The arrival of a pastor anticipated—Solicitude on the subject—The Rev. John Earnest Bergman arrives at Ebenezer—His early history—His qualifications for the ministry—State of affairs at Ebenezer and Savannah—Mr. Bergman’s defects—Parochial schools—Mr. Bernhardt—Mr. Probst—Mr. Ernst—Increase of pastoral labours—Church in Savannah—Letter from Mr. Scheuber—Correct views of the sacraments—Usages of the Lutheran Church—Mr. Bergman’s marriage—His family—Mr. Bergman as a scholar—His correspondence—Parsonage at Ebenezer—Bishop Francis Asbury—His letter to Mr. Bergman—Improvement in temporal affairs—Bad habits among the Salzburgers—Want of church discipline—Disaffection toward the church—Members withdraw—Ebenezer Bridge—Ebenezer becomes the county site—Effects of this measure—County site changed to Springfield—The mills—Demand for English preaching—Letter from Bishop Asbury—Mistaken policy—Methodists in Savannah—Obligations of the Methodists to the Lutheran Church—Rev. Hope Hull—Jonathan Jackson—Josiah Randle—John Garvin—Rev. S. Dunwoody—First Methodist Society in Savannah—Mr. Bergman relinquishes the church in Savannah—Letter to Rev. H. Holcombe—Savannah church without a pastor—Rev. S. A. Mealy—Salzburgers in other churches—Jesse Lee visits Ebenezer—Mr. Bergman curtails his labours—“Bethel” church erected—Personal difficulty—Letter of Rev. J. McVean—Efforts to proselyte—Lax state of morals—Want of discipline—Mr. Bergman’s grief at the condition of the colony—External prosperity—Spiritual declension—Death of Mrs. Neidlinger—Mr. Bergman’s health declines—His death.
THE Salzburgers, particularly the pious portion of them, received with great satisfaction the intelligence that their brethren in Germany were interesting themselves on their behalf, and they hailed with great enthusiasm the prospect of being soon favoured with the services of a devoted and well-qualified pastor. The news of his appointment had reached them through the letter of Dr. S. Urlsperger to the wardens and elders of the church, and they awaited his arrival with great anxiety; and yet their wishes on his behalf were not unmingled with deep solicitude. Although they had the fullest confidence in the wisdom and prudence of their German benefactors, their sad experience in the case of Mr. Triebner had justly excited their fears, lest the newly-appointed minister should disappoint their expectations. There is always one inevitable and painful result growing out of the improper conduct of ministers : it excites suspicion against the innocent; and where a pastor has proven himself unworthy of the confidence of a church, his successor will always be regarded with mistrust, until he has established his claims to the esteem and respect of his people by his unimpeachable deportment. This, however, a truly pious minister will soon accomplish; for although men are sometimes slow in yielding their prejudices, true merit and integrity of character will dispel all doubts and evil surmising, and win the respect and love of the virtuous.
At length the wishes and prayers of the Salzburgers were answered by the appearance of their new pastor. The person sent over by the directors in Germany was the Rev. JOHN ERNEST BERGMAN, a young man of decided talents and extensive literary acquirements. Mr. Bergman was a native of Peritsch, in Saxony. In 1776, he entered the university at Leipsic, where he was graduated with distinguished honour. He was ordained by the Evangelical Seniors of the Lutheran Church, in the Duchy of Augsburg, on the 19th of July, 1783. This was once Protestant territory, but was surrendered by Prussia, and came under the jurisdiction of Bavaria.
It has not been ascertained from what position he was called when he was chosen pastor at Ebenezer; this, however, is not important. He arrived in Georgia in the spring of 1785, and entered zealously and actively upon the discharge of his duties. These he was to find numerous and arduous, and often a source of deep anxiety and perplexity.
Mr. Bergman found both the temporal and spiritual affairs of the Salzburgers in a very unfavourable condition. The town of Ebenezer had been almost entirely deserted during the war, and many of the settlements were nearly broken up. The people, therefore, had to commence life almost anew; and, as a matter of course, their pecuniary circumstances were very much embarrassed. Besides this, the whole congregation had been in a great measure scattered; their records were either lost or very much mutilated; the members had not only greatly declined, but many of them had entirely departed from their Christian profession. This was not only true of the congregations in and about Ebenezer; it was equally so in relation to the Salzburgers in Savannah. Mr. Bergman was greatly grieved at the desolation which met his eye on every side, and at times he was well-nigh giving up in despair all hopes of restoring order and organizing the churches upon a permanent footing.
He possessed, however, many requisites for the arduous work which was before him, though in some respects he was deficient. He was young, and though not endowed with a vigorous constitution, yet he was a man of energy and great industry. Besides, he possessed more than ordinary intellect, which he had cultivated with great assiduity. It is questionable whether, in point of learning, he was equalled by either of his predecessors; and the manuscripts he executed bear ample testimony to his extensive acquirements and untiring diligence in the acquisition of knowledge. As a pulpit orator he is said to have been above mediocrity, and always commanded the attention and respect of his hearers. He lacked, however, one very important ingredient in the character of a minister, to make him successful. He had no knowledge of men and things. In other words, he was a perfect novice in all matters of business, and seemed not disposed to cultivate any intercourse with society, except in as far as he was forced to do so in the discharge of his duty. In his feelings he was too exclusive, and did not mingle enough with society to qualify him for very extensive usefulness. His books were his companions, and he sought his chief enjoyment in the retirement of his study.
Under these circumstances, it was not to be expected that Mr. Bergman would achieve as much for the Salzburgers as he might have done, if his disposition had led him to cultivate a freer intercourse with his parishioners. Still he was instrumental in effecting much, especially for the spiritual improvement of the people.
Mr. Bergman, among other measures, endeavoured to revive the parochial school at Ebenezer. A young man by the name of Bernhardt was sent over from Germany as a teacher, but owing to his levity of disposition and insubordination, he gave Mr. Bergman a great deal of trouble. Mr. Bernhardt was in a year or two dismissed, and Mr. Probst was appointed as his successor. Mr. Probst occupied this position until 1796, when Mr. G. Ernst became the teacher. With him terminated the parochial school, although private schools were subsequently taught at Ebenezer.
Mr. Bernhardt removed to Carolina, where he was converted, and subsequently became a useful minister in the Lutheran Church. He was the father of the late Rev. David Bernhardt of the South Carolina Synod, whose memory will long be cherished by the church and all who knew him.
The ministerial labours of Mr. Bergman were much more arduous than those of his predecessors. It will be remembered, that up to the Revolutionary War, the Salzburgers had always had two, and in some instances three, pastors. But the pecuniary affairs of the congregation becoming somewhat deranged, and the “Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge” having withdrawn its aid, the funds were found insufficient to maintain more than one minister. It was thus made the duty of Mr. Bergman to cultivate, as far as practicable, this field, which at one time gave full employment to not less than two pastors. He was, however, not discouraged, either by the extent of the field before him, or the demand upon his mental and physical energies. He immediately entered upon a systematic arrangement of his labours, by which he hoped to be able to supply not only the churches in and about Ebenezer, but also the one in the city of Savannah. In a very short time he was enabled to furnish all these churches with regular preaching, apportioning his time between them as equally as circumstances would permit.
The congregation in Savannah, though much injured by the war, kept up its organization, and some of its members appear to have been devotedly pious men. By a portion of this congregation Mr. Bergman’s labours were highly appreciated, and for a time he was instrumental in affecting much good among them. In December, 1786, he communicated to the elders of the church in Savannah his intention to visit them and administer the Lord’s Supper. The following letter, written to him in reply by one of the elders, will be read with interest:
“Savannah, December 29, 1786.
DEAR SIR :—In a letter of the 26th inst., I understood that if it suited the German congregation in Savannah, you intended to come down and celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, the 7th of January. In consequence of such intimation, I acquainted the elders and wardens, who, with one voice, acquiesced in it, and agreeably to their resolution gave notice, in yesterday’s letter, to Mr. Probst. But this day, several other members of the congregation, not being properly prepared for so solemn an act in religion, wish beforehand to hear a few sermons tending toward this object, in order to prepare themselves more fully for this sacred duty; and consequently they prefer to postpone receiving the Lord’s Supper until Easter, or thereabouts.
In the mean time, reverend sir, you are expected on Saturday, the 6th of January next, to give the congregation a forenoon sermon on repentance, and Mr. Probst, who, if he should fail in his appointment at Ebenezer, may give a sermon in the afternoon; and if his oration is liked by the congregation, may perhaps prove him an establishment in this place, in case he should be disappointed with you. There will be on the Sunday appointed a full congregation, if the weather permit. God grant you may be satisfied with your appointment, and the congregation with you, in which I hope you will not fail; and in that case you might even enjoy a heaven on earth.
You have my best wishes for your welfare and happiness, and I have the honour, for the first time, to subscribe myself with sincere regard and profound respect, your most humble servant,
JUSTUS H. SCHEUBER.”
From this letter it will be seen that the church in Savannah was duly organized in the year 1787, having a full board of elders and wardens. It is further manifest that there must have been a favourable state of religious feeling among the members, as evinced by the holy reverence which they seemed to cherish for the ordinances of God’s house, and their unwillingness to partake of those ordinances except after due meditation and self-examination. This speaks well, at least, for the devotional feelings of a congregation; and when such sentiments are cherished, they cannot fail to produce the most salutary influence upon the character and life. This is a peculiarity of the Lutheran Church, and arises from the wise and wholesome usages which the founders of Lutheranism established both in Europe and America. The course of catechetical instruction prescribed by our ritual, and the preparatory services which are held in our churches prior to the administration of the Lord’s Supper, are admirably calculated to inspire the heart with a holy veneration for that most solemn and instructive sacrament. It is to be regretted that some of our churches have manifested a disposition to depart from this ancient landmark of Lutheranism.
About the year 1792, Mr. Bergman married Miss Catherine Herb, sister of Mr. Frederick Herb, of Savannah. By this marriage Mr. Bergman had four children, only one of whom, his eldest son, Christopher F., survived him. This, for him, was a very happy and advantageous union. And perhaps much of his success in after life may justly be attributed to the influence of this most excellent lady. She seems to have possessed very remarkable business talents ; and it is said that her husband committed to her the entire management of all his domestic matters, even giving up to her the receipt and disbursement of all his funds, while he devoted himself exclusively to his literary pursuits. These were very extensive, and embraced a wide field. History, philosophy, the various departments of natural science, classical literature, all engaged his attention, and in each of them he attained to very considerable proficiency. As a thelogian, he was especially well read, having acquired a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew, Arabic, and several other oriental languages. His correspondence, too, was very extensive, and he was honoured with the confidence of some of the most remarkable men of his day; among whom, were Bishop Asbury, of the Methodist Episcopal church; Dr. R. Furman, pastor of the Baptist church in Charleston; the Hon. R. Wayne, and the Rev. Messrs. Holcombe, McVean and others, of Savannah.
His home at Ebenezer was the receptacle of every preacher who might chance to visit that neighbourhood; and in his Christian intercourse with his ministerial brethren of other denominations, he seems to have won their confidence and Christian regard. Bishop Asbury, on several occasions, sojourned at the parsonage at Ebenezer, and between him and Mr. Bergman there existed the warmest Christian affection; and the good bishop held Mr. Bergman in such high regard that he honoured him with his correspondence. The following letter is in point.
“Wilkes county, Georgia, December 5, 1800.
“MY DEAR AND GREATLY RESPECTED FRIEND:—Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied to you and family. When I come to Georgia, I remember you if I do not see you. For a few years past I have not been able to preach or write as formerly. Shall I pity or envy you in your solitary life. It must cheer up your mind to converse with a friend on paper. I thank you, kind sir, for the friendly letters you have sent me, and the notice you have taken of Elder Lee. This year hath been marked with divine glory; my colleague, Bishop Whatcoat, and self have travelled from Baltimore, in the month of May last, to the cast of Boston, west as far as Kentucky and Cumberland in Tennessee, South Carolina, to this State, making near three thousand miles from the General Conference. The revival of religion that began with the year, became very great; so that the eastern and western shores of Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, have felt the holy flame; the high probability is, that one or two thousand souls have been under the operations of grace. The preachers caught the divine influence at the General Conference, where more than one hundred ministers assembled, and thus it ran, two, three, four, five hundred miles. You have heard of the revival of religion among the Germans in the west of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, by the instrumentality of the venerable Otterbein,* and an ancient patriarchal man, Martin Beem, once a Menonist minister; but he received the Methodists about twenty years ago. He was cast out by the Menonist. God has given him to see his children’s children brought to Christ, and peace upon Israel. At seventy, he is brisk as a boy, and travels very extensively ; for in appearance he is like old Moses or Aaron with his long beard. Oh! my dear friend, if you was among the thousands in Pennsylvania of Germans to labour, and travelling night and day, you might have a happier soul and a brighter crown. A late Dr. Lodly was in some part of Holland almost useless; he was sent for to New York, and the first sermon he preached in the Low Dutch Church, Madam Livingston, and several reputable women were convinced. They said it was like a new gospel; he continued in usefulness till the Revolutionary War; then he was forced to retire, when his labours were lost as at the first. I was told he had intimations of what was to befall him in both changes. Thus a Wesley, and some of the Moravian brethren appeared to be buried for a time at and about Savannah. And some godly men have lived in parishes and congregations in England, with small prospects of good. Before I close this letter I must give you a sketch of the marvellous work of God. For two weeks, we trust one or two hundred souls were wrought upon at the General Conference in Baltimore. At the yearly Conference at Duck creek, Delaware State, one hundred and seventeen came forward to join the church,—the fruit of four days’ and nights’ labour. The brethren did not leave the house of God day nor night; this was in a small village, and fifty had been added previously, since the commencement of the year. The return was three hundred in society, as made last June to me; and the work is spreading all around that place, through the whole peninsula of Maryland and Delaware. We have travelled so rapidly and extensively, letters could not reach us well, till we came to our yearly conference in Camden, South Carolina, January 1, 1801. In Cumberland, State of Tennessee, God has wrought among the Presbyterians ; five godly ministers are entered into the spirit of the work,—a Mr. Craighead, Hodge, Rankin, Mr. Goady, and McGee, and the stationed preachers among the Methodists, and some eminent local preachers. Judah doth not vex Ephraim; they live and love as brethren ; they hold sacramental meetings four days and nights, all the ministers present; it is in the woods; no house will contain the people, wagons, food, fires, some ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, and one hundred miles from home; they begin at high noon, preach and pray until evening, then retire to refresh with food ; and come again, and continue the whole night, and souls are born to God at the solemn hours of night,—seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, one o’clock, till morning. It hath been judged, that the congregation have contained from five hundred, to one and two thousand people, and eight or ten ministers; and at a meeting Bishop Whatcoat and myself attended, near twenty ministers present,—Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists; souls have professed to find the Lord from twenty-five to forty-five, and as many as one hundred at a meeting. The probability is that between three and four hundred have been brought to Christ in the course of this summer and fall, and the work was going on when we came from the settlement. The ministers promised to send me a correct account of the work of God. We hope to be able to publish the workings of God with souls. I hope and trust five or six thousand souls are, and will be formed of God on this continent in 1800, among the different societies of professing Christians. I shall make no apology for my long letters, but the cause of God, love to you, and my joy that I have to hear and see my poor labours are not in vain, and other ministers, and other societies have Jehovah with them. I am in the thirtieth year of my labours in America, besides about nine years in travelling and local labours in England.
“I am, with great respect, yours in Christ,
The temporal affairs of the Salzburgers commenced improving gradually; and the population which, during the war, had been somewhat diminished, began to increase steadily, and to assume a somewhat more permanent character. Their spiritual interests, too, assumed a more favourable aspect, though Mr. Bergman found many just causes of complaint. Some of the members of the church had fallen into rather loose habits of living, and the establishment of one or two drinking shops at Ebenezer, exerted a most injurious influence upon the morals of not a few. Mr. Bergman remonstrated against such conduct, but he was, perhaps, rather two mild and lenient in the enforcement of the church discipline, to effect much of a reformation. Still the church made some progress, while it must be admitted that the tone of piety was far below what it had been in former years.
Mr. Bergman kept up a regular course of catechetical instruction in all his churches, and endeavoured to indoctrine the young people of his charge in the principles of our holy religion, as taught in our standards; and there were many, who, under his instructions, became devotedly pious and exemplary Christians. But even in his time, a spirit of indifference to the Lutheran church began to manifest itself among some of the descendants of the Salzburgers, which was afterwards to result in the withdrawal of not a few of them from the church of their fathers. It will be necessary, however, to dwell more at large upon this topic hereafter.
It is not deemed important, nor would it be practicable, to attempt a regular chronological history of the Salzburgers from this period, nor, indeed, is it necessary ; for there were not many occurrences of striking interest during the life-time of Mr. Bergman. The most prominent, however, will be noted as far as reliable data can be obtained. After a settlement assumes a permanent character, it is not to be expected that many incidents will happen of sufficient moment to make them worthy of historical record. The reader will, therefore, not expect any thing like detailed narrative in the farther prosecution of this work.
It has been stated that Mr. Bergman was in correspondence with a number of distinguished ministers and other gentlemen, and some of their letters are extant; but their publication would only swell this volume without increasing its interest. It might be mentioned that many of these letters furnish intelligence in reference to the progress of religion in different parts of the United States, and perhaps a few extracts may be given from some of them hereafter.
Mention has been made of the erection of a bridge over Ebenezer creek, and the making of a causeway through the swamp. The first bridge, however, was a very humble and unpretending structure, and answered only a temporary purpose. Mr. King, who owned most of the land north of Ebenezer creek, applied to the Legislature, in 1791, for a charter for a causeway and toll bridge. The charter covered a period of thirty years. In 1824, (24th of April) the Trustees of the Lutheran church purchased, at public sale, Mr. King’s interest, which was for the unexpired term of nine years, for the sum of eighteen hundred dollars. With the bridge the Trustees obtained sixty-five acres of land. A new bridge was erected by Messrs. William and Lewis Bird, in the fall of the same year, at a cost of four hundred and ninety-nine dollars. The Trustees obtained a renewal of the charter in 1824 for thirty years. Mr. C. F. Bergman, in a note in his journal, estimated that the income from the bridge for nine years would amount to about five thousand dollars. Whether or not this expectation was realized, it would be difficult to ascertain; though it is certain, that the Trustees did realize at first a handsome profit upon the investment. Within the last fifteen years, however, the bridge and causeway have been rather a tax upon the church, as the inferior court of Effingham county authorized the opening of a public road from Sister’s Ferry, on the Savannah river, by way of Springfield, on to the city of Savannah. This measure has cut off nearly all the travel from the old Augusta road, and the toll-gate does not now pay expenses.
In 1796, Ebenezer was made the county site, and the Legislature appointed commissioners to select lots for the court-house and jail, and also to provide for the support of an academy. This academy was intended as a county institution. There was already a parochial school at Ebenezer, under the care of a competent teacher. The instructions, however, were given almost exclusively in the German, and did not meet the wants of the community, which even at this time had become measurably Anglicized.
The selection of Ebenezer as the county site was the second experiment to procure a suitable location. The public buildings were erected at Tuckasee-King, in 1784, near the present line of Scriven county; but as this movement did not suit the wishes of the people, Ebenezer was selected. It would have been well for the Salzburgers if their town had never been made the seat of justice. There are always men of debased morals collecting at a county site, who drink, gamble, and indulge in almost every species of vice; and these influences did not fail to effect the Salzburgers, some of whom were, alas! too easily seduced from the right way. Fortunately for them, however, Ebenezer was found to be not sufficiently central; and, in 1799, Springfield was made the county site, and continues so to this day.
It has been stated, that during the life-time of the first pastors, mills had been erected, and several tracts of land were granted for the benefit of the church. During the war, nearly all these “mill establishments” were materially injured, and they subsequently were allowed to go to decay. In 1808, the congregation applied to the legislature for leave to sell their glebe land. This request was granted, and the proceeds were placed in the treasury of the church. The congregation by degrees disposed of all its real estate, and the money was invested in bonds and mortgages, from the interest of which the pastor’s salary, and the current expenses of the church were paid. This plan is pursued to the present day.
The interests of the churches, both at Ebenezer and Savannah, began to demand that a portion of the services should be held in English. Many friends of the Lutheran church saw this, and felt it, and urged upon Mr. Bergman the importance of attempting to qualify himself to preach in that language; but it was with great difficulty that he could at ‘first be brought even to consider the subject. In this he certainly acted unwisely, as will appear hereafter. An extract is here given from a letter of Bishop Asbury to Mr. Bergman, a part of which bears upon this very subject. The letter was written from Georgetown, in 1803. After stating the wonders which God was working in various parts of the country in the conversion of sinners, the bishop says:
“I am not without expectation of visiting Savannah and Ebenezer next December. I shall take an assistant with me, and, if I could find a decent family, that had the form of godliness, with whom I could lodge, and a house to preach in, we would perhaps spend a week. But I shall be unwilling to preach in Cloud’s or the Baptist church. If you have a church in town, I would borrow that. I am sorry you do not attend some of the camp-meetings. Our yearly conference will be held in Augusta, January 1, 1804. There I hope to see you. I think as you are not advanced in age, if you wish to be extensively useful, you ought by all means to learn English to preach, as well as to write. By close application and some little assistance, you would soon gain a good accent and pronunciation. In learning to preach English you will open a door to preach to thousands in this country; besides you will get good as well do good. I hope that you have a clear witness of your redemption in Christ, and that you walk closely with God, and are seeking freedom from all sin. When I read in Mr. Wesley’s journal, of the holy men once at Ebenezer, I hope you will be their faithful successor. Oh! may the good will of Him that dwelt with Moses in the bush be with you, and the dew of heaven upon your dwelling-place.
“I am, as ever, your friend and brother.
From this letter it will appear that good men in other denominations, who really wished well to the Lutheran church, saw that our ministers, who persisted in adhering to the German language, pursued a ruinous policy, while they circumscribed greatly the sphere of their own usefulness. Would to God, that our forefathers could have been truly wise on this subject. It will also be seen, that up to this date the Methodist’s had no church in the city of Savannah, and Bishop Asbury asked the use of the Lutheran church. This is a fact worthy of notice. There is no doubt that the use of the church was cheerfully granted, and thus, as Lutheran emigrants from Salzburg were measurably the instruments in Mr. Wesley’s awakening, and Luther’s preface to the Romans the means of his conversion, the Lutheran church in Savannah was employed by the first Methodist bishop in America to promulgate the doctrines of the venerable Wesley. From all this it is apparent that Methodism owes many obligations to the Lutheran church, which it is to be regretted have not always been duly remembered and reciprocated.
It is proper here to remark, that as early as 1790, the Rev. Hope Hull was sent to Savannah to propagate the doctrines of the Methodist Episcopal church. He preached a few years in a chair-maker’s shop belonging to Mr. Lowry; but, in consequence of the violent opposition raised against him, he met with very little success. In 1796, Jonathan Jackson and Josiah Randle made another attempt, without any better results. In 1800, John Garvin commenced preaching. He induced a few persons to attend his meeting, but never succeeded in organizing a society. The next attempt was by Mr. Cloud, whose extravagances increased the prejudices against the Methodist; and it is probable that it is to this Mr. “Cloud’s house” that Bishop Asbury refers in the foregoing letter. In 1806, Rev. Samuel Dunwoody was sent to Savannah. By assiduous effort he organized a society, and the members after many severe trials succeeded in erecting a small house of worship, which was called Wesley Chapel. This was the origin of Methodism in Savannah.
Nothing of much importance occurred among the Salzburgers until about the year 1804, when Mr. Bergman relinquished the charge of the Lutheran church in Savannah. In a letter written to the Rev. Mr. Holcombe, pastor of the Baptist church in that city, he assigns the reasons which had induced him to take this step. The letter is dated July 4, 1804. In that letter he says: “In Germany both Protestant churches (Lutheran and Reformed) have become measurably corrupt, through false teachers creeping into the church, whose bad qualities are described in Paul’s letter to Timothy, and in the Epistle of Peter. These teachers impiously deny all the fundamental doctrines of our salvation, which is in Jesus Christ. The Germans who have come to this country in late years have imbibed these false principles, and cannot bear sound doctrine, leading also a perverse life. Besides this, I cannot see any fruit of the gospel preached to them; and some impious men, longing for riches, are insolent enough to impute to me motives which I never entertained. Further, I am bound to stay at Ebenezer, because my frail constitution will not longer endure the fatigue of journeying so often to Savannah. Consequently, when I visit Savannah hereafter, it must be on week days.”
In another letter addressed to the same gentleman, Mr. Bergman remarks: “I have not (as has been falsely charged) denounced good morals or external religion, as it is termed. I agree with the good Cardinal Bellarmine, who, while he apologizes for good works, concludes that it is safest and best to put all our confidence in God’s grace and Christ’s merits. And when I pray that I may be numbered among God’s elect children, I desire that he would deal with me, not according to my merits, but according to his grace. Yet some wicked persons whom I refused to admit to the Lord’s table, have accused me of advocating Antinomian sentiments. And a man by the name of Salvinger, who resides near the ‘White Bluff,’ defamed my name in the Savannah market, as did also one Elliott, once a schoolmaster at White Bluff, and afterward at Goshen, to whom I refused the Lutheran church at Ebenezer. The whole Lutheran church in America needs a reformation. There are many pious people in Germany, and some of them come occasionally to this country, but for the most part they are only nominal professors, and cannot endure sound doctrine. Hence the trouble in many of our German churches.”
The motives which prompted this step were certainly pure, and the reasons assigned justify the course which Mr. Bergman pursued. It is, however, probable that he did occasionally visit the church in Savannah, and perform services for the benefit of the few pious persons who still adhered to the true doctrines of the Reformation. However, as the services were all held in German, the young people belonging to the congregation gradually withdrew to attend English preaching in other churches, and in a few years Mr. Bergman ceased altogether his ministerial labours in Savannah, and the Lutheran church was closed, and no successful attempt was made to revive the congregation until the year 1824, when the Rev. S. A. Mealy of Charleston, assumed the pastoral charge,—not, however, until many of the descendants of the Salzburgers had been induced to leave the church of their fathers, and connect themselves with other Christian denominations. The records of all the Protestant churches in Savannah will show that much of the most valuable material from which their societies were organized, was of Lutheran origin. And this same sad story must be told in reference to the Lutheran population in every important city in our Union. It is, however, far better that these precious souls should find spiritual pasture somewhere, and be made the heirs of eternal life, than that they should wander about without a spiritual guide, exposed to the wiles of Satan and the craftiness of ungodly men.
It was about this time that the Rev. Jesse Lee, one of the pioneers of Methodism in the United States, visited Ebenezer, and spent a few days with Mr. Bergman. The interviews seem to have proved a source of mutual edification to these pious men. Mr. Lee, speaks of this visit in a letter addressed to Mr. Aurelius of New York, and expresses himself as having been very favourably impressed with the piety and learning of Mr. Bergman. It is a pleasing fact, that every one of the first pastors at Ebenezer (Mr. Triebner only excepted) commanded the confidence and esteem of the ministers in the other evangelical churches, showing very clearly that their learning and irreproachable Christian character had gained for them a most enviable reputation among the wise and good. But still, their piety and learning did not exempt them from the attacks of the vicious and profane; and, as has already been shown, they were often made the objects of vituperation. It was, however, fortunate for them that they were sustained in all their trials by a consciousness of their own integrity, and the assurance of the divine approbation. These are ever the Christian’s chief solace amid the reproaches of the censorious, and the scoffs and derisions of the profligate and worldly; and but for the “sweet peace” which the soul derives from a sense of its own rectitude, cheerless indeed would the path of the faithful minister as he mingles with the cares and perplexities of life. But amid the conflicts of human passion which meet him on every side, and the bufferings and derisions of a world lying in wickedness, he may ever and anon hear the cheering and animating voice of the Saviour, “Lo! I am with you always!” “My peace I give unto you.” “Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” Thus he passes on through life, ever reposing his confidence in the great captain of his salvation, and sustained by the hope that his labours and toils shall terminate in a rich and glorious reward, which shall amply compensate him for all the afflictions incident to his earthly pilgrimage.
The labours of Mr. Bergman were somewhat curtailed by relinquishing the charge of the Lutheran church in Savannah; and it has already been stated, that the church called Bethany had been in a good measure abandoned. It became necessary, however, to erect a new church near “Jack’s branch,” about four miles northwest of Springfield, the county site. This church was called “Bethel” It was demanded by the emigration to that neighbourhood of a number of families who had formerly resided near Ebenezer, and were members of the congregation at that place. Yet no new organization was attempted; and, even to this day, the members residing near Bethel continue their connection with the parent-church at Ebenezer. This was a judicious movement on the part of Mr. Bergman, as it was the means of saving to the Lutheran church many families who might otherwise have connected themselves with other denominations.
Among the difficulties connected with his labours, Mr. Bergman mentions several of a personal character. One of these was with Colonel W., who resided near Sister’s Ferry. The nature of the misunderstanding is not stated, nor is it necessary at this late day to attempt to investigate it. Colonel W. had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and was a man of influence ; hence, Mr. Bergman was troubled because of the rupture which had taken place, and corresponded with the Rev. John McVean on the subject. Mr. Me Vean was stationed in Savannah as pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church. An extract from his letter to Mr. Bergman on this subject is here inserted, to show the excellent spirit by which he was actuated. Besides, it contains a great deal of wholesome Christian advice, which it would be well for every one to remember and practice. He says:
“I am truly sorry for the misunderstanding between you and Colonel W., and sincerely wish it were otherwise. I know it is painful to human feelings to receive injuries from the quarter from whence they were least expected; but our Saviour suffered in the same way, and good men often do and may expect to suffer. May I be permitted to suggest a plan of reconciliation? When I do so, I need only quote Scripture to you, without any comment. First, ‘If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between him and thee alone; if he shall hear thee, then thou hast gained thy brother. Matt. xiii. 15 ; v. 23. Do, my dear sir, have the honour and the comfort to be the first to make peace: love will conquer the stoutest. Suppose you were to take up the cross and go some serene and clear morning and breakfast with Colonel W., and bind and tie his hands, and feet, and heart, and tongue with cords of love and with pious loving conversation and admonition; this will do. This method I am certain will succeed, and under its influence even the ‘lion will become a lamb.’
Yours in Christian love,
It is believed that this advice was taken, and friendly relations were again established between these parties.
In addition to the sources of trouble which have already been stated, one which was very trying to his feelings was the disposition manifested by some of the descendants of the Salzburgers to forsake the church of their fathers. The Methodists and Baptists began to preach in various portions of Effingham county; and, in several instances, members were drawn off from the Lutheran church, who, with their families, formed a nucleus for the organization of other churches differing from the Lutheran, if not in any essential doctrinal views, yet in their uses and form of church government; and it will appear hereafter, that, but for the material which the Salzburgers furnished to the other denominations which have sprung up in Effingham county, they could never have had any existence. This is true, particularly, in relation to the Methodist and Baptist churches, and it is a fact susceptible of proof, especially in relation to the Methodist church, that their very best members, both as to piety and influence, are those who descended from the Salzburgers. Mr. Bergman saw the course which things were taking in this respect, and he might have checked it, at least measurably, by introducing the English language into the church service, and by bestowing a little more attention upon the spiritual wants of his people; but, with all his piety and learning, his views were not sufficiently practical.
There was, however, another cause operating, to produce alienation of feeling on the part of those who felt it their duty to cultivate a spirit of genuine piety; and that was the lax state of morals in which many of the members indulged, and the want of proper church discipline. The discipline was there, but it was a dead letter. Mr. Bergman either did not, or could not enforce it, and many of the members became very irregular in their habits, so that their conduct was a just cause of offence to the more godly and consistent part of the congregation; and many were constrained from a sense of duty to flee from associations which they felt were baneful, and to seek others, more congenial to their feelings, and better calculated to aid them in the cultivation of their hearts and the fuller development of the Christian character. It is not admitted that such a course of conduct is justifiable under all circumstances, and should not be adopted except in extreme cases; and only after every means has been tried to effect a reformation. Then our own safety may require us to separate ourselves from those “evil communications” which may tend to corrupt our religious principles.
The state of the churches was a source of deep sorrow to Mr. Bergman. In his letters to his friends, he complained of the fruitlessness of his labours, and seemed wellnight to despair of ever accomplishing any permanent good. His personal piety was evidently of a high order, and in this respect he was well calculated to be a teacher in divine things ; but still, he appears to have been unable to wield that moral influence which was necessary to suppress every species of vice among his people, and induce them to aim at an elevated standard of piety.
Thus things continued to progress from year to year; and though the outward prosperity of the colony was increasing, the population multiplying, the people acquiring wealth and seeking new means of advancing their worldly interests,, yet there was a gradual but manifest decline in the piety of many of the Salzburgers, so that the language of Jeremiah to Israel might very justly be applied to the descendants of the Salzburgers; “Yet I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” Jer. ii. 21. Nevertheless God had not left himself without witnesses.
In the midst of all his other trials, Mr. Bergman was about to experience a heavy bereavement, in the loss of his only daughter, Ann Catharine, consort of John Neidlinger. She was born January 1, 1795, and married September 18, 1814. In her sixteenth year she made a profession of religion, and connected herself with the Lutheran congregation at Ebenezer, according to the established usages of the church. Her marriage seems not to have been a judicious one, and proved a source of grief to herself and her family. Her death occurred on the 31st of January, 1819, she being in her twenty-fifth year. Her brother has these notes in his journal in reference to her decease: “When her mother first came to her, she said: ‘Mother, are you not sorry for your poor child?’ (alluding to her bodily suffering.) She continued: ‘I am going to my dear Redeemer. My Redeemer will have mercy on me. I am quite happy and easy, my Saviour has strengthened me, I feel not the least pain.’ She expired without a sigh or a groan, calmly commending her spirit into the hands of her divine Saviour.”
A few years subsequently to the death of his daughter, Mr. Bergman himself was removed from the vineyard of the Lord. This occurred on the 25th of February, 1824. Mr. Bergman had served the congregation at Ebenezer with great faithfulness, but his labours seem not to have been duly appreciated, and there had evidently been a retrograde movement in the congregation, and the moral and religious aspect of the colony was far from being favourable. Yet his labours were not in vain. God gave him many seals to his ministry, some of whom still live to bless the church and the world by their pious and exemplary deportment. The labourer was gathered to his reward in peace and holy triumph, after having spent thirty-six years of unremitting toil in the Master’s vineyard. His remains were buried in Ebenezer Cemetery, and there, with hundreds of the pious Salzburgers, he rests in hope of a better resurrection. “He was a good man and full of faith.”
* Mr. Otterbein was a very pious minister of the German Reformed Church.