The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

This Day in HIS-story: April 8

1860

HT: christianity.com

During his college years at Leipzig, Germany, Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther faced two crucial events. The first was a spiritual crisis in which, with the help of Martin Stephan, he came to an assurance that God had justified him by his grace.

Shortly afterward, Walther nearly died from a lung disease. He had to interrupt his studies for six months while he recuperated. Those months were not wasted, though. While laid up, he read Martin Luther’s works. He became absolutely convinced that Lutheran theology was correct and that the historical Lutheran statements of faith such as the Augsburg Confession and the Book of Concord needed to be fully accepted. This decision led to another crisis.

When he graduated, he tutored for a time, then was ordained and took a pastorate in the Kingdom of Saxony. However, German church leadership was embracing rationalistic views (explaining away the Scriptures and key doctrines) which rubbed against Walther’s insistence that there must be complete commitment to the traditional Lutheran faith.

Walther joined 750 like-minded Lutherans and emigrated to America. Led by Martin Stephan, these Germans settled near St. Louis, Missouri. Stephan proved to be both undemocratic and a skirt-chaser. The Lutherans excommunicated him and asked Walther to take his place.

Walther accepted. He helped found the Lutheran Church’s Missouri Synod, one of America’s top twelve denominations. He preached many sermons, started the “log college” which grew into Concordia Seminary, and founded two church papers. Walther never deviated from his solid commitment to the written statements of the Lutherans. Again and again, he pointed his people back to the great confessions of his church. On them they must take their stand. He called one statement of faith “our dear Formula of Concord” –and meant it.

Under the heavy work load that he imposed on himself, Walther’s health failed. He sailed back to Germany for a much-needed rest. He was at sea in Easter of 1860. On that voyage he wrote a hymn which was later translated into English by Anna M. Meyer. His own note says, “on the first Easter Day, April 8, 1860, on the Ocean.”

He’s risen, He’s risen, Christ Jesus, the Lord.
He opened death’s prison, the Incarnate Word…
…The Foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree…
….But short was their triumph, the Savior arose,
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes;

Walther returned to America. Altogether, he preached at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis for forty-six years and taught at Concordia much of that time, too. He also served as president of the Missouri Synod for many years. When he died in St. Louis in 1887, he was 76 years old.

1868

Ordination of George Matheson, blind hymnwriter and pastor of Clydesdale parish of Innellan in Argyllshire, Scotland. He will write “O Love that Will not Let Me Go.”

1901

HT: Dan Graves

In 1900, after the death of his second wife, James Chalmers was urged to return from Papua to England for a rest. “I cannot rest and so many thousands of savages without a knowledge of Christ near us,” he replied. On April 4, 1901, the veteran missionary sailed to Goaribari Island in a steam launch. With him was a newcomer, Oliver Tompkins. The two British men and native evangelists who accompanied them were never seen alive by their fellow workers again.

Chalmers first vowed to become a missionary in 1856 when he was fifteen. This was a boyish impulse after hearing his pastor read a letter from Fiji. At the time, although a bold lad, Chalmers had not given his heart to God. He was the kind of boy who is more comfortable with action than books. To save a friend from drowning or risk his life in a makeshift boat were fun. He became the ringleader of a group of rowdies, and was in the thick of every fight with neighboring villages. Chalmers’ gang determined to break up an evangelistic meeting. A friend pleaded with him to attend the meeting in a right spirit instead, and Chalmers did. He became convinced that he needed to follow Christ. Once he made that decision, the eighteen-year old immediately started preaching to others.

He remembered his vow to become a missionary and strove to obtain the education he needed. Somehow he muddled through his courses, but fellow students remembered him better for terrifying them with pranks than for feats of scholarship. Once he frightened everyone by appearing in the dining hall dressed in a bear skin!

Eventually Chalmers made it to the South Seas with his wife Jane. On their way to Rarotonga, they were shipwrecked and completed the journey aboard a pirate vessel. Bully Hayes was so impressed with Chalmers, he allowed him to hold religious services and even told his men to attend! The islanders could not pronounce his name and called him Tamate. Tamate would prove bold to the point of audacity wherever he went–and stubborn, too.

After his transfer to Papua, Chalmers needed all the boldness he could muster. Conditions were horrifying. Cruelty, continual warfare, and cannibalism were the norm. Chalmers ducked death time after time as he took the gospel along the steamy coasts of the large island, he literally plucked clubs and swords out of enemy hands to save his life and the lives in his party. In one region, he so influenced the natives that peace prevailed and cannibalism ceased within five years of his coming.

Author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island) spent several weeks aboard ship with Chalmers. “He took me fairly by storm for the most attractive, simple, brave and interesting man in the whole Pacific,” he wrote. Had he known the missionary earlier, it would have redirected his own life, he thought. Later he wrote in a letter, “I hope I shall meet Tamate once more before he disappears up the Fly River, perhaps to be one of ‘the unreturning brave.'”

Chalmers was one of the unreturning brave. On this day, April 8, 1901, Tamate, Tompkins and several native evangelists were surrounded by armed savages. Promised a banquet, the men (who always traveled unarmed) were clubbed from behind and killed. Their bodies were cooked with sago and served as the main course of the promised feast.

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