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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 29543

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Thekla's Story.

Wittemberg, 1540.

The time I used to dread most of all in my life, after that great bereavement which laid it waste, is come. I am in the monotonous level of solitary middle age. The sunny heights of childhood, and even the joyous breezy slopes of youth, are almost out of sight behind me; and the snowy heights of reverend age, from which we can look over into the promised land beyond, are almost as far before me. Other lives have grown from the bubbling spring into the broad and placid river, while mine is still the little narrow stream it was at first; only, creeping slow and noiseless through the flats, instead of springing gladly from rock to rock, making music wherever it came. Yet I am content; absolutely, fully content. I am sure that my life also has been ordered by the highest wisdom and love; and that (as far as my faithless heart does not hinder it) God is leading me also on to the very highest and best destiny for me.

I did not always think so. I used to fear that not only would this bereavement throw a shadow on my earthly life, but that it would stunt and enfeeble my nature for ever; that missing all the sweet, ennobling relationships of married life, even throughout the ages I should be but an undeveloped, one-sided creature.

But one day I was reading in Dr. Luther's German Bible the chapter about the body of Christ, the twelfth of First Corinthians, and great comfort came into my heart through it. I saw that we are not meant to be separate atoms, each complete in itself, but members of a body, each only complete through union with all the rest. And then I saw how entirely unimportant it is in what place Christ shall set me in his body; and how impossible it is for us to judge what he is training us for, until the body is perfected and we see what we are to be in it.

On the Düben Heath also, soon after, when I was walking home with Elsè's Gretchen, the same lesson came to me in a parable, through a clump of trees under the shade of which we were resting. Often, from a distance, we had admired the beautiful symmetry of the group, and now, looking up, I saw how imperfect every separate tree was, all leaning in various directions, and all only developed on one side. If each tree had said, "I am a beech tree, and I ought to throw out branches on every side, like my brother standing alone on the heath," what would have become of that beautiful clump? And looking up through the green interwoven leaves to the blue sky I said,-

"Heavenly Father, thou art wise! I will doubt no more. Plant me where thou wilt in thy garden, and let me grow as thou wilt! Thou wilt not let me fail of my highest end."

Dr. Luther also said many things which helped me from time to time, in conversation or in his sermons.

"The barley," he said, "must suffer much from man. First, it is cast into the earth that it may decay. Then, when it is grown up and ripe, it is cut and mown down. Then it is crushed and pressed, fermented and brewed into beer.

"Just such a martyr also is the linen or flax. When it is ripe it is plucked, steeped in water, beaten, dried, hacked, spun, and woven into linen, which again is torn and cut. Afterwards it is made into plaster for sores, and used for binding up wounds. Then it becomes lint, is laid under the stamping machines in the paper mill, and torn into small bits. From this they make paper for writing and printing.

"These creatures, and many others like them, which are of great use to us, must thus suffer. Thus also must good, godly Christians suffer much from the ungodly and wicked. Thus, however, the barley, wine, and corn are ennobled; in man becoming flesh, and in the Christian man's flesh entering into the heavenly kingdom."

Often he speaks of the "dear, holy cross, a portion of which is given to all Christians."

"All the saints," he said once, when a little child of one of his friends lay ill, "must drink of the bitter cup. Could Mary even, the dear mother of our Lord, escape? All who are dear to him must suffer. Christians conquer when they suffer; only when they rebel and resist are they defeated and lose the day."

He, indeed, knows what trial and temptation mean. Many a bitter cup has he had to drink, he to whom the sins, and selfishness, and divisions of Christians are personal sorrow and shame. It is therefore, no doubt, that he knows so well how to sustain and comfort. Those, he says, who are to be the bones and sinews of the Church must expect the hardest blows.

Well I remember his saying, when, on the 8th of August, 1529, before his going to Coburg, he and his wife lay sick of a fever, while he suffered also from sciatica, and many other ailments,-

"God has touched me sorely. I have been impatient; but God knows better than I whereto it serves. Our Lord God is like a printer who sets the letters backwards, so that here we cannot read them. When we are printed off yonder, in the life to come, we shall read all clear and straightforward. Meantime we must have patience."

In other ways more than I can number he and his words have helped me. No one seems to understand as he does what the devil is and does. It is the temptation in the sorrow which is the thing to be dreaded and guarded against. This was what I did not understand at first when Bertrand died. I thought I was rebellious, and dared not approach God till I ceased to feel rebellious. I did not understand that the malignant one who tempted me to rebel also tempted me to think God would not forgive. I had thought before of affliction as a kind of sanctuary where naturally I should feel God near. I had to learn that it is also night-time, even "the hour of darkness," in which the prince of darkness draws near unseen. As Luther says, "The devil torments us in the place where we are most tender and weak, as in Paradise he fell not on Adam, but on Eve."

Inexpressible was the relief to me when I learned who had been tormenting me, and turned to Him who vanquished the tempter of old to banish him now from me. For terrible as Dr. Luther knows that fallen angel to be,-"the antithesis," as he said, "of the Ten Commandments," who for thousands of years has been studying with an angel's intellectual power, or how most effectually to distress and ruin man,-he always reminds us that, nevertheless, the devil is a vanquished foe, that the victory has not now to be won; that, bold as the evil one is to assail and tempt the unguarded, a word or look of faith will compel him to flee "like a beaten hound." It is this blending of the sense of Satan's power to tempt, with the conviction of his powerlessness to injure the believing heart, which has so often sustained me in Dr. Luther's words.

But it is not only thus that he has helped me. He presses on us often the necessity of occupation. It is better, he says, to engage in the humblest work, than to sit still alone and encounter the temptations of Satan. "Oft in my temptations I have need to talk even with a child, in order to expel such thoughts as the devil possesses me with; and this teaches me not to boast as if of myself I were able to help myself, and to subsist without the strength of Christ. I need one at times to help me who in his whole body has not as much theology as I have in one finger." "The human heart," he says, "is like a millstone in a mill: when you put wheat under it, it turns, and grinds, and bruises the wheat to flour; if you put no wheat it still grinds on, but then it is itself it grinds and wears away. So the human heart, unless it be occupied with some employment, leaves space for the devil, who wriggles himself in, and brings with him a whole host of evil thoughts, temptations, tribulations, which grind away the heart."

After hearing him say this, I tried hard to find myself some occupation. At first it seemed difficult. Elsè wanted little help with her children, or only occasionally. At home the cares of poverty were over, and my dear father and mother lived in comfort, without my aid. I used discontentedly to wish sometimes that we were poor again, as in Elsè's girlish days, that I might be needed, and really feel it of some use to spin and embroider, instead of feeling that I only worked for the sake of not being idle, and that no one would be the better for what I did.

At other times I used to long to seclude myself from all the happy life around, and half to reproach Dr. Luther in my heart for causing the suppression of the convents. In a nunnery, at least, I thought I should have been something definite and recognized, instead of the negative, undeveloped creature, I felt myself to be, only distinguished from those around by the absence of what made their lives real and happy.

My mother's recovery from the plague helped to cure me of that, by reminding me of the home blessings still left. I began, too, to confide once more in God, and I was comforted by thinking of what my grandmother said to me one day when I was a little girl, crying hopelessly over a tangled skein and sobbing, "I shall never untangle it." "Wind, dear child, wind on, inch by inch, undo each knot one by one, and the skein will soon disentangle itself." So I resolved to wind on my little thread of life day by day, and undo one little knot after another, until now, indeed, the skein has disentangled itself.

Few women, I think, have a life more full of love and interest than mine. I have undertaken the care of a school for little girls, among whom are two orphans, made fatherless by the peasants' war, who were sent to us; and this also I owe to Dr. Luther. He has nothing more at heart than the education of the young; nothing gives him more pain than to see the covetousness which grudges funds for schools; and nothing more joy than to see the little ones grow up in all good knowledge. As he wrote to the Elector John from Coburg twelve years ago:-

"The merciful God shows himself indeed gracious in making his Word so fruitful in your land. The tender little boys and maidens are so well instructed in the Catechism and Scriptures, that my heart melts when I see that young boys and girls can pray, believe, and speak better of God and Christ than all the convents and schools could in the olden time.

"Such youth in your grace's land are a fair Paradise, of which the like is not in the world. It is as if God said, 'Courage, dear Duke John, I commit to thee my noblest treasure, my pleasant Paradise; thou shalt be father over it. For under thy guard and rule I place it, and give thee the honour that thou shalt be my gardener and steward.' This is assuredly true. It is even as if our Lord himself were your grace's guest and ward, since his Word and his little ones are your perpetual guests and wards."

For a little while a lady, a friend of his wife, resided in his house in order to commence such a school at Wittemberg for young girls; and now it has become my charge. And often Dr. Luther comes in and lays his hands on the heads of the little ones, and asks God to bless them, or listens while they repeat the Catechism or the Holy Scriptures.

December 25, 1542.

Once more the Christmas tree has been planted in our homes at Wittemberg. How many such happy Christian homes there are among us! Our Elsè's, Justus Jonas', and his gentle, sympathizing wife, who, Dr. Luther says, "always brings comfort in her kind pleasant countenance." We all meet at Elsè's home on such occasions now. The voices of the children are better than light to the blind eyes of my father, and my mother renews her own maternal joys again in her grandchildren, without the cares.

But of all these homes, none is happier or more united than Dr. Luther's. His child-like pleasure in little things makes every family festival in his house so joyous; and the children's plays and pleasures, as well as their little troubles, are to him a perpetual parable of the heavenly family, and of our relationship to God. There are five children in his family now; Hans, the first born; Magdalen, a lovely, loving girl of thirteen; Paul, Martin, and Margaretha.

How good it is for those who are bereaved and sorrowful that our Christian festivals point forward and upward as well as backward; that the eternal joy to which we are drawing ever nearer is linked to the earthly joy which has passed away. Yes, the old heathen tree of life, which that young green fir from the primeval forests of our land is said to typify, has been christened into the Christmas tree. The old tree of life was a tree of sorrow, and had its roots in the evanescent earth, and at its base sat the mournful Destinies, ready to cut the thread of human life. Nature ever renewing herself contrasted mournfully with the human life that blooms but once. But our tree of life is a tree of joy, and is rooted in the eternal Paradise of joy. The angels watch over it, and it recalls the birth of the Second Man-the Lord from heaven-who is not merely "a living soul, but a life-giving spirit." In it the evanescence of Nature, immortal as she seems, is contrasted with the true eternal life of mortal man. In the joy of the little ones, once more, thank God, my whole heart seems to rejoice; for I also have my face towards the dawn, and I can hear the fountain of life bubbling up whichever way I turn. Only, before me it is best and freshest! for it is springing up to life everlasting.

December, 1542.

A shadow has fallen on the peaceful home of Dr. Luther: Magdalen, the unselfish, obedient, pious, loving child-the darling of her father's heart-is dead; the first-born daughter, whose portrait, when she was a year old, used to cheer and delight him at Coburg.

On the 5th of this last September she was taken ill, and then Luther wrote at once to his friend Marcus Crodel to send his son John from Torgau, where he was studying, to see his sister. He wrote,-

"Grace and peace, my Marcus Crodel. I request that you will conceal from my John what I am writing to you. My daughter Magdalen is literally almost at the point of death-soon about to depart to her Father in heaven, unless it should yet seem fit to God to spare her. But she herself so sighs to see her brother, that I am constrained to send a carriage to fetch him. They indeed loved one another greatly. May she survive to his coming! I do what I can, lest afterwards the sense of having neglected anything should torture me. Desire him, therefore, without mentioning the cause, to return hither at once with all speed in this carriage; hither,-where she will either sleep in the Lord or be restored. Farewell in the Lord."

Her brother came, but she was not restored.

As she lay very ill, Doctor Martin said,-

"She is very dear to me; but, gracio

us God, if it is thy will to take her hence, I am content to know that she will be with thee."

And as she lay in the bed, he said to her,-

"Magdalenchen, my little daughter, thou wouldst like to stay with thy father; and thou art content also to go to thy Father yonder."

Said she, "Yes, dearest father; as God wills."

Then said the father,-

"Thou darling child, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Then he turned away and said,-

"She is very dear to me. If the flesh is so strong, what will the spirit be?"

And among other things he said,-

"For a thousand years God has given no bishop such great gifts as he has given me; and we should rejoice in his gifts. I am angry with myself that I cannot rejoice in my heart over her, nor give thanks; although now and then I can sing a little song to our God, and thank him a little for all this. But let us take courage; living or dying, we are the Lord's. 'Sive vivimus, sive moremur, Domini sumus.' This is true, whether we take 'Domini' in the nominative or the genitive: we are the Lord's, and in him we are lords over death and life."

Then said Master George R?rer,-

"I once heard your reverence say a thing which often comforts me-namely, 'I have prayed our Lord God that he will give me a happy departure when I journey hence. And he will do it; of that I feel sure. At my latter end I shall yet speak with Christ my Lord, were it for ever so brief a space.' I fear sometimes," continued Master R?rer, "that I shall depart hence suddenly, in silence, without being able to speak a word."

Then said Dr. Martin Luther,-

"Living or dying, we are the Lord's. It is equally so whether you are killed by falling down stairs, or were sitting and writing, and suddenly should die. It would not injure me if I fell from a ladder and lay dead at its foot; for the devil hates us grievously, and might even bring about such a thing as that."

When, at last, the little Magdalen lay at the point of death, her father fell on his knees by her bed-side, wept bitterly and prayed that God would receive her. Then she departed, and fell asleep in her father's arms. Her mother was also in the room, but further off, on account of her grief. This happened a little after nine o'clock on the Wednesday after the 19th Sunday after Trinity, 1542.

The doctor repeated often, as before said,-

"I would desire indeed to keep my daughter, if our Lord God would leave her with me; for I love her very dearly. But His will be done; for nothing can be better than that for her."

Whilst she still lived, he said to her,-

"Dear daughter, thou hast also a Father in heaven: thou art going to him."

Then said Master Philip,-

"The love of parents is an image and illustration of the love of God, engraven on the human heart. If, then, the love of God to the human race is as great as that of parents to their children, it is indeed great and fervent."

When she was laid in the coffin, Doctor Martin said,-

"Thou darling Lenichen, how well it is with thee!"

And as he gazed on her lying there, he said,-

"Ah, thou sweet Lenichen, thou shalt rise again, and shine like a star; yes, like the sun!"

They had made the coffin too narrow and too short, and he said,-

"The bed is too small for thee! I am indeed joyful in spirit, but after the flesh I am very sad, this parting is so beyond measure trying. Wonderful it is that I should know she is certainly at peace, and that all is well with her, and yet should be so sad."

And when the people who came to lay out the corpse, according to custom, spoke to the doctor, and said they were sorry for his affliction, he said,-

"You should rejoice. I have sent a saint to heaven; yes, a living saint! May we have such a death! Such a death I would gladly die this very hour."

Then said one, "That is true indeed; yet every one would wish to keep his own."

Doctor Martin answered,-

"Flesh is flesh, and blood is blood. I am glad that she is yonder. There is no sorrow but that of the flesh."

To others who came he said,-

"Grieve not. I have sent a saint to heaven; yes, I have sent two such thither!" alluding to his infant Elizabeth.

As they were chanting by the corpse, "Lord, remember not our former sins, which are of old," he said,-

"I say, O Lord, not our former sins only, nor only those of old, but our present sins; for we are usurers, exactors, misers. Yea, the abomination of the mass is still in the world!"

When the coffin was closed, and she was buried, he said, "There is indeed a resurrection of the body."

And as they returned from the funeral, he said,-

"My daughter is now provided for in body and soul. We Christians have nothing to complain of; we know it must be so. We are more certain of eternal life than of anything else; for God who has promised it to us for his dear Son's sake, can never lie. Two saints of my flesh our Lord God has taken, but not of my blood. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom."

Among other things, he said,-

"We must take great care for our children, and especially for the poor little maidens; we must not leave it to others to care for them. I have no compassion on the boys. A lad can maintain himself wherever he is, if he will only work; and if he will not work, he is a scoundrel. But the poor maiden-kind must have a staff to lean on."

And again,-

"I gave this daughter very willingly to our God. After the flesh, I would indeed have wished to keep her longer with me; but since he has taken her hence, I thank him."

The night before Magdalen Luther died, her mother had a dream, in which she saw two men clothed in fair raiment, beautiful and young, come and lead her daughter away to her bridal. When, on the next morning, Philip Melancthon came into the cloister, and asked her how her daughter was, she told him her dream.

But he was alarmed at it, and said to others,-

"Those young men are the dear angels who will come and lead this maiden into the kingdom of heaven, to the true Bridal."

And the same day she died.

Some little time after her death, Dr. Martin Luther said,-

"If my daughter Magdalen could come to life again and bring with her to me the Turkish kingdom, I would not have it. Oh, she is well cared for; 'Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur.' Who dies thus, certainly has eternal life. I would that I, and my children, and ye all could thus all depart; for evil days are coming. There is neither help nor counsel more on earth, I see, until the Judgment Day. I hope, if God will, it will not be long delayed; for covetousness and usury increase."

And often at supper he repeated, "Et multipicata sunt mala in terris."

He himself made this epitaph, and had it placed on his Magdalen's tomb:-

"Dormio cum sanctis hic Magdaleni Lutheri

Filia, et hoc strato tecta quiesco meo,

Filia mortis eram peccati semine nata,

Sanguine sed vivo, Christe, redempta tuo."[13]

In German,-

"Here sleep I, Lenichen, Dr. Luther's little daughter,

Rest with all the saints in my little bed;

I who was born in sins,

And must forever have been lost.

But now I live and all is well with me,

Lord Christ, redeemed with thy blood."

Yet indeed, although he tries to cheer others, he laments long and deeply himself, as many of his letters show.

To Jonas he wrote,-

"I think you will have heard that my dearest daughter Magdalen is born again to the eternal kingdom of Christ. But although I and my wife ought to do nothing but give thanks, rejoicing in so happy and blessed a departure, by which she has escaped the power of the flesh, the world, the Turk, and the devil; yet such is the strength of natural affection, that we cannot part with her without sobs and groans of heart. They cleave to our heart, they remain fixed in its depths-her face, her words-the looks, living and dying, of that most dutiful and obedient child; so that even the death of Christ (and what are all deaths in comparison with that?) scarcely can efface her death from our minds. Do thou, therefore, give thanks to God in our stead. Wonder at the great work of God who thus glorifies our flesh! She was, as thou knowest, gentle and sweet in disposition, and was altogether lovely. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who called and chose, and has thus magnified her! I wish for myself and all mine, that we may attain to such a death; yea, rather, to such a life, which only I ask from God, the Father of all consolation and mercy."

And again, to Jacob Probst, pastor at Bremen-

"My most dear child, Magdalen, has departed to her heavenly Father, falling asleep full of faith in Christ. An indignant horror against death softens my tears. I loved her vehemently. But in that day we shall be avenged on death, and on him who is the author of death."

And to Amsdorf-

"Thanks to thee for endeavouring to console me on the death of my dearest daughter. I loved her not only for that she was my flesh, but for her most placid and gentle spirit, ever so dutiful to me. But now I rejoice that she is gone to live with her heavenly Father, and is fallen into sweetest sleep until that day. For the times are and will be worse and worse; and in my heart I pray that to thee, and to all dear to me, may be given such an hour of departure, and with such placid quiet, truly to fall asleep in the Lord. 'The just are gathered, and rest in their beds.' 'For verily the world is as a horrible Sodom.'"

And to Lauterbach-

"Thou writest well, that in this most evil age death (or more truly, sleep) is to be desired by all. And although the departure of that most dear child has, indeed, no little moved me, yet I rejoice more that she, a daughter of the kingdom, is snatched from the jaws of the devil and the world; so sweetly did she fall asleep in Christ."

So mournfully and tenderly he writes and speaks, the shadow of that sorrow at the centre of his life overspreading the whole world with darkness to him. Or rather, as he would say, the joy of that loving, dutiful child's presence being withdrawn, he looks out from his cold and darkened hearth, and sees the world as it is; the covetousness of the rich; the just demands, yet insurrectionary attempts of the poor; the war with the Turks without, the strife in the empire within; the fierce animosities of impending religious war; the lukewarmness and divisions among his friends. For many years God gave that feeling heart a refuge from all these in the bright, unbroken circle of his home. But now the next look to him seems beyond this life; to death, which unveils the kingdom of truth and righteousness, and love, to each, one by one; or still more, to the glorious Advent which will manifest it to all. Of this he delights to speak. The end of the world, he feels sure, is near; and he says all preachers should tell their people to pray for its coming, as the beginning of the golden age. He said once-"O gracious God, come soon again! I am waiting ever for the day-the spring morning, when day and night are equal, and the clear, bright rose of that dawn shall appear. From that glow of morning I imagine a thick, black cloud will issue, forked with lightning, and then a crash, and heaven and earth will fall. Praise be to God, who has taught us to long and look for that day. In the Papacy, they sing-

'Dies ir?, dies illa;'

but we look forward to it with hope; and I trust it is not far distant."

Yet he is no dreamer, listlessly clasping his hands in the night, and watching for the dawn. He is of the day, a child of the light; and calmly, and often cheerfully, he pursues his life of ceaseless toil for others, considerately attending to the wants and pleasures of all, from the least to the greatest; affectionately desirous to part with his silver plate, rather than not give a generous reward to a faithful old servant, who was retiring from his service; pleading the cause of the helpless; writing letters of consolation to the humblest who need his aid; caring for all the churches, yet steadily disciplining his children when they need it, or ready to enter into any scheme for their pleasure.

Wittemberg, 1530.

It seems as if Dr. Luther were as necessary to us now as when he gave the first impulse to better things, by affixing his theses to the doors of Wittemberg, or when the eyes of the nation centred on him at Worms. In his quiet home he sits and holds the threads which guide so many lives, and the destinies of so many lands. He has been often ailing lately, and sometimes very seriously. The selfish luxury of the rich burghers and nobles troubles him much. He almost forced his way one day into the Elector's cabinet, to press on him the appropriation of some of the confiscated church revenues to the payment of pastors and schoolmasters; and earnestly, again and again, from the pulpit, does he denounce covetousness.

"All other vices," he says, "bring their pleasures; but the wretched avaricious man is the slave of his goods, not their master; he enjoys neither this world nor the next. Here he has purgatory, and there hell; while faith and content bring rest to the soul here, and afterwards bring the soul to heaven. For the avaricious lack what they have, as well as what they have not."

Never was a heart more free from selfish interests and aims than his. His faith is always seeing the invisible God; and to him it seems the most melancholy folly, as well as sin, that people should build their nests in this forest, on all whose trees he sees "the forester's mark of destruction."

The tone of his preaching has often lately been reproachful and sad.

Elsè's Gretchen, now a thoughtful maiden of three-and-twenty, said to me the other day,-

"Aunt Thekla, why does Dr. Luther preach some times as if his preaching had done no good? Have not many of the evil things he attacked been removed? Is not the Bible in every home? Our mother says we cannot be too thankful for living in these times, when we are taught the truth about God, and are given a religion of trust and love, instead of one of distrust and dread. Why does Dr. Luther often speak as if nothing had been done?"

And I could only say,-

"We see what has been done; but Dr. Luther only knows what he hoped to do. He said one day-'If I had known at first that men were so hostile to the Word of God, I should have held my peace. I imagined that they sinned merely through ignorance.'"

"I suppose, Gretchen," I said, "that he had before him the vision of the whole of Christendom flocking to adore and serve his Lord, when once he had shown them how good He is. We see what Dr. Luther has done. He sees what he hoped, and contrasts it with what is left undone."

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