Daily Reading for October 7 • Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Lutheran Pastor in North America, 1787
In attempting an estimate of Dr. Muhlenberg’s character, we must go a little into detail, and speak more fully of him in his private and public capacity, particularly as an earnest Christian and a faithful minister of the gospel. He was a man of clear, vigorous intellect, and of varied and extensive learning. He was distinguished for the versatility of his powers, and the range of his acquirements. His mind, naturally capacious, had been subjected to the most careful culture, the most rigid discipline; and in all his efforts he was regular, systematic, and industrious. His memory was retentive, his perceptions quick, his judgment acute, and his knowledge of character wonderful. As a linguist he occupied a very high rank. He was an accurate and a finished Hebrew and Greek scholar. The German, English, Dutch, French, Bohemian, and Swedish, it is said, he wrote with fluency. He could also preach in all the different languages then spoken on the continent. . . .
He had likewise devoted considerable attention to the natural sciences. He was very much interested in the study of chemistry, and had given some time to the subject of medicine, which he found useful to him during his pastoral labors in his visitations to the poor. He was a fine musician, and performed with much skill on the organ, the harp, guitar, and the violin. He, moreover, had a pleasant voice, and it is said sang most delightfully. . . .
He was fond of intellectual pursuits, and studied with great zest; yet he never engaged in them for mere self-gratification, or influenced by a love of fame, or a desire to attain some sinister object. All his employments and pleasures were made subordinate to the great purpose to which he had consecrated himself, and were made to subserve the cause of righteousness and the glory of God.
In the pulpit, Dr. Muhlenberg is said to have been exceedingly able. He never failed to arrest the attention, and always seemed to possess great power over his audience. He knew at once the way to the heart, and could concentrate and combine truth so as to bear with great energy on the soul. His own deep religious experience enabled him to describe the various exercises of the mind with wonderful clearness and correctness. He had carefully studied human character, and thoroughly understood the workings of the heart. He could readily adapt his efforts to all classes, and secure the interest of the illiterate as well as the most intelligent in the community. Frequently during the services, the whole congregation was bathed in tears. His sermons were particularly impressive and instructive,—of an analytical character, abounding with scriptural illustrations and facts, selected from the occurrences of every-day life. The truths of God’s word were presented with amazing simplicity, meekness, and power. Faithful and fearless, he hesitated not to declare the whole counsel of God, and to rebuke sin, unawed by the presence of man. He never compromised principle for popular applause, or in any respect proved recreant to his high responsibilities, to his solemn obligations. He never uttered sentiments unworthy the sacred desk, or intended to excite amusement. Never did he “Court a grin, when he should woo a soul.”
He kept constantly in view the great object of his vocation,—preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and pleading with sinners to become reconciled to God. He acted as if he felt he was commissioned by God to make known to dying man—“The eternal counsels: in his Master’s name / To treat with them of everlasting things, / Of life, death, bliss, and woe.” He went forth in the spirit of his Master, in reliance upon the Divine strength and the promised aid, to spread the triumphs of the cross, and to cause the waste places to flourish like cedars in the courts of the Lord.
From Memoir of the Life and Times of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg by Martin Luther Stoever, for the Lutheran Board of Publication (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1856).