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Theology

For the dying he allays the fear of death; man is but a stranger on earth,103103"Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden" (Goed. 284). and has spent many a day in distress and care; his home is yonder where hosts of angels praise the Mighty Ruler. The sympathetic pastor takes his place with the parents beside the bier of their deceased child.104104"Weint; und weint gleichwol nicht zu sehr" (Goed. 335). He speaks as a father who has lost his son, and he imagines the child in heaven joining the chorus of the angels. But Gerhardt has written very few hymns of death or of penitence. When he does speak of sin and its curse of death with its terrors, he still contrives at once to take from them the sting. The poem beginning "O Tod, O Tod, du greulichs Bild,"105105Goed. 317. bears the title "Freudige Empfahung des Todes," and concludes with the lines:

Was solls denn nun, O Jesu, sein,
Dasz mich der Tod so schrecket?
Hat doch Elisa Todtenbein,
Was todt war, auferwecket:
Viel mehr wirst du, den Trost hab ich,
Zum Leben kräftig rüsten mich;
Drum schlaf ich ein mit Freuden.

In hymnody both before and since Gerhardt there has often been a vivid portrayal of the tortures of hell to terrify the soul. Gerhardt scrupulously avoids this and is therefore able to reduce everything to the simplicity of beauty. Every pain and every punishment in which his poems abound at once lose their bitterness because on them is reflected the sunlight of God's love. Gerhardt towers above his time in that amid all his despondent fellow-men he is always fearless and shows a cheerful heart reliant on God; 26 just because the severe afflictions of his own life cannot break his spirit, he has in his power the cure for others.

The candid reader must admit that there is evident in some passages of Gerhardt's poetry a certain dogmatic constraint, ("Gebundenheit"). The devil107107Cf. "Will Satan mich verschlingen" (Goed. 60, 46); "Dazu kommt des Teufels Lügen" (Goed. 108, 7); also 62, 55; 122, 31; 135, 41; 171, 40; 173, 40; 185, 33; 232, 18; 256, 34; 312, 6; 328, 14. is to him a terrible reality, the Christchild in the manger is the creator108108Cf. "Es wird im Fleisch hier fürgestellt, Der alles schuf und noch erhält;" (Goed. 310, 37-38). of the world, and the problem of the Trinity is dismissed without consideration. The Atonement, too, of the Savior is easily understood on the theory of punishment, while the resurrection109109Cf. Goed. 51. of the flesh is an undeniable truth. But in other respects Gerhardt is far less dogmatic than Luther.


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