200th Anniversary Of The Birth Of C.F.W. Walther
2011 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of C.F.W. Walther, founding father of our Missouri Synod. To mark this event we are including the chapter about him from the Church History book written a century ago by Professor E.A.W. Krauss of our St. Louis seminary.
+DR. C. FERDINAND. W. WALTHER
A hundred years after death closed M. Muehlenberg’s eyes (1787), a man died through whom the Lord blessed, yes, in fact, superabundantly blessed especially the Lutheran Church—C.F.W. Walther (+07 May 1887 in St. Louis).
Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther came from an long line of preachers. He was born in Langenchursdorf in Saxony on 25 October 1811. His father was Pastor Gottlob Heinrich Wilhelm; his mother was named Johanna Wilhelmine, nee Zschenderlein, from Zwickau. Ferdinand was the eighth of twelve children, and the fourth son. The children’s upbringing in the parental home was strict but not harsh. Although the father himself was deep into rationalism, he still taught his children that the Bible is God’s Word. The small treasury of verses and hymns, which the boy acquired, later became alive in him. As a secondary student in Schneeberg, in the midst of decidedly rationalistic teachers, he had to say that he had no evident life of faith. “I was 18 years old when I left the gymnasium and I had never even heard from a believer’s mouth one verse taken from God’s Word. I never had a Bible, nor even a catechism, but only a miserable manual containing heathen morals.” When he finished the gymnasium, he wanted to be a musician. He also had an excellent gift for music. All his life he was a skilled organist who rejoiced whenever he could play on a good instrument. His father, though, was opposed to this career: “If you want to be a musician, you see to it that you make your way; but if you want to study theology, I will give you a Taler each week.”
It was not this promise that convinced him to study theology. Instead, it was the great impression that the biography of J. Fr. Oberlin (by G.H. Schubert) made on him. His brother Hermann, who had studied theology for two years in Leipzig, brought this book along on break. In Oberlin Walther saw how blessed a pastor’s sphere of influence can be. “I absorbed an unshakeable trust in God from that precious little book.”
In October 1829 Walther moved to the University of Leipzig. His very good grades at the gymnasium obtained for him “a cord of wood” for his support; otherwise he was dependent on the “weekly Taler.” He still did not have his own Bible; he would gladly have bought one but he lacked money. “One day he only had a few pennies. If he spent these for a Bible, he did not know what he would live on the next day. Finally he said to himself: I in fact will spend the money for God’s Word. He’ll help me and will leave me stuck in my distress. He purchased the Bible. The next day a farmer from Langenchursdorf approached the student Walther. He told him that before his departure to Leipzig he asked at the parsonage whether Walther’s father might have something to deliver to his son. At first the father said he knew of nothing; but then he thought about it and brought him a letter that he wanted to deliver. The farmer left. Walther opened the letter and in it found a Taler.” Such an extra gift of his father never happened again after that. On 09 December 1829 Walther wrote in his diary: “Today I read in the Bible, specifically in Acts, in order to familiarize myself with it because I still know very little about the Apostles—I can barely recite their twelve names; and secondly in order to build an unshakeable faith by their examples of works and sayings.” From these words one can draw a conclusion about the religious instruction in the gymnasium.
The professors of theology at the university at that time did not make a confession of Christ, the Son of God and Savior of sinners. With the exception of F.W. Lindner Sr. and Aug. Hahn, they were declared rationalists or believers in reason. At that time that, theology students actually placed a Bible in a coffin and carried it around in a procession while singing: “Now let us bury the body.”
However, by God’s gracious leading, the young Walther came into a circle of students whom he later described this way: “This little group assembled on certain days each week to pray together, to read Holy Scripture together for the purpose of edification and for mutual conversation over that one thing that is necessary. For a time, imitating A.H. Francke, Professor Lindner also privately gave them a so-called collegium philobiblicum. Here he interpreted the Scripture in an edifying manner and gave instruction on how to derive practical sermon themes from the Biblical texts.” Several believing lay people belonged to this group, also candidate Kuehn, Walther’s older brother Otto Hermann, others who would later become well-known pastors in Missouri Synod circles: J.F. Buenger, O. Fuerbringer and Th. J. Brohm, as well as many others. Of course they were ridiculed as obscurants, Pietists, fanatics, as well as hypocrites but they were inwardly joyful in their God and Savior. In the future all of them, who remained faithful, thought back on this time of their first love as the most blessed time of their entire life. At first there was no discussion in this group on the difference of the doctrine between the various churches since the faith which the precious book of the Bible had ignited in these disciples, was, of course, none other than the Lutheran. Yet it did not remain. After some time, as they grew in knowledge, the question arose (partly by itself, partly by the old candidate Kuehn, who was well grounded in doctrine): What faith are you? Lutheran? Reformed? Union? This certainly resulted in a sifting. Most soon recognized that it is none other than the Lutheran faith which God the Holy Spirit sealed in them as the true faith, which alone stood firm in trial, even before they knew which church it is the faith of. There were only a few who left. The impression made on the young believers went deeper when Candidate Kuehn tried to lead the awakened group the same way that God had led him: He tried to convince us that our entire Christian faith could not rest on firm ground until we had found a great degree of repentance and true terrors of hell in hot struggles of repentance—like he did. The result of this was an overall change from a Christianity that was evangelical and joyful into one of law and gloom.” The edifying literature that the young students of that time preferred to use was the writings of J. Arnd, Spener, A.H. Francke, Bogatzky, Fresenius, also J.J. Rambach—thus the writings of the Pietists. “The less a book enticed to faith and the more legalistically it insisted on the contrition of the heart and complete killing of the Old Man that preceded the better we thought the book to be. Even those works we mostly read only in so far as they described the pains and exercises of repentance; if, afterwards, the description of faith and trust for the repentant also followed then we usually slammed the book shut because we thought that it wasn’t anything for us.” Yet they naturally wished that it soon would be something for them and considered fasting also as a Means of Grace to bring about the right preparation. At this time Walther instructed both sons of an innkeeper. When one day he appeared at the house to give his lesson, the wife asked him whether he had already eaten. He was shocked, but in order not to lie said, “no.” The wife was happy at this and placed a semolina dumpling before him. He did not want to appear unthankful, so he had to eat. Yet he did it “with heavy heart,” for as wonderful as the dumplings tasted, he still stood in the self-tormenting delusion that “such a meal was an obstacle to his sanctification.” Then in great spiritual trials, longing in body and soul, uncertain of his salvation, wrestling with despair, he received sweet, blessed and true comfort in the family of the tax auditor, Barthel whose house was open to him and his friends. In this house Jesus was all in all and his heavenly peace poured out upon all members of the family. Here he found “a father in Christ and a mother in Christ.” He held the funeral for her in 1881 in St. Louis and, among other things, said: “Terrified by the law, that verse continually sounded in my heart day and night:
Only this, this alone concerns me,
That I cannot know
Whether I am a true Christian
And You are my Jesus.
It was then in particular that the beloved who had fallen asleep carried me upon her motherly heart. Her mouth overflowed with evangelical words of comfort for me, not only whenever I crossed her threshold, but in fervent intercession she also wrestled with God day and night for me, the foreign youth. And behold! God heard her pleas: I finally came to peace in Christ, and now a bond of holy fellowship with Christ embraced us that nothing was able to tear apart until death. Oh, how I rejoice to be able to testify of this publicly here! But I rejoice even more when, before the throne of the Lamb and before all the angels and elect, I can thank her one day above with a perfect heart for what she once did for me, the least.”
Walther found another comforter and helper in his spiritual distress at that time—Pastor Martin Stephan, the later leader of the Saxon emigration. He turned to Stephan asking him for counsel and advice from God’s Word. “When [Walther] got the answer, he did not open the letter until he had fervently called upon God to preserve him so that he would not accept false comfort if any was contained in the answer to the letter he received. But when he had read it, it was for him nothing else than if he had suddenly been transferred out of hell into heaven. The tears of anguish and distress that had been cried so long then changed into tears of true heavenly joy.” (Buenger’s Lebenslauf, pg, 29)
At Easter 1833 Walther left the university. On account of a severe chest illness, he had to seek convalescence in his parents’ house in the winter semester 1831-1832. There in his father’s library he found Luther’s works, which he began to read and become absorbed in.
In September 1833 he passed his first exam in Leipzig (pro licentia concionandi); in 1836 his second (pro candidatura). In the intervening years we only want to note that he spent them just like many others did—as a private tutor. He held this position with the Counselor Friedemann Loeber in Cahla in Altenburg, working faithfully and in blessing with his pupil. At the same time he was in steady correspondence with his like-minded university comrades, who as faithful preachers to some extent already got their first reprimands from the high church authorities and had their first experiences in the Gospel being a stumbling block and foolishness to the natural man, to the nobility as well as to the beggar.
After he was called (1837) by the believing Minister of the State, Count von Einsiedel, to the pastorate in Braeunsdorf near Penig in Saxony Walther also had the same experiences. Guenther’s book describes vividly and extensively the great spiritual ignorance and moral degeneration that he found in the congregation that had been neglected by 40 years of rationalism; how he strove to improve it by, above all, preaching the fundamentals of the Word of God, clearly and simply, thoroughly and urgently; how, furthermore, he was vehemently attacked by his rationalistic Superintendent, by his unbelieving school teacher; how he resisted and fought against the use of the standard rationalistic books in church and school (agenda, hymnbook, school book). I refer the reader to it and only mention that it was especially these experiences in office that lead the Walther brothers and some of their university friends to think that they were conscience bound to take part in the emigration that Pastor M. Stephan had already long announced as being imminent and to which he then gave the signal in 1838.
But before I tell of the most necessary, I would like at least to express myself briefly about the leader of the emigration.
I would never believe that Martin Stephan was a deliberate hypocrite the entire time that he was preacher of the Bohemian congregation in Dresden, that is, from 1810.
Originally a journeyman linen weaver, he threw himself into the study of Holy Scripture in order to become a preacher. He certainly did not acquire its philological knowledge and he had to be excused from the Latin exam. But it was no small matter that he was well read in the good edification literature of our church; in him this literature became flesh and blood in that he lived and moved in the theology that it expressed. In 1825 and 1826 he published a complete volume of Gospel sermons that he gave in 1824 and 1825 to his “Bohemian Congregation of St. John” in Dresden. The motto of the first volume is Colossians 2:8: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” The motto of the second volume is Ephesians 4.14: “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive.” He gave his work the title: The Christian Faith. In the moving dedicatory prayer “for blessing for the present book,” that begins with the words: “Lord Jesus Christ, You are the true Head of Your Church!” he concludes: “It is my heartfelt wish and petition to You that this book bring forth much salutary fruit. But I cannot do this; You must do it by Your power. Now, bless. O Jesus, all who will read it…. If such read it who are already believers in you, so help that also by this reading their faith may grow and become very fruitful in a godly life. If deeply troubled and severely afflicted souls read it, give them the taste of the comfort that I hold before them from Your Word. If it is the erring who will seek truth in it, give them Your divine light that they receive the word of truth that I present with a willing heart and attain to the firm faith. Should my witness get into the hands of the most miserable of my fellow man, namely into the hands of those who reject You and Your word, who seek their salvation in their unbelief, oh, so shake their hearts that they may well consider the warnings I have expressed, come to You and worship at Your feet and find grace before Your eyes!—Grant me the peace to see that I have not worked in vain! Whatever in this work is good, is Your gift. The imperfections, though, are mine. Let this, my witness, become a living voice in many souls that calls them to You, and a bond that holds them to You. When I, early or late, wearied by my work of the day, seek from You, o my Salvation, my last and greatest rest, oh then, God of Peace, let me find this eternal rest before Your face, confess me before Your heavenly Father; then let me experience for my salvation what I preached here and fall asleep blessed in the faith in You that I here describe and confess! Then I will testify of You perfectly; then with Your elect, not with imperfect writing, but with glorified tongue will I praise You and call out: ‘The Lord has done everything well! Blessed be His name eternally! Hallelujah!’ –Now, Lord of Your Church bless this book, bless my readers and also me! Amen.”
Reading the sermons of Martin Stephan, one finds them highly inspiring, edifying and instructive. All the wealth of Holy Scriptures is drawn together in order to meditate on and illuminate the individual text. After the theme and points of the sermon are announced, a short, fervent prayer usually follows. If these prayers were gathered together, they would, with only minor changes, make a wonderful prayer book. The outlines are simple and natural. All of the sermons have a characteristic of testimony. Although not without error, it is essentially the “Christian faith” that is here preached with a power, certainty, urgency the likes of which I did not meet again in any other “faithful” sermon book between 1820 and 1830. Faithful sermon books from this period in which Rationalism still dominated are in general not very abundant; almost all of them have an unease in them that asks timidly, as it were, for indulgence for its existence. Stephan always directs his sermon to the “hearer redeemed at a great price by the blood of Christ” and in this way he always speaks to them. The main summary of his doctrine is: what Christ has done. When he had before him the miraculous feeding, he did not preach on it like the Rationalists of his day, “how difficult it is to keep thousands of people in order in a remote location without police supervision,” nor on the “quiet power that virtue asserts over people by its presence,” (Reinhard), but on the Seventh Sunday After Trinity on Mark 8:1-9: “Christ cares for our body and soul. Let us 1. Rightly consider this truth; 2. Take to heart how we must use it in our physical and spiritual worries.” He explains on Laetare Sunday [the Fourth Sunday in Lent], John 6.:26-40: “Only with Christ do we find what can eternally satisfy our heart; for we find in Him:
- A perfect holiness that satisfies all demands of the righteousness of God;
- A rest that even death and devil cannot destroy;
- A comfort that sweetens all suffering;
- A salvation that lasts eternally.”
Karl Hase explains: “I heard him preach in 1825 in poor German but with a natural, moving eloquence. He was considered at the time to be a strict Lutheran. His favorite subject was Original Sin and the atoning death.” And in the face of Vehse, whom he, however, did not read attentively enough, Hase remarks: “Yet it does not seem probable to me that his entire life was a fraud. He was serious about his orthodoxy. Probably first in later years, but certainly already in Saxony, absolute honor and power awakened and released his wild instinct” (III, 2, 428). This is precisely my conviction, which is also founded on witnesses who heard Stephan through the years but who were not members of his congregation and his followers. The liberal church historian has here judged psychologically more correctly and fairly than most pious and godless opponents of the “Stephanites.” They represented Stephan as always being a perfect hypocrite whom they would have seen through from the beginning but they let themselves be deceived by Walther and associates who showed themselves to be poor judges of human nature. To be sure, Walther’s brother, Hermann, more than the other “Stephanites” appears to have been too trusting. But this certainly does not hold true with C. Ferdinand W. Walther. This certainly becomes most clear when Stephan calls him “his Judas” and would have gladly prevented him from coming to America. (Compare J.F. Koestering, Auswanderung der saechsischen Lutheraner in Jahre 1838, St. Louis MO, 1866, pg. 39)
Examining the interesting subscription list that was published with the Stephan sermon book, also gives an insight into the wide circle of Stephan’s activity and correspondence. Besides Dresden and vicinity, besides all larger and smaller cities of Saxony, also represented are: Berlin, Brunswick, Breslau, Cologne, Coethen, Ludwigslust, Merseburg, Gnadenfrei, Niesky, Peterswalde, Wernigerode, Vienna. In Mecklenburg, Lippe, Anhalt, in Silesia and Thuringia his sermons were just as sought after as in Saxony and Bohemia. Although mostly workers sought his book, so also a number of higher and lower officials, rare book mongers, occasionally teachers, pastors, councilors of consistories and quite a few noblemen, wanted to have his sermons in two, four, six and even more copies. There is the Countess Bernhardine of Lippe, the Burggrave and Count of Dohna, Count Anton of Stolberg-Wernigerode, Count Reuss Heinrich XXXVIII and Prince Reuss Heinrich LXIII, the heiress Grand duchess Augusta on Mecklenburg-Schwerin and her household, Protestants, Herrnhuter and Catholics like Don Ignatius Thomas of St. Michael in Vienna. Wherever people heard of him and his testimony of Christ, they were eager to hear more. And he did not let the strings of spiritual connection be broken. In spiritual questions hundreds turned to him like a spiritual father seeking counsel and comfort for their souls that their Rationalistic preachers had left empty. Regarding it as his duty, he had so many letters to answer at times that his Bohemian congregation in Dresden, which, of course, had the immediate claim on him, began to complain of neglect. Naturally in the counsel he offered, he often turned his remarks against unfaithful pastors, hirelings, “stomach preachers” and false prophets, and so the number of his “spiritual” opponents grew with the number of those who desired his counsel. Yet, unfortunately, with that spiritual conceit and pride were also noticeably growing in him and those closest to him also suffered under his extreme brutal dogmatism in completely external, non-spiritual matters. In Saxony when complaints first began to be heard about his miserable family life and about the female followers who were often found in his company both during the day and also during nightly walks, it was not difficult, for him to quell the evil gossip that met him and his household disintegration; this was especially easy for him to do with those people who lived a ways away. Not only the good, but also “evil rumors” had to be endured and they served as a new evidence that “a man’s,” that is the Christian’s “foes will be those of his own household” [Mat. 10:36; Mic. 7:6]. His followers regarded his suspension as a suffering for Christ’s sake and when part of his congregation charged him with dishonest conduct with church funds, that, too, was not believed. Nor did they believe that only great influence moved the king to dismiss the accusation of immoral behavior. They based this upon this: that the examination proved nothing and “repeated appointed judicial investigations had always ended with Stephan’s acquittal.” Yet Stephan said that when he told in the first months of 1838 of his decided declaration of intent to depart that year: “Perhaps God intends something greater with me. Therefore I must have to experience so much disgrace and humiliation here. Whom God wants to make great, He humbles before, so that afterwards he does not extol himself.” (Vehse, pg. 5)
We haven’t at all yet dealt with Stephan’s emigration. Whoever wants more precise information may look up Koestering’s presentation of it and also perhaps that of Vehse. This account mentions many of the details not at first reported, but from the time of Stephan’s unmasking it describes very important events in a very incorrect light. We are dealing with the life of C.F.W. Walther. He and his brother, together with Pastors E.G.W. Keyl, their brother in law, and G.H. Loeber, E.M. Buerger and various theology candidates were among those who seeing that it was impossible to preserve pure Lutheran Christianity in Germany, in good faith joined Stephan when he gave the order to set out for America in order to establish the church of the Lutheran confession in this land of political and religious freedom. With heavy heart, C.F.W. Walther resigned his office on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1838; several families of his congregation moved with him. They assembled together in Bremen. Since there was no more room on the ship he was to travel on, the Amalia, he went on the Johann Georg. Of the five ships which were to bring the immigrants to New Orleans, the Amalia sunk.
After the passengers of the four other ships had reached New Orleans and reunited, they traveled up the Mississippi and reached St. Louis on 19 February 1839. The members of the immigrant congregation who stayed behind in St. Louis called Pastor Otto Hermann Walther as their pastor. The others settled in Perry County and divided themselves there into several small congregations which called the remaining immigrant pastors. C.F.W. Walther who arrived in Perry County in May of 1839 took over Dresden and then Johannisberg. “In spite of bitter poverty dominated the colony,” and in spite of the dreadful offense the exposing of M. Stephan’s caused, and the talk that would soon follow, “the candidates residing at that time in the colony, Ottomar Fuerbringer, Theodor J. Broehm and J. Fr. Buenger still considered establishing an institution for educating preachers and teachers. Walther, Loeber and Keyl also joyfully agreed to the plan of the candidates and promised their active assistance. With Walther, they bought six acres of land in the Dresden colony and also saw that a log cabin was built for that purpose. They did the main work since the settlers struggled with great poverty.” In the summer of 1839 the following notice appeared in the St. Louis “Anzeiger des Westens”
[Gazette of the West]
“Institution of Instruction and Education.
We, the undersigned, intend to establish an institution for instruction and education that especially distinguishes itself from the usual elementary schools by the following: that in addition to the common elementary subjects, it includes all classical learning that is necessary for a true Christian and scholarly education such as religion, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, French and English, history, geography, mathematics, physics, natural history, elements of philosophy, music, and drawing. In the named disciplines, the pupils of our institution are to be so advanced that after the completion of a complete course of study they will be qualified for university studies. The esteemed parents who wish to enroll their children in our institution are requested to take closer notice of its plan and arrangement with Pastor O. H. Walther in St. Louis, 14 Poplar Street, between First and Second Street. The instruction shall begin, God willing, 01 October this year.
The settlement of the German Lutherans in Perry County, near the Obrazo, on 13 August 1839.
C. Ferd. W. Walther, Ottomar Fuerbringer,
Th. Jul. Brohm, Joh. Fr. Buenger
The first students were: Hermann Buenger, Theod. Schubert, Fr. J. Biltz, J. A. F. W. Mueller, Ch. H. Loeber.
Two and a half months before the society of emigrants had to publicize the following in the Anzeiger des Westens:
Several weeks ago the undersigned felt themselves compelled to oppose publicly on these pages the various evil rumors that had come here from Germany and that had also been spread here against the bishop at the time, Stephan. For both according to our own observation as well as according to the strict judicial investigations of this man, all accusations made against this man had remained completely unproven. Thus we clung especially to his firm Lutheran confession and harbored no doubts of immigrating with him to America and publicly declaring our earned conviction of his innocence.
Unfortunately, though, in most recent weeks we made a discovery that convinced us that we had been ignominiously deceived concerning that man. It filled our hearts with horror and shock. Stephan had in fact made himself guilty of the secret sins of lust, unfaithfulness, and hypocrisy; and we who exposed him had to be the ones to whom the confessions were made absolutely freely and now we also immediately made the necessary announcement to others.
Since until now we have defended this man in ignorance and by voluntarily joining him, we now publicly renounce ourselves from this deeply fallen man, since God, by His gracious leading, has opened our eyes to this.
We hope to God that He, who until now so visibly took care of us and the congregation that emigrated with us, would turn away from us and others all harmful results of the great offense that was given.
This declaration, dated 27 May 1839, was signed by pastors Loeber, Keyl, Buerger and Walther. Stephan’s sentence of removal was dated : “Perry County, 30 May 1839.” He was then removed from the community. He was placed in boat and brought across the Mississippi to the Illinois side to a place the sailors called “The Devil’s Oven,” because at that place many ships had already been wrecked and many people perished. Stephan remained there some time and later took the call to a union congregation. He died on 22 February 1846 without any sign of repentance and was buried in the churchyard at Red Bud, Illinois. The exact place where he lies is not known. This too is a warning that almost speaks louder than if one would read on a tombstone: “Martin Stephan, a leader and misleader of many souls. Whoever stands, take heed, lest he fall.”
The effect of Stephan’s exposure was absolutely frightening. The greater the adoration was in which Stephan was held—it was, in fact, almost idolizing—all the more terrible was the reaction. He had persuaded people, as was the case in the Swedish Lutheran Church, to recognize him as “bishop;” kissing his hand became regular courtesy at evening parties; the declaration of submission Stephan demanded of the community in February 1839 was still being done during the trip from New Orleans to St. Louis on the steam ship “Selma;” he had assumed almost dictatorial power also “in the communal,” in the administration of the cash-box. And now he stood there before the church and world as a godless hypocrite, dishonored and a violator, as a deceiver and squanderer of the goods of others, as a seducer of body and soul, as a pillar of disgrace of Lutheranism for which the immigrant Saxons, on account of their faith, wanted to prepare place in America.
Now they were as if they had been hit on the head. Everything that had previously stood firmly, what had moved them to emigrate, then became unsettled—except this: God’s Word and the confession of our church. They did not want to retreat from this and the preachers and hearers then clung all the more firmly to it as the only unbreakable anchor remaining to them. “These are the main questions,” Walther wrote at that time to his brother, “that are now among us: Are our congregations Christian Lutheran congregations? Or are they mobs? Sects? Do they have the authority to call and to excommunicate? Are we pastors or not? Are our vocations valid? Do we still belong in Germany? Can we be have a proper divine call here since we have forsaken our German divine call and left according to our mistaken conscience? Shouldn’t the congregations now depose us because first now they, with us, understand what great offense we have given? Wouldn’t it be better if the congregations would at least dismiss us for a while seeking to preserve themselves merely by the exercise of the spiritual priesthood and then choosing either the old or new pastors? It is impossible for me to write you all the various answers that have been given to these questions.” In the confusion of their conscience it went so far that the emigration in and of itself was declared to be sin, not merely the offences that occurred in connection with it, for example, the severing of family bonds. Mistrust against all pastors was harbored; the validity of their acts of office was doubted. Karl Hase (III, 2, 429) writes: “I got ahold of a sermon of the [elder] Pastor Walther in St. Louis published at the end of the church year of 1840. It mentions that event as a mutual sin in which the individuals in various degrees had their share. ‘We had a man among us who had all the marks of the Antichrist and yet was an idol of the congregation. We feared his displeasure and anathema more than God’s wrath. His word was listened to more than God’s Word. How we sold our freedom that Christ dearly purchased and became servants of men! The talk among us was: the Church depends upon a man! And we clergy did not oppose it; instead we consented.’”
But the cause of the Lutheran church of America was not lost with Stephan. Precisely, above all, by Walther’s service, the faithful God again helped it up. By diligent study of Holy Scripture and with untiring investigation into Luther’s works, Walther came to a clarity over all the questions that at that time so deeply disturbed him and the congregation which had been greatly tried. He collected what he recognized from God’s Word into the following eight theses, which he defended and maintained in a disputation in Altenburg in April 1841 against all opposition, which even came from the congregation itself.
- The true Church, in the most real and perfect sense is the totality of all true believers who, from the beginning of the world until the end, were called and sanctified from all peoples and languages by the Holy Spirit through the word. And because only God knows these true believers (2 Ti 2.19), it is thus also called the invisible Church. No one belongs to this true Church who is not spiritually united with Christ, for it is the spiritual body of Christ.
- The name of the true Church also belongs to all the visible groups of people in which God’s Word is purely taught and the holy Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. In this Church there indeed are godless, hypocrites and heretics, but they are not true members of it and do not make up the Church.
- The name of the Church and in a certain sense also the name of the true Church is belongs also to such visible groups of people who have united themselves under the confession of an adulterated faith and thus make themselves guilty in part of falling away from the truth if only they have so much of what is pure from God’s Word and the Sacraments that children of God can be born by it. If such groups are called true Churches, it should not be expressed by this that they are right believing but only that they are actual Churches as opposed to all secular organizations.
- The name “Church” is not improperly conferred to groups that believe incorrectly; rather it is in accord with the manner of speech of the Word of God itself. It is also not indifferent that this high name is allowed to such fellowships; for it follows from this: a) that members of such groups can also be saved; for outside of the Church is no salvation.
- b) The outward separation of an group that believes incorrectly is not a necessary separation from the catholic Christian Church, not a falling away into heathenism, and still does not take from that group the name “Church.”
- c) Also groups that err in their belief have the authority of the Church; also among them the goods of the Church can be validly administered, the preaching office established, the sacraments validly administered and the keys of the Kingdom of heaven exercised.
- d) Also groups that believe incorrectly are not to be disbanded but rather only to be reformed.
- The right believing church is to be judged principally according to the common orthodox public confession to which its members recognize themselves bound and confess.
These theses contain in deed and truth the brief summary of the Biblical doctrine of the Church. The understanding that they were firmly grounded on God’s Word, had again brought around the angry and confused congregation of Saxon immigrants. Yes, we are still Christians, still Lutherans, still have the true and unerring marks of the true Church among us, still have the power of the Keys, the authority to forgive and not to forgive sins and to establish the office that preaches reconciliation. They now learned this practically and their hearts were filled with the comfort of the Holy Spirit over that.
25 years later, Pastor Schieferdecker, at the opening of the Synodical gathering in the same congregation in Altenburg rightly said of that debate: “It was the Easter morning of our severely tried congregations as they, like the disciples once did, again saw the Lord who was thought to be dead and were filled with joy and hope in the light of His grace and in the power of His resurrection. As important and momentous as the 1519 Leipzig Debate was for the Reformation, so important—I say to say it confidently—did this debate that was held here at that time become for the entire subsequent formation and shaping of our Lutheran church here in the west. What at that time was achieved and fought for as the jewel of truth, proved true in all the other following battles that our Synod led.”
For all these battles, which are impossible to describe here, even briefly, we refer the reader instead to the biography of Dr. C.F.W. Walther written by Professor M. Guenther, which presents a good portion of 18th century American Church history.
We will, instead, go, in spirit, right to the end of the life of this witness of Christ and briefly survey what became of the humble beginnings of that small church organization and in particular what good the Lutheran Church experienced from the Lord by his service.
It may be useful to do this in connection with the statistical notice of the Amerikanischen Kalendars fuer deutsche Lutheraner auf das Jahr 1888 [American Calendar for German Lutherans for 1888], which in its “Kirchlichen Rundschau” [Ecclesiastical Review] of the events of 1887 of course prominently remarks on the blessed departure of Dr. Walther on 07 May 1887 at 5.30 in the evening. It had previously mentioned the golden pastoral Jubilee that by God’s grace, Walther had still been able to celebrate on 16 January of that year.
Until his end, Walther remained the pastor of the joint Lutheran congregation in St. Louis. He was chosen as pastor of the Lutheran congregation in St. Louis on 08 February 1841 after his older brother, Otto Hermann, fell asleep in Christ on 21 January. On Jubilate Sunday [The Third Sunday After Easter] he gave his inaugural sermon. After he brought rest, following a great struggle, to the congregation from the restless separatist spirits, and after a congregational order and leadership order had been outlined and discussed, the congregation was inwardly so strengthened by his preaching and discussing doctrine in the congregational assemblies, that, even though it was still very poor, it joyfully proceeded in building a church. The leadership of the Episcopal Church (Christ Church) in whose basement they conducted their worship, began making problems for them. Thus the building was begun by the 325 souls and (Old) Trinity Church could be consecrated on 04 December 1842, the Second Sunday in Advent. By 1849 the congregation had grown to 944 souls. In that year, Walther was called as professor and president of the seminary for preachers that moved to St. Louis from Altenburg. The congregation decided it could only grant him a peaceful release if, at the same time, he could still remain its pastor. It was agreed that he would preach as pastor 13 times a year, attend the meetings of the congregation and its leaders and have oversight of the congregation.
This resolution essentially remained this way throughout many years. Later, when one Lutheran congregation after the other arose in St. Louis, Walther preached taking turns in four different churches on the appointed Sunday and Festival Days. When Walther died there were nine larger and smaller congregations.
Sermon collections published both during his lifetime and afterwards from his estate give sufficient testimony as to what kind of preacher Walther was. I only point out one thing here. As head of Concordia Seminary, he certainly was careful when he preached so that also in this area he would be an example to the future shepherds of the congregations. Never, never once, did his sermons offend by an improper expression. His speech was always select but never forced; his talk effective, but not showy. One could feel the effort so many well respected positive pulpit orators of Germany (Koegel, Max, Frommel, and Zezschwitz) put into the perfect form of their speech. Blessed Dr. Walther also put in effort and hard work into his sermons but he used them foremost for the correct purpose—to proclaim very distinctly and clearly for everyone, in a very arousing and urgent way, the whole counsel of God for our salvation, so that even the unwise might become wise and the fools may not be without the right path. His goal was to make the different truths of the Christian faith and life understandable, powerful and comforting to all hearers. It is noticed in every sermon: the man speaks in the name of and by God’s command; he knows that his testimony is truth, that it is spirit and life. He does not preach himself but Christ, the Crucified and Risen. He does not seek his own glory but, from his whole heart and soul and with all his strength, the glory of Christ and the eternal salvation of his hearers. The newly received members of the congregation could observe that he cared about this already by the address with which he welcomed their coming into the congregation. The heartfelt, fervent prayers with which he used to open the assemblies of the voting members of the parish also testify of this.
Walther assumed the presidency of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 1849. By Walther and his work God had already shown great blessing to many Lutherans beyond St. Louis. This is seen, first of all, by the publication of the Lutheraner [The Lutheran] starting in 1844. The resulting organization of the “German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States” founded on 26 April 1847 in Chicago elected him as its president. It then also took over the Lutheraner for its publication. Hochstetter’s Geschichte der Missouri-Synod shows how many blessings it had brought about already from the very beginning. The synod of 15 pastors and 12 congregations in 1847 grew to 81 pastors and 95 congregations in the course of four years, when many of Loehe’s Sendlinge also joined it. By the time of Walther’s death the number of the congregations and preaching stations had increased to more than 1200, the number of pastors almost 1000, the congregational schools over 1000, the number of students to 70,000. Walther would still be alive to see this great blessing.
How blessed were the meetings of the synod when it gathered! Most other church bodies almost only conducted business but the synodical conventions of the Missouri Synod distinguished themselves from them primarily by this: always and chiefly Christian doctrine was studied and discussed. What valuable contributions Walther always supplied even when he himself was not the speaker. If the speaker had spoken and Walther then stood up, everyone’s eyes longingly turned toward him because they knew that their spirit would be satisfied in the best way by who now stood before them. Also the sermons, with which he, as president, opened the synods, would immediately strike the proper keynote and pave the way for the forthcoming doctrinal discussions. At almost all the breaks between the individual sessions, he was seen surrounded by pastors who wanted advice in this or that matter, then by congregational members who wanted to bring him into their particular controversies and then wanted him to intervene with help or counsel. Whoever had quarters with him during the synodical time could already see from the correspondence forwarded to him how he was overwhelmed by all the congregations. Even with all this full weight of his work, he still had at the synods “an always joyful heart.”
There was also no lack of battles in the church in which the Lord of the Church had placed Walther and appointed him to be a true pioneer in them. Whoever reads the first volumes of the Lutheraner, finds that Walther is not only teaching but is also on the church’s battlefield joyfully and confidently fighting on the right and on the left using the weapons of righteousness. Ten years later Lehre und Wehre, a theological and contemporary church history monthly publication, was added to our chief congregational publication. Mostly pastors read this more scholarly publication. Also here, most of the editorial work also fell to Walther. Within its pages, Walther showed himself as a Christian polemicist. He did not fight in order to fight but to be able to teach what God’s Word teaches peacefully and beneficially. He was not “dying to compete” with Grabau or with Loehe or with his descendants, or afterwards with Schmidt, Allwardt, Stellhorn and company. As a rule he let the fight come to him and only put on the armor after the enemy had made it necessary and had opened hostilities by his own show of force. But when he did take up the weapons, he definitely fought to win. He didn’t just want to hit in the air but to make contact [1 Cor. 9:26]. He didn’t rest until every last shred of the threat, which the opponent had placed in the field as a beast, had vanished. How irenic the “exclusive” Walther was! He paid no attention to the old and even oldest church friendship and camaraderie when the truth of God’s Word was attacked or the Lutheran confessions violated, but until his end he was just as willing to engage in discussions, colloquies, debates, where he perceived the other side was sincere and where he could entertain a hope that the other side really cared to come to a unity in spirit, that is, in faith, in doctrine and confession with the Lutheran church that remained faithful. Even with this Walther had never changed his position and church practice. It was certainly nothing else than the most heartfelt desire to follow the apostolic word, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” [Eph. 4:3], that in 1851 propelled him to Germany, together with Wyneken, on behalf of the Synod, in order, with God’s help, to prevent a break with Loehe. And Loehe recognized that at that time. It wasn’t Walther, but Loehe who subsequently changed his mind and position. Even until his final battle—on election—we find this tendency in Walther, of wherever possible, with God’s help, trying to prevent a break. In the end, those who no longer wanted to admit in writing and by confession that “God’s eternal election does not just foresee and foreknow the salvation of the elect. From God’s gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus, election is a cause that gains, works, helps and promotes our salvation” [S.D., XI, 8] left the Missouri Synod and the Synodical Conference. And then, having left because their conscience compelled them, they could not comprehend and understand why Missouri does not have prayer fellowship with those who no longer have fellowship with them in the apostolic doctrine.
There is certainly no question that in the many, almost countless polemical articles that Walther in his long life wrote against Papists, Reformed, and Sectarians, as well as against pseudo-Lutherans: Grabauites, Breslauers, Vilmarianes, Loeheites, Iowans, Schmidtites and other “ites” and “ans,” passages can be found that were not bridled, in which there was an infringement of love (such passages are also found with Luther, Calov and other polemicists). Walther, too, certainly in no way regarded himself as a perfect man who in his polemics did not err in any word and who could and did keep a tight rein on his entire body. Nevertheless, this much remains certain: also as a polemicist he was a true Christian and a genuine Lutheran theologian. If teachers arise in God’s Church, who teach us “with fraud which they themselves invent, Thy truth they have confounded” then it is a grace of God when He sends to the Church men who recognize this misery, who make the Word of God their armor and then with firm step enter the ecclesiastical battleground.
“For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending.”
[TLH, 260st. 2, 4]
The American Lutheran Church of the 19th Century had such a combatant for Christ in C.F.W. Walther.
Walther was a worker with an extraordinary capacity and willingness for work. When all his articles in the first 43 volumes of the Lutheraner, in 33 volumes of Lehre und Wehre, all his contributions to 11 volumes of the Magazin fuer evangelisch=lutherische Homiletik, all the synodical lectures he delivered, are found and together with his sermon collections, and are placed together with the other books and tracts he wrote, what an astonishing work they point to! Add to this the host of theological opinions, of official and private letters! Then add visits of the synod, then the schools that as president he had to visit (and this was for him, and rightly so, a very important matter), everything in addition to his regular main work of lecturing to the students of Concordia Seminary on Dogmatics and Pastoral Theology: it represents such an amount of work that one can hardly comprehend how he could have mastered it. But he knew where he could seek and find Him who provides His servants with power from on high.
When Walther stood at the height of his activity and capacity for work, he also received (in December 1869) several times the visit of Count Ernst of Erbach-Erbach, who at that time traveled to North America and Cuba. In his Reisebriefe aus Amerika (Heidelberg, 1873, 8), which is still worthwhile reading today, he also remembered the impression that Walther made on him. He says in it on page 211 ff.:
“I cannot be silent about a highly interesting acquaintance that I recently made. The other day I visited the President of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, who is a pastor of the congregation in St. Louis and professor of Concordia College in which the young clergymen are theologically trained for their office. His name is Walther, not unknown in the theological world…. I do not hesitate in counting him among the most important, interesting and fascinating men whom I have encountered in my life. The heated battle for the truth that went on for years and the endless work and struggle for the spread of God’s word have formed in this man such a rock like certainty and clarifying truth in all areas of faith that I can only be continually amazed and come to the conclusion: this is the man whom God chose here; no one braver could have been found. In fact, among storms and tempests, He used this instrument in order to build His Church anew in the new world upon the rock of the confession. By him, God founded a new homeland for the Lutheran Church, where it is welcomed with open arms when it…is driven out of the Fatherland. The hope of Lutheranism now rests upon America. There, while everything in the whole world cracks and breaks and shatters, the seed of the pure truth is quietly, untiringly, unconcerned about the outcry of the whole world, with weapons for battle at its side, ready to defend every moment, is sown, cultivated and watered so that it visibly brings forth fruit a hundredfold. Battle is always being waged here. The weapons can never get rusty and this keeps the life of faith fresh and young. No enemy is considered too dangerous, no formalities binding when it is a matter of truth. It is fought day and night and mostly with those who are earnest for the truth. No little grain of sand of revelation is to be surrendered lest everything can be destroyed. These conditions fill those who are anxious about the future of the Church with comfort.
“Professor Walther is an exceedingly amiable, gentle man with sharply defined noble features and bright brilliant eyes. His conversation in every respect fosters and instructs. Everything gains form and shape in his mouth and then is easily formed before the eyes of the hearers. In every question, he comes and quickly seizes the main point and from it illuminates all the rest. In argumentation, his logic is convincing and his eloquence overwhelming. He is unshakeable in doctrine, soft in speech, lively in communication and as energetic as a young man. Hours pass as minutes in his presence. By this he shows a comforting joy that finds its origin in the blessing that God has placed on the work of his hands. With love yet sorrow, he remembers the ecclesiastical conditions in his old homeland. He especially accommodated me as he often sacrificed long evenings for me which he interrupted his study. These evening hours were the most precious hours of the entire day to him –I first heard this later. Then he gave me books and writings from which I might further instruct myself on Lutheranism in America. He has such clarity of presentation that I first through him and only through him received a rough picture of the conditions of the church in America. Yet, with all the richness of his knowledge and in looking back upon all his achievements he shows a modesty which I have never before met. He has done nothing himself: the grace of God has worked everything through his weak hands. For a long time may he remain a pillar preserving the Lutheran Church! –My trip to America is at its climax: temporarily, for half of the appointed time is past; and in respect to things spiritual, I have made the most significant acquaintance.”
It was an expansive sphere of activity in which God had placed Walther. How many in the rotted out German state churches sought counsel from him! How he rejoiced at every advance of pure Lutheranism wherever he may have met it! With what interest he followed, through joy and sorrow, the course of the German Free Church into a healthy Lutheran direction! Wherever there was an occasion, how he thanked God from his heart for all the blessing He had bestowed on our Missouri Synod. With what joy he greeted it when the synod got a publishing house and as it yearly grew in size and significance! How he rejoiced when he saw the zeal and self-sacrifice being made in his precious Missouri Synod for teaching institutions, which grew from the original, humble beginnings in Altenburg. One institution after the other arose: the secondary school in Ft. Wayne, the preparatory schools in Milwaukee, Concordia, New Orleans, New York, the preaching seminary in St. Louis and Springfield, the teaching seminary in Addison [IL]. In the year Walther died, no fewer than 919 students attended all these higher institutions of learning. How his eye gleamed when he could dedicate the magnificent St. Louis building! He saw the institution that had been transferred to St. Louis in the most humble beginnings grow from its very beginning. Also the Lutheran High School in St. Louis, which later changed its name to “Walther College”, the deaf institution in North Detroit and the various institutions of service within the synod (orphanages and hospitals) were on his heart.
But especially he thanked God that also other right believing synods—such as the Wisconsin, Minnesota Synod and others—had joined with the Missouri Synod in an agreement in the Synodical Conference. The struggle for pure teaching on the election by grace caused a split when the Ohio Synod again separated out of the Synodical Conference but the brotherly dealings with the majority of Norwegians remained intact.
Besides the rich grace of God with which he saw his work blessed, so also did Walther, to whom this split brought much trouble, have to experience much trouble in his heart into his old age; but that was the instrument in God’s hand to keep him in true humility. Another witness of his sincere humility is seen in the answer that he gave to his brothers in office in Chicago when they had congratulated him on the occasion of being granted a doctorate by a faculty which at that time still stood with us in the unity of faith. Walther then thanked them by the following letter:
St. Louis, Mo, 09 March 1878
To the reverend Pastoral Conference in Chicago,
Pastor H. Wunder.
Honorable and beloved brothers in the Lord!
By God’s goodness, so many dear brothers have congratulated me on the occasion of being bestowed with a doctorate, that I see myself unable to answer each of them in the thankfulness due. But they have bestowed upon me such an extraordinary award that so penetrates my heart and conscience that I cannot to accept it in silence.
With me, you have all experienced that nothing works true humility as much as free grace does, and the deeper the grace, the deeper the humility. Thus when I express to you my most hearty thanks for your completely undeserved love I may also report, for your comfort, that God has preserved me from misunderstanding your ‘sounds of rejoicing.’ I did attribute to myself, the most miserable among all sinners, even the least bit of the good that was celebrated in it. Instead, it throws me into the dust to give Him all glory alone with hot tears and with the most vivid feeling that nothing but disgrace and shame is due me. I cannot and may not lie that the work and struggle of our beloved Synod, among which I was considered worthy to be able to stand in its very first rows, has been extremely blessed. But as God has never let me forget, every blessing was pure grace. So by reading through your ‘sounds of rejoicing’ I especially deeply felt: ‘if there is something good in this life of mine, it is truly purely Thine.’ The Church is not really blessed through us, but rather through His blessing we are what we are, above all me. Had God placed any other believing Christian into the same situation into which He from His incomprehensible mercy deigned to place me, he would, if God had shown with it the same grace, have experienced the same blessing of their work and struggle. I was only God’s mask. And, oh, such a bad and ugly one! What was truly my own was my sin, my foolishness which would have spoiled and hampered everything, if God did not now at this time want to visit America in grace, had He not turned everything back by His wonderful rule. When I was still a student, mightily God brought me out of great blindness and from great sinful corruption and planted in my heart faith in His word and daily worked on me in spite of all my unfaithfulness so that the little light of my faith could not and might not go out. Then God gave me opportunity and as a result of great error He compelled me either to seek the truth or to perish temporally and eternally. But I did not decide to do this rather God had me decide to choose the first. I could not withstand. When He then called me into the work and pushed me into the battle against the opposition that arose, then again I could do nothing else: I had to hold fast the truth and ward off the opposite. I then made wonderful experiences. In my solitude, my heart continually wavered to and fro, was full of fear, anguish, terror, and the feeling of sin, was often almost seized by despair so that my prayers occasionally became almost only a mute ‘me-breeze’ in the dust before God. But whenever I had to speak or write publicly, God almost always gave me a confidence and a joy without which all my intention and doing would have been completely in vain.
“The cycle in which I have lived until now consists in God at times humbling me and at times exalting me so that I indeed always knew that when an exaltation came that a deep humbling would quickly follow; but when the humbling was at hand, always without my expecting it (in fact, as a rule, when I thought that I was done for) soon or also after a longer time of deep darkness and the divine face of grace hiding itself, a raising or rather a consoling followed.
“The following was always particularly remarkable to me. I came away with very insignificant, exceedingly incomplete knowledge from school and university which according to the necessities of the present conditions could only help minimally; my library collection was always only random, minor. But in the end I often had to see with astonishment that God placed me in such situations in which I could utilize all of the little that I knew and had. Oh, a faithful God! In short, God has done a great thing to me. I will rejoice in it, even when I feel, vividly feel, that in myself I am nothing but a lump of darkness and sin.
“Until now God has still kept my eyes open to see my misery clearly and therefore to remain untouched by the praise that my brothers give to the instrument, but which belongs only to Him, Whom he himself serves according to His unsearchable wisdom. But dear brothers, you certainly know from God’s Word, what corruption dwells in my flesh and that I therefore can fall at any moment into the most horrible delusion, into pride, sin and shame, if God were to withdraw His hand from me. O, add to your evidence of love this one thing: that you also remember me before the Lord in your “Our Father;” and, in fact, in every petition, for I need them all, but also in the last for I feel that I have completed my course and long to be out of this world full of nets and snares.
“Once again—my most humble thanks. May God pay you back for what you have done for me, the most shameful member of our common body.
Your C.F.W. Walther”
The faculty, which at that time honored him, later abundantly added anguish to the final years of his life by their opposition to the truth of the Lutheran doctrine. But whatever they and their like-minded companions did against the truth of the Gospel, Walther with, God’s help, remained with the good confession of Paul in Romans 8:38, 39: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Walther then departed this life in that faith and confession. From all the obituaries that his death brought, only one is noted. It is neither from the circles of the Synodical Conference nor from the circle of his ecclesiastical opponents in America.
Luthardt’s Allgemeine Evang. Luth. Kirchenzeitung says in the 22 June 1887 issue: “With him, one of the greats in Christ’s Church has departed. He was not only an epoch making personality in America’s ecclesiastical history and the prominent leader and gatherer of Lutherans there, but his work was also felt as a mighty motivation in the Lutheran Church in all regions of the world. The success of his work is almost without comparison in the later history of our church and distinguishes him not only as a man of great abilities, excellent gifts, strong diligence and unusual energy but also lets him be viewed as a God-given personality like the Lord sends His Church when He wants to lead her …on a particular way.
“Of course, he did not have what really makes a great theologian in our modern day. He did not want to bring new thoughts, set up any new theological system, or form any new schools. He did not have any of that humble sounding boast which says that we Christians may never think that we have the truth but must always seek it. He was far beyond such a standpoint of inner carelessness and ambiguity. He became unshakably certain of the truth from God’s Word. For him the Lutheran Confession was not a model that he was taught and which he had placed as a motto on his shield and mindlessly held fast with empty stubbornness, like a school teacher. Instead, in difficult battles, hanging over abysses, often near despair, he had found in this Confession the anchor and ground of all hope, the source of all joy, and the light of truth. It became his pulse beat, the heart of his whole life. His entire person stood in this faith and it gave him this grand energy, the unshakeable certainty and clarity by which his amazing scholarship and a clear dialectically trained mind accomplished great services. He wanted to know nothing about “open questions,” which he perceived to be merely the excuse of a heart that was disobedient to the word of God. Everything that merely even faintly opposed the fundamental article of our Lutheran Confession on justification…found in him a relentless, destructive adversary. Just as in his theology he wanted to know nothing about open questions, so also in his practice he wanted to know nothing about agreements with the world or with false doctrine…. He always followed his conscience, no matter what that following would seemingly destroy. And he saw that “straight ahead” is always the best way to the goal. Few have seen such brilliant successes like he saw. He taught all of us that all wise diplomacy in the Church is the greatest foolishness.
“His character was a peculiar mixture of softness and hardness. Whoever knew him only from his writings had no idea that his friendly affection was charming and that he won hearts with moving humility and modesty. This happy humorist, this caring friend, ‘this courteous, distinguished Saxon,’ as his rough Low German bosom friend Wyneken often jokingly called him, this childlike happy mind, this deep, warm eye: was the same one that was seen when consumed with rage he defended his Gospel and drove the opponent away with energetic heavy blows. He had in him some of Luther’s character so that it could be said of him like Melanchton said of Luther: ‘that in every discourse he showed himself, by his words, to be most charming, friendly and pleasant, not at all rude, impetuous and stubborn or quarrelsome but yet full of earnestness and bravery.’
“As a preacher he distinguished himself by warm affection and frequent captivating, thrilling power. He clothed his vivid thoughts, however, in a model form of clear, logical development. He was thoroughly didactic but nothing less than doctrinal, yet everything had its practical point. Both his postils—his Gospel postils going through eight editions in eleven years and spread in 23,000 copies, as well as being translated into Norwegian—show him as a theologian who, from his mature experience and diligent study, gives the congregation what he himself experienced and upon which his life rests. For him the center of his preaching as well as all his speaking and writing is the Lutheran doctrine of justification. He recognized in Lutheranism the continuation of the Apostolic Church. Therefore his goal was to bring the Lutheran Church back to its starting-point: the doctrine of the Reformation drawn from of the Word of God. As teacher, professor and leader of his synod, as well in often intense dispute with sects and fanatics, he firmly and vigorously maintained and defended this view point.… The American conditions demanded such a man, and they again formed such a man who in Germany could have become what he had been able to be in the church only with great difficulty. He was reforming, building, and stimulating not only in the Missouri Synod and the Synodical Conference, but even in the farthest circles he had his students…
“And as the ecclesiastical circles are shaken by the departure of this man, we also find in the American daily press, even in the most radical sort, obituaries honoring the great German. Certainly never was a clergyman in America brought to his grave with such public acknowledgment as honor as was Walther.”
But of more worth than an exalting obituary from an opponent’s mouth, is when a servant of Christ, like Walther, can say with Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8)
The remembrance of such a witness remains a blessing.