Tersteegen, Gerhard


b Mörs, nr Düsseldorf, Westphalia 1697, d 1769. Trained in the classics at the Latin sch in his home town, after his father’s death he was prevented by family poverty from taking a university course. In 1713 he was apprenticed to his merchant brother-in-law before setting up his own business in 1717. Converted in Pietist circles at the age of 20, he then retired into virtual solitude as a meditative silk ribbon-weaver, having first tried linen-weaving; what little profit he made he shared with his poorer neighbours. After a long period of depression he regained his assurance in 1724 and wrote out a solemn covenant with God, signed in his own blood. In 1727 he established a ‘Pilgrims’ Hut’ at Otterbeck nr Mülheim for a small group of likeminded quietists (which survived until c1800); a year later he gave up his secular work and entered on a full-time spiritual ministry. Over the next few years he published several volumes of poems, hymns, translations (including works by Madame Guyon), and some critical biographies of RC mystics. He influenced other believers by travels in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia, hindered between 1730–50 by strict anti-conventicle laws. But his later reputation came to centre on his hymns, 111 in all, which are marked by tender devotion as well as poetic charm and known to English-speakers largely through translations by Emma Bevan (a rather mystical member of the ‘Open’ Plymouth Brethren), John Wesley and others. He became ill in 1756 and never fully recovered; although he set up no independent sect, he remained outside the official Reformed church, holding strictly exclusive views of the Lord’s Supper. Julian allots him more than 6 columns (3 pages) of small print; with Neander (qv) and F A Lampe, he is said there to be one of the 3 leading German Reformed hymn-writers, but closer in spirit to J Scheffler (qv, among composers). If Scheffler excelled in his pictorial imagination, Tersteegen did by his ‘firmer grasp of the Christian verities’. No.240.

Hymns and songs by Tersteegen, Gerhard

Number Hymn Name
240 Lo, God is here; let us adore!