1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Yesterday’s guest devotional dealt with gratitude and used the specific example of a pastor named Martin Rinkart from 17th century Germany. I had never heard of him until I read Steve’s devotional nor did I recall the Great Pestilence of 1648. The prayer that Martin wrote for his children and his story were so touching I wanted to find out more about him. Wow – is there more to learn about him and the circumstances he lived in!
In 1617, at the age of 31, he became pastor at Eilenburg. A year later in 1618 began the terrible conflict known as the Thirty Years War. Army after army laid the countryside bare, having no regard for the civilian populations. Famine and disease became widespread; farms, livestock and crops had been destroyed and weak and hungry people had no resistance against illness. During this war nearly one-half the men and one-third of the total population of the German states lost their lives, mostly through hunger and illness.
By 1636, Martin Rinkart was the only pastor left in Eilenburg. There had been four pastors in the town, one had left, and Rinkart buried the other two. The walled city had become a place filled with refugees, who brought with them further infection to add to that already present, and who placed further strain upon the town’s desperately short food supplies. In 1637 8,000 people in the town were to die from the plague. The illness had no regard for wealth or age.
In May 1837, he buried his own wife. He was to bury more than 4,000 people during the plague, which was followed by a severe famine that saw people fighting in the street over a dead crow or cat. He was faced with conducting up to dozens of funerals a day as the town struggled to cope with a huge mortality rate. By the end of the year the bodies of refugees were being buried in trenches with no service.
The Swedish army that controlled the town in 1637 demanded a huge payment from the town. Rinkart led a group of citizens from the town who went out to plead for leniency with the Swedish general. Their request was refused and Rinkart turned to his companions and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.” An account of the event tells of how. ‘He fell on his knees, and prayed with such touching earnestness that the Swedish general relented, and lowered his demand’ (by over 90%).
Rinkart lived to see the coming of better times. The signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 brought an end to the three decades of suffering and misery for the people of the continent of Europe. Here again is the prayer he wrote for his children.
Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices. Who, from our mother’s arms, hath led us on our way, With countless gifts of love… and still is ours today.
Steve’s devotional led me to a sermon by Ion Poulton on Martin Rinkart that was my major source of additional information. Ion is a canon of Saint Patrick’s National Cathedral, Dublin. http://www.forthefainthearted.com/2011/09/14/an-a-z-of-hymnwriters-martin-rinkart/