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Philip Jacob Spener

Its founder was Philip Jacob Spener, who was born in 1635 in a little village of Alsace. His parents were pious persons, who dedicated their little son from his birth to the ministry, and rejoiced to see that even as a child he showed signs of unusual seriousness. He seems indeed through life to have possessed one of those sweet and harmonious characters which, when strengthened and ennobled by an 261 earnest religion, pass untouched through temptation, and attract affection and admiration from all sides. As a child, it is said those who had charge of him could not remember that he ever committed any actual fault; once, at the age of thirteen, he joined in a dance, but remorse for what he thought a worldly compliance made him rush away from it in tears of bitter sorrow. He went through school and more than one university with distinction, and blameless as to the ordinary errors of youth; travelled for some years; was tutor to two princes of the Palatinate; then took orders, married, and was appointed, at the age of thirty-one, first preacher and pastor of Frankfort-on-the-Maine. Here his sermons, so unlike the dry controversial disquisitions stuffed with Greek and Latin quotations which the people were accustomed to hear, soon drew crowds to his church, and many persons came to him in private for further counsel. Thus grew up certain meetings for conversation on religious subjects, which afterwards became celebrated under the name of "collegia pietatis." They were held at first in his house, and when the numbers became too great, in his church; both men and women were present, but as a rule the men only spoke. He also wrote a book on the necessity of a complete reformation in the Church, which excited great attention; and he took up warmly the cause of education, especially of the very lowest classes. For twenty years he laboured in Frankfort, doing much good, but virulently attacked by the old orthodox party, who saw no use in these new lights, and wished to expel him from the Church; and not a little, embarrassed at times by the zeal 262 of some of his own converts, who began to declare that the Lutheran Church was Babylon, and it was a duty to come out of her. About this time, in 1686, the Elector of Saxony, who in passing through Frankfort had heard him preach, invited him to accept the post of first preacher to the Court at Dresden, a place which was then considered to be the highest dignity in the whole Lutheran Church, and carried with it great influence on ecclesiastical affairs in general. Spener accepted it, and at once began to enlarge his sphere of labour. Besides his directly pastoral duties, he now received into his house a number of young men who wished to become clergymen, one of whom, August Herrmann Franke, was in after years his own chief coadjutor and successor in the new movement. He also carried through various reforms in the Church and education which he had much at heart, among others, that the study of the Scriptures in the original languages should be made an imperative part of the theological course at the University of Leipsic. Of course all this energy raised up enemies as well as friends, but for some time the Elector and the mass of the people were in his favour, and nothing could be done against him. Ere long, however, he himself destroyed his favour with the Elector by addressing to him a private but very earnest remonstrance against one of his personal vices, that of intoxication. The Elector was enraged; Spener's enemies of course represented that he was wanting in loyalty and proper respect, and he was obliged to resign. He was next, in 1689, invited to occupy the church at Berlin where Paul Gerhardt had preached, and the remainder of his life was spent 263 in that city. The Elector (son of the great Elector and afterwards King of Prussia) was his friend, and, when in 1694 he founded a new university at Halle, he appointed to its faculty of theology the pupils and friends whom Spener recommended to him. Spener's influence had now spread over a wide extent of Germany. He had raised up a whole school of energetic men, who were carrying out his ideas in the pulpit, in the new university, and in schemes of active benevolence such as had been hitherto unknown. In Halle, Franke was establishing the first Orphan-house; in Berlin, Baron von Canstein was setting on foot the first Bible Society. Throughout Germany people applied to him for advice or assistance, so that he received more than six hundred letters in a year asking for spiritual counsel, besides all the personal visits for a similar purpose which were of daily occurrence. Acute, gentle, dignified, quick in reading character, and ready in sympathy, he seems to have been remarkably fitted for this position of a sort of universal confessor, and numbers of persons whom he had never seen were earnest in their expressions of gratitude to him for his aid. He had a gentle, clever wife and eleven children, and his house was then considered to be the model of an orderly, cheerful, Christian household. It was not till he was close on seventy that his strength gave way, and after a short illness he died in 1705.

[Spener wrote eleven hymns, including "Shall I o'er the future fret."]

Of his immediate disciples, the most noted were Franke, Joachim Lange, and Breithaupt: the first as a spiritual teacher and leader; the second as the most learned representative of the order, and its champion in the controversies of the day; the third as a hard-working 264 working professor of theology among the students of Halle.

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