« PreviousContinue »
decorons, so deserving, I beseech you, note well that the text does not say a word about you. Yon are not poor, and you are not needy, and you do not think upon the Lord, and the Lord does not think upon you. Why should he?' "The whole have no need of a physician." Christ did not come to call you. He said he came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Shall I tell you that it is your worst calamity that you have such an elevated idea of your own goodness? Whereas you say, we see,” you are blindest of all; and whereas you boast that you are righteous, there is in that self-righteousness of yours the very worst form of sin, for there is no sin that can be greater than that of setting up your own works in competition with the righteousness of Christ. I bear you witness that you have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, for you, being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, go about to establish your own righteousness, and your efforts will end in terrible disappointment. I pray you cast away all reliance upon your own works. Tear up, once for all, all that you have been spinning for these many years. Your tears, your prayers, your church-goings, your chapel-goings, your confirmation, your baptism, your sacraments-have done with the whole rotten mass as a ground of confidence. It is all quicksand which will swallow you up if you rest upon it. The only rock upon which you must build, whoever you may be, is the rock of the finished work of Jesus. Come now, and rest upon God's appointed Saviour, the Son of God, even though you may not have felt as you could desire your own poverty and need. If you mourn that you do not mourn as you should, you are one of the poor and needy, and are bidden to turn your eyes to the Lamb of God and live.
I would to God that everyone of us were poor and needy in ourselves and were rich in faith in Christ Jesus! Oihat we had done both with sin and with self-righteousness, that we had laid both those traitors with their heads on the block for execution! Come, ye penniless sinners, come and receive the bounty of heaven. Come, ye who mourn your want of penitence, come and receive repentance, and every other heavenly gift, from him who is the Sinner's Friend, exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins. But you must come empty handed, and sue as the lawyers say, in formâ pauperis, for in no other form will the Lord give ear to you. “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree ; he hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
“ Tis perfect poverty alone
That sets the soul at large;
We have no full discharge.
However great or small,
Our Lord forgives us all."
A Tale of Alsace. Miwo hundred years ago Alsace was German ground, as probably at
Tthe . When, after a desolating war, it was annexed to France, the conquerors conceded to the inhabitants a privilege denied to the rest of the nation, to worship God where and how they pleased. This favour included the possession by the Protestants of their own churches, and the retention of the various privileges which they had enjoyed under Germanic rule. Considering how intolerant were the French towards the godly in the ancient provinces, the Alsatians may be considered happy in continuing to enjoy liberty of worship.
The scene of our story lies in the Ban de la Roche, or valley of stone, known by the Germans as the Steinthal. There is a castle, called La Roche, and it is round this fortress (discoverable on any fair-sized map), that the ban, or district, extends. Very picturesque indeed is this region, with its charming hamlets and patches of fertile land. There are two parishes, one comprising five hamlets, inhabited by Protestants, and including three churches. Waldbach is the centre of the picturesque group, and stands one thousand eight hundred feet high upon the acclivity of the mountain. Beautiful for situation is the small church, with its delicate tapering spire, and the parsonage house, resembling many of the old and comfortable farmhouses of our own island. As for its climate, it has been stated that on the summits of the mountains it is as cold as at Petersburg, but in the valleys it is as
as in Geneva. The winter months generally commence in September, and the snow usually remains undissolved till the following May or June, when the wind blows from the south, thus leaving only a period of four or five months for summer weather. The condition of the peasants in 1750_was extremely wretched, and their ignorance lamentable. When Pastor Stouber commenced his labours among them, he found that they had no means of religious instruction, and, although not opposed to the gospel, they were disinclined to admit any innovation upon the old order of things. The principal school-house was a miserable cottage, crowded witli children who had nothing to learn, and were controlled (if controlled at all) by an old, withered swineherd, who lay contented in bed while the children amused themselves in the same apartment.
6. What do you teach the children ?" enquired the new pastor.
Why, then, were you instituted schoolmaster ? " “Why sir,” replied the old man, “I had been taking care of the Waldbach pigs for a great number of years, and when I got too old and infirm for that employment, they sent me here to take care of the children."
The other schools in the district were as ill cared for : the schoolmasters being shepherds who tended sheep in the summer and the children in the winter. They could scarcely read or write themselves, and
therefore were quite unable to impart the merest elements of knowledge. Stonber's first desire, therefore, was to create a better supply of schoolmasters. The bare idea of this, was bitterly resented; the more respectable of the inhabitants declaring against allowing their sons to enter so disrepntable a calling, for so they and the people generally regarded it. Stouber believing that a rose by any other naine would smell as sweet, changed the name, and thus overcame the difficulty. Young men possessed of the necessary requirements were chosen as superintendents of the schools, and these were encouraged in their labours by the benefactions of a benevolent friend in Strasburg. Spelling-books and other elementary works were obtained; and an effort was made to secure a better school-house. A very good anecdote is told of Stouber in connection with this movement. He asked permission of the royal prætor of Strasburg to obtain the wood from the surrounding forests, but this was declined. “But,” said Stouber, “your excellency will allow me to make a private collection among charitable individuals towards the erection of our new building.” This was not denied him. “Well, then,” observed the persevering applicant as he presented his hat, “ you are, please your excellency, known as a charitable person, and I will make the beginning with you.” The prætor thereupon relented, and gave the pastor permission to cut down as much wood as he needed, on the condition that he should dine with him every time he visited the city of Strasburg. All obstacles, however, were not overcome. The people still were opposed to the educational reforms, and feared that they would lead to heresy or witchcraft. As in time they found their fears ill-grounded, they not only rejoiced in the progress made by their children, but came forward themselves to be instructed in the evening adult classes.
The people were ill-acquainted with the word of God-were, indeed, without Bibles altogether. They had seen the large book in the church, which they regarded as the word of God; but when Stouber, “ in order to circulate the Scriptures as widely as possible, divided each of fifty French Protestant Bibles he had procured from Basle into three parts, and bound these portions in strong parchment, to enable him to make a more general distribution, he had some difficulty in convincing his parishioners that these thin volumes would answer the same purpose as the large book which they had been accustomed to see, and that they were equally the word of God."* The Scriptures, however, soon began to be read in the family, and were circulated even in the Romish villages, nor could the priests suppress the curiosity of the peasants as to what the Word declared. The simple discourses of M. Stouber were admirably adapted to his hearers, and many were favourably impressed by them. Having laboured for six years among these people, he accepted the pastorate of the market town of Barr, on the other side of the Vosges; but when, after the lapse of four years, he found his old sphere of usefulness open to him, he returned to Waldbach amid the grateful greetings of his old friends, who went to the top of the mountain which had separated him from them, and waited for his arrival, that he might be welcomed to his charge. The labours, thus pleasantly resumed, were greatly blessed of God, and the condition of the whole district visibly improved. Just as he was rejoicing in the transformation of this moral waste, he was offered the pastorate of St. Thomas's Church at Strasburg, and accepted it; and John Frederic Oberlin left Strasburg to succeed the promoted minister, at the urgent request of Stouber himself.
* Memoir of John Frederic Oberlin. (Bagster.)
Oberlin at this time was twenty-seven years of age, one of nine children whom their father in spite of his scanty income, sought to educate and bring up respectably. Oberlin was the man for a sphere of service requiring considerable denial : as a student, he had contented himself with the most frugal fare, and had cheerfully waited for his turn in the great battle of life. Entering upon his work, he soon found that the inhabitants of the mountains had only been partially reformed, and that he had before him unusual difficulties, arising out of the peculiarities of the situation. Those who had been influenced by the previous pastor's ministrations submitted to all the projects of his successor in silence; but the conservative element was so powerful, that determined resistance was threatened. Indeed, a few went so far as to concert means for personally chastising Oberlin to correct some of his new-fangled notions; but having gained information of their movement, he proceeded to the house where the conspirators were plotting against him, and freely offered to surrender himself into their hands, that they should not be guilty of the meanness of an ambuscade. This made the peasants ashamed of their evil policy, and turned the tables directly in his favour. On another occasion, in one of the villages of the district, two men waited in ambush for him on his returning home from divine service, that they might duck him in a cistern ; but observing them he marched past in so calm and composed a manner as to daunt his enemies and prevent their attacking him. These persons subsequently entered with pleasure upon his plans for the benefit of the villagers. Oberlin's zeal needed to be tempered with prudence, and his young wife in this, as in other matters, was a wise counsellor. When it is considered what was the condition of the Ban de la Roche at this time, and how much the people must have suffered through their isolation from market towns, it is surprising that the villagers did not at once enter upon the schemes of their practical pastor. During the greater part of the year, the roads which had been left in a terrible state since the thirty years' war, were impassable, and the villagers were in times of plenty unable to sell their produce, and in seasons of scanty crops were almost reduced to famine from the impossibility of fetching supplies from the neighbouring towns. He therefore proposed that a high road to Strasburg should be opened, that their agricultural produce might find an acceptable market. When, however, he entered into details-spoke of blasting rocks, constructing a stone wall to support a road one mile and a half in length, and of erecting a bridge across the river, the peasants raised a variety of objections. To them the whole idea was impracticable. They admittted that a good road to market would be a great advantage, but the thing was one of the pastor's new-fangled schemes, and could never be carried out. What was to be done? Oberlin, prepared for all emergencies, appealed to the people to follow his example; and at once went to the spot
with a pickaxe on his shoulder, and, in the presence of the astonished group, commenced work. All the peasants hastened immediately for the requisite implements, and with .Oberlin at their head, set heartily at work to accomplish their important object. Other hands soon came, more tools were obtained from Strasburg, distant friends gave towards the expenses, and in 1770 a communication was opened with the cathedral city, and a new bridge constructed, which to this day bears the name of “the bridge of charity.” The isolation which had made the villagers a race of semi-savages was gone for ever. The five villages of the district were afterwards brought into better communication by road-making or mending. The earnest way in which on the Monday morning after preaching on the Sabbath the modest pastor laboured with his pickaxe taught his parishioners how deeply interested he was in all that concerned both their spiritual and earthly welfare. This enterprise involved a number of minor details which showed his business and prudential tact; and in addition to these, he aided the material interests of his flock by sending their youths to Strasburg to learn the trades of a carpenter, a mason, a cartwright, and a blacksmith; for the inhabitants had endured many privations because these trades had not been introduced. These youths, having learned their respective arts, returned to their native villages, and instructed others in their businesses. Oberlin also sought to improve their dwellings, which had consisted of wretched cabins, hewn out of the rock, or sunk into the sides of the mountains. Better cottages were erected under his superintendence, and cellars were constructed for the storage of potatoes, which formed their main sustenance.
Nor was this all. He sought to improve their agriculture. This was a delicate point; for not unnaturally they felt on that score that they were better able to judge for themselves. Oberlin had not been brought up in the midst of agricultural pursuits; what could he know of a subject peculiarly their own? Remembering the sensitiveness of his people, he determined to appeal to their eyes in preference to their ears. In connection with his parsonage-house there were two gardens, crossed by public footpaths; in these gardens he dug trenches, and planted young fruit-trees, using such manures as he considered best adapted to their growth. Notorious as the soil was for being barren, the peasants were surprised to find how well the trees flourished, and how much more richly laden they were with fruit than their own trees. The pastor taught them his mode of cultivation, and the art of grafting, and we are told that “the very face of the country, in consequence, underwent a complete change; for the cottages, hitherto for the most part bare and desolate, were surrounded by neat little orchards and gardens; and in the place of indigence and misery, the villages and their inhabitants gradually assumed an air of rural happiness.” When Oberlin came to the district, fields that had in former years yielded from 120 to 150 bushels of potatoes furnished only between 30 and 50. At his suggestion fresh seed was introduced, sewage, leaves, and other refuse were collected, rocks were removed, bogs filled, lands drained, and at length the valley which had been almost reduced to a wilderness, was able to send potatoes of a superior quality to Strasburg market. They also converted the least productive arable land into pasture, and, as the result, milk and butter