Professor August Neander

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This biography first appeared in the Zions Freund of December 1934.

Johann August Wilhelm Neander was born to Jewish parents at Göttingen on 17 January 1789, as David Mendel. At an early age he came to the Johanneum in Hamburg, where he obtained a brilliant matriculation and gave his farewell speech in Latin on 30 April 1805. In secondary school he had already recognized the truth of the Gospel, and experienced its Divine power. He confessed Christ publicly at St. Katherine’s church in Hamburg on 15 February 1806. At his baptism he accepted the name Neander (meaning ‘new person’), and his life proved that he had indeed become a “new creation” in Messiah.

He studied theology after this and in 1810 offered himself as a private tutor in Heidelberg, where he became a professor in the following year. By 1813 he had already been appointed professor of church history in Berlin, on recommendation of his former teacher, Schleiermacher.

Neander’s love embraced all mankind. Truth and justice were his only aim. Jesus Christ was to him the highest revelation of a holy and merciful God, the source of the redemption and salvation of the world, as well as the central point of history and the innermost shrine of the moral universe.

He saw church history as the rule of Christ and thus presented the subject as a continuous commentary on the parable of the leaven, which gradually infuses the whole lump of humanity. Through his efforts, church history became a delightful field of instruction and edification. He has therefore rightfully been called the church father of the 1800s.

We also received from him a “Life of Jesus”, the best in its genre. In the prologue to this work, he aptly appropriates the words of Anna Maria von Schurmann, namely that the life of the Christian forms the best picture of the life of Christ. For this reason he sincerity tried to emulate the highest example. And by God’s grace he succeeded splendidly.

Many came to his house to receive spiritual food. His friends liked to visit him, as they often found in his spoken words a thread that they had lost in his writings. His students loved him like a father. He conversed as a family man, even though he was never married and lived with his sister Hanna until his death.

He had an open ear for everyone and knew how to advise everybody. One glance at his private life was already enough to show his visitors what it means to belong to Christ. He became a signpost for many on the way that leads to eternal life.

It was clear to everyone that his only wish was to be nothing in himself, but everything in and through Christ. Even as professor, Christianity was not an academic exercise to him, but a new life – God’s power to save. His religion had its roots in the person of Messiah and in his Gospel: Christ formed the basis of his theology and in this lay the irresistible attraction of his lectures for any serious pupil, and the edifying character of all his writings. But Christ was also his role model and ideal. He spoke to everyone about him “from whom every good gift comes, the one who promised to always remain close to the penitent and downcast”.

He therefore urged his friends: “instead of following after your own thoughts, devote yourself to Jesus like a child and submit to his guidance”.

We read in one of his letters: “God has so loved you, that He gave up His only begotten son for you, to give you eternal life, in complete confidence. He who did not spare his own son, but has given him up for you, why should He not also give you all other things along with him? Who can condemn you, if Christ has died for you and now represents you at the Right Hand of God? …These aren’t my words but the word of God, the Almighty, spoken directly to you by the holy scriptures…”.

Neander did not only speak in this way, but also acted according to his Master’s word. He lived a quiet and humble life in the midst of the commotion of the city; yet he stepped willingly into the public arena when it was necessary to support a sacred cause. He gave several lectures in aid of the Prussian Bible society and supported missionary work and charitable institutions, as best he could. Everybody could turn to him for help, which he offered in trust and confidence. When he lacked somewhat himself, he would dispose of a valuable book to meet the needs of those appealing to him.

When a large part of Hamburg burned down in the well-known conflagration of 1842, Neander sent a 1000 Prussian Taler to support the destitute. And he has done much that has never come into public view and will perhaps never be known. Should we be at all surprised that everyone who came into contact with him, loved and admired him?

This is how Neander lived and taught in Berlin, while setting an example of patience and contentment, even in the latter part of his life – after he had gone almost completely blind. Not a grumble, and no hint of complaint came from his lips. He continued to fulfill his duties faithfully, and even dictated the last volume of his church history at this time.

It was 14 July 1850. In the late evening he said to his sister: “I am tired, come, let us go home!” Some hours later it was granted him to conclude his pilgrimage on earth and to enter into his Master’s rest in his heavenly abode. How many will approach him there to thank him for leading them to eternal bliss in the Father’s house?

His mortal remains were laid to rest in the Jerusalem churchyard in Berlin. The many tributes at his funeral included that of Dr. Krummacher, who called him “one of the noblest of the noblemen in the Kingdom of God, a prince in Zion, and the youngest of the church fathers, of whom can be said as of the apostle John, “this disciple will not die.”

Several of Neander’s books have passed into new and revised editions and have been translated into English. Among these are General History of the Christian Religion and Church, translated by J. Torrey (1850-1858); History of the Planting and Training of the Church by the Apostles, by J. E. Ryland (1851); Julian and his Generation, by G. V. Cox (1850); Life of Jesus, by J. McClintock and C. E. Blumenthal (1848); and Memorials of Christian Life in the Early and Middle Ages, by J. E. Ryland (1852). Many of these, as well as the German originals and other translations can be found at on a search of “August Neander”.