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,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:
Flies as an arrow chased,
Yea, withers even as a flowr
By biting breezes blown,
Soon, soon, it will be gone.
Dearest Jesus, Light of all, Life, salvation, comfort true: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.”
Grant us all to perish not, nor the flames of hell to view!
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:
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:
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.
A man to whom
Jesus was his love,
Jesus his fear,
Jesus his all,
has here awaited
Since the year 1627,
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;
A man to whom
Jesus was his love,
Jesus his fear,
Jesus his all,
has here awaited
Since the year 1627,
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.)