True Christianity is an incredibly influential book that sparked pietism and has undergone hundreds of translations over the past several centuries. Often compared to Martin Luther, Johann Arndt was a reformer intent on calling out the problems in the Church and its people. This intense book completely supports the idea that Christians should always live out what they believe. True Christianity is a must read for any Christian—especially those interested in reformed theology.
Both the general purpose of the venerable Johann Arndt in writing his “True Christianity,” and also his own character and spirit, will be best exhibited by submitting to the reader a statement referring to his personal history. He was born, December 27th, 1555, in Ballenstädt, a town in the Duchy of Anhalt, where his father, Rev. Jacob Arndt, long labored as the chaplain of Duke Wolfgang, and the pastor of one of the Evangelical Lutheran congregations of the place. The latter was a devout and faithful minister of the Gospel, and a wise and affectionate father. He had, from the earliest period, devoted much attention to the religious education of his son, in the performance of which holy duty he was faithfully sustained by his excellent wife. Their efforts were abundantly blessed. The son, even in his early years, took great pleasure in reading the writings of Luther, and also acquired a fondness for those of Thomas á Kempis, of Tauler, and of others who breathed the same spirit of devotion. That this feature of his religious character did not undergo any essential change in his riper years, appears from the circumstance that he was one of the first who collected, arranged, and republished the religious tracts of Stephen Prætorius, a Lutheran divine of an eminently devout spirit. These were subsequently re-edited by Martin Statius, who prefixed the title: Spiritual Treasury (Geistliche Schatzkammer), to the collection. This book of devotion was highly prized by Spener, has often been reprinted, is found in many German households, and well deserves to be translated, and thus made accessible to the English religious public.
§ 2. In his tenth year Arndt lost his father, but the orphan soon found friends who, in the good providence of God, enabled him to continue the studies which he had commenced with distinguished success under the guidance of his father. After completing his preparatory education in the schools of Halberstadt and Magdeburg, he proceeded, in the year 1576, to the university of Helmstedt, which had recently been established. [pg xii] In the course of the following year, 1577, he went as a student to the university of Wittenberg, soon after the official recognition of the principles embodied in the Formula of Concord (published in 1580), by which that institution received a strictly Lutheran character, and every tendency to any other doctrinal system was successfully arrested. It was here that he formed a very close union, first as a student, and then as a personal friend, with the eminent Polycarp Leyser, the elder of that name, whose firmness and devotion in sustaining the distinctive features of Lutheranism have assigned to him a high position in the history of his Church.—After Arndt had, even at this early age, acquired distinction as an accomplished private lecturer on Natural Philosophy, etc., as well as on the Epistle to the Romans, Leyser furnished him with an unusually favorable recommendation to the professors in Strasburg. This city, the government and population of which were exclusively Lutheran, had not yet been subjected to that great calamity which afterwards befell it, when the despot and bigot, Louis XIV., incorporated it with the French monarchy, and by assigning undue privileges to papists, and adopting other tyrannical measures, opened an avenue for the introduction, not merely of an inferior Romanic language, but also of the errors and superstitions of the Church of Rome.
§ 3. Arndt continued his theological studies in Strasburg, under the direction of Prof. Pappus, who was also distinguished for his devotion to the genuine Lutheran faith. In the year 1579 he proceeded to Basel, where, under the gentle sway of Sulcer, the Lutheran faith had acquired influence and authority. In this city he was temporarily engaged as the tutor of a young Polish nobleman; the latter, on one of their excursions, when Arndt had accidentally fallen into the Rhine, succeeded in seizing his sinking preceptor by the hair of his head, and thus became the means, in the hands of God, of saving a life of incalculable value, designed to prove an ever-flowing source of blessings to the Church.
§ 4. During this whole period Arndt occupied himself with the study of medicine, in connection with his strictly theological studies; it is possible that he would have ultimately chosen the practice of medicine as the business of his life, if a severe illness had not intervened. After his recovery, he believed it to be his duty to renounce his personal tastes, and he thenceforth consecrated himself entirely to the service of the Church. His medical and chemical occupations, although not abandoned, were afterwards regarded by him only as a recreation.
§ 5. He returned, in 1581 or 1582, to his native place, and labored for some time as a teacher, until he was called by his prince, Joachim Ernest, to be the pastor of the congregation in Badeborn, a village in the Duchy of Anhalt; he was, accordingly, ordained in the month of October of the same year. It was here, too, that he was married, October 31, 1583, to Anna Wagner, the daughter of an eminent jurist, with whom he passed [pg xiii] the remaining thirty-eight years of his life in unclouded domestic happiness. She was a devout Christian woman, who cheered and encouraged Arndt amid his many cares, alleviated every burden to the extent of her ability, and was always regarded by him with tenderness and gratitude. They were childless; but many an orphan found that their hearts could overflow with love towards the young and destitute—a love as full of warmth as beloved children have ever experienced parental love to be.
§ 6. In this first pastoral charge of Arndt, the unhappy state of affairs subjected him, particularly during the latter part of the seven years which he spent in it, to a “Lutheran martyrdom,” as Tholuck expresses himself (Herzog. Encyk. I., 536). The duke, John George, who now reigned (a relative of the palsgrave, or count palatine, Casimir, a zealous Calvinist), after various inward struggles, abandoned the Lutheran faith, and, in the year 1596, publicly adopted the Reformed faith, a few years after the transactions to which we now refer. Even Protestant rulers, who had not yet learned the theory that a union of church and state can operate only perniciously, perpetually interfered in the internal affairs of the church.—At this period it was the custom of Lutheran pastors, when they administered the rite of Baptism, to follow the liturgical form which prescribed “exorcism.” This feature of the whole baptismal form, which was introduced as early as the third century, or even earlier (before the days of Tertullian and Origen), consisted simply in a sentence adjuring the evil spirit to depart from the subject of Baptism. The early practice had, like others, been gradually associated, after the rise and development of popery, with superstitious ideas, such as was also the case with the Lord's Supper, until it assumed an absurd and even revolting form. At the period of the Reformation, Zwingli and Calvin (Inst. IV., c. 15, 19; c. 19, 24) rejected the whole form of exorcism. Luther and Melanchthon, on the other hand, after discarding the popish excrescences, believed that the scriptural doctrine which the early form involved or suggested, authorized the retention of the practice, when restricted to a very plain and simple formula, expressive of a scriptural truth.—Now, at that period, as it is well known, unfriendly feelings, engendered by various causes, existed to a certain extent, between the heads respectively of the Reformed and the Lutheran churches, in consequence of which even harmless customs which none would, under ordinary circumstances, either advocate or condemn with partisan feeling, assumed a confessional character. Such was the case with the purified and simple Lutheran baptismal sentence containing the “exorcism.”
§ 7. Arndt's course in this matter has often been misunderstood; as it, however, demonstrates him to have been alike a very firm and conscientious man, and also an uncompromising supporter of the distinctive doctrines and usages of the Lutheran Church, the following details may be appropriately furnished.—The language which Luther retained in his form [pg xiv] for Baptism (Taufbüchlein), after omitting all popish and superstitious practices, was the following. Between the prayer and the reading of Mark 10:13-16, the pastor says: “I adjure thee, thou unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou go out and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ, Amen.”—Luther understood the form to be a declaration or distinct confession of the doctrine of Original Sin, and a renunciation of Satan. Still, the Lutheran Church, as such, never recognized the necessity of this ancient form, and its confessional writings never allude to it. After the excitement of feeling peculiar to Arndt's age, had been allayed by time, the Lutheran Church regarded the whole as a mere adiaphoron, that is, a “thing indifferent,” not essentially involving any principle whatever, inasmuch as the doctrine of Original Sin had already been very explicitly set forth and confessed in her Symbolical Books. Such was the opinion of the eminent Lutheran dogmatical writers, Gerhard, Quenstedt, Hollaz, etc.; and men like Baier and Baumgarten even advocated the discontinuance of the practice. It is no longer retained in any prominent manner in the Lutheran Church.—But in the age in which Arndt lived, who was not a man that would obstinately cling to a mere form, the rejection of the formula of Exorcism did involve a principle; for, under the peculiar circumstances, that rejection might be understood to be, first, a rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin, and, secondly, an affirmation that the children of believing parents were in the kingdom of heaven, even before they had received Baptism. But all this seemed to conflict with the Pauline doctrine that all are “by nature the children of wrath.” Eph. 2:3. While, then, J. Ben. Carpzov, the distinguished interpreter of the Symbolical Books, who died in 1557, decides that the “Exorcism” is in itself a matter of indifference, and may without scruple be dropped, he nevertheless holds that if the omission of it should be understood as a denial of the Scripture doctrine of the corruption of human nature (Original Sin), it becomes, in such a case, a matter of principle to retain the formula. (Isagoge, etc., p. 1122 ff.; 1608.) Walch, the other eminent interpreter of the Symbolical Books (Introductio, etc.), does not refer to the matter at all, as it is no essential part of the Lutheran Creed. But Arndt, who was a calm, sagacious, and conscientious observer, and who may justly be considered as claiming that, in forming a judgment respecting him, we should not overlook the spirit of his times, apprehended that the suppression of the “exorcism” was secretly designed to be the forerunner of the suppression of the entire Lutheran faith, which constituted the life of his soul; he could not, under such circumstances, consent to endanger his most precious treasure.
§ 8. Now the duke, John George, after his virtual adoption of the Reformed faith and practice, issued a peremptory order that the formula of Exorcism should no longer be employed in his dominions at the baptism [pg xv] of any infant. Arndt, who was characterized by a childlike submission to those in authority, as long as matters of principle were not involved, could not renounce his faith in God's word, and, especially, his personal conviction of the natural depravity of the human heart. He might have consented to drop a mere form; but he saw here an entering wedge, which justly alarmed him. His apprehensions were subsequently proved to have been only too well founded, when, soon afterwards, Luther's Catechism was suppressed, and another substituted in its place. Hence, as he could not renounce a prominent feature of the Lutheran creed, he firmly and positively refused to obey the ducal command. He remarked, in the written statement which embodied his reasons for refusing to obey, and which was submitted to the civil authorities, that his conscience would not allow him to comply with such a demand of the secular authority—that the orthodox fathers, who had, during thirteen centuries, connected “exorcism” with Baptism, understood it in accordance with the mind and true sense of the Scriptures (ex mente et vero sensu Scripturæ)—that it was, therefore, by no means “an impious ceremony” (as the civil ruler, a layman, had thought proper to designate it),—that he must necessarily abide by the decision of his conscience—and, that he would humbly submit to any sentence which his prince might pronounce in the case. The date which he affixed to the document, is Sept. 10, 1590. That sentence, which was soon afterwards proclaimed, deposed Arndt from his office, and banished him from the ducal territories. The reader of Book I. of the “True Christianity,” will now understand, after observing the earnestness with which the author insists on the doctrine of Original Sin, or the depravity of human nature, that he could not conscientiously take any step which would, even indirectly, involve a denial of that sad truth of the Bible,—a truth to which his knowledge of his own heart daily testified.
§ 9. But the Divine Head of the Church did not depose this faithful minister. At the very time when Arndt seemed to be homeless and friendless, two important posts were offered to him—one in Mansfeld, the other in Quedlinburg, an important city, which, after belonging to various rulers, has at last been incorporated with the monarchy of Prussia. The city adopted the Lutheran faith in 1539. Arndt decided to make this place his home, and he labored here with eminent success, during a period of seven years, as the pastor of the church of St. Nicholas. However, he also endured much affliction in this new charge, and his holy zeal and devout spirit, while fully appreciated by intelligent and enlightened believers, were misunderstood and even hated by others, so that he longed to be transferred to another field of labor.
§ 10. He was at length permitted to depart, and removed to the city of Brunswick, situated in the territory of the duke of Brunswick; it aspired at that time to become a “free city,” subject directly to the German emperor. The warfare between the duke and the city, during Arndt's [pg xvi] residence in the latter, subjected him to many sore trials. His abode in it, extending from 1590 to 1608, is specially interesting, as he then presented to the religious community Book I. of his “True Christianity.” Dr. A. Wildenhahn, who has, in recent times, furnished us with various charming volumes, descriptive of the times, respectively, of Luther, Spener, Paul Gerhardt, etc., in which he combines “fiction and truth,” has selected this period of Arndt's history, as the one to which he dedicates his two delightful volumes, entitled “Johannes Arndt” (Leipzig, 1861). This author complains that he found it a difficult task to collect full and authentic accounts of Arndt's life. Still, he obtained access to various documents in the archives of the city of Brunswick, and in the royal library in Dresden, which had not been previously examined even by Arndt's best biographer, the Rev. Frederick Arndt, of Berlin; and these materially assisted him in preparing his own work.1
§ 11. During the earlier years of Arndt's residence in Brunswick, as a co-pastor of the church of St. Martin, his life was comparatively peaceful and happy. The purity of his character, the soundness and power of his doctrine, and the diligence and fidelity manifested in his pastoral labors, could not fail to command the respect, and attract the love of all candid persons. But he was at length subjected to trials of a new and painful character, and became the victim of the hostile and persecuting spirit of men from whom a very different course of conduct might have reasonably been expected. The origin of these new difficulties has not always been clearly understood; while some have regarded Arndt as worthy of the censures of those who assailed him, others are disposed to condemn those assailants in unqualified terms. It is strange that, even at this comparatively remote period, such judgments are sometimes expressed in language which betrays personal feeling rather than it announces the calm judgment of a later and disinterested generation.
§ 12. It is here necessary to cast a glance at the history of the times which preceded and followed the eventful year 1555, in which Arndt was born, a year ever memorable as the one in which the signing of the articles of the Peace of Augsburg secured a temporary external repose for the Lutheran Church. This “Peace” terminated at least the horrors which had followed the introduction, in 1548, of the Augsburg Interim, by which the newly-established Protestant doctrine was seriously endangered. The provisions of this Interim were enforced with such merciless tyranny by popish authorities, that in South Germany alone about four hundred [pg xvii] faithful Lutheran pastors, who could not conscientiously accede to an arrangement which might possibly restore the full authority of the errors and superstitions of Rome, were driven, as exiles, with their families, from their homes. The spirit of the Christian martyrs of the early ages of the Church revived in these heroic men, and they clung with undying tenacity to their holy faith.
§ 13. That faith now encountered new enemies, who did not resort to fire and the sword, but who adopted more insidious means for corrupting divine truth; and again, assaults like theirs, only increased the jealousy with which the genuine Lutherans guarded the purity of their doctrinal system. It was the only gift of heaven, which sin and Satan could not touch, and which retained all its unsullied holiness. The soul of man had become corrupt; the body was subject to disease and death; the world, fair as it was, and rich in the gifts of God, had nevertheless been made by sin to bring forth thorns and thistles. But the Gospel truth, which conducted men to Christ and heaven, remained in all its purity and power. These men were willing to suffer and die, but while they did live, they could not relax the grasp with which they held fast to evangelical truth. Now, amid the political and religious commotions of that stormy age, could we expect that devout men should say, “Peace, peace;” when there was no peace? (Jerem. 6:14.)
§ 14. Let us illustrate this subject. Schwenkfeldt, for instance (born in 1490; died, 1561), an opponent of both the Lutherans and the Reformed, as well as of the Papists, and, accordingly, constantly engaged in controversies with all parties, declared that Luther's uncompromising determination to maintain the authority of the written word of revelation, the Bible, was equivalent to a worship of the letter. He assigned, in his fanaticism and morbid mysticism, a rank to an inner and direct word of the Divine Spirit, which he asserted that he received, far above that of the written word of God. He refused to make any distinction between the divine act of the justification of the believer, on the one hand, and the progressive sanctification of the believer, on the other. He taught that the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human, were so fused together, or, rather, that the flesh of Christ was so absolutely deified or converted into God himself, that no distinction between them remained,—that the regenerate could live without sin, etc. He succeeded, in spite of the crudeness, one-sidedness, and unsoundness of his doctrines, in attracting many disciples. His death, which occurred in 1561, a few years after Arndt's birth, did not terminate the widespread confusion which he had created in the Protestant Church; the dread of that sickly form of mysticism which he attempted to establish, long remained. The fear was naturally entertained that it might lead many astray, who, while they did not otherwise fraternize with Schwenkfeldt in his wild and absurd course, [pg xviii] might be deluded by his claims to superior religious intelligence and holiness.
§ 15. The disastrous influences of the demagogue Thomas Münzer (born in 1490), and of his fanatical party, the Zwickau prophets, on sound doctrine and sound morals, as well as the blood which they had shed, were still vividly remembered.—Servetus, the Unitarian, had perished, but he left a seed behind; the doctrine of Christ's deity still remained a point of attack. And besides these false teachers, several others, who were originally connected in various modes with the Lutheran Church, promulgated at various times opinions which seemed to be subversive of all Scripture doctrine.—Agricola, who had originally been an active adherent of Luther, gradually departed from the faith. He unquestionably betrayed the interests of Protestantism by sanctioning the Augsburg Interim of 1548. He engaged in a controversy, at first with Melanchthon, and then with Luther himself, on the subject of the proper “Use of the law”—the Antinomistic controversy—maintaining that the law was no longer of importance to the believer, and that the Gospel alone should be preached. He died in 1566, when Arndt was about eleven years old. The confusion in the church, which he created by his dangerous sentiments on several points, was long painfully felt.—The Osiandrian controversy, respecting Justification, and its relation to Sanctification, began in 1549, and closed only when Arndt was already a student.—The Majoristic controversy originated in the public declaration made by G. Major, that “good works are necessary to salvation.” The fears which such a doctrine, that savored of popery, produced among orthodox and devout Lutherans, were excessive. Those who opposed Major, were alarmed by his unguarded expressions, and apprehended that the Gospel doctrine of Justification by faith in Christ alone, without human works or merit, would be endangered, unless they silenced him. The controversy, in its most energetic form, terminated about seven years after Arndt's birth, but the indirect effects of the misconceptions connected with the great topic of this controversy, were deeply felt by him.—The Synergistic controversy, relating to the question whether man could co-operate with the Holy Spirit in the work of his conversion, began in the year in which Arndt was born, and was maintained with great energy during several years.—The so-called Cryptocalvinistic controversy, referring mainly to the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, and involving certain important questions respecting the Person of Christ, commenced about three years before Arndt's birth, and agitated the church during many years.—These, and other subjects on which also controversies had arisen, were, in the good providence of God, at length calmly considered by learned and devout Lutheran theologians, conscientiously examined in the light of the divine Word, impartially decided, and set forth, in the year 1580, in the Formula of Concord, the last of the special Lutheran creeds, all the doctrines of which Arndt cordially [pg xix] received, as he repeatedly declared in an official manner on various occasions, in his writings, in his last will and testament, and on his death-bed. (See below §§ 24, 25.) The very great reverence with which he regarded this noble creed, and his attachment to it, are to be ascribed not only to the spotless purity of the doctrines which it sets forth, but also to the good work which it performed in successfully and permanently deciding several very important questions which had latterly arisen, and on which the preceding creeds had not authoritatively and fully pronounced. It is, however, obvious, that even after these storms subsided, the waves would long remain in commotion, and it was precisely in these troublous times that Arndt labored in the ministry.
§ 16. The catalogue of the difficulties which awaited him, is not yet exhausted. We have to add, as a part of the history of the times, when an extraordinary number of political and ecclesiastical contentions prevailed, the excitement of feeling which certain differences of doctrine between the Lutherans and the Reformed engendered, and which would never have risen to the fearful height in which history now exhibits it to us, if political power, controlled alternately by the two religious parties in some of the German principalities, had not been invoked by them. The awful death by fire, which terminated the career of Servetus (Oct. 27, 1553, two years before the birth of Arndt, and more than six years after the death of Luther), was decreed by the civil authorities of Geneva, but was sanctioned by Calvin and even the gentle Melanchthon—a sad example of the clouded views of men at that time respecting religious liberty and the right of civil rulers to punish men for their errors in the faith.
§ 17. In the Palatinate (the ancient Pfalz, the territories of which are now distributed among Bavaria, Prussia, etc.) the Lutheran Church had been established, and popery ceased to exist. But in 1560, a few years after Arndt's birth, the Elector, Frederick III., withdrew from the church, and adopted the Reformed faith and usages. His successor, Lewis VI., endeavored to restore the ascendency of Lutheranism; but after his brief reign, the authorities which succeeded, established “Calvinism” (the term employed in Church History) on a permanent basis. A similar ecclesiastico-civil revolution occurred in Bremen in 1562; fourteen Lutheran pastors and the Lutheran members of the City Council were expelled, and the city became Reformed. Such changes occurred elsewhere. Both parties were undoubtedly more or less honest in adhering to their doctrinal views; and both claimed the right to depose and exile those of an opposite faith, whenever the civil and political power was, in either case, directed by them.
§ 18. Let it now be remembered that these contending Protestants, Lutheran and Reformed or Calvinistic, were led by men respectively, who were confessedly intelligent, learned, and endowed with great abilities, many of whom were not only honest in expressing their convictions, but also conscientious in their conduct, whether they were governed by an [pg xx] erring or an enlightened conscience. That the latter is historically true, is demonstrated by their readiness, when they lost power, to submit to imprisonment or exile, rather than to renounce their respective creeds. They were all too well acquainted with Bible truth to look with other feelings than with horror on the popish creed. But while their own Protestant creed was very precious to their souls, they could not tolerate any departure from it, even if that departure was not in the direction “towards Rome.” That departure must, as they judged, necessarily be equivalent to a denial of God's truth, as they believed that they had found it in the Bible. Thus all were alike sensitive—all seemed to feel that if they tolerated any error, that error could not be trivial—it was, as far as it extended, a denial of God's truth. Could they safely assume the shame and guilt of such a sin? We may add, that we are here speaking only of the honest leaders of the Lutherans and the Reformed, of whom each man judged and acted for himself, as one who was accountable to God. No honest Reformed theologian would have screened a Reformed heretic from condemnation; and no honest Lutheran would, for a moment, have tolerated a nominal Lutheran, who rejected any part of the creed of the church.
§ 19. At the same time, all these men were fallible creatures, subject to all the errors of judgment, and to all the passions and infirmities incident to fallen man. They often supposed that their intentions were pure, when selfish motives governed them, and their jealous guardianship of God's truth was combined with a jealous love for their personal opinions. It was under these circumstances, when each party watched with extreme jealousy over the purity of the faith, as adopted by it, and when, besides, many private interests—personal, political, and pecuniary—exercised vast influence, that Arndt entered on his labors.—We have introduced the above details, in order to explain his declarations in the preface to Book I. § 8, that he rejects the Synergistic, Majoristic, etc., errors, and entertains no other views except those which are set forth in the Lutheran Symbolical Books.
§ 20. When he commenced his labors in Brunswick, he was the youngest member of the “ministerium” of the city, that is, of the college composed of the pastors of the several city churches, all of which at that time strictly adhered to the Lutheran creed. He had long lamented that, in consequence of the infelicity of the times, which caused endless doctrinal controversies, the parties of which were many, Papists, Mystics, Unitarians, Reformed, Lutherans, etc., the attention of many persons was diverted from the practical duties of a Christian life, and directed exclusively to controversies on points of doctrine; the result was, that the understanding was actively exercised, but the heart was not properly affected. Such considerations induced him to write Book I. of his “True Christianity.” It was his object to show that God demands a holy life, proceeding from faith in Christ, and that no jealousy concerning the [pg xxi] purity of the creed will atone for the absence of the fruits of the Spirit, as exhibited in the life and conduct of the individual. Hence he insists with a warmth unusual in that excited and controversial age, on repentance, on faith in Christ, and on a holy life. Possibly, the apparently sweeping assertions which occasionally occur in his writings, to the effect that the majority of his contemporaries lacked a heavenly spirit, acquired their sombre hue in consequence of the publicity given to human frailties, and the retirement and shade in which vast numbers of holy men preferred to dwell. His Book I., which constitutes the principal part of the work, was first published in Jena, in the year 1605; a second and improved edition appeared in 1607.
§ 21. It consisted principally of the matter which he had introduced in a course of practical sermons previously delivered by him on week-days. It attracted great attention, and was rapidly circulated throughout Germany. The modest and retiring author, without expecting such a result, at once became a celebrity. Nevertheless, new trials now commenced. An envious feeling seems to have been engendered in the hearts of several of his colleagues in the “ministerium” of the city, when they noticed the honor which the author had undesignedly gained. Perhaps, too, the controversial spirit of the times, and the jealousy of good men respecting the faith, which was assailed on all sides—by Papists, Calvinists, Unitarians, fanatics, etc.,—may have led them to scrutinize the book with too suspicious eyes. All held firmly to the Gospel doctrine of Justification by faith alone, without works. Now, when they found that Arndt insisted with such earnestness on the evidences of faith, as furnished by a holy life, they were morbidly affected, and apprehended that the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which their bitter enemies, the Papists, denounced, had not been guarded with sufficient care by Arndt. Other expressions, again, which they did not interpret impartially, led them to fear that he was introducing mysticism and other morbid religious systems into the Church. The reproaches which he was compelled to hear, deterred him for some time from fulfilling his promise of adding three other “Books” to Book I. The complete work may be regarded as consisting of Four Books, as published in 1609. At a considerably later period a fifth, and then a sixth book, were added. The former was designed as an explanation and recapitulation of the Four Books, and the latter, consisting in part of letters addressed to various eminent theologians, besides having the same object in view, was intended also to defend the doctrinal and ethical positions assumed in the Four Books. As they partake of the nature of an appendix, and refer, to some extent, to misunderstandings belonging to an earlier age, the Latin versions omit them, and this example was followed by the English translator.
§ 22. Arndt was freed from the unpleasant relations in which he stood to his colleagues in Brunswick, in which city he had spent about ten years, [pg xxii] by a call which he received in 1608 to enter a new field of labor in Eisleben. This city, which, as in the days of Luther (who was born and baptized, and who also died there), still belonged to the territory of the Counts of Mansfeld, is at present incorporated with the kingdom of Prussia (Province of Saxony). It was here that Arndt ventured to publish the whole of the Four Books of his “True Christianity.” In this new position, his admirable character and spirit were justly appreciated alike by his patrons, the Counts of Mansfeld, by his colleagues, and by the people. The fidelity with which he remained at his post during the prevalence of an epidemic that carried off many of the inhabitants, his self-sacrificing spirit in the discharge of his pastoral duties, and his judicious course as an assessor of the local consistory, demonstrated the true nobility of his soul—the spirit of the divine Redeemer. However, even though his relations with all who surrounded him were of the most friendly character, he did not remain longer than about two years and a half in Eisleben. He had been repeatedly invited to assume important charges, which he declined to accept; for while he had often found opponents, his great personal merit, his eminent services, both as a preacher of the Gospel and as an author of devotional works, and his godly spirit, had secured for him the respect, confidence, and love of the whole religious public. Duke George of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who at that time resided in Celle (Zelle), invited him, in the year 1611, to accept the two offices of court-preacher and of General Superintendent of ecclesiastical affairs in the principalities of Brunswick and Lüneburg. (Celle was subsequently attached to the kingdom of Hanover, but has, in the most recent times, been absorbed, with the contiguous territories, by Prussia.) The Count of Mansfeld very reluctantly consented to Arndt's removal; the latter, however, believed that it had become his duty to enter the wide and inviting field of labor which Providence had opened to him. The reigning duke, who was deeply interested in the welfare of the Lutheran Church, judiciously and vigorously sustained his new court-preacher in all his labors. The latter, in addition to his ordinary pastoral duties, visited the congregations of the whole territory, introduced various ecclesiastical reforms, and continued till his death, which occurred May 11, 1621, to enjoy the divine blessing himself, and to be a blessing to all whom his influence reached. If he was born during a stormy period, and lived in an age of controversies which wounded his soul, he was, nevertheless, like Luther, very happy in being permitted to terminate his labors precisely at the time when he was called away. For, as Luther closed his eyes in peace during the year which preceded the disastrous battle of Mühlberg (April 24, 1547), so Arndt fell asleep soon after the Thirty Years' War began, before the world saw those horrors which language fails to describe in their awful extent. He had contracted a disease of the throat, which was subsequently aggravated by a violent fever; and his exhausted frame at length yielded to the [pg xxiii] assault of disease. He sent for his friend and brother, the Rev. William Storch, early in the morning of May 9. After being placed on a chair, he humbly made a general confession of his sins, declared once more that he adhered as heretofore to the pure doctrine of God's word and rejected every error, and then, with all the cheerfulness of Christian faith, received the Lord's Supper. Dr. Morris, in the work referred to, in a note above, quotes from his authorities the following: “Mr. Storch then addressed him (in language similar to that which Dr. Jonas used in speaking to the dying Luther) as follows: ‘I do not doubt, that as you have never entertained any doctrine contrary to God's word, but have always continued firm and steadfast in the pure, unadulterated word, the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, the Augsburg Confession, and other Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, and most heartily and sincerely despised and rejected all contrary doctrines, so you will also by God's grace maintain to the end the same doctrines and faith which you have publicly preached and professed.’ Arndt replied several times, in a weak but intelligible voice, most decisively, ‘Yes, yes, that I will, even to the end.’ ” On the 11th of May he began to sink rapidly, but was still able to repeat many of his favorite texts, such as Ps. 143:2, and John 5:24. After having slept a short time, he awoke, looked upward, and exclaimed with a comparatively loud voice: “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. His wife asked him when he had seen that “glory.” He replied: “I saw it just now. O what a glory it is! It is the glory which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man to conceive of. This is the glory which I saw.”—When he heard the clock striking at eight in the evening, he asked what the hour was. When it struck again, he repeated the question. On being told that it was striking nine, he said: “Now I have overcome all.” These were the last words of this “good soldier of Jesus Christ.” 2 Tim. 2:3. He lay perfectly still until after midnight, when he breathed his last. God had given him a peaceful death. The serenity of his soul in his last hours seemed to linger on his features, even after the spirit had departed.
§ 23. Two dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg followed him to the grave (May 15th), as a testimony of their sense of the great worth of their revered spiritual guide. The text of the funeral sermon, delivered by Rev. Mr. Storch, consisted of the words, “I have fought a good fight,” etc. 2 Tim. 4:7, 8. His remains were deposited in the church at Celle. The tomb exhibits the following inscription:
Qui Jesum vidit, qui mundum et daemona vicit,
Arndius in scriptis vivit ovatque suis.
(That is: Arndt, who saw Jesus, and conquered the world and the devil, lives and triumphs in his writings.)[pg xxiv]
§ 24. Nothing could be more unjust than any charge affecting the purity of the faith of Arndt as a Lutheran Christian. His general orthodoxy was always readily admitted; a few unreasonable and prejudiced men, however, who suspected that mysticism and other errors were concealed in the “True Christianity,” although the existence of such matter could not be established, nevertheless alleged, with a certain morbid feeling, that Arndt did not adopt the entire creed of the Lutheran Church, as set forth in “all her symbolical books.” This circumstance accounts for the frequency and earnestness with which he declares his unconditional acceptance of, and hearty belief in, all the details of the Lutheran faith. Thus the reader will find, at the close of the Preface to Book I., an emphatic declaration of his recognition of the doctrines of all the Symbolical Books, the names of which he enumerates in full. See, also, the conclusion of Book II., and the conclusion of the Preface to Book IV., where similar declarations occur. He repeats them in his Preface to Book VI., where he employs the following language: “My dear reader, inasmuch as our holy Christian faith, the pure evangelical doctrine, has, for about one hundred years, been elucidated, purified, and sufficiently explained, in accordance with the rule of the holy Word of God, and also been cleansed from many errors through the means of two glorious and praiseworthy confessions of faith, namely, the Augsburg Confession, and the Formula of Concord, which have hitherto been, and still continue to be, my own confession of faith; and, inasmuch as some have, at the same time, uttered complaints respecting the ungodly manner of life of the present world, with which the Christian faith cannot coexist; therefore, I wrote, some years ago, Four Books on True Christianity, in which I have depicted the internal, and, also, the external Christian life. For although the pure doctrine is the foremost point of true Christianity, I have, nevertheless, not wished to treat of it in a special manner, as this has been copiously and superabundantly done by others, and is still daily done; and I have taken only the Christian life as my subject.” This Book VI. appeared somewhat less than a year before his death, and gives special prominence to the last of the Lutheran confessions of faith—the Formula of Concord—in which the doctrines concerning the Person of Christ, the Lord's Supper, etc., are set forth in all their details; he thus repeats anew his cordial acceptance of the doctrines contained therein. In a letter of thanks addressed to Dr. Mentzer, of Giessen (Book VI., Part II., Letter 7), he expressly rejects the serious doctrinal errors of Schwenkfeldt respecting the Scriptures, the Person of Christ, the two Sacraments, etc., and adds: “These errors have been publicly condemned and rejected, partly in the Augsburg Confession, and partly in the Formula of Concord, after the pure doctrine was firmly established.” He concurs, of course, in the condemnation of such errors.—In Letter 8, of the same Book, addressed to Dr. Piscator, of Jena, he says: “I call on the great God, the Searcher of hearts, as my witness, that it was [pg xxv] not in my mind, in anything which I have written, to depart from the true religion of the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord, and that I had no intention to disseminate erroneous opinions, much less to defend any which conflicted with the Symbolical Books of our Church.”
§ 25. On his death-bed he repeated anew, as we have seen, that he continued, as heretofore, to adhere faithfully to the pure evangelical doctrine. In the two copies of his last will and testament, of the years 1610 and 1616, he solemnly declares that he had always held with full consciousness and understanding the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord, and never departed from their contents either in his public teaching or his private views, that he never would adopt any other faith, and that he prayed that the grace of God might sustain him in this frame of mind until his last hour should come. The singularly emphatic manner in which, on every appropriate occasion—and many of such occurred—he declared his sincere belief in the peculiar and distinctive doctrines of the Lutheran Church, in all their details, as set forth in her Symbolical Books, by no means proceeded from a narrow-minded sectarian feeling. “Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11)—these apostolic words indicate the spirit of Arndt's religion. He could not sympathize with the Papist, who robs Christ of the glory which belongs exclusively to his atoning work—not with the Unitarian, who attempts to dethrone Him—not with the fanatic, who, even when honest, is misguided by passion and spiritual pride—not with the unbeliever, who flees from the shame of the cross—not even with his Reformed fellow-Christians, whose merits he readily acknowledged, but whose rejection of the Lutheran doctrine respecting the Person of Christ and the Lord's Supper, as set forth especially in the Formula of Concord, grieved his soul. He had found the precious Gospel truth, which constituted his life, to be identical with the creed of his Church, and with that creed alone, in all its glorious fulness. He could not consent to sacrifice one jot or one tittle of the Augsburg Confession, nor could he assign to it an isolated position, even though Zwingli and his associates readily adopted it, with the single exception of Article X. Nor did his heart or his conscience allow him to ignore the other Lutheran Symbols. The Augsburg Confession undoubtedly contained the pure truth of the Gospel, without any admixture of errors; but, owing to the circumstances and the times in which it originated, when it was the great object of Luther and his associates to justify their course in withdrawing from antichristian Rome, it confined itself to those principles which were then specially debated. Hence Calvin, who differed so widely on some points from the fully developed Lutheran creed, readily adopted and subscribed it at Strasburg.—The Apology, or Vindication of the Augsburg Confession, set forth, among others, the cardinal doctrine of the Lutheran faith, namely, Justification by faith alone, with extraordinary power and purity. Its full, lucid, and strictly scriptural character has never been successfully controverted. [pg xxvi] For this very reason the Apology was rejected by Papists, as it now is practically by Rationalists and others who depend on human merit, and are unwilling to give all honor to the Saviour alone.—The Smalcald Articles, which Luther prepared in order to set forth the points on which no Protestant or Bible Christian could make any concession to Popery, are also offensive to Papists, to Rationalists, and to the unbelieving and impenitent generally, as they contain the pure evangelical truth, which humbles man, while it exalts God.—The Two Catechisms (the Large and the Small) furnish materials for popular instruction in revealed truth, which have never been equalled by other manuals, in their adaptation to the object, their fulness, and their purity. Hence, a friend of divine truth, like Arndt, who took so deep an interest in the religious education of the young, could not do otherwise than regard them as of inestimable value. An enemy of the truth would naturally disavow them.—The Formula of Concord—the last of the series of Lutheran Confessions of Faith, and the one which Arndt appears to have prized most highly—was intended, as we have shown above, to determine various important points involved in the controversies which had arisen in the bosom of the Lutheran Church before or at the time when he was born. The very circumstance that this Symbol was demanded by the exigencies of the Church, demonstrates that the Augsburg Confession was not originally designed to be a full and complete confession of faith, but only a statement of points discussed during the infancy of the Reformation. While it excludes every error which might dishonor God, and confirm the impenitent sinner in his evil course, it completes the previous Symbols, and forms with them an undivided and harmonious whole, exhibiting with brilliancy, power, and spotless purity the Person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and glorifies God alone. A confession of faith which so unreservedly unveils the fearful character of Original Sin, while it so fully explains and establishes the true doctrine of the Lord's Supper, would naturally be unwelcome to an impenitent heart; whereas, the devout Arndt found nothing in it but animating and heavenly truth. Hence he desired to be regarded as simply an Evangelical Lutheran Christian,—an adherent of the Formula of Concord.
§ 26. Religion assumed an unusually attractive and beautiful form in Arndt, and is strikingly shadowed forth in his “True Christianity;” this work is an admirable portraiture of his inner man. He was naturally of a grave, but not by any means of an unsocial or gloomy disposition; he would not otherwise have been styled “the Fenelon of Protestantism.” Dr. Wildenhahn, whose charming work (entitled Johannes Arndt) embodies strictly accurate historical notices, and derives only subordinate matter, such as incidents in domestic life, conversations, etc., from analogy and a fruitful imagination, exhibits him in the true light, as an affectionate husband, a cheerful companion, a generous and self-sacrificing friend of the sick and the poor—in short, as a model in all the relations of life. There [pg xxvii] is no exaggeration in this language. He possessed great firmness of character; indeed, a truly heroic spirit dwelt in him. He manifested this trait on many trying occasions—not only when he preferred poverty and exile to a denial of a single Gospel truth or Lutheran usage, but also in many other scenes of conflict. The ravages of the pestilence could not alarm his heroic soul; the open and violent denunciations of enemies he always encountered in the spirit of Him who said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” (John 18:23.) There was a certain calmness or gentleness in his manner of treating his enemies, which, combined with his earnestness and candor in repelling their calumnies, invariably subdued them. Love—love, not to the amiable and good, or to the poor and sorrowing alone, but also to his enemies—was too often and too variously manifested, to leave the spectator in doubt respecting its true source—a genuine faith in Christ, and deep, ardent love to Him. In truth, it is here that the peculiar type of his religion is seen; he lived more in heaven than on earth. The sacerdotal prayer of Christ (John, Chap. 17) was an unfailing source of light, of hope, of peace and joy to his soul. Expressions like these, “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (ver. 21)—“I in them, and thou in me, etc.” (ver. 23), and language like that of Paul: “Christ in you, etc.” (Col. 1:27), furnished him virtually with the formula: “Christ in me, and I in Christ.” Such was his faith in Christ, and such was his love to Him, that he was always calm and hopeful. Hence features appeared in his religious character which his worldly-minded contemporaries could not fully appreciate; they were formed by two different series of Gospel doctrines, which cannot come in conflict, but which relate to two entirely different objects—Christ, the Saviour, and fallen man. No one more sincerely embraced the doctrine of Original Sin, as held by the Lutheran Church, than Arndt did; of this his writings furnish the evidence. His own searching self-examination, constantly maintained in the light of Scripture, revealed to him the utter corruption of his own heart by nature; he found nothing in himself but sin. He was conscious that he could do nothing without Christ, and deeply felt that grace—nothing but grace—could renew his nature, and save him. These convictions induced him to insist with such earnestness, in his Four Books, on the true and genuine repentance of the sinner. At the same time, there was nothing like sternness, gloom, or despondency connected with his sincere and profound self-abasement. For he received with equal strength of faith another series of truths—he believed with all his heart that “after the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to [pg xxviii] the hope of eternal life.” Tit. 3:4-7. Here a new tide of emotions flowed through his soul. Wonder, joy, gratitude, love, took possession of him. His large heart was full of happiness that the lost could be found and saved—that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Rom. 5:20. And now, when these two distinct principles appear in him in their practical union, the type of his religion is clearly developed. He was grave and earnest, humble, and free from all confidence in himself, for he was “by nature a child of wrath.” Eph. 2:3. But, on the other hand, God had, in pity and in love, given him a Saviour, engrafted him in that Saviour through Holy Baptism, bestowed on him the fulness of grace, and invited him, as a repentant, believing, pardoned child of Adam, to enter heaven. If sin abounded through the first Adam, grace did, through the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), much more abound. His writings, therefore, now assume a very cheerful character—love is the prevailing theme. Nothing morose appears in them—sorrow for sin and repentance—faith in Christ and love to him, are his soul-inspiring themes, and a cheerful spirit, a sense of fervent, joyful gratitude to God, a heavenly calm, pervade alike his heart and its language as uttered in the “True Christianity.”
§ 27. The essential features of vital godliness are always the same; yet “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:4. Paul insists on faith; John, on love. Luther's religion was, like that of Arndt, earnest, and yet cheerful. Both were enabled by their personal experience to understand the nature of these Christian virtues, and also the distinction between them. Luther dwells with wonderful power on faith. Arndt delights to speak of God's love. There is something very beautiful in these different developments of true godliness in the servants of Christ, while the influences of the same divine Spirit controls them alike.
§ 28. It would be an error to suppose that the whole world had risen up in arms against Arndt, after he had assumed his position as an humble and devout Christian. Vast numbers received his First Book on True Christianity with gratitude and joy. It enlightened their minds; it controlled the conscience; it diffused the warmth of life through their souls; and they thanked God that such a book, so full of love, had been given to the world. A comparatively small number of men rose up against him. Certain individuals, such as his colleague, Denecke, a co-pastor of the same congregation in Brunswick, were, no doubt, influenced by envy and personal dislike. But others who opposed him, were by no means governed solely by unworthy personal considerations. Some of them were so much concerned about “questions and strifes of words” (1 Tim. 6:4), that they overlooked and misconceived the heavenly-mindedness of Arndt. Others, who did him injustice, were led astray by the infelicity of the times. We have already referred to the disastrous influences of the mysticism and fanaticism which, in addition to other corruptions of the true faith, had [pg xxix] appeared about, and after, the period of the birth of Arndt. For instance, the Swiss physician, Paracelsus (who died as a Roman Catholic in 1541), had published various fantastic and mystical writings, in which he professed that he understood both mundane and supermundane mysteries. Now a certain Lutheran pastor in Saxony, named Weigel, who died in 1588, and who had been confessedly a man of an upright walk and conversation, had yielded to a tendency to the mysticism and theosophy of Paracelsus. He was thus led theoretically to undervalue the doctrines of the church, and to represent them as merely allegorical forms, involving truths not known to ordinary men. The natural results of his theory, if its folly had not been exposed, would unquestionably have seriously affected the authority of the written Word. Before his writings were published, a friend had communicated to Arndt a short extract from them, which contained none of his errors; the author's name had been withheld. Arndt, in his innocence, inserted the passage in his book, and was thus burdened with the odium of all the Weigelian errors; but he was subsequently released from all censure, and his freedom from anything like the mysticism of Weigel was generally conceded.
§ 29. Another ground of the charge of mysticism which his opponents advanced, was found in his repeated references in the “True Christianity” to Tauler. Here, too, Arndt made a brilliant defence, by quoting the great Luther as his authority. The latter had obtained possession of a manuscript without a title or an author's name, which deeply interested him. It dwelt entirely on the communion of the soul with God, and on kindred topics. Luther, whose godliness was healthy and sound, was so much charmed with the work, that he published a part of it at Wittenberg in 1516, and prefixed the title: “A spiritual, noble little work, explaining the distinction between the old and the new man; showing, also, who are the children of Adam and the children of God, and how Adam must die in us, and Christ live in us.” During the course of the next year he published the whole work, with an extended Preface of his own, and adopted the title: “A German Theology”; this general title it has since retained. It was received with unbounded favor, and circulated rapidly throughout Europe, for instance, in three English, seven Latin, four French, etc., translations, besides numerous editions of the original German. It was supposed to have been written by Tauler, a very devout man, who was born in the year 1290. His religious tendencies led him, like Luther, to enter a monastery. The sermons and other writings which he left behind, while their general character assign to him a place among those who are denominated “Mystics,” nevertheless abound in holy and devout aspirations, and were dictated by a spirit that sought and found peace in the grace of God alone.—Arndt entertained the opinion that the “German Theology” was a production of his pen, and so represents the case in his “True Christianity.” It is now, however, [pg xxx] generally conceded, in consequence of an allusion in the work itself to Tauler as a religious teacher of an earlier day, that another person, belonging to a later period, was the writer; his name is still involved in impenetrable darkness.—So, too, it is by no means certain that Thomas á Kempis (born in 1380), was the author of the popular book “On the Imitation of Christ,” of which more than two thousand editions in the original language, more than one thousand in French, besides innumerable others in German, English, etc., have been published. The historical arguments, adduced chiefly by French writers, intended to support the claims of the eminent Gerson (born in 1363), as the author, although not entirely conclusive, are still possessed of great weight.—Arndt incidentally remarks in a brief statement respecting the “German Theology,” that his copy, printed at Wittenberg in 1520, contained simply the remark that the book had been written by a devout priest of the city of Frankfort, for devotional purposes, but the author's name was withheld. If Luther sanctioned the publication of the “German Theology,” Arndt could calmly listen to those who censured him for adopting a similar course. Those extracts at least, which he furnishes in the “True Christianity,” are, unquestionably, evangelical and truly edifying.
§ 30. It will, perhaps, gratify the reader to observe the skill with which Wildenhahn, to whom we have already referred, illustrates the childlike simplicity of Arndt's character, by combining fiction with truth. During his Brunswick pastorate, the City Council of Halberstadt sent him an urgent call to become the successor of the deceased Rev. D. Sachse, as pastor of the church of St. Martin in that city. After he had consulted with his intelligent wife, who, like himself, was anxious to withdraw to any spot where peace could be found, he resolved to accept the call; and, in accordance with custom and law, applied to the Brunswick City Council for letters of honorable dismission. When the question was to be decided, Arndt appeared in the presence of the burgomaster, Kale, the syndic, Dr. Roerhand, and other members of the Council, and renewed his request. These details are historically true. Wildenhahn now subjoins the following: “Tell me honestly,” said the syndic to him, “have you really, as you allege, taken no steps whatever, in order to obtain this call from Halberstadt?”“Not a single step,” said Arndt, in a solemn manner, with his right hand on his heart, “the whole is altogether and exclusively a work of God.” But at the moment when he pronounced this solemn declaration, it became evident to those who were present, that a sudden thought had startled him; he changed color; he began to tremble; he suddenly covered his eyes with his left hand. Then, with a voice betraying deep emotion, he added: “Gentlemen, I have borne false witness! I really did do something to obtain this call.”“Ah!” said Kale quickly, delighted, as it seemed, to find an opportunity for displaying his official dignity, “You did? Pray, tell us what it was.”“I prayed [pg xxxi] to the blessed Lord with tears, that he would assign to me some other spot in his vineyard, no matter how insignificant, if I could only there preach his word in peace.”“And was that all?” inquired the burgomaster, much surprised, and speaking in more gentle tones. “That was all,” replied Arndt, “and this is true, as God lives! But, doubtless, I erred here, in impatiently attempting to dictate to God, etc.” Such simplicity of character, such perfect ingenuousness, such a wonderful freedom from artifice and disguise, completely disarmed the members of the Council. They now understood better than previously the artlessness and spirituality of the man before them, and, after that scene, they accorded to him entire esteem and confidence.
§ 31. The great work of Arndt—the “True Christianity,” has probably never had its equal as a popular book of devotion. Tholuck relates the following anecdote as an illustration of the manner in which even Papists could appreciate the merits of the work. When Prof. Anton, of Halle, visited Madrid in 1687, he examined the library of the Jesuits, and incidentally inquired of the librarian respecting the ascetic writer whom they esteemed more than other authors of devotional works. The latter exhibited a Latin book, the title-page and last leaves of which were wanting, and declared that it was the most edifying work which they possessed. When Anton examined it, he discovered that it was a translation of Arndt's “True Christianity”! It is only common justice to allow the author to state the objects which he had in view, in preparing the work. The following passage occurs in a letter which he addressed in the last year of his life to Duke Augustus the Younger, of Brunswick: “In the first place, I wished to withdraw the minds of students and preachers from an inordinate controversial and polemic theology, which has well-nigh assumed the form of an earlier scholastic theology. Secondly, I purposed to conduct Christian believers from lifeless thoughts to such as might bring forth fruit. Thirdly, I wished to guide them onward from mere science and theory, to the actual practice of faith and godliness; and, fourthly, to show them wherein a truly Christian life consists, which accords with the true faith, as well as to explain the apostle's meaning when he says: ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ etc.” (Gal. 2:20.)
§ 32. The Rev. Dr. Seiss, the author of “Ecclesia Lutherana, etc.,” to whose endeavors the religious public is mainly indebted for the appearance of the present edition, remarks in a recent notice of the work: “This is one of the very greatest and most useful practical books produced by Protestantism. Though written more than two hundred and fifty years ago, it is still unsurpassed in its department. It stands out with marked and superior distinction in the modern ages. Next to the Bible and Luther's Small Catechism, it has been more frequently printed, more widely read, and more influential for good, than any other book, [pg xxxii] perhaps, that has ever been written. Boehm has not exaggerated, when he says that its effects, in the conversion of souls, has been such, that an account of them would make a history in itself. Nor can any one candidly read it, without finding on every page, scintillations of the sunlike splendors of a mind bathed in the purity, wisdom, and love of heaven.” Mr. Boehm, in the Preface to his translation (which is the basis both of the revision of Mr. Jacques, and of the present edition), remarks, that among the learned men in Great Britain, who had read the Latin translation, the distinguished Dr. Worthington had assigned the first rank among devotional writers to Arndt, and quotes the enthusiastic terms in which he extols that “faithful servant of God, John Arndt.” And Mr. Jacques closes the Preface to his revision with the following words: “Divines of all communions and persuasions, have united in their admiration of this delightful production. The late learned Dr. Edward Williams has inserted it in his valuable Appendix to the Christian Preacher: and the Rev. John Wesley made a most copious extract from it, comprised in Vol. I. and II. of his Christian Library.”
§ 33. And truly God did not design this great work solely for the comfort and aid of the German nation during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), but for all nations and all times. It has been translated into the Latin, Danish, Swedish, Bohemian, Polish, Low Dutch, English, French, Turkish, Russian, Malabar, Tamul, etc., languages. At least two editions of the work in a Latin translation were published in England; the last appeared in 1708, with the following title: “Joannis Arndtii, Theologici, etc.: De vero Christianismo. Libri IV. Cura et studio A. W. Boemi. Lond. 1708.” 2 vols. 8vo.—Another Latin edition was published in Germany in 1624. The Tamul translation had the following Latin title: “De vero Christianismo, in Tamulicum convertit Benjamin Schulzius, Missionarius Evangelicus.”2
§ 34. The work had made so deep an impression on learned British Christians, who read it in Latin, that the wish was repeatedly and earnestly expressed that it might be made accessible to English readers. At this period, that is, during the reign of Queen Anne of England (who died in 1714), large numbers of German emigrants from the Palatinate passed through England on their way to the provinces of New York and [pg xxxiii] Pennsylvania. The Rev. Anthony William Boehm, a German Lutheran clergyman, had previously been appointed as the court chaplain of Prince George of Denmark, the consort of Queen Anne. His enlightened zeal and devout heart led him to take a deep interest, not only in the temporal, but also in the spiritual welfare of these pilgrims, who were on their way to the wilds of North America. He accordingly supplied them, by the aid of certain like-minded friends, with German Bibles and Hymn Books, and also with German copies of Arndt's “True Christianity,” as well as with other books of devotion. This interesting fact is mentioned in the letters of Dr. Muhlenberg, published in the well-known Halle Reports (Hallische Nachrichten, pp. 665, 793). But Mr. Boehm also resolved to furnish the people, in the midst of whom he lived, with the great work of his favorite author, in their own language, and accordingly prepared an English translation, which was first printed in London in 1712.
§ 35. It would be unjust to the memory of this excellent man, if we should fail to refer to his literary labors. His high office at the royal court of England, is an evidence of his personal merit. He was not only a devout and faithful preacher of the Gospel, but also an author who acquired distinction. In 1734 he published a very valuable work in the German language, entitled: “Eight Books, on the Reformation of the Church in England, extending from the year 1526, under Henry VIII., to the reign of Charles II.” In a very beautiful eulogy, in manuscript, found in the volume before us, the writer refers to the successful efforts of Mr. Boehm to provide for the education of the children of the poor in his vicinity. He died May 27, 1722, in his fiftieth year, after having faithfully labored in the service of Christ. He sustained, with eminent success, the Danish Lutheran missionaries in Tranquebar, by sending pecuniary aid obtained in London, as well as religious publications. Besides his great German historical work, which is the complement of Burnet's “History of the Reformation of the Church of England,” he also published several English compositions, such as a “Sermon on the doctrine of Original Sin, Eph. 4:22,” printed in London, 1711, and a “Sermon on the Duty of the Reformation (Jubilee), Rev. 18:4,” London, 1718, besides various religious works in the German language.
§ 36. About the beginning of the present century, the Rev. Calvin Chaddock, who resided in Hanover, Massachusetts, obtained a copy of Mr. Boehm's translation, “accidentally,” as he says, and found it to be so valuable, that he resolved to issue an American edition, which accordingly appeared in 1809, Boston. In his short Preface he remarks, with great truth, that the language of the translation “appears to be somewhat ancient, and the sentiments in some few instances obscure.” He adds, in reference to his own agency: “The only alterations which have been made, are such as respect redundant and obsolete words, orthography, the addition [pg xxxiv] of some words, and the transposition of some sentences; that the ideas of the translator might appear more conspicuous.” He might have, with great advantage, been even more liberal than he was, in correcting the style; it still remained in numerous passages heavy and obscure. As the style, even of the original German, is somewhat antiquated, and as, besides, occasional obscurities and repetitions occur, a later successor in one of Arndt's pastoral charges, the Rev. J. F. Fedderson, assumed the task of revising and abridging the whole of the original German, improving or modernizing the style, and occasionally adding new matter. The result of his labors does not appear to have received the entire approbation of the German religious world; the original and unaltered work continues so popular, that no permanent place has been secured for the substitute. A portion of Fedderson's production was translated and published in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1834, by the Rev. John N. Hoffman, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran congregation of that place. The translation was never completed. The part which was given, consisting mainly of Book I., has long since been out of print.
§ 37. In the year 1815, a new edition of Mr. Boehm's English translation was issued in London (evidently without any reference to Mr. Chaddock's American edition), by William Jacques, A.M., who had already distinguished himself by his translation, from the Latin, of A. H. Francke's “Guide to the Reading and Study of the Holy Scriptures,” of which a reprint, in a very unattractive form, and with omissions, appeared in Philadelphia, in 1823. He took Mr. Boehm's translation as the “ground-work,” which, as he states in his Preface, he did not “edit either hastily or negligently. There is not a single page, nor a single paragraph,” he continues, “which has not been subjected to scrutiny,” etc. Nevertheless, Mr. Jacques, who does not appear to have compared the translation with the original German, made only verbal changes, which, as it is evident, materially improve the style. But he allowed all the additions of Mr. Boehm, which are generally quite tautological, and various inaccuracies in thought and expression to remain. So many antiquated expressions were retained, that it would have been inexpedient to reprint the work precisely as Mr. Jacques allowed the text to remain. Besides, he curtailed the full titles of the several chapters, and, with very few exceptions, omitted the important and appropriate texts which Arndt had prefixed respectively to the latter. These circumstances, in connection with others, such as numerous typographical errors, especially in the Scripture references, plainly indicated that a revision of the whole was necessary, before the present edition could be presented to the public.
§ 38. The editor of the present American edition took that of Mr. Jacques as the basis of the translation, but compared every sentence with the original German. He found some cases in which valuable matter had been omitted, and was occasionally required to supply sentences that had [pg xxxv] been mutilated or suppressed. But he erased all the verbal additions, and the clauses, or sentences, inserted by Mr. Boehm, where it seemed to have been the object of the latter only to explain remarks that were already perfectly lucid, or to add emphasis by the insertion of adjectives, etc., or else to impart beauty by the adoption of poetical terms or phrases, which were inconsistent with the severe simplicity of Arndt's style. He even represents the author, on one occasion, as quoting from the “Homilies” of the Church of England, which Arndt undoubtedly never read, and certainly does not mention in the original. The American editor has, also, at the request of several friends, who took an interest in securing the publication of the present edition, prepared a somewhat copious Index. One of the Latin editions (London, 1708) contains an index, adapted only to its own pages. Another, in German, is found in some of the German editions, for instance, in that of Nuremberg, 1762, also adapted to the pages of the particular edition only. As the American editor found none in English, and preferred to adapt the new Index, prepared by him, to the work itself (specifying the Book, Chapter, and Section), he accordingly completed his task on this plan, after a considerable expenditure of time and labor. It is somewhat difficult to prepare an Index for a work which is so exclusively devotional in its character as the present, and in which the author does not intend to discuss subjects in a strictly scientific manner. Arndt, for instance, employs terms which, when defined with precision, indicate different shades of thought, almost as if they were synonymous (e. g., the grace, mercy, goodness, love, etc., of God), and often repeats the same thought in different language. For this we can easily account, when we recollect that the materials of the work were taken from a series of popular sermons of the author, delivered at intervals. The editor allows himself to hope that the Index which he has prepared, may occasionally be of service to the reader.
§ 39. But even after having made numerous changes on every page of the old translation before him, the American editor is conscious that a critical eye will discover many imperfections in the style. It is often antiquated and heavy, and sometimes even quaint. Nevertheless, in all these instances he allowed the English text to remain as he found it, contenting himself with the correction of orthographical and syntactical inaccuracies, the rectification of Scripture references, the errors in which he found to be unusually numerous, the correction of quotations in accordance with the authorized English version of the Bible, in the many cases in which Mr. Boehm, or one of his assistants, translated from Luther's German version, or quoted the English version from memory, etc., etc.
§ 40. It is eminently proper that a new edition of Arndt's “True Christianity” should appear during the present Jubilee year of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and that it should be undertaken and conducted to a successful issue by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Pennsylvania. [pg xxxvi] The deep spirituality of Arndt, and his active and pure faith, can be fully understood and appreciated only when we reflect on the doctrinal system to which he had given his heart, and to which we have referred above. This orthodox system found no favor, at a later period, among the Rationalists; they rejected the doctrines of the Bible respecting the depravity of human nature, the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the divinely appointed means of grace, and similar truths, and grievously complained of the violence which, as they treacherously alleged, was offered to their conscience, when the demand was made, that if they claimed to belong to the Lutheran Church, to occupy its pulpits, and to receive their support from it, they ought also to adopt its faith. Their influence is happily decaying in Europe, and the restoration of the doctrines of the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to authority, is coincident with the new and healthy religious life of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Hungary, Scandinavia, and Russia. The sincere Christian, John Arndt, whom we heard protesting before God, with his last breath, as described above, that he believed only the doctrines of the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, and all those doctrines, little thought that more than two centuries afterwards, in the remote Western continent of America, men would arise who would not only reject with scorn “all the other Symbolical Books,” which he revered, but also speak contemptuously of the Augsburg Confession and its holy doctrines.
§ 41. The doctrinal system which Arndt so sincerely revered, was brought to this country by the Lutheran pastors who visited our shores at a very early period. Dr. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, an eminently enlightened and holy man, was enabled, by his well-disciplined mind and great administrative powers, to create order among the scattered Lutherans whom he found in this country. He was exceedingly zealous in maintaining the purity of the Lutheran faith, to which he owed all his peace and his hopes. He gave unusual prominence to the Symbolical Books—to all of them, mentioned by name—in the various constitutions of congregations organized or influenced by him, and very properly claimed that none who rejected them could honestly bear the name of Lutherans. We will give only one illustration, of many which might be adduced, to show the fidelity with which he held to the Lutheran Symbolical Books, as enumerated by Arndt in the last paragraph of his Preface to Book I., in this volume. Dr. Muhlenberg states in an official Report for the year 1747, which he transmitted to Halle (Hall. Nachr., pp. 234, 235), that he had visited a congregation in Maryland, in which great dissensions prevailed at the time, occasioned by efforts made by certain individuals to alienate the Lutherans from their faith and church. He says, “Before we commenced public worship, I asked for the Church Record, and wrote certain propositions and articles in it in the English language, and among other statements, made the following: That our German Lutherans held [pg xxxvii] to the holy Word of God, in the prophetic and apostolical writings; further, to the unaltered Augsburg Confession, and the other Symbolical Books, etc.3 I then read the same publicly to the congregation, and explained it to them in the German language, and added, that every one who desired to be, and to remain, such a Lutheran, should subscribe his name.” He informs us that the genuine Lutherans readily subscribed; the rest, who had unlutheran sympathies, withheld their names.
§ 42. An unhappy change occurred after Dr. Muhlenberg's day. The Symbolical Books, which he and his contemporaries received, believed, and sustained in their whole extent, with religious veneration, existed at that time only in Latin and German. They gradually receded from the view of many pastors of the church; individuals were received into the ranks of the ministry, who had never studied them; doctrines and usages, hitherto unknown to the church, were introduced into many Lutheran congregations. At one period several of the most intelligent pastors yielded, to a certain extent, to rationalistic influences; then, the opposite extreme, of fanaticism, gained adherents; both rationalism and fanaticism were alike hostile to “the unaltered Augsburg Confession and the other Symbolical Books,” and a strange combination of elements, derived partly from rationalism, and partly from fanaticism, temporarily held sway. Dependence was now placed on human measures and inventions, designed for the conversion of sinners and the edification of believers, rather than on the divinely appointed means of grace, which men like Arndt and Muhlenberg recognized as the only channels through which the Divine Spirit exercises his influence. If they had lived among us during the second, third, and fourth decades of this century, when their doctrines, and their mode of preaching, were regarded by many as antiquated, or unsuited to a supposed higher grade of religious development, they would have readily predicted the results—fanaticism, latitudinarianism in doctrine, an evanescent emotional religion, and, by consequence, the rejection, in whole or in part, of the Augsburg Confession and the other Symbolical Books.
§ 43. God, in his mercy, has interposed. The doctrines which Arndt, Muhlenberg, and men of the old faith, regarded as the life-blood of a healthy, scriptural religion, are regaining their authority. Many still [pg xxxviii] reject them; the old faith of the church—Bible truth, is unwelcome to an ignorant, rationalistic, and unconverted heart. But others have been taught by observation and experience that mere human measures and inventions cannot conduct to a healthy and permanent religion, and that divine truth, as taught in the Scriptures, and set forth in our Symbolical Books, and the other means of grace given to the Church by its divine Head, are the only sources from which such a healthy religion can proceed. In this spirit Arndt wrote the “True Christianity,” and by this spirit the Synod of Pennsylvania is animated. This ecclesiastical body desires to take away all glory from man, and to give it all to Christ. One of the results of its attachment to our ancient and holy faith, is the publication of the present volume, in which the author so eloquently and affectionately urges all men to repent, to believe in Christ, and to lead a holy life.
§ 44. The divine blessing has so remarkably attended the use of Arndt's “True Christianity,” in the original language, and in its various translations, that the present editor humbly entertains the hope that the time and labor expended by him in preparing this new edition, may also be of avail. And he prays that the “True Christianity” may continue the work which it has already performed, and instruct, guide, and comfort anew the souls of its readers, to the praise and glory of God.
C. F. S.
Philadelphia, August, 1868.[pg xxxix]