Bernhard Harder, an outstanding Mennonite minister, teacher, and poet of the Molotschna, Russia, was born 25 March 1832, the eighth son of Abraham Harder and his wife Marie (Heide) Harder (according to Friesen, 743, nee Berg). His mother made an ineradicable impression on him. He lost his father at the age of 12.
Early in his childhood Harder felt called to teach and preach. He was accepted as a pupil at the age of ten in the newly established Halbstadt Zentralschule, from which he graduated after six years. For a while he served as secretary of the Gebietsamt (county seat). Finally his heart's desire was fulfilled and he became, a teacher, serving in the elementary schools of Yuschanlee, Halbstadt, Blumstein, Friedensruh, and Alexanderwohl. During his teaching career he was chosen minister by the Ohrloff-Halbstadt Mennonite Church at Christmas 1860. Friesen (Brüderschaft, 744) states that he accepted this call "not with fear, tears, and complaint, taking upon himself the 'heavy office and cross' as it was customary at that time, but with rejoicing and tremendous energy he became a servant of his Saviour." For 15 years he combined the offices of teaching and ministry and the care of a large family.
On 16 March 1854, Harder married Katharina Boschmann. They had eleven children, four of whom preceded him in death. His wife died 13 October 1878; he married Helena Ewert on 13 February 1879. Three daughters were born to them.
He had already "given his heart to the Lord" when he attended the Zentralschule (Friesen, 744). His son Gerhard states, "After four years of teaching, the Lord succeeded in making of him His disciple. This happened at Blumstein where Elder Johann Harder lived" (Harder, XI). A. Harder's preaching was revolutionary, inspiring, and most successful. He broke with the tradition prevalent among the Mennonites of Russia of reading a sermon from a manuscript. His ideals were Elder B. Fast , Halbstadt, Ludwig Hofacker, and Eduard Wüst , who influenced Harder's spiritual awakening and activities greatly. He had been one of Wüst's listeners and admirers since 1850. With great zeal and a thundering voice Harder opposed everything he thought to be ungodly, but most of all he protested against formalism which threatened the very life of the church. He was motivated by an ardent love for the Saviour and for lost sinners, trying "to reach the hearer through eye and ear." When he preached he preached with his entire being. His live enthusiasm and clear convictions made his sermons particularly effective. Untiringly he preached from various pulpits and as an evangelist in numerous settlements and villages.
Friesen says, "Multitudes of people who found salvation through Harder could not understand how he could criticize his church so severely without leaving it" (as many did who joined the Mennonite Brethren). Harder did more than anyone else during the second half of the past century to revive the spiritual life of the Mennonites in Russia and to prevent unbalanced and unsound elements from taking advantage of the situation. He was the greatest evangelist and pulpit orator the Mennonites of Russia produced. His son Gerhard says, "Had Harder, with his great love and zeal to win souls for the Lord, had the same measure of gift to evaluate situations and people and had he had more emotional stability and pedagogical wisdom, his work in church and school would have been even more blessed" than was now the case. The fact that he was strongly evangelistic and defended the sound practices of the newly organized Mennonite Brethren Church caused criticism by representatives of the Mennonite Church. On the other hand, the Mennonite Brethren criticized him because he did not join them. He visited numerous meetings of the Mennonite Brethren and reported his impressions, some of which were published (Mennonitische Blätter, February 1863, 15 ff.). His strength and contribution lie in the fact that he followed an independent, warmly evangelistic course within the entire brotherhood, aiming to lift its spiritual and cultural aspects, thus making a singular contribution comparable to that of Johann Cornies in the economic realm.
In 1872 Harder discontinued teaching and spent three years as traveling evangelist, in which capacity he was supported by a group of friends. After this term he taught again for three years at Alexanderwohl. In 1879-80 he served as secretary of the Gebietsamt at Halbstadt, after which he taught Bible for one year at the Zentralschule at Halbstadt. The last three years of his life he again devoted entirely to his task as traveling evangelist (Reiseprediger), being again supported by a group of friends. Four months of each year he worked in his home congregation at Halbstadt.
From his early youth Harder showed poetic inclinations, which increased in maturity. He composed many poems for special occasions; many of them were collected and edited by Heinrich Franz, Sr., and published in 1888 under the title Geistliche Lieder und Gelegenheitsgedichte, with 584 songs (Part I) and 539 poems for various occasions (Part II). The book contains a valuable biography of the author written by his son, Gerhard (VIII-XXIV). Another son, Peter B. Harder, selected and edited from this collection 213 songs which were published by J. Friesen under the title Kleines Liederbuch. Geistliche Gelegenheitslieder (1902). Thus Harder was also a pioneer in the realm of the literary activities among the Mennonites of Russia.
In addition to the many trips as a traveling evangelist Harder was also called upon to represent various Mennonite causes and groups. In 1867 he was sent to Petersburg to investigate settlement possibilities in Turkestan. Again in 1882 he made the same trip. In 1879 he was twice sent to Odessa to interview von Totleben regarding Mennonite alternative service. He also visited the Mennonites in the Volga region in 1868 and in Prussia in 1873. On 27 September 1884, he returned from a journey to Zagradovka, ill with pneumonia. He had preached strenuously four times daily. On 1 October 1884, he died.
Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 211 ff., 743-54.
Harder, G. "Mittheilungen aus dem Lebensgange des Verfassers." In B. Harder, Geistliche Lieder. Hamburg, 1888: VIII-XXIV.
Hege, Christian and Neff, Christian. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 253 f.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Harder, Bernhard (1832-1884)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 25 Dec 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Bernhard_(1832-1884)&oldid=95107.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1956). Harder, Bernhard (1832-1884). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 December 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Bernhard_(1832-1884)&oldid=95107.
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