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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : MUHLENBBERG'S PIETISM.

American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente

MUHLENBBERG'S PIETISM.

47. Subjectivism of Halle Pietists. -- Following are some of the aberrations of the Pietists in Halle: That doctrine was of minor importance for, and as compared with, piety; that sanctification was not contained in, but must be added to, faith; that repentance and conversion were urged in such a manner as if man himself could force them; that such Christians as could not tell of certain peculiar penitential struggles and sensations of grace were regarded as unconverted; that the assurance of salvation was not based on the objective Word of God, but on subjective marks, notably such us were found in those converted in the circles of the Pietists; that the afflicted, instead of being comforted with the Gospel of the unconditional pardon of the entire world, were bidden to feel the pulse of their own piety; that such as did not manifest the symptoms of conversion a la Halle, were judged uncharitably and looked down upon as not being truly converted; that the |revived| and |awakened| were regarded as the real church in the Church, the ecclesiolae in ecclesia. And what of the pietism of the Halle emissaries in Pennsylvania? Dr. Mann declared concerning Muhlenberg and his co-laborers: |Their pietism was truly Lutheran piety, a warm-hearted, devout, practical Lutheranism.| (Spaeth, 1, 318.) However, traces of the morbid and infected Lutheranism cultivated by Pietists, were but too apparent also in Muhlenberg and the associates carefully selected for him by Francke and Freylinghausen in Halle. The piety for which they strove so earnestly and zealously was, in more than one respect, neither truly evangelical nor soundly Lutheran, but of a legalistic and subjective nature. They delighted in evangelistic sermons designed to convert men in the manner of Halle. They endeavored to ascertain who were the truly converted in their congregations. As a standard they applied their own experiences and as models the Halle converts. Instead of immediately comforting terrified sinners with the full consolation of the Gospel, they proved them |according to the marks of the state of grace.| Graebner: |While Diaconus in Grosshennersdorf, Muhlenberg had already published a polemical tract against Dr. Balthasar Mentzer, who had attacked Pietism, and had pictured the time before the rise of Pietism as a time of darkness, in which God had 'set up a true light here and there, until at last the faithful servants of the Lord, the sainted Spener, Francke, Breithaupt, Anton, and others arose' and 'again brought forth the Bible.' At that time Muhlenberg advocated private meetings for souls who had been 'awakened from the sleep of sin,' to which the Burgomaster of Eimbeck referred when he sent word to Muhlenberg 'to cease the pietistic conventicles, as they were against the law of the land.'| (315.)

48. Converts, Prayer-Meetings, Revivals. -- Brunnholtz, whose work was highly praised by Muhlenberg, says of his parishioners, whom, nevertheless, he admitted to the Lord's Table, that, for the greater part, they were |totally blind and dead,| people who had not yet experienced any |true change of heart|; that in present-day congregations one must |be content with the gleanings while looking and waiting for traces of divine activity, where, when, in whom, and whether the Spirit can give a rich harvest.| It is only too true, he continues, |that the great multitude, both old and young, are still buried in carnal-mindedness and in great ignorance, and stand in need of a true conversion.| |There are indeed a few, some also in my two congregations, concerning whom I have the well-founded hope that they have been awakened from the spiritual sleep of sin and are being drawn to the Son by the Father.| |With regard to my congregation here in Philadelphia, I am not able to boast very much of the majority and of the outwardly great number, since there is still much corruption among them. The Lord, however, has granted me a small remnant, who have been awakened by the Word, and who earnestly seek after the paths of peace, permitting themselves quietly, but in earnestness, to be prepared for the rest of God.| Muhlenberg says: |True repentance and conversion according to the Word of God is a difficult matter and a rare occurrence.| |We continued our labors upon the inner and outward upbuilding of the Church, because a small, divinely sanctified seed was noticed among them.| What Brunnholtz and Muhlenberg looked for in the communicant members of their congregations whom they regarded as unconverted were, no doubt, the Halle symptoms. In 1748 submissiveness to be guided by the pastor was numbered among these marks. When the elders of the congregation in Lancaster opposed their pastor and insisted upon their opinion, which was not wrong by any means, they were admonished |to convert themselves with all their hearts, since otherwise they could not properly wait on their office, and the pastor's trials in the congregation would become too great.| (319.) The |small remnant of the converted| were nurtured by the pastors in |special prayer-meetings in the houses.| (320.) This was the practise of Brunnholtz in Philadelphia. And Muhlenberg wrote from New York in 1751: |I have learned that among the Reformed here there is a small body of awakened souls who hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is said that this awakening was brought about by the younger of the two Reformed pastors. My hostess also belongs to the Reformed congregation. Some years ago she was so terrified by the opinion of the unconditional decree of God that a hysterical malady set in with which she is still somewhat afflicted. I searched for the marks of the state of grace. She answered sensibly, which gave me hope that she is in a state of grace. My host desired me to go into a private chamber with him and his weak spouse, and to pray in secret, which we did.| |At the close of the day my dear host again desired that I pray with him and his wife in private, since she thereby had experienced strength and relief on the former occasion. On the 30th of July I was taken to the pious English merchant, who had some awakened souls with him. They sang a psalm, read a chapter from a devotional book, and urged me to pray at the close. After a time the dear souls returned to their homes, and I remained with him till eleven o'clock and employed the time in pleasant and edifying conversation with him and his godly wife.| |August 1, Saturday evening, I preached penitential sermons both in the German and Dutch languages. . . . The church was well filled on this occasion, and the parting seemed to touch and sadden the awakened and well-meaning souls.| Weygand continued the work in the spirit of Muhlenberg, conducting |private hours| with the |awakened souls,| and finding particular delight in some souls who had been awakened by Wesley. When Whitefield returned to Pennsylvania in 1702, Dr. Wrangel entered into relations with him and began to conduct prayer-meetings in a private house in the city, and when the room in that house could no longer contain the people, Muhlenberg's congregation granted him the use of their church. When not prevented by other duties, Muhlenberg regularly attended these English devotional hours. The congregational constitution of 1762 especially reserved for the pastor the right to |conduct hours of edification, exhortation, and prayer in churches and schools, on week-days or evenings, as necessity might dictate, and as strength and circumstances might permit.| (383.425.440.485.) Dr. J. H. C. Helmuth was the first to report on a revivalistic awakening in his congregation at Lancaster, in 1773. Later on, 1811, Helmuth, in the name of the Pennsylvania Synod, wrote a letter to Paul Henkel, then on his missionary tours in Ohio, warning him not to participate in camp-meetings, |if he should come into contact with similar aberrations from our Lutheran ways.| But even at this time Synod did not take a decided stand against revivalistic enthusiasm. Already in the first decades of the nineteenth century reports, coming out of the Synod, such as the following were heard: |Here the fire is also burning.| |Here we behold miracles of God's grace; everywhere we find the wounded, the weeping, the moaning, and those who are praying. Some cried out, 'My God, what shall I do that I may be saved?' Others asked with tears, 'Can I still be saved?'| (549.) In 1810 the North Carolina Synod resolved to have Philip Henkel try out a revival, since such awakenings were also to be desired among Lutherans. During the revival agitation from 1830 to 1850, the English Lutheran churches caught the contagion in great numbers. They introduced emotional preaching, the mourners' bench, protracted meetings, and, vying with the fanatical sects, denounced as spiritually dead formalists all who adhered to the old ways of Lutheranism. In its issue of March 21, 1862, the Lutheran Observer declared that the |Symbolism| of the Old Lutherans in St. Louis meant the death of the Lutheran Church, which nothing but revivals were able to save. (L. u. W.1862, 152; 1917, 374.) Muhlenberg's Pietism had helped to prepare the way for this Methodistic aberration.

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