that believe on Me…,” etc. How else could they please God (Heb. 11)? The more our reason staggers at it, the greater the hidden artwork of the Holy Spirit. Others appeal to Christ’s example, who was not baptized until He was thirty years old. Answer: He was not, however, thirty years old before He was circumcised. Now of course our Baptism has taken the place of circumcision (Col. 2). If they had already had Baptism in the land of the Jews when Christ was born, He would not have postponed it. In addition, those who have been asked to be sponsors are reminded of their duty. They do no differently from the good-hearted mothers who brought their dear heartlings to the Lord Jesus and laid them in His arms, praying, “O Lord Jesus, please take the dear godson from our arms. Press it to Thy loving heart, and stroke it with Thine hand of grace. Pronounce a mighty blessing upon our godson, in which it may live as a Christian and die blest. Let it increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” From this it is obvious that the office of sponsor is not for inexperienced children, drunken fools, or the ungodly and unsaved, who are incapable of prayer. Sponsors are the child’s advocates, just as these mothers spoke to Christ on behalf of their children.
(7) On this firm basis that Jesus will bless our children that we bring to Him and bearing these things in mind, we pray the Our Father.
(8) After this the minister of Christ says, “The Lord keep thy going out”—out of your old estate of sin in which you were conceived and born; “and thy going in”—into the communion of the blessed, believing Church. Indeed, may He keep thy going out from the world and going into life everlasting. God help us, how comforting this is!
(9) Now the holy waters of Baptism are approached. Then you are to think, “The Lord Jesus by His intercession will secure heaven for the child; the Holy Ghost will descend, albeit invisibly, yet fruitfully and efficaciously, and renew the child, consecrating it as a temple of God; the heavenly Father will receive the young baptizee as His own beloved child.”
(10) But first the child must renounce the devil and all that he is, for no one can serve two masters (Matt. 6). You are to keep this in mind for all your days.
(11) Hereupon the child must be sworn to the blood-red banner of Jesus Christ, and distinctly confess the three Articles of the Apostles’ Creed.
(12) The child is sprinkled with water thrice. Long ago adults who converted to Christianity were actually immersed in the water to the glory of the most Blessed Trinity, who was certainly present, and in remembrance of the three parts comprising true repentance, which is signified by baptizing with water, as St. Paul explains in Romans 6.
(13) The child is distinctly addressed with these words: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” For the preacher is only Christ’s minister, and performs the outward work according to Christ’s ordinance, but God Himself is the baptizer, and when the preacher baptizes people with water outwardly, then through this ministry God, out of His divine power, baptizes them inwardly in their heart. Through this blessed heavenly washing God the heavenly Father cleanses for Himself His beloved children of heaven. The Lord Jesus washes them through the power of His holy blood: “…The eye alone the water seeth, / As men pour out the water, / The Spirit’s faith the pow’r perceives, / Of Jesus Christ’s blood crimson, / To God it is a crimson flood, / By Christ’s own blood empurpled, / Which healeth every injury / Inherited from Adam, / And by ourselves committed.” [LSB 406:7]  The Holy Ghost renews the dear little heart and sanctifies it to be the child and blessed dwelling of God. Thus it is well that no more than three sponsors be requested. Additional pageantry is most often only an odious display of wealth of which Christians ought justly to be ashamed.
(14) When the Baptism has been administered, the child is dressed in a white hood and a white gown as a reminder that it has been clothed head to toe in the beautiful, white silk of the righteousness of Jesus Christ and in the lambskins of His innocence, for Paul says in Galatians 6, “As many of you as are baptized have put on Christ”; and also as a reminder that it is obliged to cultivate the purity of body and soul with earnest.
(15) The godparents lay their hands on the child, as it were assuring with a handshake in the child’s stead that it will remain in the new, established covenant of the good conscience. The godparents also indicate herewith that they will bear witness in the future to the validity of the Baptism, and if (God forbid) the young godchild should forsake the true faith, that they will faithfully warn it to turn back.
(16) Then the minister of Christ prays that the baptized child, being born again through water and the Holy Ghost, might be sustained unto life everlasting. Finally, all the sponsors and the baptizer kneel and thank God from the heart for receiving the young little heart as His child, crowning the parents with His blessing, and again enlarging Christendom with a young shoot of the Church.
(17) When this has happened, the godparents and the child approach the high altar and remember that, all its days, their godchild, like all Christians, has a bold right to come before God’s presence.
(18) The godmother goes a little lower and puts the child in her lap. Here we remember: Now the dear, godly, young heart is lying in the lap of the heavenly Father’s grace; now it is lying in the arms of Jesus Christ, now it is resting under the henlike wings of His merit.
(19) This is followed by the sponsorial gifts. Here the thoughts of the godparents are as follows: Dear godchild, thou hast three godparents and witnesses to thy Baptism on earth, and thou hast three godparents in heaven which bear witness to thy Baptism and salvation: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost [1 John 7]. These godparents in heaven have here shown themselves in a worthy and generous manner; God has filled your heart with consolation. We would fill your purse with good coinage. May God enlarge what is little! Then each one contributes according to his means and custom of the land.
(20) At last the godparents kneel with the young godchild and a conclusion is made with a heartfelt prayer, just as it was began. Here the circle of Baptism is complete.
Such was the way that Herberger baptized in Fraustadt; such was the thoughtfulness that he gave its meaning. He says on this account, “Behold, dear heart, what a fine affair it is! I wanted to make sure to tell you baptized Christians about it at somewhat more length for your consolation and honor.”
In Herberger’s evangelical labor, the Absolution and the Holy Supper were no less important. Scarcely a sermon passed without him coming back to these means of grace of the Christian Church. No doubt they were conducted with exceptional festivity in Fraustadt. We must therefore share some of the essential ideas that our mightily comforting Herberger had. They not only give us a glimpse of the deep spirit of this preacher of grace, but also make us love and esteem the things of God for the salvation of the world of sinners. He gives us in one sermon on Judica sunday a “Little Book on Confession for repentant hearts, who desire to go worthily to the table of the Lord.” First he says concerning this, “What does a true God-pleasing confession of heart and mouth call for?” He says,
To confess is an art above all arts, for it makes friendship with God, the highest Good and greatest Lord, so that it may be said without fear, Abba, dear Father, I know Thou wilt not deny me Thy fatherly grace. For which cause every man has purpose to learn diligently wherein it consists. I will say it in one sentence: Right confession means right repentance. On this all our salvation and blessedness depends. This is comprised mainly of three things: firstly, that one heartily lament and mourn his sins, like Peter and Mary Magdalene; secondly, that one not doubt like Judas, but with a believing heart seek and ask for Absolution and grace with God in the name of Jesus Christ; thirdly, that one commend oneself to a new and better obedience, and from that very moment begin to behave in a more godly manner…
He then gives the qualities of a true child of confession: “Confession must be sincere, for God does not ask for the rubbish of a slippery mouth when the heart is not right. Accordingly, a true child of confession should and must be moral and reverent, for it is not a speaking merely with men but with the most heavenly Majesty… Therefore guard yourself not only from inward arrogagnce of the heart, but also from outwardly arrogant actions which betray a hidden, haughty conceit. Gentle Christians justly ought to remove their adornments and kneel with reverence.” Further he says that a child of confession must be true, and adds, “The eyes of the LORD are clearer than the sun, seeing all that men do, and beholding even the secret places; all things are known to Him” [Sir 23:19]. When he says that a child of confession should be sober and sensible, he notes after his fashion, “God opposes gullets stinking of wine and beer.” “The child of confession must be devout. How shall God hear when you yourself do not hear? A true child of confession must be humble, like David (Ps. 51), like the repentant publican (Luke 18). For the Lord sees the miserable and them of contrite heart. A true child of confession must be upright,” etc. In this way he goes on with marking the qualities of a true child of confession, and comes to sharp-sightedness for searching out sins, sorrowfulness, to mourn like Peter and Mary Magdalene, a comforted spirit, as Cain, Saul, and Judas did not have, open speech with God, the neighbor, yea, the entire congregation. He reproaches stubbornness that intends to remain in its old sins, ingratitude, which refuses to give thanks through good works. He also reproaches those who only go to confession to please others. Now he comes the comforting Absolution, saying that such a child of confession can expect the effective, true forgiveness of sins from heaven. God swears it with a costly oath (Ezek. 33). He summons a host of consoling passages, saying,
Hence our devout forefathers were accustomed to say, ‘All things are possible with God, but one thing is impossible for Him: that He should despise and condemn a humble, sorry, mournful, repentant heart…’ Yet a repentant child of confession may say, Indeed, how is it that the Lord Jesus will personally let me to hear such a word of grace in the confessional, yet I find nothing but a man? Answer: When a pastor absolves you of sin, it is as much as if the Lord Jesus had personally done it with His own mouth. For just as you have not chiefly confessed to a man, so neither are you chiefly absolved by a man, but it is God Himself who does it through men ordained for the task. Your father confessor is the Lord Christ’s ambassador, envoy, messenger, missive, and agent indued with every power. You know of course how the Lord Jesus said (Luke 10), “Whosoever heareth you heareth Me,” and (Matt. 18), “Whatso ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven also,” and (John 20), “Whose sins soever ye remit, to him are they remitted.” Therefore St. Paul says, “We are messengers in Christ’s stead, Christ admonishing through us” (2 Cor. 5). “So let every man count us, to wit, as ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4). And in the Small Catechism, the forgiveness of the father confessor is rightly called God’s forgiveness.
Interior of Kripplein Christi,
recently under renovation.
If Herberger expresses himself in so comforting a manner concerning the Absolution, he does no less concerning the Holy Supper. After explicitly discussing the institution of the Supper, the time of the institution, and how it it ought to be handled by us, he answers the question, “What manner of noble, blessed food and drink does the Insituter serve us therein, and to what benefit and good?” He says, “Bread and wine are the lowliest things in this table. Behold, dear heart, the Lord Jesus willingly gives you as a pledge of your salvation those two blessed elements with which He procured the grace of God and heaven. He did not redeem you with bread and wine, neither therefore will He leave it at bread and wine, but just as He gave His body into death for you, just as He poured out His blood for your sins, so He feeds you with His own body and gives you to drink of His own blood. If someone asks, What kind of body is it then? What kind of blood is it? the Lord Jesus says, ‘The body that is given for you; the blood that is poured out for you.’” After satisfying the contrary opinions, he goes on, “He gives us as a true pledge of His grace not a signet ring, not His right hand, as happens in betrothals and weddings, but His body and blood. Oh, praised be His most holy Body! Oh, praised be His blessed Blood! What we cannot grasp with reason we must make up for with humble faith, for as stated at the outset, We swore faith in the Lord Jesus at our Baptism. Uncouth, fleshly, capernaitic, shameless thoughts and speech do not belong to this profound Mystery (John 6), but the Lord Jesus desires among His table-guests utterly holy thoughts, virginal, chaste speech, and purely believing hearts.” Arriving then at its benefits, he especially emphasizes “Do this in remembrance of Me”: “This priceless meat and this precious drink serve us as two kinds of remembrance: firstly as a remembrance of His benefits and countless treasures of grace, by which our faith is strengthened and our heart filled to the brim with consolation; secondly, as a remembrance of His teaching and His commandments, whereby our life is urged on to every God-pleasing virtue.” Finishing this, he comes to the worthy prepration for the Table of the Lord. Here above all he is adamant that one must be a disciple and lover of Jesus. One should examine himself in this regard. Yet He also asks for outward conduct: “Outward examples of morality are often unfeigning windows in the heart of a Christlike disposition. Honest wives in these lands are accustomed to wearing a veil; maidens take off their wreaths, as if they were all in sorrow. Those of the nobility and equestrian class, who always wear a rapier at their side, press their arms to the side and act as if they meant to bore a hole in the ground with their feet; they take off their sword and fold their hands; those who otherwise walked like fierce lions return like gentle lambs. This is all rightly and well done, but the inward adornment of the heart is the best… Neither concern yourself chiefly with the other table-fellows who go up with you, for they are not all the same. Rather, be aware of yourself, adorn yourself with true repentance, be humble, meek, faithful, and devout at the table of the Lord, and show your gratitude as long as there is breath in you.”
Of means of edification in Fraustadt there were many. Already Herberger’s predecessors Arnold and Florian had committed to holding three sermons every Sunday and Feast-day throughout the year, and in addition, to holding weekday sermons on Mondays and Fridays. Herberger reintroduced the practice of reading the clear and powerful Athanasian Creed from the pulpit on the high feast of Trinity. Every other Monday he had it sung from the choir-space distinctly and slowly in Latin. As Luther had done, so in Fraustadt too the poor students would sing in front of houses on certain days. Valerius supported this old custom, saying in one place, “Oh, let the singing scholars poor / Receive your favor at your door. Who knows what shall become of them?” On the so-called Feast of Holy Corpus, he also held a divine servce, but he used the occasion to preach against it. “The origin of this feast,” he says, “we ought not seek in the Bible, for the Holy Scripture has not one jot about it. Of its likes the ancient doctors of the Church tell us nothing either.” The feast was first introduced in 1262. He calls it straight out a service of idolatry invented by women. “When they try to make it out to be a feast in honor of the Holy Supper, it is deception, for the Holy Supper does not consist only of the blessed bread, but also of the blessed wine. The Holy Supper belongs in the gathering of the children of the Church, not in the city’s marketplace and streets, much less in an open field. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Take and eat,’ etc., not ‘Close it up, take it for a walk, look at it and pray to it.’ The Holy Supper is to be honored often according to the right use, not carried around on display once a year. So let us leave the dead to bury their dead (Matt. 8). Distance is good protection from a shot; it is good not get mixed up; better alone than in idolatrous company. Every upright heart that keeps itself unspotted by such useless affairs glorifies God. The slothful should be ashamed in their soul that they are not as eager and devout in their divine service on Sundays and holidays as this miserable lot is in their self-invented works. For they could receive a joyful conscience from proper devotion, but here “their heart is never still, / A constant fear dismays them.” [ELHB 277:5]

(Translated by M. Carver from C.F. Ledderhose, Leben Valerius Herbergers, Bielefeld, 1851, pp. 36–46. Exterior photo courtesy of Wikipedia; other photos from Marek Chwistek.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Treasury of Counsels and Decisions

The Treasury of Counsels and Decisions, ed. Georg Dedekenn and Johann Ernst Gerhard, 2nd ed. (1671) is a pastorally focused collection of counsels and decisions, dealing both with doctrine and practice. The topics chosen for inclusion, even in the volume on civil government, deal especially with situations a Lutheran pastor would have faced. This is to be expected, given the goals of Dedekenn, a pastor, in producing the Treasury.
The theme of inter-confessional disputes is woven into many places of the Treasury. This theme shows how important it was to the editors of the Treasury and their readers to confess the distinguishing features of their Lutheran doctrine and practice clearly. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as important pastoral-liturgical rites and as foundational events in the Christian’s life of faith, likewise are discussed in great detail, as is the Evangelical practice of private confession and Absolution. The church’s government and the office and duties of pastors form another large constellation of questions. Questions concerning the “black arts” are significant. Questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics are very important in the Treasury – betrothal, for example, is the biggest topic both in terms of questions and of pages.
Christian Grübel’s New Appendix, added to the 1671 edition of the Treasury, is a pastoral handbook, similar to Dedekenn’s and J. E. Gerhard’s volumes, but not as full and complete. In addition to pastoral issues, Grübel also adds much source material on recent controversies, making his volume something of a repertory for recent polemics, in a way that the other volumes are not.
The Treasury is uniquely Lutheran. The issue of inter-confessional relations runs throughout the cases collected by Georg Dedekenn, Johann Ernst Gerhard, and Christian Grübel. In case after case, the Lutheran theologians and faculties profile themselves in distinction from Roman Catholic and Reformed Christians. The doctrinal focus of the counsels likewise sets forth uniquely Lutheran views. In the many cases dealing with Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confession, exorcism, and various adiaphorous ceremonies, the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith is set forth with confidence. The underlying viewpoint is the certainty that what is being set forth is the truth. And it is this truth which can instruct and assure doubting consciences.
The Treasury is pastoral. Even in the sections dealing with the duties of civil government, the cases presented generally deal with how civil government and the church intersect, and how pastors should relate to civil leaders. A major focus of the Treasury is the pastor’s office and duties, and in this way it, in many places, comes to resemble a pastoral theology or pastor’s handbook, but with its content drawn directly from the leading theologians and faculties of post-Reformation Lutheranism.
The Treasury is dogmatic. The table of contents for the work shows the wide variety of topics addressed. The first volume, dealing with dogmatic and ministerial topics, is by far the largest, and much of it deals with issues of right belief, not just of right behavior. The dogmatic focus is furthermore seen in the documentation of intra-Lutheran controversies, which Grübel’s New Appendix reported in detail.
The Treasury is practical. The wide range of questions included deal with ethics in all areas of life, both in public and in the family. The volume on marriage contains the biggest topic of the Treasury: betrothals. Also, the limitations of religious pluralism were an area of practical concern for one’s life in seventeenth-century German Lutheran society.
These are all cases of conscience, and so the writers of these counsels write with confidence and seriousness. Indeed, a certain degree of seriousness is necessary for a genre of casuistry to exist in the first place, for if the matters discussed were not serious, they would not have been recorded. This attitude of serious contemplation of right faith and behavior is coupled with reverence for God’s institutions. The sacraments, as divinely instituted means of grace, are treated with reverence and even veneration. The counsel-writers likewise treat the offices of princes and pastors and the estate of marriage with honor as offices instituted by God for the good of his people and of the world.
Yet the counsels included in the Treasury also point clearly at the problems experienced by Orthodox Lutherans. The parish system combined with compulsory confession led to many cases of conscience. Personal conflicts and disputes, as well as the specter of war, gave people consternation and caused them to seek expert advice.
For more information on the Treasury, see Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning after the Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Valerius Herberger (1562–1627)

I. Background & Childhood

What Johann Arndt and Heinrich Müller were for northern Germany in the first half of the 17th century, Valerius Herberger of Fraustadt, Greater Poland, was for eastern Germany. His numerous writings (Evangelische und epistolishce Herz-Postille [Evangelical and epistolary Heart Postils], Stoppel-Postille [Gleaning-Postils], Magnalia Dei [The Great Works of God], Trauerbinden [Mourning-Bands], et al.) spread widely over Lutheran Poland and Silesia and into Lausitz.

In Fraustadt, on April 21, 1562, in the old reckoning the day of Fortunatus, and the Tuesday after Jubilate, at about 10 o’ clock in the morning, master furrier Martin Herberger and his wife Anna (née Hoffmann) had a son. On April 23 at holy Baptism he received the name Valerius, his sponsors including Mrs. Ubermann of the Bohemian Church, Matthäus Ressel, the mayor and court bailiff, and Martin Arnold, then headmaster of the school. The Herberger family had previously been numerous in Fraustadt, and some of them even held public offices. Martin Herberger himself, in addition to his inherited trade, was also a corporal fencer and a poet of German who had often won the wreath at the German singing school with his vivacious singing. Not a few of his meistergesänge were still present, and to some degree in print, some time after his death, and many of them dealt with Christ and His miracles, Martin Herberger being a God-fearing man.

As the boy grew up, his parents not only told him about God and kept him at his prayers, but his father himself even became his first teacher in reading and writing, and at the same time in declining and conjugating Latin. On the day when he brought him to school and commended him to the teachers, he first went with him to church and there in the pews instructed him in prayer with bended knees, presenting and commending his son to his faithful God, that He might let him be made into a vessel of His mercy and an instrument of His Church. But while he worked at home, he sang spiritual songs, and especially often, “An Wasserflüßen Babilon” [Beside the Streams of Babylon], so that the boy learned the difficult tune from him and retained it in his memory all his life. This pious father fell terminally ill and died when Valerius was nine years old, on February 8, 1571.

Valerius’ Mother, born around 1538, was a godly woman, and fair of form and gracious. She had received her husband as a twenty year old maiden, lived with him for ten years, and as far as is known, had five children with him. The youngest two died prematurely; after her husband’s death she was left with the others in great distress, yet did not despair… Two years longer she nourished her children with porridge during time of famine, and did not take one farthing from the money that her husband left behind, so that even the guardians were amazed. As her son said of her, she was sparing and ate as little as a nightingale.

Valerius did not remain long with his mother after his father’s death, but her sister Barbara, housewife of the butcher Georg Wenden, took him in when he was ten years old, and provided him for eight years and three months with all that he needed, as if he was her own dear child, and even diligently encouraged him in his school. At the same time, Michael Vetter, an old friend of his father’s, supported him, gave him the first dialectic and rhetoric, and for a while fed him freely at his table. Most tenderly, however, he was cared for by his sponsor, now pastor Martin Arnold, who had dandled him in his childhood. This man became like his second father.

In the end, Martin Arnold also became the cause that Valerius turned to education after he had already  decided to learn a trade on account of his poverty. For the day had already been confirmed when he would be received to become a cobbler, and Arnold had learned of it, and he saw his opportunity as Valerius, as the chief among the students, walked before him. “Valerius,” he said to him,” come see me after school!” When he came, the former took him aside in his study and said, “So, my godson, you want to learn a trade, eh? You thought no one would find out about it? Well, my little finger told me! On Sunday you will let yourself be taken away. No one was to know about it, but God knows your plans. Dear godson, listen now. Your father used to say of you, I’m of the opinion that this son must be educated, even if I have to start begging. When you used to be swaddled, you would raise three fingers up like the Salvator holding the orb of the world. Then your father would say, You’ll see, this one will be a preacher for sure! He will point to the Lord Jesus with his fingers, like John the Baptist. On his deathbed he asked me if I could support you in your studies, for so everything is in God’s hands, I should make sure with hands and feet that you wouldn’t learn any trade; for thus you would be compelled to study. So great was your father’s belief that you would be a learned man. Now he died thinking that you would become an educated man. But because he read in the prophet Daniel, “The teachers shall shine like the brightness of heaven, and they who point to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever,” so he will look around on the Last Day to see where his son is, the great, shining light. Then of all God’s saints you will be hidden in some secret place I know not where, and soiled with worker’s wax. Dear godson, consider it!” Valerius came home to his mother and said, “Now let this or that man learn a trade, but I never will. Am I to stand soiled before my father? That I will not do.”

The fresh plan was as quickly abandoned. On Trinity Sunday, 1579, Valerius blessed his family and…departed in the escort of his godfather Mr. Arnold for Freistadt, Silesia, to its then-famous school, and was assigned room and board with a baker of the city. But God provided something better for him. After a short time at the baker’s, Mr. Petrus Scultetus, city clerk of Freistadt, being unable to sleep, rose early and went for a walk around the market. There he met Mr. Arnold, heard from him that he had brought the young Valerius to Freistadt, and arranged to set him free from the baker and bring him to him to tutor his sons and a close cousin.

In Freistadt, then, Valerius not only did his duty with the boys, whom he had to instruct as their appointed tutor (for able men were made of them), but also applied himself with great diligence [in his studies] especially in the Hebrew language. After three years, his teachers themselves advised him to go on to a higher level, and he departed with a heart full of thanks… An admirable gift from mayor Klose of Freistadt accompanied him to Frankfort on the Oder, where he was enrolled, but did not remain long, instead moving again to Leipzig on June 20, 1582, at the advice of his former teacher Ludovicus. There he spent two years of study supported by generous friends and the Lamprecht Stipend from his hometown… He lodged at the ladies college…but the next year, Dr. Michael Bahrdt, professor of medicine, took him into his house as his famulus and paid for his board in the common hall… One evening, Michael Bahrdt chased him from his books and said, “Stop, stop! The time will come when you will pray with outstretched hands that you might only sleep, and with Psalm 4:9 say, “I will lay me down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.”

Meanwhile, before Valerius could live through his second year in Leipzig, the council of Fraustadt summoned him in writing to the position of the entry-level instructor at their school. Despite the lowliness of the position offered, and despite his great youth, he did not refuse it, but presented himself on the morning of April 9, 1584, to the courthouse of Fraustadt and was inducted into the school by headmaster Caspar Hoffmann. All the while his heart was full of gratitude for this gracious providence of God, and hence made a pledge on the feast of Trinity, 1585, that, every year on that day, he would give alms to the poor in the hospital as a memorial that God had successfully led and blessed his first exodus from his homeland, lifted him from the dust, and allowed him to inherit the seat of honor. The new office found in him an able worker who immediately won great love among both authorities and citizens. No less were the pastors Martin Arnold and Michael Gebhard fond of him, and at their recommendation he made his foray into preaching on Reminiscere Sunday, 1588.

After declining many calls to other places and having persevered in the teaching position for six years, both pastoral positions were vacated at nearly the same time. His dear sponsor and supporter Martin Arnold had been discontinued after a quarrel with the whole council, whose disfavor he had aroused by way of a sermon. Regarding this Valerius said, “He was bitten by the Bad Gospel [so called by Dr. Justus Jonas] on the 23rd Sunday after Trinity (Matt. 22:15–22), but his enemies had all their ill-gotten gains and recompense from that. Whoever abuses such persons lays a hand on the apple of God’s eye.” On the second Sunday after Arnold’s discontinuation, Gebhard also asked for release, having been called to Guhrau. Valerius was elected to this latter’s position, receiving his vocation on January 22, 1590 and examined by superintendent Leonhard Kreuzheim in Liegnitz on February 1. He was ordained to the Lutheran preaching office before the altar on February 3, with the laying-on of hands of five well-respected parish pastors, who publicly prayed over him, “Glory be to God in the highest!” His inaugural sermon on Sexagesima Sunday (Feb. 25) was on Christ’s first sermon in His fatherland Nazareth.

II. Experiences in Home and Office

Now vested in his holy office, Valerius turned his attention toward a suitable helpmeet, which he found in Anna Rüdiger, the daughter of a councilman. She was betrothed to him on May 25, 1590 in the parlor, the very place where he had asked for her hand and on the Friday after the Sunday on which the Gospel includes the words, “Ask, and it will be given you.” [John 16:23, i.e., Rogate Sunday]. On October 8th of the same year the wedding was held. What a choice gift he had received from God in the form of his spouse he tells with the words: “O Lord God, be praised and thanks for the faithful fellow in faith, life, prayer, and sorrow, Anna Rüdiger, a daughter of godly fear and prudence, a living example of true humility, a mirror of a dove’s simplicity, a paradise of domestic happiness.”

The first son that she bore him he named at his holy Baptism Zacharias, because he was to be mindful of the Lord. No doubt he commended him to his Redeemer with fervent petition, for he began nothing without calling on God and Christ, as is visible from his diary… In this diary it was his habit to write a brief prayer in Latin or German for nearly every thing that he experienced. “Under Jesus’ blessing… Jesus, our Refuge, look down… Dispel danger, O Jesus… Jesus, grant Your escort on the way to the Imperial diet… Jesus, be our Jesus.” Such invocations could be read in the diary for every civic and domestic occasion which he recorded. But where he noted a particular benefit of God’s that he had met with, one might find joyful jubilations such as this one: “Jesus, to You be glory! Jesus, You Knight St. George, be praised forever! Glory be to God in the highest! All glory, laud and honor be to You, O King Christ, our Savior.” Indeed, when he hired “a simple servant,” it was with this prayer, “O Lord Jesus, who rule in every heart, govern us with Your holy Spirit, that this change to my house may redound to blessing!”

At the Baptism of his second son, Valerian, in whose name the names of both father and mother were joined, the three sponsors included a very notable man, Leonhard Kreuzheim, born in Iphof in the bishopric of Würzburg, raised in the papacy, and then brought into the Lutheran Church at the school of Kitzingen on the Main. He had received his higher education Nuremberg, and at the University of Wittenberg he was as faitfhul a devotee of Melanchthon as he was admired by him. Forty years in all he had served in Liegnitz as capellan, court preacher, parish pastor of the Church of Our Lady, as well as superintendent, but was released in the year 1593 after an extensive investigation uncovered a tendency toward Calvinism. The religious talks in Thorn [Torun] (1595) had so embittered the Catholics that from that point on they began reclaiming one church after another in Poland and allowed no more dissidents in the Imperial diet. Then famine ensued, during which the Fraustadters went to Breslau to get grain. Finally, Fraustadt was devastated by terrible fire. 

On the morning of the Second Sunday in Advent, 1598, Valerius, in his sermon, discussed, among other things, of the custom of Fraustadters, whenever a fire appeared anywhere, to toll the fire bell that hung on the courthouse tower. This he applied to the fire that would on the Last Day come upon the souls of the ungodly, and thereby heartily exhorted, “to carry both eyes as water-pail” “When I came to these words,” he himself said later,”there escaped me above all thoughts these words: What are the fiery beams which have now become so frequently seen? Answer: They are our Lord God’s fire bells. Fire, fire, fire is here, O Fraustadters! When will it come? At midnight. Who said so? The Lord Jesus (Matt. 25:6). At midnight the Bridegroom came. At these words I was greatly terrified, and I myself was very startled at this along with you. What happened? Right away the following evening, precisely at midnight, no less, a fire rose up which burned three whole quarters of the city, just as I had pronounced the word fire three times, so that many of you soon asked me in regard as the fire burned, who had revealed it to me before. Dear hearts! this is a gripping sign of God’s presence in what He ordains. I never thought about this misfortune, but God compelled my mouth to speak thus. Oh, do not cast to the wind what your minister shares with you out of a good heart.”

Valerius stood in the market by the courthouse and prayed unceasingly during the fire. “The earnest Man of heaven, Jesus Christ,” he reported of it, “held a fiery advent on the night of the Second Sunday of Advent. He came to us and kindled half the city, and wrestled with us from midnight until break of day, so that sparks of fire rose in the sky so that it could have been seen over ten miles away and farther. Then Jesus acted as if He were our foe and wanted to destroy us; we had to wrestle, pray, mourn, and cry out the whole night. It seemed as if all were lost and in vain; we would have to perish and be buried in ash. We might have had to pray and wrestle to death. But the faithful Man of heaven, Jesus, did not make Himself too strong for us, but let Himself be overcome and over-prayed. When day broke, He blessed us and answered us, and gave us to see that He would leave half the city remaining, and the sun rose upon us. The adversity ceased. Thus Fraustadt is also justly called Peniel, for we too have seen God in His earnest works and our soul was preserved. We too are Israelites, for we have struggled and been opposed by Jesus Christ, God and Man. Blessed be You, O Lord Jesus! Help us in all troubles to hold firmly to You and not to let go until You bless us! Amen! Amen!” The next Sunday in his sermon he touched on Taberah (Num. 11:1), contemplating what the true kindling is that can cause and kindle such a holocaust of flames, what is that man’s name who scatters the fuel and sparks the flint, what kind of misery is the distress of fire, how fire may be dispelled or what is the best water to extinguish both temporal and eternal fire, and how the burnt ruins should be noted and given names to serve as memorials for remembrance and repentance.

Soon after this fire, Valerius committed his friend Kreuzheim to eternal rest. … Valerius gave the funeral sermon on the words of Paul: “Christ is my life,” etc., according to which Kreuzheim himself had written a hymn, formerly well known in Fraustadt, the first line of which runs:
My life ebbs out with haste,
Flies as an arrow chased,
Yea, withers even as a flowr
By biting breezes blown,
Soon, soon, it will be gone.
Three years after that Valerius buried his second son. This child, with his active spirit and early signs of piety, had given his parents great joy. Every day he would conclude their table-prayer with the words:
Dearest Jesus, Light of all, Life, salvation, comfort true:
Grant us all to perish not, nor the flames of hell to view!
Then he would thank his parents while giving them his hands, saying: “Blessed be the Lord our God!” When he was deep in thought, he always wrote with his finger in the earth. When he was deathly ill, said his father, he never stopped kissing both his hands in his anguish and stretching them up to heaven, saying: “O sweetest Jesus! Oh, please come! I really want to go up. Where have You hidden Yourself here? Please show Yourself! Help me! Please redeem me!” and gave the answer himself, “Yea, indeed, I will bring redemption.” After his anguish, he saw a beautiful angel, and pointed at where it was sitting. When his father asked him whether it desired almonds or sugar, he said, “No, only Jesus.” Then his mother said, “Dear boy, don’t you want to stay with me?” He said, “No, I must go to my Lord.”

Besides instruction in the public school, Valerius also lodged a notable amanuensis and tutor, Johannes Heermann, who later became one of the most famous hymn-writers of the Lutheran Church. Heermann came from the little town of Raudten in Lower Silesia and, like Herberger, he had had an honest, pious furrier for a father. He came to Fraustadt in 1602 through the recommendation of the cantor Balthasar Thilo. At the time the school was headed by an able scholar, rector Brachmann, and it was by him that Heermann’s fine poetic talent was awakened. Things went particularly well for the young man in Herberger’s house, and Herberger loved the young man as his own child, entrusting to him the supervision of his son Zacharias. Herberger availed himself of him in his labors and writings like his own right hand. In Heermann’s works one cannot miss the strong influence which he recieved from Herberger’s deep, spiritual, and God-fearing personality. At Herberger’s recommendation Heermann left Fraustadt suddenly in 1603 to further his education in Breslau.*

III. Trials with Church and Plague

Ten days after Kreuzheim’s burial, Valerius received from the council his official call to the pastorate, and in that new dignity on New Year’s Day, 1599, before a very large gathering, gave his first sermon on the sweet name of Jesus. When not long afterwards the church was entrusted to him and the newly elected deacon by the whole council, he wrote the following prayer in his churchbook: “O Christ Jesus, be Yourself the preacher! We will willingly and gladly lend our mouth and tongue to You. Amen.” For three years he peacefully attended to his duties in this church, the proper parish church of that region. On New Year’s night of the fourth year, however, he had a remarkable dream. It seemed he was in the church and heard the words “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich” [Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy, Lord] being sung. Immediately he saw, to his great shock, the entire organ loft full of monks, and then again, himself transported to a very beautiful house, which was however entirely empty. And in the same year, and the next (1603), the attempt of the Catholics to recapture this church was ever more pressing, although they themselves had no need of it, since there were few of them and they already had the church of the Fransciscan cloister. Valerius, then, warned his congregation publicly to implore for deliverance from this distress. And when a commission was marshalled for the reclaiming of the church, he gave a special sermon from the 83rd Psalm: “Do not thus silence Yourself, O God, and be not so mute.” At the conclusion, he called, “Come, dear children, let us build a hedge round about this church. Help me pray!” With this he prayed a fervent and forceful prayer which remains today, and afterwards he himself remarked, “Thanks and praise to God, the wall was Jesus,” for the commission retreated entirely.

Nevertheless, after the middle of the following year there appeared a royal edict for the eviction of the church, and with effort the city obtained a three-month period in which secure and equip an alternate location for worship, for the edict only requested the church building, while the free practice of worship had not been restrained. Without delay two houses at the Polish Gate were chosen, purchased, and fitted out, while four appointees from the congregation collected substantial donations and effectively dissolved the costs of the entire building. On December 24, 1604, the first mass was read in the parish church, while on the same day the Lutherans festively entered their new house of prayer and spent day and night clearing it completely, breaking down the inner walls, and festooning it here and there with carpets and lamps. On the morning of the 25th, the first Christmas Eve service was able to be celebrated in it. During the whole hallowed day there was great grief among the congregation; numerous tears were shed, and Valerius had enough to do to console them, and had to put on a happier face than he himself felt in his heart. In his first sermon there, too, he gave the new church building its name. “Let this church building,” he said, “in honor of Jesus Christ be named Praesepe Domini, or ‘Christ’s Manger.’ If Jesus has no room in the inn, at least He has room in the manger.” And as soon as he had pronounced this, he, along with the whole great assembly, knelt down and consecrated the house with a powerful “Our Father,” whose petitions he related to the feast with interpolations.

Ten years later (1613) the plague came to Fraustadt just as it was gathering fearsome strength. Whoever could flee did so, taking refuge in nearby gardens and villages and more remote quarters. In the first nine weeks 740 men were taken, and 2,135 total when all was said and done. Valerius sent his own family away, but he himself stayed behind, and no doubt helped to commit half the bodies, though he himself was untouched by the sickness. He said, “In 1613, soon after Pentecost, the gruesome pestilence interrupted this work [the Magnalia Dei]. Then, seeing death before me every moment, I had to direct myself to other thoughts, and to create my pestilence pills, and to look for a tested spiritual antidote in the Bible. In this terrible plague, my Lord Jesus so preserved me and my whole household that not the least misfortune encountered us. It was as though an angel with a drawn sword had encamped round about my house so that no affliction could touch it.”

Under this divine protection, Valerius worked as a faithful helper for soul and body. His faith kept him far from fear and disgust. His own family he soon brought back to be with him, and dwelt with him at times in the garden, at times in nearby Oberpritschen, at times (during the last month of the plague) in his house in the city. When during the common misery no one could think about work and pay, he went around the neighborhood and procured collections and divided the harvest among the poor. Also he went out diligently from Oberpritschen into the city and visited the sick. At very least he would go up to the windows of houses and call to the people comforting sayings. Many a corpse did he bury all alone with only the gravedigger: he at the lead, singing; the gravedigger behind him, hauling the corpses on a wagon fitted with a bell so that people would stay in their houses. During this his consolation was: “Whoever has God in his heart, a good prayer in continual supply, a regular call on his conscience and does not impudently run off where neither duty nor neighbor’s welfare call him—he has a strong escort, so that no plague shall come nigh him.” Nevertheless, every hour he thought of the close peril of death, and composed in one such blessed hour his one hymn, “Valet will ich dir geben” [Farewell I Gladly Bid Thee], the stanzas of which form an acrostic on his first name. During the first three weeks he celebrated daily public Communion with the deacon Timothäus, that everyone might be ready and reconciled to God, and every Sunday he strengthened the congregation in public worship with a prayer which he recited before them. At last on November 12, 1613, a subsiding of the epidemic was recognized, and on Septuagesima Sunday of the following year he celebrated a festival of thanksgiving. For the basis of his sermon Valerius used Psalm 107[:1], “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is gracious, and His mercy endures forever.” It is remarkable that among those who were left alive, besides the two Lutheran clergymen and the majority of school-teachers, the congregation, and those who cared for the poor, there was also the faithful surgeon and pharmacist, Dr. Vechner. Some of the funeral orations that Herberger gave in the time of the plague are still available; they are all titled “Beneath the Lord’s Rod.”

IV. Vocation, Fatherhood, & Death

Because of his great faithfulness to his office, yet especially because of his free and powerful proclamation of the gospel, Valerius was already considered far and wide a man of apostolic spirit out of whose mouth truth flowed in mighty torrents. There was almost no area around Fraustadt where he had not preached and given funeral orations, as much in Poland as in Silesia, for he was often requested by other congregations. Even farther than this, however, did the fame of his splendid writings reach. He had begun early on to write both smaller and larger works, and all were so eagerly devoured that the printings were insufficient and one new edition after the other had to be made. Who can say how many hearts he turned to his Redeemer through these? It will be evident on that Day when faithful teachers will shine like the brightness of heaven. Still today [in 1860] these books are frequently found around Fraustadt, in Guhrau and the area of Glogau, and still the God-fearing countryman finds edification in them during his Sunday and Festival rest. In Herbergers own time they received great acclaim among both learned and unlearned, among the fellows of his own faith and those of other confessions. “Herberger,” said one contemporary, “with his more-than-golden Magnalia Dei has done a magnificent service to the orthodox Church, and he has more cause to say regarding Jesus (as Ovid said of his verses): All that I dared to speak I spoke of Jesus.” Another held that he would do Herberger no dishonor to call him a Jesuit, and wrote thus to him: “Hail thee, holy Jesuit, who art highly prolific for the Church of the Lord Jesus!” One clergyman from the area of Worms reported to him that he had found his Heart-Postils with a citizen of the Reformed confession who had been recommended them by his pastor, and the citizen valued them so highly that he would never let them out of his house even for a short time. One notable member of the nobility under the bishop of Neisse found Valerius’ Mourning-Bands lying on the table of a Catholic priest, and said to him, “Sir, what are you doing with this Lutheran book?” The priest answered, “It is good for dipping into.” His writings were valued and read by the court of the prince of Anhalt-Dessau, by the Baroness of Promnitz upon Sorau, by the duchess of Oels, and especially by Princess Anna of Sweden, who resided in Prussian Strasburg [= Brodnica]. She first became acquainted with him and favorable toward him (without his knowing) through his Passionzeiger [Passion-Clock] of Jesus Christ, divided into twenty-four hours. From that time on she put her confidence in him, asked him for spiritual counsel, gave him important commissions, received the dedication of several of his writings, provided him with medical supplies during the distress of the plague, and made rich presents to him and the poor of Fraustadt. Even a notable merchant from Augsburg, Matthäus Hopffer, came to Fraustadt, not because he had business to do there, but simply because he wished to see Christ’s Manger and the little study where the beautiful “Jesus-booklets” had been made, and at the same time, of course, to meet Mr. Valerius. He arrived on the first Sunday of Advent, 1618, out of sincere love, something like the wise men from the east when they sought Jesus and honored Him with gold; for Valerius declared of him, “He acted with golden honor as much toward Christ’s Manger as toward myself and my family.”

As a result of this beautiful praise, Valerius received calls to Breslau, Liegnitz, and Roppau, in respectable spiritual offices, but he steadfastly turned them down. The congregation of Fraustadt had, through love and loss, become too valuable to him. A father’s joys also chained him to this spot. In the last days of 1614, God had taken his dearest friend, the pious Timothäus from his side. Although he had been directed to the idea by two noteworthy dreams, he tacitly considered his own son who at the time was near to completing his theological studies in Leipzig, but suggested to the council a certain harshly persecuted pastor in Posen who was a native of Fraustadt. The congregation, however, voted unanimously for Zacharias and would hear of no other. He was thus ordained in Leipzig and on the 20th of March, 1615, gave his first sermon on the words of Jeremiah: “Oh Lord, I am unfit to preach, for I am too young.” Three years later, Valerius’ first grandson was born, also named Valerius. The grandfather’s heart was rejuvenated and the father’s heart rejoiced greatly in this child. They indicated every important event of his young life by pious exhortations… “O Lord Jesus! Your grace sustain him! The Lord Jesus be praised forever!” they used to say upon such occasions.

Such joys were part of the spices which God gave his faithful minister in the midst of much sorrow. The Thirty Years’ War had begun, and in addition to other distress, brought wild Cossack hordes into the area of Fraustadt (1622), to fill it for months with the most shameful horrors. On one occasion, Herberger’s life was saved just in time by the warning of a certain captain. Poland had entered a war with the Turks, King Sigismund had set his whole nobility against them, the people were in great grief about the outcome of the war, and Valerius himself, by means of fervent prayers, strove alongside those who fought for Christendom.

All these tribulations were scarcely overcome when Valerius perceived the first intimation that his departure from the world was nigh. In 1623, on the eve of the 19th Sunday after Trinity, unexpectedly suffering a stroke, he nevertheless retained his speech unaffected and was in condition the next morning to deliver his sermon. In a mild jest he would say of that incident, “God be praised, He was acting out with me the Gospel of the palsied man,” and was comforted and looked forward to the future—for so it is a natural fruit of grace that he who has believed also longs to behold. In the closing of the dedication of his Psalterparadies [Psalter-Paradise] to the princess Anna (1623), it reads, “Valerius Herberger, who longs from his heart for the words of Jesus, ‘Today you will be with Me in paradise.’” Soon, more harbingers of this verse arrived. After Easter, 1626, he came down with a very severe, fiery fever and did not recover until the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Although he was preserved through its duration, his strength waned from day to day. Thus he concludes the third part of his Psalter-Paradise: “My powers are greatly diminished. I walk around like a decrepit, shaking house that will soon collapse. I tremble like a limp reed. O Lord Christ, help my weakness! Howbeit if I, an aged 65-year-old father, must go to sleep, let my last words be, “ Take me up, O Lord, in Your strength, and I will sing in heaven and praise Your might. Amen.” Despite such weakness he labored on with his Psalter-Paradise, reaching the noteworthy words of the 23rd Psalm, “He restores my soul, he leads me on straight paths for His name’s sake.” Finding opportunity to finish his sermon on this portion, nevertheless he completed only a rough draft of the following verse: “Though I walk through the dark valley, I fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and staff comfort me.” On Invocavit Sunday, February 21, 1627, after delivering his office sermon, Valerius suffered a second stroke. Against his doctor’s advice he returned to church to deliver a funeral sermon based on Abraham’s words (Gen. 18), “Oh behold, I have overcome to speak with the Lord, though I am dust and ashes.” It was his last sermon. He is supposed to have delivered it with uncommon sighs, as if it were also a funeral oration, and he closed with the words, “Adieu, poor dust and ashes, farewell! And now, O Jesus mine, receive me. I too am that which Abaraham is; I long for rest. To Thee, O Lord, do I commend my spirit.”—The same day, the sickness fixed him so firmly in bed that he was not able to submit the already completed outline for his sermon on Psalm 23:4. A highly taxing chest-pain and a vigorous swelling in his legs accompanied and consumed his final drops of life. Twelve weeks long he bore these afflictions with untiring patience as he felt the proximity of his Redeemer, whose name he repeated incessantly, crying the words, “O Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; O Jesus, be my Jesus!” This was the only lament, if one may call it that, that escaped his mouth. After making arrangements for his earthly household, he fell to soft and gentle slumber on May 18, 1627, the Tuesday after Exaudi, at midnight, just as the clock struck twelve, and without  the least discomposure, at an age of 65 years, 3 weeks, and 6 days. For eight days his body was left above the earth, presumably to allow for a last viewing for all the mourners during Whitsuntide. He was not buried until the Wednesday after the Feast (May 26th), and then borne with a plentiful company to his resting place. Valentin Preibisch, pastor of the Lutheran church in Glogau, delivered his funeral oration on Luke 10:20, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Whenever Valerius had been in Glogau, he had begged his friend to do this and received the assurance that it would happen if it be God’s will. Valerius himself had chosen the text and arranged the details: Preibisch was to present who the Writer was who wrote [his name] in heaven, what the ink was, what the pen was, what the book was in which God wrote, and what kind of script it was. Of Herberger himself Preibisch was not extol anything except that he had sincerely loved his Lord Jesus, faithfully presented Him to his listeners, and had a blessed death. After he died, his widow and son renewed his prayer in writing. Preibisch affirmed with all truthfulness that his friend had found his greatest pleasure in the Lord Jesus and had begun, continued, and ended all his sermons, all his books, and all his works and plans with Him, so that what Fortunatus declared of Bishop Martin: “A man for whom Jesus was his love, Jesus his fear, and Jesus his all,” could be said of him also. However, after Preibisch had conducted every part according to the prescription, he made an edifying application to the hearts and lives of his hearers and ended with the beautiful words of comfort from the last stanza of Valerius Herberger’s hymn:
Securely may I find me
Writ in Your book of life!
Within that bundle bind me
Of victors in the strife,
Of those who dwell before You,
And there Your glory bless!
Then shall I e’er adore You
For all You faithfulness.
Valerius’ remains were not buried in Christ’s Manger. He had always requested that he not be buried anywhere else than in that place where, in the general resurrection, he might be able to go out before and among his sheep to meet his Savior. He was therefore buried in the common Lutheran cemetary—in the middle, though his gravestone was set in the wall. This was because the irreconcilable hatred of his opponents among the Catholics was well known, for they never called him anything but “Little Luther,” and hence it was feared that the rest of his mortal remains might be disturbed. The gravestone contained this inscription in Latin:

Valerius Herberger,
A man to whom
Jesus was his love,
Jesus his fear,
Jesus his all,
has here awaited
Jesus’ return
Since the year 1627,
May 18,
after his 66th year of life
had been begun.
Luke 10. — Jesus says,
“Rejoice that your names
are written in heaven.”

As a host I have constantly received Jesus as a guest;
Now He is my host in the city of harborage [Herbergsstadt].
In Him alone my salvation comes.
You know, Lord Jesus,
That I love, have loved, and shall love You.

(Source:Valerius Herberger (pamphlet); Berlin: Hauptverein für christliche Erbauungsschriften, 1860; trans. / abridged by Matthew Carver, 2010–11.  *Section drawn from Ledderhose, Leben Valerius Herbergers…  Bielefeld: Velhagen und Klasing, 1851, p. 24.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Johann Gerhard (1582–1637)

Johann Gerhard was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who lived about 100 years after Martin Luther. He was born in 1582, just two years after the last Lutheran confession, the Formula of Concord, had been published. He was always an excellent student in school and university, and after pursuing medicine for a while, he decided to study theology and become a pastor. In 1606, the year before Captain John Smith established Jamestown, Virginia, Gerhard received his first call—a call to be a pastor and superintendent of 26 parishes, and a lecturer at a high school. He was in his mid-twenties. Just by considering his first call, it’s obvious that his contemporaries thought very highly of the gifts God had given Gerhard. Before he was 30, he had become a doctor of theology and had published several books. In his mid-thirties he was called to be a professor of theology at the German city of Jena, and there he spent the next 21 years, until his death. His first wife, Barbara, died after only three years of marriage, when he was 29. Three years later he married Maria Mattenberger, and lived happily with her for the rest of his life. The couple had ten children, four of whom died in early childhood, as was so common in those times.

Gerhard’s writings built up the church and Christian believers, and also defended it against attacks. His works that built up the church include his Sacred Meditations, Meditations on Divine Mercy, School of Piety, his Aphorisms, his Bible commentaries, and his many sermons, but most of all his work on the first great Lutheran study Bible, the Weimar Bible of 1640. His works that defended the church against attacks include the Theological Commonplaces and the book called The Catholic Confession.

But Gerhard’s life was not just the happy life of a writer or teacher. In 1618, war broke out across Germany, a war which would continue off and on for thirty years. This Thirty Years War was especially fought between the Roman Catholic “Holy Roman Emperor” and the Lutheran Swedes, led by Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, who did not always treat the German Lutherans any better than the emperor’s army did. Because Gerhard had been so successful in defending Lutheran teaching against the Roman Catholic Church, the emperor’s soldiers plotted to kidnap Gerhard in 1531 and bring him to Rome for trial. Yet God preserved Gerhard from their plot. On the other hand, the Swedes were angry with Gerhard because of he had been advising peace with the emperor, and so Gerhard had to face the threat of imprisonment from them, too. In 1536 the Swedish army plundered Gerhard’s estate and burned his house and farm buildings. Then in 1537 the city of Jena was raided and plundered.

That year, the year Gerhard died, he wrote to his friend Salomon Glassius, telling him about the savagery of the soldiers: “But I am enduring all these things patiently and say along with Job: ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ He Himself, nevertheless, will look out for me and my household with the assistance necessary for life, for I see that my finish line is near.”[1] On August 12, 1637, the 54-year-old Gerhard became very ill, and he knew his death was approaching. In the next few days he spoke to friends and family, confessing the same faith that he had written throughout his life and making arrangements for his family and the university for after his death. Two days before his death he confessed his sins to his pastor, Adrian Beyer, and received private absolution and the Lord’s Supper from him. After receiving Christ’s Body and Blood he sang the common Lutheran communion hymn, “O Lord We Praise Thee, bless Thee and adore Thee.” Right after this, he arranged for money to be given to the poor people of his city, so that they could have a meal. The next two days he fell speechless, lost his eyesight, and most of his hearing. Yet shortly before giving up his spirit, on August 17, he uttered the words, “Come, come, Lord, come.”

(Source: Erdmann Rudolph Fischer, The Life of John Gerhard, trans. Richard J. Dinda and Elmer Hohle [Malone, TX: Repristination, 2001].)