Joseph Frey 1771-1850
The man known today as the “Father of modern Jewish mission” was born in 1771 to an orthodox Jewish family. His father, Samuel Levi was a Moreh Tsedek and his mother ran the family business. As her own brother had come to faith, she did her utmost to ensure that something of the like would never happen to one of her own children! So the children learned early to abhore the name of Jesus, and to avoid any contact with Him or his followers. He had a traditional education, studying the Bible in Hebrew in his younger years, and then the Talmud and Jewish sources. He became a teacher, and then a schochet and a cantor in a synagogue.
His contact with the Christian faith came by chance, during his travels, when he met a young man who introduced him to the idea that now that Messiah had come, he no longer needed to keep all the rabbinical law in order to be saved. Intrigued, he investigated further most seriously, and came to faith in Jesus as Messiah in 1798 (see his story below, in his own words – from nominal faith for convenience to a deep, loving faith in Messiah) and shortly afterwards began studying at the Berlin Seminary under the noted Pastor Janicke. His family sat shiva for him, and ties were severed with all but two of his siblings. In later years, he corresponded at length with his brother, Benjamin, explaining why and how he believed Yeshua is the Messiah of the Jewish people. This book has been published in both English and Hebrew (Keren Ahvah Meshihit, Jerusalem.)
Frey went to London to train with the London Missionary Society (founded 1795) to be sent as a missionary to Africa. However when he saw the plight of the Jewish people of London’s East End, he asked permission to work amongst them. Permission was granted but he was frustrated by the lack of materials and consideration of presenting the claims of Jesus to the Jewish people in a ‘contextualised’ way.
He believed specific materials and methods were needed. The refusal of this request, and a host of other circumstances prompted Frey and other supporters of the Jewish cause to establish in 1809, the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. In 1820, in the USA, Frey founded the American society for meliorating the condition of the Jews. The object of this association was to establish an asylum for Christian Hebrews from all parts of the world, providing employment for those who, because of their faith, could no longer work among the Jews and were not welcomed among the Christians! David Jadownicky was the first immigrant to the USA and ASMCJ worker, who completed his college education, enrolled in a seminary, and then left the ASMCJ to work in Jerusalem as a minister to his people.
Frey finally settled in Pontiac, Michigan, where he pastored Baptist churches, and taught Hebrew in the preparatory department of the State University. He died there in 1850.
NARRATIVE OF THE AUTHOR’S LIFE FOR THE LAST SIXTY-SIX YEARS;
It pleased God, in whom I live, move, and have my being, to favour me with the light of this world, Sept. 21, 1771. The place of my nativity is Maynstockheim, near to Kitzingen, in Franconia, in Germany. My father, Samuel Levi, was nineteen years a private tutor in a Jewish family, at Mynburnheim ; and after he married, continued, as it were, day and night in the study of the sacred Scriptures, and the traditions of men, and acted as Morah Tzedeck, whilst my mother carried on the trade, by which the family was comfortably supported.
According to the religion of my parents, I was circumcised the eighth day after my birth, and received my name, Joseph Samuel. The reason why I have now the addition of three names will be given hereafter. Jewish children are called by the name of the nearest relation who is dead, perhaps in reference to Deut. xxv. 6 ; accordingly the first child was called by my parents Levi, which was the name of my father’s father; the second was a daughter, and received the name of my mother’s mother: and as I was the third child, I received the name of my mother’s father, which was Joseph. My parents had ten children, five daughters and as many sons. My sisters were taught to read the prayer-book in the Hebrew language, i.e. to pronounce the words without understanding even the literal meaning of a single sentence.
This, alas! is usually all the religious education which the females receive, and many of them even not so much. But my brothers and myself were put under the care of a tutor in our own family, who instructed us daily according to the Law and the Talmud, and every Saturday we were examined by our father, in what we had learned through the week. Our tutor took every opportunity to inspire us with prejudices and hatred against the Christian religion. Whilst explaining the five books of Moses, he mentioned in every place the opinions of the Christians, raised objections against them, and endeavoured to establish us in all the Jewish errors.
On the evening preceding the 25th of December, it being supposed that Jesus Christ was born on that evening, we did not study any thing sacred: but our teacher always made us read a little book called Toldoth Jeshu, the generation of Jesus, which contains the most horrid blasphemies, and is calculated to fill any person who believes it, with prejudice, disgust, and hatred against Jesus and his followers. This common practice of the Jewish teachers was more strictly observed by ours, by the express desire of my mother, who was a most inveterate enemy to Christianity, because her brother had embraced the Christian religion, and had lived and died at Strasburgh in the faith of the Son of God.
This circumstance gave rise to a common saying in my native town, whenever a quarrel arose between the Jewish boys and my brothers, and in particular as to myself, who was always the wildest, it was generally said, ” Let them alone, they will certainly turn Chritians, as their uncle did.”
For ever blessed be the Lord, who has accomplished this prophecy in me the most unworthy. My mother herself narrowly watched us, and would never suffer us to read any book but in the Hebrew language, lest we should read any thing about the Christian religion. Such was the enmity of my dear mother against the blessed name of Jesus, that when a Christian, who frequently came to buy bread or flour, said, ” I hope you will yet believe in Jesus Christ,” she would exclaim with great emotion of soul, “I will rather be damned than believe in the hanged one.” ….
The reader will not wonder at my mother’s conduct, when he is informed, that to embrace the Christian religion brings greater reproach upon the family than if all the children had been guilty of the worst of crimes; and the person himself who believes the Christian religion becomes the object of their utmost abhorrence. One of the names by which they call him or her is Meshummad or Meshummedeth, from the root Sha-mad, which signifies to destroy; and to this name they generally add, Yemach Shemo vesichro, i.e. Let his name and memory be blotted out.* And if it were in their power without Chillul Hashshem, i.e. without bringing reproach on God, or exposing themselves or nation to persecution, to take away the life of such a person, like Saul of Tarsus, they would consider it a service done unto God.
The advantages and disadvantages arising from this mode of education I have often experienced; whilst on the one hand it was the means of my progress in Jewish learning, on the other hand it kept me in perfect ignorance of all other useful knowledge : until my twenty-fourth year I had not seen a New Testament nor a translation of the Old.
When about three years, I begun the Hebrew alphabet, and when but six years of age I could read any chapter of the five books of Moses; and although I had no grammatical knowledge of the language, and under- stood little of the true meaning of the precepts, or the real design of the ceremonies contained in those books ; yet ten thousand thanks to my dear parents, who taught me the sacred Scriptures from a child, the fruits of which I still enjoy.
About that time it pleased God to afflict me with the small-pox, which brought on a long and painful illness, and my life was supposed to be in danger for about a year and a half, during which time I forgot what I had formerly learned; the sight of my left eye was also injured, and I lost the use of speech, but through the blessing of God I was gradually restored to the use of both. The latter, however, has always continued in a measure defective, and even at present, in reading a long-continued sentence, I experience some degree of hesitation. This formerly was often a source of grief to me, but blessed be God, for many years past I have seen the wisdom and goodness of the Lord in this fatherly chastisement, and through eternity I shall have reason to say that this light affliction, which is but for a moment, has worked out for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
On my recovery I was again instructed in the section out of the law appointed for the week, with the explanation of Rashee, i. e., Rabbi Solomon Yarehi, and was also taught a chapter every day out of the former prophets, and writings or hagiographa, but never was any part of the latter prophets, except what is contained in the Haphtoroth, explained to me; no wonder, therefore, that I was ignorant of what they had written concerning the Messiah. I…..
At the age of eighteen, I went, with the consent of my parents, to Hesse, as a teacher, and during the following three years I instructed six children in reading Hebrew, and to understand the literal meaning of the five books of Moses, together with some parts of the Mishna, and also in writing and arithmetic : in these occupations I was employed only six hours in the day, and the remainder of my time I was often at a loss how to spend. O that I had then known the value of time ! Besides free board and lodging, I received four guineas per quarter, with which in Germany a person can live better -than with ten guineas in England. Thus I thought myself rich, and ” increased with goods, and had need of nothing, not knowing that I was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Rev. iii. 17.
At the age of twenty-one I received a second honorary degree to be a Chazan or reader in the synagogue. At this period I was much esteemed amongst my brethren, but the pride of my heart was not satisfied; I therefore took great pains, and spent a whole year in obtaining the knowledge of the Jewish method of preparing the knife for killing fowls or beasts, and of the nature of the lungs. None but those who have earnt these ceremonies can judge how difficult they are to be acquired, so as to be master of them all. A person who sustains this office is called Schochat, i. e., to kill or slay.
At length I likewise obtained this degree of honour from the then presiding Rav or Rabbi, of Hesse Cassel. In the use of these ceremonious observances I was extremely strict, although not one of them is to be found expressed in the whole book of God, but they are a few of the innumerable vain, and extremely burdensome, traditions received of the fathers. O blessed Jesus! Thy yoke is easy, and thy burden is light, for by thee the weary and heavy laden find rest. Happy, thrice happy those who are brought into the holy liberty of thy glorious and everlasting Gospel!
About this time my mother entered into a large concern of business, namely, of supplying a part of the Prussian army with grain and provision, lying then at Frankfort on the Maine, and, therefore, wished for my assistance at home. I complied with her wish, and returned to my father’s house. But having neither skill nor pleasure in trade, I once more left my kindred and my country, and returned again to Hesse.
On the day of my departure, my dear father accompanied me a little way out of the town, and at the moment of parting he laid his hands upon my head to give me a parting blessing. The words he made use of on that solemn occasion were then deeply impressed on my mind, and will never be forgotten by me; they were these: ” The angel of the covenant be with thee.”
Little did I then think that he alluded to the Angel Jehovah, who appeared to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that spoke to Moses out of the fiery bush; that gave to Israel the law from Mount Sinai; and of whom Jehovah himself said, “Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him”.
Neither could I have then conceived, what I now firmly believe, viz., that that very Angel Jehovah is Jesus of Nazareth, who, in the fulness of time, was born at Bethlehem; died on Mount Calvary, to atone for our sins; rose again for our justification ;for ever liveth at the right hand of God to make intercession for us; and who will come again (to reign on the earth a thousand years), and judge the whole world in righteousness. O the rich, free, and sovereign love of my God, who I trust has revealed in me Jesus Christ his Son, the hope of eternal glory, whilst my dear family were left in Jewish unbelief.
However, from the conduct of my dear father on this occasion; from his deadness to all worldly concerns; from his delight and study in the law of the Lord day and night, and above all, from his secret devotion, I have often been led to indulge the hope that he has been a believer in Jesus Christ our blessed Saviour; like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night; and like Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews. To return.
As I had saved some money in the preceding years, I resolved to travel, and accordingly made a tour through Westphalia to the borders of Holland, and then back again to Gottingen, Hanover, and Hamburgh. Here I stayed about nine weeks, and boarded in a Jewish family, where many strangers resorted.
* The reader, I hope, will permit me to mention the following circumstance which had made such a deep impression upon my mind when but a lad, as to be still before my eyes now, although old and grey-headed.
One of my sisters, aged about five years, after an illness of a few days, was found wrestling with death. My father, who was then in his study, or place of devotion, being informed of it, simply replied, “All is well” and remained undisturbed. About two hours afterwards, my sister was found dead. My father, on being immediately made acquainted with the fact, said, “I will come and see her.” About four hours after this, whilst all the family and friends were in the deepest distress, my dear father entered the room, approached the bed, touched the child’s hand, and said, ” My beloved daughter, how are you?” To our greatest astonishment, at that moment the child opened her eyes, which had been covered over, and asked for a drink of water. My sister gradually recovered, and I have not yet been informed of her death. O, how great is the power of prayer! “Lord, increase my faith, and give me a greater portion of the spirit of prayer and supplication.”
One day a Jewish brother informed me that he had received a letter from a friend, desirous to obtain a teacher for his children. After some conversation on different branches of learning, and examination of my credentials, he said, ” You are the very man that will suit my friend;” and offered me a letter of introduction. Being tired of an idle life, I accepted of his offer, and gave him a few dollars for his remuneration. In a few days I went with the stage to Schwerin, about three days’ journey from Hamburgh, to present my letter of introduction. But how great was my astonishment when the gentleman to whom I presented it, assured me that he had neither written for a teacher, nor had any children to be instructed! My disappointment in not getting a situation, was far less than my surprise to have been thus imposed upon by one of my own brethren and kinsmen after the flesh. The words of David came immediately to my mind: “It was not an enemy that reproached me, then I could have borne it.” But, blessed be the Lord my God, who has so overruled this circumstance that I can now adopt the words of Joseph, my namesake, “He thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good ; to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
Among the passengers from Hamburgh to Schwerin was a Jewish teacher, and a young Christian, an agent for a tobacco factory in Hamburgh. The latter having observed a great difference in our conduct (for my brother Jew plainly declared, by his actions, that he had freed himself from the restraints of Jewish ceremonies ; for he ate and drank freely of every thing that was set before him ; whilst I, on the contrary, according to my education, ate scarcely anything but bread and butter, and that cut with my own knife, during the whole journey), addressed us thus: “If you will give me leave, I will state to you my opinion concerning the different manner in which you act, both professing to be Jews.”
Having obtained permission, he said to my companion, “You, my friend, are neither a Jew nor a Christian, neither hot nor cold; if you think yourself freed from Jewish ceremonies, you ought to believe that the Messiah has come.” To me he said, “I am sorry to see you denying yourself, and so much troubled with the burdens which your fathers were never able to bear, and which you need no longer to observe; for,” said he, in continuance, “the ceremonial law is fulfilled, and taken away by the Messiah Jesus, who has confirmed the new covenant with his blood ; as it was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah.”
Here he took out his Bible, and read as follows : “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah ; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband to them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will write my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts: and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
“You perceive,” said he, ”that the covenant of ceremonies should be succeeded by another and better covenant. It is evident, therefore, that the former has ceased; for sacrifices, which were the life of all other ceremonies, as well as Jerusalem, the place where they were to be offered up, are both no more ,- the new covenant must have been ratified, and this has been done when Jesus died on the cross, and the veil of the temple rent from the top to the bottom.”
This portion of Scripture, which I had never read before, for the reasons mentioned above, and his observations, made a deep and lasting impression upon my mind, and for some time I was wretched and miserable, full of doubts and fears, and knew not what to do. To my Jewish brethren I could not disclose my feelings, for the least suspicion of doubts respecting the truth of their present religion, or a favourable opinion respecting that of the Christians, would have inevitably exposed me to their displeasure, hatred, or persecution, and among Christians I had no acquaintance.
Having understood that my Christian friend had gone to Rostock, I resolved to follow him. From this time I must date the commencement of a new period in my life.
As soon as I arrived at Rostock I went to the inn nearest the post-office, inquiring for my friend, but was disappointed in not hearing of him. Having been informed that no Jew was allowed to remain in that town for a single night without permission from the magistrate, for which a certain sum was to be paid, I told the landlord that I was a Jew by birth, but that I had come to that place to inquire into the truth of Christianity, and to embrace that religion if I should be convinced of its veracity. On hearing this he promised me every assistance, and the next day he went with me to the house of a minister of the gospel, who examined me concerning my knowledge of the Christian faith, and of the motives which led me to renounce Judaism.
Having found that I could produce no other proof that Jesus was the Messiah but the 10th verse of the 49th chapter of Genesis, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come ; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be,” he suspected my motives to be worldly; nevertheless he did not altogether discourage me, but went with me to some other ministers, and stated my request to the magistrate of Rostock, before whose bar I was shortly after summoned to appear, where I was strictly examined, and my testimonials were approved ; but I was told that there had been many Jews who had embraced Christianity only for secular advantages, who had lived afterwards as heathens, which had made them very careful of receiving any before they were thoroughly convinced of their sincerity.
In order to assure them that I sought nothing but the truth, I promised not to receive the least emolument -from any Christian, but to learn a trade, that I might obtain my daily bread by the labour of my own hands. About a fortnight after this I received their resolution, which was, that I should go to three neighbouring towns, and if none of the ministers would be willing to receive me, that I should return to them again, and they would assist me in my undertaking.
From Rostock I went to Wismar, where I was kindly and affectionately received by the Rev. Dr. Haupt, to whom I went twice every week for instruction, and spent as much time at home as I could spare from my employment in comparing the German translation with the Hebrew Bible, and in reading the New Testament, which I had never seen before. By comparing the predictions respecting the Messiah, contained in the Old Testament, with the history of Jesus of Nazareth as contained in the New, my judgment was soon convinced that he is the promised Messiah ; and considering the doctrine and precepts of the Gospel, I perceived that the dispensation of the Gospel was far more glorious than the Mosaic.
At this early period of my Christian pilgrimage I began to experience the truth of the declaration of my blessed Redeemer, “He that will be my disciple must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” The reader may possibly expect that I allude to persecution from my Jewish brethren ; this was not the case, for there were no Jews residing in that city. But what is more strange, many who called themselves Christians, treated me as a hypocrite and deceiver. Not unfrequently I was told, “You are only come among us for what you can get; as soon as you have made your fortune, you doubtless will give up your profession and return to the Jews.” These things often pierced my heart sharper than a two-edged sword, especially when comparing my former honourable, comfortable, and promising condition, with my present low, poor, and despised situation as a shoemaker’s apprentice.
For I would observe that, in general, an apprentice in Germany is treated very little better than a slave. My situation was attended with peculiar difficulties. My master’s wife having been for several years melancholy, and sometimes altogether deranged, reduced him into low circumstances, and I soon found that no plentiful table was to be my portion ; and my natural pride was exceedingly humbled by the authority assumed by his daughter, who was not fourteen years of age, whereas I was now five-and-twenty, and having spent the preceding years in so respectable a situation among my own people, with whom, I had no doubt, if I had then gone back to them, I could have gained one equally good. These things were not pleasant to the flesh, but grievous ; however, blessed be the Lord, who enabled me to persevere, and who prepared me to bear still greater hardships in his blessed cause.
At the expiration of a year and a half, my master was obliged to give up business, which led to a new difficulty; the minister would not receive me as a member of the church until I had learnt my trade, and wished me to go to another shoemaker. But the trade would not allow any other master to receive me before I was baptized. The reason which they assigned was, that no apprentice is allowed to stay longer than three months with a master, without having his name regularly registered in the book belonging to that trade ; but as at that time no Jew could be bound apprentice, my name could not be registered till after I was baptized. Thus was I left almost without a single friend in a strange place.
At that time a band of players was at Wismar, and in order to gain support, I copied their lessons for about two months. The master of the band was much taken with me, and had it not been for the impediment in my speech, caused by the small-pox, mentioned above, I should doubtless have become one of the company; but God in his wonderful mercy and gracious dealings with me a poor sinner broke this snare also.
By the kind orderings of Providence, I met with a gentleman, whose name was Matthias van Gilben; he advised me to go to New Brandenburg, in Mecklenburg Strelitz, where he was acquainted with the Rev. Cortum, a Lutheran minister, who would receive me, to whom he gave me a letter of recommendation; I therefore took my leave of the minister at Wismar, who also gave me a letter to the minister, and I proceeded to New Brandenburg. In my way thither, in every town where I came I waited upon the ministers, who all severally wished me well, but were not willing to do any thing in my favour. How few, alas, are those who seek the salvation of Israel ! When I reached the place of my destination, I delivered my letters to the Lutheran minister, Cortum, who received me kindly, and gave me effectual assistance. I was again bound to a shoemaker for one year and a half, and went, as formerly, twice a week to the minister for instruction.
On the 8th of May, 1798, I was publicly baptized, or rather sprinkled, and received as a member of the church.
It has always been the custom, that, at the baptism of a Jew, some respectable persons should stand godfathers, who make him many presents; but I refused to receive any, or any kind of presents, as another proof that I did not embrace Christianity for the sake of worldly gain. It is also an ancient practice in Germany for a converted Jew to receive new names at his baptism ; therefore, upon this occasion, the minister gave me three additional names, viz. Christian Frederick Frey. The first expressive of the religion I embraced; the second, which signifies rich in peace, to express his good wishes ; and the last, as my surname, to remind me of the text from which he preached on the occasion, viz. John viii. 32, 36, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”; “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Free, in English, signifies the same as Frey in the German language, but Frey is pronounced Fry, and should be pronounced in the English the same as the pronoun they; but most of the people, while I was in England, attending more to the origin and signification than to the spelling of my name, pronounced it generally as if written free; and I myself got into the habit of doing the same.
Thus I was received into the pale of the Christian Church, as it is called, having an established belief that Jesus was the Messiah, and that there was no salvation but in him; nevertheless, I acknowledge with shame, that I had neither a clear perception of the spirituality of the law, nor of the nature of the offices sustained by, and the benefits to be derived from, Christ.
A few months after this my apprenticeship was expired, and I was at liberty to go as a journeyman. It was therefore my intention to accompany another young man, of the same trade, to Rostock ; but God, in his gracious designs, had appointed another place for me, where I should be led to a fuller discovery of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
HIS CONVICTION OF SIN, AND SAVING ACQUAINTANCE WITH JESUS.
Two days before the time on which we proposed to leave New Brandenburg, my companion wounded his hand in such a manner that he was obliged to give up all thoughts of the journey. As I had given notice to my master of my intention to leave him, I did not choose to remain any longer, and therefore removed to the next town, which was Prentzlow, in Prussia, where I arrived on the 24th of December. The weather was exceedingly cold, and there were many journeymen, but little work. I, however, not only found employment, but was settled in the best situation in the whole town ; thus lately out of my apprenticeship, yet the Lord in his kind providence gave me success, and greatly blessed the work of my hands. Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life. O that I could praise God for his loving kindness to me an unworthy sinner.
In this situation I met with so much envy and ill-will from the journeymen, that I was obliged to change it for another, not so good in point of wages, and much more laborious, but it proved more profitable to the welfare of my soul. In this house I bowed my heart as well as my knees before Jehovah, and prayed for the first time in the Spirit as well as in the letter. I must here beg the reader’s patience whilst I relate the following remark- able providence of God. A few weeks before Easter, the same gentleman, Mr. Matthias van Gilben, who had recommended me to the minister at New Brandenburg, paid me a visit, and made me a present, saying, “Buy yourself an apron with this money, and wear it as a remembrance of your friend.”
Accordingly I went immediately -with his son to a tanner, by the name of Michaelis. I have ever been fond of remarking the ways of Providence, and now that I know more of that God who alone orders all events, my delight is still greater in looking back to those ways in which he has so graciously led me even to the present hour. We passed by several tanners’ shops, as I saw afterwards, in order to go to that of Michaelis, of whom I asked for an apron, and when he told me the price, I said, ” Is not that too much? for I know the value of these things.” “How came you to know it ?” replied he. I answered, “When I was a Jew, I lived in a family where such skins were sold.” “So,” replied Michaelis, “and you are now a Christian?” “Yes,” said I, with the greatest confidence; when he asked me further, “In what manner do you live?”
This was indeed a surprising question, for I had never perceived that there were any different modes of living or conversation amongst Christians. “I live,” said I, “as all the shoemakers’ journeymen live; I go once every Sun- day to church; and then you know the young men cannot be at home at their masters’ houses, where they lodge and board in the week, but must go to the inn or house of call,* where they all meet; there I spend the remainder of the Sabbath, and generally till Mon- day evening, as they all do, in playing at cards, and sometimes dancing : the other days in the week I am very diligent at my work.” “I am sorry,” replied Michaelis; “as you are a Christian, you ought to manifest it in a different manner.” To which I answered, “I have no friends or acquaintances here, therefore I must go to the inn, and being amongst the other journeymen, I must join in their manner of life, else I shall be laughed at and ridiculed by them all.” Michaelis then said with great kindness, “You may come to-morrow afternoon at five o’clock to the house of Mr. Thorman, where several friends meet; you will become acquainted with them, and be able to spend your time on the Sabbath at their houses.”
Following the bent of my natural curiosity, I promised to go there the next day, this conversation happening on a Saturday. On my return home I inquired of the mistress if she knew the house of Mr. Thorman, where some friends met every Lord’s-day. She could not speak evil of them, yet was unwilling to speak well, therefore she only said, “It is a society of praying brethren.”
Early on the following morning, the appointed day in which God designed most graciously to strip me of my own self-righteousness, and clothe me with the righteousness of his dear Son, our blessed Redeemer, to adorn me with his glorious garment of salvation, I felt my mind so uneasy that I could not remain in bed. I arose, but the family being all asleep, I knew not what to do ; in the mean time I heard the playing of an organ, in a church near the place of my abode. I went thither, but scarcely knew why.
The Rev. Mr. Wolff was at that moment confirming a great number of children, it being Palm Sunday. At the conclusion of the ceremony he addressed them thus, “My dear children, I am afraid that some of you will soon return again into the broad road which leadeth to destruction, but my wish before God for you is, that you might be saved ; I would therefore recommend to you the followng passage of the holy Scripture, Job xxvii. 6, ‘My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live ;”‘ or, as he repeated it from the German Bible, ” ‘my conscience does not reprove me for the whole of my life.’ “Reader, compare this with Acts xxiv. 16, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men.” “My dear children,” said he, with the greatest affection, “consider these words at the close of every day, and examine if your conscience does not accuse you for the day which you have passed, and if it does, be sure to kneel down and pray for the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ.”
Dear reader, I must here be permitted to pause, for it is impossible for me to express the feelings of my heart on hearing these words. I found them ” sharper than a two-edged sword,” Heb. iv. 12, and stronger than ” a hammer which breaketh the rocks in pieces,” Jer. xxiii. 29 ; my conscience accused me of crimes innumerable, and, alas! “a wounded conscience who can bear? “I now firmly believed that I had not only broken the double covenant as a Jew, which was first made with God by my parents at my circumcision; and, secondly, by myself, when I was thirteen years old; but also that covenant with God in Christ, which I had rashly made when I was baptized and joined the Christian Church.
It now pleased the Lord to teach me something of the spirituality of the law; I not only found myself guilty of very many sinful words and actions in my life past, but I was also convinced that ” the thoughts and imaginations of my heart were only evil continually,” Gen. vi. 5; mine eyes, which were formerly full of lusts, were now overflowing with floods of tears; the very ground beneath my feet seemed ready to open itself to swallow me up, like Korah and his company. I thought that the eyes of God and of the congregation were fixed upon me with the greatest abhorrence and disgust. I left the place, and entered for the first time into my closet, and shut, the door behind me, that I might pray in secret to my Father which is in heaven. But alas! I knew not how to pray, nor had I confidence to draw nigh to that God whom I had so often and so greatly offended. Some passages of the Holy Scriptures I remembered in Hebrew, which I repeated again and again, such as Psalm xliii. 1, 2, and others, but I found no comfort.
I can therefore, my dear reader, say, from personal experience, that there is nothing easier than for a natural man to believe that God will pardon his sins for some imaginary reason or other; and nothing more difficult than for a truly awakened sinner, to believe that God can pardon his sins and yet be a holy, just, and true God. It is not in the nature of any means, although it be our bounden duty to use them diligently, either to convince the natural man that he is a guilty, defiled, and helpless sinner, nor to persuade the convinced sinner that the Almighty can be a righteous God, and at the same time the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. Both effects it is the office of the same Holy Spirit to produce, who maketh the means, graciously appointed by God, and diligently used by man, effectual to the salvation of the soul. “He who convinces the mind of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, must also take of the things of Jesus, and show them to the heart of the mourning sinner.” John xiv. 8, 15. Having described the circumstances which God made to operate in overwhelming my heart with godly sorrow, I now proceed to mention the manner in which the Lord Jesus gave rest to my soul.
The reader will recollect the conversation which had taken place between Mr. Michaelis and myself on the preceding day, and his invitation to be at five o’clock at Mr. Thorman’s; at that time I had resolved to go out of curiosity, but now I was like “a new-born babe, desiring the sincere milk of the word that I might grow thereby.” 1 Pet. ii. 2. Never was a day so long as this day seemed to be. At length the much-wished-for hour approached, and I joyfully hastened to meet the Christian society; but when I reached the house, the thunder and lightnings of Mount Sinai terrified my breast afresh, my sins filled my face with shame. All my natural boldness was gone, and I could not look up with confidence to the dear friends assembled together; like one of old, mine eyes were fixed to the ground, and the language of my heart was, ” God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke xviii. 13. But Mr. Thorman, at whose house the society met, and who had been for nearly sixty years an experienced, useful, arid faithful soldier of Jesus Christ, received me with the greatest affection, sympa- thy, and compassion; and from that very moment, to the day I left that place, I esteemed, reverenced, and trusted him as a man of God.
Amongst other questions, he asked whether the ministers who had instructed me for three years had prayed with me on their knees. I am sorry to say that my answer, dictated by truth, was a negative.
The service now began with singing, then followed a short prayer, and after that he read a sermon on Isa. liii. 4, 5 : “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows : yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted; but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Jesus Christ was the sum and substance of the discourse, from which I received much comfort : then we all kneeled down, and he prayed. More than twenty minutes were spent in prayer for me, thanking God for calling me out of darkness, and more particularly that it would please the Lord to make me useful and faithful.
After the service was concluded, Mr. Thorman invited me to visit him the next day. I now longed to retire to my closet. On my return to my master’s house, all were surprised, for it was quite a new thing to see me on a Sunday evening, and seldom on a Mon- day. I told them I had been at Mr. Thorman’s, and wished rather to be by myself, than to go to the house of call. I asked my master if Mr. Thorman had studied: ” No,” was his reply. “But how is it possible,” said I, “that a man could so long pray for me without a book, and without even knowing of my coming to him, and consequently he could not have studied the prayer?” “That is no wonder,” said one of the family, “these people pray always.” Immediately I went into my closet, fell upon my knees, and cried, “Lord, teach me thus to pray.”
After two hours’ sweet meditation, I laid myself down, and slept under the shadow of the Most High. Early on Monday morning I arose with an eager desire to read the Bible. On opening the sacred volume, my eye was fixed on 1st Tim. i. 15 : “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Having been used to catechise children, I put the same questions to my own soul as I would have done to a child in the school. Who is the person spoken of? was my first inquiry. Christ Jesus. What did he come into the world for? and where did he come from? From some place that is not in this world from heaven. Why did he come into the world? To save sinners. What kind of sinners? Sinners that are in this world, and great sinners too.
Whilst I was thus musing with myself, I was enabled to conclude and believe, that though I saw me, for he saved Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners. From that moment I was led to rejoice in the salvation of God my Saviour, and felt his love shed abroad in my heart, which constrained me to vow an eternal hatred against every sin, and to devote myself to the service of him who lived and died for sinners. Never did I enjoy an hour like that Monday morning. I generally breakfasted at the house of call, having spent the night there, as I observed before, but now I went to my employment with pleasure, and with renewed strength. My master and his family were surprised to see me at work on a Monday morning and could by no means account for the sudden change, not knowing that the Gospel of Christ teaches a man to be diligent in business and fervent in spirit.
In the afternoon two journeymen came to know why I had not been at the house of call on the preceding day. On being told by one of the family that I had been with Mr. Thorman, and that I was now hard at work, singing psalms, and making melody in my heart, they were surprised, and endeavoured to persuade me to go with them to our former place of supposed pleasure. I received them affectionately, and assured them of the unspeakable happiness I now felt in my soul, and that I had promised to go again in the evening to Mr. Thorman’s. Finding that they could not prevail on me by kindness, they began to ridicule the society of Christians with whom I had just formed an acquaintance, expressed their sorrow for the unhappy change, they thought, I had experienced, and left me, in the hope that God would deliver me from the dangerous sect of “praying brethren.”
O Lord, enable me to pray without ceasing! In the evening I called upon my dear friend Thorman; after some conversation he took me into his closet, where we kneeled down together. He began to read the first chapter in the Gospel by St. John, and changed every verse into a prayer, introducing at the same time parallel passages from the Old Testament, to illustrate and confirm the truth which he had read from the Gospel, and earnestly begging for the influences of the Holy Spirit to bless it to our souls. This inestimable privilege I enjoyed almost every day, especially on the Sabbath, as long as I continued at Prenzlow.
Mr. Thorman would also frequently read the periodical publications of the Basil Society, and other letters relative to the spread of the Gospel among Christians, and especially the exertions of Christians in England to send the word of salvation to the heathen. Very often he would break forth with a deep sigh, and exclaim, “O that I was again a young man like yourself! I would immediately go as a missionary.” I do not recollect that he ever spoke to me directly about offering myself as a missionary, nor did I feel the least inclination to go, even if I had then been asked. However, his labour of love and prayer of faith have not been in vain, as it will be seen in the sequel. I had no sooner tasted of the grace of God, but I was desirous to invite others to come to the fulness of grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. With pleasure I embraced every leisure moment to visit the sick, and twice every week I went to the poorhouse. Here I had the first opportunity of speaking of the love which my dear Redeemer bears to sinners in general, and which he has manifested to me in particular.
The happy change of my dispositions and conduct had a remarkable effect upon my master. Before I became acquainted with Mr. Thorman and friends, I spent generally one or two days in the week in idleness, and whilst at work I only earned just enough to support myself. My master therefore treated me with the greatest kindness, in order to keep me diligently at work; but from the time that I began to labour hard and faithfully, on Mondays as well as on other days in the week, and received nearly twice as much wages as before, he not only looked coolly upon me, but very soon dismissed me from his employment, without being able to assign a single reason for his conduct. O the enmity of the carnal mind!
But blessed be the Lord, whose kind providence often overrules the bad conduct of man to accomplish his own gracious purposes. It is a custom in Germany for masters and journeymen to dissolve their connexion at Midsummer and Christmas only; but my master having dismissed me about two weeks before Midsummer, I could not expect to meet with another situation until that day arrived. I went to Mr. Thorman, and told him that I intended to leave Prenzlow, as I could not bear the idea of spending my time in idleness. Mr. Thorman informed me that a friend of his, Mr. Boettcher, was going to Berlin, who would no doubt procure a master for me. He gave me also a letter of recommendation to Mr. Burgert, a shoemaker at Berlin. On the 20th of June, 1799, I took leave of my dear friend Thorman. Never was anything more painful to me than parting with this friend. Nor have I scarcely ever met a man altogether like him. It would be unsiiitable, nor do I think it necessary, to detain the reader by a particular account of this excellent disciple of Christ- But as his praise is in all the churches in Germany, I consider it my duty to insert, for the benefit of the English reader, at least one of his letters, out of many, with which he was pleased to favour me whilst at Berlin and after I came to this country.
“In the heart (as Bunyan observes) are seven abominations, which you must see every day, as long as you live, and which must constantly drive you to Jesus your Saviour.
The seven abominations are these :
1. Inclination to unbelief.
2. Forgetfulness of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
3. Trust and confidence in your own works.
4 Wandering thoughts, and coldness in prayer.
5. Neglect of watchfulness after prayer.
6. Prone to murmur against God and man.
7. You can do nothing that God has commanded you but you mix with it self-will, self-love, pride,
When you would do good, evil is present with you. Now when you feel this, you must flee, by prayer and supplication, to Jesus the crucified, as a poor miserable and helpless sinner, that his atoning blood may cleanse you from these abominations, and that his Holy Spirit may change your heart and give you a new spirit. If you do not this every day, truly, uprightly, and diligently, you will be lost at last, notwithstanding you have been baptized as a Christian, and received the Lord’s Supper frequently.”
” You must likewise pray for wisdom and understanding to learn your trade thoroughly. Be diligent and faithful in your employment; remember you work not only for men, but you have a Master in heaven, even Jesus Christ. If you feel your work to be hard, consider that the Lord Jesus Christ has sweetened it, having himself laboured (as is most probable) as a carpenter till he was thirty years of age. If you do this, even the ungodly master will esteem you; and none will hinder you in your devotion or prayer, if performed in its season. Happy will you be if you follow my advice, but miserable will you be if you despise my counsel. The Lord be your guide. Amen.
I am your sincere friend, J. F. THORMAN. Prenzlow, June 20th, 1799.”
On Saturday, June 22d, on our arrival at Berlin, I went to the house of call, inquiring after Mr. Burgert; I was told that he was a dangerous and infectious person, one of the “praying brethren,” and that he never visited the house of call. However, I soon found out his place of abode, and was received by him most affectionately. He recommended me to a pious young man to lodge with, from whom I derived many spiritual benefits.
The next day, being the Lord’s-day, I went in the morning, with Mr. Burgert, to the Rev. Mr. Woldersturff, a venerable aged minister of the Gospel. ….The simplicity of the place of worship, the regularity and order of the congregation, the subject of discourse, and the manner in which it was delivered, made a lasting impression upon my mind. Ever after I attended the public meetings of this Christian society, and very soon obtained liberty to attend their private meetings on Wednesday and Friday evenings. I was just at the point of being received as a member of this highly respected community, when I was prevented, by joining the Missionary Seminary. …. It is true, I have since seen the impropriety of preaching nothing but the love of Christ, as manifested in his sufferings, yet I still agree with them, that Jesus Christ ought to be the sum and substance of every discourse. A sermon without Christ, is like a body without a soul.
I was but a few days at Berlin, when I obtained employment from a master who feared God and regarded men, at whose house I remained till I entered the Missionary Seminary.
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