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Hymns And Hymnwriters Of Denmark by Jens Christian Aaberg

Chapter Eight Brorson's Childhood and Youth

Hans Adolph Brorson came from Schleswig, the border province between Denmark and Germany which for centuries has constituted a battleground between the two countries and cost the Danes so much in blood and tears. His family was old in the district and presented an unbroken line of substantial farmers until his grandfather, Broder Pedersen, broke it by studying for the ministry and becoming pastor at Randrup, a small country parish on the west coast of the province.

Broder Pedersen remained at Randrup till his death in 1646, and was then succeeded by his son, Broder Brodersen, a young man only twenty-three years old, who shortly before his installation had married Catherine Margaret Clausen, a daughter of the manager of Trojborg manor, the estate to which the church at Randrup belonged. Catherine Clausen bore her husband three sons, Nicolaj Brodersen, born July 23, 1690, Broder Brodersen, born September 12, 1692, and Hans Adolph Brodersen -- or Brorson -- as his name was later written -- born June 20, 1694.

Broder Brodersen was a quiet, serious-minded man, anxious to give his boys the best possible training for life. Although his income was small, he managed somehow to provide private tutors for them. Both he and his wife were earnest Christians, and the fine example of their own lives was no doubt of greater value to their boys than the formal instruction they received from hired teachers. Thus an early biographer of the Brorsons writes: |Their good parents earnestly instructed their boys in all that was good, but especially in the fear and knowledge of God. Knowing that a good example is more productive of good than the best precept, they were not content with merely teaching them what is good, but strove earnestly to live so that their own daily lives might present a worthy pattern for their sons to follow.|

Broder Brodersen was not granted the privilege of seeing his sons attain their honored manhood. He died in 1704, when the eldest of them was fourteen and the youngest only ten years old. Upon realizing that he must leave them, he is said to have comforted himself with the words of Kingo:

If for my children I

Would weep and sorrow

And every moment cry:

Who shall tomorrow

With needful counsel, home and care provide them?

The Lord still reigns above,

He will with changeless love

Sustain and guide them.

Nor was the faith of the dying pastor put to shame. A year after his death, his widow married his successor in the pastorate, Pastor Ole Holbeck, who proved himself a most excellent stepfather to his adopted sons.

Reverend Holbeck personally taught the boys until Nicolaj, and a year later, Broder and Hans Adolph were prepared to enter the Latin school at Ribe. This old and once famous school was then in a state of decay. The town itself had declined from a proud city, a favored residence of kings and nobles, to an insignificant village of about fifteen hundred inhabitants. Of its former glory only a few old buildings and, especially, the beautiful cathedral still remained. And the Latin school had shared the fate of the city. Its once fine buildings were decaying; its faculty, which in former times included some of the best known savants of the country, was poorly paid and poorly equipped; and the number of its students had shrunk from about 1200 to less than a score. Only the course of study remained unchanged from the Middle Ages. Latin and religion were still the main subjects of instruction. It mattered little if the student could neither speak nor write Danish correctly, but he must be able to define the finest points in a Latin grammar of more than 1200 pages. Attendance at religious services was compulsory; but the services were cold and spiritless, offering little attraction to an adolescent youth.

The boys completed their course at Ribe and entered the university of Copenhagen, Nicolaj in the fall of 1710 and the younger brothers a year later. But the change offered them little improvement. The whole country suffered from a severe spiritual decline. Signs of an awakening were here and there, but not at the university where Lutheran orthodoxy still maintained its undisputed reign of more than a hundred years, though it had now become more dry and spiritless than ever.

The brothers all intended to prepare for the ministry. But after two years Nicolaj for various reasons left the University of Copenhagen to complete his course at the University of Kiel. Broder remained at Copenhagen, completing his course there in the spring of 1715. Hans Adolph studied for three years more and, even then, failed to complete his course.

Hans Adolph Brorson

Hans Adolph Brorson

It was a period of transition and spiritual unrest. The spiritual revival now clearly discernible throughout the country had at last reached the university. For the first time in many years the prevailing orthodoxy with its settled answers to every question of faith and conduct was meeting an effective challenge. Many turned definitely away from religion, seeking in other fields such as history, philosophy and especially the natural sciences for a more adequate answer to their problems than religion appeared to offer. Others searched for a solution of their difficulty in new approaches to the old faith. The result was a spiritual confusion such as often precedes the dawn of a new awakening. And Brorson appears to have been caught in it. His failure to complete his course was by no means caused by indolence. He had, on the contrary, broadened his studies to include a number of subjects foreign to his course, and he had worked so hard that he had seriously impaired his health. But he had lost his direction, and also, for the time being, all interest in theology.

It was, therefore, as a somewhat spiritually confused and physically broken young man that he gave up his studies and returned to his home at Randrup. His brothers were already well started upon their conspicuously successful careers, while he was still drifting, confused and uncertain, a failure, as some no doubt would call him. His good stepfather, nevertheless, received him with the utmost kindness. If he harbored any disappointment in him, he does not appear to have shown it. His stepson remained with him for about a year, assisting him with whatever he could, and had then so far recovered that he was able to accept a position as tutor in the family of his maternal uncle, Nicolaj Clausen, at Løgum Kloster.

Løgum Kloster had once been a large and powerful institution and a center of great historic events. The magnificent building of the cloister itself had been turned into a county courthouse, at which Nicolaj Clausen served as county president, but the splendid old church of the cloister still remained, serving as the parish church. In these interesting surroundings and in the quiet family circle of his uncle, Brorson made further progress toward normal health. But his full recovery came only after a sincere spiritual awakening in 1720.

The strong revival movement that was sweeping the country and displacing the old orthodoxy, was engendered by the German Pietist movement, entering Denmark through Slesvig. The two conceptions of Christianity differed, it has been said, only in their emphasis. Orthodoxy emphasized doctrine and Pietism, life. Both conceptions were one-sided. If orthodoxy had resulted in a lifeless formalism, Pietism soon lost its effectiveness in a sentimental subjectivism. Its neglect of sound doctrine eventually gave birth to Rationalism. But for the moment Pietism appeared to supply what orthodoxy lacked: an urgent call to Christians to live what they professed to believe.

A number of the early leaders of the movement in Denmark lived in the neighborhood of Løgum Kloster, and were personally known to Brorson. But whether or not any of these leaders was instrumental in his awakening is now unknown. One of his contemporaries simply states that |Brorson at this time sought to employ his solitude in a closer walk with God in Christ and, in so doing, received a perfect assurance of the Lord's faithfulness to those that trust in Him.| Thus whatever influence neighboring Pietists may have contributed to the great change in his life, the change itself seems to have been brought about through his own Jacob-like struggle with God. And it was a complete change. If he had formerly been troubled by many things, he henceforth evinced but one desire to know Christ and to be known by Him.

A first fruit of his awakening was an eager desire to enter the ministry. He was offered a position as rector of a Latin school, but his stepfather's death, just as he was considering the offer, caused him to refuse the appointment and instead to apply for the pastorate at Randrup. His application granted, he at once hastened back to the university to finish his formerly uncompleted course and obtain his degree. Having accomplished this in the fall of the same year, on April 6, 1722, he was ordained to the ministry together with his brother, Broder Brorson, who had resigned a position as rector of a Latin school to become pastor at Mjolden, a parish adjoining Randrup. As his brother, Nicolaj Brorson, shortly before had accepted the pastorate of another adjoining parish, the three brothers thus enjoyed the unusual privilege of living and working together in the same neighborhood.

The eight years that Brorson spent at Randrup where his father and grandfather had worked before him were probably the happiest in his life. The parish is located in a low, treeless plain bordering the North Sea. Its climate, except for a few months of summer, is raw and blustery. In stormy weather the sea frequently floods its lower fields, causing severe losses in crops, stocks and even in human life. Thus Brorson's stepfather died from a cold caught during a flight from a flood that threatened the parsonage. The severe climate and constant threat of the sea, however, fosters a hardy race. From this region the Jutes together with their neighbors, the Angles and Saxons, once set out to conquer and settle the British Isles. And the hardihood of the old sea-rovers was not wholly lost in their descendants when Brorson settled among them, although it had long been directed into other and more peaceful channels.

The parsonage in which the Brorsons lived stood on a low ridge, rising gently above its surroundings and affording a splendid view over far reaches of fields, meadows and the ever changing sea. The view was especially beautiful in early summer when wild flowers carpeted the meadows in a profusion of colors, countless birds soared and sang above the meadows and shoals of fish played in the reed bordered streams. It was without doubt this scene that inspired the splendid hymn |Arise, All Things that God Hath Made.|

Brorson was happy to return to Randrup. The parish was just then the center of all that was dearest to him in this world. His beloved mother still lived there, his brothers were close neighbors, and he brought with him his young wife, Catherine Clausen, whom he had married a few days before his installation.

Nicolaj and Broder Brorson had, like him, joined the Pietist movement, and the three brothers, therefore, could work together in complete harmony for the spiritual revival of their parishes. And they did not spare themselves. Both separately and cooperatively, they labored zealously to increase church attendance, revive family devotions, encourage Bible reading and hymn singing, and minimize the many worldly and doubtful amusements that, then as now, caused many Christians to fall. They also began to hold private assemblies in the homes, a work for which they were bitterly condemned by many and severely reprimanded by the authorities. It could not be expected, of course, that a work so devoted to the furtherance of a new conception of the Christian life would be tolerated without opposition. But their work, nevertheless, was blest with abundant fruit, both in their own parishes and throughout neighboring districts. Churches were refilled with worshippers, family altars rebuilt, and a new song was born in thousands of homes. People expressed their love for the three brothers by naming them |The Rare Three-Leafed Clover from Randrup.| It is said that the revival inspired by the Brorsons even now, more than two hundred years later, is plainly evident in the spiritual life of the district.

Thus the years passed fruitfully for the young pastor at Randrup. He rejoiced in his home, his work and the warm devotion of his people. It came, therefore, as a signal disappointment to all that he was the first to break the happy circle by accepting a call as assistant pastor at Christ church in Tønder, a small city a few miles south of Randrup.

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