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While Benjamin Schmolck must be regarded as the greatest of Lutheran hymn-writers in Germany during the eighteenth century, Gerhard Tersteegen holds the same distinction among German Reformed hymnists. Except for the Wesleys in England, no man during his age exerted so great a spiritual influence in evangelical circles of all lands as did Tersteegen. In some respects his religious views bordered on fanaticism, but no one could question his deep sincerity and his earnest desire to live the life hidden with Christ in God.

Born at Mörs, Rhenish Prussia, November 25, 1697, Tersteegen was only six years old when his father died. It had been the plan of his parents that he should become a Reformed minister, but the death of the father made it impossible for the mother to carry out this purpose. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to a merchant, and four years later entered business on his own account.

Although he was only twenty years old at this time, he began to experience seasons of deep spiritual despondency. This lasted for nearly five years, during which time he changed his occupation to that of silk weaving, since he desired more time for prayer and meditation. It was not until the year 1724, while on a journey to a neighboring town, that light seemed to dawn on his troubled soul, and he was filled with the assurance that God’s grace in Christ Jesus was sufficient to atone for all sin. In the joy and peace which he had found, he immediately wrote the beautiful 124 hymn, “How gracious, kind and good, my great High Priest, art Thou.”

From this time until the close of his life, Tersteegen began to devote his energies more and more to religious work and literary activities. An independent religious movement known as “Stillen im Lande” had begun about this time, and he soon became known as a leader among these people.

Tersteegen had already ceased to associate with his friends in the Reformed Church, and had gone over to religious mysticism. In one of his strange spiritual moods he wrote what he called “a covenant between himself and God” and signed it with his own blood.

Finally he gave up business pursuits entirely, and his home became the refuge of multitudes of sick and spiritually troubled people. It came to be known as the “Pilgrim’s Hut,” from the fact that many found a temporary retreat there, as well as spiritual help and guidance. Tersteegen also traveled extensively in his own district, and made frequent visits to Holland to hold meetings there.

Tersteegen never married, and for this reason he was accused of teaching celibacy. Several sects, including the Moravians, sought to induce him to become one of their number, but he steadfastly refused to identify himself with any organized church body. He died at Mülheim, April 30, 1769.

Tersteegen’s hymns, as well as his other writings, reflect his spirit of mysticism. His soul was imbued with the sense of the nearness of God, and, through a life of spiritual communion and a renunciation of the world, he developed a simplicity of faith and a child-like trust that found beautiful expression in his hymns.

Two of these, “Thou hidden love of God whose height” and “Lo, God is here, let us adore,” made a deep impression 125 on John Wesley, who translated the former during his visit to Georgia in 1736. Wesley became familiar with Tersteegen’s hymns through contact with Moravian pilgrims who were crossing the Atlantic on the same ship on which he sailed. “Lo, God is here, let us adore” has several English versions, including “God is in His temple” and “God Himself is present.”

Another of Tersteegen’s hymns, “God calling yet! shall I not hear?” is one of the most stirring calls to repentance in all the realm of Christian hymnody. It was rendered into English by Mrs. Sarah Borthwick Findlater in the series of translations known as “Hymns from the Land of Luther.”

Other noted hymns by Tersteegen include “Jesus, whom Thy Church doth own,” “O Love divine, all else transcending,” and “Triumph, ye heavens,” the latter a Christmas lyric of exultant strain.

Tersteegen’s conception of the high place which hymnody should occupy in Christian worship is revealed in his writings. He says: “The pious, reverential singing of hymns has something angelic about it and is accompanied by divine blessing. It quiets and subdues the troubled emotions; it drives away cares and anxieties; it strengthens, refreshes and encourages the soul; it draws the mind unconsciously from external things, lifts up the soul to joyful adoration, and thus prepares us to worship in spirit and in truth. We should sing with the spirit of reverence, with sincerity, simplicity and hearty desire.... When you sing, O soul, remember that you are as truly communing with the holy and omnipresent God as when you are praying. Consider that you are standing in spirit before the throne of God with countless thousands of angels and spirits of the just and that you are blending your weak praises with the music of heaven. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

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