A new edition of the sermons of Johann Arndt that appeared in March, 1675, included a preface entitled Pia desideria (“pious longings”). The author of the preface was Philip Jakob Spener, a prominent pastor in Frankfurt. Soon the book was being bought not for the sermons but for the preface. Pia desideria became so popular that it was revised and published separately the following September.
Spener had initiated a renewal, called “German Pietism,” that has influenced evangelicalism almost as much as the Reformation has. The Pietist movement was, as A. Skevington Wood has said, the spiritual bridge between the Reformation and the Evangelical Awakening of the eighteenth century. Much that characterizes evangelicalism—evangelism, missions, lay-witness—was nourished by Spener’s work.
When Spener was born in Alsace on January 13, 1635, northern Europe was in political and theological turmoil. It was the midpoint of the numerous religious wars known collectively as the Thirty Years War. And it was the “scholastic” period of Lutheran orthodoxy. Luther’s works had long since been practically canonized, and theologians and pastors were involved in academic disputes that had little relevance for the layman. These conditions fostered spiritual ignorance and moral lethargy in the churches.
But young Philip was directed along a more positive path. Throughout Alsace a moderate Lutheranism prevailed. The movement derived its principles of devotion and simple piety from the influence of Zwingli and the writings of Johann Arndt (True Christianity), Immanuel Sonstrom (Golden Treasure), Lewis Baylys (Practice of Piety), and other devotional writers. Furthermore, Philip was permanently influenced by the spiritual counsel of his godmother, Agatha ...1
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