Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XIX. 1859-1860.

Takes up his Abode in St. Luke's.--A lofty Prophet's Chamber.--Early Rising.--Elasticity and Strength.--Sixty-three years old.--Sacra Privata.--St. Luke's a Monument.--Pertinent Words.--The Methodist's Prayer.--Evangelical Catholicity.--Bedside Ministrations.--Three Sketches by his own Pen.--Religious Services.--Use of the Prayer Book.--Household Evening Worship.--Turning passing Events to Account.--Visitors.--Impression on Different Minds.--Sunshine.

IT might be supposed that a man of Dr. Muhlenberg's genius and position, after fairly launching his Church Hospital, would leave the burden and care of its working to more ordinary hands. But such was not his way. As in the freshness of early manhood he merged his life with that of his boys in the Institute, so now in the culmination of his power and influence, he went to live with his sick charge under the roof of the Hospital. He took up his abode there in the summer of its first year, and thenceforth as Pastor and Superintendent was, as has been truly said, "The most devoted servant, day and night, within its kindly walls."

He retained his charge of the Church of the Holy Communion for a year or more, by means of an assistant pastor, but subsequently resigned all active responsibility in the parish; although while his strength lasted he always conducted the early Christmas and Easter services.

In beginning his home at the Hospital, he quartered himself, with an attendant, in the rooms adjoining the ward on the third floor of the western wing. The upper story of the house was not in demand for patients for the first two years, and in these lofty prophet chambers he used to sleep and spend his hours of retirement. He would never be luxuriously lodged, and had only the plainest accommodations in these remote rooms; little, indeed, in addition to the ward furniture, except his arm-chair and writing-table.

The arrangement proved very enjoyable to him. He was within easy reach of his work, and well out of reach of household interruptions when he desired privacy, and the long empty ward, with its large windows presenting so broadly the sunset views, in which he always delighted, made a magnificent ambulatory Nothing for the time, could have suited him better. Later he had more becoming accommodations on the first floor; a study, and bedroom adjoining, and both rooms looking out southward, on the Hospital grounds.

He took his meals with the Sisters who thenceforward made his family, adopting their simple and primitive hours, i. e., breakfasting at half-past six all the year round, dining at half-past twelve, and taking tea at six, preparatory to the evening Chapel service. He rarely failed, summer or winter, to conduct the devotions which preceded the Sisters' early breakfast, by gaslight, of course, in the winter months. The early rising to which he had coerced himself in youth, was now an established and much enjoyed habit Until his most advanced years, he was rarely in bed after five o'clock, and when the season permitted, would take some out-door exercise before breakfast, and might be heard carolling a morning hymn in his rapid circuit of the lawn, some time before the Sisters' prayer-bell rang.

The Hospital under his large and loving spirit soon unfolded a world of beauty and goodness. "He himself was brighter and happier, perhaps, than ever before. He grew vigorous in the sunshine of the confidence of men. As they trusted him, his heart and genius moved to nobler music, and with more uniform elasticity and strength; his nature developed under prosperity, and grew richer and more creative as time and years advanced. His sympathies became more and more extensive, and his wisdom was more conspicuous as fame and age came on." [Dr. Harwood.]

His private memoranda of this period indicate increased spiritual joy and peace. His wonted birthday record in 1859 reads:

"This day I am sixty-three years old,--the grand climacteric. In good health, with my mental faculties unimpaired, so far as I can perceive, and the Divine Life in my soul, I trust, nothing abated. Nay, more truly than ever before, I think I can say, 'The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.' Can it be that I am thus favored! However\ others may, how can I doubt the election of grace? I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Thanks, thanks, thanks, my heart can utter nothing but thanks and confessions of the unworthiness of the mercies that have followed me all the days of my life. He gives me himself--he lives in me--I am saved. He makes me the instrument of his purposes towards others. ... It is too much to think of myself as God's instrument for good but that I know he does use the meanest as his instrument! Oh may I be passive in his hands! Oh may I be saved the guilt of resisting his will! Since I see nothing but sin in myself, and yet good is done by my hands, who can it be that does it? Here I am, living in my Hospital, where every thing is going on beyond all expectations. Daily evidence of the Divine blessing. Who has done--who is doing it? Non nobis Domine, ex meo pectori clamavi."

At another time:

"O Great Master,
Let thy poor servant thus much say,
I'm docile in thy school Not that I vaunt
Myself. Thy tender, patient, forming hand
Hath made me so--the creature of thy love!"

Again: "Men come and talk to me of the monument I have erected in St. Luke's. If they knew how I feel, they would never utter such words to me."

His was the genuine humility that "kneels in the dust, but gazes on the skies." [Archer Butler.]

A brother clergyman, visiting him in these days, has a little anecdote referring to the then frequently uttered compliment of St. Luke's being "a monument." Mr. R. had been earnestly talking with him on church matters, expressing, in the course of the conversation, strong forebodings as to the result of some recent action. While the two stood together, before separating, under the arched portico of the Hospital, Mr. E. said: "This is a great, a grand monument; I shall leave nothing like it." "The prophets never do," Dr. Muhlenberg instantly rejoined; "they are a voice in the wilderness." "This," said Mr. K. in relating the circumstance, "was the wittiest, kindest, sweetest,--and receiving what I had been saying as true,--humblest answer, I ever heard."

The bright, pertinent word seemed ever at command with him. A Sister came excitedly to his room one day, saying: "Oh! Dr. Muhlenberg, there is a Methodist minister making a prayer aloud, in the middle of the ward." "Indeed!" he replied. "Make haste back, my dear Sister, and stop the prayer before it gets to Heaven." The prayer was an irregularity under a rule of the house made by the Pastor himself to prevent a confusion of religious instruction, viz., "that clergymen from outside visiting, in the wards, will confine their ministrations to the patient they come to visit." The good Methodist had either not understood the regulation, or was carried away by his sympathies; and Dr. Muhlenberg sympathized with his prayerful spirit. He could go farther than this in his charity. He did not affection the visits of a certain Father------to the members of his communion, accidentally among the sick, though, of course, he permitted them. His objection was not to the administering of the rites of their church to these poor people, but to the priest's enjoining them to shut their ears against the teaching of the house. Nevertheless he gave the little father his due for much that was good in him, and very often spoke with respect of his faithfulness and assiduity in looking after his charge.

It was always a joy to him to put in action the Christian brotherhood with which he was so deeply imbued, as well as to recognize the exercise of the same in others. He cherished a particular affection for Archbishop Leighton, in this respect. "Leighton," he said, "was a good Evangelical Catholic. Here is a little illustration of it. A friend one day met the pious prelate going to visit a sick Presbyterian minister, on a horse borrowed of a Roman Catholic priest."

A valuable lesson would often be conveyed in passing, by a forcible word or two, such as that to the Sister regarding the good Methodist's prayer. To a rich old man, with whom he was familiar, and who was one of those "who withhold more than is meet," he said grimly, as he turned away from him, "Shrouds have no pockets." Again: a newly-entered patient, a rather conceited young mechanic, as soon as Dr. Muhlenberg began to talk with him, said, "I don't believe in eternal punishment." "I never heard that that was the first article of the Christian faith," was the rejoinder, and thereupon the Pastor pressed home to the man the cardinal verities of the Gospel.

A Hospital Sister relates the following, as an example of his bedside ministrations: H. "W. was expecting an operation, which the surgeons had told her might prove fatal. Dr. Muhlenberg, aware of the fact, came up to her the evening before, and after some conversation and prayer, was about to leave the ward, when the poor girl seized his hand, and said piteously,

"O Dr. Muhlenberg! I am so afraid I have lost my faith--I feel as if I never can have strength for tomorrow." She waited breathlessly to hear what he would say.

He put his other hand over that she held him by, enfolding hers so tenderly, and after a moment's silence, said, "You know we are to pray for our daily bread, you must not expect the strength not needed till tomorrow to be given to-night. But," he added with a bright look of trust in his face, "you'll be sure to get the strength just when it is needed."

And his words proved prophetic, for when the next day came, she was wonderfully sustained, and came through the operation safely.

This part of his Hospital work was remarkable in result, especially among men and boys. We catch a glimpse of his mode of dealing with his charge, one by one, in the following delineation by his own hand of three several histories, as found among his "Pastoral Notes:" "H. Gr-----, in his early days, was used to going to the Sacraments of his church, but left off as he grew older, and fell into evil ways. His sickness had made him thoughtful and quite disposed to enter into serious conversation. He alluded freely to the religion of his youth, something more than which, he said, he' now felt he must have to get peace of mind. Admit-ting that with all his confessing he had never thought of confessing to Christ, and of obtaining pardon from him, I requested him to read the Gospels carefully, that he might understand who Christ is, and see in him the great Absolver. He did so, and expressed to me his great delight in becoming acquainted with 'the-Biography of Jesus Christ,' and said that for the most part it was all new to him. He was familiar with the ceremonies of his church, and a catechism which he had been taught, but had no idea of the offices of the Saviour, of whom he was now glad to hear and read for himself. On my asking him some time afterwards whether he thought it necessary now to confess to a priest, when he saw he could go at once to the High-Priest himself, he again said, 'It is all new to me--it is an entirely different thing.' The point he was most anxious to be assured of was, whether what our Lord spake to his first disciples was meant for all believers. Satisfied of that, he read the Evangelists over again, and frequently spoke of the comfort he found in doing it His disease yielding to treatment, there was a prospect of his recovery. For a while he was comparatively well, when he showed the same desire for divine knowledge and earnestness about his salvation as when he supposed himself near his end."

"J. N. was another who had been brought up in the Roman Catholic Communion. He was here several months, gradually declining in consumption, and gradually gaining a clear and loving knowledge of the truth. Long before death the fear of it had gone, and he would tell me of his sweet dreams of heaven, and of the Saviour smiling on him, assuring him of his pardon. Not doubting the genuineness of his faith, I spoke to him of the Holy Communion, but he expressed no desire to receive it. I explained to him the nature and design of the ordinance, showed him the privilege and benefits of remembering the Redeemer in the mode of his own enactment, with which all his true followers had ever gladly conformed. N. admitted it all, but when I came to make the application to himself, he was silent After introducing the subject several times, and with no better success, I began to suspect the cause in a lingering attachment to his own religion, which he was not ready to break with so entirely, as to accept any religious rite from a Protestant clergyman. I told him so, but he would not allow it, although I gave him a fair opportunity to express his mind. He said he wanted no minister but myself, at the same time waiving the subject of the Holy Communion. Presuming on his latent wish, I said: 'Suppose you had here one of your former clergymen, he would not give you the whole Sacrament' At this he seemed amazed, and wondered, how it could be--upon which I read to him the account of the Institution of the Supper, dwelling on our Lord's administration of the cup. 'Your priest would give you no cup to drink of.' This arrested his thoughts--he was quiet--but the next morning he sent me word by the Sister of the ward, that he would like to have the 'Blessed Sacrament.'"

"John P------was a young man of pleasing appearance, of intelligence and general information from having seen a great deal of the world in a seafaring life--withal far gone in consumption. I became much interested in him from frequent conversations, in which he frankly owned his evil courses, ascribing their beginning to a godless father and brother. He had been brought up a Universalist. As he seemed to listen attentively whenever I spoke to him of his higher interests, I was in hopes of an early impression on his mind for good, but the only reply I got was, that what I said was all true, but he did not fed it Nevertheless I remarked his serious deportment at the religious services in the wards and in the Chapel--his joining in the responses and hymns--so that I continued to say a fitting word at every opportunity, although, excepting by his civility, I was not much encouraged to do so. Indeed I found that he would talk irreverently among the patients of the ward, who began to look upon him as an unbeliever. Occasionally too, he conducted himself so ungraciously that we could not help hinting to him his ingratitude. 'You are not happy,' I once said to him. 'I am not unhappy.' 'Why, you know you are not long for this world, and you confess to no hope for another.' 'I did not bring myself into this world! He that did will take care of me when I leave it' It was thus he repelled my efforts whether with his understanding or his heart. When the Redeemer was set before himj he was silent, but still seemed unmoved. In April he had gained so much on his disease that he believed he had only to go into the country to be entirely well. Accordingly he left the Hospital; but about the middle of May returned and asked to be admitted again. He was sadly changed for the worse. He had missed his nourishing food, the equitable temperature of the ward, and his' comfortable bed. Evidently he was glad to be once more here, but he did not say so. A day or two after, conversing with him; and thinking he showed a more subdued manner, I said, 'Well, John, you now/eeZ as well as allow what I say?' 'Not more than I ever did.' 'Do you desire to feel?' 'I don't know.' 'Do you ever pray that you may?' 'It is of no use.' 'You seem to join in the services here, you kneel down with the rest and repeat the prayers.' ' I do it out of respect to the place.' At another time reminding him how fast his disease was advancing--'I can't alter that,' he said. 'I am not afraid to die.1 The weeks passed on, making no1 change in him for the better, so far as I could see, when I was inclined to desist lest I should be the occasion of only hardening still more the unhappy youth in his impenitence. One morning, early in June, I went up to his bed, after I had been talking to the; patients over a chapter, and said', 'You have John.' 'Yes,' he replied, with emotions that I had not seen before; 'yes,' his eyes filled with tears, 'I give up'--and give up he did. The change was wonderful. He was all humility. He confessed he felt all along what I said, but was too proud to own it; that he had often lain awake at night thinking of my words. He did not now need to be taught the way of salvation. He clearly understood it. He threw himself wholly upon Christ, yet wondering how so obstinate a sinner could be accepted. He suspected the genuineness of his repentance, said he had never believed in deathbed conversion, but that was all that was now possible. He hoped it was sincere, which he said with so much humility and self-condemnation that I could not help encouraging him to believe what he hoped. He asked for baptism, and though he had not left his bed for days, he insisted on going into the Chapel to receive it. 'He knew he would have strength for it,' and he had. The scene was touching, as he sat by the font, his dark, bright eyes glistening with tears and .wistfully glancing towards his relatives whom, for their own good, he had wished to be present. The nurse who had been his affectionate mentor all along, sure he would be right at last, and some of his fellow-patients, stood by weeping more with joy than grief at the sight A day or two after he received the Holy Communion in bed. He joined in the service with an intensity of devotion in his manner and tones of voice that was most affecting. When it was over he said he knew now what Bunyan meant by the load falling off from the Pilgrim's back He gradually sank, bearing with great patience his last sufferings, and expired, I must believe, in the peace of the Gospel."

Dr. Muhlenberg's ministrations in the Chapel, as long as he retained his vigor, had, in their way, the same power and pathos as those of the Church of the Holy Communion; and their effect upon the ever-changing congregation was remarkable, quite irrespective of the "persuasion" of the worshipper. He used to call the wards opening into the Chapel on either floor, the "long drawn aisles" of his cathedral, and claimed that by means of their successive occupants, he preached the Gospel, in the aggregate, to many more souls than did the rectors of the largest city churches.

Without being in the least a propagandist, he made a multitude of converts to the Episcopal Church, naturally, by the living force of the truth he preached, and his wonderful way of adapting the Liturgy to their needs, so making them love it for the help they found in it No one ever knew the Book of Common Prayer as he did, or understood so admirably how to use it. And thus Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics even, accepted his teachings, adopted his ways, and rarely left the Hospital without asking for a Prayer Book to take with them.

The Sunday services in the Chapel were those of an ordinary Episcopal congregation, excepting some abridgment of the morning office, in charitable consideration of the feebleness of most of those engaged in it. There were regular monthly communions, and an early communion every Sunday for the Sisters, and many an inexpressibly solemn and affecting ward communion, usually at twilight, when there would be most security from interruptions. Naturally there were numerous baptisms, and from time to time the administration of the rite of confirmation under very pathetic circumstances.

The week-day morning devotions, besides those for the servants and among the Sisters in their respective quarters, consisted of Scripture reading and brief expositions, with hymns and prayers in each several ward. But in the evening, all the household, of every degree, who could possibly be present, assembled in the Chapel for worship; the great outer doors of the house being closed, and the doors of the Chapel opening into the wards wide open, so that those who could not leave their beds might fully join in the service.

There were many who used to think this the "loveliest hour of the day." Dr. Muhlenberg's grand voice, as he stood at the lectern, placed in the centre of the Chapel and midway between the long wards on either side of the same floor, reached to the end of these and into the wings beyond. Every word he said could be distinctly heard by the sick lying in the remotest bed of either ward, one of which was occupied by men, the other by women, and the distance from end to end being nearly three hundred feet This was due in part to the acoustic properties incident to the form of the building. Yet it has not been a common experience, no clergyman, indeed, except Dr. Muhlenberg, having habitually, and without effort, made his voice heard at these distances.

The central Chapel thus connecting with the wards he esteemed the choicest feature of his Hospital Church; and when plans were under consideration for the erection of an Episcopal hospital in a neighboring city, he ardently urged a similar arrangement. A committee of gentlemen interested in the proposed work, visited St. Luke's to see if they could learn any thing of value to them. They had determined not to put their chapel in the centre of the wards, but quite apart from them, and Dr. Muhlenberg appreciating what they would thus lose, eagerly combated their plan. A good old woman in a bed near to which the gentlemen stood as they talked together, asked as they went away, "what it was all about." The Sister explained. "Oh, run quick, Sister," she said, "and tell them they'll make a great big mistake if they don't put the chapel in the midst." None can so appreciate the blessing of a central hospital chapel as patients confined continuously to their beds.

The Chapel evening service was family prayer. Not the priest in his surplice at the altar, but the Housefather in his ordinary garb, at the central desk, amidst children. The worship consisted of a chant, a selected Scripture lesson, a hymn, and prayers, written or extemporaneous, as best suited the occasion. There was always an admirable harmony in the different parts of this service, and many an unspoken sermon in Dr. Muhlenberg's perfect reading of the Scripture passage, suggested perhaps by some circumstance of the time. And the soft, rich organ, directed by his delicate musical sentiment would give forth just the sounds accordant to the reading and prayers.

This fine intelligent sense of appropriateness, which marked every service he conducted, was probably one secret of the power of Dr. Muhlenberg's ministrations. He was not what would be called "a great preacher," but standing in his transparent reality and simple unworldly dignity and earnestness at the plain desk, which he always preferred to the pulpit proper, he was as a veritable prophet of God in his intuitions then and there, of the thoughts and feelings of those gathered before him, and in his power of bringing home to their hearts the lesson of the moment.

For want of a better example, we may take the following as slightly illustrative: It was after the burning of the Crystal Palace with the treasures of the International Exhibition, gathered within it. The building stood in Forty-second Street, and, of course, all the household were aware of the conflagration. Without making any direct allusion to the event, Dr. Muhlenberg read with a deep arresting solemnity, a portion of the eighteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelations, describing the great city--Babylon, "Utterly burned with fire"--"In one hour made desolate"--"The merchandize of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk and scarlet, and all manner of vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble"--"In one hour so great riches is come to nought".....

The transition of thought to the day when the earth and all that is therein shall be burned up, was irresistible, and the succeeding hymn and prayers led all hearts to seek to be prepared for that inevitable hour.

The Hospital early attracted many visitors. It became one of the sights of the metropolis, and persons of distinction, and other strangers, passing through the city, rarely failed to take St. Luke's on their way. The house, and its remarkable Founder, impressed all who came in contact with it, from the noblemen of the Prince of Wales's suite, to the humble friends of the poorest patient, as unlike any thing they had ever seen.

A Russian physician of high rank, after a professional examination of the work, said to Dr. Muhlenberg: "I find here, Sir, nothing of the hospital, but a palatial residence which you have generously built for the accommodation of your unfortunate friends in their sickness;" and the same thought, possibly, though in homelier phrase, was expressed by a poor sick girl on her admission, who had shrunk with horror, from the idea of an institution. As the porters carried her through the house to her allotted place, she turned her eyes scrutinizingly in all directions, and then, with a sigh of relief, said to the Sister accompanying her, "It doesn't look a bit lonesome." Many a poor sufferer, indeed, on being taken into the quiet ward with its wide, comfortable beds, neatly curtained to afford privacy when desired, and the soft, ambient air, making in its equableness, perpetual summer, has said, "It's like heaven."

The repose, purity, and sunshiny comfort of the house, first strike a visitor. The atmosphere, as fresh and sweet as that of a well-kept private dwelling, results in part from the refined cleanliness everywhere maintained; but not less from the excellent natural ventilation, and again from the continual freshening of the heat radiating from the steam coils of the hot air chambers in the basement, by means of cold air constantly flowing in through ducts from the outside. A nearer approach to solar heat than any other method of artificial warming.

"Fresh Air, Good Food, and Sunshine," Dr. Muhlenberg used to call "our grand faculty of three." Combined with the material sunshine, streaming in through the lofty multitudinous windows, was the sunniness of Dr. Muhlenberg's own nature, as a strong element in the predominating cheerfulness of the house. And this was reflected, more or less, on the part of all associated with him in the service. As in his other undertakings, he was himself the centre and heart of the work. The school-father of other days was now the tender, loving, condescending house-father of St. Luke's; and with the same unselfish, unstinting care and sympathy for all beneath his roof, gentle or simple, the sick people or those who served them. "With patient devotion he threw himself into "every body's" needs and wishes. When Lord H----and Dr. A-----, of the Prince of Wales' party, during the visit of that royal personage to this country, attended service in the Hospital Chapel, there was great excitement throughout the house for a sight of the prince; this was not surprising, considering the furor for royalty with which the whole city seemed possessed, as though deep down in the republican heart there was, after all, a latent idolatry of the crown. Dr. Muhlenberg threw himself kindly into the general feeling, and good-naturedly endeavored to procure the coveted sight for some most desiring it. A young Sister was unusually excited on the subject. He entered into her disappointment while kindly turning the edge of it--"Sister, 'Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty.'"

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