The obituary of Charles Andrew Schönberger:
Charles Andrew Schönberger
By David Baron
Our dear friend, my colleague and fellow-Director of the Mission, Mr. C. A. Schönberger, passed into the presence of the Lord in Berlin, on Tuesday, July 8th, at the age of 83, and as the one who has been most closely associated with him for so many years, the sad privilege devolves upon me to devote some space in these pages by way of affectionate tribute to his memory.
In reference to his early life and years of fruitful service for Christ among Jews and Christians, prior to the foundation of the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel in 1893, I cannot do better than quote the short sketch which appeared in The Christian of March 28th, 1918, on the occasion of the celebration of his missionary jubilee:
“In an age which, with its rich opportunities and its noble passion for a fuller life, is marked also by a weakening lust of change, we owe much to the cumulative example of those who, having given themselves to one task, prosecute it with unflagging concentration through the testing course of a long life. Among such workers who, going early into the Lord’s vineyard, are still found there when the day is far spent, is Rev. Charles Andrew Schönberger.
The story of his conversion, which has never before appeared in print, is of special interest as illustrating the power of the words of Christ upon an earliest and unprejudiced Jewish mind. Born at Mor, Hungary, in 1841, into an orthodox and respected family, his childhood was spent in happy home surroundings, where ten children made a merry household. He received his early education at the local school and from private tutors; and it was not until, a promising youth, he was sent to Budapest to continue his studies, that he came into contact with the Gospel. It so happened that he had struck up a close friendship with one of his fellow-students, whose father had become a nominal Christian, during the Revolution of 1848, for fear of possible persecution. One day, when the father was lying ill, and young Schönberger was visiting the son, he was asked to read aloud from a certain book. That book was the New Testament, and the portion selected, the Sermon on the Mount. This was something entirely new to the lad of eighteen who, up to that time, had been unaware of the very existence of the New Testament, and it captivated his mind. He had often seen Romanists kneeling before the Crucifix, and wondered what it all meant. Now, as he read, the scales fell from his eyes. Here was the answer to the problem that had troubled him from a child. As he pondered, he felt convinced that if Christ were to appear among Israel now, He would meet with the same hatred that was meted out to Him then. About this time he saw his own father being abused and ill-treated by certain of his co-religionists, and this made a deep impression on him. Sore and indignant he wandered off for a solitary walk, and presently came upon a wayside ’calvary.’ Looking to right and left, lest he should be observed, he raised his eyes to the carven figure and exclaimed: ’You must have been a good man, that men should have done such sore wrong to you!’
He continued to visit at his friend’s house, extending his acquaintance with the New Testament on each visit. On one of these occasions, he was introduced to Mr. Israel Saphir (father to Dr. Adolph Saphir), who lived in the same house, and who immediately took a warm interest in the young inquirer. He invited him to his home, read to him St. Paul’s Hymn of Love (I Cor. 13), and after some talk presented him with a copy of the New Testament. From that day the current of the young man’s life was changed. Old companionships and pursuits were abandoned, and every moment of his spare time was given to the study of the New Testament. His family and friends were puzzled, and his eldest brother especially tried his utmost to uproot his new-found faith. One day this brother threatened to shoot him if he dared make public confession of Christ; but the threat had the opposite effect, and that same night he prayed for the first time in the Name of the Lord Jesus. After being instructed by Mr. Saphir and others, he was baptized in the Hungarian Reformed Church, on May 5th, 1864, and so finally broke with his old life and all its sweet bonds. Among his new friends, the Saphir family took him specially into its bosom, and he eventually (in 1871) married Mr. Saphir’s youngest daughter.
The future seemed dark, but even while the young convert was wondering what trials awaited him, a way was being prepared. Dr. Saphir, then already a minister in London, had heard about him from his father ; and when, at the close of a lecture on ’The Hope of Israel,’ a lady offered him a sum of money to be used in training a Hebrew Christian for work among his own people, Dr. Saphir immediately thought of his father’s protégé. The result was that Mr. Schönberger entered upon a course of study, first at Bale, then at the English Presbyterian College, London, and finally under the renowned Professor Franz Delitzsch at the Universities of Erlangen and Leipzig. A specially close bond, which issued in a life-long friendship, was formed between the great teacher and his pupil. Delitzsch frequently visited the young man in his lodgings, arranged a special series of lectures on the Old Testament for him and a few kindred spirits, and cherished the highest hopes for his future.
On completing his studies, in 1868, Mr. Schönberger held two assistantships, first at Budapest, and then at Prague, both in connection with the Free Church of Scotland Mission. Finding that these posts did not offer sufficient scope for aggressive work, he accepted an appointment as the missionary of the British Jews Society at Prague, in 1872. From the first his work bore the stamp of his vigorous individuality. He set himself to gain the educated Jews by means of public lectures, which attracted large audiences, and soon had the joy of seeing the first-fruits of his labours, his earliest convert, the late Rev. A. Venetianer, a man of outstanding gifts, becoming a prominent minister of the Reformed Church. Ordained in 1874, Mr. Schönberger frequently occupied the pulpits of Evangelical churches, and was repeatedly invited to take a settled pastorate. Had he seen his way to do so, his great pulpit gifts would certainly have raised him to a position of eminence in the Church, but he remained faithful to his early resolve to give his life to work among the Jews. As it was, he rendered valuable service in opening up the Old Testament Scriptures to Christian congregations, and in awakening interest in the work of evangelisation among the Jews.
Transferred to Vienna, in 1883, to succeed the gifted missionary, Rev. I. E. Salkinson, he entered upon a larger sphere. Here his Bible-readings, which he gave at his own house, proved a powerful attraction to educated Jews, and he numbered among his converts ministers, doctors, teachers, merchants, and others in good position, many of whom rose to distinction and honour. He also had the joy of leading two of his own brothers to the baptismal font. With all his converts he sustained a warm and personal relationship, showing a fatherly concern in their welfare. During his stay in Vienna, the Jewish world was stirred by the movements towards Christianity which gathered round the names of Joseph Rabinovitch and Rabbi Ignatz Lichtenstein respectively. In both movements he had a prominent share, gaining influence over the leaders, and interpreting their significance to the Christian public. As in Prague, his name became known and honoured throughout the Evangelical Churches. Always ready to help his brethren in the ministry, he became the most sought-after of ’supplies’, whose preaching never failed to draw large congregations. Writing some years ago, Rev. Dr. Witz-Oberlin, the leading minister of the Reformed Church, said: ’He was, among all the Jewish missionaries who ever laboured in Vienna, the first who enjoyed universal esteem and confidence, which he gained by his theological learning as well as by his personal qualities. His departure from Vienna is even to this day sincerely lamented.’
A man of comprehensive culture and thorough theological training, possessing a strongly independent mind, a forceful personality, and spiritual passion, his work is both attractive in form and weighty in substance. A sonorous voice and rich gifts of natural oratory combine with a varied knowledge of life and an experimental insight into the Gospel, to make him an arresting and powerful preacher. A close student of the Scriptures, he has specially brooded over the Prophets, which he makes to speak to the Jewish soul in the language of today. He himself has not a little of the prophet’s fire and intensity, and of his firm and uncompromising temper; and as the shadows gather, the flame that burned so ardently throughout the years is shining with a clearer light.”
It was toward the end of February, 1887, that I was first brought into personal contact with Mr. Schönberger, who was then associated with the British Jews Society. I was on a mission journey to South Eastern Europe, and called at his house, 12, Salzgries, Vienna, in accord with a promise I made to Dr. Adolph Saphir before starting, that I would visit his sister and brother-in-law during my short stay in the Austrian metropolis. Dr. Saphir had announced to them in advance my probable visit, and I received a most hearty welcome on my arrival. In God’s providence, my coming to Austria-Hungary just then happened to be most opportune. Indeed, the first words with which Mr. Schönberger greeted me after personal salutations, were, “You have come at the right time.”
The Jewish communities in Austria, and particularly in Hungary, were in great commotion in consequence of the bold and powerful confession of Rabbi Lichtenstein, who, while still in office as Rabbi of Tapio-Szele, had published two pamphlets in which he confessed his faith in Christ, Whom he set forth in sublime language as the fulfiller of the hope given to our fathers, and as the fullest revelation of God’s glory. Mr. Schönberger put these two pamphlets into my hands, and on reading them through, I could not but exclaim, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” I at once proposed that we should journey together to Tapio-Szele (which lies about two hours and a half by train south-east of Budapest) in order to pay a visit to the Rabbi-confessor. It would be too much of a digression to describe that memorable first visit to the dear old Rabbi in that out-of-the-way place in Hungary which became famous through the ringing testimony for Christ which issued from it. In God’s wonderful providence we were used at the same time as messengers of peace to his eldest son, a very promising physician, whom we found on his death-bed.
We returned to Budapest, whence I proceeded, accompanied by another missionary brother, to different places in Hungary and the Balkan States, but on our return journey I again spent a few days in Vienna, and had the opportunity of forming a still closer acquaintance with Mr. Schönberger, who made a deep impression upon me by his great ability, and energy, and his devotion to the cause of Christ among the Jewish people. I was specially struck with his Bible reading on the Sunday afternoon, which he held regularly in a large room in his ow flat. Eighteen or twenty Jewish young men, most of them students, and two or three Christian friends, among then a Professor of the University, sat around the long table listening with wrapped attention without a word of interruption, for about an hour and a half to a very eloquent and ablé exposition of a passage in Isaiah. This was something which I had not seen in connection with Jewish mission work on the continent before.
That was seven years before the Hebrew Christian Testimony was founded, and neither of us had any idea that we would, in God’s providence, be so closely bound up in days to come in our life’s work for Christ among our people.
We were, however, associated in a way from that time, more particularly in helping forward the movement of Joseph Rabinowitch in the South of Russia, which owed a great deal to Mr. Schönberger, and in which Dr. Saphir became greatly interested, and in our efforts for Rabbi Lichtenstein for whose support, and the publication of his writings, I was able to form a small but influential Council in 1892.
Mr. Schönberger’s work in the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel these past thirty-one years is well known to the readers of this little magazine. He had come to London with his wife and daughter in 1891, and was for about a year very unwell with a nervous breakdown in consequence of overstrain. In April of that year Dr. Adolph Saphir, Mrs. Schönberger’s brother, whose friendship I was privileged to enjoy during the later years of his life – one of the most glorious trophies of Christ and brightest gems from the Jewish nation since apostolic times, died at the comparatively early age of 60, only three days after the death of his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Schönberger recognised the Lord’s leading in their being in England at the time. „I closed the eyes of Dr. Saphir’s father in Budapest,” Mr. Schönberger wrote two or three days after Dr. Saphir’s death; „I closed the eyes of his mother, who lived with me in Prague; and now I am come to London to do the same for him.” The writer of these lines was the whole of that year absent with Mrs. Baron in Palestine – a good part of it being spent in suffering in consequence of malaria, rheumatic fever, and other ailments first contracted in the very unsanitary conditions which then prevailed in the native quarter of Jaffa, where our work was chiefly carried on. We returned to England early in 1892, and in the following year both of us having in the meantime been freed from connection with the well-known and esteemed missions with which we had respectively been associated, and being as we believed led of God, resolved to unite our efforts in starting our Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel. It was a venture of faith.
„We had nothing” – to quote from an article which I wrote „at the coming of age” of the Mission – „and determined not to seek anything of man, not to press ourselves or our needs on the Christian public. We knew not the way by which God would lead us, nor what He would do for us. We had no aims nor ambitions beyond the desire to serve Christ in freedom of spirit, and on lines in accord with our matured convictions and experience; and to be a blessing to our people.
As for temporal means for the carrying on of our work, we resolved not to make any appeals to men, not to advertise for funds through the Christian press, but in sincerity and truth to look to God only in the assurance that, if it were His will, that such a work as we contemplated should be started and continued, He is able, apart from all begging and advertising, to move the hearts of His servants and handmaidens spontaneously to minister to its needs.”
Our idea was not to add another mission to those which already existed, but to do a work which, by the help and blessing of God, would be supplementary and add what seemed to us a very needful element in the whole Jewish work. The character of our „Testimony” was to be entirely biblical and spiritual, and we determined as far as possible, to give ourselves altogether to the systematic preaching and teaching of the Word of God. To this resolve we have, by the grace of God, remained faithful. For all these years our Mission House has been a veritable house of God, a „Bible School” for Jews in the truest sense of the word. And in this special work of continuous and systematic preaching and teaching of the Word of God Mr. Schönberger was a tower of strength. For a number of years – until other gifted and qualified brethren were added to our missionary band – he had the chief burden of the daily Bible reading, which in an important sense constituted the chief feature and strength of our „Testimony” at our London centre, on his shoulders, and thousands of Jews who are now scattered all over the world, were greatly stirred and affected by his very powerful expositions and eloquent appeals; and very many owe to him their first impulse toward Christ and His Gospel.
Of his gifts and powers as a preacher to the Jews the following impression of a fellow-worker might be quoted:
“Mr. Schönberger is not a man who has to struggle for words to express his thoughts; they come like a stream, and are always the most adequate to express the thought he would convey to the audience. He is a born orator – what he says is always, without any effort on his part, beautifully expressed in strong, sometimes epigrammatic, language. He is a man with a message, under inner constraint to deliver it. When he speaks, the words have him in their power and not he them. For other people, speaking is no light effort, but for him to keep silent is an effort that greatly taxes his powers. He has a need to pour out his soul, and he does it in his preaching. His words, as the Jews say, come from the heart and find a way to the heart – they are always red-hot, burning with zeal for the glory of God and His Anointed. They are like a turbulent stream, which grows in strength and violence with every obstacle it meets. When you listen to him you feel him to be one who wrestles with great and formidable obstacles, which hinder his beloved people from beholding Christ in His human beauty and Divine glory; who by the very vehemence of his words would shatter these obstacles, destroy the age-long prejudices, and so prepare a way for a living knowledge of Him Who is Israel’s only hope and salvation to enter their hearts.”
Yes, it was given to him, as to very few others in the whole history of the Jewish Mission, to speak with such power, and for over half a century, to the heart of the Jewish people about their great sin in rejecting Christ, and to proclaim Him as Israel’s true Messiah and only hope-apart from Whom, do what they will, their „House” will still „remain desolate.”
On August 12th, 1903, Mrs. Schönberger died after a prolonged period of severe sufferings, and in February, 1905, he was married again to a dear Christian sister, Miss Maria Haynes, who had been one of the Mildmay nurses who attended Mrs. Schönberger in her last illness, and who cared for him with much devotion the last nineteen and half years of his life.
In 1921, Mr. Schönberger, entirely of his own accord, decided to move to Berlin. He was then already 80 years of age, and had practically lost his sight, so that it was not without physical risk that he could travel to and fro from his home to the Mission House in London; and as God had, in His providence (as we believed), given us a fine and commodious Mission House in that important city, he thought, that there, living on the premises, he could continue to use his powerful voice in preaching to the Jews, his desire and ambition being to „die in harness” and to continue to bear witness to the Jews of Christ until his „last breath”.
At our last Annual Meeting before leaving England he gave a very powerful and touching address. He begged Christians to keep a warm heart for Israel, and not to suffer themselves to be influenced by the anti-Semitic propaganda which was being carried on now even in this favoured land.
„True Christians”, he said, „must have the mind of Christ, follow the example of Christ, and obey His precepts. They must look upon all the peoples of the world, who are far away from Christ, and especially they must look upon the Jews with the eye of Christ, feel for them with the heart of Christ, sorrow and weep over them with the sorrow and the tears of Christ; for it must never be forgotten that salvation is of the Jews, because Christ came from the Jews, and Christ was promised first to the Jews. And though they have rejected Him as a nation, Christ never rejected them, and He came ’to die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that He might gather together in one the children of God that mere scattered abroad.’ And Christ has the same heart, the same mind, the same love, and the same tears today for His people Israel – those who rejected Him – as He had when He was among them. …
This is a memorable and a solemn day for me, because when this day is ended, and the new day will break upon us, I will celebrate my 80th birthday. The days of our years are three score and ten, and if, by reason of strength, they be four score years! So I have reached the limit of Biblical age. Oh! my dear friends, could I let you see into my heart, you would see it is overwhelmed, and I can only express it today in the words of the Psalmist, ’Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His Holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!’ Yes, yes, I bear testimony here as boldly as I can. God has exercised His lovingkindness and tender mercy to me in a great and special manner. For fifty-three years I have worked in the Mission to the Jews – that is, twenty-five abroad and twenty-eight years here. … I had the great fortune of having had in my youth two very distinguished Christian men as my protectors and advisers: one was the late Dr. Adolph Saphir, who became later my brother-in-law; and the other was the worldfamed Professor of Old Testament theology, Dr. Franz Delitzsch, of Erlangen and Leipsic. The names of these two distinguished Christians will never be forgotten. As long as the Mission to the Jews exists, they will be remembered for what they have done for the cause of God and Christ among the Jews. And now I repeat again today what I have already stated at other times, and that is, that since I found Christ sixty years ago, and devoted my life to His service to preach the Gospel among the Jews, my life has ever revolved round two main points. The first of these is that Christ and Israel, Israel and Christ, are inseparable.
The second point is, that Jesus Christ is still to be ‘the King of the Jews’. My greatest joy and satisfaction for the last fifty-three years has been to bear testimony of Jesus and to preach His Gospel to my people. I do not come before you as a despondent man, and I do not come before you as a man who is despondent of the work. Do I look like it? I wish I was fifty years younger, and I could begin anew. My greatest joy and my greatest satisfaction in this house was to go on as long as I could, day by day, teaching and preaching to the Jews. I never doubted that I am Christ’s messenger; I never doubted the power of the Word of God; I never doubted that He could break any heart, even the hard heart of Israel. Well, if this was my greatest joy and satisfaction, there was one thing which was my greatest sorrow all the time, and that was, as the Evangelist and Apostle John expresses it, that ‘ Christ came to His own, and His own received Him not.’ My greatest sorrow was the blindness of my people – their senseless opposition to Christ; but this sorrow was always mitigated by the sure conviction, confirmed by the Word of God, that a day will come when God will remove the scales from their eyes and the veil from their hearts, and they will behold Christ in His glory, and fall down before Him and hail Him with the words, ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.’
It is a memorable and solemn day for me, because, when this anniversary closes, my work here and my connection with this house will cease. I cannot tell you what a heavy heart I have and how sorry I feel. I feel especially sorry to leave my dear friend, my highly-esteemed co-Director, Mr. Baron, alone here without me, to whom he has been used so long. I must tell you at the same time it is a great satisfaction to me that, in spite of being so different from each other, and in spite of occasional differences, we were able, by the grace of God, and by mutual forbearance, to live and work together in peace and harmony. And the same was also the case with regard to my fellow-labourers, my colleagues in the work, towards whom, as they will bear me out, I have always had a brotherly heart and a brotherly love. I have a heavy heart in leaving this house, with which I have been identified for the last twenty-one years, since it was built, and for seven years before in the other house. … What memories and sentiments surge up within me at this moment, but I must suppress them all, or where would they lead me. … And now, in saying ‘Good-bye!’ to you, I say God be with you ‘till we meet again – either here at another anniversary, or at Jesus’ feet above. Yes, I say God be with you ‘till we meet again’. Amen.”
I pass over the last three years of his life in Berlin, but I cannot conceal the sorrowful fact that they were clouded for him, not only by the hard conditions of life in Germany since the war, and the death of his very gifted daughter and only child, Mrs. Herman, at the age of 48, but by the conduct of a fellow-worker who is no longer in our Hebrew Christian Testimony. Yet to the very last he was firmly convinced that no mistake had been made in his going to Berlin, and that the time he spent there, though rather sorrowful to himself and Mrs. Schönberger personally, was part of God’s plan for him and for the good of His cause among Israel.
Until within a year of his death he retained a considerable measure of his physical vigour, and when I was in Berlin in May of last year, I heard him speak at a meeting in the Mission Home with much of his wonted fire for about an hour and a half. It was not until near the end of May this year – after my return from the visit to Palestine – that I first received serious news about the state of his health, but we hoped that his exceptionally vigorous constitution would carry him through this illness. But this was not to be. Early in June I received his last very pathetic letter, in which he wrote: “I have suddenly broken down utterly … what the issue of this visitation may be, and what may yet come I cannot know, but one thing is certain, that I will no more be able to do what, by the grace of God, I was able to for so long. I must prepare for one thing only, to meet my Lord and to go home to my eternal rest.”
The end came sooner than any of us expected on July 8th, and it was surely of the Lord’s mercy to him that he was spared the suffering and humiliation of lingering on for an indefinite time in a condition of helplessness.
I must conclude this very inadequate account of our friend with the following letter from our missionary brother in Berlin, Mr. E. Weinhausen. It was to me a very regrettable and sorrowful coincidence that both Mrs. Baron and myself were ill that week with severe attacks of influenza, which made it impossible for me to travel to Berlin to be present at the funeral.
Mr. Weinhausen writes :
Berlin, 14th July, 1924
DEAR MR. BARON,
Our dear old friend and brother, Pastor C. A. Schönberger, who has stood at the forefront of the mission work among Israel, has now laid down the weapons of his warfare to take up the palm of victory. His passing away was a transition to a better land, where he will see Christ, the King of Israel, in all His majesty and beauty. His voice, which has proclaimed the Gospel of Christ Jesus with such eloquence and power of conviction to many thousands in Israel, is now silent in this world, but his long, blessed and exemplary life will continue to have a blessed influence on many.
We truly mourn that he is taken from us, but we do not murmur, for we know that he has now reached the goal of his desire, and from a church militant has been transplanted to the Church of God triumphant. We are convinced that our departed friend will meet in the land of eternal sun many redeemed souls of the old covenant people of Israel who through his words have found salvation, life and bliss. There he will see and hear that his work on earth, for which alone he lived, was not in vain in the Lord, and that the seed which he sowed here in faith that God’s holy word cannot return unto him void, he will there find again, a rich and blessed harvest, to the glory of God. We have indeed lost him, but his example remains to us as a blessing, and, we are resolved to carry on the work with the like devotion and faithfulness to the honour and praise of God and the blessing of many sons and daughters of Israel. God in His grace help us to do this!
Our dear friend had no severe death struggle; he sank slowly and peacefully asleep, like a child, tired with the burden of the day. We stood about his death-bed praying, and observed that he was conscious of our presence and our prayers. His last thoughts were for the work of the Lord among Israel, and especially for the work in Berlin, in which his last powers had been spent.
The funeral, and the preceding service, exactly befitted the occasion, being solemn and impressive, so that every one present could receive blessing. Pastor Vogel conducted the service, and gave a touching address. I followed, dwelling on the importance of the personality of him who was taken from us; of his life-work as missionary, and Director of a Mission; and how he had laboured in Prague, Vienna, London and Berlin with exemplary faithfulness, both among Israel and Christians. After singing the hymn “Let me go – let me go”, the coffin with the mortal remains of our old comrade in arms, was carried from the Mission House to the Sophien Cemetery near by, where with prayer and blessing all that was perishable of him was given to the earth, and we returned home again in the consciousness that a great man, a prince in Israel, and a witness for the truth, had passed to his eternal rest.
We would so gladly have had you in our midst at this time. Many friends asked after you, and I had to tell them that sickness hindered you from travelling. Hoping and wishing that you are now on the road to recovery, and that the Lord will strengthen you both long to work in His service; hoping also to welcome you in good health, here in Berlin, in August, I am, with brotherly greetings, Your fellow-worker,
In taking leave of our dear friend we would render praise to God for this notable trophy of His grace from among Israel, and for all that He has enabled His servant to accomplish in the long period of service which was allotted to him.
Our hearts go out also in the prayer that He – the Great Lord of the harvest – may raise up and equip yet many more faithful messengers from among the Jews themselves, to testify to their people of Christ, Israel’s true Messiah and Redeemer, and so hasten the Day of His manifestation when “all Israel shall be saved” and the whole earth be filled with glory. Amen.
See the source of this text: The Scattered Nation, No. 120, OCTOBER, 1924., p. 171-181
 A graphic and touching account of this first visit to Rabbi Lichtenstein, written by Mr. Schönberger, will be found in No. 6 of THE SCATTERED NATION (April, 1896). I would also mention the very interesting booklet, „Rabbi Lichtenstein: His Conversion and Testimony,” which I wrote in 1909, copies of which are still to be had. Price 3d.
 A good measure of sight was mercifully restored to him as the result of the skilful operations of a great German eye specialist in Berlin, so that he could again read and write.