« VorigeDoorgaan »
conceived a timidity, which he never was able to overcome, and which, together with bad health, weak lungs, and a memory not very firm, prevented him from becoming that ornament to the pulpit, which his early attempts promised, and engaged him to employ his talents in a different line.
His limited circumstances did not allow him to devote his whole time to the cultivation of his own talents. In 1739 he undertook the care of several pupils; and, zealous in the discharge of this important duty, he trusted not to his own strength; he prayed for superior assistance. On the right employment of the Sabbath he justly laid particular stress; he considered it as "an indispensable means, and the most useful of all, for quickening our progress in religion and piety;" he thought that "on our mode of employing the Sabbath," depended "the use we made of the week."
"For on that day, (he would say,) to withdraw ourselves from all earthly occupations, to make a serious examination of our hearts, to raise them to heaven, to nourish them with the truths founded on faith, is to fortify them for the whole week, to prepare ourselves for a faithful discharge of the duties of our calling. Amidst the tumults of the world, and the occupations of life, we too easily lose the sentiment of our weakness and misery, if we do not set apart a, certain portion of time for meditating on our insufficiency, and on the power and goodness of God; on our nothingness, and on his greatness. The better your disposition, the more active your zeal in discharging your duties, the more secure you may think your progress in virtue, the more reason you will have to fear the surprises of spiritual pride. Consecrate, therefore, the Lord's Day to acts of humility. Impress your heart deeply with the meditation of this great truth; that your existence, your felicity or your misery, your faith, your piety, are entirely and wholly dependent on the Supreme Being. Entertain a deep sense of the goodness of God, and of your own weakness. Awaken your mind to the sense of God's mercies; enjoy the conversation of your pious friends, rejoice in the felicity which is their portion, in the beauties and in the wonders of nature."
This testimony from Gellert, whose assiduity in the discharge of the arduous duties of his station was unremitting, is surely a sufficient answer to those who plead the toils of the week as an apology for the dissipation in which they spend that day which God has claimed for himself. If to adore their Creator is burthensome; if to hold communion with their Redeemer, and gratefully to contemplate the wonders of his love is not a delightful employment: if a sense of their own insufficiency does not lead them to implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit; it is a sure proof that their hearts are not right before God; and no other argument is wanting to shew how necessary it is that they should diligently use all the appointed means of grace, and thankfully acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of God in having set a part one day in seven for peculiar attention to our spiritual concerns.
To the opinion of Gellert we may add the testimony of one, eminent for his profound knowledge of English law, and still more eminent for his unshaken integrity and exalted piety,
"God Almighty," says Sir Matthew Hale, "is the Lord of our time, and lends it to us, and, as it is but just we should consecrate this part (the Sabbath) of that time to him, so I have found, by a strict and deligent observation, that a due observation of the duty of this day hath ever joined to it a blessing upon the rest of my time, and the week that hath been so begun hath been blessed and prosperous to me; and, on the other side, when I have been negligent of the duties of this day, the rest of the week hath been unsuccessful and unhappy to my own secular employments; so that I could easily make an estimate of my success in my secular employments the week following, by the manner of my passing this day: and this I do not write lightly or inconsiderately, but upon a long and sound observation and experience."*
Gellert's exertions were not confined to literary objects; he was ready to embrace every opportunity of reclaiming a fellow-creature from his sins. His biographer has preserved a very interesting account of the assiduity, tenderness, and judgment, with which Gellert attended, during a severe illness, a young man, who had run into every excess of profligacy and profaneness. His pious efforts were blessed with success. The young man did not recover; but Gellert had the satis faction of seeing that his death was that of a true penitent.
The character of his fables is thus summed up by his biographer."The choice of subjects, the moral, the style, all please, all do honour to the judgment, the understanding, and the heart of the poet." And in proof of the effect which they produced among his countrymen, the following interesting anecdote is related:
"In the beginning of one winter he saw a Saxon peasant drive up to his door a cart loaded with fire wood, who demanded of himself, whether he was not the gentleman who composed such fine tales? On the answer he received, the peasant, joy sparkling in his eyes, with many excuses for the liberty he took, made Gellert a present of the contents of his cart, as a feeble mark of his gratitude for the pleasure he had received from reading his tales."
When writing his sacred songs, "he never set himself" observes the biographer, "to this employment without a serious preparation and without having his heart previously filled with the sentiment he wished to express." They were eagerly received by all the friends of religion. and even by Roman Catholics, among whom Gellert's writings were exempted from the common sentence of exclusion passed upon heretical works.
In 1751 he obtained, together with a pension, the appointment of professor extraordinary in philosophy, and began to give public lectures on poetry and eloquence to a very numerous audience. In these he was careful to "inspire his pupils no less with the love of virtue, than of the sciences." Nor did he confine himself to public instructions, all had free access to him; and, "whilst with all the marks of the tenderest interest, he recommended to them piety and virtue, as the true road to happiness, his own example and the purity of his manners, added the greatest weight to his exhortations," Thus did this excellent man
*Directions touching the keeping of the Lord's Day, to his children
carry religion into every part of his life and conduct; it was his constant companion, his guide and the source of all his comforts.
His hypochondriac affection rendered his life a contiuued series of suffering. He sought for consolation in religion, and though he did not succeed in overcoming the horrors of imagination, we have no doubt that he thereby diminished their power. On the subject of Gellert's habitual melancholy, the biographer makes a judicious reflection.
"Many people in reading the life of Gellert, have been painfully affected by the idea of the almost incredible sufferings and melancholy, experienced by this man, who was so pious, and so good, who chiefly delighted in glorifying and imitating the author of his being, by spread ing happiness around him. But if Gellert had been less an object of compassion, he would certainly have been less great, less admired, and of course less useful."
As Gellert advanced in years he found his imagination cool; and, abandoning the Muses, he resolved to compose a course of moral lectures. These added much to his celebrity; his audience consisted often of four hundred persons; sometimes of more. Nor was he less useful by his familiar and friendly intercourse, with his pupils, and by his advice to numerous correspondents, than by his public lectures. The confidence reposed in him was indeed most extraordinary. "Fathers asked him for directions in regard to the education of their sons; mothers wished to receive his instructions as to the mode of forming the hearts and understandings of their daughters, and frequently consulted him concerning the offers of marriage which were made for them; young men requested him to advise them on their studies; to him many persons who had doubts concerning religion, addressed themselves to have them cleared up; and frequently people of the world asked his advice how to resist the temptations to which they were exposed." To persons of every station of life his writings were useful; and by all ranks his character was respected and beloved.
Towards the close of Gellert's life an unhappy spirit of discord arose in the university: he alone, by exhortations and expostulation, succeeded in quelling it. Notwithstanding his mental depression, he enjoyed, by the force of religion, much inward tranquillity during the last five years of his life; and, as he perceived the slow approach of death, his diligence in benefitting others, and his zeal for their spiritual welfare, seem to have increased. "The lessons," to use the elegant language of his biographer, "which came from his lips had the charm of a fine summer's evening, at the moment when the sun sheds his last beams, and his absence deprives nature of its lustre, without taking from its beauty." He prepared his moral lessons for the press, but did not live to superintend their publication. He expired in 1769 with the triumphant composure of a christian.
"During his last illness, a firm, but ever humble confidence in the mercy of God, through Jesus Christ, appeared to elevate him above himself; and melancholy, the constant companion of his life, did not dare follow him to the confines of eternity. He was delivered from his apprehensions, and, nevertheless, preserved a constant sense of his imperfections, and of his unworthiness in the sight of the Supreme
Being. He fixed his thoughts on the beatitude to which he was ap proaching; and, to console his friends, distracted by the conviction that medical art tried in vain to prolong his days, he conversed with them on the glorious prospect before him.
"When Gellert had completed his temporal arrangements, mastering his weakness and his pains, he sat up, and uncovering his head, the hairs of which already begun to whiten, he pronounced aloud such fervent prayers, animated with so deep a sentiment of humility, of gratitude, and of love for his God; his looks raised to heaven expressed such a profound peace, so celestial a joy, that it seemed to his friends as if they saw the image of a holy patriarch, a Jacob on his death-bed blessing his children. He endeavoured to recal to his remembrance all the particular blessings he had received from Divine Goodness; he specifically named all those of his friends who were still alive, many of his absent disciples, and recommended them in his prayers to the Divine favour and protection. But he did not wholly confine himself to the blessings he had received; he recalled to his mind his faults, his weaknesses, and that with such a degree of humility, as produced an indelible impression on the minds of those present. This prayer was pronounced with a weak, but very intelligible voice; and the fire of devotion with which it was animated, filled their eyes with tears and their hearts with a respect for his piety, beyond what they ever felt before.
"After having conversed and prayed for some time, he fell back on his bed, continued his meditations in silence, and thus prepared himself for the conversation of a worthy ecclesiastic in whom he had much confidence, and from whose hands he wished to receive the holy sacrament for the last time. On the entrance of this friend, the manner in which Gellert spoke to him of his death, shewed that nothing disturbed the inward calm of his mind. He was very attentive to all the words uttered by the pious minister; but nothing affected him more, nor excited in his heart a more lively sentiment of joy, than the consideration of the infinite love of the Redeemer towards mankind; and this sentiment was accompanied with the most profound respect, and the sincerest humility. When amongst the passages of scripture suited to his situation, these words taken from the history of Lazarus were pronounced, Lord, behold he whom thou lovest is sick;' penetrated with the sense of this passage, 'Ah,' exclaimed he, 'might I be happy enough to be allowed to apply these words to myself!' His pastor and his friends making him sensible that the christian, who seeks salvation only in the merits of his Saviour may be certain, he is the peculiar object of his love, he immediately applied this consoling promise to himself: 'Yes, I hope it, O my Saviour, I hope that thou lovest me as one of
"The power of these sentiments so far exceeded that of his sufferings, that, in the midst of the most violent pains, no complaint fell from his lips, only he requested his friends to pray for him. One of these having asked him whether he suffered much? Most assuredly,' replied the pious sufferer, 'but these pains are supportable.' 'You have already endured many evils with firmness and resignation,' added his friend, 'you will still continue to suffer with Christian fortitude, that religion which has strengthened you during your life, will support you in the
hour of death.' 'Alas, my dear friend,' replied Gellert I am a weak man, a poor sinner; pray for me that I may not yield to temptation." Sincere as was this confession, as sincerely did he think himself certain of obtaining pardon, through the merits of the Redeemer.
"On hearing of his danger, Mr. Heyer came to Leipsick to see him; the moment Gellert perceived him, he said, 'This is a truth, and worthy to be received of all men, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; this, my dear friend, this is my confession of faith on my death bed. But,' continued he with visible joy, 'mercy has been extended to me; yes, God extends his mercy to me; this is what I moreover acknowledge; it is in this hope that I live, and am going to die.' He then set himself to exalting aloud, and in the most affecting manner, the infinite mercy of God.
"These pious dispositions manifested themselves particularly in his last communion; and though his illness had already reduced him to a deplorable state, he collected all his remaining strength, in order to acknowledge his faults, and make his confession of faith; and the ardent zeal with which he was animated, must have absorbed, at that moment, all his sense of suffering. He applied to himself all the promises of grace, which the deeply affected minister placed before him from the Gospel, with the utmost ardour, and with a tone of voice which announced the celestial joy with which his heart overflowed; he called on those who witnessed this act of religion to edify themselves, with him, and to celebrate the glory of the Divine mercy. He at the same time assured the minister, that he had never felt so entirely the comfort and efficacy of the evangelical promises; and that at this, more than at any other time, he felt how much those are to be pitied who refuse to seek their consolation in the Saviour's merits.
Notwithstanding the violence of his disorder, nothing could disturb the courage and serenity of his soul; and he discovered none of those marks of weakness, which are too often seen in similar circumstances, even in true Christians.
"The physicians, in the mean time, tried every thing their art could suggest, to save his life. The news of his desperate state reached the Elector: much affected by the situation of this most useful citizen, he ordered the able Demiani to go to Leipsick, and to join his endeavours with those of the university physicians, to save a life he so much valued, and desired to have an exact account of the success of their united efforts. Gellert submitted to all their experiments with admirable patience & courage; no complaint escaped him, though out of four and twenty hours he was constantly obliged to pass sixteen under the surgeon's hands, All, however, was in vain, neither the skill and assiduity of his physicians, the zeal and friendship by which they were animated, nor the kind attention of his sovereign, could arrest the departure of that life, which every one so ardently wished should be prolonged. In the midst of the violent pains attending on an inflamation of the bowels, the pious sufferer was occupied with the passion of his Saviour, who he said, had suffered infinitely more to obtain for him the pardon of his sins; and his soul was so entirely absorbed in the contemplation of this salutary death, that he appeared little alive to the