Mar 2018

Hans Nielsen Hauge, Apostle of Norway

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Dr. Nora Hughes

Who is this guy? I’ve never heard of him and he has such a funny name: Hans Nielsen Hauge. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it. You say he started more than 30 businesses? And he was a preacher? AND he was in prison? Who could do all that?  OK, tell me his story.

Hans – lets just call him Hans for short – lived in the late 1800s in what is now Norway. However, Norway had been taken over by Denmark and wasn’t even a country anymore. Denmark was Christian – sorta. Christianity was the state religion and controlled by the Danish King.  To be a pastor you had to go through the proper schools and be appointed by the government. If you didn’t follow the rules: prison.

Hans didn’t follow the rules.

He was a farm boy from a family of strong bible-believing Christians. His parents had family bible time every day. When Hans was 25 he was truly converted and felt called to preach the gospel. So, without training, position or money he simply followed God and began to talk to people about being faithful Christians. He wrote down his simple teachings and learned to run a printing press to turn them into the first of his many books. He was very gifted in learning the technology of his day. He understood how business could be a godly pursuit.

As he traveled, he saw how poor people were. His mind was sparked by the obvious opportunities for businesses that could alleviate the persistent poverty. He found a rushing stream where he could build a flourmill. He learned how to make paper and built a paper mill. Seeing that fishermen did not have a way to sell their fish he bought ships and created a distribution channel for their products. He bought land so his friends could start factories employing hundreds.

Mostly on foot, he traveled around Norway preaching and passing out his printed books. Very few people had written books in his day so there were few printed resources available. His books enlarged his ability to affect his culture. Some of his friends joined his efforts to preach across Norway.  Nothing dissuaded them from their mission. In the frozen winter snow they traveled hundreds of miles on cross-country skis.

Most Christians in Hans’ day had no practice of Godliness. They lived a debauched lifestyle of drinking, gambling and general lack of morals. Even prominent pastors were part of that culture. Hans’ simple message of biblical purity was refreshing to many who were sick of their way of living. But it challenged the government appointed pastors.

Hans had a problem: he wasn’t following the government rules. The government had passed the “Conventicle Act” which forbid people to assemble together without an approved pastor present. And pastors had to be approved by the government to preach. That way bribes could flow back and forth and lucrative positions were controlled. The church leaders swore allegiance to the King, then to God.

No one objected to what Hans preached. It was biblical. They objected to the fact that he broke the rules. Without trial – or even being charged – he was thrown into prison 14 times. Finally he ended up in a brutally cold prison cell where he was kept for 7 years. Without any charges or a trial, no one could help him get out.

The most amazing story is the salt business. The government, which had imprisoned Hans, got themselves into a war creating a shortage of salt. Because Hans knew how to refine salt from brackish water, they let him out of prison long enough to get the business going. While he could have easily refused, he forgave those who had imprisoned him and produced the salt they needed. His faith was humbly on display.

Toward the end of his life he said this about the balance of business and faith:

The Christian slogan is ‘work and pray’ and it should be the slogan of our people. Too many reject work when they are awakened and busy themselves only with spiritual things. It is like placing an empty pot over the fire; it has plenty of heat but no food, and soon the pot is destroyed. God created us with soul and body, but the soul rules the body as a master rules his servant. It is a foolish master who neglects to feed his servant until he is useless and unfit for good work. God put Adam to work in the Garden of Eden while he was yet an innocent man; and thus we conclude that work is not a punishment for our sins but a blessing to adjust the relations between body and soul. (The Apostle of Norway, p 239-240)

So this man with a funny name, whom we have not heard about, changed his country. He walked the length and breadth of Norway sharing the gospel. He began the industrial revolution in his country. And eventually was credited with bringing Norway to the dawn of their Declaration of Independence – of becoming its own country with a constitution and religious freedom.

A good story about a great saint. One simple man, used by God, with God sized results. Now what will God do with you? Or with me?

Ahh, it must be time for prayer!

Two books informed this blog: The Apostle of Norway by A.M.Arntzen: Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 2011 and The Light in the Prison Window: The Life Story of Hans Nielsen Hauge by Wilhelm Pettersen: The Christian Literature Co. Minneapolis, Minnesota 1926.


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