RUOTSALAINEN FANNED THE FLAMES OF FINNISH FAITH
DURING THE REFORMATION, Finland turned Lutheran. Outwardly the change was not great, because Michael Agricola, chief architect of Finnish reform, kept whatever Roman Catholic forms were not directly opposed to Reformation principles. Greater change would result because of another of his reforms, though: he insisted that Finns learn to read, even compiling a literature for them to facilitate this aim. As a result, by the eighteenth century, most Finns were literate. This literacy resulted in revival.
Late in the eighteenth century a Pietist literature emerged in Germany, stressing purity, simplicity, and inner life with Christ. It won a substantial following not only in Germany but in Finland where it was greatly needed. The Finnish clergy had become rationalistic and skeptical. They explained away the Bible while many of the common people panted for real Christianity.
The most notable leader of Finland’s Pietist revival was a layman—evangelist Paavo Henrik [Paul Henry] Ruotsalainen. Born in 1777, he began his search for truth by reading the Bible and works of Luther, Bunyan, and others. Especially influential on him was the translation of an English Baptist work, Thomas Wilcox’s A Choice Drop of Honey. Ruotsalainen treasured this all his life.
Hungering for a deeper Christian life, he heard about Jacob Hogman, a blacksmith known for deep spirituality. Ruotsalainen made a one-hundred-and-twenty-four mile walk to the metal-worker’s forge. Hogman heard Ruotsalainen out and said, “One thing you lack and therewith you lack all else: the inner awareness of Christ.” Somehow those words spurred Ruotsalainen to faith.
Able to express spiritual truths in simple language, he spoke throughout Finland, covering 24,000 miles in his preaching tours. He urged people to diligently listen to the word of God until it awakened a desire for Christ. Each should “lay hold of God’s gracious promises and with patience look unto Christ as his helper, until the Holy Spirit bears witness to him that he really possesses the righteousness of Christ.” Some Finns who were converted in the revival spoke in tongues. Others revealed a new depth in prayer.
The established church and agents of the state persecuted the new converts. Paavo’s own son was killed by a neighbor who opposed the awakening. His wife berated him for neglecting his family by traveling so much. Officials held mass trials between 1838 and 1844, fining converts and penalizing clergy. They viewed Ruotsalainen’s many travels across the country with suspicion and arrested, tried, and fined him, too.
Nonetheless the Pietist movement persisted and brought noticeable changes. For instance, many peasants returned to wearing home-spun clothes as simpler, plainer, and more in keeping with their faith. And a renewal of language followed the revival, which several scholars have called “a remarkable contribution to Finnish literature.”
On this day, 27 January 1852, Ruotsalainen died.