Gerhard Tersteegan

“Across the will of Nature
Leads on the path of God;
Not where the flesh delighteth
The feet of Jesus trod.
O bliss to leave behind us
The fetters of the slave,
To leave ourselves behind us,
The graveclothes and the grave.

We follow in His footsteps;
What if our feet be torn?
Where He has marked the pathway
All hail the briar and the thorn!
Scarce seen, scarce be heard, unreckoned,
Despised, defamed, unknown
Or heard but by our singing,
On, children, ever on!”

― Gerhard Tersteegan 1697–1769

Gerhard Tersteegen was born in Moers, Prussia, in 1697. His father died when he was young, and after studying the classics, Tersteegen was apprenticed to a successful merchant and moved into an isolated cottage in order to search for God. He worked as a merchant before taking up weaving, an occupation that allowed him more time for his devotional studies and hymn writing.

Self-taught in his religious studies and aligned with mystics rather than the Reform Church of Germany, Tersteegen worked as an itinerant preacher, regularly visiting Holland, and maintained a house known as Pilgrim’s Hut as a retreat for prayer in Mülhern. For much of his life, he lived in poverty, suffering from depression and hunger.

In 1727 a revival took place and what started as a journey of solitude took a new direction as people began coming to him for spiritual guidance. Before long he was giving personal counsel from morning to night. The numbers seeking his guidance grew to the point that he was forced to move into a house to better accommodate them.

In 1731 he published his first collection of hymns, The Spiritual Flower Garden. These hymns were so popular that they were sung at weddings, social gatherings, and even spoken as greetings. Thousands came to Tersteegen for spiritual counsel, many traveling great distances and sometimes waiting for hours in order to hear his words for a few minutes. He taught that God’s nature is in every man and it has only become obscured by focus on outward things.

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