When last we left the “Bush Preacher,” he recounted the story of “Father Scheffrich,” a frontier denizen who had inherited, quite literally, a bushel barrel of sermons and been prevailed upon to serve as local minister. In this column, we share the bittersweet story of “Mother Scheffrich,” his pipe-smoking wife, who showed little evidence during her life of the bold confession she would make to her family on her deathbed. Her story reminds us that only God can see the heart, and that even a sermon fished out of a barrel can be used by the Holy Spirit to convert those whom God would call.
Before the proceedings on the remaining business were ended, Father Scheffrich received word by messenger that his wife was seriously ill and in danger of her life. Therefore we hastened homewards and found on our arrival the sad report only too well founded. An old complaint had suddenly broken out, through careless neglect of a cold, and in a few days had brought the old lady to the edge of the grave.
When we stepped into her room, she stretched out her withered, trembling hand to us in friendly fashion and was very glad to see us again. She said she felt her end was near, and on that account she had heartily wished and prayed God to be able once again to talk with us.
Father Scheffrich was very much moved, and tears appeared in his eyes when he became aware how sick his wife was. But he could not be convinced that her end had actually drawn nigh.
“Be of good cheer, Sarah,” he said, “you’ll get better again – you won’t die yet.”
“O Jacob,” she answered, “I know that I will not die – my soul will live. Therefore I am of good cheer and am not afraid. But I know that I no longer will be among you. This very night I must take my departure from you.”
“Then I want to go and fetch the communion service, so you can be rightly prepared for death,” he said.
“No, Jacob, you don’t need to fetch the communion service, for as long as I was well, I often took communion with the congregation, and I don’t think I’d have much pleasure in taking it here alone,” she answered. “But let us pray together until the Lord come.”
The old man could not be pacified with this, but held to his offer. But she gently and unassumingly refused it and soon turned the conversation to other subjects. Her words, her voice, the expression of her face were such that I can never forget them. And now at this moment I become aware of the full beauty of her faithful soul. For when I first came into this house, I hadn’t paid much attention to the busy old lady. Even later, although I recognized in her a humble disciple of the Lord, the shy and retiring character of her Christian faith and the indifferent surroundings hindered a really clear radiation of her light. Because she had enjoyed almost no Christian fellowship at all, she had been accustomed to keep her best for herself and was thus hindered from coming to a really clear consciousness of her union with God.
O! How many such beloved souls live their lives away in solitude, without letting God’s majesty in them become evident to mankind, until perhaps all at once a powerful event brings it into the light of day. And like the sun – which though hidden all day behind clouds and mist casts a purple glory across the evening sky when it goes down, thereby showing that it was yet in heaven though hidden – so now faith in Jesus shed its transfiguring light over the last hours of the old mother. She, who scarcely ever had dared to speak to others on religion, now gave clear and positive testimony of her Lord.
“Jacob,” she said to her husband, “You are near to the kingdom of heaven. It is God’s will that I tell you this before I come to Him. But it is better in the temple than before the door. If you repent and take Jesus’ hand, you too will enter into the kingdom of heaven. But you still lack this, and are following from afar off.”
“Dear Wife,” he interrupted her saying, “Your illness gives you mournful thoughts. I will go after the doctor,” and with that he went.
Now she turned to me. Her manner of speaking was now entirely free from the Pennsylvania dialect, at least it seemed so to me, and I often later have wondered over this to myself.
“My son,” she said, “you see, God’s grace is free and knows no respect of persons. We must leave it to Him and praise His everlasting name. And now hear what I say to you. I have followed after the Lord in great weakness and have done nothing for Him. I have not let my light shine, nor have I increased my talent. Therein I have greatly sinned. But God is very gracious, and Christ is a powerful Savior. I testify to you, my son, God’s Son is my Jesus and my Savior.”
Here I broke in and said to her how very consoling her faith had been to me. She should therefore not think that her light had not shone at all.
“Yes,” she continued, “I now see what I could and should have done, but I was like a dumb dog [wie ein stummer Hund]. But God is doing great things in my soul. I would not have thought that He would be so rich, so good. Just be consoled, my son. Your eyes will see what my eyes have not seen. You will not stand alone like the solitary tabernacle in the garden. You will not sigh forsaken and alone like the turtledove in the woods. God gives early and late rain upon his church in his time – and his time has again drawn near. Many will loudly confess Jesus. You will hear the password of the Lord at your right hand and at your left. I see a great number of such – who will call to you in a loud voice and kiss you with the kiss of the brethren. They will offer you their hand, and you will know them in the Lord.”
Higher and higher she raised her voice with these words. Without our becoming aware of it, the other members of the family had come in silently when they heard her loud talking, and looked wonderingly at their dying mother. But she did not notice them. Her hand rested in mine. I lay half kneeling before her bed. She was silent for a long time, and then came the death rattle, strong and heavy.
Once again she half raised herself from her bed and cried out, “Jesus my Savior.”
Then she sank back. Her hand was cold. She was gone. But I did not grieve, but praised the Lord in my heart.
From Der Busch Pfarrer (“The Bush Preacher”) published in the 1870s by the Reformed Church Publishing House of Cleveland, Ohio. Written by H. J. Ruetenik and subtitled “Experiences of a German Pastor in America,” it is a colorful narrative of his wanderings among the German Protestants of Pennsylvania, New York and environs.
To read more about “The Bush Preacher,” visit Leben’s website.