Charles Augustus Stork: Recollections

Charles A. Stork came of a line of preachers. His grandfather, Carl August Gottlieb Storch, had been sent from Germany in the year 1788, as a missionary to the Lutheran Church in North Carolina, where he labored faithfully until his death in 1831. He bequeathed his calling and his devotion to the ministry, together with his name Gottlieb (anglice Theophilus) to his youngest son, Theophilus Stork, who in his turn handed them down to his own eldest son, named after his grandfather, Charles Augustus Stork.

This is the last of the Biographical Sketches for this year. If you would like to see more sketches in future, let us know.

He was born September 4, 1838, at the home of his maternal grandfather, William Lynch, in Frederick county, Maryland. Two years before, his father, coming from the Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, had taken charge of the Lutheran church in Winchester, Virginia, and soon afterward had married Mary Jane Lynch, the oldest daughter of William Lynch, a substantial farmer of old Revolutionary stock, whose farm lay on the north side of the Potomac river, not far from the little town of Jefferson, Maryland. Winchester, Virginia, where his father’s church then was, lay distant as the crow flies about thirty miles southwest from his grandfather Lynch’s farm.

In September, 1841, when the “young” Charles was three years old, his father was called to the pastorate of St. Matthew’s Lutheran church in the city of Philadelphia, where he was destined to spend the longest and most active period of his ministry. In August, 1846, his mother died of consumption, leaving to her husband’s care her two children, Charles, and his younger brother, William. It was about this time, and perhaps in consequence of her death, that Charles was for the first time sent off to school, to an academy kept by the Rev. Lewis Eichelberger, in Winchester, Virginia. He could read and write, and knew a little about figures at this time; but a young boy among strangers, he felt keenly, the loss of a mother’s care and kindness, and the genial influences of home. Of his experience there, he himself says that his chief gain was a fine grounding in Latin.

While a boy, he usually spent his summers on his grandfather’s farm in Maryland. From the first he was of a quiet, studious turn, fonder of reading than of the outdoor sports of children. Often he would steal away from his playmates to an out-of-the-way nook, with some literary treasure that he had discovered, and would there pore over it at his leisure. His grandfather took in those days a paper called, “The New World,” which was filled with serial stories and other like literary wares; of this Charles was particularly fond. It was his delight to take the back numbers of this upstairs with him, spread them out on the floor, and lying down beside them, give himself up for hours to their perusal.

Having become sufficiently advanced in years and knowledge, he was sent to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to prepare himself for entering College, and later to Hartwick Seminary. At the latter place he came under the influence of Dr. Irving Magee, now of Rondout, New York, who was his Bible-class teacher. To a few words, fitly spoken by him after one of the cottage prayer-meetings at Hartwick, Charles attributed under God his conversion. From Hartwick Seminary he passed to Williams College, entering the class of 1857. Here he found himself one of the youngest and smallest boys in the institution, and perhaps, partly for this reason, a general favorite. During his collegiate course he was thrown in especial intimacy with Horace E. Scudder, the litterateur, with Dr. Irving Magee, his old Hartwick friend, with James A. Garfield, and with Henry M. Alden, the latter of whom has furnished for this volume a short account of his life there and at Andover Theological Seminary. These intimacies were kept alive as far as circumstances of time and place would permit, during the whole of his subsequent life.

Young as he was, however, while pursuing his studies, he had not omitted to form plans and dream dreams of the future, and at one time he had thought of the law as a profession. But with such a lineage it is not difficult to understand how this idea faded away as he grew older, and how naturally he began to turn his thoughts toward that calling which, to the earnest piety of his father and his grandfather, was the most glorious possible. On this point his father says, in one of his letters written to him when the critical time of decision was drawing near:

“In regard to your studying for the ministry, you know my sentiments; you know it would afford me the greatest satisfaction, and that no earthly honors, in any sphere of human station, would be as grateful to me as to see you a devoted and respectable and useful minister of Christ. But then you must be influenced not by any desire simply to gratify me.”

All the letters from home to him, while pursuing his studies at Hartwick and Williams, are filled with similar expressions. In one his father writes:

“I would rather be the humblest minister in the land to preach the Gospel to perishing sinners, …one soul won to Christ and heaven is worth more than all the world; beside which the honors and wealth of the world are but weeds and rags.”

Interspersed with these earnest exclamations, that came from the deepest feelings of his father’s heart, voicing the great abiding principles of his life, were bits of homely detail that showed this all-pervading belief in the sacredness of his calling to be no mere feeling, but the realized experience of his life. In these little domestic details, casually referred to in his letters to his son, may be seen how sharply at times he realized that he was himself sacrificing earthly ease and comfort to that calling of preaching the gospel to perishing sinners; and that the res angustae domi were by no means unknown to him and his household.

It was while a student at Williams, that Charles took the final step, and made up his mind to study for the ministry. From this time his father’s letters are filled with plans for his taking his place, and letter after letter refers to the pleasure his father feels in anticipating his assisting him in pastoral duties, which were fast becoming too heavy to be borne alone. For while Charles had been progressing in due course through school and college, some very important changes had been taking place at home. St. Matthew’s, the church to which his father had come in 1841, was an old well-established Lutheran congregation, worshiping in a plain substantial building in New street, east of Fourth. As time rolled on it became evident, by reason of the fast encroaching business of the city, and the equally rapid movement of the population westward, that not only would a new church westward of the present site, and nearer their dwellings, be acceptable to many of the congregation, but that the growth of the city westward would afford a wide field for missionary work, and for the ingathering of new members. Accordingly, in the year 1850, a new church had been organized by some of the members of St. Matthew’s congregation, and under the name of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran church, was duly planted at the southwest corner of Thirteenth and Spring Garden streets. His father had felt it to be his duty, as it was his earnest desire, to accompany the new congregation and to assist as its pastor in the arduous undertaking of establishing itself. The hard work and anxiety entailed by his pastorate of St. Mark’s, told on a constitution that had never been robust; and although crowned with success, and seeing his work prospering as highly as he could hope, he again and again felt himself on the point of being compelled to relinquish it to others. But he struggled on, buoyed up with the one hope that his son Charles might eventually be able to assist him in his pastoral duties. Occasionally his feelings would escape in his letters in some such exclamation as:

“O, how I wish you were through, and could be associated with me — it would be a good school for you, and a great relief to me. Go on: perhaps I can, by God’s blessing, hold on till you are ready to assist me.”

After completing his collegiate course at Williams, in 1857, Charles went with his closest friend and classmate, Alden, to Andover, Massachusetts, to pursue a two years’ course in Theology at the Seminary there. Of his student life here, as well as at Williams, sufficient has been said by his friend Alden in his recollections; but one incident of his stay at Andover may be added as illustrating a strongly characteristic trait, his love of and sensibility to natural beauty. It seems that during one of his vacations, he tried the boyish adventure of camping out in the woods; but being, as he himself confesses, no great woodsman, he met with indifferent success. In a letter to his father he says that he was wet to the skin with rain, he knew not how to cook the fish he caught, and was very glad to return to civilization, scorched by fire and sun, and with bruised legs and blistered hands. “There is one thing,” he adds,

“I learned, however, that was worth it all, and that is the grandeur and solemnity of solitude in the night. I used to lie and listen to the lapping of the waters on the shores of the lake, and the moaning of the winds in the forest, and look at the stars shining so silently and steadily, until I was really oppressed with the solemnity of the solitary night; …there are many things a man may learn from nature, if he will; …I get sometimes an overpowering sense of the careful and continual working of God through all these scenes of nature. It seems like standing in his very presence, to watch the changes and all the movement of a strong summer day, for it sets before us his immediate workings for us and to us.”

Before Charles was fully prepared to give to his father that assistance in pastoral work at St. Mark’s for which he was anxiously waiting, an invitation came which seemed to offer relief in a different way. In the latter part of the year 1858, Dr. Stork was offered the presidency of the Lutheran college at Newberry, South Carolina, a new institution just established there. For several reasons the offer was inviting: the work would be much lighter than that of preaching and pastoral labor in a congregation so large as St. Mark’s had grown to be, while the warmer climate of the South seemed exactly calculated to restore health to one who, like Dr. Stork, was suffering from weakness of the throat and lungs.

His father, being still anxious to have Charles associated with him in his work, asked him to become a teacher in the new College. All preliminaries having been satisfactorily settled, father and son, in the following year (1859), entered upon their duties at Newberry, the one as president, the other as professor of Greek. The civil war put an end to their labors in a little less than a year after they had begun, and Charles, whose sight had been injured by too close application to crabbed Greek texts, went abroad to consult Dr. Von Graeffe, of Berlin. This great oculist effectually restored his eyesight after a treatment of some six months. Returning to the United States he took charge, for some months, of St. James’ Lutheran mission, in the city of Philadelphia. Meanwhile his father had undertaken the task of building up a new St. Mark’s, in the city of Baltimore. This, like its namesake and predecessor in Philadelphia, was an offshoot of an older church, and Dr. Stork was its first pastor. At his instance and desire, Charles A. Stork was called by the congregation to be his assistant. Here he spent the best years of his life and the whole of his active ministry, the few months in Philadelphia excepted. Shortly after coming to Baltimore he married Miss Maria H. Ellis, of Andover, Massachusetts. He continued to preach and labor at St. Mark’s for twenty years, first as pastor, assisting his father, and afterwards, on the resignation of his father in 1865, as sole pastor of the church.

At first his preaching was characterized by its analytic and scholarly elements, rather than by those qualities of sympathy and warmth of feeling which made the peculiar charm of his father in the pulpit. But his growth in spirituality was constant. When, on the resignation of his father in 1865, he assumed sole charge of St. Mark’s, the new and greater responsibility, which he keenly appreciated, drove him to a deeper and stronger reliance on God, and led him to seek for sustenance in a closer communion with him.

Charles A. Stork

Like his father, it was his lot to bear the constant burden of a weak and delicate body; as early as 1870 he had received a warning of his failing health; during that summer he was taken ill, and only became convalescent in time to resume his duties in the autumn. From that time it seemed as though the “shadow feared of man” was ever casting itself on his path. He recovered his health, but the precious gift was only to be kept by him at the price of continual care.

In 1874 he was advised by his physicians that his lungs were affected, and, in pursuance of their directions, he spent the winter in Egypt. He returned much improved, and took up his work at St. Mark’s with fresh hope and strength. But the improvement, as he himself more than suspected, was only a postponing of the end that was slowly yet surely approaching. What an effect this prospect had upon him, may be traced not only in his public utterances, but even more distinctly in his private correspondence. It was the purifying of the gold in the furnace of affliction. The tenderness, the sympathy, the spiritual insight that are so marked in his later writings, were doubtless the fruit of that mighty spiritual chastener — physical suffering. No one can read those sermons of his, such as The Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings, True Christian Patience, and the like, and not feel that they were drawn from the writer’s own experience, that he knew in his own soul whereof he spoke. Not that his life was one of acute suffering: often he enjoyed apparently robust health, but then a slight exposure, a spell of unusually hard work, would bring him down with a sharp reminder that could not be ignored in the shape of a cough or a sore throat. Then for weeks he would be compelled to discontinue preaching, and to suffer in a dull, irritating way that was more depressing to the spirit than sharp pain. After such an attack in the spring of 1877, he writes:

“I have been suffering with my throat ever since I was in Philadelphia. You will remember I had a cough then. Well, it got worse, and I have not preached for a month till last Sunday. I tried one sermon then. But it threw me back. The doctor says it will be a tedious affair. Possibly I may be laid up for the summer. I have no pain, but only a loss of voice. My cough, which was quite bad, is nearly all gone; now I must wait for strength to come back… But the long continuance of the weakness is beginning to make me feel a little depressed. I suppose I am to struggle as did father; now able to preach, then laid up. But the doctor tells me it is nothing; if only we could fully trust the doctors. …We shall have a pleasant and profitable summer; that is, if I do not get too much depressed about my throat. I know we ought to be cheerful and take gladly anything God sends, but a weight of melancholy seems to press on me sometimes, and though I am not rebellious, I do feel sad. Perhaps God means us to be sad. It may be good for us to be made to feel weak and dependent. I am sure I inherit from father something of a tendency to be melancholy at times.”

Later in the same year he writes more cheerfully:

“I am feeling very strong and able to work; I rejoice in the strength, and want to use it for the best while I have it, knowing that when the days of weakness come, as they must come to all, then God will give me just as perfect peace and satisfaction in weakness, as I have now in strength.”

Every year of his later life added greatly to his duties and his responsibilities; every year he seemed to become more conspicuous in the general work of the Lutheran church, and this in the most natural way without any seeking upon his own part, but simply from the fact that for many positions he was found peculiarly fitted, and always willing whatever his strength might be. It was his desire to be spent in the Lord’s service. Thus he was made President of the Board of Foreign Missions, an onerous and responsible post which he filled to the entire satisfaction of the church. In connection with this he partly edited and wrote for a mission paper, the Missionary Journal. He contributed frequently to the Lutheran Quarterly and the Lutheran Observer. In addition to this for several terms he lectured to the students of Pennsylvania College on History, going up from Baltimore to Gettysburg at stated times for the purpose. He was also elected GraefT Professor of English Language and Literature in the same institution: this he declined, since it would have compelled him to give up his church, which he was loth to do.

In 1881 he was elected Professor of Didactic Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa. In October of that year he left Baltimore, and the church where he had labored for twenty years, and to which he was warmly attached, and took up his residence on Seminary Ridge, in Gettysburg, there to enter upon the duties of his professorship. His regret at leaving St. Mark’s, and with it the active ministry was deep, but he felt that the call to teach theology was God’s, and he went willingly. He was learning every year to look more directly to God for each step in life.

“The secret of peace, I find, is not success,” he writes at this time,

“nor activity, but humility and the secret of humility is the vision and felt presence of God; when we see him we are at once humbled, cast down from self and men and also exalted with the fullness of the Divine indwelling. Some will call this mysticism; and I suppose it is; but I would wish to be such a mystic as St. Paul when he said, ‘I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me,’ yes, there is a mystic element in the Christian life: you know mystic means ‘hidden’ and there is something ‘hidden’ in the new life. That is what St. Paul meant when he said your life is hid with Christ in God.”

But let no one suppose that teaching was distasteful to him; he had a rare gift for imparting knowledge and could, by an apt illustration, often throw a flood of light upon some dark point; he therefore thoroughly enjoyed the work at Gettysburg; but he had his father’s love of the ministry and was often glad to vary his labors by preaching when occasion offered. At the close of his first year’s work in the Seminary he writes:

“I am glad my first year’s work is nearly over. It ends June 25th. It has been quite hard for me making lectures on new subjects. I have been kept too close in my study. But the summer vacation will mend that; and next year I shall not be pressed so hard.

“I hope I am doing good here; but I find in doing work for the Lord, as in all the Christian life, we must walk by faith, not by sight. We cannot see always that we are really accomplishing anything. The only way I find is to live day by day, being sure the Lord has given us a certain work to do, and then doing it, even though we cannot see the fruit. I preached yesterday on Mary’s words at the feast at Cana, ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’ How simple and beautiful that rule is; to take our work from his lips, our particular work whatever it is and then faithfully and loyally to do it just because he says it.”

But the period of his usefulness on earth was not to be much longer continued. His old troubles revived, his throat primarily and his lungs in a less degree began once more to distress him. It is not certain what exactly was the predisposing cause, it was thought perhaps a visit he paid to Baltimore to attend a meeting upon some church business, was the immediate occasion of his last illness. It was a winter’s day, and he returned late at night to his home in a blinding snow storm. The cold he then took aggravated the disease; which, however, must long ere that have fixed its seat in his throat and lungs. This finally brought about his death from phthisis laryngitis, on the morning of Monday, December 17, 1883, in Philadelphia, whither he had gone for medical advice and treatment.

His letters at this time and while the issue was still uncertain, are pathetic; in one he says:

“I feel in myself a greater desire to communicate good, a greater richness of thought and experience to communicate; and then to lie still, to be shut up in silence is a hard trial. But God knows best. When I feel restive, impatient, weary, despondent, I just fold my hands and say over those words of Jesus: ‘Thy will be done,’ till I feel how blessed that will is, and all the waves of strife in me go down, and a heavenly peace comes in. I was reading yesterday the words of Adolph Monod, repeated so often in the last months of his life, when he was suffering so much: ‘The crucified life is the blessed life.’”

Again he writes:

“My throat improves slowly, but very slowly. I am having a thorough lesson in. patience. I think sometimes I have had enough, but the Master says, No, you must go over the old lesson again.

“I reproach myself often since my weakness and sickness have been so heavy on me, that I do not praise God more for the sunshine he pours so abundantly on me in it all.”

As he draws near those gates of Death, so awful in their mystery, but to him so glorious in their possibility, he seems to gain a fresh and wondrous vision of spiritual things. He writes as if already the light of another world, of heaven, were illuminating the dark problems of earth, and as if he saw all things transfigured in that radiance. “The Christian,” he says in one of his letters,

“is not complete in Christ until not only he has received Christ as crucified for him, but is also crucified with him. That, I think, is a very deep and, though at first sight, a repelling, yet when we experience it, a very precious truth of our holy faith. To die to self, to be baptized in suffering, to receive the strokes of God, and so to rise in Christ and to be one with him — that to me of late is growing more and more a rich part of the faith.”

While the death of such a man in the very ripeness of his Christian life, when fully prepared to serve Christ and his church most effectively seems mysterious to our earthly vision, yet in one of his letters he has himself suggested a solution of the mystery that may be allowed as his own epitaph to close this brief sketch:

“I believe I am one who is destined never to have any great success, nor any great failure. I jog along the footpath way. I can’t say but that I would like to have something more stirring and marked, a great crowd to preach to, many and striking conversions, large achievements. But if I am to do ordinary work in a quiet way, I hope to be satisfied. I was much struck lately by a remark made in the Spectator apropos of the life of a good man who with many opportunities and some fine gifts, yet failed of his chief project for doing good, and passed away depressed by the thought that he had achieved very little. His character, however, was greatly chastened and ripened as he grew old and the reviewer says his friends at last recognized in his life that the highest end of existence is neither to shine nor achieve, but to do the Divine will. That after all is the deepest truth; we fall back on that when all else fails — that we cannot be disappointed of — being one with Christ in accepting and accomplishing God’s will.”

From: Stork, Charles. Light on the Pilgrim’s Way: Selections From The Writings of Rev. Charles A. Stork, D.D. Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1885.

Reminiscences of Lutheran Ministers Series

"Among our earlier ministers, the fathers of the American Lutheran Church… we can point to many bright names, which Christians of any denomination might be proud to recognize as their own…

“Men distinguished for high talent, great learning, devoted piety, ardent zeal and noble spirit, who were appreciated by their contemporaries, and labored assiduously for the elevation of the race, and the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom.” – Charles Krauth