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In the early part of the nineteenth century a great spiritual revival swept over Germany and other parts of evangelical Europe. In some respects it resembled the earlier Pietistic movement in Germany and the Wesleyan revival in England, except that it was more conservative than either. In Germany the old orthodox conservatives and the more radical Pietists joined forces to fight Rationalism, and the union was of benefit to both groups.

There were many influences that contributed to the overthrow of Rationalism. Chief among these was the widespread suffering and distress in Germany, both physical and spiritual, following the Napoleonic wars. Jacobs has well said: “When earthly props fall and temporal foundations crumble, men turn, almost perforce, to God.” The downfall of Napoleon and the great empire he had founded was an object lesson to the world of the transitory character of all things material.

The great thinker, Immanuel Kant, also helped to undermine the walls of Rationalism by pointing out the limitatations of the human reason. He was followed by the famous theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who taught that the seat of religion is not to be found in either the reason or will, but in feeling—“the feeling of absolute dependence upon God.” The way was thus paved for the zealous efforts of Claus Harms, who in 1817, the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, published a new set of ninety-five theses 142 and called upon his countrymen to return again to the pure evangelical teachings of Luther.

Spring-time always brings song-birds and flowers. It was spring-time in the religious life of Germany, and the sweet notes of evangelical hymnody again were heard throughout the land.

Carl Johann Philipp Spitta was the greatest German hymn-writer of the nineteenth century. He was born August 1, 1801, in Hannover. His father, who was a descendant of a Huguenot family that fled from France during the Catholic persecutions, died when Carl was only four years old. His mother was a Christian Jewess, and it is a beautiful tribute to her fostering care that the finest hymn ever written on the Christian home came from the pen of her son. No doubt it was the memory of his childhood home that led Spitta to write:

O happy home, whose little ones are given

Early to Thee in humble faith and prayer,

To Thee, their Friend, who from the heights of heaven

Guides them, and guards with more than mother’s care.

Spitta began to write verse at the age of eight. It was his mother’s ambition that he should study for the ministry, but, because of his frail health, it was decided that he should become a watchmaker, and a younger brother was sent to school instead. The latter died, however, and now Carl was given his opportunity. He completed his theological studies in 1824, taught school for four years in Lüne, and in 1828 he was ordained to the Lutheran ministry.

During his university days, Spitta had become a bosom friend of Heinrich Heine, the famous poet and prose writer. When the latter visited Spitta at Lüne, however, and scoffed at holy things in the presence of Spitta’s pupils, the 143 friendship came to an abrupt end. It was about this time that Spitta passed through a deep spiritual experience, the result of which was the composition of some of his finest hymns. Writing to a friend in 1826, he says, “In the manner in which I formerly sang, I sing no more. To the Lord I dedicate my life, my love, and likewise my song. He gave to me song and melody. I give it back to Him.”

Spitta’s hymns aroused unparalleled enthusiasm. His “Psalter und Harfe,” first published in 1833, appeared in a second and larger edition the following year. Thereafter a new edition appeared every year, and by 1889 no less than fifty-five editions had been published. A second collection of hymns was printed in 1843, and by 1887 it had passed through forty-two editions. The popularity of Spitta’s hymns also spread to other lands, and a large number are found in English and American hymn-books.

Spitta’s child-like faith and his fervent love to the Saviour may be seen reflected in such a hymn as:

I know no life divided,

O Lord of life, from Thee:

In Thee is life provided

For all mankind and me;

I know no death, O Jesus,

Because I live in Thee;

Thy death it is that frees us

From death eternally.

Other well-known hymns from this consecrated writer are “O come, Eternal Spirit,” “By the holy hills surrounded,” “I place myself in Jesus’ hands,” “Thou, whose coming seers and sages,” “We are the Lord’s: His all-sufficient merit,” “How blessed from the bonds of sin,” “We praise and bless Thee, gracious Lord,” “Brethren, called by one vocation,” 144 “Withhold not, Lord, the help I crave,” “O blessed Sun, whose splendor,” and “Say, my soul, what preparation.” The beloved German psalmist passed away suddenly while seated at his desk, September 28, 1859.

Most noted among the contemporaries of Spitta was Albert Knapp, who, although his hymns never met with the popular favor that attended Spitta’s efforts, nevertheless excelled the latter as a poet. Knapp was born at Tübingen, July 25, 1798, and was educated for the Lutheran ministry in the University at that place. His most important post after ordination was at St. Leonard’s church in Stuttgart, where he served from 1845 until his death in 1864.

Knapp was not only a hymnist but also a hymnologist. Perhaps the greatest service he rendered his Church was the editing of a collection of more than 3,000 of the great hymns of Germany. This monumental work, known as “Evangelischer Lieder-Schatz,” is the most comprehensive hymn collection ever published in German, and is a veritable gold-mine of the classics of Protestant hymnody. Knapp has been severely criticized, however, for the liberties he took in revising the hymns of some of the older writers. The best known of his own works is a baptismal hymn, “Father, who hast created all.” A hymn for church dedication begins with the line, “O God, whom we as Father know.”

Carl Bernhard Garve, a Moravian pastor, also contributed a number of compositions to the hymns of this period, the best known of which is the beautiful tribute to the Holy Scripture:

Thy Word, O Lord, like gentle dews,

Falls soft on hearts that pine;

Lord, to Thy garden ne’er refuse

This heavenly balm of Thine.


Watered by Thee, let every tree

Forth-blossom to Thy praise,

By grace of Thine bear fruit divine

Through all the coming days.

Garve served congregations in Amsterdam, Ebersdorf, Berlin, and Neusalz. He spent the last years of his life in Herrnhut, where he died in 1841. Garve was the most important among the later Moravian hymn-writers. Many of his hymns have been adopted by other communions, particularly the Lutheran Church.

To Friedrich Adolf Krummacher, a Reformed pastor, we owe the highly prized hymn:

Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life from heaven,

This blest assurance Thou to us hast given;

O wilt Thou teach us, Lord, to win Thy pleasure

In fullest measure?

Krummacher was a teacher of theology in the Reformed University of Duisburg. After the battle of Jena in 1806 Duisburg was taken from Prussia by Napoleon and the salaries of the professors were cut off. Krummacher continued to lecture, however, until his class consisted of one student! He afterwards served as pastor in a number of cities, finally accepting appointment to St. Ansgarius church in Bremen. He died in Bremen in 1845.

Of the more modern hymn-writers of Germany the best known is Karl von Gerok, chief court preacher at Stuttgart, where he died as recently as 1890. An eloquent preacher and able writer, he attained fame principally through the publication in 1857 of a collection of poems known as “Palmblätter.” This work received a marvelous circulation in Germany, and by 1916 no less than 130 editions had 146 been printed. Although most of Gerok’s compositions are poems rather than hymns, a few have found their way into hymn-books. A devotional hymn by von Gerok reads:

Holy, holy, holy, blessed Lord,

All the choirs of heaven now adore Thee;

O that I might join that great white host,

Casting down their golden crowns before Thee.

Look on me, a creature of the dust,

Pity me, though I have naught of merit;

Let me bring to Thee for Jesus’ sake

Humble praises of a contrite spirit.

Bend Thine ear, dear Lord, and hear my prayer;

Cleanse me in Thy blood for sinners given;

Deck me in the robe of spotless white

Thou hast promised to Thy bride in heaven.

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