Reviews

Schleiermacher, Friedrich D. E. Servant of the Word: Selected Sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Translated and edited by Dawn DeVries. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. 230 pages, paper cover.

Review by Sean Barley, 2011 | Review by Mark Shan, 2009

In Servant of the Word: Selected Sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the book opens up with an introduction of Schleiermacher’s life and is role as pastor.  In the introduction, Schleiermacher is described first and foremost as a pastor and he usually preached from the New Testament scriptures and rarely did he preach from the Old Testament unless during a special event ordered by the king.  Schleiermacher served as pastor for forty-four years (1790-1834) while teaching theology at Halle University.  As when Schleiermacher preached at the church, many of his congregants never knew he was a full time professor at the University.  In Schleiermacher’s sermons, one can understand his believes in and what view he had on God.  In Servant of the Word, “If, however, one reads Schleiermacher’s festival sermons, one quickly gets to the heart of his Christology” (15).  Moreover, these collections of sermons spans Schleiermacher’s life as him as a young preacher well into his later years.  The book is divided into three different sections: The Redeemer, The Church and the Word, and The Christian Life.  These sermons were chosen to highlight Schleiermacher’s depth in preaching as well as theological viewpoints in all of his sermons.  Although Schleiermacher’s sermons were often beautiful and theologically grounded, he seldom wrote out his sermons.

Part One as The Redeemer, Schleiermacher is preaches that Christ is the one figure that liberates people from oppression and their sins.  The sermon entitled “Christ the Liberator” was written during the advent season in 1826.  Schleiermacher is saying that while Christ lives in the hearts of the people, their sins have been redeemed.  Schleiermacher writes, “And so, my good friends, Christ frees us from both the law and sin.  He frees us from sin in that communion with His righteousness removes the consciousness of sin from us” (56).  Schleiermacher is preaching that those who have Christ in them, their sins are forgiven and they can have full assurance knowing that Christ loves the people and their sins are wiped away.  In this sermon, Schleiermacher’s central theme is Christ’s love for the world that He paid the ultimate price of death for the world’s sins.  Schleiermacher wanted to give the people something to hope in to get them through the advent season.  Through Christ, people are no longer held in bondage, but in fact our free through the salvation of blood.  All throughout Schleiermacher’s sermons in Part One: “Christ Our Only Savior,” “Witnesses to the Resurrection,” and “Christ’s Promise to the Thief on the Cross,” Schleiermacher is portraying Christ as the liberator who will defeat death and redeem the world of their sins.

In Part Two: The Church and the Word, Schleiermacher is addressing the church’s doctrine and teaching.  The sermon “Teaching the Reformation Faith to Our Children” is a sermon demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love for the youth of the church.  Schleiermacher, too took an interest in teaching the doctrines of the church to the youth.  Schleiermacher writes:

Youth is the precious object of our love and concern, and of our most sacred duties, and youth inherits all our goods and blessings in the measure that we communicate these to them, and lead them into possession and enjoyment of them….To receive these little ones is to receive Christ. (89)

Just as Christ takes seriously children and welcomes them into the Kingdom of God, so too, Schleiermacher wants the congregation to take serious the acceptance of children into the church and to teach them the word of God.  In “Teaching the Reformation Faith to Our Children,” Schleiermacher really demonstrates the importance of rearing children up in the church and teaching them at a young age that Christ has a heart for them and wants all to come to Him.  Another sermon in Schleiermacher’s Part Two selection is “The Wrath of God.”  In this sermon, Schleiermacher is preaching that sometimes people sin which irritates God to the point where the “wrath” of God must come down to bring people back into the will of God.  Schleiermacher insists that, “And the true power of Christianity will shine forth ever more brightly the more we lose all false fear of God’s wrath, the more we unlock the only saving knowledge of God: that God is love.  Amen” (165).  Schleiermacher is articulating that Christians should not fear the wrath of God, but look at the wrath of God as a “loving parent” who tries to discipline their child out of love.  God chastises those that God loves and brings them back into the will of God.

The third and final part of Servant of the Word is The Christian Life.  In these final sermons, Schleiermacher preaches on the importance of “prayer”, “Christian marriage”, and “dying in Christ.”  As a pastor, Schleiermacher knew the relevance of prayer and that prayer has power and allows the presence of God into the hearts of the people.  His sermon entitled “On Prayer in Jesus’ Name”, Schleiermacher believed that, “If we want to pray in Jesus’ name, we must first of all pray in the spirit and manner in which He was accustomed to pray: our prayers must be like His” (172).  As Jesus prayed from the heart for strength to get through His ordeal on the cross, Schleiermacher suggests that Christians should also pray from their hearts, too.  Schleiermacher encouraged his congregation to pray by using the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples which is the Lord’s Prayer.  Moreover, Schleiermacher also insisted that the people would pray for themselves that they would be morally good as well.  Thus, Schleiermacher preached on the “Sermon at Nathanael’s Grave” where the trust should be in the words of the Scripture to give people hope that Christ has defeated death and there they will meet God face to face.  Schleiermacher took heavily to the Scriptures and trusted the words to be of truth for the Christian.

In conclusion, Servant of the Word is a powerful, theologically grounded collection of sermons that illustrate the authority of Schleiermacher’s theology and his priestly insight into being a pastor.  All of the collection of sermons in the book seem to point towards Christ being the redeemer in society and has the power to eradicate sins from all who believe in Him.  The book is a joy to read and Schleiermacher brings out his theological perspectives as he preaches God’s word.  Schleiermacher seems to have a high Christological view of the Christ where he sees Jesus as the liberator and savior of all of humanity.  The sermons really speak to the heart of the Christian faith and make Christians aware of whom they are in Christ.  Moreover, Schleiermacher also demonstrates a central theme of love that Christ has for His people and the concept of love seems to be present in every sermon in the book.        

Sean Barley
Boston University
2011

According to Dawn DeVries, “Schleiermacher saw himself essentially as a preacher. From 1790 to 1834, he occupied the pulpit almost weekly.” (13) In Servant of the Word: Selected Sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher, DeVries translates a number of the sermons so important to Schleiermacher, organizing them into three categories: The Redeemer, The Church and the Word, and the Christian Life.

Part One: The Redeemer

1. Christ Our Only Savior (Advent, 1789): “Though many in our day downplay the importance of religion in order to glorify humankind and make it more independent,” we should remind ourselves of “the truth that Christ alone is our Savior, and that through him all our hopes are fulfilled, and all the needs of our spirit are satisfied” (28).  Based on Jesus’ answer to Baptist John’s disciples, we can argue that Jesus is the Christ not on the basis of deceitful feeling and skeptical reason, but rather with reference to His consistent perfect example of virtue and his teaching concerning knowledge of the truth.

2. The Redeemer: Both Human and Divine (Christmas, 1810): We can see the clear and simple juxtaposition of the purely human and the purely divine in the coming of Jesus (37). Through looking at Jesus’ earthly birth, “we must admit and feel that he developed the same gradual way that we do, that his spiritual eyes opened gradually, and that he only gradually became conscious of the divine powers working in him, in the very same way that we must” (39). On the other hand, differences between us and Jesus are real: in the image of Christ, we can see the full purity of the divine element, which “appears to us incapable of the corruption” (40) to which we are subject due to our sinful nature.

3. Christ the Liberator (Advent, before 1826): Because of the burden of sin, we as human beings need redemption and thus “rejoice that through Christ we are redeemed from it” (43). Christ had to be our liberator from the law as much as from sin. Even the law given from on high works through the human intellect, while “its fulfillment is a matter of will” (47). Intellect and will struggle in us, and we are bound to this body of death. However, through our faith in Jesus, “we become one with Jesus, and his righteousness is seen as ours” and “Christ is in us as the effective power of our life” (55). Therefore, we are redeemed and liberated.

4. Christ’s Promise to the Thief on the Cross (Passiontide, before 1826): Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross does not mean that salvation is possible after a totally godless life. Signs show that the Holy Spirit was working in the thief before Jesus’ promise to him: for example, he admitted that his own punishment was justified, and also that Jesus had done nothing wrong. Furthermore, he also longed for divine forgiveness. The thief had a greater faith in Jesus than did the disciples, so Jesus promised that “today you will be with me in paradise.”

5. Witnesses to the Resurrection (Easter Monday, 1833): Why did the apostles emphasize that they were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection? Firstly, the apostles could not overcome the scandal of the cross without the resurrection of the Crucified One (75). Secondly, “God glorified his Son Jesus, and this glorification was first outwardly completed in his resurrection” (81).

Part Two: The Church and the Word

1. Teaching the Reformation Faith to Our Children (Reformation Jubilee, 1817): We must pay a great deal of attention to our children’s education; we must “assist our children in the free use of God’s Word”, and “teach them the righteousness that comes from faith”.

2. The Effects of Scripture and the Immediate Effects of the Redeemer (Before 1826): Every Christian deserves by right to be taught about God and the teaching is the effect of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word. The Redeemer issues the immediate effects “from his whole and undivided being, yet not dependent on his bodily appearance for its efficacy” (108). The two effects are united and complement each other.

3. Christ in the Temple (Before 1829): What we can learn from the young Jesus is twofold: the importance of fellowship in Christian gatherings, and of reasoning with theologians. “All blessing in our gatherings proceeds from the power of God’s Word, but also that this power is bound quite essentially to the fellowship of believers” (134).

4. Evangelical Faith and the Law (Trinity, 1830): Schleiermacher believes that “a person can not be justified by the law because he is unable to keep God’s law and to love God with all his heart” (143). Indeed, “all those who believe in Christ can not suppose they are justified before God through works of the law; if we build up the law again among us, we show ourselves to be transgressors” (137). In particular, we face two dangers in regard to works of the law: judging others according to their outward actions, and setting up doctrinal laws in an attempt to be justified through such legalistic purity (146).

5. The Wrath of God (Trinity, 1830): The more we focus on the notion of the wrath of God, the further we depart from the true spirit of Christianity (153). Jesus is the reflection of God’s love, and God is love.

Part Three: The Christian Life

1. On Prayer in Jesus’ Name (1790): Prayer is the one of the greatest gifts we have from God, yet many waste it. “To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in the spirit and manner in which Jesus was accustomed to pray, and to pray according to his instructions” (172). Not only will our prayer be heard, as Jesus promised, but it will also increase our knowledge of and zeal for good, fortify our relationship with God, purify us, and help God’s will to become our own in the great fulfillment of our finite being.

2. On Christian Marriage (Trinity, 1818): “There is something earthly and something heavenly in a Christian marriage; there is an inequality in marriage that resolves itself into the most perfect equality” (183). The earthly and heavenly are to be united intimately, and all inequality should reconcile into the perfect unity of consciousness (194-195).

3. Our Comfort in Bereavement (Memorial Service, 1823): According to Jesus’ two promises in John 6:39-40, all those who have been received into the Christian community through baptism will not be lost, and those who see the Son and believe in Him shall have eternal life.

4. Sermon at Nathanael’s Grave (November 1, 1829): The loss of his child grieved Schleiermacher deeply, and he did not find solace in the typical consolations from the people around him based on human weakness. His comfort and hope came from the Word of Scripture alone. He advised people to love one another, and treasure eternal elements in all things for “through faith we are delivered out of death” (214).

5. Our Community: Founded and Preserved through the Redeemer’s Love (Epiphany, 1833): Jesus issued the new commandment to love one another. “A spiritual community can not exist without love” (216). Without serving each other with love, the community of believers can not truly exist. The Redeemer’s love is a love that serves out of its prevenient and self-sacrificing essence (227).

Schleiermacher preached the Word of God with eloquence and great confidence. His understanding of Biblical verses was profound, and he expounded on them with piety and a unique hermeneutical style. The sermons are inspiring, and are theologically more conservative than liberal. He used term “the Redeemer” often to reflect his awareness of the sinfulness of human nature and helpless circumstance. In most of his sermons, he divided his argument into two aspects. Three sermons are striking for me: “The Redeemer: Both Human and Divine (Christmas, 1810); On Prayer in Jesus’ Name (1790); and Sermon at Nathanael’s Grave (November 1, 1829). He succeeded in his life aim, which he stated while standing beside his son’s grave: “I have ever wished to be nothing but a servant of this divine Word.”

Mark C. H. Shan
Edited by Catherine Hudak
Boston University
2009

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