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Selected Sermons Of Schleiermacher by Friedrich Schleiermacher


(Preached March 28th, 1813.)

TEXT: JEREMIAH xvii.5-8, AND xviii.7-10.

MY devout hearers! Through an extraordinary occurrence we find the order of our discourses on the suffering Saviour interrupted, and our to-day's meeting devoted to a very different subject. How deeply have we all been moved by the events of the last weeks! We saw march forth from our gates the army of a people nominally allied to us, but our feeling was not that of parting with friends; with thankful joy did we feel at last the long, heavy pressure removed from us. Immediately after that came the troops of another nation, nominally at war with us; but with the most joyful enthusiasm were they received when they made themselves known as the friends of the king and the people. And when, not long after them, we saw our own warriors also returning, then no one could any longer doubt, and the word passed joyfully from mouth to mouth: Thanks for the heavenly, unmistakable tokens which God the Lord has given through the fearful turmoil of war in the North; thanks to the noble and brave military leaders who, disregarding the appearance of disobedience and the infraction of the letter, and acting really according to the mind and spirit of the king, dared to take the first decisive step towards freeing us from the intolerable bonds under which we had so long been held; thanks to the king, who when this favourable moment presented itself, could not do otherwise than let his feeling, which was entirely the same as ours, bear sway; thanks to all this, the great change, the transition from bondage to freedom, is in preparation. But openly as wo thanked God with joy among ourselves, it was not yet time to do so publicly; for the king had not yet spoken. At last sounded forth to us the long and impatiently expected royal word, which, although certainly the public papers have deeply impressed it on us all, we shall as certainly hear once more with joy and emotion when it is read to-day by the king's command from every pulpit in the city. It runs thus. [Here followed the summons of the king, To my people.]

Thus the king; and I count it only fair to abstain from speaking in laudation of this royal word. It is still fresh in all our hearts, the delight in the certainty of battle which this word gives us, in the high and noble spirit which here gives utterance to what all the best in the nation had long felt and thought. And now, hardly had we heard this glorious call when our ear was greeted by the triumphant shout of a city loved and revered by every German heart, which was the first to be freed from the direct yoke of the enemy; and, as the crown of all, we saw our beloved king himself come among us with a feeling -- we may freely admit it to ourselves -- that can never before have lifted up his heart, for he never before had an opportunity of feeling so deeply and truly that which is the source of the highest happiness and exaltation to a ruler, the purest harmony between his will and his people's wish; we saw him lead forth on the way to meet the enemy the army which, at his command, had been consecrated and blessed for the battle by prayer. This then, the departure of our army to battle, to decisive battle for what is highest and noblest, is the subject which, as it assuredly fills and stirs all our hearts, is to occupy our attention at this hour, so that for us also this holy war may begin with humble, elevating thoughts of God, and that our hope and our joy may be sanctified to Him.

I have taken these words of the prophet on which to found our meditation, not at all, as it may possibly appear, in order to institute a comparison between ourselves and that nation against whom we are going to war; but merely in order rightly to distinguish what is conflicting in our own history, that we may thus be led up to the essential part in the great change in which we are rejoicing. For, my friends, the joy that befits us in this place is not joy merely because the oppression and suffering under which we have long sighed are now at an end; not the joy which paints for us in anticipation bright pictures of future prosperity which we hope to attain; here this must be only second and last with us. And if, nevertheless, this contrast still presents itself to us, let us apply it to ourselves in this way, that we feel, as the prophet represents to us, that in the individual, but still more in the mass, changes in the lot depend on the rise and fall of intrinsic worth. Yes, let us here consider the great change entirely from this point of our worthiness before God. On two things included in this, these words give us light; first, what, in this aspect, is the exact significance and the real nature of the change; and second, what we must therefore feel called on to do.

I. In order to understand rightly what is the main point in the great change in our position as citizens which is begun by the present declaration of war, wo must look back to a former time well known to us all, and through which many of us lived, when deep decay and fearful devastations had fallen on these lands. Then, through the efforts of several wise and strict rulers, through a judicious taking advantage of events, through successfully conducted wars, but most through the growing up of a noble and free aspiring spirit in the people themselves, we became a nation and kingdom regarding which the whole world saw that the Lord would build and plant it and had promised to do it good. And suddenly enough for all those to whom gradual growth is less perceptible, we found ourselves at this height. But gradually, and while dreaming of rising yet far higher, we slipped downwards, and then just as suddenly plunged to the bottom. For we began to boast of our strength, to rely on the fear with which we might inspire other nations, and thus the effects of our former fame were to carry us ever higher without the forth-putting of our own power, without works on our part pleasing to God. We became the man who makes flesh his arm and whose heart departeth from the Lord. Dishonest acquisitions enlarged our territory in a way more apparent than profit able; for we acquired but few true brethren who willingly obeyed the same laws and laboured for the same end. While other States put forth efforts and wore themselves out in constantly renewed wars, partly for the sake of the same great blessings for which we are now about to fight, we thought to become ever mightier and more formidable through repose. Thus our self-confident prudence was gradually followed by despondency, and we became in yet another way the man who trusts in man; for he also who flatters men and fears them trusts in man. And with our fame our very sense of honour became, more and more, as time went on, an empty name. And more and more our heart departed from the Lord. In a puffed-up, unnatural prosperity the old virtues were by degrees lost, a flood of vanity and dissipation laid waste the laborious works of long and better years; and plainly as the voice of the Lord made itself heard warning us to repentance, we did not obey Him; we did evil in His sight, and therefore He repented of the good that He had promised to do us. And suddenly, just as we seemed about to rouse up out of the long blindness and stupidity in which, however, the greater number were still wrapped, though not more deeply than before -- suddenly the Lord spoke out against us as against a nation and kingdom which He would pluck up and pull down and destroy. Then there fell upon us that grievous, crushing disaster in war, and this sudden fall from the height into the abyss was followed by the ever more deeply and painfully suicidal calamity of peace. I am not speaking of the privations, of the distress, of the poverty, of the constantly increasing difficulty in all the external relations of life; I speak only of the inward spiritual corruption which was, one hardly knows whether to say, brought to light by this state of things, or actually created and formed by it. The wretched habit of continually bearing indignity, which we practised publicly and privately during those seven dismal years with the feeling that to let righteous indignation have free course could only increase the evil without any beneficial result -- that habit and that feeling are the fruit of sluggishness, of enervation, of cowardice; but how did they in turn increase and spread cowardice, sluggishness and enervation, until all confidence in ourselves, every hope, except the foolish hope of a help that was to come merely from without -- till even the wish to be able to help ourselves, nay, till even the sense of being worthy of a better condition disappeared; and the miserable idea took possession of men's minds that the living, mental energy of the nation was entirely exhausted, and the hour of utter ruin had come. This fear had power with not a few among us, who were day by day expecting the dissolution of our separate existence, and who, no longer hoping to see any comfort in the future, were only speculating how they could most comfortably accommodate themselves to the foreign yoke. The impossibility which we so often met, of escaping the danger of the moment without falsehood and fraud, the necessity to feign praise and approval, nay, even agreement and friendship, where we could only despise and detest; all this was no doubt the fruit of that loss of shame which for the sake of life ignored all life's noble aims; but how fearfully was this shamelessness developed by that condition of things, and what an amount of humiliation it took even to provoke public indignation! The insecurity of all property and all rights was no doubt in great part a consequence of the thoughtlessness with which, in times of calamity, people so often try to free themselves from the distress of the moment or to enjoy its fleeting pleasure, without remembering what they ruin or risk in the long run; but to what a degree did that in secure condition increase this thoughtlessness! How did we see luxury and extravagance as in the most prosperous times! how did we see usury and regardless violence sucking up the property of others and lavishing its own, as if all were indeed devoted to speedy ruin! This is the deep corruption into which, on the one hand, we had fallen; and if, on the other hand, our fall and these its effects opened the eyes of many for the first time, others made it more plainly visible than before what was wanting in us; if, in many, a noble ardour was kindled to cast off the indignity that oppressed us from without, and to banish what defiled us within, yet even these noble germs of better things, without definite form or connection, could only excite apprehensions of an irregular outbreak, behind which the cowardice and baseness of others would only the more impregnably intrench and fortify themselves.

Such was our condition, my friends, and no one could conceal from himself that if we continued in the same alliances and in the same state of dependence, we must become more and more like the heath in the desert. Now if I regard the renunciation of these alliances and the attitude of war which, on the contrary, we have assumed, and the beginning of which we are celebrating -- if I regard these as the beginning for us all of being lifted up from this deep fall; if I hope that God will now repent of the evil that He purposed to do us; this is founded chiefly on the following things.

In the first place, and to begin with what every one must at moments have most deeply felt; this change is in itself the turning back to truth, the deliverance from the humiliating hypocrisy, which every one, the more he believed him self bound to represent in his talk not himself but the State, really carried to a dreadful perfection. Now, thank God, we can again say when we abhor, or when we love and respect; and as every man of honour must stand to his word with deeds, we must surely feel free and strong in this, we must feel that we have a right to hope; for he who yields himself to truth without reservation is trusting in the Lord. But just because the word alone is nothing, and because this word more than any other demands deeds, therefore this change is the return to free action and to independence. How long, my friends, have we really had no will about our common affairs, always accommodating our selves to circumstances, and to the oppressive foreign force, so far as it chose to reach! Now we have once more a will; now the king, confiding in his people, has declared a determination in which (because after this no reconciliation can be hoped for) there is involved the resolution to enter on a course of brave deeds which can only end, as the royal word says, in glorious ruin or in the firm establishment of this precious blessing of liberty. And hence we found on this change the hope that we shall preserve for ourselves our own distinctive character, our laws, our constitution and our culture. Every nation, my friends, which has developed to a certain height is degraded by receiving into it a foreign element, even though that may be good in itself; for God has imparted to each its own nature, and has therefore marked out bounds and limits for the habitations of the different races of men on the face of the earth. And yet how the foreign element has lately been thrusting itself upon us! how it threatened the more as time went on to drive out our good manners and ways! And what a foreign element! Half the product of the unbridled ferocity of those horrible internal disorders, half devised for the later tyranny. In rising up to cast this utterly off and to keep it away from us for the future, we become once more a kingdom that trusts in the Lord; for in Him is that nation trusting which means to defend at any price the distinctive aims and spirit which God has implanted in it, and is thus fighting for God's work; and only in proportion as we succeed in this can we become as a tree planted by the waters, that fears not when heat cometh, and brings forth its own fruit without ceasing.

But a joyful hope of revival arises very specially from the way and manner in which the great work of which we are celebrating the commencement is developing. First of all, let us not pass unmentioned the gifts which we see offered by rich and poor, great and small, on the altar of the Fatherland. We do not wish to consider those according to their sufficiency for the purpose to which they are devoted -- for willingly and abundantly as they are given, they yet meet but a small part of the need -- but according to their inward significance and to the spirit of which they are the expression. In offering them we did not wait till a requisition was made and a command given, but as soon as we knew the need we hastened to offer. As it is death to any commonwealth if only the letter of the law prevails, and no one takes more interest in it, by act or feeling, than that prescribes; as this is a sure sign that the higher blessings of life are not produced by fixed regulations; so this loyal, living feeling about whatever is necessary for the commonwealth is a sure sign that the life-giving sap of true love has penetrated into the State, and that the leaves of this spiritual tree will remain green even in the heat and in the year of drought. And if many a one has devoted all that he had remaining of earthly jewels and treasures, let us regard this as the necessary avowal that in this war it is not a question of earthly, but of spiritual possessions, and that we are ready, and will be so to the last, to do without and sacrifice all the former in order to gain the latter, and content although we should be obliged, after the successfully decisive battle, to begin the building up of our earthly prosperity from the very foundation. That is what it is to trust in the Lord, and to seek only after His kingdom.

But let us look particularly at the form which the defence of the Fatherland is to take. Among all the divisions that crippled our powers and impeded our progress, there was none more unhappy than that between soldier and citizen, resulting from the rooted opinion that he who was engaged in a peaceful trade or profession could have neither knowledge .nor skill to defend his property and the common Fatherland in the time of danger. Hence the special privileges which were granted to those on whom alone the safety of the State depended, and still more to those who were exclusively appointed to command them; hence the jealousy of the citizen as to those privileges, and the general dislike to a class which in time of peace seemed only a burden to all the rest. Many commendable attempts were no doubt made to diminish this evil, but without results of any consequence. Now this separation is to be abolished; the difference is now to exist only between those who, constantly occupied with the proper arts of war, are, in the precision of their exercises and performances, an example to all others as well as the nucleus to which they gather, and those who, scantily instructed and drilled, only take up arms when it becomes necessary; but courage is to be expected from all, all are to know the use of their weapons, all are to take a growing share in the danger, the greater it becomes. We have been wisely led thus far step by step. The brave ardour of our young men was known whenever it became a question of this struggle; they were appealed to, and we saw them at the first call pour in from all ranks, from all nobler occupations to arms. Where a new good thing is to be quickly spread, the fathers must often be taught by the children; we have good reason to hope that it will be so at present, and that after that example of the young, for whom we should venture everything rather than they for us, every one will now be prepared to take part in the defence of the Fatherland according to his assigned order. For this reason the king is now instituting the Landwehr. And as this is also to be specially published to-day, hear what he says about it. [Here followed the summons to the Landwehr.]

What an exalted feeling this call must awaken in all of us! what a firm confidence in the strength thus united! what a happy foretaste of the harmony and love in which all ranks will be bound together, when they have all stood side by side face to face with death for the Fatherland! what a happy anticipation of the united endeavour to lay in this way the foundation of a life that shall be worth such efforts, and in which unity and strength shall be equally seen!

Thus, my dear friends, we see in this glorious and spirited change in our condition the beginnings of a happy rising again from a deep fall, the returning favour of the Most High, who is again promising to do us good. Let us, then, also reflect how we are obeying His voice, let us further consider, in a few words, what we must in the first place feel called on to do, by this change of affairs. I shall be able to be the shorter about this, as your minds must already, by what has gone before, be directed to what I have to say.

II. I speak first of those who are called directly to the defence of the Fatherland, whether they belong to the armies that are already in motion, or whether, according to their own inclination or by the law of the lot, they are incorporated in that great bulwark which is still to be formed. I do not wish to do what is superfluous, by exhorting them to courage and bravery. He can never be wanting in courage whose mind is filled with the common aim, and who has made it entirely his own. For if, in that case, he finds himself in the great mass of conflicting powers which are organized into a noble whole; if he finds it impossible to think of himself singly, but must regard himself as only a little part of the whole; then his attention and his wishes can also only be directed to the movements of the whole. And that these movements may always accomplish the proposed aim -- that alone is what he works for with all his strength; and thus whatever may befal himself in doing so, even were it the final human event, must appear to him only as an utterly insignificant casualty, which he himself regards as little as it can be regarded among the whole. This is the natural courage of him who loves the cause for which he is fighting. But I should like to warn you lest personal ambition weaken the high nobility and the true effectiveness of this courage. Let your emulation never be as to what each one brings to pass; let it be only as to the spirit that each manifests and the virtue he practises. He who strives to do this and that, and not just what always comes to him in his own place, is withdrawing from the natural arrangement of united work, to the injury of the whole. If public distinctions must certainly depend on success, then let every one strive, not to earn them, but to deserve them; let every one remember that all who did their duty faithfully helped to earn those things which others have received; and that the consciousness of having done all that it was possible for zeal and goodwill to do, and the recognition of those who know this, outweigh all other distinctions. I would caution you, moreover, not to let thoughtlessness weaken this natural courage. Not a few seem to think that everything is already done, that there is hardly need of the armies that have already gone forth and are doubtless about to begin the pursuit of the scattered, terrified remnant of the enemy's ruined forces to the utmost bounds of the German Fatherland; and that if more men lit for arms were called out, it could only be, not so much for immediate need, as to make use of this splendid opportunity in forming a better and more powerful system of defence for the future. Let such people beware lest the unexpected, which is what oftenest casts men down, come upon them with its terrible force, and they then indeed fear, when the heat cometh. The king's message is very far from countenancing this light view; it does not conceal from us the power of the enemy, nor the greatness of his resources; and we ourselves have some idea of the embittered feeling that he must have against us. Let us secure our courage by being prepared for everything, even for each of us in person to defend or avenge home and hearth.

I speak in the next place of the rest of us in connection with those, the defenders of the common cause; of our selves as their relatives and friends. The feeling which formerly, when the State was involved in war, was shared by only a few, and as to which they were sometimes pitied and sometimes envied by others -- the seeing of their best-beloved ones exposed to the danger of death in battle and to the various disasters of war; this feeling will now be come universal. For which of us is there that will not now see among the hosts of the army or of the Landwehr, at least relations, benefactors, pupils, heart-friends, if not father, husband, brother and son going to meet those very dangers? And let us then feel that we are not on this account to be pitied, but to be counted happy; that the more highly we value those connected with us, the more ought we to sympathise with and enter into all that is great and glorious in their calling. And the more we love them as ourselves, let us all the more offer and consecrate them to the Fatherland, just as we would yield up our own lives for it were we called on to do so. Much precious blood will flow, many a beloved head will fall; let us not embitter their glorious lot by mournful fears and weak sorrow, but see to it that, worthy of the great cause, we remain green and fresh; let us remember how much happier it is to offer up life as a sacrifice in the noble struggle against this destructive power than in the impotent struggle of medical art against the unknown powers of nature. And the loving cares which, if we could, we would gladly bestow on our own when sick and wounded -- let those cares make us entirely a joint community, as the cause is common; let us care for and serve all whom we can, in the firm confidence that in the same way there will be no lack of tender nursing and treatment of our loved ones from others who feel as we do. But, above all, let us take care that the well-deserved honour of those who have dedicated themselves to this sacred struggle be not lost. As we ourselves have been most deeply moved by the distress and humiliation of the past years, and the glorious resurrection of the Fatherland in these days, let us also impress all this most strongly on the rising generation; that this eternally memorable time may indeed be remembered, and that each descendant whom it concerns may say with just pride, There fought, or there fell, a relation of mine.

I speak further, on the other hand, of those who, while others have gone out to defend the Fatherland, are to regulate and direct its internal affairs, and discharge all the various offices which it requires. May this great decisive time arouse them all to redoubled faithfulness and solicitude, to redoubled abhorrence of all neglect at home through indolence or irregularity -- for I will not say through self-interest or unfaithfulness -- while in the field citizens are offering up their life-blood. May they abhor it as the most shameful treachery to this very blood and to all the virtues that offer it up. Let them remember that every power must be conscientiously applied, every department of the common wealth faithfully administered; if the great work is to succeed. Above all, let them remember that if the courage of those who have gone to the war is to hold out, they wish to see, in the strength and wisdom of the constitution and government, a guarantee for the higher blessings for which they are fighting. Therefore be it far from any one among us to think himself wise when he is not so; let no one thrust himself, to the exceeding detriment of the common wealth, into an office which he is not capable of filling; let no one allow himself to be so blinded by friendly partiality as to favour such presumptuous undertakings. But when one is wise, then let him strive to act, and to act vigorously and faithfully. Let those who administer justice remember that the sacred sense of the rights of nations and states, which lies at the foundation of this whole struggle, can only be in a healthy state where the rights of the citizens are faithfully observed; let those who have the care of keeping order and security remember that very specially in the exercise of their occupation is to be shown most gloriously that noble and beautiful combination of liberty and obedience in which we have long prided ourselves, and by which, in days of repose as in times of war, we must chiefly mark our difference, both from the former licence and from the later servitude of the nation against which we are contending. Let those who are to elevate the sentiments of the people and to form the minds of the young remember that they, in their quiet work, are the guardians and keepers of the most sacred property; that on their faithfulness in duty and on the blessing resting on it, it depends whether there shall be faculties with which to light, and above all whether there shall be anything to fight for -- a faith, a hope, a love. Lastly, let those who manage the public taxes remember that under the poor earthly form of money and of goods there is offered to them in tribute the efforts of all the noble and intellectual faculties which have established the dominion of man over nature; that it is not the people's superfluity, not their savings which are to be disposed of, but what they have pinched themselves to give. Let all remember how greatly the importance of their work is increased in such times as these, so that, in the first place, they themselves, to whom obedience is to be given, may in their great calling obey the voice of the Lord.

And finally, in contrast with those who are directly at work for the Fatherland, I speak of those to whom this is not permitted, who dare not even wish that the necessity should arise that would call them also to arms. Well, if it is painful to them to devote this great time entirely to quiet work, although they would gladly be waging war, let them consider that we have an internal war to carry on, which is of equally decisive importance. If our real low condition consists in evil of many kinds, let us begin first by lifting ourselves out of that; there is still much to be rooted out, much to be fought against. Let us be brave in this war -- it also requires courage; it has its dangers also. Let no one enjoy unshaken respect in society, who still by word or deed preaches despondency or indifference, and who seems inclined to prefer our former condition with quietness to the struggle for a better! Let every one be watched and unmasked who thinks that the more the eyes of all are turned to those at a distance, he may the more securely and secretly indulge in a now more than ever criminal and traitorous selfishness. Let no one remain unchecked, who perhaps in the foolish delusion of preparing for himself a more endurable fate in the event of an unsuccessful issue, seeks to exempt himself from, or in any way to obstruct, the vigorous measures which are indispensably necessary to making the issue successful. And even if narrow-mindedness and baseness of this kind should try in a greater or less degree to creep into the public administration, then, because the danger is doubled, let us also fight with double energy and take no rest until we conquer. Thus shall we also have our own part to sustain, we shall wage the same war as the others, only in a different way; and if those who are placed behind doubtful troops to intimidate those who might think of giving way prematurely, take credit to themselves for a part of the victory, though they have done no fighting, this may also be permitted to us.

These, my friends, are the demands which the present times make on us. Let each of us, then, stand to his post and not give way! let each of us keep fresh and green in the sense of the great holy powers that animate him! let each of us trust in God and call on Him, as we are now about to do together!

Merciful God and Lord! Thou hast done great things for us in calling our fatherland to fight for a free and honour able existence, in which we may be able to advance Thy work. Grant us in addition, safety and grace. Victory comes from Thee, and we know well that we do not always know what we are doing in asking of Thee what seems good to us. But with greater confidence than ever, even with a strong faith, we entreat of Thee prosperity and blessing on the arms of our king and his allies, because it seems to us almost as if Thy kingdom and the noblest gifts that past centuries have won for us would be in danger, if these efforts were in vain. Protect the beloved head of our king, and all the princes of his house, who are now with the army. Grant wisdom and strength to the commanders, courage to the soldiers, faithful steadfastness to all. And grant also, as Thou canst change and turn the fortune of war, that its blessings may not be lost to us; that each one may be purified and grow in the inner man; that each may do what he can, be it much or little; that we may grow stronger in confidence in Thee, and in obedience to Thy will, an obedience reaching even to death, like the obedience of Thy Son. Amen.

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