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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


42. Discouraging Conditions. -- The joyous events of 1748 in Philadelphia were followed by disappointments to such an extent that after 1754 the synodical meetings were abandoned till 1760, when, as stated, Provost Von Wrangel revived the synod in the interest of establishing a German-Swedish organization. The failure was caused by various discouragements: the deaths of Heintzelman and Brunnholtz; the troubles in the congregations of Handschuh at Lancaster, Germantown, and Philadelphia; the opposition of Stoever and other anti-Pietists, whom the synod in 1748 marked as undesirables; charges against Muhlenberg and his colaborers, that they were but secret agents of Zinzendorf, etc.; and above all the entirely insufficient support in men and moneys from Halle. The difficulties and discouraging conditions under which Muhlenberg and his assistants were laboring, appear from the urgent appeal, signed by Muhlenberg, Brunnholtz, and Handschuh, adopted by the synod in 1754, and sent to both London and Halle. Dr. Jacobs writes: |It is one of the most important papers in the Halle 'Reports.' The entire field is surveyed, the history of German immigration traced, and the religious condition of the immigrants described. The manner in which other denominations and the Swedish Lutherans are aided by foreign help is shown, and a very discouraging contrast is drawn. The condition of each parish is then candidly and at length set forth. Three great dangers they see threatening the inner life of congregations, viz.: the assumption, by the leading men of particular parishes, of the right to dictate, as a compensation for the perhaps greater amount expected of them for the pastor's support; the lawlessness of immigrants who abuse the freedom of the country, want to break through all rules, and revile all good order, the regular ministry, and divine service as papacy itself; the introduction of worthless men into the country as pretended ministers by the Newlanders, who sell their services from the ship to Lutherans willing to be deceived in this way. The United Pastors, they urge, are almost powerless to resist. The people are, as a rule, poor. In a congregation of three hundred members scarcely fifteen can be found able to contribute toward the building of churches; and the responsibility for debts incurred must, therefore, as a rule, fall upon the pastors themselves. Many thousands of Lutheran people are scattered throughout North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, etc. No provision is made for the traveling expenses of the pastors or supplies for their places, if these Lutherans are cared for. People come often one and even two hundred miles to hear a sermon and receive the Sacrament, and weep bitterly over the destitution, which no one endeavors to remove. They [the signers of the appeal] contrast the condition of a pastor in the New with that of one in the Old World. The latter has the assurance of necessary support, of protection in his office, of all needed buildings, of provision for the proper instruction of his people. The former has none of these. Among ten families there is scarcely one or two that contribute according to their promises. The sects diffuse among the people the ideas, to which they lend too ready assent, that the pastors as well as their hearers ought to work at a trade, cut wood, sow and reap during the week, and then preach to them gratuitously on Sunday. They hear such things wherever they go -- in papers, in company, on their journeys, and at the taverns. The picture is a very dark one. The pastors feel that they do not see how it is possible for them to advance; and yet to recede or even to be stationary must be fatal.| Jacobs continues: |Such representations probably had something to do with the impression current for a while at Halle that Muhlenberg was visionary and eccentric, so strange do his statements seem to those incompetent from personal observation to appreciate the urgency of the situation in Pennsylvania. If there was any time when, even for a moment, Muhlenberg entertained the suggestion of transferring the care of the Lutherans of Pennsylvania to the Church of England, it was only at some such time when he and his associates in the synod were allowed to struggle on under such burdens almost unaided, while union with the Church of England would at once have provided all missionaries sent thither with an appropriation almost sufficient for support, and with far better protection against the prevalent disorder. If the Lutherans in Europe could not meet the demands of the hour, we can pardon the thought, which never became a fixed purpose, that, sooner than have the thousands for whose care he felt himself responsible neglected, some other mode of relief would have to be sought.| (246 ff.)

43. Further Activity and Death. -- In May, 1751, as related above, Muhlenberg became pastor of the Dutch congregation in New York. From 1753 to 1761 he once more labored in New Hanover and Providence. During this period he made visits to Raritan (1757, 1758 for nine weeks, 1759 with his family, again in October, 1759, and in January, 1760), his assistant J. H. Schaum in the mean time representing him in Providence. October 29, 1761 Muhlenberg returned to Philadelphia to allay the strife which had broken out. Here he lived in his own home, and maintained an intimate intercourse with Dr. Wrangel. By the new congregational constitution, which his congregation subscribed to in 1762, and which, in the course of time, was adopted by nearly all the congregations in Pennsylvania, Muhlenberg's influence was extended far and wide. In 1769 he dedicated the new Zion Church at Philadelphia. (The national memorial services of Benjamin Franklin , of Washington , and of Abraham Lincoln were held in this church.) September 8, 1774, he arrived in Charleston, accompanied by his wife and daughter, where the congregation had requested him to settle their quarrel, which he did with skill and success. His real goal, however, was Ebenezer, where he, by order of the authorities in Europe, was to conduct a visitation and to repair the harm done by Triebner. Here he drafted a new constitution, which was adopted by the Salzburgers and resulted in a temporary peace. On February 6, 1775, he began his journey back to Pennsylvania. When the vestry of his congregation at Philadelphia in 1779, without further ado, elected Kunze to be his successor, Muhlenberg conducted himself with dignity. The congregation rescinded her action, whereupon Muhlenberg resigned, and was given a pension of 100 Pounds annually and granted permission to preach occasionally in the church. As early as 1748 Muhlenberg had compiled an Agenda, which at first was circulated in manuscript, and was printed in 1786 in a somewhat modified form. The only objection which, in 1748, the congregations raised to the Agenda was that |public worship would last too long, especially in the cold winter months|; wherefore |they requested that it be abbreviated.| In 1782 Muhlenberg also did the chief work in preparing the hymnal, which was printed in 1784. In the same year Pennsylvania Academy conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Muhlenberg accepted the title, but requested his friends not to make any use of it in their intercourse with him. Muhlenberg died October 7, 1787. Taking leave of his friend for this life, he spoke of the journey ahead to his true fatherland, repeating the words of the hymn: |Ich hab' vor mir ein' schwere Reis' Zu dir in's Himmels Paradeis, Das ist mein rechtes Vaterland, Darauf du hast dein Blut gewandt.| Shortly before his death he prayed the stanza: |Mach' End', o Herr, mach' Ende An aller unsrer Not, Staerk' unsre Fuess' und Haende Und lass bis in den Tod Uns allzeit deiner Pflege Und Treu' empfohlen sein, So gehen unsre Wege Gewiss zum Himmel ein.| Muhlenberg's funeral was attended by eight Lutheran pastors, the Reformed minister Schlatter, and a great concourse of people, so that Pastor J. L. Voigt was compelled to deliver his oration in the open. Memorial services were conducted in New York and in many other places, as well as in almost all congregations belonging to the synod. In Muhlenberg the greatest man whom God had given to the Lutheran Church of America in the eighteenth century, |the patriarch of the American Lutheran Church,| had passed away. His body was interred just outside the walls of the church in Trappe. A marble slab over his grave bears the inscription: |Qualis et quantus fuerit, Non ignorabunt sine lapide Futura Saecula. (Future ages will know his character and importance without a stone.)| (484.521.)

44. Tributes to, and Estimates of, Muhlenberg. -- In his letter to Dr. Freylinghausen in Halle, Muhlenberg himself reveals the pious and humble frame of his mind as follows: |To-day, December 6, 1762, it is forty years since I set foot in Philadelphia for the first time; and I believe that my end is no longer removed very far. Had I during these forty years served my Lord as faithfully as Jeremiah, I could look forward to a more joyful end. But I must now account it grace and mercy unparalleled if the gracious Redeemer, for the sake of His all-sufficient merits, will not regard my mistakes and weaknesses, but receive me graciously.| Speaking of Muhlenberg's faithfulness, Dr. E. A. W. Krauss remarks: |Muhlenberg continued faithful in things both small and great, even after he had received assistance from Germany, and one coworker after another began to labor at his side. Before long his activity had exceeded the sphere of his three congregations. On request he visited the scattered Lutherans in Germantown, Tulpehocken, Lancaster, York, Raritan, Frederick. He was the counselor of poorly served congregations, the judge in their quarrels. Confidence was everywhere reposed in him. |By reason of his talent for organizing, his erudition, but, above all, his unselfishness, his modesty, dignity, and piety, he was in universal demand, and was compelled to take the lead, which he also kept till his blessed departure from this world.| (Lebensbilder, 694.) Dr. H. E. Jacobs sketches Muhlenberg's character as follows: |Depth of religious conviction, extraordinary inwardness of character, apostolic zeal for the spiritual welfare of individuals, absorbing devotion to his calling and all its details, were among his most marked characteristics. These were combined with an intuitive penetration and extended width of view, a statesmanlike grasp of every situation in which he was placed, an almost prophetic foresight, coolness, and discrimination of judgment, and peculiar gifts for organization and administration.| Dr. A. Graebner writes: |The task which Muhlenberg found set before him when he entered upon the wild and disordered field which had been allotted to him here, was such that, if any one in Halle had been able to tell him and had told him what was awaiting him in America, he would hardly have found the necessary courage and cheerfulness to lay his hand to the plow which was to convert this wild bramblepatch into an arable field. Still, where could a second man have been found at that time who would have proven equal to the task in the same measure as Henry Melchior Muhlenberg? Richly endowed with a robust physique and a pious mind, with faithfulness in matters great and small, with cheerful, but firm courage, with restless activity and a spirit of progressive enterprise, with wisdom and prudence, with the ability to inform himself quickly and to accommodate himself to the circumstances, and, in addition to this, with the necessary independence of volition and action, -- characteristics seldom found combined in one and the same person, -- Muhlenberg was splendidly equipped, both as to degree and variety, with the gifts which a missionary and an organizer has need of. And from the very first day of his planting and watering God gave a rich increase to his labors, so rich, that Muhlenberg could say with a grateful heart: 'It seems as though now the time had come that God would visit us with special grace here in Pennsylvania.' Furthermore, self-exaltation was utterly foreign to him. 'God does not need me,' he would say; 'He can carry out His work also without me.' Likewise, he was ever content although he never saw much money. During the first half-year of his stay in Philadelphia he earned his board by giving music lessons.| (279.) Dr. A. Spaeth: |Though there were Lutheran congregations and pastors among the Dutch on the Hudson, and among the Swedes on the Delaware, as early as the first half of the seventeenth century, and, later on, among the numerous German immigrants, still the real organization of the Lutheran Church in America, on the foundation of the fathers, only dates from the middle of the eighteenth century, and is due to the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, by common consent the patriarch of the Lutheran Church on this continent, through whose efforts the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, 'The Mother Synod,' was established in 1748. In missionary zeal, in pastoral tact and fidelity, in organizing ability and personal piety, he had no superior.| (C.P. Krauth, 1, 316.)

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