Johann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations

Despair not, then, O faithful soul! Infinite Good hast thou offended by thy sins, but an infinite price has been paid for thy salvation.

Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was a pastor and professor who is often ranked with Luther and Chemnitz as one of the greatest Lutheran theologians. He could very well also be ranked as one of the greatest devotional writers. Let’s have a brief look at his life and then at one of his beloved devotional collections, Sacred Meditations.

Gerhard was born to a respected family in Quedlinberg, Germany. At age fifteen, he became extremely ill, and he vowed to enter the ministry if he recovered. During this time of sickness—accompanied by torments of conscience and a yearning for certainty of his salvation—Gerhard became closely acquainted with Lutheran pastor Johann Arndt, who cared for and comforted his soul with the Gospel. Gerhard did, of course, eventually recover.

In 1599, Gerhard began attending the University of Wittenberg and studying medicine. However, by 1603, he took up theology again in the city of Jena and began studying the Bible and the Church Fathers. A second serious illness struck him, and again he recovered. After a few years in Marburg (he and his principal professor had to leave when the Landgrave converted to Calvinism), Gerhard finished his doctorate in sacred theology in Jena in 1606.

From early on in his pastoral work, Gerhard was greatly respected. He was made superintendent over the churches in Heldburg, taught at a gymnasium (for pre-university studies) near Coburg, and eventually became the overseer of his whole duchy, making visitations to its churches and caring for its pastors. While every school, it seemed, wanted him for a teacher, Gerhard declined, until finally in 1616 he accepted the request to become a professor at the University of Jena. He lectured and wrote on a vast expanse of topics. Two of his chief concerns to teach his students were the study and exegesis of Scripture, and the systematic organization of doctrine.

During his professorship, Gerhard had many difficulties to face. The Jesuit Roman Catholics energetically reared their heads against Lutheran theology. The Reformed attempted to establish themselves in Lutheran Germany, by taking up a Lutheran name. Gerhard found himself in the turbulence of the Thirty Years’ War: Once he saved the city of Jena by convincing the Swedish general to turn back, and once his entire estate was plundered and destroyed. Gerhard married in 1608, but lost both his wife Barbara and their son within three years. In 1614, he married Maria Mattenberg, with whom he was blessed with ten children.

Gerhard became ill a final time in 1637 and died on August 17th. He remained faithful in his last days, confessing his sins to his pastor, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and loudly singing a hymn of praise.

While Gerhard might be best known for his massive dogmatic work, the Loci Theologici (twenty-three volumes of Lutheran theology clearly taught and organized), he might be best loved for his devotional writings. Sacred Meditations (published when Gerhard was only twenty-two years old) is a collection of fifty-one brief reflections on a variety of biblical topics. Gerhard’s writing is powerful, simple, and moving. He takes up each topic personally and seriously, often addressing God in prayer, and often with an ear to his concern for the troubled conscience. In each meditation, Gerhard also effortlessly speaks from Scripture, filling the pages with quotations from God’s Word.

Here’s an excerpt from the meditation on “The Fruit of Our Lord’s Passion”:

“Despair not, then, O faithful soul! Infinite Good hast thou offended by thy sins, but an infinite price has been paid for thy salvation. Thou must be judged for thy sins; but the Son of God hath already been judged for the sins of the whole world, which He took upon Himself. Thy sins must be punished, but God has already punished them in the person of His own Son. Great are the wounds of thy sins, but precious is the balm of Christ’s blood… Thy passion, then, O holy and gracious Christ, is my last and only refuge!”

Especially in this season of Lent, Sacred Meditations is a true devotional treasure, setting forth Christ and His work with distinct earnestness and beauty. Thank God for the faithful pastors he’s given to the Church throughout history, and for the pastors who preach the same Gospel to us today!

In Christ,
Miss Hahn

P.S. You can purchase a copy of Sacred Meditations at this link.

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