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Scriptural Expositions of Dr. Augustus Neander: I. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, Practically Explained.
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INTRODUCTION

IN offering the following work of Neander to the American public, some brief explanation of its character seems to be necessary. Many, who have only heard of the author as one of the most profound scholars and thinkers of the age, might otherwise be deterred from reading it, by the supposition that it was merely a work of learned criticism. Such, however, is far from being the case. It was the beginning of a series of popular practical commentaries, intended to embrace the more important portions of the Bible. Next to the Epistle of James, which was completed, and a translation of which we expect shortly to present to the public, were to follow the Epistles of John, then the Gospels, the Psalms, &c., as rapidly as the public duties of the author would allow. The surpassing excellence of the beginning makes us deeply lament the loss to the church, through the recent death of the great and good Neander, of so rich an addition to its means of understanding the Scriptures, and one so happily adapted to the wants of common Christians. This, however, does not impair the value of the separate parts, each division being complete in itself; and we cannot but rejoice that, as he was not permitted fully to carry out his plan, he should have executed a part so appropriate as the closing labor of his life. Had he foreseen that these were to be his last words of counsel to his brethren in Christ, he could nowhere have found freer scope for all he wished to say for their instruction, comforting, and edification, than in a commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians. One might almost believe, such a fulness of pious feeling pours through its pages, that he had some such presage. Whether this were so or not, doubtless He to whom all events are known guided him in the selection; and we may receive it as the dying legacy of one of the greatest Christian teachers with which God has ever blessed his church. May its instructions sink deep into the heart of the church, and bring forth fruit to the honor and glory of God!

In reading this commentary, one cannot but be forcibly struck with the strong affinity between the character of Paul and that of his expounder. Different as were their outward circumstances and course of life, Neander seems to have had, in his own nature and spiritual sympathies, a perfect key to those of the Apostle. Hence it is that he has surpassed all others in giving the spirit of this Epistle. The grandeur of Paul’s spiritual conceptions, his personal aspirations, his inward conflicts, his magnanimity, tenderness, and humility, his all-absorbing love for Christ and for man, are delineated with a life and power which only a kindred soul in the writer could have inspired. His very manner bears the same stamp of resemblance. Impatient of the niceties of minute criticism, he breaks through the mere outward form, the shell of words and phrases, into the very heart of the Epistle; and develops its contents, not by a petty weighing of particles, but by one broad, extended view of the whole scope of the Apostle’s design and meaning. This he illustrates from Paul’s history and character, his present circumstances and those of the infant churches; and the whole glows with the light and warmth of a deep personal experience of the Gospel. Thus, though the work is rich in the results of a learning as profound as it was various, the earnest and intelligent, but unlearned reader, can pursue his way unimpeded by any obtrusive lumber of scholarship. It is indeed a beautiful illustration of what his friend and colleague, the evangelical Strauss, says of him in his funeral discourse: “He did not despise human knowledge; he sought for it with unwearied diligence; he was a master in it; but he laid all the surprising treasures of his learning at the foot of the cross.” To edify the members of Christ’s body was with him a greater object, than to make a vain parade of his own superiority; as to be one with Christ was to himself, personally, an immeasurably greater object than all human learning or honor.

One characteristic of the work, which adds greatly to its practical value, has also a special interest as showing the author’s character under a new aspect;—we mean the comprehensive and accurate knowledge it exhibits of men and their relations. It shows that he was no mere recluse scholar, buried in the past, with no eyes nor ears for the living world around him. It is indeed a problem, how a man who so seldom went beyond his study and his lecture room, whose own relations to society were so few, and his associations almost exclusively among the learned, could have gained so much acquaintance with human nature, and with the various forms and phases of Christian experience. The solution is to be found in the fact, that Neander had a heart as well as intellect; a heart gifted by nature with the largest human sympathies, and from early life penetrated by the spirit of Christian benevolence. Man his brother, man whom God had created and for whom Christ had died, was to him an object of unspeakable interest, and nothing was unimportant which affected his character and prospects. Hence, from the little that he mingled with men he learned much of man; and he applies the inspired instructions with a discrimination and point, which show that no generic differences in human character had escaped him. It is a matter of no little interest, to know what views of man were received from this study by a mind like Neander’s. It is plain that he cherished no high-wrought notions of the natural goodness and perfectibility of the race. Yet he did not turn from the weak and erring being with philosophic contempt, or thank God that he was not as other men are. His was the earnest, penetrating scrutiny of a Christian philanthropist, seeking to know his brother’s wants in order that Christian love might supply them. Though he was no believer in inherent human goodness, he was a firm believer in the efficacy of the great remedy for man’s moral diseases. Hence the clearer perception of his ruined and lost state, only awoke more strongly the love which yearned to bring relief. The spirit of Neander’s life and writings furnish sufficient proof, if proof were still wanting, that the clear recognition of man’s entire moral perversion is the basis for all true love of humanity. His practical wisdom, as well as the tenderness of his heart, are beautifully exhibited in his treatment of the yet immature believer. The germ of divine life, planted in a human heart, is an object which engages all his interest. The causes which may obstruct its free development, as found in the various forms of self-deception, in the power of early prejudice, and not less in the over-hasty zeal or unchristian harshness of brethren, are touched with admirable skill. If his lessons of rigid self-scrutiny, trying as by fire every thought and motive of our own hearts, and of a fraternal charity, quick to discern and acknowledge and tenderly to cherish the faintest signs of grace in others, were carried into practice by every disciple of Christ, who can doubt the speedy increase of spiritual life, of unity, and of moral power in the church!

Another not less interesting point is the simply scriptural character of his theology, of the exhibition here given of the essential doctrines of the Gospel. Christ, the Crucified and the Risen, as the one foundation of the church, the living root from whom proceeds all spiritual life and growth; man as a sinful and lost being, depending for regeneration and sanctification on the influences of the Holy Spirit; the utter insufficiency of human works as the ground of salvation; a holy life as the necessary fruit of holy love; these, no man since Paul has more eloquently enforced than Neander. In developing Paul’s theology, deep religious experience supplied to him that light, for the lack of which so many have misunderstood and perverted the meaning of the great Apostle. The natural man, and the spiritual man, designate with him radical distinctions of character. The tendencies of the natural man, however beautiful his social and even religious virtues to human view, are yet, as springing from self and ending in self, radically wrong; the tendencies of the spiritual man, as springing from God and ending in God, are radically right. But the spiritual man, and the perfect man, are not with him interchangeable terms. The Christian life is an unceasing conflict with inward depravity; that we persevere in this conflict to the end, the only reliable proof that we belong to Christ. The Christian’s standard of character is perfection, is Christ; his ever increasing sense of unlikeness to this faultless model, the strongest evidence that he is becoming more and more assimilated to it. This sense of unlikeness, while it humbles and stimulates, does not disquiet the believer; for his confidence and his affections are placed on a nobler object than self, were it in a state of absolute perfection. The incarnate Word, the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person, once humbled in humanity, now reigning in divine glory, is the centre of all his aspirations and hopes, the life of his life, his all in all. An affecting proof of Neander’s personal consciousness of these truths, was given on the evening of his last year’s birth-day. His pupils having, as is customary in German universities on such occasions, honored their beloved teacher with a torch-light procession and a eulogistic address, he replied by a pathetic confession of human weakness, and spoke of himself as a sinner needing forgiveness through the blood of Christ. The whole course of his inward and outward religious life corresponded fully to this expression. “As to be a Christian,” says Strauss, “nothing but a Christian saved by grace, was all his desire in his inward experience, so in his calling he desired only to be a servant of Christ.” The love of Christ to his people, as developed in the past history of the church, was his most interesting subject of contemplation. In his hands, Church History became not a mere record of the mistakes of the human spirit, but primarily, a record of the miracles of the love of Jesus. And often, says his friend, his voice trembled and his whole heart gushed forth, when narrating individual experiences of grace, exemplifying the love of Christ. What a beautiful illustration of his own favorite maxim, “It is the heart that makes the Theologian!” The modesty of his Theology is not less marked than its scriptural character. Our knowledge of God and divine things, though all-sufficient for our present need, in his view is necessarily fragmentary and imperfect; “to be cast aside when we are raised to the full vision of the life above, as the conceptions of childhood are cast aside, by the mature man.” How habitually this conviction was present to his mind, is pleasingly illustrated by the circumstance, that when called on for an autograph to accompany his engraved portrait, he wrote for the purpose the words: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.”

The closing scenes in the life of this eminent servant of Christ, seem like the reflection of that conflict which he so admirably depicts in the heart of Paul, between the longing to depart and be with Christ, and the desire still to live that he may labor for the salvation of his brethren. To labor for Christ was, as with Paul, his life on earth. Apart from this work, life had no value, no significance. While he lived he must labor; and even after the hand of death had touched his long diseased body, he still strove to compel its services in his appointed calling in God’s kingdom. This calling was one which enlisted all the energies and affections of his soul. To be the instructor of youth in the Holy Scriptures, and the historian of the Church, was a high destiny; and his devotion to it had all the ardor of a ruling passion. His history he had now brought down to the period of the Reformation; and with a mind unimpaired by age or disease, and glowing with his theme, he was about entering on the development of that central epoch of modern Christianity, when the summons came to lay aside the earthly for the heavenly. How his heart clung to his life-work, is affectingly shown in the sketch of his last hours by his attached friend and pupil Rauh. We give the substance of the account.

He was at his desk in his lecture room, on Monday, when the attack came upon him. Inured to pain, and accustomed to master it by his powerful will? he persevered in completing the exercise; though the broken tones of his voice, at times almost inaudible from debility, forced upon his affectionate auditors the conviction expressed in the touching language of one of their number: “This is the last lecture of our Neander!” He reached home in a state of great exhaustion. But after some slight refreshment, he immediately resumed his usual afternoon employments. For three successive hours, though often interrupted by increasing weakness, he dictated on his Church History. Late in the afternoon, the symptoms of dangerous illness becoming more and more marked, his anxious sister insisted that he should give himself rest. But he could not be persuaded to quit his work. “Nay, let me go on!” he exclaimed: “can every day-laborer work as much as he will, and would you deny it to me!” At length he was obliged to yield, and allow himself to be conveyed to bed. The next morning he was forced, by the increased violence of his malady, to consent that his usual lecture should be deferred; “ but,” as he expressly added, “only for to-day!” From this time it was an incessant struggle for supremacy between the mind and the body. In the afternoon, he called imperatively for his reader;11An affection of the eyes, which had increased almost to blindness, had for some two years rendered such assistance necessary. and blamed his over-anxious friends for having sent him away, and thus interrupted his progress in a work with which he was engaged, Ritter’s Palestine. He then listened to the reading of the newspaper by another pupil, with earnest attention; selected what he wished to hear, and commented on this and that of its contents, till at length a heavy slumber overpowered him. The next day also, the daily paper being read to him as usual, the mention of some occurrence in the Church drew from him an exclamation of humorous contempt at the modish spirit of the day; an expressive shrug indicated his dissatisfaction at another. This day he experienced a little relief, from the refreshment of a more quiet night, which encouraged his desponding friends. But on Friday evening the last ray of hope was extinguished. Paralysis, the result of his exhausting disease, seized upon the kidneys. The fatal hiccough set in, and allowed not a moment’s sleep. This scene of distress continued four hours, without mitigation. Groans were forced from him by the extremity of his anguish; and he was heard praying in a weak and plaintive tone, which drew tears from every eye, “Oh God! that I might sleep!” But the energy of his spirit was not yet quenched. The next afternoon, though in an agony of pain, the longing to be again at work in his great calling seemed to awaken in full force. He insisted that he would no longer be confined in bed; and with a feverish impatience, never seen in him before, ordered a servant to bring his clothes that he might rise. A pupil who was at hand vainly tried to soothe him. Even his sister’s entreaties were of no avail, till she said to him: “Remember, dear Augustus, your own words to, me, when I resisted the physician’s orders,—‘It is all from God, and we must yield cheerfully to his will!’” “True,” he gently replied in an altered tone; “it all comes from God, and we must thank him for it!” Through all the variations of his sickness, his wonted tender consideration for his friends did not forsake him, He would not allow his pupils to neglect their duties in order to attend upon him; watched lest his sister should not take needful rest, and received every slight service with the most touching gratitude. Even when scarcely able to speak, from pain and weakness, he would make the utmost effort to express his thankfulness. One little characteristic trait deserves to be mentioned. His large income, always devoted more to others than himself, was yet insufficient for his multiplied charities, so that he was often perplexed and distressed when he found a new object of compassion which he had not the means of relieving. He practised the most rigid economy in his own personal expenses, that he might have more for others. Every luxury was in his view a robbery of the poor. So fixed were his habits in this respect, that when a little champagne was offered him during this last sickness, he promptly refused it with the expression, “O that is a foolish indulgence!”

The final scene is one most characteristic of the man, as well as one of the most striking ever witnessed in the chamber of death. A wine bath had been prepared for him, as a last resort. Refreshed and strengthened by it, he was borne from the darkened room where he had lain hitherto into his study, that cheerful little apartment opening to the sun, which had been so long the workshop and the paradise of the man of thought. Here for nearly twenty years’ he had studied and written. From this spot had gone forth those great works which have delighted and instructed Christendom. With thirsty glances he drank in the full golden sunlight, of which he was always so fond.22In this also, “a child of the light,” as he sportively called himself (ὀπαδὸς τοῦ ἡλίου) a few days before. “This I have,”—said he on that occasion,—“in common with the emperor Julian; but that,” he added, “Strauss must not know!” A spoonful of choice wine being offered him, he did not reject it,—“a significant omen,” says Rauh, “that the old order of things approached its end.” Ere long he murmured dreamily, as if at the close of a long fatiguing walk with his sister, “I am weary; let us now make ready to go home!” Just then the rich sunset glow, pouring through the window, lighted up the shelves from which looked down upon him the masters of thought, with whom for so many years he had held silent but high and endearing communion. Raising himself by a sudden effort from his pillow, he commenced a regular lecture upon New Testament exegesis. Soon a new image passed before his restless fancy. Imagining himself at the weekly meeting of his beloved Seminarium, surrounded by his fondly attached theological pupils, he called for the reading of a dissertation, shortly before assigned, on the material and formal principle of the Reformation. He then dictated the titles of the different courses of lectures to be delivered by him during the next session; among them, “The Gospel of John, from its true historical point of view.” His last thoughts amid the struggles of death, were, devoted to the great labor of his life. Beginning at the very passage of his Church History where sickness had arrested his progress, he resumed the thread of thought, and in spite of interruptions, continued to dictate in regular periods for some time. At the close of each sentence he paused, as if his amanuensis were taking down his words, and asked, “Are you. ready?” Having closed a division of his subject, he inquired the time. Being told that it was half past nine, the patient sufferer repeated once more: “I am weary; I will now go to sleep!” Having by the aid of friendly hands stretched himself in bed for his last slumber, he whispered in a tone of inexpressible tenderness, which sent a strange thrill through every heart: “Good night!” It was his last word. He immediately fell into a sleep, which continued four hours; when his great spirit, in the quiet of a Sabbath morning, passed gently into the land of peace.—What a commentary on his own exhortation so lately uttered; that “the Christian should ever remember that here all is fragmentary, nothing reaches completion; that even service in the cause of Christ on earth, is but the beginning of an activity destined for eternity; that we must therefore not be so absorbed, even in labors consecrated to God, as to be unprepared to obey, at any moment, the summons to the higher life and service of Heaven!” He was so prepared, that when his ear caught the summons, he could drop the great labor of his life unfinished, lay himself down quietly upon his bed, and with a child-like “Good Night” to those whom he left behind, slumber over (as the German beautifully expresses it) into that higher life of heaven.

Before closing, the translator would beg of those conversant with the author’s manner in the original, as favorable a judgment of her work as justice will allow. They can best appreciate the difficulty of the task. It has been her aim, not merely to give a faithful rendering of the author’s ideas, in an easy English style, but to reproduce them, so far as possible, in their original form and mould. The elephantine march of his style suits, as no other could, to the great burden of his thoughts; which, moreover, are so combined and massed together, that not only would the manner be lost by much breaking up of his sentences, but the connection and relation of the different parts be seriously impaired.

H. C. C.

ROCHESTER, N. Y.

Sept. 1851.


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