The Death of Dr. C. F. W. Walther

By Prof. Martin Günther

✠ Dr. C. F. W. Walther ✠

So the sad occurrence has now come to pass. Although it was not unexpected, all our hearts are still filled with the deepest grief. Our dearly beloved and highly respected father and teacher, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, has passed away.

What this dear, departed man has meant to our synod,1 yes, to the Church both near and far, and what we therefore have now lost by losing him, we need not highlight here. What we have him to thank for, right after God, we highlighted in Der Lutheraner when we had occasion to report on his 50th anniversary in the ministry,2 and the synodical address and synodical sermon printed in this issue show how we rightly mourn, yet not without hope.

We will therefore limit ourselves here to a brief recounting of our blessed Walther’s final days on earth and of his blessed departure.

The aforementioned issue already reported on the illness he had contracted.2 Since that time, with every passing week, the hope that this faithful, tireless laborer would be restored to his work in the Lord’s vineyard increasingly dwindled. His strength continued to wane. Indeed, at first the departed was entertaining the hope that he would still recover at some point; indeed, the man who was accustomed only to work on behalf of God’s kingdom was thinking that he would be able, even if only in a limited way, to take up his usual work once again. But later he gave up these thoughts and looked forward to his release from bondage and eagerly anticipated his redemption.

He often confessed that he experienced great joy when he called to mind all of the many great blessings which God had shown him during his long life. Right up to the end, he often praised it as a special grace of God that God had protected him from severe spiritual afflictions in this final illness, which he had not been spared in past illnesses. He also comforted himself with God’s gracious election, and was comforted by others with it. One time he mentioned that many people probably considered him a truly stubborn man who would not be dissuaded from his opinions, but he was certain that this “obstinacy,” with which he had held firmly to the truth he had come to know, was a donum Dei (gift of God).3 Regarding special wishes and concerns for the future, he expressed several times that he had nothing in particular on his heart—just one matter that Mr. Pastor Stöckhardt took care of at his wish. Only in general terms did he frequently declare: Oh, if our synod will simply persevere in what she has! God has shown her such extravagant grace. And if she will only preserve a devout ministerium and not let any unworthy persons into the ministry [ins Amt]!

In his final weeks he often slept and was unconscious. Visitors could speak with him very little. During this time, when writers, upon taking their leave, would say to him, “The Lord will not leave you or forsake you; he will stand by you with his power,” the wearied man would turn his head a little and say, “Especially in the final hour!” Often the sigh would rise from his heart: “God, have mercy!” Often he would pray: “Jesus, your blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress,” etc.4 When Mr. Pastor O. Hanser took leave of him and asked him if he was looking forward to the glory of heaven, he answered, “Yes.”

Concerning his final days, Mr. Pastor Stöckhardt reports as follows:

At 5:30 this evening ([Saturday,] May 7), our Dr. Walther was finally set free from his prolonged suffering and transferred to the company of those who have overcome. His final days were a truly peaceful conclusion to a difficult confinement in bed. While he was almost continually without consciousness a week ago, since Wednesday one could once again speak with him intelligibly and he understood everything that was said to him. At the start of the convention, his son reminded him that the convention was now beginning, but that he would soon be called to another assembly, that of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. To that he replied, “That will be glorious!” Indeed he still did much sighing: “God, have mercy! O God, do not forsake me!” But right up to the end he also affirmed the deathbed comfort that people shared with him from God’s Word with “Yes,” or by nodding, or with a handshake. When an old church member visited him the day before yesterday and began to speak Psalm 23, he recited the entire psalm. Yesterday evening we prepared ourselves for the end. At his request I prayed one more time with him and his relatives and then read the verse from the evening hymn: “Should this night be my final night In this dark vale of tears, Let me behold your Son in light With your elected heirs,” etc.5 When I was finished, he said, “May God grant it!” I then posed him this question: Was he now also ready to die confidently in the same grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to which he had testified throughout his life? He answered it with a loud and clear “Yes.” Toward midnight he seemed to have terrible pains one more time, and then he said, “That is enough!” After that, he seems to have experienced no more agony. The whole day today he was, as they say, at the point of death, but he did remain conscious right up to the end, and he made it clearly known that he had no problem understanding what his son, Prof. Schaller, and I said to him. One hour before his death, I was called straight to another dying man and, when I came back, I found him departed. In short, it was a truly peaceful, quiet, uplifting conclusion to a prolonged, often gloomy period of suffering.

We bow down beneath the hand of God. It is sorrowful for us. It is wonderful for him. He has entered into his Master’s happiness. We can only imagine the joys with which the soul of this devout and faithful servant was received! O how glorious, how great his reward will be!

Source
Der Lutheraner, vol. 43, no. 10 (May 15, 1887), pp. 77-78

Endnotes
1 Namely, the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, today called the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

2 From Der Lutheraner, vol. 43, no. 3 (February 1, 1887), p. 17: “This issue of Der Lutheraner is festively decorated, and rightly so, since the man who founded this newspaper in 1844, who ran it by himself for years, who, even after its editorship was placed into the hands of the St. Louis seminary faculty, has labored most faithfully on its behalf and carried its welfare on his heart up to the present, namely Mr. Doctor C. F. W. Walther, celebrated his 50th anniversary in the ministry [Amtsjubiläum] on January 16.

“Now if it is already a great and gracious gift of God when a servant of the Church has labored for 50 years in one or more congregations, then we should extol it as an especially great and gracious gift when such a man has completed 50 years in the ministry [Amtsjahre] who has served not just as a pastor, but whose service has extended into far reaches. And this is the case with our beloved celebrant. Passing over his abundantly fruitful activity as a pastor, he has functioned as editor of Der Lutheraner, as author of many significant doctrinal and polemic writings, as long-standing president of our synod, as professor and president of our St. Louis institution, as tireless speaker and consultant at synod conventions, as correspondent and adviser not just here in America, but also all the way into the farthest reaches of our church, to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Not just friends, but even opponents are compelled to acknowledge this abundantly fruitful activity. Thousands owe him a debt of thanks, right after God. Our paper therefore has fittingly put on festive adornment in honor of this joyous occasion for its founder.”

From the same issue, column 2 of p. 18: “This celebration, which for many months now had occupied the hearts of the St. Louis congregations and of most of the congregations in the synod, now lies behind us. During this time, ardent prayers have ascended to the throne of divine grace, asking that our faithful Savior would please permit our faithful teacher to enjoy this great and rare day of honor in good health and with all his former mental vigor, and that he would permit us to celebrate a truly joyful day of jubilee. But it has pleased the Lord, in his unsearchable wisdom, not to answer our prayers in the way our hearts implored; otherwise we would be able to report today on a larger public celebration. If all of our human wishes and plans had been achievable, this day would certainly have been a day of jubilee for the entire synod, led by the St. Louis congregations, and the presidents and delegations from all our synodical schools and pastoral conferences would have made an appearance. For, God be praised, everyone in our synod was saying the same thing, that we had to honor the celebrant as the spiritual father of the synod, whom God has so richly endowed with such extraordinary gifts, because it is chiefly due to him that our synod has spread out so rapidly, that she has enjoyed such unity in faith and confession with corresponding practice, and that each one of her congregations enjoys such glorious freedom and independence, limited only by the clear word of God. And since this is true only by God’s free grace, this day was accordingly also supposed to be prepared as a day of rejoicing and of pure thanks and praise for God’s superabundant grace, which he has so undeservedly shown us through the celebrant.

“These were our human thoughts. But God had other things in mind. The illness of our dear doctor, which had already cropped up in September of last year, grew all the more rampant as he strenuously carried on with his work in his old self-denying way, without permitting himself a moment’s rest, until he finally exhausted himself completely and broke down. The illness had now grown so strong that all the skill of the doctors seemed wasted and we even despaired of his life. But God answered the prayers of his children that were certainly being sent up to him from all over the synod on behalf of this precious life. The illness slowly abated, but a completely extraordinary infirmity remained, which still left us in a constant state of concern for his life. Naturally, this extremely critical condition soon threw all plans for a larger celebration up in the air and, when asked about it, the doctors unanimously declared that, while they did have confident expectations for the dear invalid’s eventual recovery, an exciting, outdoor celebration was also out of the question for the time being. However, they were optimistic that a quieter, short congratulation ceremony in his room with not too many visitors, as the expression of sincere love and grateful veneration, would be much more likely to have a beneficial effect on him.”

3 This is reminiscent of John Adams’ famous quote: “Thanks to God that he gave me stubbornness when I know I am right” (David McCullough, John Adams [New York: Touchstone, 2002], p. 228).

4 At age three, Walther had memorized this stanza for Christmas. “His father was so impressed by this memory that he gave Ferdinand a three-penny piece. This left an indelible mark on the young boy, who determined that if knowing this text was worth so much to his father, it must contain a very important truth” (C. F. W. Walther, Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, ed. Charles P. Schaum [St. Louis: CPH, 2010], p. xix).

5 The final two stanzas of J. F. Herzog’s hymn, “Nun sich der Tag geendet hat.”

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Quote of the Week – Let It Rain Enemies

The following is taken from Martin Luther’s letter to Elector Frederick the Wise, penned at Borna and dated March 5, 1522. While Luther was “kidnapped” at the Wartburg Castle, his university colleague Andreas Karlstadt was rushing forward with all sorts of changes in worship that the people were not ready for. The neighboring Duke George of Leipzig in Albertine Saxony, a devoted Catholic, heard about the changes and vowed to put an end to them and to “the Lutheran heresy.” Thus Martin Luther decided to return to Wittenberg from the safety of the castle—at risk to his life, since he was still an outlaw—so as to put a stop to the hasty changes and restore order in Wittenberg, and to stop the slanders of Duke George. Elector Frederick the Wise did not want Luther to return, but here is what Luther had to say, as he was already on his way back to Wittenberg…

[T]he devil knows quite well that I did not [hide out in the Wartburg Castle] out of any fear. He could see my heart just fine when I entered Worms; he saw that if I had known that as many devils were lying in wait for me as there are tiles on the roofs, I still would have jumped right into their midst with joy.

Now Duke George is still far from the equal of a single devil. And since the Father of boundless mercy has made us gallant lords over all the devils and death through the gospel, and has given us such a wealth of confidence that we may dare to address him, “Dearest Father!”, Your Electoral Grace can see for himself that it is the greatest insult to such a Father not to trust him enough to know that we are also lords over Duke George’s wrath.

I know this much about myself at any rate: If affairs were the same in Leipzig as they are in Wittenberg, I would still ride right in, even if (Your Electoral Grace will pardon my silly speech) it rained nothing but Duke Georges for nine days and each one were nine times as furious as the one we have. He treats my Lord Christ like a doll-man woven out of straw; my Lord and I can certainly endure that for a while.

Source
Weimarer Ausgabe (Briefwechsel) 2:455