Gerhardt Tersteegen

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 7
THE poet, Gerhardt Tersteegen, was born in Mors, a town of Westphalia, Germany, November 27, 1697. His father, "a pious tradesman," died soon after, and the family being in straitened circumstances, the orphan boy was put into business when very young, at Mühlheim. He appears to have had deep convictions of sin from his earliest youth, and once, while still an apprentice, he was seized with spasms while on a journey alone through a wood. There he prayed beseechingly that he might not be cut off in his sins, but be spared to repent and prepare for eternity. He believed God heard his prayer, and so earnest was he to make amends, and fit himself for death, that he opened a vein to make with his own blood a covenant with Christ.
But he had to learn by painful and disappointing experience that it was no blood of his by which peace with God might be attained.
His earlier austerities were revealed to him as "hindrances rather than helps," as he records of himself; the Savior "took me by the hand; He drew me away from perdition's yawning gulf, directed my eyes to Himself, and instead of the well-deserved pit of hell, opened to me the unfathomable abyss of His loving heart.”
“This was on a spring morning of that year, 1724 in the same spring he sat alone in his little room, on the evening of 'Green Thursday,' as the day before Good Friday is called in Germany. His heart was filled with the joy which had put an end to the five years of darkness. We can see him there with none to whom to tell it, but the Lord who had given it. He is sitting at his little table, and with his own blood he is writing the letter still preserved to us.
“My Jesus:—I own myself to be Thine, my only Savior and Bridegroom, Christ Jesus. I am Thine wholly and eternally. I renounce from my heart all right and authority that Satan unrighteously gave me over myself, from this evening henceforward, "On this evening—the evening when Thou, my Bridegroom through the precious blood, when Thou, my God, didst purchase me for Thyself, agonizing even unto death, praying till Thy sweat was as blood falling to the ground, that I might be Thy treasure and Thy bride.
“Thou hast burst the gates of hell, and opened to me the loving heart of Thy Father.
“From this evening onward my heart and all my love are offered up to Thee in eternal thankfulness.
“From this evening to all eternity, Thy will, not mine, be done. Command, and rule, and reign in me. I yield myself up without reserve, and I promise, with Thy help and power, rather to give up the last drop of this my blood, than knowingly and willingly, in my heart or in my life, be untrue and disobedient to Thee. Behold, Thou hast me wholly and completely, sweet Friend of my soul. Thou hast the love of my heart for Thyself, and for none other. Thy Spirit be my keeper, Thy death the rock of my assurance; yea, amen, may Thy Spirit seal that which is written in the simplicity of my heart.
“Thine unworthy possession,
“GERHARDT TERSTEEGEN.
“On 'Green Thursday' evening, Anno Domini 1724.—
“The darkness was past, and the light was come, the glory of the Lord had arisen upon Gerhardt Tersteegen, to be to him an everlasting light, and the days of his mourning were ended. 'It was,' he said, 'as if a sick child were alone, and far away in the dark night, and suddenly the door was opened, and father and mother and all the beloved ones came in, and the long, lonely hours were over, and all
was love.
After his conversion he left his business for the trade of ribbon-weaving, as he thought that would give him greater opportunity for meditation and quiet. Later, he took into partnership with him one Sommer, which gave him still greater leisure for spiritual development. Three years after this, there was a great religious awakening in Mühlheim, and Tersteegen was induced to address the people. He gave up the ribbon-weaving: his house became the refuge of a multitude of the troubled and the sick; from this fact it was called "Pilgrims' Cottage.
“In consequence many demands were made upon the slender means provided either from the savings of his own frugality, or from the gifts of friends.
Tersteegen was a member of no sect, and for this reason, and also because he did not marry, he was accused of keeping people from church and of teaching celibacy. This calumny he met with loving patience, and with equal firmness. He refused to join himself to the Moravians, though they entreated him often to do so—was he not a "member of Christ?" and is not this enough? Yea, verily, "for we are members one of another." He was a great and almost constant sufferer, but always bore his pains with enduring patience. He bore reproach too, and calumny, with the same patient, uncomplaining grace. He died of dropsy, April 20, 1769, at the ripe age of 72.
Many of the spiritual songs and hymns written by Tersteegen in German are exquisitely translated into English poetry, by the gifted Frances Bevan. They are published with others in 2 volumes, and provide a rich spiritual ministry beyond many other poetic productions. The three following hymns are fine examples.
Whiter Than Snow
To heart and soul how sweet Thou art,
O great High Priest of God!
My heart brought nigh to God's own heart
By Thy most precious blood.
No more my countless sins shall rise
To fill me with dismay—
That precious blood before His eyes,
Hath put them all away.
My soul drew s nigh with trust secure
With boldness glad and free;
What matters it that I am poor,
If I am in Thee?
Forgotten even stain and spot,
Their memory past and gone,
For me, O God, Thou seest not,
Thou lookest on Thy Son.
Come, weary sinners great and small,
The door stands open wide—
Thy blessed heart that welcomes all
O Lamb of God who died
The Door Into Heaven
Name of Jesus! highest Name!
Name that earth and Heaven adore!
From the heart of God it came;
Lead me to God once more;
Name of Jesus! living tide!
Daye of drought for me are past
How much more than satisfied
Are the thirsty lips at last!
Name of Jesus! dearest Name!
Bread of Heaven, and balm of love;
Oil of gladness, surest clam
To the treasure stored above.
Jesus gives forgiveness free
Jesus cleanses all my stains,
Jesus gives His life to me;
Jesus always He remains.
Only Jesus! fairest Name,
Life, and rest, and peace, and bliss,
Jesus, evermore the same,
He is mine, and I am His.
By-Path Meadow
Lord, from Thee I went astray,
Lured by magic song;
Through dim places far away
I have wandered long—
Now when lost are moon and star
Shines the light of Home afar.
O'er the waves that cannot rest,
O'er the drifting foam,
Wandering dove without a nest,
Weary-winged, I come.
From the lonely wastes of sin,
Blessed Noah, take me in.
Take me in, my heart implores,
Leaving far behind
All the thunder of the shores,
All the wailing wind;
In the chambers of Thy rest,
Fold me, hush me, on Thy breast,
Still and sweet the silence deep,
Where no foot hath trod;
Softer than an infant's sleep,
Rest alone with God;
Closed on me Thy palace door,
Perfect peace for evermore.