Dr. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther.
[The American Luther.*]
A hundred years after Heinrich Melchior
Mühlenberg closed his eyes (1787), the man died, through whom the Lord has blessed the
Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, descending from an old preacher family, was born
at Langenchursdorf in
Not just this promise, but the great impression which the biography of Johann Friedrich Oberlin (by G. H. Schubert) made upon him, which his brother Hermann, who was studying theology for two years, brought with him during vacation, destined him to the study of theology. He saw in Oberlin how blessed the sphere of activity of a pastor can be. “From this invaluable little book, I have absorbed . . . an unshakable faith in God.”
October 1829, he entered the
A confession in Christ, God’s Son and Savior of sinners, was not heard from the professors of theology at the university at that time; they were avowed rationalistic or rational believers with the exception of F. W. Lindner, Sr. and August Hahn. It probably happened in those days that students of theology carried a Bible in procession singing: “Now let us bury the corpse.”
But by the gracious guidance of God, young Walther came in contact with a group of students of whom he later wrote2: “This small body of men met at certain days of every week for joint prayer, for common reading of the Holy Scriptures for the purpose of edification and mutual exchange of the one thing which is needed. For a time, Professor Lindner privately held also a so-called collegium philobiblicum, in imitation of August Hermann Francke, in which he expounded the Scriptures in an edifying way and gave guidance for deriving practical sermon topics from the Biblical texts.” Several believing laymen3 belonged to this circle besides candidate Kühn, Walther’s older brother Otto Hermann and the later on well-known pastors in the circle of the Missouri Synod Johann Friedrich Bünger, Ottomar Fürbringer and Theodor Julius Brohm, as well as many others. Naturally, they were mocked as oscurants, pietists, enthusiasts, also as hypocrites as well, but “they were ardently cheerful in their God and Savior, and all of them who remained faithful, have subsequently recalled this time of their first love as the most blessed time in their entire life. At first, there was nothing said in this circle about the differences of doctrine of the various churches, although the faith which had been ignited in these youths solely through the beloved Bible, naturally, was no other than the Lutheran faith. However, it didn’t remain so. With the growth of knowledge there arose after some time partly of itself, partly through the in faith well-grounded candidate Kühn the question also: Of what faith are you? Lutheran? Reformed? Unionist? The result of this was a sifting, of course; most of them realized soon that it is no other faith except the Lutheran faith which God the Holy Ghost had sealed within them as the true faith, firm in al temptation, even before they knew which church’s faith it was. Therefore, there were only a few of them who deserted. On the other hand, the impression made on the young believers went deeper when candidate Kühn sought to guide the roused small body of men exactly as God had led him. He tried to convince us that our whole Christianity will not rest on solid ground before we too, just as he, had experienced a high degree of remorse and genuine horror of hell in fervent penitential battles. The consequence of this was a considerable change from a cheerful evangelical to a dismal legal Christianity.”
The preferred devotional literature used by the young students then was the writings by J. Arndt, Spener, A. H. Francke, Bogatzky, Fresenius, also those by J. J. Raumbach, and of the pietistic kind. “The less a book invited to faith and the more legalistically it urged contrition of heart and total mortification of the old man preceding conversion, the better a book we held it to be. We read such writings mostly only as far as they described the sorrows and exercises of repentance; when this was followed by a description of faith and comfort for the penitent, we usually closed the book; for we thought that did not as yet concern us.” But they wished, that it would certainly pertain to them soon, and considered fasting almost as a means of grace to bring about the proper preparation.
instructed both sons of a hotelkeeper during that time. One day when he turns
up at the house at noon to give the lessons, the housewife asks him if he has
already eaten. He is dismayed, in order not to lie, he has to say “no.” The woman is happy about that and serves him
semolina dumplings. He has to eat, if he doesn’t want to seem unthankful. He
ate, however, “with burdened heart;” for however delightful the dumplings
tasted, he was emerged in the self-tormenting delusion that “such a meal
impeded his sanctification.” Being in difficult spiritual temptation,
languishing in body and soul, uncertain of salvation, wrestling with despair,
he received sweet, blessed and sincere solace from the family of the tax
auditor Friedrich Wilhelm Barthel [later first treasurer of the Missouri
Synod] whose home had been opened to Walther and his friends. Jesus was all in
all and His heavenly peace was poured out over all members of the family. Here
he found “a father in Christ and a mother in Christ,” of whom [the ‘mother’] he
said, among other things, in the year 1881 at
“Only this lies close to me, If I am a Christian true
That I cannot see, And if my Jesus are You.
“It was especially the dear departed who carried me upon her motherly heart then. Not only her mouth gushed with evangelical words of comfort whenever I crossed her doorstep, she also wrestled day and night for me, the strange youth, in fervent intercession with God. And behold! God granted her imploring: finally I attained peace in Christ, and then a bond of blessed communion with Christ embraced us which nothing was able to sever until her death. O, how glad I am, to be able to publicly testify to this here once more! But I am looking forward even more so to be able one day to thank her with a perfect heart on high before the throne of the Lamb and in the presence of all angels and the elect, for what she once had done for me, the one most wanting.”
And a further comforter and helper in his spiritual distress, he found at that time in Pastor Martin Stephan, the future leader of the Saxon emigration. He had turned to him, asking him for advice and direction from God’s Word. “When he received the reply, he didn’t open the letter before he had fervently implored God to protect him from accepting false consolation should such be contained in the written reply. But after he had read it, he felt as though he was suddenly removed from hell into heaven. The tears shed for such a long time of anguish and misery were now transformed into tears of true heavenly joy.” (Bünger’s Biography, p. 29)
Walther left the university around Easter 1833. Due to serious chest trouble, he had to seek convalescence at the parental home in the winter of1831-1832 and there he discovered Luther’s works in his father’s library, which he started to read and into which he immersed himself.
September 1833 in
too, had the same experience, after he (1837) was called by the believing
secretary of state Count von Einsiedel to the pastorate at Bräunsdorf near
Before I tell about it, I want to express myself, at least briefly, about the leader of this emigration.
never believe that Martin Stephan was a deliberate hypocrite the entire time
during which he was pastor of the Bohemian congregation in
When he, by
trade a journeyman linen weaver, applied himself to the study of the Holy
Scripture in order to become a preacher, he certainly wasn’t suited any more
for the philological knowledge of such, and the Latin examination had to be
forgone. But his extensive reading of good devotional literature of our church
was not meager and really became second nature with him, so that he lived and
breathed the theology presented therein. In the years 1825 and 1826, he
published a complete annual set of sermons on the Gospels, which he had
preached to his “Bohemian Congregation of St. John” in
When one reads Martin Stephan’s sermons, one finds them to a high degree rousing, edifying, instructive. Everywhere one finds the wealth of Holy Scripture employed for meditation and illumination of the individual text. The introduction of the topic and of the sections is mostly followed by a short, fervent prayer. These prayers, if compiled, would, with only slight changes, make an excellent prayer booklet. The instructions are simple and unaffected. All of these sermons have a testimonial character. Errors are not lacking from them, but essentially it is actually the “Christian faith” that is preached here with a power, certainty and insistence, that I have not again come across in a “devout” sermon book between 1820 and 1830. Devout sermon books of this period of the still prevailing rationalism certainly are not very numerous; nearly all exhibit something timidly fearful which begs, as it were, forbearance. Stephan always addresses his sermons to “through the blood of Christ dearly purchased listeners;” he addresses them thus all the time, and what Christ has done for us, is the sum of his teaching.
He didn’t preach about the miracle of the feeding [of the five thousand] like the rationalists of his time, “how hard it is to keep order of several thousand people at a remote area without police supervision,” nor about “the quiet control which virtue maintains over people by its presence” (Reinhard), but on the 7th Sunday after Trinity, he preached on Mark 8:1-9: Christ cares for our body and soul. Let us 1. properly consider this truth; 2. bear in mind how we have to apply it to our bodily and spiritual cares;” and on Sunday Laetare [fourth Sunday in Lent] (John 6:26-40), he points out: “We find that which can satisfy our heart for eternity only in Christ; for we find in Him: 1. perfect holiness which is sufficient for all demands of God for righteousness; 2. peace that even death and devil cannot destroy; 3. solace which sweetens all suffering of this time; 4. salvation which lasts for eternity.”
von Hase relates: “I have heard him preach in 1825, in bad German, but with
natural, touching eloquence. He was considered at that time as strictly
Lutheran. His favorite subject was original sin and the expiatory death [of
Christ]. “ And contrary to [Carl Eduard] Vehse, whose works he, however, didn’t
read carefully enough, Hase remarks: “It doesn’t seem likely to me that his
entire life was a deception. He was serious about his orthodoxy; his proud
desires were aroused and released only in later years probably by absolute
veneration and power, surely in
examines the interesting subscription list printed with Stephan’s book of
sermons, it allows a glimpse into a wide area of activity and correspondence of
Those who followed him have regarded his suspicion as suffering for Christ’s sake and didn’t believe the accusations by a part of his congregation concerning dishonest conduct any more than this, that the king had been induced to suppress the accusation of immoral behavior only because of undue influence. They relied on that nothing was proved against him during the investigations and that “repeatedly conducted judicial investigations had always ended in Stephan’s exoneration.” Stephan, after all, said, when he announced his resolute declaratory act in the first months of 1838 that they have to depart that year: “God, perhaps, intends something big for me yet, therefore I had to experience here yet so much disgrace and humiliation. Whom God wants to make great, him He humbles first, in order that he will not exalt himself later.”
However, we are not dealing with the Stephanian emigration at all. Whoever wants detailed information about it, may look up the description by Köstering and possibly the one by Vehse [Die Stephan’sche Auswanderung nach Amerika (The Stephanian Emigration to America)] which mentions many a detail not reported by the former, but which puts very important occurrences from the time of the exposure of Stephan in a very absurd light. We are dealing with the life of C. F. W. Walther.
He and his
brother, besides Pastors Ernst G. W. Keyl, their brother-in-law, and Gotthold
H. Löber, Ernst. M. Bürger and various candidates of theology, belonged to who
had joined Stephan bona fide, in good faith, when he gave the order to
passengers of the other four ships had reached
the existence of abject poverty,” and despite the dreadful scandal which M.
Stephan’s exposure caused, which will be briefly discussed later on,
“Candidates Ottomar Fürbringer, Theodor J. Brohm and Johann Fr. Bünger, living
in the colony at that time, nevertheless, thought about establishing an
institution for the training of pastors and teachers. Walther, Löber and Keyl
concurred with the plan of the candidates also and assented with their active
cooperation. Together with Walther, they bought six acres of land in the
“Institution of Instruction and Education.
“We, the undersigned, intend to establish an institution of instruction and education, which distinguishes itself from ordinary elementary schools especially by this, that it comprises, besides the ordinary branches, all Gymnasium branches (Gymnasialwissenschaften) necessary for a true Christian and academic education, as: Religion, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, German, French and English languages, History, Geography, Mathematics, Physics, Natural History, Elementary Philosophy, Music, Drawing.
“The pupils of our institution are to be so far advanced in the above-named studies that they, after absolving a complete course of study, shall be qualified for university studies.
esteemed parents, who may desire to place their children with our institution,
are requested to make inquiries regarding its plan and arrangements of Pastor
O. H. Walther in
settlement of the German Lutherans in
C. Ferd. W. Walther. Ottomar Fürbringer.
Th. Jul. Brohm. Joh. Fr. Bünger.”
The first students were: Hermann Bünger, Theodor Schubert, Fr. J. Biltz, J. A. F. W. Müller, Ch. H. Löber.
Two-and-a-half months previous, the Society of Emigrants had to publish the following in the Anzeiger des Westens:
undersigned felt themselves compelled several weeks ago to contradict the many
nasty rumors from
“Regrettably, however, we had an experience in the past weeks in regards to this man which convicts us of a shamefully suffered deception and which fills our hearts with abhorrence and dismay. Stephan has in fact been guilty of the secret sin of lust, infidelity and hypocrisy; and we have to be the ones to whom the confessions were made unasked, who expose him, and of which we immediately have made the necessary notifications to others.
“Just as we had defended this man previously in ignorance and in voluntary loyalty, we publicly disassociate ourselves now from this fallen person, since God has opened our eyes through His gracious guidance.
“We hope to God that He Who has protected us and our congregation, emigrated with us, will avert all harmful consequences of the prevailing gross scandal from us and others.”
declaration of May 27, 1839 was signed by Pastors Löber, Keyl, Bürger and
Walther. Stephan’s deposition judgment was dated: “
The effect of
the unmasking of Stephan upon the entire society was terrible. The greater the
veneration, nay, near deification, had been with which Stephan had been paid
homage to, the more dreadful was the rebound. They had let themselves be
persuaded by him in accession to the Swedish Lutheran Church constitution to
acknowledge him as “Bishop;” to kiss his hand had become a standing courtesy at
soirées; the society’s declaration of submission of February 1839, demanded by
Stephan, had been executed yet during the journey from New Orleans to St. Louis
on the steamboat “Selma;” also “in the communal,” in the management of the cash
box, he had seized near dictatorial power. And new he stood there before church
and world as a godless hypocrite, disgraced and a desecrater, as a defrauder
and squanderer of other people’s property, as a seducer of body and soul, as a
pillory of Lutheranism for which the Saxons, who had emigrated for the sake of
their faith, wanted to prepare a place in
were thunderstruck. Everything that had been well-established for them up to
now, whatever had induced them to emigrate, faltered for them, except one
thing: God’s Word and the Confession of our Church which they didn’t want to
abandon and which preachers and listeners clasped the more so now as the only
remaining unbreakable anchor for them. “The cardinal questions,” Walther wrote
to his brother at that time, “concerning us now are: ‘Are our congregations
Christian/-Lutheran (christlutherish) congregations? Or are they factions?
Sects? Do they have the power to call and to ban? Are we pastors or not? Are
our vocations valid? Do we still belong to
In the aberration of conscience, they went as far as to declare the emigration in itself as sin, not only the offenses occurring by it, e.g., the severing of family ties. They harbored distrust of all pastors and they doubted the validity of their official acts.
Hase (III, 2, p. 429) writes: “A sermon of (the older?) Pastor Walther printed
the cause of the
1. The true Church, in the most real and most perfect sense, is the totality (Gesamtheit) of all true believers, who from the beginning to the end of world from among all peoples and tongues have been called and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And since God alone knows these true believers (2 Tim. 2:19), the Church is also called invisible. No one belongs to this true Church who is not spiritually united with Christ, for it is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ.
2. The name of the true Church belongs also to all those visible companies of men among whom God’s Word is purely taught and the holy Sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ. True, in this Church there are godless men, hypocrites, and heretics, but they are not true members of it, nor do they constitute the Church.
3. The name Church, and, in a certain sense, the name true Church, belongs also to those visible companies of men who have united under the confession of a falsified faith and therefore have incurred the guilt of a partial departure from the truth; provided they possess so much of God’s Word and the holy Sacraments in purity that children of God may thereby be born. When such companies are called true churches, it is not the intention to state that they are faithful, but only that they are real churches as opposed to all worldly organizations (Gemeinschaften).
4. The name Church is not improperly applied to heterodox companies; but according to the manner of speech of the Word of God itself. It is also not immaterial that this high name is allowed to such communions, for out of this follows:
a) That members also of such companies may be saved; for without the Church there is no salvation.
5. b) The outward separation of a heterodox company from an orthodox Church is not necessarily a separation from the universal Christian Church nor a relapse into heathenism and does not yet deprive that company of the name Church.
6. c) Even heterodox companies have church power; even among them the goods of the Church may be validly administered, the ministry established, the Sacraments validly administered, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven be exercised.
7. d) Even heterodox companies are not to be dissolved, but reformed.
8. The orthodox Church is chiefly to be judged by the common, orthodox, public confession to which its members acknowledge and confess themselves to be pledged.4
These theses contain, in deed and truth, the short sum total of the biblical doctrine of the Church. The realization at that time that they are securely grounded in God’s Word, had set the deeply vexed and bewildered congregation of Saxon emigrants aright again. Indeed, we are still Christians, are still Lutherans, bear the true and unmistakable mark of the true Church still, have the Office of the Keyes yet, the power to forgive and to retain sins and to establish the ministry which preaches reconciliation among us. This they now learned virtually, and their hearts were filled with comfort of the Holy Spirit over that.
Twenty-five years later at the opening of the synodical meeting in the same Altenburger congregation, Pastor Georg A. Schieferdecker said justly of that disputation: “It was the Easter-day of our severely tested congregations, where they, like the disciples, saw again the Lord Who was believed to be dead and in the power of His resurrection were filled with joy and hope. As important and significant the Leipzig Disputation of 1519 became for the Reformation, the disputation held here has become just as important – I dare say it confidently – for the entire subsequent formation and development of our Lutheran Church here in the West. Whatever was then achieved and obtained as the jewel of truth has proved itself in all following battles which our Synod has led.”
We cannot possibly describe those battles to the reader here, not even briefly, [we] refer him rather to the life of Dr. C. F. W. Walther drawn up by Prof. M. Günther which presents to him a good part of American church history from the nineteenth century.
We want to rather step to the end of the career of this witness of Christ in spirit and briefly survey what has become of the small beginnings of the church affairs of those days and above all what good from the Lord befell the Lutheran Church through his service.
It may be useful to do this in connection to the statistical notices of the “Amerikanischer Kalender für deutsche Lutheraner auf das Jahr 1888,” [“German counterpart of the “Lutheran Annual”] which in its “Church Review” about the happenings of the year 1887 mentions above all the death of Dr. Walther on May 7, 1887, 5:30 o’clock in the evening, after he had remembered the golden ordination jubilee which Walther was permitted to celebrate by the grace of God on January 16th of that year.
has remained minister or pastor of the Lutheran general congregation in
collections of sermons published during his lifetime and afterwards his
posthumous works give ample testimony about what kind of a preacher Walther
was. I am calling attention here to only one thing. As head of Concordia
Seminary, he surely had also to see to it when he preached that he was an
example to the future shepherds of congregations in this point too. His sermons
never, absolutely never, offended through an ignoble utterance. His language is
always refined, but never artificial; his speech is effective, but never
grandstands. One surely feels the pains taken to perfect the form of speech by
so many highly esteemed positive pulpit orators of
time, 1849, when Walther took over the directorship of Concordia Seminary in
The synodical meetings of the Missouri Synod distinguished themselves from those of most other church bodies, which had hardly anything but business sessions, primarily by cultivating and discussing always and above all Christian teaching; and what wonderful contributions had Walther furnished always, even when he wasn’t the speaker (Referent). When the Referent had spoken and Walther had got up then, all eyes were fixed on him with a longing, for they knew that a satiation of the best kind was forthcoming for their spirit. Also the sermons, with which he, as president, opened the synods, used to set the right mood and pave the way for the forthcoming teaching sessions. Nearly all the time that was free between the various sessions, you could see him closely surrounded, now by pastors who wanted counsel about this or that matter, now by congregation members who let him in on their particular quarrels and now desired for him to intervene with help and advice. Whoever provided quarters for him during the synodical time, was able to see from the correspondence forwarded to him, how he was importuned by all congregations. And by all this pressed-full measure of work, he usually had “an ever cheerful heart” at synods.
He was also
never missing that [the cheerful heart] in the church conflicts into which the
Lord of the Church had placed him and had properly appointed him champion (Vorkämpfer).
Whoever reads the first volumes of the Lutheraner, finds Walther not
only instructive there, but also cheerfully and confidently contending with
weapons of righteousness on the right and on the left of the battlefield of the
Church. And when ten years later, our most distinguished church periodical was
joined by Lehre und Wehre a theological and contemporary
church-historical monthly journal, the greatest portion of the editorial work
fell to Walther also in this more scholarly journal read mostly by pastors. And
there Walther has proven himself as a Christian polemicist. He didn’t dispute
for the sake of disputing, but to be able to teach calmly and salutarily what
God’s Word teaches. He “was not itching to compete” with Johannes A. A. Grabau,
or with Löhe or with his epigones, or with Friedrich A. Schmidt, Henry A.
Allward, Frederick W. Stellhorn and associates. As a rule, he let the
controversy come to him and put on the armor only when the adversary compelled
him to and had already commenced hostilities with several trials of strength.
But when he took up arms, he certainly fought to be victorious, for he didn’t
want to strike into the air, but find his mark; he didn’t rest until every
shred of the threatening scarecrow, which the opponent had put into the field
as a bugbear, had disappeared. The “exclusive’ Walther, how ironic had he been
all the same! Just as little consideration
he knew of old and oldest religious friendship and fellowship when the
truth of the Word of God was attacked or the Lutheran Confession (Bekenntnis)
was questioned, he was just as willing until his end to engage in discussions,
colloquies, disputations where he perceived sincerity, where he could entertain
hope that the other party was anxious to arrive at unity in the spirit, i.e. in
the faith, in the teaching and confession of the Lutheran Church that has
remained faithful. Walther has never changed his position and church praxis in
this regard. Surely, it was nothing else than the heartfelt desire
to obey the
apostolic command: “Be diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit through
the bond of peace” [Eph. 4:3], which impelled him to go to Germany with
Friedrich K. D. Wyneken in 1851 on instruction of the Synod, in order to avert
a break with Löhe, with the help of God. And Löhe had acknowledged that then
also. However, not Walther but Löhe has changed his mind and position.5 This mind, after all, to possibly prevent a
break, is found in Walther yet in his last controversy, the one about
predestination. The ones who are no longer sincere about Scripture and
Confession have finally left the Missouri Synod and the Synodical Conference,
that “the eternal
election of God not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the
elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus,
a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what
pertains thereto.” [Concordia Triglotta: ‘Thorough Declaration, XI, Of
God’s Eternal Election.’ CPH, 1921, p. 1065.] And having left, because their
conscience drives them, they cannot grasp and comprehend that
There is certainly no doubt that in the many, nearly innumerable polemic articles, which Walther has written during his long life against papists, the Reformed and sectarians, as against pseudo Lutherans: Grabauans, Breslauans, Vilmarians, Löheans, Iowans, Schmidttians and other –ans and –ians; (passages are found also in [the writings of] Luther, also [in those of] Abraham Calov(ius) and other polemicists), Walther was also very far from considering himself a perfect man who, in polemics, too, did not fail with one word and who could keep his entire body in check and who kept it in check. But this, nevertheless, remains certain: he was a true Christian and genuine Lutheran theologian as a polemicist, too. When teachers of God appear in the Church, “who teach us false semblance,” they teach us “vain, false cunning which [their] own wit devises,” then it’s a mercy from God when He bestows men to the Church who discern this misery, who make the Word of God into their armor and then enter the battlefield of the Church with a steady step.
“My salutary Word them shall back;
Confidently and vigorously they attack
And be the strength that they lack.”
Walther was a worker of extraordinary productivity and zeal. When all articles by him, which are found in the first forty-three volumes (Jahrgänge) of the Lutheraner, in the thirty-three volumes of Lehre und Wehre, all his contributions in eleven volumes of the Magazin für evangelisch-lutherische Homiletik, all the synodical lectures given by him, in addition to his collection of sermons, are put next to books and tracts which were edited by him otherwise, what an amazing work do they show! Besides the abundance of opinions, of official and private letters! The attendance of synods, further, the educational institutions which he, as president, had to inspect (and that was justly a very important matter), all of that besides his regular chief occupation to lecture on Dogmatics and Pastoral Theology to the students of Concordia Seminary: it represented such an amount of work that one can hardly comprehend how he was able to accomplish it. However, he knew where he could seek and find Him Who dons His servants with strength from on high.
When Walther was at the peak of his activity and efficiency, he received visits several times (in December 1869) from Count Ernst zu Erbach-Erbach who toured North America and Cuba then, and in his Reisebriefen aus Amerika (Heidelberg, 1873), still worth reading today, he also recalls the impression Walther made upon him. He says there on page 211 ff:
“I may not pass over a most interesting
acquaintance, which I have made recently. The other day, I visited the general
president of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, who is pastor at the local (St.
Louis) congregation and professor at Concordia College in which young clergymen
are trained theologically for their duties. His name is Walther, not unknown in
the theological realm. . . . I am quite prepared to count him to be one of the
most eminent and most interesting and most captivating men whom I have
encountered in my life. The heated struggle for the truth over the years, the
incessant activity and striving for the propagation of the Word of God have
developed such steadfast certainty and shining truth in all subjects of the
faith, that I always had to marvel and came to the conclusion: this is the man
whom God has chosen hitherto; He couldn’t have found one more worthy. And
indeed, He has used this instrument in order to build His Church anew here in
Walther is an exceedingly amiable, gentle man with striking, noble features and
clear, bright eyes. His conversations are stimulating and instructive in every
respect. Everything gains shape and form in his mouth and appears graphically
before the listener’s eyes. He answers all questions by quickly seizing the
central point and illuminating everything else with it. His logic is compelling
in his reasoning and his eloquence overwhelming. He is unmistakable in
doctrine, charitable in language, cheerful in intercourse and lively as a
youth. The hours pass like minutes in his presence. Yet, he exhibits a
consolatory enthusiasm, which has its origin in the blessing that God has
placed upon the work of his hands. He recalls the religious circumstances in
the old homeland with love, yet with sadness. I am especially obliged to him
for sacrificing long evenings for me often at which he cut short his studies.
These evening hours were his favorite of the entire day; I heard that only
later on. He gave me books and other writings from which I might obtain further
information about Lutheranism in
It was a
wide, wide sphere of activity into which God had placed Walther. How many of
the corrupt German regional churches have sought advice from him! How glad has
he been over every progress of pure Lutheranism wherever he encountered it!
With what interest has he followed the fate of the German Free Church, healthy
in Lutheran orientation, through joy and sorrow. How has he thanked God with
all the benefits He has bestowed upon our Missouri Synod, wherever opportunity
presented itself. With what joy has he welcomed the Synod’s acquisition of a
printery and that operation’s growth in scope and significance! How has he
rejoiced when he saw the zeal and the self-sacrificing devotion in his dear
Missouri Synod for its educational institutions, when, from the original modest
beginnings in Altenburg, one after another came into being: the gymnasium
[classical secondary school] in Fort Wayne; the progymnasia [preparatory classical schools] in Milwaukee,
Concordia, New Orleans, New York; the seminaries at St. Louis and
Springfield; the teachers’ seminary in Addison. – No less than 919 students
attended all of these institutions of higher education in the year of Walther’s
death. – And how shone his eyes when he had the privilege to yet dedicate the
However, he especially thanked God that other orthodox synods, too, had united to a covenant, the Synodical Conference. Thus the Wisconsin Synod, the Minnesota Synod and others. The controversy for the pure doctrine of predestination naturally had here also caused a split by the withdrawal of the Ohio Synod from the Synodical Conference; but the fraternal intercourse with most of the Norwegians was maintained.
Walther, for whom the rift caused much distress, had to experience much sorrow
into his old age, in addition to the abundant grace of God with which he had
seen his activities blessed; and that was the means in God’s hand to keep him
in sincere humility. The answer, among other testimony, which he gave his
“To the reverend Pastors’ Conference at
Pastor H. Wunder residing at the same address.
“Reverend and beloved brethren in the Lord!
“On the occasion of my promotion, congratulations from so many dear brothers have reached me, that I am unable to answer all of them expressing the gratitude due them. You, however, have bestowed such an exceptional distinction, that my heart and conscience prevail on me not to accept it quietly.
all, along with me, must have experienced innumerable times, nothing effects
sincere humility as much as unearned grace, and indeed a humility, which is all
the deeper the more abundant the latter is. Thus I may inform you as a
consolation, while at the same time I express my most heartfelt thanks for your
wholly undeserved love, that God has protected me, contrary to your ‘Jubelklänge’[‘Sounds
of Rejoicing’], only the slightest of the good that is extolled therein and
ascribed to me, the most miserable among sinners, has humbled me to give Him
alone all honor in fervent tears, in the most lively emotion that nothing,
nothing but disgrace and shame is due me. I certainly cannot and may not deny
that the work and the struggle of our dear Synod, in which I was found worthy
to be allowed to stand in the front line, has been effusively blessed, however,
as God has never let me forget, that all blessing was free grace, thus, by
reading through your ‘Jubelklänge’, I have particularly felt deeply: ‘If
there’s something good in my life, it is truly nothing but Yours.’ The church
has not really been blessed by us, but by the blessing, we got to be what we –
I above all – are. Had God put some other faithful Christians into the same
circumstances into which God, out of inconceivable mercy, has considered me
worthy to be placed, they would have, if God would have shown them the same
mercy, experienced the same blessing of their work and struggle. I was only
God’s mask. And, alas, such a bad and ugly one! What really was mine thereby,
was my sin, my foolishness, which has corrupted and hindered much, and would
have corrupted and hindered everything, if God, Who at this time wanted to
“The following has also always been especially remarkable for me. I have taken away very meager knowledge full of gaps from school and university and was able to complete it only as circumstances might have required, haphazardly; also the collection of my library has always been haphazardly, incidental one. But finally, I often had to see in amazement that God put me into such circumstances in which I could utilize the little that I knew. O, a faithful God! In short: God has done great things for me, for which I am glad, even when I feel, vividly feel, that I am nothing by myself but a clump of darkness and sin.
“Until now, God has kept my eyes open to clearly see my wretchedness and therefore remaining untouched by the praise which my brethren bestow to the instrument and which belongs only to Him Who makes use of the instrument according to His unsearchable wisdom. But, dear brethren, you certainly know from God’s Word what corruption dwells in my flesh and that therefore I can, at any moment when God removes His hand from me, fall into the most dreadful blindness, into haughtiness, sin and shame; Oh, so add to your proofs of love this one, that you now and then remember me also in your ‘Our Father’ before the Lord; and especially in every petition, for I need them all, but what is more, also in the last one since I sense: I have finished my race and long to leave this world full of nets and snares.
“Now again my humble thanks. God reward you for what you have dome unto me, the most dishonest member of our common body. “Your C. F. W. Walther.”
The faculty, who honored him at that time, has amply taken care of adding misery to his last years of his life through their opposition to the truth of Lutheran doctrine. But whatever they and fellows of the same ilk have afterwards done contrary to the truth of the Gospel; with the help of God he has abided by the good confession of Paul, Rom. 8:38, 39: “I am convinced that neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
He went to
his eternal home in this faith and confession. Of all the obituaries, which his
death occasioned, only a single one will be related here. It is not from the
circle of the Synodical Conference, neither from the circle of his religious
Christoph E. Luthardt’s Allgemeine evang.-luth. Kirchenzeitung [General Ev. Lutheran Church Journal], in the issue of June 22nd, 1887, expressed itself thus:
“With his passing, one of the great men of the Church has gone to his eternal home, a man who was not only an epoch-making personality in the church history of America and the prominent leader and gatherer of the Lutherans there, but whose effectiveness in the Lutheran Church of all parts of the world was perceived as an immensely inspiring one. The success of his efficacy in the recent history of our Church is nearly unprecedented and characterizes him not only as a man of great abilities, outstanding talents, indefatigable industry and exceptional energy, but suggests a providential personality, as the Lord sends His Church when He wants to . . . lead it in particular ways.
“Of course, he did not have what actually makes a great theologian in our modern times; he did not want to bring new ideas, did not want to establish a new theological system, did not want to create a new school; he thought nothing of the humble-sounding boasting that we Christians may never think of possessing the truth but that we must seek it constantly. He was very much above the viewpoint of inner flightiness and vagueness. He became unshakably certain of the truth from the Word of God. The Lutheran Confession was no cliché acquired by routine which he had put onto his escutcheon as a motto and to which he had thoughtlessly and pedantically clung with vain obstinacy; but in difficult battles hanging over abysses, often near despair, in his confession he had discovered the anchor and foundation of all hope, the source of all joy and the light of the truth. For him it had now become the pulse, the heart of his entire life; the man was immersed in this faith and that gave him the enormous energy, the unshakable security and lucidity at which an astonishing erudition and a clear, dialectically trained intellect rendered him great services. Therefore he did not want to hear anything about ‘open questions’ in which he only saw the pretext of a heart disobedient to God’s Word; and everything that ever so slightly contradicted the fundamental article of our Lutheran Confession about justification . . . found in him an inexorable and devastating adversary. Just as he did not want to hear anything about open questions in his theology, he did not want to hear about coming to terms with the world or false doctrine in his praxis. . . . He went straight ahead constantly in accordance to his conscience, even if such straightforwardness would seemingly ruin everything. And he had discerned that ‘straight on’ is always the best way to [reach] the aim. Few have seen such splendid results, as he has had. He has taught us all that all clever diplomacy in the Church is the greatest foolishness.
“Within his character lay a peculiar mixture of tenderness and toughness. Whoever knows him only through his polemic treatises, does not sense that his genial cordiality was enchanting; that he won hearts with stirring humility and unpretentiousness. This merry humorist, this concerned friend, ‘this courteous, fine Saxon,’ as his blunt, Low German bosom friend Wyneken often jokingly called him, this childlike cheerful soul, these deep, warm eyes: they were the same ones that could cast looks with burning fury when he defended his Gospel and eliminated the adversary with spirited blows. He had therein something of Luther’s character and one can also say of him as Melanchthon has said of Luther: ‘that he proves himself in all discussions charming, friendly and loving, not at all impudent, tempestuous and willful or quarrelsome, and yet there are seriousness and bravery in his words.’
distinguished himself as preacher through his warm sincerity and often
fascinating, breathtaking sway; he, however, clothed his vivid thoughts in
exemplary form of clear, logical development. He was thoroughly instructive,
but nothing less than doctrinal; everything had its practical point. Both books
of homilies, of which the Gospel homily (Evangelienpostille) has
undergone the eighth edition in eleven years and has been circulated in 23,000
copies, has been translated into Norwegian as well, show him as a theologian
who presents his congregation what he has lived
to see himself and whereupon his life rests, from mature experience and
diligent study. The focal point of his sermons, as well as his speeches and
writings, is the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification. He recognized the
continuation of the apostolic church in Lutheranism. His aim, therefore, was to
deeply shaken as the religious groups are by the death of this man, we find
obituaries honoring the eminent German man also in the daily press of
But it is worth more than tribute-paying obituaries from the mouth of the opponents when a servant of Christ like Walther can say with Paul: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness is ascribed to me which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give men that day. However, not to me alone but also to all who love His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7,8)
The memory of a witness such as he remains a blessing.
* Translated from: Lebensbilder
aus der Geschichte der christlichen Kirche. [Biographical Sketches
from the History of the Christian Church.] Selected and Revised for
Lutheran Readers of North America by Eugen Adolf Wilhelm Krauß [Krauss],
1 Compare, Dr. C. F. W. Walther.
Biographical Sketch. Drawn up by Martin Günther. With 11 illustrations.
2 In the booklet: Kurzer Lebenslauf des weiland ehrwürdigen Pastor Johann Friedrich Bünger usw. [Short Biography of the Late Reverend Pastor Johann Friedrich Buenger, etc.], St. Louis, 1882.
3 I have heard one of them, old cobbler Göttsching, residing in the Kleinen Fleischergasse in Leipzig, speak with joyful emotions of this “Kränzchen” [circle] when I visited him as student yet in the year 1872.
4 The translation of the Altenburg Theses is by Carl Stamm Meyer as quoted in Lutheran Cyclopedia, Erwin L. Lueker, editor, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, © 1975, p. 22.
5 On this journey, God blessed the testimony
of both of the
What have You forborne When from me was taken the kingdom.
For my comfort and bliss? As peace and joy smile,
When body and soul sat forlorn Then, You, my Salvation, have come
In their greatest distress, And made me glad.
From then on I had peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; I knew then what the sweetest is in Lutheran Christianity: Namely the assurance of the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, do not wonder that I preach the catechism maxim so often: ‘Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation’.”