David Jacobs: A Biographical Sketch

Few men gave brighter promise of efficiency than the subject of the present sketch; few have there been, whose premature removal from scenes of usefulness, was the occasion of deeper and more earnest grief. Young and ardent, endowed by nature with more than ordinary gifts, with a mind highly disciplined, and richly stored with knowledge, and a heart wholly consecrated to God, occupying an important position in the church, and discharging its duties with distinguished success, much was expected from his future career. These fond expectations, in the providence of God, were frustrated, the sanguine hopes of the church were disappointed! In the pride and vigor of early manhood, in the midst of active usefulness, when the church was crying, “the harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few,” he was stricken down and called away from earth to heaven!

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David Jacobs

“Leaves have their time to fall,
 And flowers to wither at the North wind’s breath,
 And stars to set — but all.
 Thou hast all seasons for thine own, O death!”

Nec scire fas est omnia.

The mysterious and melancholy event we must ascribe to the sovereign pleasure of Him, who does all things according to the counsel of his most righteous will, who “numbers our days,” who “changes the countenance of man and sends him away,” and we must acknowledge it to be just. No matter how afflictive the dispensation, it is our duty cordially to acquiesce in the divine appointment, and to submit with Christian resignation! Every occurrence of life, we know, is directed by unerring wisdom, combined with infinite goodness, and is designed for the accomplishment of some gracious purpose. The workman can be dispensed with, but the work will still be carried forward. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” Thus are we taught to make the Lord our confidence, and to do with our might what our hands find to do, knowing that the night cometh certainly, when no man can work.

Early Life

David Jacobs was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on the 22nd of November, 1805. His parents, Henry and Anna Maria Jacobs, were of German extraction, and regular members of the Lutheran church, conscientious and exemplary in their life, anxious themselves to do right, and to please God, whilst they constantly labored to rear their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Although early deprived of his parents, his mother dying when he was in his fifth year, and his father, before he had reached his sixteenth, the influence of their Christian example was not lost upon his character. From his earliest infancy, he was mild and gentle in disposition, rigidly moral, upright and dutiful. The religious instructions he received from his father gradually developed in him a serious thoughtfulness, and a disposition to read the word of God.

He was a diffident, retiring boy, who loved to withdraw himself from the observation of others, and commune with his own thoughts. He found his pleasure in books rather than in active sports. In the quiet of rural life, assisting his father upon the farm, he spent his early days, and grew up a serious and sober youth. The bent of his character was also noticed in his efforts for the acquisition of knowledge, and in the improvement of the advantages he enjoyed at a country school. He was not satisfied with the ordinary routine of prescribed duties, but he undertook and carried through, of his own accord, considerable additional labor. He applied himself with intense earnestness to his books, evincing a remarkable fondness for study, and a spirit of inquiry in reference to the subjects that engaged his attention. Having faithfully employed the facilities afforded him at home, for mental culture, he felt desirous of extending his education, and of still further prosecuting his studies.

In the spring of 1822, a few months after the death of his father, Mr. Jacobs attended a course of catechetical instruction, under the ministry of Rev. J. Ruthrauff, the pastor of the church in which he was accustomed to worship, who possessed great power in interesting his catechumens in the truths of religion, and who, it was supposed, accomplished move good in this way than by his ordinary pulpit labors. The exercises were blessed to the subject of our narrative. He consecrated himself, at this time, to the service of God, in an evangelical religious profession, which he honored by an eminently consistent and devout life. It is not known that there was anything remarkable in his Christian experience. He was not prone to relate much of his own religious exercises, yet he seemed to feel the presence of God about him. His spiritual life was gradually progressive. It had begun in early boyhood, and seemed to receive a favorable impulse under the influences by which he was surrounded. It assumed a more decided character, a more definite purpose, during his attendance upon the religious instructions of his pastor. It was also at this period that he fully determined to give himself up to the work of preaching the Gospel, and to offer himself as a candidate for the sacred office. Prom this point in his history his piety became more active, and all who knew him regarded him as a genuine Christian, deeply imbued with the spirit of his Master, and strongly influenced by a desire to benefit his fellow men.

It was in the month of June, 1822, immediately after he had made a profession of his faith in Christ, that Mr. Jacobs visited Hagerstown and made known to Rev. B. Kurtz, who was then the pastor of the Lutheran congregation in that place, his earnest desires and future intentions. By him he was kindly encouraged. He received him into his own family, as there was a difficulty in procuring a suitable boarding house, devoted to him his special care and attention, and furnished him with the counsel and instruction he required. For the kindness he received from Dr. Kurtz and his family, he ever seemed most grateful, and frequently expressed his indebtedness. This feeling is creditable to the young man; we should never forget those who have conferred upon us benefactions; we should always cherish, with affectionate regard, those whom God has employed to be the guide of our inexperienced youth.

Whilst a member of Dr. Kurtz’ family, Mr. Jacobs attended the Hagerstown Academy, which was then in the charge of Mr. Wilson, for the purpose of pursuing a classical course of study. He did not desire to enter upon the work of the ministry without the necessary preparatory training. He entertained correct views of its responsible duties, and felt unwilling to engage in them, unless he possessed the requisite qualifications. He thought that those, whom Christ ordains and appoints to the ministry, should study to approve themselves unto God, workmen needing not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. During his connection with the Academy his efforts were unremitting and determined. He sustained the reputation of a diligent and successful student. He was distinguished for his accuracy and thoroughness in whatever he undertook. He never did anything superficially. These characteristics followed him through life. His progress in study was also very rapid. He passed over the ground so quickly as to surprise his instructor and those who were associated with him in study. It is said that he had committed the Latin Grammar to memory in the space of nine days.

Studies At Jefferson College

In the fall of 1823, he repaired to Jefferson College, Canonsburg Pa., then under the Presidency of Rev. Dr. Brown. He entered the Junior class, and was graduated at the commencement in 1825. Here also he devoted himself most faithfully to his duties. He was careful not to fritter away his time in aimless efforts, or in the pursuit of objects unworthy the attention of the student. He was prompt in his attendance upon the recitation room, and was always prepared for its exercises. Pie took a high rank in his class, and was particularly distinguished as a linguist. He was frequently requested by the Professor of Languages, in his absence, to hear his Latin and Greek recitations. Whilst at college, his religious character ripened into maturity. The institution was visited with several precious revivals of religion, in which he took a deep and active interest. He was faithful in the use of the means of grace, with which he was favored, and sought to improve every opportunity afforded him for growth in piety. He was a regular attendant, not only upon the exercises of the sanctuary on the Lord’s day, but during the week he regarded it as a privilege, as well as a duty, to attend the meeting for social prayer, and to unite with God’s people in religious services. He was a steadfast, consistent and conscientious Christian, a living epistle, known and read of all men, exerting a conservative influence upon those with whom he came in contact, diffusing a cheering, life-giving radiance, and advancing a cause he professed to love, and the interests of which it was his duty to promote. So much confidence in his sincerity and integrity was entertained by his fellow-students, that not even the tongue of the wicked ever uttered a word to the disparagement of his Christian character.

In First Class At Gettysburg Seminary

After his graduation in college, Mr. Jacobs placed himself again under the care of Dr. Kurtz, for the purpose of prosecuting his theological studies. But as our Theological Seminary went into operation the following year, under the direction of Professor Schmucker, he removed to Gettysburg in the autumn of 1826, and became one of the first students of this school of the prophets. On the 25th of June, 1827, he took charge of the classical department, organized in connection with the Theological Seminary.

First Teacher At Pennsylvania College

For the want of the proper Academic training, it was found that many of the applicants for admission into the Seminary, were unprepared for Theological instruction. It was, therefore, deemed expedient to establish a classical school1 in the same place, in which young men could be furnished with the facilities for acquiring a knowledge of the subjects required preparatory to the study of theology. From this beginning Pennsylvania College look its origin, which has been the prolific source of much good to our church. Mr. Jacobs was the first teacher of the school, and during his whole connection with it, the written testimony is, that “he faithfully and honorably discharged the duties of his station, enjoying in a high degree, the respect and affection of all who were under his charge.”

He entered upon his work with great earnestness, and a deep sense of the responsibilities that rested upon him. He gave himself up wholly to his duties, and labored with great fidelity to promote the highest good of those committed to his care. He aimed to produce a sound and useful education, thorough and accurate scholarship, to make his pupils fully understand and completely master the ground over which they traveled, not to be satisfied with superficial attainments or appearances, but to labor for practical and permanent results. He was rigid as a disciplinarian, requiring a faithful observance of the regulations, and a careful attention to the duties prescribed. He felt that he was under as great obligation to enforce the law, as the student was to render prompt obedience. His views on the subject of education were generally correct and enlarged. He was not only concerned in reference to the temporal good of the young men, but he also carefully looked after their spiritual interests. He was faithful in urging, the claims of personal religion on those within the sphere of his immediate influence, ever manifesting an anxious regard for the surrender of their hearts to God. Whilst they were acquiring knowledge that was designed to qualify them for usefulness in this life, he desired that they might gain that wisdom, which was able to make wise unto salvation, that they might be trained for heaven, and the blissful rewards of immortality. He taught them to climb the hill of Calvary as well as the heights of Parnassus, and whilst they were slaking their thirst from the waters of Castalia, to drink deep of:

“Siloa’s brook, that flows
 Fast by the oracles of God,”

to sit at the feet of our Great Teacher, whose Gospel has revealed the only true path to glory, honor and immortality. In every suitable way he strove to lead their minds from earth to heaven, to a saving acquaintance with Jesus Christ. This lively interest in their spiritual welfare was shown, not only in his public efforts, but in private, when alone with his God in his supplications at the mercy seat. His Christian life, the light of his earnest and unostentatious piety, was not without its salutary influence upon his pupils. Although years have elapsed since he passed away from among us, yet there are many who still remember his holy example, and who speak most affectionately of his disinterested and faithful instructions. He nobly performed his work. Never did man pursue his object with aim mere exalted, and we believe, with success more satisfactory.

At the meeting of the West Pennsylvania Synod, held in 1829, Mr. Jacobs was licensed to preach the Gospel, but as he continued to teach in the Gymnasium, and his health was delicate, he seldom officiated in the pulpit. His arduous duties in the school, afforded him little leisure to make the necessary preparations for the Sabbath. So brief a period was he in the ministry, that we are unable to form an idea of his powers in this direction. He was naturally timid, and disposed to shrink from the public gaze, so that it is probable some time would have been required to make him feel perfectly at home in the pulpit. Ultimately he could not have failed in becoming an acceptable and effective preacher.

Poor Health

Mr. Jacobs remained in his field of labor, until the summer of 1830, when, in consequence of the precarious state of his health, he relinquished his duties. His constitution naturally delicate, had become greatly impaired, owing to the arduous labors and the anxieties connected with his position. His friends urged him to suspend his cares for a season, and take a jaunt for the benefit of his health, yet no one considered him dangerously ill, or supposed that his pilgrimage on earth was so soon to terminate. He the more cheerfully consented to undertake the trip, that he might accompany his friend, Mr. Wingard,2 a fellow-student, to his home in the South, who had for some time been very much out of health. In order that the reader may perceive how much he was under the influence of Christian principle, how conscientiously he acted in all his undertakings, and with what resignation he submitted to all his afflictions, we subjoin a few extracts from the diary which he kept during his journey. Preferring to the considerations which influenced him to travel, he says:

“Having been in a delicate state of health for some months past, I thought it prudent and necessary to travel for the improvement of my health. Endeavoring to commit myself to God — to the guidance and protection of Providence, I left Gettysburg in company with brother Wingard (a theological student from South Carolina), on the 10th of September, 1830, expecting to go by water to Charleston, thence to Columbia, and return through North Carolina and Virginia home. I undertook the journey in order to accompany brother Wingard, as he was sick, and from a belief that it will be to my advantage to make a tour to the South. May the Lord be merciful to me, and grant me his protection and grace, and render efficient the means used for the restoration of my health! May the Lord direct my steps, throughout the vicissitudes and uncertainties of the residue of my appointed time upon earth; and whether it be long or short, may it be devoted to his service, and to the best interests of immortal souls.”

He had many trials to endure in his travels to the South, and was exposed to numerous dangers, yet amidst all his discouragements, his confidence in God was unshaken, he was perfectly resigned to his will.

Hinc omne principium, hue refer exitum.

In consequence of his detention on the way, occasioned by accidents, he was eighteen days reaching Lexington, S. C.,the extreme southern point of his journey. On the 7th of September the stagecoach was upset. He however received little injury, but on the following day he encountered a more serious disaster, by the precipitation of the coach over the abutment of a bridge, seven or eight feet high, on Fishing creek. The coach was broken to pieces, and he was considerably injured. He was thus detained five days at the house of Col. Nicholson, from whom he received the kindest attention. In allusion to his misfortunes, he remarks:

“God moves in a mysterious way,
 His wonders to perform.”

“Our plans have been changed, and we have been interrupted in our progress—have met with accidents, and our prospects altogether discouraging, but we have reason to believe that all things work together for our good. We have been too ungrateful, too unmindful of the mercies and goodness of God, forgetting that our life and all its blessings and comforts, are in his hands. Our Heavenly Father deals kindly and gently with us; if this prove ineffectual, he sends us afflictions, and shows tis our danger. Thus we are called upon to prepare to meet our God, not knowing what day or hour we may be summoned hence. Oh! that all these things might have their desired effect; that we might become more faithful and more devoted to the service of God.”

On the first of October he turned his face homeward, with the view of resuming his duties at the beginning of the winter session, and in a review of the difficulties he had encountered, and the*mercies he experienced, he makes the following entry:

“In considering the scenes through which we passed, and the changes made in our plans since leaving Gettysburg, I must say, great are the kindnesses and mercies of our God! At the time of our departure, it was our design to proceed from Baltimore to Charleston by water. This plan was, however, frustrated, for reasons then unknown to us, yet we supposed it to be the will of God. We then took the steamboat and stages, and met with various disasters. Yet in these, great mercy was mingled with misfortune, not only in preventing a more serious injury, but in providing for us a person who caused every attention to be paid us. After proceeding again a little distance, we heard of the yellow fever prevailing in Charleston, and thus we recognized the hand of God in not permitting us to enter Charleston at that time. By our afflictions we are called upon to reflect that our lives are altogether uncertain; that we are in the hands of God; that whether we experience affliction or prosperity, it is all designed for good. In the mercies of Providence we are taught the character of Him who presides over our destinies. Oh! that we might be induced to show in our conduct, a sense of our dependence on him, and devotedness to his cause.”

How interesting it is, to find the Christian thus exercising confidence in God, and cheerfully acquiescing in the dispensations of his providence! It is consoling to know that our Father in Heaven rules, and that he has promised to cause all things to work for good to those who love him.

“Happy the man who sees a God employed
In all the good and ill that chequer life! \ Resolving all events, with their effects \ And manifold results, into the will \ And arbitration wise of the Supreme!”

On his way homeward, he traveled on horseback. The journey was protracted and irksome, the weather rainy and unpleasant, his health still much impaired, his spirits greatly depressed. Yet he endeavored to comfort himself by a calm recognition of providence, and by an unreserved surrender of all his interests into the hands of his covenant keeping God. He had reached Shepherdstown, Va., when he found that he could proceed no farther in his course. There he laid his fevered body down to die, in a strange place, and among strangers. Though the best medical skill was put into requisition, it proved of no avail; disease was resistless, and baffled every ministration employed for his recovery. Although a stranger in the community, there were good Samaritans who sympathized with him in his affliction, and came to minister to his comfort. Mr. Smith having heard that there was a Lutheran clergyman at one of the public inns, sick unto death, removed him to his own dwelling, and with other Lutherans, bestowed upon him kind offices, and the most unceasing attentions. Though his kindred in the flesh watched not around his couch as the lamp was flickering and waning, yet many Christian friends, like holy sentinels, stood firmly at their post, until his spirit was borne away, and rested in the bosom of his God. This to him was a great consolation, and seemed to soothe his last hours. In it he realized the goodness of God, who had so kindly raised up Christian friends, to care for him at a time when he so much required attention.

How refreshing are such acts, and how honorable to our holy religion! May all such receive the blessing invoked upon Onesiphorus by the great Apostle, “that they may find mercy of the Lord in that day.” During his illness he was composed and tranquil, patient and full of hope. No murmur escaped his lips. Not even during the paroxisms of his burning fever did he complain. In his lucid moments, he spoke submissively of the dealings of his Heavenly Parent with him; his confidence in the Redeemer never forsook him, his faith in the atoning merits of his Savior was fixed. His soul was sustained by the precious promises of God’s word, which he had treasured up in childhood. His dying testimony was clear and impressive, comforting in the highest degree. The summons did not take him by surprise, nor did he meet it with regret. He went not reluctantly at the bidding of his Lord, but with the strongly expressed feeling that “to depart and be with Christ is far better.” He died November 4th, 1830, in the twenty-fifth year of his age. His remains, after death, were conveyed to his native place, and interred in the cemetery connected with the church in which he made a profession of religion, and first vowed allegiance to his Divine Master. Among hundreds of weeping friends, he was borne to the silent grave, with solemn religious services, conducted by Rev. J. Ruthrauff and Rev. Dr. Kurtz, pastor of the Lutheran congregation at Hagerstown. The sensation of grief produced by his death, was a spontaneous, heartfelt, and high tribute to his worth and services.

“In the death of Mr. Jacobs,” says an obituary notice published on the occasion of his death, “science and learning lost an able patron, the church a zealous and active member, and the virtuous community a valuable citizen.”

He was a man of fine talents, above the ordinary standard, of ripe scholarship, of courteous, unobtrusive manners, and in whose bosom beat a kind and noble heart. His intimate friends best knew his worth, but all valued and honored his upright and pure character, the high and delicate sense of honor that ever attended him in all his relations, and that lofty conception of duty, which won for him the honor and respect of all. The one aim of his life was to honor his Redeemer, in seeking the highest temporal and eternal welfare of his fellow men. Frequently have we met with those who were associated with him in study, all of whom gave the most unequivocal testimony to his great worth. Those too, who as pupils, were brought in frequent intercourse with him, appreciated his excellent character, and gratefully acknowledged his eminent services. Stern integrity and a sincere love of truth, marked all his movements. He was conscientious, persevering and faithful to every obligation. Duty was prominent on all occasions; to it everything else was subordinate. For it he was willing to make any sacrifice, no matter how great, and to submit to any toil, however laborious. He always endeavored to do what was right, and never swerved from the path of rectitude. He loved every good work, and was eager to advance whatever would promote the true interests of society, and elevate and improve the standard of Christian piety. His religious faith was decided, steadfast, practical and satisfying — calm, consistent, peaceful and clear. None that knew him doubted its reality, for they witnessed its power in his life. One of the strongest points in his character was its transparent simplicity. He was sincere, gentle, confiding and unsuspicious, charitable in his judgment of others, and never unkind in his expressions respecting them. He always spoke with caution, where character was concerned. He was a man of genuine modesty, naturally diffident and reserved in his manners. He did not “think more highly of himself than he ought to think,” but in the spirit of that beautiful injunction, “in honor preferring one another,” he mingled with his associates, as if lie were unconscious of his merits, and even depreciated them.

Mr. Jacobs died in early life, yet we believe he lived not in vain! It may be he accomplished more for the Redeemer’s kingdom, than many whose career has been extended over a larger space. To human eye he seemed to have been cut down in the beginning of his usefulness, but God needed him for another sphere!

&Gone to the grave in alt thy glorious prime,
&nbsp full activity of zeal and power,
&nbspChristian cannot die before his time,
&nbspe Lord’s appointment is the servant’s hour.”

He left the church militant for the church triumphant; the moral influences, however, produced by his prayers and his efforts, and the beautiful clearness with which he reflected the inflate of Him, who was the incarnate manifestation of divine love, will never cease! They are mirrored on the minds and hearts of others, and will be again and again reflected to all eternity! He “fought a good fight,” he “kept the faith,” and we feel assured that he has received the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give at that day, unto all them that love his appearing.”

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

To request a printable copy [PDF] send an email to: editor@lutheranlibrary.org with the title of this post.

Lutheran Biographical Sketch

Publication Information

  • Author: “Krauth, Charles P.”, Editor.
  • Journal: “The Evangelical Review.”
  • Originally Published: 1856.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2019
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

  1. In 1829 a Scientific department was connected with it, under the care of his brother, the present Professor of Natural Science in Pennsylvania College. ^
  2. Rev. Jacob Wingard died in Lexington, S. C., January 15th, 1831, in the twenty-ninth year of his age. ^

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