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HYMN-WRITERS OF THE PIETIST SCHOOL

Spiritual revivals in the Christian Church have always been accompanied by an outburst of song. This was true of the Reformation, which witnessed the birth of the Lutheran Church, and it was also characteristic of the Pietistic movement, which infused new life and fervor into that communion. The Pietistic revival, which in many respects was similar to the Puritan and Wesleyan movements in England, had its inception in Germany in the latter part of the 17th century and continued during the first half of the 18th century. It quickly spread to other Lutheran countries, particularly Scandinavia, and its influence has been felt even to the present time.

The leader of the movement was Philipp Jacob Spener, pastor of St. Nicolai Church, in Berlin. Spener, although a loyal and zealous son of the Lutheran Church, was not blind to the formalism and dead orthodoxy which had overtaken it following the Thirty Years’ War and which threatened to dry up the streams of spiritual life. To stimulate spiritual endeavor and personal piety, Spener and his followers organized Bible study groups. They also encouraged private assemblies for mutual edification. These were known as collegia pietatis, which gave rise to the name, “Pietists.”

August Hermann Francke, the foremost disciple of Spener, succeeded the latter as leader of the movement. The University of Halle, where Francke was called as professor in 1691, became the center of Pietism. Here Francke laid 104 the foundations for the remarkable philanthropic and educational institutions that made his name known throughout the Christian world. It began in 1695 when the great-hearted man opened a room in his own house for the instruction of poor children. Within a few years he had established his great orphanage, a high school, and a home for destitute students. The orphans’ home was erected on a site where there had been a beer and dancing garden.

When Francke began he had no money, nor did he receive any support from the state, but as the marvelous work progressed funds poured in from all quarters. In the year of his death, 1727, more than 2,000 children were receiving care and instruction from 170 teachers. Altogether, some 6,000 graduates of theology left Halle during Francke’s career, “men imbued with his spirit, good exegetes, and devoted pastors, who spread their doctrines all over Germany, and in the early decades of the 18th century occupied a majority of the pulpits.”

Halle also became the cradle of the modern missionary movement. From this place, in 1705, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Henry Plütschau, were sent forth as the first missionaries to India, nearly a century before William Carey left England for the same field. At Halle the youthful Count von Zinzendorf became a pupil under Francke and received the inspiration that in later years led to the establishment of the far-reaching missions of the Moravians. To Halle the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, came in 1738, shortly after his conversion in London, in order to become more familiar with the teachings of Luther and the Pietists.

The secret of the marvelous success of Francke’s efforts may be read in the simple inscription on the monument 105 erected to his memory in front of the famous orphanage at Halle. It reads: “He trusted in God.”

Neither Francke nor Spener were hymn-writers of note, although each composed a few songs. The Pietist movement, however, gave birth to a great revival in hymnody in Germany, both in Lutheran and Reformed circles. At Halle it was Johann Anastasius Freylinghausen who not only became the representative hymnist of the Pietists, but also succeeded Francke as head of the great Halle institutions.

Freylinghausen was a student at the University of Jena when he first heard the preaching of Francke. Shortly afterward he followed him to Halle, and in 1695 became Francke’s colleague. He preached at vesper services, conducted midweek meetings, taught classes in the orphanage school, and delivered lectures on homiletics. He served without salary for ten years, since Francke was obliged to use all his income for the support of his institutions of mercy. In 1715 Freylinghausen married Francke’s only daughter. At her baptism as an infant he had been her sponsor, and she had received his name, Johanna Anastasia. It was after Francke’s death in 1727 that the Halle institutions reached their highest development under the direction of Freylinghausen. When the latter died in 1739, he was buried beside his beloved friend.

Freylinghausen’s “Geistreiches Gesangbuch” became the standard hymn-book of the Pietistic movement. The first edition appeared in 1704 and contained 683 hymns. A second hymn-book was published in 1714, containing 815 additional hymns. The two collections were combined in 1741 by G. A. Francke and published as one hymn-book, containing 1,582 hymns and 600 tunes. Freylinghausen was the 106 author of forty-four of these hymns, and is also said to have composed some of the melodies.

The hymns of Freylinghausen are the most worthy of all those produced by the Pietistic school. They are marked by genuine piety, depth of feeling, rich Christian experience, and faithfulness in Scriptural expression. The tunes employed, however, were often a distinct departure from the traditional Lutheran chorales, and were not always suited to congregational worship. Freylinghausen’s most famous hymn, “O Jesus, Source of calm repose,” was greatly admired by John Wesley, who translated it into English in 1737. The so-called “Jesus hymns,” which reached their greatest development among the Pietists, find their sweetest expression in Freylinghausen’s:

Who is there like Thee,

Jesus, unto me?

None is like Thee, none above Thee,

Thou art altogether lovely;

None on earth have we,

None in heaven like Thee.

It is not strange that from Halle, from whence such mighty missionary influences flowed, should also go forth the first Protestant missionary hymn. It was in 1750 that Karl Heinrich von Bogatzky, while working among the orphans of the Franckean institutions, wrote his famous hymn, “Awake, thou Spirit, who didst fire.”

Bogatzky, who came from a noble Hungarian family, was disowned by his father when he chose to enroll as a theological student at Halle rather than to prepare for a career as an army officer. His health failed him, however, and he was unable to enter the ministry. For many years 107 he devoted himself to hymn-writing and devotional literature. He also traveled as a lay preacher. Because of his noble birth he was able to exert a considerable influence in the higher circles of German society. From 1746 to his death in 1774, he lived at the Halle orphanage. He was the author of some 411 hymns, but few of them possess the poetic and spiritual fire of his missionary hymn. Two of its glorious stanzas read:

Awake, Thou Spirit, who didst fire

The watchmen of the Church’s youth,

Who faced the foe’s envenomed ire,

Who day and night declared Thy truth,

Whose voices loud are ringing still,

And bringing hosts to know Thy will.

O haste to help, ere we are lost!

Send preachers forth, in spirit strong,

Armed with Thy Word, a dauntless host,

Bold to attack the rule of wrong;

Let them the earth for Thee reclaim,

Thy heritage, to know Thy Name.

Johann Jacob Rambach was another important hymn-writer of this period. The son of a cabinet maker of Halle, young Rambach attended the free school established by Francke and came under the direct influence of the great Pietist leader.

Like many a youth, however, he felt that his education was complete at the age of thirteen years, at which time he left school to work in his father’s shop. The Lord, on the other hand, seems to have had other plans for the lad, and it was not long before young Rambach suffered a dislocated ankle. Confined to his bed for several weeks, he again turned to 108 his books, and, before he had recovered, the desire to resume his studies took possession of him.

Rambach eventually became one of the outstanding theologians of Halle, as well as preacher at the school church. In 1731 he removed to Giessen to become superintendent and first professor of theology. Here he found conditions vastly different from those at Halle. He was particularly grieved over the fact that his preaching did not seem to bear fruit. Often his efforts to bring about healthier spiritual conditions met with opposition and scoffing on the part of his adversaries. He died in 1735 at the early age of forty-two years—from intense sorrow over the spiritual indifference of his flock, so it has been said.

Rambach wrote many splendid hymns, among them the confirmation hymn, “Baptized into Thy Name most holy.” His fame rests principally on his work as a hymnologist, however. During his life-time he published a number of collections from all sources. These hymns were chosen with fine discrimination, and Rambach was the first hymn editor to make a distinction between hymns for congregational worship and those particularly suited for private devotion.

The beautiful Advent hymn, “Rejoice, all ye believers,” as well as the Epiphany hymn, “O Saviour of our race,” also date from the Pietistic period. Both hymns apparently were written in 1700 by Laurentius Laurentii, cantor and director of music in the Lutheran cathedral at Bremen. Laurentii was not only a splendid musician, but also a hymn-writer of high order, and no less than thirty-four of his hymns were included in the Freylinghausen collections.

Other hymnists of the Pietistic school include Christian Scriver, writer of the famous devotional book, “Seelenschatz;” 109 Gottfried Arnold, a noted church historian; Ernst Gottlieb Woltersdorf, founder of an orphanage at Bunzlau, and Christian Richter, a pious physician and an associate of Francke. Few of their hymns, however, are in common use today.

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