First Lay Witnesses in Norway
HANS NIELSEN HAUGE
Lay activity has played an outstanding part in the history of our people. In the old Viking Age, 800-1000 A. D., Christ was first confessed among our people by the Christian prisoners, whom our dreadful Viking fathers brought with them to Norway. They were slaves among our people, but set free in Christ and the first foot-steps of God were heard through them.
Then come our three missionary kings - Haakon the Good, from 935 to 961, who tried but failed. The spirit of the devil proved too strong for him, nevertheless he prepared the ground. His penitent dying testimony has come ringing down the centuries - down to us. Olav Trygvason made it his main aim to Christianize Norway the five years, 995-1000. He was king, and built the first church among our people in 996. It is still standing. Then came King Olav Haraldson, or St. Olav, who became the real founder of the Christian church among our people, especially through his death in 1030.
King Olav the Peaceful, 1066-1093, did much for Christianity and was an assistant at church services. His grandson, Sigurd Magnuson Jorsalfarer, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and introduced the tithe system among our people. King Sverre was a priest-king, or a real laymen's pastor, who took up the fight against the high - church elements headed by the pope, for national reasons to be sure. He undermined the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Norway. He was placed under the church ban by the pope. He died praying in Bergen in 1202. He made the first and perhaps the strongest temperance speech in 1186 that perhaps has ever been made among our people, ending his many arguments against liquor by saying: "If you die in this sin, how will it go with your soul?"
From the 25 to 30 monasteries among our people, the Dominican and Fransiscan monks became our first regular lay-preachers from about 1150 and on toward the Reformation. They stepped down to the people; they visited the sick and the needy. They instructed the children. The people loved them. The most outstanding of all the preaching monks was no doubt a Dominican called "Sorte-Jakob" or Black-Jacob, who labored in and around Bergen from 1372 to 1407. Dr. Bang calls him a "crying voice in the wilderness.'' Like Jonah he gave the people of Bergen a certain season to repent or God's punishment would come.
How did the Lutheran Reformation come to our people in 1537? Through a king, Christian III. He had been converted as a prince through Luther himself and had really appropriated unto himself that "God is just and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." However, we know the Reformation became very incomplete, though Bugenhagen, Luther's friend, was there to help. Politics was at the bottom of a good deal. The church services came to be half Roman Catholic and half evangelical. Thus God's people have had a fight against the old Catholic "hangovers" and customs to this day. However, we placed the living Bible among our people.
Then came the living pietistic revival which broke out in Germany in 1669-1670 and continued through Spener, Francke and Zinzendorf . Now we got devotional meetings in houses, prayer and testimony meetings in the Lutheran Church. Besides we received a wonderful Christian literature in prose and song through men like Johan Arndt, Christian Scriver, Paul Gerhardt, and a little later H. A. Brorson and Erik Pontoppidan. The preaching and writing of these men are strong on repentance and conversion, strong on a living personal experience and separation from the world. Through two kings, Fredrik IV, 1699-1730, and Christian V1, 1731-1746, the testimonies of these men and the wonderful treasures of spiritual literature found an open door among our people.
But already in Brorson's days (1694-1764) a strong dead orthodox reaction and much falling away and rationalism came sweeping over the country. The doors were pretty much closed with strong enmity against living Christianity and the first attempts of the lay-people to bear witness from 1706 and on. When God raised up Hauge in 1796, our people seemed to have gotten into the power of darkness completely. However, the wonderful pietistic literature that had been broadcast among our people staved off the very worst and prepared the ground in silence for blessed spiritual revivals to come.
The First Lay-witnesses in Norway-1708-1796
Yes, our people have been taught the living truth for 200 years, but how few have responded! The dead historical Christianity has been and still is prevalent. And how have the living witnesses been received?
The first living lay-witnesses who came to Norway, that we know of, were two young spiritual men, Hammer and Funch--in 1706. They came to Oslo and neighboring parishes and towns. They preached repentance; they preached life - in power and in the Holy Spirit. They preached against formalism and ritualism. The ministers soon called them in for examination and found some 15 wrong doctrines in their preaching, and had them chased out of Norway. On October 2, 1706, they issued a law against the so-called "peculiar ones." They should never be tolerated. They were much more afraid of them than of the devil himself. But a few souls had been awakened to life in God.
God now raised up a few pietistic and living ministers - Anders Hoff, Johannes Gren and in the northern part Thomas von Westen. The living Christians would come long distances to hear them preach the living Truth from experience. Revivals followed and soon a number of lay-witnesses appear again, notably Nils Monich, Gert Hansen, and an unmarried lady, named "Jomfru Freymann,'' whose great-grandfather had died for his faith in Prague. So the voice of the turtle-dove was heard in the land and sinners were called to repentance. But the dead preachers got busy again and through the government issued a new ordinance not to forbid but strongly to regulate all lay-preaching. This was in 1741. "Let us not forbid, but let us control and regulate this new movement,'' became the watchword of the ordained ministers. However, Jomfru Freymann and many Christians were led to prison through the streets of Oslo, while the mob laughed, scorned and sneered.
But now the heavy fog of infidelity and rationalism in addition to dead orthodoxy is creeping slowly from England and France and into Germany and up through Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It comes mostly through the universities. God's own Word is to be tested by the human reason. Higher criticism, higher education, human enlightenment is to take the place of God's living truth. A cold and dark night is ushered in and settles down upon our people until 1796.
Hans Nielsen Hauge - the Father of Lay Activity and the Spiritual
Life Movement Among the Norwegians in Norway and America
To describe the life of this great apostle of repentance and Christian testimony, about whom so many books have been written, cannot now be done. He was a great gift from heaven to the Norse people. He was born April 3, 1771, in the Tune parish, southeast of Oslo. The outstanding day for himself, for lay activity and Norse Church history was April 5, 1796, when out in the field, after a long spiritual struggle, he was born again, set free and filled with the Holy Spirit. He received the call from heaven to confess the name of Christ at all occasions and call sinners to repentance. The glory of God filled his soul for some three weeks in such a way that he hardly felt the need of eating, drinking or even sleeping-only a couple of hours a night, and people thought he was going crazy.
Then came a new fight. Then the testing. Then the fiery darts of the devil - while God pressed on with the high calling. "O send some one else!'' he cried.”Send a professor! Send a bishop! How can I, a young ignorant farmer boy go out preaching the Gospel? Let me die!'' But God whispered: "Will you now die? Before you served sin. I have saved you from sin. Should you not serve me now?" So the call stood forth plain and big as a cloudless moon and Hauge was sent out by the Holy Ghost - out and out and out, through the length and breadth of Norway with a burning message from a burning heart: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
To sum it all up: From April 5, 1796, to his long imprisonment which began October 24, 1804 Hauge found a wonderful outlet for the spiritual power God had given Him. He went from house to house, from parish to parish, from one end of the country to another preaching the living Truth. The 600 churches of Norway were there to be sure, and everybody was a church member. There was organization, but no life, no power. Now the Gospel was preached from experience and in living power. Not in a single church would Hauge be permitted to preach or was ever permitted. No, not one. But outside the churches after services, in market places, in high-ways and by-ways, in private houses, doing personal work, along the roads as he traveled, he went on in his most wonderful, soul-saving career. I doubt if he ever held a meeting, unless it led to the conversion of one or more souls.
But the progress he did make, he made on his knees. On the way to Oslo to publish his first book - he published in all some 36 books and publications - he was assaulted by the devil. How did he win? On his knees in prayer to God. On the way to the parish of Rollag, Nummedahl, when the devil appeared, just as he did to our Savior in the wilderness, how did he overcome him? On his knees, standing on the promises of God our Savior.
But as salvation was drawing nigh to hearts, settlements, parishes, the entire nation, the devil got frightfully busy and raised a horrible cyclone against him. At first the most slanderous and lying rumors: "He is a false prophet, a deceiver, a disturber of peace. He makes the people crazy and many commit suicide because of his preaching," etc.
When this did not help, the ragings of the devil increased - through the government, the mob, and especially through the ordained ministers: "It is our office and calling to preach; we can well take care of that. What in the world is it you are after? Who has called you to preach?'' Then Hauge published a book describing the awful condition of the people and the churches, writing as follows against the preachers:
"What makes the spiritual condition so hopeless is that the leaders of the people (the ordained ministers) make the way to heaven broad, so the Lord now as before must lament: My people are lost sheep; the shepherds have led them astray. These preachers who are dead in sin close the door to the kingdom against those who want to enter.
The true Christians are few, because of soul-destroying teachers (ordained ministers, often called teachers). They are carnal, they are hirelings, and deceive people with a false hope till they wake up in hell.''
Now the devil woke up a perfect cyclone of wrath and persecution through the ordained ministers. Before his final imprisonment, Hauge was arrested nine times; he was struck three times - once by a minister. Once a minister spat him in the face while he was speaking. Finally in October, 1804, the cry against him became so frightful that he was imprisoned for about ten long years and suffered the most barbarous treatment. His books were taken away, no writing material, no friends to visit him - shut up in an unhealthy,
damp prison, as if he were the very worst criminal in the country. Once he was let out to help the country manufacture salt - for he was a most skilful man at all practical work - and it was at a time when England blockaded the country. As soon as he had helped the government out in the manufacture of salt, he was remanded to prison again.
Hauge was finally set free in 1814. After that he lived quietly on his little farm, Bredtvedt, near Oslo till March 29, 1824, when God took his suffering servant and martyr home. His last words were: "Follow Jesus!'' and: "O everlasting and loving God!'' Age only 53.
'The kernel of wheat was put into the ground, through a long, slow and horrible imprisonment and martyrdom, but it was to bear much fruit. Hauge's own personal and evangelistic work was a most unique and wonderful visitation from heaven. God's Spirit had shoved him on in spite of dungeon, fire and sword; yet it was not his greatest work.
The saying that it is better to put ten persons to work than to do the work of ten persons was fully realized by Hauge. He encouraged others; he sent out others. He started a movement that was destined to live after him and lives yet, praise be to God. So by this time there are far more lay-evangelists in Norway than there are ordained ministers. Hauge sent them out, men and women, only he required of the women-preachers that they should be reputed as good house-keepers also. If they could not preach, he wanted them to use the other gifts God had given them -- to do personal work, to sing, to pray, to give to his cause, to be hospitable, etc. A sense of blood-bought pardon and passion for souls should shove them on and on.
Another great and enduring work Hauge initiated was the centers for spiritual fellowship and spiritual headquarters. These he established from Tromso to Lindesness, lengthwise, and from the Swedish border to the North Sea, crosswise. So when Hauge was imprisoned and left the scene of Christian work, these fellowship centers carried on. By this time, through God's marvelous grace, there are fellowship and prayer meetings in every one of the 600 parishes, and many groups in each parish, and innumerable chapels or "bedehus" where God's people gather. In the course of time the ritualistic and formalistic ring of iron has been broken, so the lay people have free use of the churches too - long before this time. Then they have their spiritual Bible schools and young people's schools for the conversion of sinners - and evangelistic courses, Bible conferences, etc. God used Hauge to lay the foundation of it all. But he started it on both knees, and that is the way it must be carried on, for the devil is not dead yet. And the moment you aim for higher ground he will hurl his darts at you.
From 1853 and on, God's people commenced to organize their laymen's societies, so every spiritual group by this time belonged to some laymen's organization. At the same time, in 1842, foreign mission work was started-which is now encircling the earth - in China, Mongolia, India, Africa, etc., just from one small country. If we shall fight the devil, there must be no let-up in the soul-winning work. Else we stagnate. Stagnation is death.
This will suffice for this part. We shall in the next part see how the spiritual work that God began through Hauge Was transferred to America. The living spiritual power like a flame in the wind made a jump across the Atlantic. So the river of life was started among our people in America in 1825 - sma1l at first, but it has carried much living water through living preaching, living witness-bearing, living Christian work resulting in real and true conversions and living spiritual life. But God began it through Hauge one day out in the field in Tune parish, April 5, 1796. It is for us now living to carry it on, work, testify and pray- till Jesus comes.
It is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.