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The Life of
Samuel Heinrich Fröhlich
Part 3

New Beginning

An invitation to Wilhelmsdorf in Württemberg (Germany) seemed a sign from heaven for Fröhlich, and he preached there for a congregation that had separated from the state church. However, this church was not receptive to his doctrine, for it clung to infant baptism, and had left the state church only because of the liturgical baptismal formula. 

In this new beginning, Fröhlich served several families at various places as private tutor. In addition, he associated with the Old Baptists (Mennonites) and preached in their circles (in 1831) and kept in contact with his former congregation at Leutwil.

Continental Society in London

Through a preacher in Frankfurt-am-Main, Fröhlich learned to know the Continental Society of London which supported ministers and teachers. One of these, Pastor Bost, who had been expelled from the state church, was active in Geneva. Through his mediation, Fröhlich offered himself in 1831 for a diaspora-preaching place in the Rhineland. 

In February, 1832, Fröhlich was baptized at the hands of Bost in Geneva, and thereupon, at private meetings, proclaimed the true Gospel here and there. He pointed men to Christ for repentance, faith, and baptism according to the words of Christ as the first Christians had done.

On January 9, 1836, Fröhlich wrote: “It never entered my mind that I should found a sect here on earth; rather, it was and is my purpose to gather children to God. If I could not place my confidence in the Lord my God, that He had called me to His Gospel, I would indeed repent for having begun something upon which the Lord could not place His blessing, or with which He could not be pleased. However, I now place myself wholly into His hands that He might lead me according to His good pleasure.”

Evangelization: First Missionary Journey in Aargau

Fröhlich began his missionary work in Leutwil, his former congregation. Hardly had the news spread that he was there than 200 to 300 persons gathered every evening that he might preach the Word of Christ to them. Some also came to spy on him; the majority, however, came from desire. Within a week many hearers, whom he had instructed before and in whom God had prepared the way, requested baptism. Fröhlich examined them carefully to be convinced of their faith and of their knowledge, and admonished them to count the cost of following Christ. Then he baptized them, according to the instruction of the Lord; and on Palm Sunday he could, for the first time, celebrate the Lord’s Supper with 38 members. 

Meanwhile the foe was not idle. When many were gathered together, a gendarme appeared and ordered that all who had sheltered Fröhlich must appear before the district magistrate. Fröhlich did not permit himself to be intimidated and continued to preach the good tidings. A summons followed, and he was told to leave the village at once and to return to his native Brugg. In vain did he refer to the highest Aargau court. He traveled to Aargau to the magistrate and was dismissed with a warning.

Later on, a gendarme dragged Fröhlich out of a meeting and brought him to the magistrate at Lenzburg. In answer to the question, “Who commanded you to preach?” his reply was, calmly: “Christ.” The angry official raised his hand to strike him, but withdrew it under a stream of profanity. Finally, he tore Fröhlich’s clothes and emptied his pockets in order to find his books; then he ordered the gendarme to put him in prison. When Fröhlich appealed to the fact that the magistrate at Aargau had not arrested him, he was finally allowed to go free, and began his wearisome journey to Brugg.

Second Missionary Journey in the Canton Bern

Since it seemed impossible to be active further in Aargau, Fröhlich once more turned to Pastor Bost at Geneva: “I have been declared scot-free. In Aargau I was arrested and banned. Where shall I go?” In the mission field he felt himself a beginner and a novice. He would have liked to go with Paul to learn of him “how with simplicity and shrewdness the Gospel might best be spread.” 

The new constitution had granted religious freedom and freedom of conscience. When Fröhlich referred to it before the officials, he was told that he could believe what he chose, but that he could not convey it to others.

In July, 1832, Fröhlich journeyed to Bern to meet with Bost. But Bost had departed because those who would prevent the interview had informed him that Fröhlich was behind bars in Aargau. That the wearisome and costly journey might not have been undertaken in vain, Fröhlich resolved to go on a missionary journey from Bern.

Third Missionary Journey in Emmental

On August 11, 1832, Fröhlich made contact by letter with Christian Gerber, Langnau in Emmental, elder of the Baptist church there, whom he had never seen, but of whom he had been told. Agreement of their views on baptism attracted him thither. 

Ten days later he himself traveled to Langnau and visited Christian Gerber, who then was nearly seventy years old. At a meeting of all the deacons, Fröhlich laid before them, by way of introduction, a copy of the letter to the English Continental Society in which he, on May 14th of that year, had answered six questions. [These are published in Individual Letters and Meditations, S. H. Fröhlich.] The gathering seemed to agree with these explanations.

Fröhlich held daily meetings in the area, and was generally accompanied by the elder of the church. The attendance grew larger and larger. On Sunday, September 2nd, the number of hearers at Langnau was between four and five hundred. According to the custom of the time he preached for three hours. The word was not without fruit, but the foe sensed the danger. On the following morning the state church pastor raised his voice in warning during a meeting of the citizens. Despite the fact that a deacon who was present defended the accused fearlessly, Fröhlich was haled before the magistrate, who decided after a brief hearing that Fröhlich was to leave the territory within 24 hours.

Back at Brugg, Fröhlich could not, in spite of the prohibition, keep from visiting the persecuted churches in Aargau. In Leutwil where there were 45 baptized souls, a penalty had been placed upon any who would permit meetings in their homes. “We have a great cloud of witnesses before us, who, for the sake of freedom in Christ, were ready to sacrifice goods and blood, whose imitators we should be in patience and faith,” he wrote on September 24, 1832.

Fourth Missionary Journey to Zurich and East Switzerland

In October, 1832, Fröhlich began his activity in Zurich, where two of his sisters lived. They were, as yet, undecided to go his way, but they were no longer offended by him. He found no hearing, however, among his former acquaintances. 

Great was the joy of seeing one another again when he, in Canton Thurgau, visited the congregation Wagenhausen at Stein am Rhein, where he had served as vicar four years before. Although the teaching of the baptism of believers met with opposition, he parted from them in the good hope that they would finally find the way.

In St. Gallen also he met with opposition on the question, while he found many receptive hearts in Herisau. On November 21, 1832, he reached Wattwil, where a year before a common laborer, Adolf, of Zurich, who was active in the Word of God, had worked after his expulsion by the authorities and had left many awakened ones behind. Here Fröhlich remained several weeks, during which time he held meetings and strengthened the knowledge of the baptism of faith and deepened it. In Hauptwil (Thurgau), where he had never been, he learned to know the Brunschwiler family, who sought the divine truth and were deeply touched by his word and teaching concerning the baptism of faith. A daughter of this family, Susette, he chose in 1836 as his life’s partner.

London

In Hauptwil, Fröhlich received an invitation from the Continental Society of London for a visit of three months. First he concluded his visitations in the area and then returned to his home. At the end of January, 1833, Fröhlich went to London where he stayed almost five months. The journey led him down the Rhine, over to Antwerp, via Paris. In the archives of the “Strict Baptist Church”, which upheld the baptism of faith, there are records of his stay. Fröhlich felt very lonely in London. He felt like Elijah on Mt. Horeb, and wrote: “Behold, what doest thou here in England? I do not rightly know why I came here, and yet I was called hither, and by the will and guidance of the Lord. I have been zealous for the Lord, and I am here now, and wait as to what I am to do.” 

As much as Fröhlich treasured it to have support ($100 per year), he saw that it was bound up with difficulties. The Continental Society was now suffering from financial cares, so that it was not in a position to support him nor to pay Bost’s salary in Geneva. On its advice, he returned to the continent to work “where the Gospel is not known or preached, and where one may find tolerance and entry.” The recommendation that the zealous missionary might work in Strasbourg (as only in France was the freedom of preaching the Gospel permitted) was not possible, likely for political reasons. Fröhlich returned to Brugg.

Return

Boldly, Fröhlich once more took up his work in his native city after his London visit, in mid-year 1833. During his absence two brothers from Württemberg had directed the congregations in Aargau. One of these had been arrested at a meeting, the other during a visitation of the sick, and were held for weeks in the Lenzburg prison. In September, 1833, both were brought to the border. Their personal property was sold at public auction to defray the costs. 

A Bern brother was banned from Canton Aargau and moved to Toggenburg, from where he sent an urgent call to Fröhlich when several souls requested baptism. “Bitter experiences have taught me not to be too hasty in this matter,” he wrote in his diary in September, 1833, “for some whom we have baptized have apostatized when Satan began to rage. Everyone who permits himself to be baptized must be ready, not only to receive the blessings of the Cross of Christ, but also to take up the Cross of Christ.”

Storms

In the beginning of October, 1833, a message came from the English Continental Society stating that for lack of funds it had to be dissolved. Fröhlich did not allow himself to be discouraged for that reason. Bravely he started on a journey through Aargau to Suhr, Rapperswil, Hunzenschwil, Schafisheim, Aesch, and Teufental. He held meetings everywhere, despite the persecutions that followed his every step. “As long as I kept silent I was left alone; as soon as I began to testify of Christ I was persecuted.” For the first time three elders were ordained to serve the churches of Aargau. 

In Hauptwil (Thurgau) also, where Fröhlich continued the work which had been begun, the Word found response. The meetings were attended by 200 persons, and by the beginning of the year 1834, the number of baptisms had risen to 60. This development was bound to bring the opponents to the fore. There were publish warnings from the pulpits, also threats. The newspapers decried the enthusiasts and sectarians. Participants at the meetings were manhandled to the shedding of blood with stones and sticks. Twelve state church pastors demanded the removal of Fröhlich from Hauptwil. At the end of February, a mob of several hundred people destroyed a house, the occupants of which barely saved their lives.

Now the storm broke loose ubiquitously. All the newspapers carried reports so that Fröhlich became known and was reviled throughout Switzerland. He had to flee from Thurgau, and on his passport it was noted that he had been expelled as a sectarian. The police watched him wherever he went.

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