Michael Eyster: A Biographical Sketch
“The more we knew Mr. Eyster, the more we loved him.”
Table of Contents
More than twenty years have passed away since we first met with the subject of our present sketch, and from the very beginning of our acquaintance, we entertained for him the warmest regard, which more intimate relations only strengthened, and the changes of time never diminished. Seldom have we encountered a stranger, to whom we so quickly became attached, and felt more free in giving our most unreserved confidence. The attachment was reciprocated, the confidence was not misplaced.
In connection with the reminiscences of our college days, our relations with this dear brother are among the most pleasant, and as busy memory reverts to the scenes of the past, and recalls to mind the associations of by-gone years, we still think of him with mingled feelings of delight and sadness, and remember with satisfaction the many happy hours we took sweet counsel together, shared each other’s sorrows and joys, traveled in company the road to knowledge, and unitedly bowed the knee at the mercy seat, in earnest supplication to our common Father, for his blessing. In a communication received from him only a short time before his death, referring to this period, he says:
“Those were halcyon days—days, the scenes and incidents of which will ever constitute the brightest and loveliest chapters of our history — days to which we may recur, if not with unmingled delight, yet with feelings of profoundest gratitude.”
The more we knew Mr. Eyster, the more we loved him. His influence over us was most salutary. During our whole intercourse with him, we never saw anything in the man unbecoming the gentleman, or unworthy the Christian. Never did we hear from his lips an expression which we could now wish unsaid, nor witness in his conduct that which we could now' desire undone. We always regarded him as one of nature’s noblemen, as a Christian of exalted integrity, who enjoyed communion with his God, and who realized the responsibilities of life. This, we know, is strong praise, and many who were brought into occasional contact with Mr. Eyster, may suppose that we have drawn too high an estimate of his character. He was not, perhaps, generally appreciated. Naturally retiring and distant, modest and unobtrusive in his manners, only those who were intimately acquainted with him, and had full access to his heart, could form anything like a correct opinion of his excellencies, and could properly understand the noble qualities he possessed. There is a mournful interest connected with the duty we are now attempting to discharge, and as the spirit of our departed friend rests in the bosom of his God, glad shall we be if the narrative of his virtues, and the recollections of his example shall animate and quicken others to active efforts in the service of the Redeemer!
Early Days and Coming To Faith
Michael Eyster was a native of York County, and was born May 16th, 1814. He died August 11th, 1853, and was consequently, at the time of his death, in the fortieth year of his age. He was of German extraction, the son of Adam and Elizabeth Eyster, and spent his early days at home on the farm, helping his father, who was engaged in agricultural pursuits. When he reached his thirteenth year, he was placed in a mercantile house in York, where he remained for several years, and, by his industrious habits and attention to business, soon won the confidence and favor of his employers. At this critical period of his life, thrown into the society of other young men, older than himself, and practiced in sin, his morals for a season greatly suffered. He wandered far from the path of rectitude, into forbidden scenes, and disregarded the pious lessons inculcated upon his youthful mind beneath the paternal roof. Distinctly do we remember, on more than one occasion, his recital of the imminent danger to which he was exposed, and his expressions of gratitude to his Heavenly Parent, for his happy deliverance. The claims of religion, it is true, had not made any decided impression upon his heart before he left home. He had never felt any special concern in reference to the salvation of the soul, yet the early training he had received, would not allow him, without some compunction, to indulge in that which he knew was sinful. Conscience, that faithful monitor, kindly implanted within our breast, often reproved him for his derelictions, and reminded him of his obligations. God did not forsake him. He was not given up to hardness of heart. The Holy Spirit continued to strive with him, and it may be, in answer to fervent, effectual prayer, which was daily poured forth at the family altar, the young man was brought, as a penitent prodigal, to the foot of the cross. He is most deeply exercised on the subject of religion; his mind is shrouded in darkness and gloom, and he is found anxiously inquiring u what he must do to be saved?" He felt, however, that no human agency could furnish the relief he needed. So overwhelmed was he with a sense of his guilt, and his utter inability to rescue himself from impending ruin, that he turned to God as the only source of safety. On bended knees, in an upper room of the store, he pleads for the divine forgiveness, and promises, if his petitions are granted, to devote himself unreservedly to the Christian ministry. He soon found the peace he so much desired. His despair and distress gave place to hope and gladness of spirit. He enjoyed the consciousness of pardoned sin through the merits of the Redeemer. He could trust in God, he could submit to his will. Jesus was precious to his soul, and he rejoiced that he was a child of God. Old things had passed away — all things had become new. He at once relinquishes his situation in the store, and commences the necessary arrangements, preparatory to the important work, to which he had solemnly dedicated himself. Renouncing pecuniary advantages, he is happy in the decision to which he has come. Although his prospects in business were exceedingly promising, and the most tempting offers were presented, to secure his permanent services, he indignantly rejected all worldly considerations. He felt that he was called to a higher vocation, to a nobler work, that he “must be about his Father’s business,” that he must hereafter labor for the salvation of souls in the ministry of reconciliation.
He soon commenced his Academic course of study in Marshall College, then located in York, and, at the time under the care of Rev. Dr. Rauch, to whom he always seemed much attached, and whose teachings exerted no inconsiderable influence upon his youthful pupil. On the removal of the institution to Mercersburg, Mr. Eyster repaired to Gettysburg, for the purpose of continuing the prosecution of his studies in the institutions of his own church. He became a member of Pennsylvania College in the fall of 1885, and the following year entered the Theological Seminary. During this period, he was regarded as a faithful student and a consistent Christian, and by his honorable and exemplary deportment, secured the respect and confidence of all with whom he was brought into association.
His Theological studies having been completed,Die was licensed to preach the Gospel in the fall of 1838, by the Synod of West Pennsylvania. Soon after, he accepted a call to Williamsburg, Pa., and congregations in the vicinity, and immediately commenced his ministerial career. During his residence at this place, he devoted himself to study with great assiduity, and the most unremitting application, and to this fact, in connection with the severe labor the duties of the charge required, is to be ascribed the commencement of his physical prostration, from which he subsequently suffered, in this field of usefulness he labored for upwards of seven years with great efficiency and success, and exchanged it for another, only on account of the impaired state of his health. His congregations were attached to him, and he commanded the esteem of the whole community.
Greencastle and the Loss of His Wife
In the Spring of 1846, he received and accepted a call to the Greencastle charge. Here also he had the most abundant reason to believe that his services were appreciated, and the divine blessing rested upon his efforts to do good. Many were added to the church under his ministry, and the religious character of the flock materially improved. He seemed happy in his position, and apparently settled, in the midst of a devoted people, for life. But an unforeseen and most unexpected circumstance, disappointed his calculations and frustrated all his plans. Three years of his ministry in this place had scarcely passed, when he was called to experience a most painful bereavement in the death of an affectionate and beloved wife, whom he had led to the altar in 1849, and to whom he was most tenderly attached — an engagement between them having been entered into long before he commenced his preparations for the ministry. The love he cherished for her was of the most ardent and romantic character, his devotion was deep and most intense.
William C. Lane, M. D., Greensburg, Pa., to whom our obligations are due, describes her in these words:
“She, who had been the guiding star of his boyish days, the charm of his early manhood, the joy of the present, and the hope of the future, was borne ruthlessly away by the chill hand of death, and left him a bereaved, a changed and almost broken-hearted man. A sad and cheerless despondency overcame him. An event, which he had never even contemplated, broke upon him with crushing power, and a cloud of despair, dark and heavy, hung gloomily about his pathway, and shut out from his gaze all that was bright, all that was hopeful. His health received a shock from which it never fully recovered, and his mind an impression which caused his friends much alarm, lest the effects might be permanently disastrous. But his trust in a higher power never forsook him. He saw the hand of God in the affliction, and humbly submitted himself to the will of him who ever tempers his judgment with mercy, and supplies some balm for every wounded spirit. Although he pursued his labors with his usual devotion, and preached the truth with a power and an effect heightened by his affliction, yet he never fully recovered from the severe calamity which had befallen him.”
The loss which he sustained, gave to his tender susceptibilities a sombre hue, a deep shade of melancholy, which was constantly apparent, and exercised an influence over his feelings. In a letter written about this time, he remarks:
“I have seen a dear and tender mother close her eye in the dreamless sleep of death, a fond father and an affectionate brother, and above all, the dear, dear wife of my bosom laid in the cold, the silent grave. But it was God that did it, and acquiescence in his providences is both our duty and our privilege. I do not wish them back again. They rest from their labors, and their works have followed them.”
The associations connected with his residence at Greencastle, however, became so painful to him, that he gladly sought relief from his grief in a change of location. He accordingly resigned his charge, much to the regret of his people, and with his three bereaved children, removed to Greensburg, Pa., where he continued to labor also with great acceptance, until the termination of his useful life, in the summer of 1853.
Mr. Eyster’s health had been, for some time, gradually declining, but his friends never abandoned all hope of his recovery. They did not, indeed, apprehend any immediate danger, until death appeared inevitable. They clung to him with great affection. They felt as if he could not yet be spared from active duty. He attended the meeting of the Pittsburg Synod, held in the month of June, 1853, but he seemed very frail. Fatal disease was apparently making progress in his system, and serious apprehensions were excited with regard to the result. He, on this occasion, preached his last sermon. His strength was scarcely adequate for the service, but his brethren were anxious to hear him once more, and he yielded to their wishes. The theme selected by him was the nature of the Eucharist, based on the words: “This do in remembrance of me,” and although the sermon was extemporaneous, “it equaled,” it is said, “in beauty of delivery, depth of thought, and force of argument, any of his best efforts in former days. Those who were present on that occasion, will not forget the elegant and philosophical discourse which closed the ministerial labors of their accomplished brother and co-laborer. His audience listened to the sermon with deep and painful interest, for they all felt that death had marked him for the tomb, and that his place in the ministry would soon be vacant.”
On his return from Synod, urged by his friends, with the view of resuscitating his health, he made a visit to the Bedford Springs, but deriving no benefit from the use of the water, he directed his course to the home of his childhood, and there returned to die in the bosom of his own family. He was confined to the house only one week before his death. Disease did its work fast. In a few days the struggle was over, and his mission on earth fulfilled. His sufferings during the brief illness, were severe, but they were endured without complaint, and with remarkable fortitude and submission to the Divine will. He spoke of the change with great composure and Christian triumph. He said that:
“he felt he was dying, but he was not afraid of death; earth had few pleasures, but many sorrows, and he was quite willing to go to the house of eternal rest, in which he would be forever free from their invasion.”
With his children he conversed most affectionately, and as they drew near his couch, he tenderly embraced them, giving them the most minute instructions in reference to their future life, and earnestly beseeching them to follow the example and lessons they had received from him. He requested them to kneel around his bed, and in a clear and strong tone he poured forth his expiring breath in earnest supplication to God on their behalf. His radiant smile, his glowing love of the Redeemer, and his perfect assurance of entering into the joy of his love, will never be obliterated from the minds of those who witnessed his dying hours. The last words he uttered were addressed to one of the officers of the church, who had been his constant and devoted friend. Looking him full in the face, he softly whispered, “I expect to meet you in heaven.” Then turning his eyes towards the window of his chamber, he gazed for a moment upon the rays of the setting sun, and soon his spirit passed away as peacefully as the gentle ripple dies upon the beach.
“The angel of the covenant
Was come; and faithful to his promise, stood.
Prepared to walk with him thro' death’s dark vale,
And now his eyes grew bright, and brighter still —
Too bright for ours to look upon, suffused
With many tears — and closed without a cloud.
They set as sets the morning star, which goes
Not down behind the darkened west, nor hides
Obscured among the tempests of the sky, —
But melts away into the light of heaven.”
On the twelfth day of August, at six o’clock in the evening, just as the sun was declining behind the western hills, and the moon was casting her pensive light upon the gathered multitude, they carried him to the grave. Beside two of his predecessors in the pastoral office, they laid him, in the Cemetery of the church, and there he will quietly rest till the morning of the resurrection, when “the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and this mortal put on immortality.”
“Nor pains, nor grief, nor anxious fear,
Invade thy bounds; no mortal cares
Can reach the peaceful sleeper here,
While angels watch the soft repose!”
The neighboring brethren were present, and participated in the solemnities of the funeral services. Discourses were subsequently, by special appointment, preached in Greensburg and Adamsburg, the respective churches in which Mr. Eyster officiated at the time of his death, by Rev. Messrs. J. Martin and W. S. Emery, both of them selecting, without any previous consultation, as the text for the occasion: “For he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, and much people was added unto the Lord.”
Mr. Eyster’s last illness, death and burial, were attended with such demonstrations of widespread and deep-felt sorrow and esteem, as only a lively sense of his great private virtues and public relations could inspire, and which are not always accorded even to one holding the highest official station, cut down in the midst of public duties, and the height of usefulness.
Although comparatively a young man, he had gained a strong hold upon the church. He was frequently invited to occupy positions of commanding influence, but the most advantageous offers were declined by him, because he felt that he was, at the time, useful in the field of labor in which he was engaged, and could see no satisfactory reason for making the change. He was also invited to situations in connection with the literary institutions of the church, but these invitations were promptly rejected; he was unambitious, except to do good, and he believed he was called to preach the Gospel. This he regarded as his appropriate sphere, as that department of labor in which he could best serve his Master, and from this work, to which he had solemnly consecrated his powers, no oilier pursuit, whether subordinate or not, could divert his attention or interest.
Mr. Eyster’s Character
In attempting an analysis of Mr. Eyster’s character, we naturally first turn to his piety. He was, in the full force of the words, a good man. His perfect sincerity and Christian integrity, none dared call into question. He walked with God. Never have we known one more under the influence of religious principle, of faith, and of the hope of the Gospel. He was endowed by nature with many noble qualities. These had been sanctified by the power of divine truth. All that he did seemed to be marked by uprightness and purity of motive. You always knew where to find Michael Eyster. Frank, ingenuous, and sincere, there was no concealment of his sentiments. He had no two sets of opinions. He never seemed to have any sinister purposes in Hew. He was the most unselfish of men. No sacrifice for the relief of others, was considered by him too great. By many he was regarded as generous to a fault. His purse and his services, his sympathy and his counsels were always at the disposal of those whom he loved. Yet his benefactions were not confined to friends, or to his own brethren in the faith. He recognized in every man a brother, and cheerfully was he disposed to labor for his happiness, and the improvement of his condition. He was attached to his own communion. He cordially embraced, and greatly revered the symbol of his church, believing that its doctrines were in perfect harmony with the word of God, yet he did not prescribe the Augsburg Confession as a test of religious faith; you never discovered in him any sectarian prejudice or ignoble jealousy. He was a man of truly Catholic spirit, and liberal in his estimate of other denominations. He acknowledged all as Christians whose daguerreotype resembled the divine Master, whose life corresponded with their professions.
We always admired Mr. Eyster’s fearless character. He was never afraid to stand alone in a good cause. It mattered not to him, who were with him, or who were opposed to him. It was sufficient for him to know that he was right. His was a moral courage that never blenched. He would have defended the truth in opposition to the whole universe. The language of the immortal Reformer he could readily have adopted: “Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders: Gott helfe mir! Amen!” When he was convinced that he was in the path of duty, no human being could have intimidated him, no influences that were brought to bear upon him, could have tempted him to swerve from his principles. he was a hold and independent thinker. He never echoed the sentiments of others. He never took any man’s mere ipse dixit, however prominent his position or venerable his character. He thought for himself on all questions. Although it may seem contradictory, yet he entertained a very humble opinion of his own abilities. He made no pretensions. He was modest and unassuming, and for this reason was often underrated, where he was not fully known. His opinions, however, were not hastily formed. They were the result of thoughtful deliberation and of careful investigation. He took time before he decided, and hence it was seldom necessary for him to reverse his decisions. If he found he was wrong in his views, or had committed a mistake, no one was more willing to retract and make the honorable reparation. He never clung to an opinion because he had publicly committed himself in favor of it; his pride never prevented him from acknowledging his error. He possessed a fine sense of honor. He never stooped to do a little thing. He despised meanness. No one could charge him with that which was undignified or unworthy a Christian.
As a scholar, Mr. Eyster was a man of considerable attainment. Although his attention had been directed principally to Theological studies, yet he was, by no means, a novice in other departments of knowledge. He was fond of the natural sciences, and was quite familiar with history and intellectual philosophy. He had also cultivated a taste for poetry, and could, with great facility, quote from the standard authors of our language. His favorite study was, however, Theology, in the whole range of which he seemed at home. Those truths, which were difficult and abstruse to others, appeared easy and intelligible to his mind.
As a preacher, he was solid. His sermons always contained thought. They were clear and logical, and could easily be followed by the hearer. It requires long and patient mental discipline to enable a speaker to attain simplicity without the sacrifice of elegance of style, and to maintain a constant elevation of thought, without becoming unintelligible to any. Mr. Eyster had reached that point. He was disposed to discard ornament, and to present truth in the simplest and plainest language. When he used illustrations, they were always apt, and their point could at once be seen. There was a freshness, as well as an originality in his discourses, not always met with at the present day. His manner in the pulpit was earnest and dignified. He spoke with pathos and humility. His power over the audience was very great. The impression he usually left was deep and abiding. He possessed great fluency of speech, and in his extemporaneous efforts he was exceedingly happy. It is said that few men had the ability to preach so profoundly and so readily on any text, with as little preparation as he required. His study of the sacred volume had been so careful, that he was never at a loss for truth, and his quotations from the scriptures were most felicitous. The grand theme of all his preaching was the cross. “Around the cross,” says one who knew him well, “all his hopes centered, from it all his thoughts diverged, and back to it they always returned. This was the secret of his success in convincing and persuading men to renounce sin and unite themselves with the followers of the Lord.”
As a minister of the Gospel, Mr. Eyster was most faithful. During the fifteen years of his ministry, the one idea which had prompted him to give himself to the work, always pervaded his mind and influenced his conduct. Never did he shrink from the performance of labor, nor become weary in well-doing. When he was in delicate health and scarcely able to preach, his friends would often urge him to omit the regular exercises of the sanctuary, but his reply was, that his personal comfort was insignificant compared with the great duty he owed the church, and the cause of the Redeemer. Whatsoever his hand found to do, he did it with his might, for he knew there was no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither he was going.
He now rests from his labors, but his works do follow him! What a motive to animate the Christian in his efforts to do good, is derived from the fact that when dead he shall yet speak! Time is short! Life is uncertain!
“The insatiate archer has an arrow for each of us,
To the same complexion we must come at last,
The like event happeneth to us all.”
Our work will soon be accomplished, and our labors terminate in the grave. We are all in a current that is moving forward into the great ocean of eternity.
While man is growing, life is in the decrease,
And cradles rock us nearer to the tomb,
Our birth is nothing but our death begun,
As tapers waste, that instant they take fire."
Let us, then, do life’s work in the appropriate hour. Let us be faithful in the performance of every duty. Let us strive to be useful and fulfill the object of our being, earnestly looking to Him who has promised to be with us at all times, even until the end, and to give us the strength required for every duty!
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.”
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
- Author: “Krauth, Charles P.", Editor.
- Journal: “The Evangelical Review."
- Originally Published: 1856.
- Lutheran Library Edition: 2019
- Copyright: CC BY 4.0