Hauge Institute


Social conditions in Norway

Hans Nielsen Hauge was born in 1771.  At that time Norway was united with Denmark.  Most of the inhabitants of the country were of Norwegian origin.  There was also a middle class in the towns, and in some marketing towns, a majority were from abroad.  Many were from Denmark, but other European countries were also represented.

The population of Norway increased substantially during Hauge's lifetime.  Two years before his birth there were 728 000 people in Norway.  Some thirty years later the population had increased to 883 000 - an increase of over 20%.  Children and youth were a much greater part of the population than they are today, and the expected life span was 35-40 years.  There were therefore few elderly people.  In comparison Hauge lived to be 53 years old.

Nine out of ten people lived in the rural districts, but more and more were moving to the towns.  Oslo, which was then known as Christiania, had only 8 000 inhabitants.  Bergen was Norway's largest town with 20 000 inhabitants.  The town had grown through marketing largely because it was also a European trading centre because of the fishing commerce.

In the towns the middle class were a very powerful group, and they were far on their way to having real autonomy.  They brought large amounts of money to the country and the state, a position they well knew how to use to their advantage.  This brought about the fact that the government took special consideration of them in the legislation.  The middle class had the exclusive right to do business and profit from marketing relations, and there were several monopolies and State-regulated decrees in trading.  Of course these favoured them, and other groups had no access to these privileges.

In the rural districts it was the farmers who were the most favoured social group.  The farmers, or the farm-owners, owned the land on which they laboured.  They also owned animal stock and were for the most part selfsupporting.  Many farmers also owned forestland, on which they earned money.  Most of them also had labourers on their farms.  Actually by the turn of the century these labourers and servants were the largest labour group in the country!

As a rule the farmers had leaseholders - or housemen - attached to the farm. Farmers of large properties were likely to have many leaseholders on their land, while lesser farmers had maybe one or two housemen.  These were men who were allowed to live with their families on small plots of land with some animals.  Unfortunately this was not enough to live on, and they had to take on extra work.  Quite often working for the landowner was part of the payment for the plot the houseman disposed of.

People in Hauge's time were attached to one locality.  They usually lived where they had grown up.  It was not traditional to move out of consideration for one's work.  The farmer's sons were taught in the traditions of farming, and when the father died, the farm was often divided among the sons so everybody received a portion.  Over time of course, the farms became smaller and smaller, and eventually the farms became so small that it was impossible to live off the land as a sole income.  In the towns the sons were taught in the traditions of their fathers' business acumen.  Sons of many of the middle class received a portion of their education abroad.  As educated adults they went into the family business or into other businesses.

Over time a class conflict developed between the middle classes and the farmers.  The farmers were dependent on help from the middle classes if they were to sell their wares on the market.  But because of their special privileges, only the middle classes had the possibility of many forms of commerce.  This meant that the middle classes and their conditions thwarted the farmers.  There were many middle class citizens who had invested in land and forest properties, mainly to have easy access to timber.  The middle classes lent money to the farmers so they could meet their obligations.  If the harvest was bad or the farmers had less income than was necessary, they went bankrupt and then they lost their farms to the middle class citizens.  Many farmers lost their property in this manner, which contributed very much to the conflict that developed between these two groups.


Hans Nielsen Hauges religious influence

It was the custom to dress up for confirmation day.  But Hauge was not inclined to resemble "the vain and the wild" ' so he had not thought of dressing any differently.  One of his sisters took it upon herself to dress him up a little. On the way to church one of the candidates for confirmation said: "Hans Nielsen has put his hair up today!” - Yes, replied Hauge, who already then was a knowledgeable and faithful boy. - If we have this day made much of our appearance, it is to be hoped that we have not forgotten our immortal soul, but given thought to the great promise we shall make today, which is to forsake the Devil's doings and his being, to believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Hans Nielsen Hauge was born in 1771 in Tune in Vestfold and grew up in a Christian home.  His father was a farmer.  The home was remarkable for its piety and they had prayer meetings both morning and evening.  The Hauge family went to Church every Sunday, and when they could not, they read aloud from Luther's larger collection of sermons.

Hauge was aware and sought knowledge even as a child.  In addition to what he learnt at school, he read the Bible as well as other Christian literature. Pontoppidans' explanation of the catechism was very important to his understanding of Christianity.  Young Hauge eagerly read books written by other great religious teachers.  In time he became a deep thinker who more than anything sought the truth.  Through his meditations he searched the truth ever more and with ever greater diligence in the Scriptures and the church.

In the 1730's the then reigning King Christian VI had passed a law for local schools and a decree for confirmation.  So Hans Nielsen Hauge received his education through the general school system and studied for his confirmation with the priest Gerhard Seeberg, who was a greatly disputed man.  Hauge was confirmed in 1786.The only education Hauge received was at primary school level, and as a farmer's son he was never sent anywhere for any higher education or to learn any more.  So throughout his life he considered himself an uneducated man, with, however, a growing amount of experience.

During the time that Hauge grew up, Tune and the area round about was pervaded by strong and sometimes conflicting religious currents.  In Tune alone there were 17 lay preachers of differing kinds!  Hans Nielsen Hauge in other words was part of an environment full of religious unrest, and the many different spiritual currents were confusing to him.  According to Hauge himself the most important people to influence his spiritual development were his father and the curate, Ole Christian Hammer.  In his book "Verdens daarlighet" (The World's Unrighteousness) which he published in 1796, he says: "... I heard many words of God from my teachers, Herr Hammer and my father..." Hammer was the third curate in less than eight years since Seeberg became the priest in Tune.  Although Hauge had studied with Seeberg for his confirmation, he still considered Hammer a more important teacher of the word of God than Seeberg.  However, one cannot get away from the fact that his relationship to the curate had an important influence on his spiritual development - for better and for worse.

The priest Gerhard Seeberg came to Tune when Hauge was 7 years old. Seeberg was a shop-owner's son who had received a good education, including some time in England.  Seeberg was a fully-educated theological candidate as early as 1755.  But he was not ordained until the year 1776.  He had already studied for his A-levels with a Moravian-inspired priest, and this inspiration was later to become an important part of his own preaching.  During the years from his graduation to the time he was ordained, he preached at the Danish Court, among other places.  This did not however, make him particularly popular., He showed little social know-how, to put it mildly and was not liked by his ecclesiastical colleagues and leaders.  Seeberg was 44 years old when he took up his position as the parish priest of Tune.

Seeberg was very zealous in his work from the very beginning.  He was wont to creep into housewives' homes at night to see of they were sleeping alone when their husbands were away; once he refused the Sacrament to 70 people during a service; he denied the curate his pay, he mortgaged the tithing and the land rent which the church received from the farmers; he rebuked a presumably drunken parish clerk in front of a full congregation; he asked about the most private and intimate questions when he took confession, and he thought nothing of taxing the people in the congregation when he lacked funds for himself.  It is therefore no wonder that he was much disputed from the first, and there arose innumerable conflicts on his account.

The little community was furious, and there were several lawsuits with him as the opposing party.  In 1786 the Chancelry in Kopenhagen took the matter in hand and suspended him while the lawsuits were being investigated.  The next year Seeberg's books of office were forcibly taken from him, but even then he still regarded himself as the rightful parish priest of Tune.  In November of 1795 he was finally removed from office because he was "quite simply and totally incompetent and unqualified".  Following this, Seeberg lost all respectability, but according to him he had suffered in all innocence as Christ Himself had done before him.

Hauge reacted violently to this hypocritical affirmation.  On 4 March, he and four other men visited Seeberg to reprove him and warn him of his pride.  They had the verses from the third chapter of Ezekiel in mind.  Here it says, if a man does not warn the wicked man of his wicked ways, the wicked man will die, but his blood will God require at his hand. (Ezek. 3:18) Upon their arrival to see Seeberg, he refused to meet them under the pretence of there being smallpox on the estate.  Hauge was dumbfounded.  The falseness and the religious hypocrisy drove him to despair, but at the same time he now sought God even more urgently.  It was only a month later that he was to have his great spiritual experience, which was to change his life for good.

The Spiritual Experience

Hans Nielsen Hauge went out on 5 April 1796 to plough the lower field beyond the farm.  He was working.  As he walked behind the plough, he sang a hymn:

"Strengthen my soul with power from within

So I can feel the promptings of the Spirit

Catch my soul in speech and mind

Lead me, guide me as I walk in my weakness.

I would lose myself and all that I own

If only you could dwell in my soul,

Then through the door my troubles will flee

And all that confounds my inner peace."

As he sang this verse, all at once he felt his mind lifted up to God.  He was past feeling, outside his body and could neither say what was happening to him nor within him.  Later he spoke of it as though he, by the grace of God, without any merit of his own, had been allowed a foretaste of the Kingdom.  It was such an overwhelming, ecstatic experience that words could not describe what he had seen, nor the joy he had felt.  Later, he could not say how long the experience had lasted nor what had really happened.  The experience nonetheless was clearly attached to the word of God.

When Hauge came to himself, at first he felt remorse - remorse for his sins and for not having served God in all things.  After that he felt that nothing in the world mattered and the worldliness with which he had struggled so hard, just vanished.  His mind had been transformed, converted and renewed through this powerful experience, and it was as though he saw everything with new eyes.  He felt an intense need to read the Bible more and had received new knowledge about how it should be understood, and he felt a deep love for God.  The desire that others should be partakers of the same grace as he had received, was also very clear after his spiritual experience out in the fields.

The call he had heard in his mind was what drove Hauge for the rest of his life.  He experienced God Himself asking him to proclaim His name to men and to exhort them to repentance.  It was so clear that he could in no wise explain it away even to himself, even though he might have wished to, from time to time.  The responsibility was a heavy burden, even after such a strong experience, and he prayed that the Lord might take it from him.  But as time passed, Hauge became certain that it was the Spirit of God who had extended the call to him.  Besides, as he studied the Bible more closely, he received a confirmation that God had called shepherds, fishermen and others of lowly station in the same manner, to do His work.  This gave him courage.

To begin with he did not speak of the experience he had had.  During the first 14 days following this, there were nights when he did not sleep more than two hours.  Many nights he hardly slept at all.  He sang and pondered the word of God; neither did he have any appetite.  Nevertheless, he forced himself to eat so that his mother would not fear for him.  The reason he did not tell of his experience was partly due to his spiritual shyness and humility, and partly because he knew that people would not understand.  But the power which he had been given, made all his discourses remarkable.

The first to be influenced by "the new Hans" were two of his own sisters, and that was on the same day it happened.  Hauge noticed that he had received the awakening's gift of grace, and when he spoke of God and was glad, those who heard him, wept.  The awakening spread fast to neighbours in Tune and after that, to the neighbouring village, and finally to most of the country as he travelled.  Hauge travelled all the way North to Troms, and the revival went that far!  Hauge talked of God everywhere he went, and on his many travels there were people who followed him part of the way and came to speak to him of religious matters.  There are many stories of people whose lives changed on hearing Hans Nielsen Hauge speak.

The spiritual experience in April 1796 was without doubt the one single event which touched Hauge the most powerfully for the rest of his life.  He had seen the obvious discrepancy between the faith and works of certain churchmen and their brothers, and this had driven him to continuously seek God with greater diligence.  After that, endowed with spiritual independence, power and a natural authority, he did what God had commanded him to do, which was to preach the word of God to men so they could repent and bear fruit in accordance with their faith.  The spiritual experience had liberated him and given him a mission.


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