[b]A NORTHERN LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS [/b]
It was the defining moment in the life of Laestadius 1844. As a visiting clergyman, he had just finished preaching a sermon, when a simple peasant woman, Mill Clemetsdotter, approached him. 'Mary of Lap-land', a Laestadius himself called her later, opened her heart to him, sharing her own spiritual experience of new birth. Convicted of his lack of genuine knowledge of God, she led him into a real and deep forgiveness of sin and personal faith in Jesus
He was now a transformed man with a new mission. Back in his local parish of Kaaresuvanto (northern Sweden), he spoke these stirring words from the pulpit: "By the grace of God, the gospel must be preached to penitent, hopeless souls that bow to repentance." This was the start of a revival movement in the far north of Scandinavia that was to extend even to North America.
Lars Levi Laestadius was born into a family of clergymen in Jäkkvik (present day northern Sweden). After entering Uppsala University in 1820, he was ordained in Härnösand Cathedral in 1825 and became a clergyman in Kaaresuvanto from 1825 to 1849.
Laestadius had a lifelong interest in nature and gathered thousands of plants, continuing his scientific activity after his ordination. His own herbarium contained 6,500 plants and at least four plants bear his name.
After the transforming experience of 1844, his sermons received a new passion and power. Fire ignited fire and new streams of revival life began to flow. Many in the church were gripped with a sense of urgency after hearing the anointed preacher and were eager to share the gospel locally. Nearby villages were stirred by the new awakening and real conversions began to take place.
People from other parishes began to gather in Kaaresuvanto. Laestadius now spoke with conviction and authority: "It is love which causes a pardoned sinner to hate the former works of Adam. The love of Jesus requires him to forsake drunkenness, vile language, greed, vanity, worldly joy and anger. And the same love requires and forces him to speak of spiritual matters whenever the occasion is granted."
As the revival grew stronger, Laestadius called repentant laymen to help him in his work. Organisation of the work was hampered by a Conventicle Bill passed in 1726 forbidding devotional meetings conducted by lay preachers, but the word of God still spread by word of mouth amongst villagers.
Laestadius stressed conversion and personal experience of salvation. A person must receive a new heart and therefore the law must be preached without mercy. As he said, "The bear cub must first be awakened before it can be killed."
He also employed three other channels as aids for his work: a temperance movement that had started before the awakening; a village prayer tradition and the school system.
The new converts were empowered as workers in the harvest. Public confession of sins became one of the features of the movement, with those under conviction feeling impelled to put right any wrongs committed.
His direct and coarse language - used to reveal to people their sins - shocked folk, initially, but the saltiness of his sermons made people come back for more. Laestadius also emphasised the reality of receiving the Holy Spirit on conversion, causing great joy and zeal in the hearts of converts.
The nomadic Sami (or 'Lapp') people brought the awakening that had begun in Kaaresuvanto with them to the Norwegian coast, and then quickly over a wide area of northern Finland and Sweden. From there migrants took the movement to North America and there were Laestadians established in Russia as well.
By remaining within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the Laestadian movement was able to extend its influence far and wide - while preserving its singularity and individuality. Among his last words, he wrote, "I believe the great Conciliator and King who was crowned with thoms, will not reject me."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon